Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

And such a yell was there,
Of sudden and portentous birth,
As if men fought upon the earth,
And fiends in upper air;
Oh life and death were in the shout,
Recoil and rally, charge and shout
And triumph and despair!
---Sir Walter Scott

My last article closed with the statement that I was greatly pleased to learn that I had received an order directing me to march to the front at daylight the next morning--a brigade of infantry belong to another corps having been directed to relieve me in the duty of guarding the mile square of trains, which I had been in charge of for the previous two days--to which I have so often referred as a most onerous duty so far as I was individually concerned. I think the brigade that was to relieve mine belong to the Sixteenth corps, although it might have been the Seventeenth, an d it arrived on the ground soon after I received the order directing me to move up to the front, starting by daylight, if possible. I was so pleased at being relieved from guard duty that I was ready to start before daylight on the next morning, and as "Old Sol" began to cast his rays on "Old Mother Earth" the brigade was drawn up in the line upon the road it was to take, and I remember the troops were complimented by the staff-officer sent to conduct it to the front, where it was to go into the battle line, for its promptness in getting ready, he, of course, not being aware of the fact that I was so anxious to be relieved of the obnoxious duty, was the real cause for the promptness displayed on that early morning. The bugles sounded the advance just as the sun arose, round and full, and the band of the Twelfth Indiana struck up a lively quickstep just as myself and staff took our places at the head of the command. Soon after the start an incident occurred that has often recurs to my memory and of which I have ever been glad in my heart that what might have been a tragedy was only a comedy, that morning.

I should judge that the march had proceeded for about a mile over a fairly good road, consisting, however, of only a wagon track with the dense underbrush closing up to it, and at that particular point about as high as an average man's head and very heavy. I was slightly in advance of the entire staff--a military rule under such circumstances by the way--when right at a slight turn in the road ahead of me I saw a man step into it out of the underbrush, clad from head to foot in Confederate gray, and only a short distance in front. I gave my horse the spur and at once drew my Colt's revolver from its holster and had it at his head before he was scarcely aware of my presence and to this day I am only too glad that I did not pull the trigger. Had I done so one of the best of General Logan's scouts and spies would have paid the penalty of what is called "the fortunes of war." He looked up in my face with a sort of a half smile and with a sort of leer, remarked: "Colonel Williams, don't you know me?" and in a moment more I discovered that he was a man with whom I was well acquainted and with whom I had often conversed, when I visited General Logan's headquarters, an almost every day occurrence during the exciting days of the Atlanta campaign. He walked along beside my horse for a short distance so as not to delay the march of the troops during which time he told me he was just starting out on a very dangerous, yet a very necessary duty, having been ordered to go around the left flank of General Joe Johnston's army and gather up all the news possible concerning the enemy, and especially t ascertain if the Confederates had any reserves behind the line they were then occupying, and at that time were engaged so industriously in strengthening.

I have already said that this spy was clad in a full, but somewhat torn Confederate suit of gray. He also wore a wig of a blonde color with the hair somewhat disposed to be curly and to me he looked to be considerably older than I had known him, for he was a young man under thirty, I should guess. I asked him what course he would pursue in case he was arrested, and he replied by saying that "In all such cases circumstances must govern his course of action." In this case he proposed to represent himself as a soldier of General Lee's army, home on furlough, in case of detention, and showed me a furlough actually signed at the Confederate War Department at Richmond by a prominent Confederate. the one in question was granted by Lee himself, having gone up through the regular channels and had been approved by all the headquarters through which it had passed, and if I remember aright, chasing him in a Alabama regiment. He had passes from Confederate officers--forged, of course--some of which he had used on previous occasions, and, in short, I was surprised to see how well he was prepared to represent himself as a Confederate soldier. I bade him good-bye when he informed me that he had gone far enough with me, as he had come thus far to the rear of our lines, then facing General Johnston's army, about four miles to the south, in order to get around the flank of the battle line without meeting Confederate soldiers. I can hardly say now why I did not pull the trigger when I put my revolver to his head, for at that moment I was as thoroughly convinced that he was a Confederate soldier as I ever was of anything in my life. perhaps it was an innate felling on my part against shooting a man, apparently defenseless as he was, but whatever it was, I have always been nevertheless glad that for some cause unknown to me my hand was stayed at the precise moment to save the man's life. He belonged to an Iowa regiment--the Sixth I believe--but his name has entirely escaped me.

