THE STORY OF A COMMON SOLDIER OF ARMY LIFE IN THE CIVIL WAR 1861-1865
LEANDER STILLWELL Late of Co. D, 61st Illinois Infantry
Franklin Hudson Publishing Co. 1920
Copyright 1920 by Leander Stillwell
DEDICATED TO MY YOUNGEST SON, JEREMIAH E. STILLWELL.
You have earnestly asked me to write something in the nature of an extended account of my career as a soldier in the Union army during the Civil War. It will be a rather strenuous undertaking for a man of my age. I shall be seventy-three years old in about three months, and the truth is, I am now becoming somewhat indolent, and averse to labor of any kind, either mental or physical. But I have concluded to comply with your request, and undertake the work. Whether I shall complete it, or not, I cannot now positively say, but I will do the best I can. And I will also say, for whatever you may think it worth, that YOU are the only person, now living, whose request could induce me to undertake the sketch that you desire.
Erie, Kansas, July 3, 1916.
CHAPTER I.—The Beginning of the War. Life at Camp Carrollton, January and February, 1862 9
CHAPTER II.—Benton Barracks. St. Louis, March, 1862 22
CHAPTER III.—Off for the Seat of War. The Battle of Shiloh. March and April, 1862 30
CHAPTER IV.—Some Incidents of the Battle of Shiloh 54
CHAPTER V.—The Siege of Corinth. In Camp at Owl Creek. April and May, 1862 69
CHAPTER VI.—Bethel. Jackson. June and July, 1862 78
CHAPTER VII.—Bolivar. July, August, and September, 1862 90
CHAPTER VIII.—Bolivar. The Movement to the Vicinity of Iuka, Mississippi. September-December, 1862 98
CHAPTER IX.—The Affair at Salem Cemetery. Jackson, Carroll Station. December, 1862, January, 1863. Bolivar. February-May, 1863 114
CHAPTER X.—The Siege of Vicksburg. June and July, 1863 133
CHAPTER XI.—Helena, Arkansas. Life in a Hospital. August, 1863 149
CHAPTER XII.—Devall's Bluff. Little Rock. August-October, 1863 157
CHAPTER XIII.—Little Rock, October, 1863. Granted a Furlough. Chaplain B. B. Hamilton. The Journey on Furlough from Little Rock to Jersey County, Illinois. Return to Regiment, November, 1863 165
CHAPTER XIV.—Little Rock. Winter of 1863-4. Re-enlist for Three Years More 182
CHAPTER XV.—Little Rock. Expeditions to Augusta and Springfield. March, April, and May, 1864 190
CHAPTER XVI.—Devall's Bluff; The Clarendon Expedition. June and July, 1864 203
CHAPTER XVII.—Devall's Bluff Grand Reviews and Inspections. Surgeon J. P. Anthony. Private Press Allender. June and July, 1864 209
CHAPTER XVIII.—The Regiment Goes Home on Veteran Furlough. Interview with General W. T. Sherman After the War. A Short Tour of Soldiering at Chester, Illinois. August, September, and October, 1864 216
CHAPTER XIX.—Expedition to North Missouri. Back in Tennessee Once More. Murfreesboro. October and November, 1864 225
CHAPTER XX.—The Affair at Overall's Creek. Murfreesboro. December, 1864 233
CHAPTER XXI.—The Battle of Wilkinson's Pike. December 7, 1864 238
CHAPTER XXII.—The Fight on the Railroad Near Murfreesboro, December 15, 1864 247
CHAPTER XXIII.—Murfreesboro. Winter of 1864-1865. Franklin. Spring and Summer of 1865 258
CHAPTER XXIV.—The Soldier's Pay; Rations; Allusions to Some of the Useful Lessons Learned by Service in the Army in Time of War; Courage in Battle 265
CHAPTER XXV.—Franklin, Summer of 1865. Mustered Out, September 8, 1865. Receive Final Payment at Springfield, Illinois, September 27, 1865. The Regiment "Breaks Ranks" Forever 275
When I began writing these reminiscences it did not occur to me that anything in the nature of a preface was necessary. It was thought that the dedication to my son Jerry contained sufficient explanation. But I have now finished writing these recollections, and in view of all that they set forth, I believe that a few brief prefatory remarks may now be appropriate. In the first place it will be said that when I began the work it was only to gratify my son, and without any thought or expectation that it would ever be published. I don't know yet that such will be done, but it may happen. The thought occurred to me after I had written some part of it, and it is possible that about at that point some change began to take place in the style, and phraseology, and which perhaps may be observed. So much for that. Next I will say that all statements of fact herein made, based upon my own knowledge, can be relied on as absolutely true. My mother most carefully preserved the letters I wrote home from the army to her and to my father. She died on February 6, 1894, and thereafter my father (who survived her only about three years) gave back to me these old letters. In writing to my parents I wrote, as a rule, a letter every week when the opportunity was afforded, and now in this undertaking with these letters before me it was easy to follow the regiment every mile of its way from Camp Carrollton in January, 1862, to Camp Butler, in September, 1865. Furthermore, on June 1, 1863, at Memphis, Tennessee, as we passed through there on our way to join Grant's army at Vicksburg, I bought a little blank book about four inches long, three inches wide, and half an inch thick. From that time until we were mustered out, I kept a sort of very brief diary in this little book, and have it yet. The old letters and this book have been invaluable to me in writing my recollections, and having been written at or near the time of the happening of the events they mention, can be relied on as accurate and truthful.
Though I attained the rank of a commissioned officer while in the service, yet that did not occur until near the end of my time, and after the war was over. So it is submitted that the title given these sketches, "The Story of a Common Soldier," is warranted by the facts.
If this manuscript should ever be published, it will go to the world without any apology or commendation from me whatever. It is, though, only fair to say that I make no pretensions to being a "literary" man. This is simply the story of a common soldier who served in the army during the great war, and who faithfully tried to do his duty.
December 30, 1916.
THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR. LIFE AT CAMP CARROLLTON, JANUARY AND FEBRUARY, 1862.
I was born September 16, 1843, on a farm, in Otter Creek precinct, Jersey County, Illinois. I was living with my parents, in the little old log house where I was born, when the Civil war began. The Confederates fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and thus commenced the war. On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 men, to aid in putting down the existing rebellion. Illinois promptly furnished her quota, and in addition, thousands of men were turned away, for the reason that the complement of the State was complete, and there was no room for them. The soldiers under this call were mustered in for three months' service only, for the government then seemed to be of the opinion that the troubles would be over by the end of that time. But on May 3, 1861, Mr. Lincoln issued another call for volunteers, the number specified being a little over 42,000, and their term of service was fixed at three years, unless sooner discharged. The same call provided for a substantial increase in the regular army and navy. I did not enlist under either of these calls. As above stated, the belief then was almost universal throughout the North that the "war" would amount to nothing much but a summer frolic, and would be over by the 4th of July. We had the utmost confidence that Richmond would be taken by that time, and that Jeff Davis and his cabinet would be prisoners, or fugitives. But the battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861, gave the loyal people of the Nation a terrible awakening. The result of this battle was a crushing disappointment and a bitter mortification to all the friends of the Union. They realized then that a long and bloody struggle was before them. But Bull Run was probably all for the best. Had it been a Union victory, and the Rebellion then been crushed, negro slavery would have been retained, and the "irrepressible conflict" would have been fought out likely in your time, with doubtless tenfold the loss of life and limb that ensued in the war of the sixties.
The day after the battle of Bull Run Congress passed a law authorizing Mr. Lincoln to call for five hundred thousand three-years volunteers. It was under this law, supplemented by authority from the Secretary of War, that the regiment was organized in which I subsequently enlisted. I was then only a boy, but somehow I felt that the war was going to be a long one, and that it was the duty of every young fellow of the requisite physical ability to "go for a soldier," and help save the Nation. I had some talk with my father on the subject. He was a strong Union man, and in sympathy with my feelings, but I could see that naturally he dreaded the idea of his boy going to the war, with the result that maybe he would be killed, or come home a cripple for life. But I gave him to understand that when they began organizing a regiment in our vicinity, and which would contain a fair proportion of my neighbor boys and acquaintances, I intended then to volunteer. It was simply intolerable to think that I could stay at home, among the girls, and be pointed at by the soldier boys as a stay-at-home coward.
