Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Oh be muffled, ye drums! Let artillery roll!
Cloud up, all ye flags! Earth has lost a great soul,
Gallant Sherman, good-night, but good morn to thy glory
Outranking them all in the charm of they story!

--B. F. Taylor

If I remember correctly it was the 7th day of May, 1864, that the right wing of the army to which myself and the brigade I commanded, set forth from Chattanooga on a march that has since become known in history and song as "The Atlanta Campaign." the brigade to which I had been assigned had been together for considerably more than a year, and consequently each of the four regiments composing it had become attached to one another owning to their duties having been identical in camp, on the march, along the skirmish line, as well as in the crash and the roar of continuous battle. This brotherly feeling was noticed in many brigades and was partly due from the fact that each regiment had passed the ordeal through which all good soldiers have to go, and in consequence there was not only an attachment existing, but there was a perfect dependence also, each regiment feeling that it could rely upon either of the other three in all emergencies. The First brigade, First division, was composed of the Twelfth (my own) and the One Hundredth Indiana, the Twenty-sixth and Ninetieth Illinois. It was well known that the Confederate army had its headquarters at Dalton, Ga., a short distance south of the Chickamauga battlefield, a struggle that had witnessed the partial repulse of the Federal forces in the previous September in one of the fiercest battles of the "War for the Union."

It may be well at this point to mention briefly the general formation of General Sherman's army as it set forth on the memorable campaign, then just before it. General Thomas occupied the center; General McPherson the right, and General Schofield the left. General Hooker held the right center and General Schofield the left. General Hooker held the right center. Several divisions of some of these corps had been left in the rear for various reasons--the principal one being the necessity of guarding the railroads and supply depots, for it should be remember that General Sherman's Army was supplied by only one line of road, running from Chattanooga back to Louisville, Ky., an long line, indeed, to guard from Confederate cavalry raids, guerrilla bands, and even hostile citizens who were capable of, and could do much damage by the single firing of a bridge or in blowing up a tunnel with a keg of powder and since the war and the people have had an opportunity of perusing "General Sherman's Memoirs" from his own pen, the public now knows that his greatest fear was that supplies of all kind, but especially of ammunition might be cut off by some disaster. He entertained no uneasiness on account of contact with the enemy; but at almost any time, a two days' battle would consume all the ammunition on hand and leave him powerless for a third day's struggle and this fear kept him uneasy at all times.

General John A. Logan had taken command of the Fifteenth corps so long entrusted to General Sherman, and as "Black Jack" came to us having already won a splendid reputation under Grant, he having been with him from Belmont to Forts Henry and Donelson, at Shiloh, and all the operation about Corinth and in Northern Mississippi and latterly in the siege of Vicksburg, and being possessed of a striking figure as an officer, he almost instantly won his way into the hearts of the officers and men composing the corps of which he was to be the head until the close of the war, and was one of the most soldierly officers that rode down Pennsylvania avenue in Washington at the Grand Review, at the close of the war--an ideal soldier, esteemed--aye beloved--by every man in the Western army, and idolized by his own corps to the last degree. Of course it was well known that the Confederate army was in heavy force at Dalton, and a naturally strong position had been made much more so by the building of forts on commanding grounds, and erecting entrenchments at every available and essential point. The reader should always bear in mind that throughout the entire Atlanta campaign the Federals had to force the fighting, the confederates invariable acting on the defensive, and always behind cover, so that the fact should not be lost sight of that Sherman's army at all times was compelled to drive the enemy from behind breastworks while his own troops were always exposed in "the open." the difference, it will be known, was very great indeed. Besides the infantry with which Sherman set forth from Chattanooga there were three divisions of cavalry under Kirkpatrick, Stoneman and Gerard. The first day's march, after leaving Chattanooga brought us to Crawfish Springs near the Chickamauga battlefield, and over a portion of which our rout lay. Although this was May, and that battle had been fought in the previous September, some of the soldiers of the Twenty-sixth Illinois of my brigade found six or seven skeletons in a small but deep ravine, and reported the incident to my headquarters. I directed that a detail from that regiment should be made and the remains buried as decently as circumstances would permit. Indeed the incident interested me so much that I rode over to the spot to see for myself how they would manage the interment. From the scraps of uniforms and the buttons picked up, as well as the cartridge belts still buckled about one or two of them, it was plain to see that they were Federal soldiers. A deep grave was dug and all the remains were deposited in the same receptacle. Boards had been found to cover them; the dirt was then replaced and a piece of cracker box was procured whereon was written in fairly legible lettering the words, "Seven unknown dead, killed on Chickamauga battlefield." It was the best that could be done under the circumstances, and I have often wondered since, if those remains had been gathered up and taken to the near-by government cemetery, that after the war was established, for a more appropriate disposal.

