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)

Drury’s Bluff, Va., May 9, 1865.

We were reviewed by Howard, Logan and Hartsuff this morning as we passed through Petersburg. We lie tonight along the outer line of Drury’s Bluff defenses which Butler took a year ago this month. Signs of a good deal of fighting; good many roads, etc. The James river is about one mile to our right. I have been to some very fine forts. Fort Wagner and Fort Stevens (or Stephens) are the best, on the second and main line of Rebel works, which Butler was working against when the Rebels came out and whipped him. From one fort I saw the spires of Richmond, James river and Shipping, Fort Darling and Fort Harrison. Coming back toward camp we found one of our soldiers unburied in the bushes. His skull was brought in by our hospital steward.

Petersburg, Va., May 8, 1865.

I’ll take back all I ever said against the Potomac Army. I have been down to Fort Steadman to-day and troops who will work up to an enemy as they did there, will do anything if handled right. There were some sad sights along that part of the line. Right in front of Steadman 40 or 50 of our men are lying with only a few shovelfuls of dirt thrown over them, their heads and feet exposed. I passed through the Rebel burying ground, quite a large and thickly settled village. Poor fellows. I wish the leaders who led or rather pushed them into these little clay hills were all beside them. This is a nice town, not very pretty though. Good deal of business done. Hundreds of Rebel officers, Lieutenant General Gordon among them, walk the streets in full uniform.

Petersburg, Va., May 7, 1865.

Twenty miles to-day, and the longest kind of miles. Had some bad road in the morning. We struck the Weldon railroad two or three miles below Ream’s Station, where the 6th Corps was whipped last June, and came right up to the city. Saw hardly any signs of fighting the whole way. Ours and the Rebel works where we came through are fully two and one half miles apart, and the skirmish line further from each other than we ever had ours when we pretended to be near the enemy. I think the whole army is up. Part of it got here last night. We lie here tomorrow. The 17th A. C. goes on to Richmond.

Left bank of Stony Creek, Va., 20 miles from

May 6, 1865.

About 20 good miles to-day. No sign of war yet. Have not had a very good road to-day. Crossed the Nottaway river this morning. Small affair. During Kautz and Wilson’s disastrous raid last summer they threw their last piece of artillery into the Nottaway from the bridge on which we crossed. One of the officers says he noticed bullet marks on trees that indicated a pretty sharp skirmish having taken place where we stopped for dinner. We are fairly on classic ground. I hear that the 17th A. C. lost a number of men yesterday by a bridge falling.

Near Nottaway River, May 5, 1865.

Crossed the Meherrin river (a Copperas creek affair) this morning and pass through Laurenceburg, a 100-year old town, just as large as the top of a very small hill would hold. Such oceans of negroes; never saw half as many before in the same distance in Virginia. Sheridan was through this country ten days ago, but hearing that Johnston had surrendered he turned back. Kautz and Wilson were also raiding last summer, but there are no signs that war is known to the people by experience. We see Lee’s and Johnston’s men all along the road, taking a look at Sherman’s army. All the soldiers and citizens we see seem to submit to the Government, and the war feeling is dead among them, but there is no love for us or ours, and they regard us only as subjugators. That is as warm a sentiment as I ask from them. I believe every family has lost a member by the war. I saw a member of Pickett’s Rebel division this evening. He said that when his division surrendered to Grant, they stacked but 45 muskets. It was nearly 10,000 strong on the 24th of March, 1865.

This boy put in one of the 45 muskets. They all give Sheridan’s cavalry the credit for doing the best fighting they ever knew “Yanks” to do.

They all speak highly of our 6th (Wright’s) corps. The good conduct of our men continues even to the astonishment of the men themselves. I have heard of but one indiscretion, and that was only the carrying off of the table cutlery after dining with a citizen. We are traveling too fast, but our corps commanders are racing to see who will make Petersburg first. Heard of Booth being killed to-day. Also got a Herald of the 24th with Sherman and Johnston’s peace propositions. We are very much shocked at Sherman’s course. I have not heard an officer or soldier who had read them, sustain our general. It is hard on us and we regret his action as much as any calamity of the war, excepting the Washington horror. There isn’t an element of man worship in this army, but we all had such confidence in Sherman, and thought it almost impossible for him to make a mistake. The army is very sore over the affair. We can’t bear to have anybody say a word against Sherman, but he did act very strangely in this thing.

Thirteen miles south of Laurenceville, Va.,

May 4, 1865.

Our regiment in advance of the division crossed the Roanoke at 3:30 p.m. and went into camp here at sunset, making 13 miles. We crossed the N. C. and Va. line about three miles this side of the river. Good country, and people all out gazing.

Right Bank Roanoke river, Robbin’s Ferry, N. C.

May 3, 1865.