The work of organizing and recruiting for a regiment in our corner of the State began early in the autumn of 1861. The various counties in that immediate locality were overwhelmingly Democratic in politics, and many of the people were strong "Southern sympathizers," as they were then called, and who later developed into virulent Copperheads and Knights of the Golden Circle. Probably 90 per cent of the inhabitants of Greene, Jersey, Scott, Morgan, and adjoining counties came from the Southern States, or were the direct descendants of people from that part of the country. Kentuckians, Tennesseeans, and North and South Carolinians were especially numerous. But it is only fair and the truth to say that many of the most prominent and dangerous of this Copperhead element were men from remote Eastern States. What caused these persons to pursue this shameful course I do not know. President Lincoln was personally well aware of these political conditions in our locality, as his old home, at Springfield, the State Capital, was not far away, and he doubtless knew every man of reasonable prominence in our entire Congressional District. He wanted soldiers, regardless of politics, but it was necessary, in that locality, to hold out some special inducements to his constituents of the Democratic faith. So, for that reason, (with others,) as was well understood at the time, Gen. Jacob Fry of Greene County, a Kentuckian by birth and a life-long Democrat, was selected as the one to recruit and organize, and to be the colonel of the regiment to be raised from the counties above named and their vicinity. Aside from the political consideration, this selection of Gen. Fry was regarded at the time as a very good and appropriate one. He was an old-timer, having been a resident of Greene county from his boyhood, had been sheriff of the county, and had held other responsible offices. And, what was considered still more important, he had served with credit and distinction in the "Black Hawk War" in 1831-2, where he held the rank of Colonel. Soon after the close of this Indian disturbance, he was made Brigadier-General, and subsequently Major-General, of the Illinois militia. He was a grand old man, of temperate habits, strict integrity, and unflinching bravery. But he was sixty-two years old, and that proved to be a handicap that eventually resulted in his resignation, as will appear later.
The Fair Grounds, about half a mile east of Carrollton, the county seat of Greene County, were designated as the "Camp of Instruction" for Col. Fry's regiment. Recruiting for it began about the last of September, but it proceeded very slowly. Several of the boys from my neighborhood had previously enlisted in other regiments, and it looked as if the "wiry edge" of volunteering had somewhat worn off. Co. F of the 14th Illinois Infantry had been raised almost entirely in Jersey county, and several of my old schoolmates were in that company. And there were little squads that had joined other regiments. The 22nd and the 27th Illinois Infantry and the 9th Missouri Infantry, (afterwards designated as the 59th Illinois Infantry,) each had some men and boys from our part of the county.
Up in the northwest corner of Jersey County and close to the Greene county line lived an old farmer by the name of John H. Reddish. He, too, had served in the Black Hawk War, and under the command of Col. Fry. The highest position he attained in that scrap, as shown by the records, was that of corporal, but, regardless of his rank, it is entirely safe to say that he was a fighter. As soon as it was announced that Col. Fry was raising a regiment, and was to be its colonel, Uncle John Reddish forthwith took the field to recruit a company for this organization. The fact that he had been a Black Hawk war soldier gave him immense prestige, and settled in his favor the question of his military qualifications without further evidence. The truth is that at that time almost any man of good repute and fair intelligence, who had seen service in this Black Hawk racket, or the Mexican war, was regarded as fit and desirable for a commissioned officer, or, at the least, pretty high up in the non-commissioned line. But, as it afterwards turned out, that was an erroneous notion. There were exceptions, of course, but in any event, as regards the Black Hawk episode, service during it was of no practical benefit whatever to a man who became thereby an officer in the Civil war. Capt. Reddish was kind hearted, and as brave an old fellow as a reckless and indiscriminating bull dog, but, aside from his personal courage, he had no military qualities whatever, and failed to acquire any during his entire service. He never could learn the drill, except the most simple company movements. He was also very illiterate, and could barely write his name. And his commands on drill were generally laughable. For instance, in giving the command of right or left wheel, he would supplement it by saying, "Swing around, boys, just like a gate." Such directions would mortify us exceedingly, and caused the men of the other companies to laugh at and twit us about our Captain. He would have made a first-class duty sergeant, and that was as high a rank as he was capable of properly filling. But he was a good old man, and furiously patriotic. He loved a fighter and abominated a coward, and, on the whole, his men couldn't help but like him. Capt. Reddish selected for his first, or orderly sergeant, as the position was generally designated, Enoch W. Wallace, of my neighborhood. Enoch, as we usually called him, was an old acquaintance and intimate friend of my parents, and I too had known him from the time I was quite a little boy. Take him all in all, he was just one of the best men I ever knew. He had seen service as a Mexican war soldier, but owing to his youth, being only about sixteen when that war began, I think he did not get in till towards the last, and hence his service was short. But he learned something about company drill. When I heard that Wallace was to be the first sergeant of Capt. Reddish's company, I made up my mind, right then, that I would enlist in that company, and told my father I was going to do so. He listened in silence, with his eyes fixed on the ground. Finally he said, "Well, Leander, if you think it's your duty to go, I shall make no objection. But you're the only boy I now have at home big enough to work, so I wish you'd put it off until we get the wheat sowed, and the corn gathered. Then, if you're still of the same mind, it'll be all right." I felt satisfied that the regiment would not leave for the front until after we had done that work, so I at once consented to my father's request.
An incident happened about this time that greatly stimulated my desire to get into the army. Harvey Edsall, a neighbor boy some four or five years my senior, had enlisted that summer in the 22nd Illinois Infantry. Harvey, with his regiment, was in the battle of Belmont on November 7, 1861, and in the action received a rather severe gun shot wound in the calf of one of his legs. As soon as he was able to stand the travel, he was sent home on furlough, and I met him soon after his arrival at his father's house, where the people had gathered to listen to "the preaching of the word" by Elder Harrison Rowden. (We had no regular church building in our immediate neighborhood then, and religious services were held at private houses.) Harvey was rapidly recovering, but his wounded leg was still swathed in bandages, and he walked on crutches. I well remember how we boys stood around and looked at him with wide-eyed admiration. And he had to tell us the story of the fight, and all about the circumstances connected with the shot he got in his leg, until he probably was sick and tired of the subject. But, for my part, I thought Harvey's story was just grand, and it somehow impressed me with the idea that the only life worth living was that of a soldier in time of war. The idea of staying at home and turning over senseless clods on the farm with the cannon thundering so close at hand that the old men said that when the wind was from the south they sometimes smelled the powder!—was simply intolerable.
Remember all the time, as you read these recollections of an old man, that I am trying to give you merely some conception of the thoughts, feelings, hopes, and ambitions of one who, at the time of which I am now speaking, was only an eighteen year old boy.
In the meantime, I went on helping my father do the fall work on the farm. In due time the wheat was sowed, the corn gathered, and a huge stack of firewood for winter cut and brought in, and piled near the dwelling-house. By this time the holiday season was approaching, which I wanted to spend at home, thinking, maybe, it might be the last. And the regiment was doing nothing but recruit, and drill at Camp Carrollton, and, as I looked at it, there was no special need to hurry. But Christmas and New Year's Day soon came, and went, and one evening I told my parents I intended to go to Carrollton the next day, and "maybe" would come back a soldier. Early next morning, which was Monday, January 6, 1862, I saddled and bridled Bill, the little black mule, and struck out. Carrollton was about twenty miles from our home, almost due north, and the road ran mainly through big woods, with an occasional farm on either side of the road. It is likely those woods are all gone now. I reached the camp about the middle of the afternoon, went to the quarters of Reddish's company, found Enoch Wallace, and told him I had come to enlist. He took me to Capt. Reddish, gave me a short introduction to him, and told him my business. The old Captain gave me a hearty greeting, and was so plain, kind and natural in his manner and talk, that I took a liking to him at once. He told me that the first step necessary was to be examined by the regimental surgeon as to my physical fitness, so we at once went to the surgeon's tent. I had previously heard all sorts of stories as to the thoroughness of this examination, that sometimes the prospective recruits had to strip, stark naked, and jump about, in order to show that their limbs were perfect. But I was agreeably disappointed in that regard. The surgeon, at that time, was a fat, jolly old doctor by the name of Leonidas Clemmons. I was about scared to death when the Captain presented me to him, and requested him to examine me. I reckon the good old doctor saw I was frightened, and he began laughing heartily and saying some kind things about my general appearance. He requested me to stand up straight, then gave me two or three little sort of "love taps" on the chest, turned me round, ran his hands over my shoulders, back, and limbs, laughing and talking all the time, then whirled me to the front, and rendered judgment on me as follows: "Ah, Capt. Reddish! I only wish you had a hundred such fine boys as this one! He's all right, and good for the service." I drew a long breath, and felt much relieved. Then we went to the adjutant's tent, there I signed something, and was duly sworn in. Then to the quartermaster's tent, where I drew my clothing. I got behind a big bale of stuff, took off my citizen's apparel and put on my soldier clothes then and there,—and didn't I feel proud! The clothing outfit consisted of a pair of light-blue pantaloons, similar colored overcoat with a cape to it, dark blue jacket, heavy shoes and woolen socks, an ugly, abominable cocky little cap patterned after the then French army style, gray woolen shirt, and other ordinary under-clothing. Was also given a knapsack, but I think I didn't get a haversack and canteen until later. Right here I will say that the regimental records give the date of my enlistment as the 7th of January, which is wrong. The date was the 6th. It was a day I did not forget, and never shall. How the authorities happened to get the date wrong I do not know, but it is a matter of only one day, and never was of any importance.
