Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills, (8th Illinois Infantry)

Near Alexandria. Va., May 19, 1865.

Rained all night. Reveille at 2 p.m., and started off before daylight. Men waded two or three creeks to their middles. March miserably conducted. Passed the church that Washington attended, built in 1783. It has nearly all, except roof and walls, been carried away by relic maniacs. Our division marched through Mt. Vernon by the vault and residence.

Thus closes this diary of one of the most memorable year’s campaigns in the history of modern times.


We remained in camp between Alexandria and Arlington until the 23d, when we crossed the Potomac river, of which we had heard so much, and the next day (the 24th), participated in the Grand Review of the Grandest Army that ever was created.


Occoquan Creek, May 18, 1865.

Another day’s march. Heavy rain and thunder storm commenced ten minutes before our wagons got in, and then the wind blew so hard that we could not get our tent up for an hour, and everybody got thoroughly soaked.

Aquia Creek, Va., May 17, 1865.

We passed over the whole line of Burnside’s battle ground this morning. (It was no fight, only a Yankee slaughter.) Through Fredericksburg, the most shelled town I ever saw; crossed the Rappahannock on a miserable shaky pontoon, and have been traveling ever since in the camps of the Potomac Army. Desolation reigns equal to the Sodom and Gomorrah country.

Country much more broken than I supposed; very hot part of the day. One man of the 48th Illinois fell dead while marching, and eight or ten in our regiment badly affected by heat.

Five miles south of Fredericksburg, May 16, 1865.

Our division and brigade in advance of corps to-day. Made 24 miles by 2 p.m. Fences all gone on the road, but houses all standing. From a bluff three miles back had a beautiful view of about 15 miles of the Rappahannock valley and in all that did not see a fence or a cultivated field, or a specimen of either the kine, sheep, or swine families. This certainly does not largely rank the Sahara. Passed through a melancholy looking line of rifle pits, and mentally thanked Heaven for my poor prospect of ever using the like again. Passed through Bowling Green this a.m., only 11 miles from where Booth was killed.

South of Bowling Green, Va., May 15, 1865.

Crossed the Pamunky river this morning and the Mattapony this p.m. Beautiful country, but most desolate looking. Stopped at a house for the “cute and original” purpose of asking for a drink of water. While a servant went to the spring had a very interesting chat with the ladies, the first of the sex I have spoken to in Virginia. One of them was quite pleasant. She inquired if we Yankees were really all going to Mexico. Told her “such was the case,” when she remarked, “Well, all our men are killed off, and if all you Northerners go to Mexico, we women will have our rights sure.”

Heard of Davis’ capture. Did not excite an emotion.

Near Hanover, C. H., Va., May 14, 1865.

Only made nine miles to-day on account of the Pamunky river here being bad. We camp to-night in the Hanover “slashes,” one mile east of the birthplace of Henry Clay, and about two miles from the residence of Patrick Henry. The court house is where the latter delivered his famous speech against the clergy. Henry’s house is built of brick, imported, and was built in 1776. We passed the place where McClellan’s famous seven days’ fight commenced. The whole country is waste. I hear a country legend here that Clay was the illegitimate son of Patrick Henry. The court house was built in 1735

North Bank of Chickahominy River,

May 13, 1865.

We crossed the James river this a.m. Our division, the rear of the corps, paraded a little around Richmond, saw Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, the bronze statue of Washington, Lee’s and Davis’ residence, and a number of women. Some handkerchiefs flying. Two women told us they were Yankees and looked so sweet that I (in theory) lifted my hat to them. It always puts me out of humor to see Southern women cheer Yanks in public. We passed through the Rebel works where Kilpatrick made his bold dash in March, ’64. We are six or seven miles above Mechanicsville, and McClellan’s old battle ground.

May 12, 1865.

The 17th Corps has the road to-day. Heavy thunder storm last night with a great deal of rain. Four men of our division were killed by lightning about 200 yards from our tent. One of them, William Hall, belonged to Company D of our regiment. Two men were killed in a tent in which were 15, and of the four lying side by side, two were killed.

Can’t hear yet for certain when we will be mustered out. We move towards Alexandria to-morrow.

May 11, 1865.

The 14th and 20th crossed the river and went as far as Hanover to-day.

Manchester, Va., May 10, 1865.

The rain yesterday made the road, which is a splendid one fifty yards wide, just right for traveling. We passed through three lines of Drury’s Bluff and Fort Darling defenses, and are now at the second and inside line of works for the defense of Richmond. Hostile Yankees never saw either of these two lines at this point, or any other, I guess, this side of the James River. It is about 22 miles from Richmond to Petersburg. “Old Brains” (Halleck) issued his proclamation that no soldier or officer of this army should enter Richmond only when we pass through. Howard and Logan say they will pass around if they can. I hope they will.

We have a fine view of Richmond from here. It is situated much like Peoria and Columbia, S. C. The burned district shows very plainly from here and makes the resemblance to Columbia very striking. Several thousand men and officers of the corps made a raid on Logan last night and got a little talk from him. He was very careful not to say too much, all small talk. This got up a real elephant hunting mania, and I guess every regiment commanded in the corps was called out. Colonel Wright had to make a little talk. The 14th and 20th move out tomorrow.