General McPherson had the command of the right wing of the advancing army, which consisted of Logan's Fifteenth corps and two divisions of the Sixteenth corps under the command of Major-General Dodge. The third division of Logan's command had been retained at Huntsville, Alabama, to protect the railroad from that place eastward to Stevenson, and I might as well mention right here that it joined us sometime before the Atlanta campaign was over. After leaving the vicinity of Chickamauga battlefield, the next day after the incident I have just recorded occurred, the march was resumed and we crossed the Little Chickamauga river at the Glass Mills and soon afterward the troops entered the Cane creek valley. This was a very fertile region and had not at that time felt the devastation caused by the civil war. No Federal forces had ever before passed into what was known as Armuchy valley, and camped at a small village called Villanow. It was at this point that my attention was keenly directed to the responsibilities I had assumed in becoming the commander of a brigade, and for a time after receiving the order, it was a question whether I would or would not be placed in charge of two brigades with two sections of artillery and two companies of cavalry in addition; for, as I was eating breakfast a staff officer rode up and delivered me a written order that I would be assigned one company of cavalry and a section of artillery (two guns) after which I was to proceed to the mouth of Snake Creek gap, where I would meet a similar body of troops under the command of Colonel Weaver, who would also be at the head of four regiments of infantry, a company of cavalry and a section of artillery, a detail precisely like the one of which I was to assume command. The order proceeded to state that on arriving at the Gap, the officer having the oldest commission as to date was to take command of both brigades and be exceedingly vigilant for the post was one of danger and the command was liable to be attacked at almost any moment.

I cannot precisely remember, but at a guess we marched a distance of ten miles in reaching our destination. There I found Colonel Weaver of a Iowa regiment, whose term of service would be over in a few weeks. On comparing commissions, Col. Weaver's was found to be the oldest either by three or four days, and he consequently under the orders we had each received, assumed command of both brigades. The troops were placed in the best possible position to defend the north mouth of the gap against any emergency, and with the four guns the force in coming together could muster, a fairly good fight could be put up. The cavalry was placed at some distance away on each flank, and the troops were given a rest while awaiting the anticipated coming of the enemy. We had arrived at the gap about noon, and as both brigades were encamped in a rather pleasant place, the soldiers enjoyed themselves as soldiers will always do when not on immediate duty. Night came on and after supper I thought it would be the proper etiquette for me to call on my superior officer at his headquarters, and taking along my adjutant-general, Captain George Nelson, of fort Wayne, an officer who had been with the Twelfth from its original muster into the service for the one term term, and a Captain of Company K in the new organization for "three years or during the wary." We found Col. Weaver considerably excited over the responsibility of the position in which he found himself. He talked a good deal about the expiration of the term of service of his regiment now not far away, and at one time made the remark that he thought it was hardly proper to select a regiment whose time was so nearly out for such an important and dangerous duty. I disagreed with him in a pleasant manner and only in order to keep up the conversation more than anything else, I told him that in all probability the nearness of the end of the enlistment of his regiment was probably not thought of either by his superior officers and perhaps not even known and in fact, it was just such a regiment that ought to fight even better than one who had a much greater length of time to serve because they would be spurred by the thought that in case they did not beat the enemy, they might have to serve a much longer time in the prison pens of the enemy. "Surely," said I, 'the inducements would be very great to fight to the last "drop of the hat!' " He did not take my talk with any special favor, and Captain Nelson, who was along with me afterwards said that he seemed to think I was poking fun at him--but I wasn't.