This incident, known to only a few of my staff, was all over in a few minutes and did not delay the steady march of the troops for an instant, and ended by the departure of the spy on his expedition; hence the brigade soon came to the little village of Dallas, where I found the late Captain J. B. White, who was already there, and had been for three days. Captain White, it will be remembered left Warsaw in 1861 at the head of one of the companies in the Thirtieth regiment, commanded after the battle of Shiloh, where its Colonel, Sion S. Bass, was killed by the late Colonel J. B. Dodge, of Warsaw. After the latter came in command of the Thirtieth an unpleasantness grew up between White and Dodge which lasted for several months and which was only ended by Captain White tendering his resignation and after he left the army becoming a sutler, operating mostly from Fort Wayne, where he made his headquarters and where after the war, he conducted a grocery establishment with wonderful success until his death; and I may add right here that following the war the two men got together, settled their differences and became warm personal friends for several years previous to the death of both of them. Each of them were brave and gallant soldiers and acquitted themselves well in the field. He already had a stock of goods in Dallas and had occupied one of the vacant rooms in the little village, the stock consisting principally of such articles as soldiers in the field might want. I did not know the Captain was there until he walked out from his little store room and grasped my hand, delighted to see as he said, some Indiana soldiers once more. If I mistake not he was attached to a regiment in the Fourteenth corps, but he always had a way to get his goods up to the front, and here he was right under the sounds of guns, the line being one or two miles farther south.

The brigade soon reached the rear of the line of troops, where skirmishers were then, and had been for a couple of days, in close touch with those of the enemy. The reader should remember that the position was one of the Confederate commander's own choosing and hence was a strong one, with excellent fortifications in his front. When the Federal troops first came in contact with the enemy in this position the Confederate skirmish line was driven into their works and under a constant and heavy musketry fire, at times accentuated by the still heavier roar of artillery, the Union forces erected their own intrenchments as close up to those of the enemy as it was possible to push them and, of course the Federals kept out a strong skirmish line to watch and give warning of any movements the enemy might make, as it was strongly suspected that they might make a charge and attack the Federals before their works were sufficiently complete to be of any great service. The brigade, during the forenoon of the morning of its arrival at the front, was placed in a pleasant grove, sheltered to some extent from the enemy's guns should they open up. About noon, however, I received orders to place my brigade on the extreme right of those already in line, and continue the line of fortifications across my own front. In consulting with a number of our own officers who had been in line for the two or three days in the position which I was to join and continue to the right, I learned from them that there had seemingly been a disposition on the part of the enemy to find the right of the Federal line, as every charge they had made--and they had made several efforts--had been further and further to their own left, the intention evidently being to find the exact point where the Union line ceased. After my own brigade had taken its place and was busily engaged in erecting its intrenchments I decided to examine the immediate region surrounding my own right and see for myself the lay of the land.

With this idea in view, and taking a portion of my staff, I rode out into the heavy pine forest and soon came upon a thin line of cavalry videttes, who informed me that they belong to General Wilder's brigade, whose headquarters I would find about a half mile farther to the West. so keeping inside the line of mounted pickets, I went to see General Wilder. I found hem surrounded by his four regiments of mounted infantry, in an open glade among the pines, himself and troops taking as he said, a much needed rest, as they had been doing a large amount of work within the last four days. I told him about the disposition of the Confederates to ascertain the precise right of the Union forces, and made the suggestion that the gap between my own brigade--which was the extreme right of all the infantry troops of Sherman's army--was rather too thinly covered with pickets, and when he ascertained that his headquarters were more than a mile from the right of the infantry, he informed me that he would move up closer and place a heavier line of pickets between the two brigades which he did within a couple of hours afterwards. General Wilder was a very pleasant gentleman, and his record during the war shows him to have been a very active and efficient officer. His brigade held their annual reunion quite recently on the identical ground they occupied during a portion of the battle of Chickamauga, and on the day of the forty-first anniversary of that great struggle.

