Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

When through the shuddering Southern air
Men heard the boom of Sumter's guns;
When flashed the tidings everywhere
"Columbia calls her noblest sons,"
He left his dear young wife and child,
His peaceful home, the sword to wield
His happy home to face the wild
And awful horrors of the field.
---Eugene J. Hall

It was during the winter of 1863-64 that other questions of some moment were occurring at Scottsboro, besides the re-enlistment of the veterans belonging to those regiments that came under the order of the Secretary of War and which was intended to increase the efficiency of the army by retaining all the veterans who had seen almost three years of active service and were therefore more valuable in the field than the new regiments that were constantly being raised in all of the loyal States. Among some of the important changes that were made was the assignment of Brigadier-General Hugh Ewing --a brother-in-law of General Sherman--to Louisville, Ky., and in his place the substitution of Brigadier General William Harrow in command of the First division of the Fifteenth corps. The officers and men of the division very much regretted the change. They had formed an attachment for Gen. Ewing, who had been in command of them from before the capture of Vicksburg until then, and especially did the members of the Twelfth Indiana regret the change; for if he was at all partial towards any special regiment it was to the one referred to. He especially admired it for its superiority in drill and its, at all times, soldierly appearance in camp, on the march, or in the presence of the enemy--so he told me many times, and I know that he was sincere in his commendations of the regiment. Then, too, soldiers form an attachment for their superior officers largely in proportion to the way they look after the interests of the men they command, and this General Ewing did whenever it was in his power to oversee and look after the commissary and quartermaster department of his division--departments that when well managed are very essential to the enlisted men, in having plenty to eat and to wear. General Ewing had been placed in command of the district of Louisville, Ky., and, of course, to a large extent had the supervision of the returning veterans to their respective camps, following the end of their thirty days' furlough, as thousands of them passed through that city on their return.

General William Harrow, who was to take his place, was an Indiana soldier, having first entered the service in the Fourteenth Indiana Infantry; but most of his service--all of it, in fact, up till his arrival at Scottsboro--was with the Army of the Potomac. The latter was against him to a certain extent for it must be admitted that Western officers and soldiers held a sort of prejudice against the Eastern army, and it will be admitted by the vast body of the surviving veterans of today that that feeling was quite general. Having served my first year in that army, and along with the well-drilled and finely officered troops sent into the field from the New England States, as well as from New York and Pennsylvania, I was not only entirely free from this prejudice; but discouraged it on all occasions whenever it was expressed in my presence. The New England States as well as the others referred to possessed such excellent militia laws previous to the war, that the benefits of having had them was plainly visible in the early days of the war; for when Lincoln issued his first call for 75,000 men for three months, the Eighth Massachusetts was on its way to Washington the same day, and arrived at the capital as quick as the railroad could transfer them from Boston to Washington. During the year referred to I had learned much concerning a soldier's duty as well as gained quite a knowledge of military tactics, and hence I was entirely free from the felling alluded to. In order to suppress this prejudice as much as possible, I determined to give Gen. Harrow a reception on his arrival at Scottsboro to assume command of the division. The reader will remember that Col.. John Mason Loomis had gone home with his regiment after it had almost unanimously re-enlisted for a second three years' term, and that I had come into his place during his absence, I holding the next oldest commission as a Colonel in date.

Colonel Loomis had left his brigade quarters with all the tents standing and I had only transferred my quarters from those of the Twelfth to the brigade and hence on Harrow's arrival, myself and staff were prepared to welcome our new division commander in a handsome way. His coming had been announced and in order to provide for him, a fine new officer's tent was pitched, provided with a lounge, secured by some of the men in a near-by raid, and a table had been set under the fly of a hospital tent, and as the sutlers were all with their regiments during that winter a very handsome addition of canned goods and other delicacies could be added to the regular soldier's rations, and I can say truthfully and without boasting an atom, that it was a fine dinner to which General Harrow was conducted on his arrival at Scottsboro, and what is more, too, the "staff of life" was there in the shape of splendid light bread--baked in an outdoor oven that was still standing and belonging to a citizen of the village--instead of the square-built "hard tack" that I always thought contained a very think preparation of mica flakes right through the center of each "square" that was doled out as the usual bread ration, and in a former article I have stated that I never was the friend of "hard tack" only as a means of prolonging life to a slight extent.