It was the custom then in the regiment to give each recruit when he enlisted a two-days furlough, but I deferred asking for mine until the next morning. I spent that afternoon in the camp, and the night at the quarters of my company. As already stated, the camp was on the county Fair Grounds. They contained forty acres, and were thickly studded with big native trees, mainly white and black oak and shag-bark hickory. The grounds were surrounded by an inclosure seven or eight feet high, consisting of thick, native timber planks with the lower ends driven in the ground, and the upper parts firmly nailed to cross-wise stringers. There was only one opening, which was at the main gate about the center of the north side of the grounds. A line of guards was maintained at the gate and all round the inside of the inclosure, with the beat close to the fence, for the purpose of keeping the men in camp. No enlisted man could go out except on a pass signed by his captain, and approved by the colonel. The drilling of the men was conducted principally inside the grounds, but on skirmish drill we went outside, in order to have room enough. The quarters or barracks of the men were, for each company, a rather long, low structure, crudely built of native lumber and covered with clapboards and a top dressing of straw, containing two rows of bunks, one above and one below. These shacks looked like a Kansas stable of early days,—but they were abodes of comfort and luxury compared to what we frequently had later.
Next morning, after an early breakfast, I pulled out for home, with my two-days furlough in my pocket. I was accompanied by John Jobson, one of Reddish's company, and who had enlisted about a month previous. He had obtained a short furlough for some purpose or other, and had hired a horse on which to make the trip. Prior to his enlistment he had been working as a farm hand for Sam Dougherty, one of our nearest neighbors, and I had become well acquainted with him. He was about twenty-five years old, of English birth, a fine, sensible young fellow, and made a good soldier. I well remember our high spirits on this journey home. We were young, glowing with health and overflowing with liveliness and animation. There was a heavy snow on the ground, but the sky was clear, and the air was keen and bracing. Occasionally, when we would strike a stretch of level road, we would loose all the buttons of our overcoats save the top one, put the gad to our steeds, and waving our caps, with our long coat tails streaming in the wind, would yell like Comanches, and "let on" that we were making a cavalry charge. I have no doubt that we believed we presented a most terror-striking appearance.
Happy is man that to him the future is a sealed book. In the summer of 1863, while we were stationed near Vicksburg, Jobson was taken seriously ill, and was put on a transport to be taken to a general hospital at Mound City, Illinois. He died en route, on the boat, and was hastily buried in a sand bar at the mouth of White River. The changing currents of the mighty Mississippi have long since swallowed up that sand bar, and with it all that may have been left of the mortal remains of poor Jobson.
I reached home sometime in the afternoon, relieved Bill of his equipments, put him in the stable, and fed him. No one was stirring about outside, and I walked into the house unannounced. My mother was seated in an old rocking-chair, engaged in sewing. She looked up, saw me in the uniform of a soldier, and she knew what that meant. Her work dropped in her lap, she covered her face with her hands, and the tears gushed through her fingers and she trembled in her chair with the intensity of her emotions. There was no sobbing, or other vocal manifestation of feeling, but her silence made her grief seem all the more impressive. I was distressed, and didn't know what to say, so I said nothing, and walked out into the kitchen, thence back to the barn. There I met father, who had come in from some out-door work. He looked at me gravely, but with an impassive countenance, and merely remarked, "Well, I reckon you've done right."
Next morning everybody seemed more cheerful, and I had much to say at breakfast about things at Camp Carrollton.
On the expiration of my furlough I promptly reported at the camp and entered on my duties as a soldier. The absorbing duty was the drill, and that was persistent, and consumed the most of the time. I knew nothing about it when I enlisted, and had never seen any except on the previous Monday afternoon. The system we then had was Hardee's Infantry Tactics. It was simple, and easily learned. The main things required were promptness, care, and close attention. All day long, somewhere in the camp, could be heard the voice of some officer, calling, "Left! left! left, right, left!" to his squad or company, to guide them in the cadence of the step. We were drilled at Carrollton in the "school of the soldier," "school of the company," and skirmish drill, with dress parade at sunset. We had no muskets, and did not receive them until we went to Benton Barracks, at St. Louis. I do not remember of our having any battalion drill at Camp Carrollton. The big trees in the fair grounds were probably too thick and numerous to permit that. Our fare consisted of light bread, coffee, fresh meat at some meals, and salt meat at others, Yankee beans, rice, onions, and Irish and sweet potatoes, with stewed dried apples occasionally for supper. The salt meat, as a rule, was pickled pork and fat side meat, which latter "table comfort" the boys called "sow-belly." We got well acquainted with that before the war was over. On the grub question I will say now that the great "stand-bys" of the Union soldiers during the war, at least those of the western armies, were coffee, sow-belly, Yankee beans, and hardtack. It took us, of course, some time to learn how to cook things properly, especially the beans, but after we had learned how, we never went back on the above named old friends. But the death of many a poor boy, especially during our first two or three months in the field, is chargeable to the bad cooking of his food.
At Carrollton the jolliest time of the day was from the close of dress parade until taps sounded "Lights out." There was then a good deal of what you might call "prairie dogging," that is, the boys would run around and visit at the quarters of other companies. And Oh, how they would sing! All sorts of patriotic songs were in vogue then, and what was lacking in tone we made up in volume. The battle of Mill Springs, in Kentucky, was fought on January 19, 1862, resulting in a Union victory. A Confederate general, Felix K. Zollicoffer, was killed in the action. He had been a member of Congress from Tennessee, and was a man of prominence in the South. A song soon appeared in commemoration of this battle. It was called "The Happy Land of Canaan," and I now remember only one stanza, which is as follows:
"Old Zolly's gone, And Secesh will have to mourn, For they thought he would do to depend on; But he made his last stand On the rolling Cumberland, And was sent to the happy land of Canaan."
There was a ringing, rolling chorus to each verse, of course, and which was not at all germane to the text, and, moreover, as the newspapers sometimes say, is "not adapted for publication,"—so it will be omitted. Well, I can now shut my eyes and lean back in my chair and let my memory revert to that far away time, and it just seems to me that I can see and hear Nelse Hegans, of Co. C, singing that song at night in our quarters at old Camp Carrollton. He was a big, strong six-footer, about twenty-one years of age, with a deep bass voice that sounded when singing like the roll of distant thunder. And he was an all-around good fellow. Poor Nelse! He was mortally wounded by a musket ball in the neck early in the morning of the first day at Shiloh, and died a few days thereafter.
The health of the boys while at Camp Carrollton was fine. There were a few cases of measles, but as I remember, none were fatal. Once I caught a bad cold, but I treated it myself with a backwoods remedy and never thought of going to the surgeon about it. I took some of the bark of a hickory tree that stood near our quarters, and made about a quart of strong hickory-bark tea. I drank it hot, and all at once, just before turning in for the night. It was green in color, and intensely bitter, but it cured the cold.
A few weeks after my enlistment, I was appointed to the position of corporal. There are, or were in my time, eight corporals in an infantry company, each designated by a number, in numerical order. I was fifth. I owed this appointment to the friendship and influence of Enoch Wallace, and this was only one of the countless acts of kindness that he rendered me during my term of service. I just cannot tell you how proud I was over this modest military office. I am telling you the truth when I say that I felt more pride and pleasure in being a "Corporal of Co. D" than I ever did later in the possession of any other office, either military or civil. The boys framed up a story on me, to the effect that soon after my appointment I was seen in the rear of the company quarters, stooping over an empty barrel, with my head projected into it as far as possible, and exclaiming in a deep, guttural tone, "CORPORAL STILLWELL!" "CORPORAL STILLWELL!" This was being done, so the boys said, in order that I might personally enjoy the sound. In order to be strictly accurate, I will state that, although the appointment was made while we were at Carrollton, my official warrant was not issued until our arrival at Benton Barracks.
The only thing recalled now that was sort of disagreeable at Camp Carrollton was the utter absence of privacy. Even when off duty, one couldn't get away by himself, and sit down in peace and quiet anywhere. And as for slipping off into some corner and trying to read, alone, a book or paper, the thing was impossible. To use a modern expression, there was always "something doing." Many a time after supper, on very cold nights, when the boys would all be in the barracks, singing or cutting up, I would sneak out and walk around under the big trees, with the snow crackling under my feet, for no other purpose whatever than just to be alone a while. But that condition of things changed for the better after we got down South, and were no longer cooped up in a forty acre lot.
