Memories of War Times

Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place From 1861 to the Grand Review

by Reub Williams

I wonder if, where they are afar,
They can see the flag that flies
With the glory-gleam of the stripe and star
As it flutters in the skies.
If they may not look back to us today
While the trumpet call resound,
And the lily white, and the rose we lay
On the myrtle covered mound.
-----Memorial Day

Since beginning these sketches the first week in last January I have been more than pleased over the compliments they have received from surviving soldiers, of not only my own, but of many other regiments as well, and of citizens, generally, who although not in the service had often very arduous duties to perform here at home, in helping to sustain the cause of the Union, and to "hold up the hands" of the great and good Lincoln. Some of these kindly and complimentary letters-some, too, from members of regiments other than those of the good "old Hoosier State," and even some of them from ex-Confederates, commending the spirit in which they allude to the soldiers and officers who fought on the opposite side from the writer. I have two or three such letters, each of which refers to the truthfulness contained in the sketches whenever they speak of the Confederate side, and one of them especially referred to the comments made concerning the wearing out of railway facilities; the breaking down of cars which could not be rebuilt, and the tearing up and twisting of the many miles of railway rails that were destroyed in that way, and which could not in any possible way be replaced by the South. Let any one reflect for a moment, and ask himself the question, "What if the railroads in the North had been thus destroyed, with no way in which to restore them? Would not the difficulties of the North have been immeasurably increased?" However, I only want to say that I have in many instances been delighted at the numerous compliments my "War Memories" have received from friends and from former enemies, and if I can interest the readers of "The Indianian" once a week to some degree, I have accomplished all that I set out to do-that, and to relate some incidents of soldier life; tell a story here and there; rescue an anecdote or some happening that never has and very likely never will be seen in any history of the war, and make some of them pleasant reading for the young of today-as some school teacher informed me that these sketches are doing-I shall be glad that I undertook their publication.

The First division of the Fifteenth corps and the First brigade, to which the Twelfth belonged, went into camp at Scottsboro-a mere village about twenty miles west of Stevenson and previous to the war only a water station on the Memphis & Charleston railroad. The regiment was given a piece of ground, sloping up the south side of quite a mountain, but literally covered with stone from the size of a baseball up to one about the size of a Posey county watermelon. The lay of the ground could not have been bettered for a ideal camp, but for this vast overlay of stone. However, every man in the Twelfth went to work and after hauling away the stone with the regimental wagons, the ground was cleared and the men then proceeded to build a regulation camp, that I undertake to say was never excelled, if indeed it was equaled, by any other during the war. The amount of stone carried away can be partially estimated when I state that sixteen hundred wagon loads of the stone referred to were hauled to their destination, a quarter of a mile away, and dumped into a ravine in the side of the mountain. All the members of the regiment entered into the spirit of camp-construction with so much vigor that every one of them took pride in the building and the ornamentation of a place which they were to occupy as winter quarters. The grounds were laid off with tape lines precisely as laid down in the plat given in the tactics. At that time the regiment had the "wedge" or "a" shaped tents, one of the showiest of all the tents issued during the war when the correct plan was followed in setting them up.

The ground on which the rows of company tents were located had a considerable slope and therefore gave an excellent chance for drainage. For the benefit of those readers who have come upon the stage of action since the war and those who have never seen a camp of soldiers, let me inform them that during the civil war, a regiment was composed of ten companies. The tent are pitched in a row for each company. This forms a street and in this particular camp a covered ditch was dug from the head of the company down the slope. At the upper end an empty barrel with both heads knocked out was set in the ground and into this everything that accumulated in company quarters was cast, and of course carried away by water and the steepness of the descent. In each company the men built an arch at the head of the company composed of evergreens and from the center of each arch depended the letter of the company constructed out of old telegraph wire, and this covered with cedar sprigs.. Every morning the whole camp was "policed" and the "company street" swept with brooms made of the same useful material every day, and never during the war did I see neater, cleanlier, or handsomer company quarters. The tents of the captains of the companies were in the rear of and above the arch referred to and in the center of the head of the streets. On each side of the captains' tents were those of the lieutenants; and in the rear of this line quite a good distance from it, too, came the regimental headquarter tents, all in a row and consisting of those of the Colonel, Lieutenant-Colonel, Major, surgeon and assistant surgeon; quartermaster and chaplain, to which could be added those of the non-commissioned officers, the sergeant-major, quartermaster and commissary sergeants. In front of the tent of the Colonel the men built a similar arch, through the center of which a tall pole was raised from which floated a garrison flag. The numeral "12" was supported from the center of this arch in the same manner as the letters of the companies, and as all the arches were handsomely covered with tufts of evergreen, they were skillfully constructed and very beautiful. In front of regimental headquarters, the boys constructed a sanded floor about twelve foot in width and this was covered with evergreen boughs the entire length-about a hundred feet-the boughs being laid on cross-pieces supported by posts the whole length being latticed in by splitting long lath from the dead cedar trees to be found on the side of the mountain.