I gave this reception to General Harrow partly because he was from Indiana, but more especially to break down the prejudice feeling entertained of any man from the Eastern army. The course he pursued, afterwards failed to win either officers or men to him. He pretended to be a strict disciplinarian, to which very few had any objections, for most men had by this time been in the service a sufficient length of time to know that discipline and a strict obedience to orders is an essential in a good army; but in exacting obedience, General Harrow was far from possessing the necessary qualifications to induce men to obey him, as amongst the first things he introduced was the punishment of men for slight infractions by compelling them to sit astride of a pole fitted up for the purpose at his headquarters, and on occasions I have seen as many as three straddling such a pole at about six feet from the ground, their feet tied together on the underside and a guard with a loaded musket with fixed bayonet, marching backward and forward underneath. On discovering this mode of punishment for the first time, I was almost sorry I had gone to the trouble to give him a reception on his arrival at Scottsboro. He was a man probably sixty years of age, and while he may have possessed military knowledge, he never gave evidence of its possession during the Atlanta campaign, the following summer.

As I have said, the thirty days' furlough received by the men as one of the inducements for them to re-enlist besides the $400 in greenbacks, was nearly at an end, and it is a fact that some of the men returned before the time had fully expired. Quartermasters, commissaries and ordinance officers were exceedingly busy as stores and munitions of war were constantly arriving in preparation for the coming campaign, one that even the poorest informed could perceive was to be on a grand scale, even that long before it began. During that winter the entire army exchanged whatever musket they had hitherto carried for the improved new Springfield, certainly up to that time, the finest gun possessed by the soldiers of any nation on earth, and the "man behind the gun" was certainly proud of the new one, and on that account took better care of his fire-arm than ever before. There had been an effort made to provide this division with the new Spencer, a gun that fired seven shots in about the same length of time that a man with a muzzle loader would fire two, and the commanders of the regiments in the division were considerably elated to think they were to be armed with the repeating Spencer; but for some cause or other none but the Forty-sixth Ohio secured this special arm previous to the opening of the Atlanta campaign, although several regiments of cavalry had been armed with carbines of the same make, and it is quite likely that up to the beginning of that year there had never been an army more splendidly equipped than the one with which General Sherman in the early spring of 1864 left Chattanooga for Washington City via Atlanta, March to the Sea, Savannah, Raleigh and Richmond, arriving in time to take part in the grandest review ever witnessed on the face of the globe.

In a short time the absent regiments were back in their old places. Colonel John Mason Loomis, who was the brigade commander proper, returned with his regiment, the Twenty-sixth Illinois, and although he died in Chicago less than two years since, he must have been sixty years of age at that time, as his hair and beard were as white as driven snow. I always liked the old man even if he did possess the faculty of compelling his colonels to get up in the night time to read some frivolous order which might just as well have been delivered after breakfast the next day. He was a truly patriotic old man and was possessed of many good qualities. Since the war I have met him often in Chicago, and at one time he was on the point of paying my family and myself a visit here in Warsaw, when something intervened to prevent. The old gentleman had been hankering after an appointment as Brigadier-General ever since he first assumed command of the troops in that capacity as a Colonel, and there was considerable rivalry between him and Colonel Charles Walcott, of the Forty-sixth Ohio, for the position, each of them being aware that there could not--or rather it was not likely--that there would be more than one appointment from the same division. Consequently not long after the return of the veterans I was surprised to receive an order directing me to take command of the First brigade, First division, Fifteenth corps, vice Colonel John M. Loomis, resigned. That evening while at his headquarters I urged him to remain in the army, if for no longer than through the coming campaign; but he informed me that his business at home would not permit it even though nothing else might be in the way. When the war broke out, he had dropped everything and entered the service, and his business losses, owing to his absence had been very great, and that he must at any hazard drop everything and go home and see to them. The troops were drawn up in line to bid him good-bye, and the scene was quite affecting. He had been with the brigade for over a year and in the service almost three, and tears ran down the cheeks of the kind-hearted and thoroughly loyal old man as he shook hands with his fellow officers and bade them good-bye.

