Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

How dear to our hearts are the days when we soldiered.
As fond recollections present them to view,
The long line of earth-works, the deep, tangled thickets,
And ev'ry rough spot that our army life knew;
The long parks of cannon with harness and saddles,
The picket-roped horses oft trying to roll,
The cook-house, the guard tent, the muskets stacked nigh it,
And the old coffee kettle that hung on a pole,
The sheet-iron kettle, the smutty old kettle,
The old coffeed kettle that hung on a pole.

There was one thing for which a high-up officer, never--even during the war, or since--received due credit for, and that was the constant strain that a commanding officer in the field was subjected to at all times. Even the enlisted man under his command seldom thought of it, or if he did, he never talked about it to his comrade; and yet, it was an ever present feeling on the part of the officer whose word of command set men into battle to perish by the score, it may be, the responsibility for which was his, and his alone, as there was no one to share it with him, or take his portion of the blame, should any be attached to the movement, or the loss it might occasion. There were times when an officer was compelled to issue the order to some dear friend--some old-time friend--it may have been a near neighbor back in the days before the firing on Fort Sumter brought on the war, whom he was sending forward to grapple with the enemy in a death struggle from which it was a mere hope that he might return alive. Under such circumstances it is easy to see that such a responsibility would, and in thousands of cases did, rack the nerves of the bravest among the superior officers. I am reminded of this from the fact that during the Atlanta campaign, Gen. Logan sent for me not less than three different times, in the night time, and once I remember that the orderly who came after me rode a distance of four miles. He informed me that General Logan desired my presence at his headquarters, and that he would conduct me to the place where it was located. There was no braver officer in the army than Gen. John A. Logan, and there were few handsomer men when mounted on his charger, and in all probability there are few men who served under his command after he became the head of the Fifteenth corps, who even dreamed during the war that there were periods when the great responsibility; the constant worry brought on an inability to sleep even when the opportunity occurred, got on to his nerves, and prevented the appearance of "Nature's kind restorer." It was on such occasions that he sent for me, and very likely for others, to come to his tent and aid in soothing him to slumber. Even during the war I was a great reader and the orderlies at my headquarters had standing directions to bring in books when such were found in their "pilgrimages: about the country, and I remember very distinctly that three or four of William Gilmore Simms' Revolutionary stories were captured and brought to my headquarters by the orderlies mentioned. I speak of this just now because it was my privilege to meet the author of these splendid stories just following the capture of Columbia, South Carolina, at a later period in the war than that I was describing.

My last article closed by announcing the giving up by Gen. Joe E. Johnston, of the strong line of Kenesaw mountain, and looking back to his retiring from a position so formidable, I am convinced that the falling back of Johnston's army, came somewhat sooner than General Sherman anticipated. That he would soon be forced out of it, of course, the latter knew would occur; but it came I am satisfied a couple of days or more earlier than the commander of the Federal forces expected. Of course, this is only a guess on my part; but it is pretty certain that his wily opponent could have held on for three or four days, at least. General Johnston, one of the very finest and best of the Confederate officers of high rank, was under a cloud just then, and no doubt felt his position most keenly. In the Union army he was held in as high esteem as an enemy of high rank could possibly be, and this estimate was formed almost wholly on account of his ability as a military commander. The opposition to him in the Confederate army had been going on for some time, and while he knew this to be a fact, yet he never gave a sign or uttered a derogatory word upon the subject of his contemplated displacement. After the war I met him several times in Washington and formed a high estimate of the man --or rather, my former estimate of General Johnston was sustained, as I thought on closer, personal acquaintance.

It was during the night of the 3d of July, 1864, that a Sergeant in Command of a portion of the skirmish line about half way up the north face of Kenesaw, came to my headquarters, and said to me that he believed something unusual was going on within the Confederate lines on the summit of the mountain. I have already stated that my brigade lay right under one of the batteries on the top of Kenesaw and the Sergeant seemed to think that the enemy was preparing to evacuate or at least, to move the guns to some other point. He had crawled up close to the battery, and said that all the conversation among the men was conducted in a very low tone of voice, entirely different from their former loud talk and also intimated that there were other signs. I went back with him, and together we climbed up to as near the guns as was prudent, and I, too, came back with the idea that something unusual was really taking place; but I could scarcely believe that the few hints and signs we could gather meant the abandonment of such a strong natural position. When I left the Sergeant Horace Franklin of Company K, Twelfth Indiana, of Fort Wayne, who by the way lived to get home after the war, but of whom I have lost all knowledge --that at 3 o'clock in the morning I would strengthen the skirmish line with a hundred or two more men, and when they arrived, they should at once proceed to develop; what was taking place at the fort and vicinity, but by no means to force more than a skirmish fight, and obtain all information possible.