General Grant gained his great victory at Fort Donelson on February 16, 1862, and the news reached us a few days later. The boys talked about it with feelings of mingled exultation,—and mortification. Exultation, of course, over the "glorious victory," but mortification in regard to its effects and consequences on our future military career. We all thought, from the officers down, that now the war would end, that we would see no actual service, and never fire a shot. That we would be discharged, and go home just little "trundle-bed soldiers," and have to sit around and hear other sure-enough warriors tell the stories of actual war and fighting. If we only had known, we were borrowing unnecessary trouble,—as we found out later.
BENTON BARRACKS. ST. LOUIS, MARCH, 1862.
Sometime during the last of February, the welcome news was given out from regimental headquarters that we were soon to leave Camp Carrollton. Our first objective point was to be St. Louis, Mo., and what next nobody knew. Definite orders for the movement were issued later, and it then occurred to us that possibly all our recent apprehensions about not seeing any fighting were somewhat premature.
Right here I will say that in the brief sketch of the regiment published in the reports of the Adjutant-General of the State of Illinois, the date of our leaving Carrollton is given as February 21, which is wrong. That date is either a mistake of the person who wrote that part of the sketch, or a typographical error. I have in my possession, and now lying before me, a letter I wrote to my father from Benton Barracks, of date March 2, 1862, in which the date of our arrival at St. Louis is given as February 28th. And I well know that we were only two days on the trip. And besides the date given in my letter, I distinctly remember several unwritten facts and circumstances that satisfy me beyond any doubt, that the day we left Carrollton was February 27, 1862. Early in the morning of that day, the regiment filed out at the big gate, and marched south on the dirt road. Good-bye to old Camp Carrollton! Many of the boys never saw it again, and I never have seen it since but once, which was in the summer of 1894. I was back then in Jersey county, on a sort of a visit, and was taken with a desire to run up to Carrollton and look at the old camp. There was then a railroad constructed during the last years of the war, (or about that time), running south from the town, and less than an hour's ride from Jerseyville, where I was stopping, so I got on a morning train, and, like Jonah when moved to go to Tarshish, "paid the fare and went." I found the old camp still being used as a county fair ground, and the same big trees, or the most of them, were there yet, and looked about as they did thirty-two years before. Of course, every vestige of our old barracks was gone. I stood around and looked at things awhile,—and thought—then left, and have never been there again.
The regiment arrived at Jerseyville about sunset. The word had gone out, all through the country, that Fry's regiment was leaving for the front, and the country people had come to town, from miles around, in their farm wagons, to have one last look, and bid us good-bye. The regiment, in column by companies, company distance, marched up the main street running south, and on reaching the center of the little town, we wheeled into line, dressed on the colors, and stood at attention. The sidewalks were thronged with the country people all intently scanning the lines, each little family group anxiously looking for their boy, brother, husband or father, as the case may have been. (But right here it will be said that the overwhelming majority of the enlisted men of the regiment, and the most of the line officers, were unmarried.) I was satisfied that my parents were somewhere among the crowd of spectators, for I had specially written them as to when we would pass through Jerseyville. I was in the front rank, and kept my face rigidly fixed to the front, but glanced as best I could up and down the sidewalk, trying to locate father and mother. Suddenly I saw them, as they struggled to the edge of the walk, not more than ten feet from me. I had been somewhat dreading the meeting, and the parting that was to come. I remembered the emotion of my mother when she first saw me in my uniform, and I feared that now she might break down altogether. But there she stood, her eyes fixed on me intently, with a proud and happy smile on her face! You see, we were a magnificent-looking body of young fellows, somewhere between 800 and 900 strong. Our uniforms were clean and comparatively new, and our faces were ruddy and glowing with health. Besides the regimental colors, each company, at that time, carried a small flag, which were all fluttering in the breeze, and our regimental band was playing patriotic tunes at its best. I reckon it was a somewhat inspiring sight to country people like those who, with possibly very few exceptions, had never seen anything like that before. Anyhow, my mother was evidently content and glad to see me there, under the shadow of the flag, and going forth to fight for the old Union, instead of then being sneaking around at home, like some great hulking boys in our neighborhood who were of Copperhead sympathies and parentage.
Arrangements had been made to quarter the regiment that night in different public buildings in the town, and the companies were soon marched to their respective places. Co. D had been assigned to the Baptist church, and there my parents and I met, and had our final interview. They were nine miles from home, in the old farm wagon, the roads (in the main) were through dense woods, and across ridges and hollows, the short winter day was drawing to a close and night approaching, so our farewell talk was necessarily brief. Our parting was simple and unaffected, without any display of emotion by anybody. But mother's eyes looked unusually bright, and she didn't linger after she had said, "Good-bye Leander." As for my father,—he was an old North Carolinian, born and reared among the Cherokee Indians at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains, and with him, and all other men of his type, any yielding to "womanish" feelings was looked on as almost disgraceful. His farewell words were few, and concise, and spoken in his ordinary tone and manner, he then turned on his heel, and was gone.
Mother left with me a baked chicken, the same being a big, fat hen full of stuffing, rich in sage and onions; also some mince pie, old time doughnuts, and cucumber pickles. I shared it all with Bill Banfield (my chum), and we had plenty for supper and breakfast the next day, with the drum-sticks and some other outlying portions of the chicken for dinner.
Early the next morning we pulled out for Alton, on the Mississippi River. But we did not have to march much that day. The country people around and near Jerseyville turned out in force with their farm wagons, and insisted on hauling us to Alton, and their invitations were accepted with pleasure. A few miles north of Alton we passed what was in those days (and may be yet) a popular and celebrated school for girls, called the "Monticello Female Seminary." The girls had heard of our coming, and were all out by the side of the road, a hundred or more, with red, white and blue ribbons in their hair and otherwise on their persons. They waved white handkerchiefs and little flags at us, and looked their sweetest. And didn't we cheer them! Well, I should say so. We stood up in the wagons, and swung our caps, and just whooped and hurrahed as long as those girls were in sight. We always treasured this incident as a bright, precious link in the chain of memory, for it was the last public manifestation, of this nature, of good-will and patriotism from girls and women that was given the regiment until we struck the soil of the State of Indiana, on our return home some months after the close of the war.
We arrived at Alton about sundown, and at once marched aboard the big side-wheel steamboat, "City of Alton," which was lying at the wharf waiting for us, and guards were promptly stationed to prevent the men leaving the boat. But "some one had blundered," and no rations had been provided for our supper. We were good and hungry, too, for our dinner, at least that of Co. D, consisted only of the left-over scraps of breakfast. But the officers got busy and went up town and bought, with their own money, something for us to eat. My company was furnished a barrel of oyster crackers, called in those days "butter crackers," and our drink was river water.
The novelty and excitement of the last two days had left me nerveless and tired out, and to tell the truth, I was feeling the first touch of "home-sickness." So, after supper I went up on the hurricane deck of the boat, spread my blanket on the floor, and with my knapsack for a pillow, laid down and soon fell asleep. The boat did not leave Alton until after dark, and when it pulled out, the scream of the whistle, the dashing of the paddles, and the throbbing and crash of the engines, aroused me from my slumber. I sat up and looked around and watched the lights of Alton as they twinkled and glimmered in the darkness, until they were lost to sight by a bend in the river. Then I laid down and went to sleep again, and did not wake until daylight the next morning, and found that our boat was moored to the wharf at St. Louis. We soon debarked, and marched out to Benton Barracks, which were clear out of town and beyond the suburbs. The shape of Benton Barracks, as I now remember, was a big oblong square. The barracks themselves consisted of a continuous connected row of low frame buildings, the quarters of each company being separated from the others by frame partitions, and provided with two rows of bunks around the sides and ends. At the rear of the quarters of each company was the company kitchen. It was a detached, separate frame structure, and amply provided with accommodations for cooking, including a brick furnace with openings for camp kettles, pots, boilers and the like. Both barracks and kitchen were comfortable and convenient, and greatly superior to our home-made shacks at Carrollton. The barracks inclosed a good sized tract of land, but its extent I do not now remember. This space was used for drilling and parades, and was almost entirely destitute of trees. The commander of the post, at that time, was Colonel Benjamin L. E. Bonneville, an old regular army officer, and who had been a noted western explorer in his younger days. I frequently saw him riding about the grounds. He was a little dried-up old Frenchman, and had no military look about him whatever. All the same, he was a man who had, as a soldier, done long and faithful service for his adopted country. Should you ever want to post up on him (if you have not already done so), read "Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West," by Washington Irving. You will find it deeply interesting.
