Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said,
"This is my own, my native land!"
Whose heart has ne'er within him burned
As home his footsteps he has turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell'
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power and pelf,
The wretch concentered all in self--
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he spring
Unwept, unhonored and unsung.
----Sir Walter Scott

Very many times since the war I have been solicited and urged by the surviving veterans of that period to write a book on the subject. In all probability this comes from the fact that almost my whole life has been spent in the newspaper and printing business, and thus the idea has obtained that I was, in consequence, particularly prepared to undertake such a work. For many years past I have perceived the necessity of something of the kind relating to soldier-life during the ever-memorable period of the civil war--the daily and inner life, so to speak--instead of a history of the war, or accounts of the battles, sieges, etc., and hence in the series of articles that are to follow the reader should understand that only incidents; anecdotes and happenings, that a perusal of which might interest the reader will be undertaken.

I have often entertained the idea that a body of troops--a regiment, for instance--was something like a family on a large scale, and the point is, at least, not wholly inappropriate; for in time, after it was fully organized and the men of each company became acquainted for one another, it assumed that form by the daily association one with the other, and the mutual wants and wishes, the commanding officer of a regiment taking the place of the father of the family, and in the same way seeing that the wants of each were supplied; that each member of the family was well clothed, well fed and especially that his arms were in good condition. In time, too, such a feeling grew into the minds of the men composing it, and the esprit de corps that was finally obtained, made them espouse the quarrels of the command, should there be any, and to defend its members regardless of the company they might belong in the hitches that sometimes occurred, just like a family of sons would espouse the cause of one another; for it must be understood by the several readers, that there was a good deal of rivalry existing between the different regiments of the same corps, division, and even in the same brigade, and there were some occasions when the officers had all they could do to prevent an appeal to arms originating in quarrels between the enlisted men of separate commands.

Having been so often solicited to write a series of articles, and having finally determined to comply with the oft-repeated suggestion, I want to say right at the start that if I can interest the young and rising generation to take an interest in the history of their own country--especially those who are quite small or who have been born since the stirring days from 1861 to 1865--I will have accomplished at least a portion of the object in view. Another thing, these war-time sketches, whether they are continued for a longer or shorter time, will be written of scenes, incidents and anecdotes that come under the writers observation, and written from memory only, with no regard whatever for consecutive continuity, they being jotted down as the incidents related come to mind, regardless of dates, or of the time they occurred, and in this particular pursuing the same line of procedure used in the pioneer sketches that appeared in these columns last year.

Hundreds of books have been written of the civil war and many more will yet appear. Biographies of the prominent generals of the war have been voluminous--all of them, perhaps, of deep interest and worthy a place on the shelves of the libraries, both public and private. Few of them portray the life of a soldier--the every-day life of the man in the ranks; the man who carried the musket and to whom, after all, the final victory must be attributed; and I desire to say that in the sketches to appear in weekly installments in these columns I shall tell the facts as I say them, and the private soldier shall receive his full share of the glory won in the greatest war of modern times. I am fully aware that the same act looked at by two or more individuals does not appear precisely the same to the one who may give his view of whatever the subject might be. This often comes for the reason that whatever it may have been was looked at from a different point of observation. Of necessity I shall be compelled to use the personal pronoun to a greater extent than it would be were there any way to avoid it, but at the start let it be understood that this feature will be eliminated as much as possible.

The real outbreak of the civil war occurred on the plains of Kansas, two or three years before the firing on Fort Sumter. Under John Brown and Jim Lane the Border Free State men were determined that slavery should be an illegal measure in the new territory. On the other hand, under the lead of various individuals, the Missourians with the slogan of Senator Douglass' captivating scheme of "squatter sovereignty" --thrown out as a bait to secure his nomination for the Presidency in 1860--were equally determined that the Missouri Compromise had been abrogated, and that slavery should extend all over the territory lying west of and adjoining that State. Thus the war was on, and many men on both sides lost their lives previous to the fateful 12 day of April, 1861, when Fort Sumter was fired on by the South Carolina militia under the orders of Gen. Beauregard.