In addition to the beautiful camp the men erected a round-log guard house, a similar hut for commissary and quartermasters' stores, and greatest of all, they built a large, round-log chapel in which the chaplain held religious services at regular periods, and prayer meetings every Thursday night. These meetings were well attended, too, as the Rev. M. D. Gage, as chaplain, possessed the unbounded love and esteem of every member of the regiment whether religiously inclined or not, and I feel sure that when the chaplain comes to read this description of the Scottsboro encampment as well as Rev. A. C. McCarter, who lives just west of Warsaw, that it will carry their minds back to the winter of 1863-4 in Northern Alabama, and bring with it the pleasant remembrance of quite a spiritual religious revival held in the chapel referred to. I feel that I am not wasting time and space in describing this very handsome, comfortable, healthful and convenient camp, for the reason that there are many readers of these sketches who never saw one, and besides this particular camp attracted the attention of so many visitors-even soldiers of other regiments six or eight miles distant coming to pay it a sight-seeing visit, and I well remember that Theodore R. Davis, the artist correspondent of Harper's Weekly was sent clear from Huntsville by that firm to sketch a picture of the camp for publication in that illustrated journal and which appeared in its pages about a month later, so that as that particular camp of the Twelfth was a showplace, even in the army, it is well to speak of it in these sketches.

That winter was an important period in the history of the Fifteenth corps in several ways, the special one being a change in its commander. The creation of the Military Division of the Mississippi and placing General Sherman in command of it-Grant being made a Lieutenant-General and placed in command of all the Federal armies-made it necessary to give the corps a new commander. A rumor prevailed that General Frank P. Blair was to succeed General Sherman. This created a feeling among the officers of the corps that went so far that quite a body of them committed a breach of military etiquette that might have gotten its instigators into difficulty. Some of the leaders so resented the placing of General Blair in command of the Fifteenth that they induced quite a large number of officers of various ranks to go to Gen. Sherman's headquarters to protest against the Blair appointment; but after giving them a pretty severe "rap over the knuckles" for assuming to dictate who should be the leaders of the armies, General Sherman informed them that General John A. Logan had been selected for the position. I went along with the officers, and I knew that there were few, if, indeed, there were any, who had given any thought to the breach of military discipline there was in protesting against the appointment of an unpopular officer over them, but it turned out all right, and everybody in the corps was overjoyed that it was "Black Jack Logan" who was to be at the head of the Fifteenth corps.