We remained at Benton Barracks about four weeks. Life there was monotonous and void of any special interest. We drilled but little, as I now remember, the reason for that being it rained the most of the time we were there and the drill grounds were oceans of mud. The drainage was wretched, and the most of the rain that fell stayed on the surface until the ground soaked it up. And how it did rain at Benton Barracks in March, 1862! While there, I found in some recently vacated quarters an old tattered, paper bound copy of Dickens' "Bleak House," and on those rainy days I would climb up in my bunk (an upper one), and lie there and read that book. Some of the aristocratic characters mentioned therein had a country residence called "Chesney Wold," where it seemed it always rained. To quote (in substance) from the book, "The rain was ever falling, drip, drip, drip, by day and night," at "the place in Lincolnshire." 'Twas even so at Benton Barracks. When weary of reading, I would turn and look a while through the little window at the side of my bunk that gave a view of the most of the square which the barracks inclosed. The surface of the earth was just a quagmire of mud and water, and nothing stirring abroad could be seen save occasionally a mounted orderly, splashing at a gallop across the grounds. Since then I have frequently read "Bleak House," and whenever that chapter is reached depicting the rainy weather at the Dedlock place, I can again see, and smell, and hear, and feel, those gloomy wearisome conditions at Benton Barracks of over half a century ago. I have read, somewhere in Gen. Sherman's Memoirs, a statement in substance to the effect that rain in camp has a depressing effect upon soldiers, but is enlivening to them on a march. From personal experience I know that observation to be true. Many a time while on a march we would be caught in heavy rains. The dirt road would soon be worked into a loblolly of sticky yellow mud. Thereupon we would take off our shoes and socks, tie them to the barrel of our muskets a little below the muzzle and just above the end of the stock, poise the piece on the hammer on either shoulder, stock uppermost, and roll up our breeches to the knees. Then like Tam O'Shanter, we "skelpit on through dub and mire, despising wind, and rain, and fire," and singing "John Brown's Body," or whatever else came handy. But rainy days in camp, especially such as we had at Benton Barracks, engender feelings of gloom and dejection that have to be experienced in order to be realized. They are just too wretched for any adequate description.
One day while strolling around the grounds sight seeing, I fell in with a soldier who said he belonged to the 14th Wisconsin Infantry. He was some years older than me, but was quite sociable, and seemed to be a sensible, intelligent fellow. He was full of talk about his regiment,—said they were nearly all young men, big stalwart lumbermen from the pine woods of Wisconsin, and urged me to come around some evening when they were on dress parade, and look at them. I had found out by this time that almost every soldier would brag about his regiment, so allowance was made for what he said. But he excited my curiosity to see those Wisconsin boys, so one evening when I was at liberty, I did go and view them while they were on dress parade, and found that the soldier had not exaggerated. They were great, tall fellows, broad across the shoulders and chest, with big limbs. Altogether, they simply were, from a physical standpoint, the finest looking soldiers I ever saw during my entire term of service. I speak now of this incident and of these men, for the reason that later I may say something more about this 14th Wisconsin.
While at Benton Barracks we were given our regimental number,—Sixty-first—and thenceforth the regiment was known and designated as the Sixty-first Illinois Infantry. We also drew our guns. We were furnished with the Austrian rifle musket. It was of medium length, with a light brown walnut stock,—and was a wicked shooter. At that time the most of the western troops were armed with foreign-made muskets, imported from Europe. Many regiments had old Belgian muskets, a heavy, cumbersome piece, and awkward and unsatisfactory every way. We were glad to get the Austrians, and were quite proud of them. We used these until June, 1863, when we turned them in and drew in lieu thereof the Springfield rifle musket of the model of 1863. It was not as heavy as the Austrian, was neater looking, and a very efficient firearm. No further change was made, and we carried the Springfield thenceforward until we were mustered out.
It was also here at Benton Barracks that the mustering of the regiment into the service of the United States was completed. Ten companies, at that time, constituted a regiment of infantry, but ours had only nine. We lacked Company K, and it was not recruited, and did not join the regiment until in March, 1864. On account of our not having a full regiment, Col. Fry (as we always called him) was commissioned as Lieutenant Colonel only, which was his rank all the time he was with us, and Capt. Simon P. Ohr, of Co. A, was commissioned Major. Owing to our lack of one company, and the further fact that when that company did join us the other companies had become much depleted in numbers, the regiment therefore never had an officer of the full rank of Colonel until the summer of 1865, when it became entitled to one under the circumstances which will be stated further on.
OFF FOR THE SEAT OF WAR. THE BATTLE OF SHILOH. MARCH AND APRIL, 1862.
On March 25th we left Benton Barracks for the front. We marched through St. Louis and onto the steamboat that day, but from some cause I never knew, the boat did not leave the wharf until about dark the next evening. My company was quartered on the hurricane deck of the boat. Soon after the boat started down the river an incident befell me that looks somewhat comical now, but at that time it was to me a serious matter, and one that troubled my conscience a good deal. I had piled my knapsack, with the blanket strapped on the outside, and my other stuff, at the foot of the gun stack which included my musket. Suddenly I discovered, to my great consternation, that my blanket was gone! Yes, my lords and gentlemen, some "false Scot" had deliberately and feloniously appropriated my indispensable equipment for a night's repose. And a long, raw March night was coming on, and the damp and chilly air was rising, like a fog, from the cold surface of the river. All signs, too, portended a rainy night. The thunder was muttering off in the southwest, intermittent flashes of lightning lit up the sky, and scattering drops of rain were even then beginning to patter on the hurricane deck and ripple the bosom of the stream. What should I do? I must have a blanket, that was certain. But all my life the belief had been instilled into me that stealing was well-nigh the most disgraceful of all crimes, and that a thief was a most odious and contemptible wretch. Moreover, one of the ten commandments "pintedly" declared. "Thou shalt not steal." But something had to be done, and speedily. At last it occurred to me that being a soldier, and belonging for the time being to Uncle Sam, I was a species of government property, which it was my duty to protect at all hazards. That settled the question, and conscience and honesty withdrew. Without going into the demoralizing details, suffice it to say that I stole a blanket from some hapless victim belonging to another company, and thus safeguarded the health and military efficiency of a chattel of the Nation. How the other fellow got along, I don't know. I made no impertinent inquiries, and, during the day time, indefinitely thereafter, kept that blanket in my knapsack, carefully concealed from prying eyes. But it will be recorded here that this was the only act of downright larceny that I committed during my entire term of service, except the gobbling of a couple of onions, which maybe I'll mention later. Of course I helped myself many times, while on the march, or on picket, to roasting ears, sweet potatoes, apples, and the like, but that came under the head of legitimate foraging, and was sanctioned by the military authorities.
The night we left St. Louis I had my first impressive object lesson showing the difference between the conditions of the commissioned officers and the enlisted men. I had spread my blanket at the base of the little structure called the "Texas," on which the pilot house stands. All around the bottom of the "Texas" was a row of small window lights that commanded a view of the interior of the boat's cabin below, and I only had to turn my head and look in and down, to see what was passing. The officers were seated in cushioned chairs, or sauntering around over the carpeted and brilliantly lighted room, while their supper was being prepared. Colored waiters dressed in white uniforms were bringing in the eatables, and when all was ready, a gong was sounded and the officers seated themselves at the table. And just look at the good things they had to eat! Fried ham and beefsteak, hot biscuits, butter, molasses, big boiled Irish potatoes steaming hot, fragrant coffee served with cream, in cups and saucers, and some minor goodies in the shape of preserves and the like. And how savory those good things smelled!—for I was where I could get the benefit of that. And there were the officers, in the warm, lighted cabin, seated at a table, with nigger waiters to serve them, feasting on that splendid fare! Why, it was the very incarnation of bodily comfort and enjoyment! And, when the officers should be ready to retire for the night, warm and cozy berths awaited them, where they would stretch their limbs on downy quilts and mattresses, utterly oblivious to the wet and chill on the outside. Then I turned my head and took in my surroundings! A black, cold night, cinders and soot drifting on us from the smoke stacks, and a drizzling rain pattering down. And my supper had consisted of hardtack and raw sow-belly, with river water for a beverage, of the vintage, say, of 1541. And to aggravate the situation generally, I was lying on a blanket which a military necessity had compelled me to steal. But I reflected that we couldn't all be officers,—there had to be somebody to do the actual trigger-pulling. And I further consoled myself with the thought that while the officers had more privileges than the common soldiers, they likewise had more responsibilities, and had to worry their brains about many things that didn't bother us a particle. So I smothered all envious feelings as best I could, and wrapping myself up good in my blanket, went to sleep, and all night long slept the unbroken, dreamless sleep of youth and health.