The next morning the enemy's pickets being usually quiet, and the intrenchments we had been ordered to construct were fully completed, I directed that a certain number from each company in camp of each of the four regiments forming the brigade, might have permission to go to a small brook in the rear of the line to wash their clothes and to take a personal bath, and they were only too glad to receive such an order, for all of them were extremely dirty, the red soil of Georgia being of a very sticky and dauby kind, and as a consequence every quota from every company was filled to the last man. Of course such a permission depleted the number of men immediately behind the works very sensibly. What is more, these men were absent at a thrilling moment, for soon after they had gone to the brook and many of them were stripped as naked as they came into the world, a wicked fire from the enemy's artillery broke upon the line they had so recently had permission to leave for a short time, but fortunately the shells passed well over the men in the trenches. My own headquarters were near the book, and I at once ordered the men to return to the works with all possible haste and the words were scarcely out of my mouth when there came what had come to be know in our army as "the rebel yell." Nothing else that could have happened inspired the men to get back to the works more speedily than that rebel yell and some of them had not yet done so when the long line of gray emerged into an open space, where they could easily be seen. They were coming at a rapid gate, keeping up the continuous "yell" that was so entirely different from the hearty, vigorous cheer of the Union army. Instant word was sent to each regiment to reserve their fire, which was obeyed, but when it did open upon the gray-clad line, it seemed to me that it melted before the seething fire that met them soon after a portion of their line came into the small patch of open ground. Men were never made who could have withstood such a fire; for it must be remembered that it was delivered at close quarters and that scarcely a shot from the Union lines failed in its mission. There were a few who reached the intrenchments untouched; but quite a number of these were jerked in over the Federal works--perhaps willingly so, by some of these, for they could easily perceive that the charge had ended in failure--and surrender was better than to attempt to retreat, mindful of the kind of fire that was covering the ground over which they would have had to retire.

It was a bravely executed charge and but for that "rebel yell," I have sometimes thought, the enemy might have succeeded in overrunning my works. I can not now remember the number that were given permission to wash themselves and clothes, but the number was from then to fifteen in each company; but I was near these men when the "yell" was heard, and no matter what the soldier was doing at the time he dropped whatever it was and ran for the works as if the fate of the entire army depended on his individual presence at the work. Some of them reached the trenches with nothing on them but their shirts, but they knew where their muskets stood in the works with the cartridge box hung by its strap at the end of the ramrod and all of them got there in time to make the first volley. I remember that I stood near Hank Flowers, an Etna Green Indiana soldier, of whom I have before spoken in these sketches who called my attention to an advancing Confederate soldier of immense size, and who carried a knapsack that seemed to fit him in size for it was nearly as large as a small bed tick. "Colonel," said he, "I am going to pick that man off at the final shot for making an animal of himself in carrying such a load!" Sure enough, when the smoke cleared away after that fearful volley--not a bullet of which went wild--I saw the powerful man stretched on the ground, his big knapsack near him, and himself in the last throes of dissolution. I mention such an incident as this to show the perfect coolness of the men while engaged, or about to be engaged in battle. Flowers did not have an atom of grudge in his make-up--in fact he was a man of exceptionally good humor; but the big soldier with the big knapsack struck him so ludicrously that he called my attention to him and laughingly made the remark I have quoted from him.

Back in the heavy timber the Confederate officers made an attempt to rally their men to another attempt, but further than to get the living ones into line, they did not succeed. The Second brigade on my immediate left--mine being the First, in number--met the onset the same way, and it was estimated after the fight was over that the Confederates lost 2,500 in killed and wounded, while our own loss owning to the fact that our troops fought from behind intrenchments, was remarkably small in comparison with that of the enemy. The charge and its repulse was hardly over when Generals Osterhaus and Harrows both of them division commanders, rode down the line complimenting the troops for their work and a short time later "Black Jack" Logan--as they had begun to call him already--with his staff, also rode past the line of men, who cheered him as the Fifteenth corps did few officers, for I doubt if there was another General in the army that possessed in a greater degree the love and esteem of the soldiers he commanded than General John A. Logan --certainly the "Beau Sabreur" of the volunteer soldiers of the Union army--the man of all others to lead, sure that his men would follow.

Warsaw Daily Times October 31, 1903

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