After tarrying with him for an hour or two and in conversing over the prospects of the campaign then just beginning and other matters, Captain Nelson and myself returned to our own quarters; but just as we were about starting an officer rode up to Colonel Weaver's tent and as he had some difficulty in dismounting from his horse, I scanned him more closely than I would otherwise have done, and discovered that he had been drinking to such a degree that it was plainly perceptible, and as we left I called Captain Nelson's attention to him, and he agreed with me. We had been back at our own quarters perhaps an hour--it may have been more, for it was sometime after dark and I had already retired to my cot, under a tent-fly, when an orderly rode up with the request that I should come to Colonel Weaver's headquarters. I at once arose and complied with the request, and on reaching Colonel Weaver's tent I found him under a strain of excitement and he at once informed me that the officer who had just arrived as we were leaving headquarters was on General McPherson's staff and that he had told him (Weaver) that if he remained in his present position until daylight his whole force would be either slaughtered or captured. I could not believe the story and told Colonel Weaver that I had noticed his condition when he arrived and that I did not believe that he was responsible for what he said. "Oh, yes," remarked Colonel Weaver, "he tells me he came directly from the direction of Dalton over the top of the mountain, and he could see the Confederates marching in heavy column for the mouth of the gap." This was the point where our two brigades lay, and I tried to reason with the Colonel that such a story could not be true; but the more I argued with him the more confident he appeared to grow in the belief that we were to be attacked.

I went back to my own quarters, but not without again seeing the officer who had brought the word that the rebels were moving to attack us and just as I anticipated, he was plainly recovering from a "spree" that had evidently been a heavy one, for he had every appearance of just coming out of a spell of delirium. I "pumped" him awhile in the tent that had been assigned him and made up my mind that his whole story was a hoax. About 1 o'clock in the night I received an order from Colonel Weaver directing me to have all of the teams belonging to the Fifteenth corps turned around and to be prepared to take the road in the direction of Chattanooga. "Why," said I, "have you received any other order than the one brought by the drunken officer we have both seen?" He replied in the negative. "Don't you know," I continued, "that to put all the teams into a retrograde movement, could only mean that a disastrous battle had taken place somewhere at the front, which could not be the case or we would have heard the guns, and it would not be a drunken officer bearing the news of such a disaster, but it would come from our commanding officers, and in writing, too! "Well," said Weaver again asking me to turn the teams of the Fifteenth corps, ready to march to the rear, and I had refused, he remarked that he would turn about those that belonged to the Sixteenth corps at any rate, I refusing to obey such an order unless it came from General Logan or Harrow, my own corps and division commanders.

At about 5 o'clock in the morning following this night of excitement I received an order form General Logan to move forward, right through Snake Creek gap with all the troops and transportation belonging to the corps, and as we had an early breakfast we were ready to move right off. colonel Weaver had already turned a good many of his teams with their heads to the rear, and I afteward learned that he consumed all of the next day in getting them headed south again. This was the same Colonel Weaver who went back to Iowa after the war; was sent to Congress by the Republicans, but in time was defeated for a renomination and has ever since then rocked and lounged about in the cradle of every party and every "ism" that was launched, and the last heard from him was that he was a leading Populist. At least, I am informed that the Iowa Weaver is the same man. In passing through the gap I met General Kilpatrick, the cavalry leader, in an ambulance, at the south end, quite seriously wounded, and being taken to the hospital in the rear. A few minutes later I met General Logan and told him what had occurred and I remember I asked the question: "Suppose I had received a peremptory order from colonel Weaver to turn the teams about, I felling and almost knowing that he was committing a very grave blunder, what would have been the consequences?" In a jesting way he remarked: "Colonel Williams, you could easily and successfully have been court-martialed for possessing so little sense as to do such a thing when you knew that no disaster had come to our arms!" Nevertheless, the question was not fairly answered, for Weaver was my superior officer and entitled to my obedience, and I was always glad that it was a "request" instead of an "order" to place the transportation of two entire corps directly opposite to the course they were to take.

Warsaw Daily Times October 3, 1903

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