Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

The tattoo beats--the lights are gone,
The camp around in slumber lies;
The night with solemn pace moves on,
The shadows thicken o'er the skies.
--- Henry R. Jackson

As has several times been stated in these articles that it has only been the aim of their author to detail incidents, happenings and such matters as came under the eye of the author that in his opinion would prove of at least some interest to the general reader, and which could not be found elsewhere. In no sense should it be--nor is it intended that it should be--a history in the sense that the latter is written. It was at the start, and still is my intention to relate such happenings and occurrences that historians ignore and which was hinted at by the ex-Confederate soldier, Mr. Banks, these sketches as written to Mr. Kennison, of Goshen was reproduced in these columns a week or two ago. While all that was appeared in these "War Memories" since they were begun in the first week of January last can be considered as absolutely true, the original intention was to furnish the reader with an idea of camp life; the mode of living of the soldier; the smaller difficulties and dangers that beset an army on the march; at the beginning of a battle, and the thousand and one little incidents of daily occurrences--now almost forgotten by the very men who participated in them--was the original idea, and I have heard of no reason or inducement not even a hit on the part of any one of the many people who are perusing them to depart from the original idea. As has been repeated in these sketches, they are confined in scope to one whose only daily view was with his brigade, his division, and at most the full corps, the latter only occasionally coming under his eye.

My last sketch closed with the capture of Resaca and with the withdrawal of the Confederate forces from the position and which was well on the way of withdrawal while the fierce assault made by General Johnston's center in order to cover the real movement then going on, and which was made for the purpose of having the larger portion of this army well out on the way to the next point selected to make the second stand. In this, the confederate General may be credited with success for he got his army out of the rapidly enveloping folds, that within another twenty-four hours would have accomplished for fairly heavy forces of Sherman's command, after passing the confederate flanks, were getting ready to cut off his railway communications with Atlanta. As the reader will rremember, it was stated in the last article it was a portion of my brigade--the Twenty-sixth Illinois Infantry--that rushed its skirmish line into the town of Resaca and assisted in the capture of the two guns from a Confederate battery, the remainder of which had crossed the bridge and succeeded in getting away. Soon afterwards came the order for a vigorous pursuit of the enemy, and hence it was not long until each regiment, brigade and division was assembled on the road, each in its proper place, and the march began, leaving to the hospital corps the duty of caring for the wounded and the burial of the dead. During that campaign such an incident was of frequent occurrence. Often, quite often, the soldiers marched forward as he did that morning, fully aware that some of his more intimate comrades were either killed or wounded, and knowing this only from the "roll-call" and their absence from the ranks. With all too many, the preceding battle saw these men together, standing side by side in the crash and roar of the contest, for the last time on earth.

The right wing of Sherman's army was quickly put in motion, crossing the river at the ferry below the town and camping that night on the Rome road--but the way, one of the best constructed roads the army had seen since it left the turnpikes back in "old Kentucky." The center, under General Joe Hooker followed up directly in the rear of the Confederate line of retreat along the railroad towards Atlanta. A strong division of Confederate cavalry formed the left of General Johnston's retreating army and this force was kept in sight by the Fifteenth corps all day, the Confederate commander of the cavalry endeavoring to stem or stay the progress of the pursuing forces at every favorable point in either the road or in the lay of the ground favorable for such a purpose, thus causing occasional halts on the part of the infantry. One of these skirmishes brought on a brisk engagement between General Wood's division of the Fourth corps and the rear guard of the enemy that was seemingly strengthened considerably during the progress of the fight, and it was well along in the afternoon of the 17th of June that the Confederates hastily gave up the contest and continued their retreat.