This order was carried out and at precisely 3 o'clock the Federal skirmish line moved forward towards the summit of Kenesaw. the astonishment of most of the troops engaged, except Sergeant Franklin, was considerable when they found the going up much easier than they expected. There was an occasional shot fired at them, but as soon as it began to dawn upon the minds of the main body of the skirmish line that the fort was practically abandoned it was impossible to hold them back and the men made a rush for the summit, and it was this rush that enabled them to capture considerably over a hundred Confederates that had been left in the fort proper and its immediate vicinity, to keep up appearances and deceive the "Yankees" into the belief that the works were still manned. The rush came with such vigor out of the darkness preceding the dawn, that many of these men fell into our hands, they never dreaming that a force of over two hundred Federals were in their immediate neighborhood, and so surrendered the very best thing they could do, for quite a large number of the skirmishers, at once perceiving the position of affairs had blocked up their way of retreat. Of course the men ran all over the fort and at about sunrise I arrived on the ground my self, and took command of the troops on top of the mountain. Word had been sent me as soon as the fort was in our possession, but it was a big climb to the summit; so after sending word to division and corps headquarters, by a mounted orderly, I at once began the ascent of Kenesaw. After reaching the men in the fort, I could readily perceive that the main army down below was receiving the news that the Federals were on top of the mountain, and the rising sun a few moments afterwards disclosed "Old Glory" waving in the breeze and the troops below were hailing the flag with wild cheers. A capture was made near the fort that I have never been able to solve, and that was the discovery of over two hundred muskets lying near but outside the fort that had been occupied by the battery. A few of these were stacked in military order, and all of them might have been, but had got knocked over on the ground. It looked as if a half a regiment of infantry, either through the surprise of finding the Union troops on top of the mountain had ran away and left them, or perhaps the situation may have been that they could not reach them. Myself and the officers about me could not account for such a large number of muskets being left by the enemy, so they were an article at all times in demand by the Confederates. However they were a god-send to the officers of my own and one or two other regiments. It is the duty of the Captain of a company to charge the price of the gun to the soldier who carries it, but who has lost or mislaid it. The cost is charged up on the pay-roll and the amount taken out of the pay due the soldier on the next pay day. Very few officers liked to make this charge against their men as it made quite a whole in the amount due them. If I remember correctly, there were eleven men in my own regiment who had lost their guns. The Captains had carried the matter along for several months, but on the capture of these guns--they were Springfields--I turned over to them a sufficient number to straighten their accounts against the soldiers who had lost theirs. This they did by turning them over to the ordinance officer of the corps and obtaining his receipt for them. This receipt would square their own account at the ordinance office at Washington City and in that way save the soldiers the price of a gun. This being done, all the remainder of the muskets were also turned over as captured property.

After looking over the ground, and picking up a few things that were counted a curiosity, I directed the force that had taken possession of the deserted fort to descend to the position they formerly occupied and on arriving there they at once proceeded to get their breakfasts; but before it was over I received marching orders--as the pursuit of the enemy--now found to have given up all the lines held by the Confederates had already been determined on-- directions to move out around the eastern end of the mountain. This was on the morning of July 3, and the whole Federal army was once more in motion, only orders differing in the route to be taken. The Fifteenth corps was directed to proceed to Roswell--a town situated twenty-five or thirty miles above the railroad bridge that crosses the Chattahoochie, a few miles north of Atlanta. The march took us through the quaint, old town of Marietta, at which point the One Hundredth Indiana Infantry of my own brigade was detailed to guard and hold the place and this regiment remained there until the fall of Atlanta. I felt its loss deeply, because it left me with only three regiments, but being known as a brigade was often expected to do just as much duty with one regiment less as though all four were present. As I remember it, the 3d of July, 1864, was the hottest day the Northern army had thus far experienced. Of course, not having any thermometers we could only guess of the heat reached on that day. The corps was directed to hurry its movements, as there was an important bridge across the Chattahoochie at Roswell that it was desirous to save from destruction, and looking back at the march, nearly forty years after it was made, I can truthfully say that it was the most exhaustive one the soldiers had thus far made. There had been many longer single day's marches, but I am sure the men suffered more on this one than any other that came under my observation during the war, principally made so by the excessive heat.