As early as December, 1860, the Governor of South Carolina had called the Legislature of the State together at Columbia, the capital of the State, and this body at once passed the ordinance of secession from the brotherhood of States that had existed from the ratification of the present Constitution till that time, although the same State made an abortive attempt to get out of the Union back in the thirties. Andrew Jackson, the then President of the United States, at once sent word to the leaders of the movement that he would hang every mother's son of them if they persisted in their attempt. Jackson's prompt action succeeded in quieting the question for the time, but the embers of secession continued to smolder even though they had been fairly well covered, and broke out again in the December previous to the time for the newly-elected President, Abraham Lincoln, to take his seat in the March following.

The excitement of the time grew apace. State after state in the south followed the example set by South Carolina and finally "Old Virginia" remained to decide, although Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri were kept from following South Carolina's lead by the presence of Federal troops, but each one of these States set up a sort of "bogus" or "shin plaster" state government, which, like a traveling circus, was kept on the move, and none of these ever secured a permanent abiding place.

Fort Sumter at that time occupied by about two hundred Federal troops under the command of Major Anderson, on the 12th day of April, 1861, was fired upon, a little over a month after Abraham Lincoln had taken his seat as president of the United States. History shows very plainly that had President James Buchanan supplied the troops in the harbor of Charleston properly, Fort Sumter could have held out for a considerable time, and there are those who declare that with prompt action on his part in sending supplies and two or three naval ships, the fort might have been held clear through the war by the Federal instead of Confederate troops. Be that as it may, the fort was fired upon on the 12th day of April, 1861, and surrendered on the 14th, the garrison being permitted to march out with flying colors and drums beating and thus "the war was on."

The next day, April 15, President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to "suppress the insurrection" that had broken out in the seceded States, and then there was an uprising! It must not be understood that there was but slight excitement in all those intervening months from the date of Lincoln's election until the surrender of Fort Sumter. On the contrary, public feeling was at fever heat, and grew in extent from day to day and week to week. Here in Warsaw--which was only a sample of other county-seats through the state--public feeling took on an intense character and the people were so greatly aroused and the news of the day was in such great demand that the writer issued a small daily journal giving the latest dispatches concerning the Southern uprising for two weeks preceding the firing on Fort Sumter. I well remember the day the news of the surrender was announced. The office was then on the third floor now occupied by Shane's grocery in this place. There must have been 800 or 1000 people around the corner, and as fast as the little paper was printed, it was flung out the upper windows to the throng below where it was eagerly seized and zealously fought for and torn up in the excitement to procure a copy. The establishment was then only supplied with a hand press; and the work of supplying such an excited, tempestuous and maddened crowd, proceeded quite slowly. The lower doors of the office had to be locked and guarded to keep the building from filling up with the excited populace.

The dispatch announcing Lincoln's call for 75,000 men reached Warsaw at about 11 o'clock a.m. on April 15, 1861. The writer had hand bills printed at once, calling a meeting of the citizens of the town and country to be held in Empire hall, a building of that period that extended from the lake City Bank alley to Odd Fellows' corner of Buffalo street, which was afterwards destroyed by fire. The meeting was of immense size. The late "Billy Williams," as everybody called him, delivered one of his inspiring speeches and the names of fifty men were signed to the paper for forming a company under the call of the President. The writer, Captain Andrew S. Milice and the late marsh H. parks had, previous to the meeting, signed the recruiting papers in the Auditor's office, the late Joseph A. Funk, then county auditor, getting up the form. Another meeting was held the next evening and at least a hundred and twenty-five men were added to the list. I remember that it was stated that there were enough to form two companies of the size the law then arranged for--seventy-seven men and officers for a company.

This first sketch must be considered, as preliminary and explanatory to some extent to those which are to follow, and to continue as long as it is deemed advisable by the writer as well as the manner in which they may be received. I expect to make them, at least, of some interest to the young, and of course the old soldier who will perhaps peruse them as reminders of a period in which he bore a part in the honor and glory of the country and nation he helped to save, and who now cannot help but feel that he did his duty in the most trying hours this or any other country ever knew. Thus the reader should consider this first paper as a preface of those that are to follow.

Warsaw Daily Times December 27, 1902

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