The next day our part of the army reached Adairsville. At this point a junction was made with the Fourth corps under command of Major-General Howard, one of the few surviving general officers of the Union Army, and who all of the veterans will be glad to know is still living and in good health. His advance had quite a heavy skirmish at this point in the early morning. When we left Adairsville the Fifteenth corps diverged form General Johnston's main line of retreat and after passing through a few miles of extremely rugged and barren country, the corps emerged through a gap in the hills--half mountains, one might say--into a highly cultivated and very beautiful scope of country, the finest and handsomest we had yet seen. What made it so lovely was the vast improvements that had been made in the way of adornment. It was in fact a large plantation, owned by an Englishman--at least he claimed English citizenship, and the English colors floated from the top of his princely home. It was beautifully cultivated and adorned in every way and was indeed elegant, as there were gardens of flowers and refreshing fountains. War strives not to save property because its owner may be wealthy, and right in the midst of this earthly paradise a hotly fought skirmish occurred and where a Colonel Early, of the Second Georgia confederate cavalry was killed. That it was a lively fight is shown in the fact that Wilder's brigade of mounted infantry lost heavily in the strongly contested combat. Wilder commanded the Fourth Michigan, the Seventeenth and Seventy-second Indiana, and the Ninety-eighth Illinois, and during the progress of the fight he was forced to retire before a largely superior force of the enemy, and here considerably over a hundred of the Fourth Michigan were captured. it was at this point likewise that the Confederate Colonel Earle, already alluded to was killed, which was done at the first fire and at the head of his regiment as he led it forward to being the attack. The placing of the English flag over the palatial residence was a mistake, as I thought then and do still. Of course it was intended to save the property; but being located right there, well down in the State of Georgia, it no doubt offended the Southern soldier and gained nothing from the Northern side so far as sentiment went and I noticed that the chicken coops, pig pens, geese and turkeys had all disappeared in the early morning and there was besides some vindictiveness shown, for it should be remember that from the beginning of the war up till that time, there was an antagonistic feeling against England on the Union side, caused by the fear that she would in time, espouse the Confederate cause. This no doubt actuated the minds of the Federal soldiers, for it can be said that while there had been no special destruction of the property, yet it was a chickenless, a geeseless and a railless plantation that the Federal army left behind it the morning following the encampment at that place, when it resumed its march.

The next point the army reached in its onward march to Atlanta was Kingston, and as usual, a lively skirmish took place there before the Confederates yielded the town, the affair being a slight one so far as our loss was concerned; but the enemy left behind eighty men in killed and wounded, and as these mostly fell into our hands, the number stated is practically exact. The arrival of our forces at Kingston was at almost the same time that General Jeff C. Davis with his division occupied Rome, one of the most important towns in that section of Georgia. The Federal army was now about two-thirds of the way to Atlanta, and one reason for the slowness in the progress towards the end of the journey lay in the fact that General Sherman, in order to make sure of his supplies, and especially of his ammunition had his Engineer and Pioneer corps engaged in reconstructing the railroad as fast as possible, and hence at times he would lie in camp for two, three and even four days waiting for the railroad builders to catch up. I am only referring to the progress of the army in a general way, and merely mentioning the skirmishes, affrays and combats approaching a battle that came under my own knowledge. Other parts of the army over on our left were frequently engaged with the enemy, the men to which my brigade belonged, only hearing of them after they were over the next day, or it might be two or three days afterwards. General Thomas, along with the center, had advanced his troops to the Etowah River, at the railroad crossing while General Hooker's command lay to the left of Thomas and somewhat to his rear. This was the situation at the point referred to while the troops lay at Kingston awaiting the arrival of the supplies referred to, the railroad being repaired clear back to Chattanooga.

The railway having been completed, the pursuit of the continually falling back enemy had resumed, the army passing through a very barren region following the march through some very lovely country, including the town of VanWert, and afterwards reaching Pumpkin Vine creek. The enemy having taken up a strong position just south of the little village of Dallas, were engaged in fortifying the new position as rapidly as possible. At Pumpkin Vine creek, it had been determined to "park all the teams belonging to the Department of the Tennessee," which included those of the Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth corps and some idea can be gained by the reader when I make the statement that the wagons of these three corps closed up in a compact form covered a mile square of ground. I know this to be a fact because it fell to the lot of my brigade to be placed in charge of all these wagons, every one of them heavily loaded with supplies and which, if drawn out on the road in close marching order would have made a procession of four-mule teams eleven miles long. The skirmishers with the advance guard could be easily heard as the army closed up on the Confederates behind their works four miles distant from the "parked" teams and about a mile, perhaps something more to the south of the small town of Dallas, from which the battle which succeeded takes its name.

