Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

While our banner bright waves o'er the land;
While our union binds us heart and hand;
While our Nation lives, proud, true and brave;
While our gallant ships whiten the wave;
While love of country throbs in the heart
Never shall their memory from use depart--
Their best memorial through coming years,
Their proudest monument--their country's tears.
---Mrs. John A. Logan

Not many weeks ago I referred in a preface of one of these sketches to the fact that many of the surviving veterans of the civil war entertained a feeling somewhat akin to fear in their hearts for the future of the country to which they gave four years of the brightest and best portion of their lives to maintain. These veterans are now old men and their fear is that the fruits of the great conflict--the greatest, and conducted on a grander scale than any other of modern times--waged to preserve as a nation the proud heritage left us by the Revolutionary Fathers; and it is not to be wondered at that in seeing so much of disobedience of law; the lynchings, the disorder that breaks out at times like a cutaneous eruption; the spirit of anarchy that has become so widespread; the murder of men who refuse to become members of labor unions, and in some instances the incendiary destruction of the home, the man himself, wife and children, call their own, and the utter impossibility to bring the perpetrators of such deeds to justice for the reason that witnesses are plenty in such times to swear to the direst of falsehoods in favor of the guilty ones! The old veterans reason that it was not for such a state of affairs that he spent four years of his life, or whatever might be the length of his term of enlistment; and it is no wonder that at times he fears for the future of a country that has cost so much in blood and treasure to maintain the government established through the Declaration of Independence passed on that ever-memorable Fourth of July of the year 1776. There are real causes abroad for this fear, entertained, perhaps, more generally by the survivors of the civil war than any other class, but not confined to them wholly, by any means. There are many who fear the future and there is much in the following quotation worthy of perusal and careful study:

"And so I fear, my country, not the hand
That shall hurl night and whirlwind on the land;
I fear not Titan traitors who shall rise
To stride like broken shadows on our skies--
Not giants who shall come to overthrow
And send on earth an Iliad of woe.
I fear the vermin that shall undermine
Senate and citadel and school and shrine--
The Worm of Greed, the fatted Work of Ease,
And all the crawling progeny of these--
The vermin that shall honeycomb the towers
And walls of State in unsuspected powers."

There is more in these lines than will appear to the casual reader of the day and who does not as a general thing cast his eye to the future. It is the slow process of undermining the foundation on which our government stands that is to be feared, the constant drip that will wear away the stone, if it is not stopped and the way to do this is to turn a deaf ear to all "isms," and the attempt that is secretly being made all over the country, but especially in the large cities, to subvert and undermine the foundation stones upon which a republic like ours rests, teaching as many of these secret organizations do, the abrogation of all law and whose leaders believe--profess to do so, at least--in the annihilation of all law. That these things are making headway and gaining converts to teachings and principles so wholly and diametrically opposed to the forms of any government, but especially of our own republic, is easy to see, for under the unusual freedom given to the people who become citizens, these believers in no government at all, flock here to push their wild schemes, because they believe themselves to be safer here than in any other. that there is any present danger to the country and our government I do not believe; but with such teachings as anarchists and socialists are teaching--and I am grieved to say find converts--there may be danger in the not far-away future. The veterans of the civil war, having fought, bled and died to save the nation are very "touchy" as to anything that in their view may endanger the nation that through the medium of their valor was preserved and who is now quick to discover and to resent anything and everything that to his mind has a tendency to cheapen the victory that was won on so many fields in the effort to preserve the American Union and convert the whole of the States into one grand, symmetrical nation.