I presume there is not a soldier survivor of the Twelfth but who, if asked, would declare that the period spent at Scottsboro, Alabama during the winter of 1863-4 was the pleasantest one of his whole military experience, and it was true in many ways. One cause was that there had been previous to the firing on Fort Sumpter a decided Union sentiment among the residents of North Alabama, and this perhaps made the few citizens there in that section of the country more friendly than had this sentiment been largely different. I remember a man by the name of Cobb who lives in a cove a few miles distant from Scottsboro with whom I came to be on very friendly terms. He had been a Representative in the old Congress at Washington before the breaking out of the war, and under Confederate rule had been elected to the Confederate Congress at Richmond but refused to qualify and remained at home. He was a man exceedingly well informed and recalling his words and predictions that winter, what he said seems now almost prophetic. Among these were the prediction that while the war would go on for a time, yet the Confederates would "put up" a hard fight for a year or so more but that it was out of the question for them to succeed, in the very nature of things. He came to see me every few days during that winter and in the following spring when the corps left that place to become an important part in the Atlanta campaign, Cobb came over to bid me and others goodbye, and when we shook hands with one another, I took the occasion to present him with a very handsome Masonic pin, which he had admired, and of which order he was a member very much higher up than I had ever been. Poor old man! He lived to see the war over-ending about as he had predicted, but within a few months afterward he accidentally shot himself in carelessly handling a revolver. We kept up a correspondence following the war till almost the week of his lamentable death.

During the winter the army put in at Scottsboro, the social features of the town "took on airs" that were no doubt a surprise to the citizens of that section, all of whom for fifteen miles in each direction drew rations from our commissary. Tuesdays and Fridays were the days set apart for both whites and Negroes to draw rations and it can easily be perceived that it was not long until the soldier boys were well acquainted with the people within the limits referred to. Of course, there were but few men at home, the most of them-the younger portion, at least-being in either General Johnson's or General Lee's army. However, there were some young men left in the neighborhood and I presume that quite a number of these were Union people, for, during that winter and the coming spring, a regiment of cavalry was raised for the Federal army wholly composed of Alabamians, and statistics show that there were over 6,000 credited to that State in the Union service during the war. As there was no enemy near us the wives and daughters of the Federal officers came down from the North in quite large numbers on a visit to husbands, fathers and brothers and at one time it was estimated that there were bout eighty of the female sex in the Scottsboro camp, and as a matter of course, the social features of the little village was on a scale that its citizens had never known before. With all these ladies gathered there, what wonder that some one proposed a big ball and what more natural than that the idea should be carried out. The town possessed a town hall-not one on a large scale, but a good sized plain frame building with one large long room in it, especially suited for a waltz, a cotillion or a gallop. Then it came about that the writer was named as "chief cook and bottle washer" for the coming ball. Invitations were sent out to all the young ladies whose names were on the commissary's list for drawing rations, kindly requesting them to join in the dance at the date fixed.

I was fully aware that some sort of means would have to be provided for them to reach Scottsboro, as but few of them had horses-non of them buggies or vehicles-and as a number of them lived fifteen miles distant they would have to be sent for, and as it was well understood that very generally the young people desired to be present, Henry Flowers, a soldier from Etna Green, this county, was sent for and I told him that I was going to put him in charge of six ambulances and that he with a driver for each one was to go out in the country and bring in every girl and married woman who wished to attend the ball at Scottsboro. Along toward even on the day fixed for the dance these ambulances began to arrive in the village, "loaded to the guards," as a steamboat man would say. Here was a dilemma! What was a man going to do with all these women. They had to be cared for and I solved it in this way. I secured a large hospital tent-a brand new one-and had it set up near my own headquarters, and from the same obliging quartermaster I also secured a whole bale of blankets-a couple of hundred probably-and as fast as they arrived they were turned into the big tent. I also sent out and borrowed all the looking glasses, big and little in the possession of the officers and pinned them up at various points inside the tent. It was understood by all the ladies from the North, and it was specially insisted upon that the visitors should be handsomely treated in every way, and should be taken to the quarters of the officers engaged in getting up the dance for at least one meal. The dance was a great success, indeed. The ladies of the present day know nothing about hoop skirts but at that time no lady was dressed unless she wore a hoop skirt. For these Southern ladies there was no way to procure this fashionable attire, and it is a fact that on the occasion of the "Great Scottsboro Ball" there were ladies present who had made their own wide-spreading skirts, using grape vines for hoops! The ball was talked of up till the corps started on its march to Chattanooga to take a prominent part in the Atlanta campaign under that most brilliant of all the volunteer officers, "Black Jack Logan," and even yet I occasionally meet a grizzled soldier who refers to that "big event".

Warsaw Daily Times September 5, 1903

Back to YesterYear in Print