When I ascertained the extent of the ground which the hundreds upon hundreds of teams covered, and knew that I was expected with four somewhat depleted regiments, to not only guard them, but prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy. I am sufficiently frank to acknowledge that the responsibility affected me greatly. Fortunately, however, a four-gun Iowa battery was assigned to my command and it arrived soon after I took charge of the important duty. After distributing the force at my command so that in my judgment it could best subserve the very responsible duty in hand, I placed the four guns in commanding position in accordance with the views of the Captain in command of the battery. I had my own "fly" pitched, and weary and almost worn out with the exceedingly heavy work that had been assigned me, I had my cook prepare supper. I had scarcely sat down to eat the rather plain supper that "Theodore" had provided on that occasion when a staff-officer rode up with a pencil-written message from General Logan informing me that a heavy force of cavalry had been detailed by General Johnston to make a raid around the right and rear of our army, and directing me to be exceedingly vigilant and watchful. This was in the evening and I, of course, reasoned that no attack on the trains would be made that night, but that at daylight, if such a move was really on the tapis, I might look for a stubborn fight. The effect of this message was to set myself and staff to work and to have the all too small command for the purpose, prepared for an attack at any moment. We went to each regimental commander and I impressed upon all four of them the necessity of watchfulness of the most vigorous character. About midnight another staff officer reached my headquarters urging me to do just what I had already done, and that preparation to have the brigade mustered at daylight and to stand under arms for a time at least, as every indication pointed to an attack upon the large "park" of supplies.

Under such circumstances the reader can readily perceive that every man was ready to give a good account of himself should an attack be made, and with such a vast amount of stores to capture, there certainly was a great inducement for the Confederate commander to make the attempt if he knew, indeed, the precise situation. The day dawned and as a company of cavalry had reached me about 4 o'clock in the morning and were lying near, I directed the officer in command of the mounted troops to take a scout for a couple of miles or more about the large camp for the purpose of ascertaining whether there were any signs of the enemy. They were out a couple of hours but reported nothing dangerous in sight, but we kept up a very vigilant watch all through the forenoon during which time several staff officers and orderlies kept me in "hot water" with their reports of a brigade of Texan cavalry having been sent out no doubt with the intention of destroying the supplies I was guarding. Aware of the fact that my force was entirely too small to guard a mile square part of teams, I gathered my own staff together and went through the trains compelling every loiterer to assemble on a green sward near by, and I am almost confident that even the surviving veterans of the war will hardly believe that I routed out from among the wagons very nearly six hundred soldiers who had no business with the teams. This straggling and loitering had begun just as soon as the army started on the march from Chattanooga. some of the men had sore feet; still others were chaffed by the shoulder-strap of the cartridge box; some had one thing for an excuse and some another, but the majority of them were the usual "play-offs," who had found the wagons to be an easier way to get along than up at the front with their braver comrades.

I not only added a small regiment to my all too meager force, but by sending a detail through the teams I procured a sufficient number of guns and equipment to arm them as well as to furnish them with ammunition, after which I detailed a Captain from the Twenty-sixth Illinois to command them and furnish him with several Lieutenants to assist. This squad of men made up as it was from almost every regiment of the three corps represented, was placed at an important gap in the line, and should a fight occur I am confident they would have done their best in order to recover from the partial disgrace that each one of the better soldiers considered he was in, and I feel sure that they would have rendered a good account of themselves, had the enemy appeared. All that day the scare was kept up b y the frequent arrival of staff officers and orderlies bearing dispatches of various kinds to me, the most of them urging the utmost vigilance--a feature that had not been neglected for a single moment following the arrival of the first dispatch of the night before. Harking back to the incident almost forty years after its occurrence I am led to the belief that the fear of losing such a large quantity of supplies as were contained in that immense train, there was fully as much fear up at the headquarters that "out-ranked" mine--more, perhaps than there was with the men that were guarding them, and were on the spot to see for themselves. The inducement to destroy such a wholesale amount of army supplies would certainly have been very great, providing the commanding officers of the opposing forces were aware of its existence or position, a fact I now very much doubt. However quiet prevailed all through that day, and the next night, and I was only too glad to receive a message from General Harrow, my division commander, to move up to "the front" with my brigade, starting at daylight, the cause for which will be detailed in my next article.

Warsaw Daily Times October 24, 1903

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