The weather cleared up that night, and the next day was fine, and we all felt in better spirits. Our surroundings were new and strange, and we were thrilling with excitement and bright hopes of the future. The great majority of us were simple country boys, who had so far passed our lives in a narrow circle in the backwoods. As for myself, before enlisting in the army I had never been more than fifty miles from home, had not traveled any on a steamboat, and my few short railroad trips did not amount, in the aggregate, to more than about seventy-five miles, back and forth. But now the contracted horizon of the "Whippoorwill Ridges" adjacent to the old home had suddenly expanded, and a great big wonderful world was unfolding to my view. And there was the daring, heroic life on which we were entering! No individual boy expected that he would be killed, or meet with any other adverse fate. Others might, and doubtless would, but he would come out safe and sound, and return home at the end of a victorious war, a military hero, and as such would be looked up to, and admired and reverenced, all the rest of his life. At any rate, such were my thoughts, and I have no doubt whatever that ninety-nine out of a hundred of the other boys thought the same.
On the afternoon of this day (March 27th) we arrived at Cairo, rounded in at the wharf, and remained a short time. The town fronted on the Ohio river, which was high at the time, as also was the Mississippi. The appearance of Cairo was wretched. Levees had been constructed to protect it from high water, but notwithstanding the streets and the grounds generally were just a foul, stagnant swamp. Engines were at work pumping the surface water into the river through pipes in the levee; otherwise I reckon everybody would have been drowned out. Charles Dickens saw this locality in the spring of 1842 when on a visit to America, and it figures in "Martin Chuzzlewit," under the name of "Eden." I never read that book until after the close of the war, but have several times since, and will say that if the Eden of 1842 looked anything like the Cairo of twenty years later, his description thereof was fully warranted.
Our boat had hardly got moored to the wharf before the word went round that some Confederate prisoners were on the transport on our right, and we forthwith rushed to that side to get our first look at the "Secesh," as we then called them. It was only a small batch, about a hundred or so. They were under guard, and on the after part of the lower deck, along the sides and the stern of the boat. We ascertained that they were about the last installment of the Fort Donelson prisoners, and were being shipped to a northern military prison. Naturally, we scanned them with great curiosity, and the boys soon began to joke and chaff them in a perfectly good natured way. They took this silently, with no other manifestation than an occasional dry grin. But finally, a rather good looking young fellow cocked his eyes toward us and in a soft, drawling tone called out, "You-all will sing a different tune by next summah." Our boys responded to this with bursts of laughter and some derisive whoops; but later we found out that the young Confederate soldier was a true prophet.
Our halt at Cairo was brief; the boat soon cast off and proceeded up the Ohio to the mouth of the Tennessee, and from thence up that river. Some time the next day we passed Fort Henry. We had read of its capture the month previous by the joint operations of our army and navy, and were all curious to see this Confederate stronghold, where a mere handful of men had put up such a plucky fight. My ideas of forts at that time had all been drawn from pictures in books which depicted old-time fortresses, and from descriptions in Scott's "Marmion" of ancient feudal castles like "Tantallon strong," and the like. And when we approached Fort Henry I fully expected to see some grand, imposing structure with "battled towers," "donjon keep," "portcullis," "drawbridges," and what not, and perhaps some officer of high rank with a drawn sword, strutting about on the ramparts and occasionally shouting, at the top of his voice, "What, warder, ho!" or words to that effect. But, to my utter amazement and disgust, when we steamed up opposite Fort Henry I saw only a little squatty, insignificant looking mud affair, without the slightest feature of any of the "pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war." It had been built on the low bottom ground near the bank of the Tennessee river, the stream was now high, and the adjacent land was largely covered with water, while the inside of the fort looked a good deal like a hog pen. I couldn't imagine how such a contemptible looking thing had stood off our gunboats as long as it did. But I did not know then that just such works, with earthen walls, were the strongest and best defenses against modern artillery that could be constructed. In fact, what I didn't know about war, at that stage of the proceedings, was broad and comprehensive, and covered the whole field.
As we journeyed up the Tennessee we began to notice queer-looking green bunches of something on the trees. As the forest had not yet put forth its foliage, we knew that growth could not be leaves, and were puzzled to imagine what it could be. But we finally learned from some of the boat's crew that it was mistletoe. So far as I knew none of the private soldiers had ever before seen that curious evergreen, and it was to us a strange curiosity. But we got well acquainted with it later.
We arrived at Pittsburg Landing on the evening of March 31, about sundown. On going into camp in our position upon the line, for the first time in our service we dwelt in tents. We had what was called the Sibley tent, an affair of a conical shape, rather large, and capable of accommodating about twelve men, with their accoutrements. As a circumstance bearing on our ignorance of life in tents, I will say that we neglected to ditch around them, and on the very first night we slept in them there came a heavy rain, and the next morning found us lying more or less in the water, and our blankets and other stuff sopping wet. But after that, on pitching our tents one of the first things we did was to dig around them a sufficient ditch with a lateral extension.
I retain a vivid recollection of the kind of army cooking we had for the first few months in Tennessee. At Camp Carrollton and Benton Barracks we had company cooks who prepared the food for the entire company. They were merely enlisted men, detailed for that purpose, and while their cooking was nothing to brag about, it was vastly superior to what now ensued. We divided up into messes, of four, eight, or twelve men, or thereabouts, to the mess, and generally would take turns in the culinary line. Very few of us knew anything whatever about cooking, and our exploits in that regard would have been comical if the effects had not been so pernicious. Flour was issued to us after our arrival at Pittsburg Landing, but we had no utensils in which we could cook biscuits, or loaves. So we would make a batter out of flour, water, grease, and salt, and cook it in a mess pan, the product being the army "flapjack." It invariably was tough as a mule's ear, about as heavy as lead, and very indigestible. Later we learned to construct ovens of wood, daubed with mud, or of stone, and in them, in the course of time, we acquired the knack of baking good bread. But with us in the west the hardtack was generally our standard bread diet, and nothing could beat it.
And for some time our cooking of "Yankee beans," as we called them, was simply atrocious. As you know, beans should be cooked until they are thoroughly done; otherwise they are decidedly harmful. Well, we would not cook them much more than half enough, the result being a sloppy, slimy mess, its looks alone being well-nigh sufficient to extinguish one's appetite. And as for the rice—the horrible messes we would make of that defy description. I know that one consequence with me was I contracted such an aversion to rice that for many years afterwards, while in civil life, I just couldn't eat it in any form, no matter how temptingly it was prepared.
Owing to improperly cooked food, change of climate and of water, and neglect of proper sanitation measures in the camps, camp diarrhea became epidemic at Pittsburg Landing, especially among the "green" regiments like ours. And for about six weeks everybody suffered, more or less, the difference being only in degree. The fact is, the condition of the troops in that quarter during the prevalence of that disorder was simply so bad and repulsive that any detailed description thereof will be passed over. I never saw the like before, and never have seen it since. I always thought that one thing which aggravated this trouble was the inordinate quantity of sugar some of the men would consume. They would not only use it to excess in their coffee and rice, but would frequently eat it raw, by handfuls. I happen to think, right now, of an incident that illustrates the unnatural appetite of some of the men for sugar. It occurred in camp one rainy day during the siege of Corinth. Jake Hill, of my company, had covered the top of a big army hardtack with sugar in a cone-like form, piling it on as long as the tack would hold a grain. Then he seated himself on his knapsack and proceeded to gnaw away at his feast, by a system of "regular approaches." He was even then suffering from the epidemic before mentioned, and so weak he could hardly walk. Some one said to him, "Jake, that sugar ain't good for you in your condition." He looked up with an aggrieved air and responded in a tone of cruelly injured innocence, "Haven't I the right to eat my r-a-a-tion?" Strange to say, Jake got well, and served throughout the war. He was a good soldier, too.
For my part, I quit using sugar in any form, early in my army service, (except a little, occasionally, with stewed fruit, or berries,) and didn't resume its general use until some years after my discharge from the army.
In consequence of the conditions at Pittsburg Landing that have been alluded to, men died by the score like rotten sheep. And a great many more were discharged for disability and thereby were lost to the service. It is true that some of these discharged men, especially the younger ones, subsequently re-enlisted, and made good soldiers. But this loss to the Union armies in Tennessee in the spring of '62 by disease would undoubtedly surpass the casualties of a great battle, but, unlike a battle, there was no resulting compensation whatever.