About 20 miles to-day and the latter fourth quite dusty. We did not get the main road, and have depended mainly on hog paths. The Roanoke is the largest stream we have crossed since leaving the Tennessee river, and is quite swift. The water is also colder than any we have found this march. We have not pontoons enough to reach across and will have to press ferryboats and skiffs, etc., to use as pontoons. Presume it will take all night to get up a bridge. We pontooned the Neuse when we crossed it the last time in one and one-half hours. As we crossed the Raleigh and Gorton Railroad today, saw a train of cars coming kiting along. Expect communication is open to Raleigh by this time. We are marching too hard. It is using up lots of men. Good country today. Many fine houses and every indication of wealth.

Two miles north of Shady Grove, N. C.,

May 2, 1865.

Twenty-six miles to-day, and everything in camp at sunset. That is No. 1 work with 300 sets of wheels to the division. We have reveille at 3 a.m. and start at 4 now.

We seem to have got pretty well out of the pine country. Hardly saw one the last three miles this p.m. Have also about left cotton behind us. Tobacco and wheat are the staples here. I saw as many as five large tobacco houses on one farm, built 25 logs high. Notice also some very fine wheat growing, now 12 inches high. Very large peach and apple orchards on almost every farm. The trees look thrifty, but show neglect. All kinds of fruit promises to be abundant this year.

The last five miles to-day was through beautiful country, fine houses, too. The people were all out to see us, but I am glad that I have no demonstration a la white handkerchief to chronicle. The men are full of the de’il to-day. Scaring negroes almost out of their wits. Our division is the right of the army. We have been side tracking so far, but to-morrow we get the main road and Corse takes the cow paths. I think that not more than one-fifth of the cleared land so far in this State is under cultivation this year, and that fully one-fourth of all has been turned over to nature for refertilization from four to forty years. On some of this turned out land the new growth is more than a foot in diameter. I saw a sassafras tree to-day that was 15 inches in diameter.

Near Davis’ Cross Roads, five miles north of Tar river.

May 1, 1865, 4:30 p.m.

We are 35 miles from Raleigh to-night, which makes 24 miles to-day over Tar river, which is here about 50 yards wide and runs through a fine rolling, high country. The march was splendidly conducted, no straggling, and the peace orders were faithfully lived up to. It seems like the early days of my soldiering to see the citizens all at home, their horses and mules in the stables, and gardens full of vegetables passed untouched. When a man can pass an onion bed without going for them, and they did a number of them to-day, no one need talk to me of total depravity. The soldier goes more on onions than any other luxury. The citizens have all “war’s over” news, and seem to feel good over it. At three different places there were groups of very healthy looking young ladies, well dressed, by the roadside, waving their handkerchiefs at us, and one told the boys she wished them to come back after they were mustered out, for “you have killed all our young men off.” The virtuous indignation welled up in my bosom like a new strike of oil. I’ll venture that these same women coaxed their beaux off to the war, and now that “Yank” is ahead, they shake their handkerchiefs at us and cry, “bully Yanks.” The devil take them and he’ll be sure to do it. You have heard of woodticks? The man who don’t catch his pint a day is in awful luck. They have a tick picking twice a day in this country, regularly as eating. Saw a wild turnip in bloom to-day.

Sunday, April 30, 1865.

Howardism (and it is a very good kind of ism), allows us to lay still to-day. It is a real Canton 1st of June Sabbath. It rained all night, but the effect is to improve these sandy roads. It will take a good deal more than a week to realize fully that the war is over. No more preparation for a coming campaign, dreaded at first, but soon looked for with feverish eagerness (human nature). No more finding the enemy driving in his skirmishers, developing his line, getting into position, and retiring every night, maybe for a month, after days spent in continuous skirmishing, expecting to be ordered to charge at daybreak. It is all over, thank God, but it seems impossible.

A Philadelphia paper of the 25th (first we have seen since the 21st) astonished us all. It gives us our first intimation of the hue and cry against Sherman, for the terms he offered Johnston, Breckenridge & Co. We did not before know anything he had done, only he told us in orders that he had, “subject to the approval of the powers at Washington, made peace from the Rio Grande to the Potomac, by an agreement with Johnston and other high officials.” We have only known that much, talked over the matter and were afraid that “Tecumseh” had made an attempt to do too much, and had compromised himself by having anything at all to do with other than military Rebels. I am very sorry for him, but we have thought for a year, and it has been common talk in the army, that he was ambitious for political honors, etc.

I have often heard it said that he was figuring for popularity in the South. He has written some very pretty letters to our erring Southerners. Instance, the one to the Mayor and citizens of Atlanta and one to Mrs. Bowen of Baltimore, and several more while at Savannah.

He also promised Governor Vance some kind of protection if he would return to Raleigh. “Pap” must be careful. We all think the world of him. I’d rather fight under him than Grant, and in fact if Sherman was Mahomet we’d be as devoted Musselmen as ever followed the former prophet, and if he has blundered here, as they say he has, we will feel it more at heart than we ever did the fall of our leaders before. I won’t believe he has made a mistake until I know all about it. It can’t be.