Roswell was a small village but the Chattahoochie at this point gave the town a most excellent water power, and the Confederates were operating a large cotton mill at this place, engaged in the manufacture of all kinds of cotton goods for the Confederate army. it employed a large number of women--I heard at the time that the number of the latter was given at six hundred--but that the number was considerable I personally know, although it may not have been that many. In any event here was a dilemma, or rather a situation with which the Federal army had never before been compelled to grapple. Here was a factory employing a thousand people in all--men, women and children--which the operations of both armies had rendered helpless. Enemies as they were it would not do to let these operatives starve, and among the first things done was to issue rations to every resident of the little village of Roswell and its numerous workers. The dilemma was soon disposed of. General Sherman issued an order directing the officer placed in charge of the little town to take a census of the women and give them their choice to retire within the Confederate lines or to go North where the women and such children as had experience would be given employment in the cotton factories up there. I heard afterwards that over three hundred decided on accepting the latter proposition, and some of them, at least, were taken to Lowell, Massachusetts and other cotton-manufacturing points, and any one will declare that it was a wise proposition. There is one thing that can be said of the Union army and the officers that commanded it, and that is, that starvation was an unknown things. for miles around wherever it went into camp, the people--enemies though they were--always were taken care of so far as food was concerned. Let the reader imagine the great French General Bonaparte feeding the enemy as he over-rode and devastated whatever country through which he was passing and then make a contrast with the course pursued by General Sherman and his troops in feeding very one who was hungry.

I have already spoken of the long bridge that crossed the river at Roswell and which it was most desirous to save from destruction if at all possible, in order for us to cross the Chattahoochgie at that place. The advance guard that had been hurried forward, in order to do this, did save a large portion of it, although the Confederates had attempted to destroy it by tearing away sections of the frame work. They had first tried to destroy it by the use of fire, but this proved a failure without combustible material. The bridge was a long one, the river being quite wide at this point and the two or three sections that had been torn out were soon replaced by the engineer corps, and if I remember aright, the army was only delayed for a day or two in consequence of the broken bridge, and as soon as it was made passable all of the Fifteenth corps crossed over and immediately threw up intrenchments on the opposite side. During the movements just described of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth corps, the center of the army under Generals Thomas and Hooker moved directly to the Chattahoochie railway, at the crossing point of the railroad. It was fairly plain to be seen that the Confederate General Johnston intended to retire within the defenses of Atlanta, as his delay at the river was but for a day or two, his army only keeping up the usual amount of skirmishing, attendant upon the movements of large bodies of troops under existing circumstances. The situation at the time of which I am writing was about as follows: the Sixteenth and Twenty-third corps had succeeded in crossing the Chattahoochie, and the Fourth, Fourteenth and Twentieth were also maneuvering to get on the south bank of that stream, while the Fifteenth and Seventeenth had crossed the river at Roswell thus very seriously threatening the right flank of the Confederate army. In the "Memoirs of General Sherman," the "grizzled old raider," referred to the crossing of the Chattahoochie river as one of his most skillful acts during the war, and certainly he must be admitted that it was a brilliant piece of military maneuvering. Just think of it! With the entire Confederate army confronting him to cross a wide stream, as was the Chattahoochie, in the face of an active foe without the loss of a single man, was a great feat, indeed, and it is no wonder that he uses some self-praise in speaking of a movement so unparalleled on either side in the history of the war. No wonder that "Old Billy" was proud of this exploit!

The next article will hastily, and all too briefly, point out some of the more noticeable transactions that came under my own eye in the approach upon the defenses of Atlanta after all the army had crossed the river. Once more I desire to say that I feel greatly flattered at the many letters of a complimentary nature that I receive from old veterans of the war, as well as from those who meet me almost daily in the more quiet walks of life, so different from those exciting days, which, along with the writer they took a part in "the brave days of old."

Warsaw Daily Times November 28, 1903

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