The battle of Shiloh was fought on April 6 and 7. In 1890 I wrote an article on the battle which was published in the New York Tribune, and later it appeared in several other newspapers. It has also been reprinted in book form in connection with papers by other persons, some about the war, and others of a miscellaneous nature. The piece I wrote twenty-five years ago is as good, I reckon, if not better than anything on that head I can write now, so it will be set out here.
IN THE RANKS AT SHILOH.
By Leander Stillwell, late First Lieutenant, 61st Illinois Volunteer Infantry.
There has been a great deal said and written about the battle of Shiloh, both by Rebel and Union officers and writers. On the part of the first there has been, and probably always will be, angry dispute and criticism about the conduct of General Beauregard in calling off his troops Sunday evening while fully an hour of broad, precious daylight still remained, which, as claimed by some, might have been utilized in destroying the remainder of Grant's army before Buell could have crossed the Tennessee. On the part of Union writers the matters most discussed have been as to whether or not our forces were surprised, the condition of Grant's army at the close of the first day, what the result would have been without the aid of the gunboats, or if Buell's army had not come, and kindred subjects. It is not my purpose, in telling my story of the battle of Shiloh, to say anything that will add to this volume of discussion. My age at the time was but eighteen, and my position that of a common soldier in the ranks. It would therefore be foolish in me to assume the part of a critic. The generals, who, from reasonably safe points of observation, are sweeping the field with their glasses, and noting and directing the movements of the lines of battle, must, in the nature of things, be the ones to furnish the facts that go to make history. The extent of a battlefield seen by the common soldier is that only which comes within the range of the raised sights of his musket. And what little he does see is as "through a glass, darkly." The dense banks of powder smoke obstruct his gaze; he catches but fitful glimpses of his adversaries as the smoke veers or rises.
Then, too, my own experience makes me think that where the common soldier does his duty, all his faculties of mind and body are employed in attending to the details of his own personal part of the work of destruction, and there is but little time left him for taking mental notes to form the bases of historical articles a quarter of a century afterward. The handling, tearing, and charging of his cartridge, ramming it home (we used muzzle loaders during the Civil War), the capping of his gun, the aiming and firing, with furious haste and desperate energy,—for every shot may be his last,—these things require the soldier's close personal attention and make him oblivious to matters transpiring beyond his immediate neighborhood. Moreover, his sense of hearing is well-nigh overcome by the deafening uproar going on around him. The incessant and terrible crash of musketry, the roar of the cannon, the continual zip, zip, of the bullets as they hiss by him, interspersed with the agonizing screams of the wounded, or the death shrieks of comrades falling in dying convulsions right in the face of the living,—these things are not conducive to that serene and judicial mental equipoise which the historian enjoys in his closet.
Let the generals and historians, therefore, write of the movements of corps, divisions, and brigades. I have naught to tell but the simple story of what one private soldier saw of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.
The regiment to which I belonged was the 61st Illinois Infantry. It left its camp of instruction (a country town in southern Illinois) about the last of February, 1862. We were sent to Benton Barracks, near St. Louis, and remained there drilling (when the weather would permit) until March 25th. We left on that day for the front. It was a cloudy, drizzly, and most gloomy day, as we marched through the streets of St. Louis down to the levee, to embark on a transport that was to take us to our destination. The city was enveloped in that pall of coal smoke for which St. Louis is celebrated. It hung heavy and low and set us all to coughing. I think the colonel must have marched us down some by-street. It was narrow and dirty, with high buildings on either side. The line officers took the sidewalks, while the regiment, marching by the flank, tramped in silence down the middle of the street, slumping through the nasty, slimy mud. There was one thing very noticeable on this march through St. Louis, and that was the utter lack of interest taken in us by the inhabitants. From pictures I had seen in books at home, my idea was that when soldiers departed for war, beautiful ladies stood on balconies and waved snowy-white handkerchiefs at the troops, while the men stood on the sidewalks and corners and swung their hats and cheered.
There may have been regiments so favored, but ours was not one of them. Occasionally a fat, chunky-looking fellow, of a German cast of countenance, with a big pipe in his mouth, would stick his head out of a door or window, look at us a few seconds, and then disappear. No handkerchiefs nor hats were waved, we heard no cheers. My thoughts at the time were that the Union people there had all gone to war, or else the colonel was marching us through a "Secesh" part of town.
We marched to the levee and from there on board the big sidewheel steamer, Empress. The next evening she unfastened her moorings, swung her head out into the river, turned down stream, and we were off for the "seat of war." We arrived at Pittsburg Landing on March 31st. Pittsburg Landing, as its name indicates, was simply a landing place for steamboats. It is on the west bank of the Tennessee river, in a thickly wooded region about twenty miles northeast of Corinth. There was no town there then, nothing but "the log house on the hill" that the survivors of the battle of Shiloh will all remember. The banks of the Tennessee on the Pittsburg Landing side are steep and bluffy, rising about 100 feet above the level of the river. Shiloh church, that gave the battle its name, was a Methodist meeting house. It was a small, hewed log building with a clapboard roof, about two miles out from the landing on the main Corinth road. On our arrival we were assigned to the division of General B. M. Prentiss, and we at once marched out and went into camp. About half a mile from the landing the road forks, the main Corinth road goes to the right, past Shiloh church, the other goes to the left. These two roads come together again some miles out. General Prentiss' division was camped on this left-hand road at right angles to it. Our regiment went into camp almost on the extreme left of Prentiss' line. There was a brigade of Sherman's division under General Stuart still further to the left, about a mile, I think, in camp near a ford of Lick Creek, where the Hamburg and Purdy road crosses the creek; and between the left of Prentiss' and General Stuart's camp there were no troops. I know that, for during the few days intervening between our arrival and the battle I roamed all through those woods on our left, between us and Stuart, hunting for wild onions and "turkey peas."
The camp of our regiment was about two miles from the landing. The tents were pitched in the woods, and there was a little field of about twenty acres in our front. The camp faced nearly west, or possibly southwest.
I shall never forget how glad I was to get off that old steamboat and be on solid ground once more, in camp out in those old woods. My company had made the trip from St. Louis to Pittsburg Landing on the hurricane deck of the steamboat, and our fare on the route had been hardtack and raw fat meat, washed down with river water, as we had no chance to cook anything, and we had not then learned the trick of catching the surplus hot water ejected from the boilers and making coffee with it. But once on solid ground, with plenty of wood to make fires, that bill of fare was changed. I shall never again eat meat that will taste as good as the fried "sowbelly" did then, accompanied by "flapjacks" and plenty of good, strong coffee. We had not yet got settled down to the regular drills, guard duty was light, and things generally seemed to run "kind of loose." And then the climate was delightful. We had just left the bleak, frozen north, where all was cold and cheerless, and we found ourselves in a clime where the air was as soft and warm as it was in Illinois in the latter part of May. The green grass was springing from the ground, the "Johnny-jump-ups" were in blossom, the trees were bursting into leaf, and the woods were full of feathered songsters. There was a redbird that would come every morning about sunup and perch himself in the tall black-oak tree in our company street, and for perhaps an hour he would practice on his impatient, querulous note, that said, as plain as a bird could say, "Boys, boys! get up! get up! get up!" It became a standing remark among the boys that he was a Union redbird and had enlisted in our regiment to sound the reveille.
So the time passed pleasantly away until that eventful Sunday morning, April 6, 1862. According to the Tribune Almanac for that year, the sun rose that morning in Tennessee at 38 minutes past five o'clock. I had no watch, but I have always been of the opinion that the sun was fully an hour and a half high before the fighting began on our part of the line. We had "turned out" about sunup, answered to roll-call, and had cooked and eaten our breakfast. We had then gone to work, preparing for the regular Sunday morning inspection, which would take place at nine o'clock. The boys were scattered around the company streets and in front of the company parade grounds, engaged in polishing and brightening their muskets, and brushing up and cleaning their shoes, jackets, trousers, and clothing generally. It was a most beautiful morning. The sun was shining brightly through the trees, and there was not a cloud in the sky. It really seemed like Sunday in the country at home. During week days there was a continual stream of army wagons going to and from the landing, and the clucking of their wheels, the yells and oaths of the drivers, the cracking of whips, mingled with the braying of mules, the neighing of the horses, the commands of the officers engaged in drilling the men, the incessant hum and buzz of the camps, the blare of bugles, and the roll of drums,—all these made up a prodigious volume of sound that lasted from the coming-up to the going-down of the sun. But this morning was strangely still. The wagons were silent, the mules were peacefully munching their hay, and the army teamsters were giving us a rest. I listened with delight to the plaintive, mournful tones of a turtle-dove in the woods close by, while on the dead limb of a tall tree right in the camp a woodpecker was sounding his "long roll" just as I had heard it beaten by his Northern brothers a thousand times on the trees in the Otter Creek bottom at home.