In my last article I very briefly and hastily described the charge made by the Confederates on my own immediate front and during the attack and repulse of the enemy it was the only section of the line that came under my view, therefore it is no more than right to the men and officers composing the Second brigade to say that they fought like demons. That brigade occupied an angle in the works immediately on the left of my own, there perhaps not being more than one regiment of that brigade between my own and the main body of the Second, and the salient point or angle was on the left of the one referred to. My own remembrance of the fight is that a heavier force of Confederates were massed in front of the Second than was the case before my own. I judge so partially because the enemy held on a longer time than they did in front of my four regiments, occasioned no doubt by a second line being pushed forward as a support to the main first line by the enemy. No matter, both lines were met by the withering fire poured upon the enemy by the Second brigade and the slaughter was terrible. One reason for this lay in the fact that Colonel Walcott, of the Forty-sixth Ohio, commanding the brigade, had during the preceding winter succeeded in getting his own regiment armed with the Spencer repeating musket, and this was the first time that regiment had an opportunity to use this rapid firing musket at close quarters. As a result the killed and wounded in front of the Forty-sixth was fearful to contemplate, the ground being strewn with dead bodies in front of both my own and Col. Wolcott's brigades and lying so thick at some points that they lay on top and across one another. The Confederate line on the left of my command made their attack with the greatest possible bravery. The First Iowa battery belonging to General Harrow's division had been pushed forward to the skirmish line previous to the Confederate charge and owing to an insufficient support of infantry, it was in possession of the enemy for a short time, but was retaken in a fierce counter-charge by the Federal Troops. It was on that day that I learned for myself and so far as the men were concerned, they learned also, the value of the several weeks' practice the Twelfth had in blank-cartridge firing back in camp Morton, while it was awaiting an exchange of prisoners after the Richmond, Kentucky disaster. There is no doubt whatever that the practice the men had in that drill was of immense value to our side on that day. Cooler men never stood up before an enemy, I am confident; and not a shot was wasted so far as I could observe; and the joke perpetrated by henry Flowers just as the enemy was getting quite near, as related in my last sketch about the big knapsack of the on-coming Confederate soldier--goes to show the coolness alluded to, and a part of this absence of excitement during such a fearful charge as was made that day, convinced me of the wonderful value there was in favor of the well-drilled troops over those who were not. In a new and undrilled regiment, the men are apt to let their guns go off hap-hazard and often shoot high in the air or so low, sometimes, as to hit the ground only a few feet from where they stand. This was not so with the Twelfth, and I know that much of their steadiness and coolness came from the large amount of drill the regiment had received. What is more each Captain of companies had his men fire by volleys--and a full volley at close quarters is a very "unhandy" thing to face--it is even unpleasant.

Farther east than Dallas the corps under Generals Hooker and Thomas were continually engaged with the enemy, to either a greater or a less extent. In advancing his lines General Hooker had a severe contest with the enemy that was afterwards known as New Hope church where he lost quite heavily, as the enemy did also, but the Federals did nothing more than hold their position. This General Hooker did, but afterwards he compelled the Confederate commander to fall back, his troops having advanced a fortified line during the night. In our own front the pickets were quite active both day and night, the enemy only making minor attacks upon the Union line by occasional "rushes" of the skirmish line to be met with the usual check when they approached the Federal main line. One or two slight charges, involving probably a couple of regiments of the enemy were made, but as they were met with the usual withering fire from the Union line, as our own skirmishers under instructions fell back to the trenches which never failed during the remainder of the time we occupied this position, the men behind the works delivered so heavy a fire that the enemy immediately sought his own main line, and very generally in a hurry, too; for the orders were to pursue them closely as soon as they began to retire. It was along in the days that the Union forces occupied these lines, that I had another tilt with General Harrow, my division commander, and in looking back to the scene now, I am convinced that he held a grudge against me ever since I had the verbal "set-to" with him at midnight, following the battle of Resaca, in which I charged him with being responsible for a good many of the dead that at that moment were lying between the two lines owing to his permitting a wide gap to grow in his own lines in the advance upon the enemy, and to which I called his attention twice during the advance as already related in these "War Memories"