As the spring of 1864 approached signs were plentiful that there would be "something doing" during the coming summer. In the
West the forces that would be active in the coming events were the "Army of the Cumberland" under the trusted leader, Major-General Thomas; the Army on the Tennessee under Major-General McPherson, and a portion of the Army of the Ohio, under Major-General Schofield. These troops were distributed all the way from Knoxville in East Tennessee to Huntsville in Northern Alabama and the Seventeenth corps was on its way from Vicksburg to Chattanooga, at which point a force numbering not far from one hundred thousand men assembled in the early days of May, 1864. While these prepartions were going forward in the West, Lieutenant-General Grant was engaged in mustering his forces for offensive operations against General Lee with Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy as the objective point. The concentration of General Sherman's forces was affected by the close of the first week in May. In marching from Scottsboro to Chattanooga the brigade passed over nearly the same route for the fourth time, the first one being in the previous November when the troops were on the way to participate in the wonderfully successful struggle of Missionary Ridge. The route was still lined with the carcasses of mules that had died during the winter, and it was said that in a single mile--where the road is entirely cut out of the sold rock, and not sufficiently wide at any point to permit the passing of teams, and as a consequence of which it was the custom to ring a bell that the passage was clear for a train of wagons--that not a single step could be taken by man or beast without stepping on the fragments of some sort of a dead animal, and I am confident that the story is a truthful one, for I saw disabled mules cut loose from their harness on one occasion and alive, as they were, pushed off the bluff down into the Tennessee river, there to suffer and struggle for awhile from the injuries previously relieved and then render up their last breath.

On arriving at Chattanooga, the greatest activity prevailed. All surplus baggage was ordered to be stored at that point, and the restrictions so far as tents and wagons were concerned, seemed to be almost severe. Officers were limited to the barest necessities and the enlisted men were held down strictly to what the soldier were appropriately designated "dog" or "pup tents," and it is a fact that afterwards a full camp of tents, as were seen in the early years of the war was never more beheld. Not all tents had been taken down, but a sufficient number had been to destroy the symmetry of a cam and a regimental camp, composed wholly of what was known as the "A" tent was always a very beautiful sight indeed when the camp was laid out in the form laid down in the tactics. While in camp here for the first time I had an opportunity to revisit the scenes of the struggle of Missionary Ridge and taking along with me Larry McCarty, an aide-de-camp of my own staff, a Lieutenant in the "Ninetieth Ireland," as the boys got to calling the Illinois regiment holding that number, and another officer or two who were solicitous to go over the ground the enemy had occupied in that ever memorable struggle, we set forth climbing the Ridge not far from Where General Bragg of the Confederacy had his headquarters during the battle in the previous November. On reaching the elevation and casting one's eye back towards Chattanooga and the lower land lying below the ridge clear out to Tunnell Hill, it became a bewildering surprise why Bragg did not hold harder and faster to a line and a position of such great natural strength. Had I never visited Missionary Ridge after the battle I could never have appreciated as I now do B. F. Taylor's wonderful description of the climbing of that "ragged route to glory," and now I can only in my inmost heart declare, even at this distant day, that I cannot tell how or why General Bragg yielded a position of such wonderful strength as Missionary Ridge proved when its highest summits were lined with veteran troops, and I was at the time the Ridge was revisited more inclined than ever to the belief that the General became panic stricken himself on that fatal day for the Confederacy.

The next issue will enter upon the Atlanta campaign and while I cannot hope to make it a continuous story and do not intend to do so, I do desire to pick out scenes, incidents and accidents, the telling of which may interest the reader nearly forty years after their occurrence, and it may be pleasing to the rising generation anxious to know something about soldier life in the "Great War for the Union."

Warsaw Daily Times Sept. 26, 1903

Back to YesterYear in Print