Suddenly, away off on the right, in the direction of Shiloh church, came a dull, heavy "Pum!" then another, and still another. Every man sprung to his feet as if struck by an electric shock, and we looked inquiringly into one another's faces. "What is that?" asked every one, but no one answered. Those heavy booms then came thicker and faster, and just a few seconds after we heard that first dull, ominous growl off to the southwest, came a low, sullen, continuous roar. There was no mistaking that sound. That was not a squad of pickets emptying their guns on being relieved from duty; it was the continuous roll of thousands of muskets, and told us that a battle was on.
What I have been describing just now occurred during a few seconds only, and with the roar of musketry the long roll began to beat in our camp. Then ensued a scene of desperate haste, the like of which I certainly had never seen before, nor ever saw again. I remember that in the midst of this terrible uproar and confusion, while the boys were buckling on their cartridge boxes, and before even the companies had been formed, a mounted staff officer came galloping wildly down the line from the right. He checked and whirled his horse sharply around right in our company street, the iron-bound hoofs of his steed crashing among the tin plates lying in a little pile where my mess had eaten its breakfast that morning. The horse was flecked with foam and its eyes and nostrils were red as blood. The officer cast one hurried glance around him, and exclaimed: "My God! this regiment not in line yet! They have been fighting on the right over an hour!" And wheeling his horse, he disappeared in the direction of the colonel's tent.
I know now that history says the battle began about 4:30 that morning; that it was brought on by a reconnoitering party sent out early that morning by General Prentiss; that General Sherman's division on the right was early advised of the approach of the Rebel army, and got ready to meet them in ample time. I have read these things in books and am not disputing them, but am simply telling the story of an enlisted man on the left of Prentiss' line as to what he saw and knew of the condition of things at about seven o'clock that morning.
Well, the companies were formed, we marched out on the regimental parade ground, and the regiment was formed in line. The command was given: "Load at will; load!" We had anticipated this, however, as the most of us had instinctively loaded our guns before we had formed company. All this time the roar on the right was getting nearer and louder. Our old colonel rode up close to us, opposite the center of the regimental line, and called out, "Attention, battalion!" We fixed our eyes on him to hear what was coming. It turned out to be the old man's battle harangue.
"Gentlemen," said he, in a voice that every man in the regiment heard, "remember your State, and do your duty today like brave men."
That was all. A year later in the war the old man doubtless would have addressed us as "soldiers," and not as "gentlemen," and he would have omitted his allusion to the "State," which smacked a little of Confederate notions. However, he was a Douglas Democrat, and his mind was probably running on Buena Vista, in the Mexican war, where, it is said, a Western regiment acted badly, and threw a cloud over the reputation for courage of the men of that State which required the thunders of the Civil War to disperse. Immediately after the colonel had given us his brief exhortation, the regiment was marched across the little field I have before mentioned, and we took our place in line of battle, the woods in front of us, and the open field in our rear. We "dressed on" the colors, ordered arms, and stood awaiting the attack. By this time the roar on the right had become terrific. The Rebel army was unfolding its front, and the battle was steadily advancing in our direction. We could begin to see the blue rings of smoke curling upward among the trees off to the right, and the pungent smell of burning gun-powder filled the air. As the roar came travelling down the line from the right it reminded me (only it was a million times louder) of the sweep of a thunder-shower in summer-time over the hard ground of a stubble-field.
And there we stood, in the edge of the woods, so still, waiting for the storm to break on us. I know mighty well what I was thinking about then. My mind's eye was fixed on a little log cabin, far away to the north, in the backwoods of western Illinois. I could see my father sitting on the porch, reading the little local newspaper brought from the post-office the evening before. There was my mother getting my little brothers ready for Sunday-school; the old dog lying asleep in the sun; the hens cackling about the barn; all these things and a hundred other tender recollections rushed into my mind. I am not ashamed to say now that I would willingly have given a general quit-claim deed for every jot and tittle of military glory falling to me, past, present, and to come, if I only could have been miraculously and instantaneously set down in the yard of that peaceful little home, a thousand miles away from the haunts of fighting men.
The time we thus stood, waiting the attack, could not have exceeded five minutes. Suddenly, obliquely to our right, there was a long, wavy flash of bright light, then another, and another! It was the sunlight shining on gun barrels and bayonets—and—there they were at last! A long brown line, with muskets at a right shoulder shift, in excellent order, right through the woods they came.
We began firing at once. From one end of the regiment to the other leaped a sheet of red flame, and the roar that went up from the edge of that old field doubtless advised General Prentiss of the fact that the Rebels had at last struck the extreme left of his line. We had fired but two or three rounds when, for some reason,—I never knew what,—we were ordered to fall back across the field, and did so. The whole line, so far as I could see to the right, went back. We halted on the other side of the field, in the edge of the woods, in front of our tents, and again began firing. The Rebels, of course, had moved up and occupied the line we had just abandoned. And here we did our first hard fighting during the day. Our officers said, after the battle was over, that we held this line an hour and ten minutes. How long it was I do not know. I "took no note of time."
We retreated from this position as our officers afterward said, because the troops on our right had given way, and we were flanked. Possibly those boys on our right would give the same excuse for their leaving, and probably truly, too. Still, I think we did not fall back a minute too soon. As I rose from the comfortable log from behind which a bunch of us had been firing, I saw men in gray and brown clothes, with trailed muskets, running through the camp on our right, and I saw something else, too, that sent a chill all through me. It was a kind of flag I had never seen before. It was a gaudy sort of thing, with red bars. It flashed over me in a second that that thing was a Rebel flag. It was not more than sixty yards to the right. The smoke around it was low and dense and kept me from seeing the man who was carrying it, but I plainly saw the banner. It was going fast, with a jerky motion, which told me that the bearer was on a double-quick. About that time we left. We observed no kind of order in leaving; the main thing was to get out of there as quick as we could. I ran down our company street, and in passing the big Sibley tent of our mess I thought of my knapsack with all my traps and belongings, including that precious little packet of letters from home. I said to myself, "I will save my knapsack, anyhow;" but one quick backward glance over my left shoulder made me change my mind, and I went on. I never saw my knapsack or any of its contents afterwards.
Our broken forces halted and re-formed about half a mile to the rear of our camp on the summit of a gentle ridge, covered with thick brush. I recognized our regiment by the little gray pony the old colonel rode, and hurried to my place in the ranks. Standing there with our faces once more to the front, I saw a seemingly endless column of men in blue, marching by the flank, who were filing off to the right through the woods, and I heard our old German adjutant, Cramer, say to the colonel, "Dose are de troops of Sheneral Hurlbut. He is forming a new line dere in de bush." I exclaimed to myself from the bottom of my heart, "Bully for General Hurlbut and the new line in the bush! Maybe we'll whip 'em yet." I shall never forget my feelings about this time. I was astonished at our first retreat in the morning across the field back to our camp, but it occurred to me that maybe that was only "strategy" and all done on purpose; but when we had to give up our camp, and actually turn our backs and run half a mile, it seemed to me that we were forever disgraced, and I kept thinking to myself: "What will they say about this at home?"
I was very dry for a drink, and as we were doing nothing just then, I slipped out of ranks and ran down to the little hollow in our rear, in search of water. Finding a little pool, I threw myself on the ground and took a copious draught. As I rose to my feet, I observed an officer about a rod above me also quenching his thirst, holding his horse meanwhile by the bridle. As he rose I saw it was our old adjutant. At no other time would I have dared accost him unless in the line of duty, but the situation made me bold. "Adjutant," I said, "What does this mean—our having to run this way? Ain't we whipped?" He blew the water from his mustache, and quickly answered in a careless way: "Oh, no; dat is all ride. We yoost fall back to form on the reserve. Sheneral Buell vas now crossing der river mit 50,000 men, and vill be here pooty quick; and Sheneral Lew Vallace is coming from Crump's Landing mit 15,000 more. Ve vips 'em; ve vips 'em. Go to your gompany." Back I went on the run, with a heart as light as a feather. As I took my place in the ranks beside my chum, Jack Medford, I said to him: "Jack, I've just had a talk with the old adjutant, down at the branch where I've been to get a drink. He says Buell is crossing the river with 75,000 men and a whole world of cannon, and that some other general is coming up from Crump's Landing with 25,000 more men. He says we fell back here on purpose, and that we're going to whip the Secesh, just sure. Ain't that just perfectly bully?" I had improved some on the adjutant's figures, as the news was so glorious I thought a little variance of 25,000 or 30,000 men would make no difference in the end. But as the long hours wore on that day, and still Buell and Wallace did not come, my faith in the adjutant's veracity became considerably shaken.