He sent an orderly with a message requesting me to come to headquarters for instructions and when I do so, he informed me that I was to double the strength of the present skirmish line of the whole brigade and be ready at 3 o'clock the next morning to advance the lines. Of course, I presumed that it was to be a general advance of the whole line, that is, all of the troops then occupying the works were to follow the increased skirmish line, but nothing was said upon this subject. Promptly at the hour mentioned in his order the skirmish line of my brigade, already strengthened by an additional detail, equal in number to those who had been on regular duty at that particular point, moved forward, and of course very soon came in contact with the enemy's picket line. The Union line, now the strongest owning to its being doubled was able to drive the enemy before it and it was pushed so hard that on the part of the enemy it almost became a run. It was now nearly daylight and I looked back to see if the main line was following up in order to take advantage of the ground we had already recovered, which I should think was very nearly a mile. I could not see a sign back in our own trenches of a movement of any kind whatever, and of course, I was surprised. My own skirmish line had no trouble in driving back the "Johnnies," but as I had received no further instructions than those to start at 3 o'clock and push the enemy to the rear, I confess that I was surprised at there being no attempt to hold the ground that was already behind the skirmish line. I kept on moving up and I am sure I could easily have captured the slight works that were discovered about a quarter of a mile ahead of me. As the troops neared the works, now plainly visible in the increasing light the contest with the enemy's skirmish line grew much warmer and all at once a volley was fired apparently right out of the ground from a reserve picket post that had been dug to a depth that just permitted the men's head to reach above the level Two or three were killed and several wounded from this volley of the enemy, and it was just at this moment that I received a written order to fall back to the main line. I was just lining up the men for a "rush" when this order reached me, and I am positive now, as I was then, that but for that order I could have carried the intrenched line of the enemy for it could easily be seen that there were but few men behind the breastworks. but in the army, "orders are orders," and so I slowly gathered up the skirmish line preparatory to obeying them. When the skirmish line was concentrated, it was found that the loss in killed and wounded was greater than any one would have guessed, being seven in killed and twenty-three wounded.

When I thought of this loss of life and the additional wounded for a freak expedition, which in the very nature of things to be of any value whatever demanded that the main line should follow up to secure the regained ground, I confess that I was angry. Think of it! Seven men killed and twenty-three wounded on a 3 o'clock a.m. expedition amounting to nothing of value as a military movement; that did not give us any better position than the one already held? Consequently when I met General Harrow back at the main line, I was still more angered, when he remarked--"Colonel Williams, I am sorry that you made the advance at all!" "What?" said I, "sorry that I made it! Why, you ordered me in writing to make it and for the life of me I cannot see what it was made for unless it was to add a few more dead to the number gone before, and to fill up the hospitals with additional wounded!" Of course I was angered; but I felt amazed when he seemingly undertook to make it appear that it was a scheme of my own! The facts are that General Harrow, after the expedition started at 3 o'clock the same morning concluded to disown the order for the advance, as General Logan, after myself and command were well on the way, had reprimanded him for taking the authority upon himself to send out an expedition that might, and perhaps would interfere with some of the plans of General Sherman, as it was plain to be seen that an important movement of some kind was going forward on the Confederate side, even then; so it was well that I had retained my written order. From that time forward there was a coolness between myself and General Harrow, as it was easy to see that he was ready to permit a subordinate officer to bear the blame if anything serious happened, when he, and only he, was really responsible. There was one thing behind which General Harrow might have sheltered himself, and that the General sometimes lost his memory, but in this instance he should have laid it to old "Commissary" instead of myself.

General Sherman, after General Hooker's engagement at New Hope church, decided to develop his own left flank and with that end in view the Fifteenth and Sixteenth corps were directed to hold themselves in readiness to relieve General Hooker's troops in the center and thus permit the latter to move over to Sherman's left, and if possible, to envelope the Confederate commander's extreme right. The reader will please remember that the Federals still held the first line they had taken up previous to what is called the battle of Dallas. At about 10 o'clock on one of the last few days of May the extreme right of Gen. Logan's corps (my brigade) was directed to withdraw from the fortified position to be immediately followed by Wolcott's Second brigade. Scarcely had my own troops got out of the trenches and marched, perhaps, not much more than a quarter of a mile, than any order came to me to make all haste to get back into the intrenchments the troops had just left, as the enemy had either penetrated our design; got information from some citizen, it may be, or had suspected something of the kind by the movement of Sherman's troops elsewhere. The enemy had already opened with artillery as was done on the occasion heretofore described and this was followed directly with the vindictive, scornful, "rebel yell," giving the well-known sign of a coming charge. It was very plain to be seen that prompt action was necessary and the all-important thing to do just then was to get back into the trenches so lately vacated as quickly as men could do so. This was done at the "double-quick" and the "about face" movement and fortunately the Union troops succeeded in reoccupying the works from which they had so recently retired before the Confederates reached them. The attack of the enemy had hastened the return of the Federals so that the latter was able to, and did, frustrate the movement, and the enemy finding our troops still in their old position returned to their own lines, but the barking of the skirmish line, and the roar of artillery continued all through that night, and besides breaking some heads, broke the sleep of many soldiers on either side.

Warsaw Daily Times November 7, 1903

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