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

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“The 6th boys deserve infinite credit for their fighting, and their colonel, a rope for his carelessness.”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

March 31, 2013

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

Camp 103d Illinois Infantry, Lagrange, Tenn.,

March 31, 1863.

I have lost my negro, Bob. The cavalry have been indulging in a pretty rough fight near here, and I am engaged on a “Board of Survey” which will occupy me for some days to come. There is also a good quality of Scotch ale in town, no paper collars, and a great deal of robbing and scoundrelism generally. There is some kind of a scare along the line, and the authorities this morning shipped to Memphis some 600 negroes, to get them out of the way of the trouble. I made my Bob send his wife and children, and the scamp, when it came to the parting, couldn’t resist her pleading, and so he joined the party. It is beautiful to see such an exhibition of love and constancy in the brute species. All of these Africans will undoubtedly be sent to Illinois or somewhere else. I declare I don’t like to see them introduced into our State, for they increase like rabbits. I believe will eventually outnumber the white race, in any country in which they are planted. This matter of slavery is an awful sin and I’m satisfied debases the governing race, but if we have to keep these negroes in the country, I say keep them as slaves. Take them from secesh and turn them over to Unionists, but don’t free them in America. They can’t stand it. These negroes don’t average the ability of eight-year-old white children in taking care of themselves. There are exceptions of course; arm all the latter and make them fight Rebels. They will probably be fit for freedom after a few years as soldiers. I received the Register with the letters from our regiment and Peterson’s dressing of the Democrat. ‘Tis jolly to throw stones at that paper. You see if they all don’t get their fingers burned by that foulmouthed Davidson. A decent man has no business talking against him, and will always come out behind. I am sure that he would be hung if he would venture within our regimental lines. One of my boys cut a great caper to-day. He is an old Dutchman, and has been aching for a fight ever since we left Peoria. He has told me several times that he had a mind to run off and go down to Vicksburg until the fight is over and then he would come back again. This morning I sent him to Lafayette (near Memphis) as guard for these contrabands. The old fellow went on to Memphis and I expect will be at the Vicksburg battle. I know that he won’t leave me for good, though this act makes him liable to punishment as a deserter. He is a funny old dog but an excellent soldier. For goodness sake send me those shirts. All I have sewed together wouldn’t more than make one long enough to reach the top of my pants. Any one of them would fly out over my coat collar if I’d stoop down.

About 100 of the 6th Illinois Cavalry were surprised night before last some 20 or 30 miles north of this place. The first notice they had of the enemy was a volley of balls and shot among them as they lay asleep by their bivouac fires, about 12 p.m. Eight were killed and about 25 or 30 wounded by the first fire. The 6th got up and went into the Rebels in a most gallant manner, killing and wounding a number and capturing a major, two captains and some others. The enemy numbered some 400, and had the advantage of a complete surprise and were then badly whipped. The 6th boys deserve infinite credit for their fighting, and their colonel, a rope for his carelessness. He fought like a hero, though. ‘Twas Lieutenant Loomis. I don’t believe that Napoleon had any better cavalry than this brigade here for fighting. Second Iowa, 6th and 7th Illinois are the regiments, and well handled they’d whip the devil. Just imagine the details of the above fight, and if you can’t help thinking that every one of our men engaged was a hero, I’ll disown you. I’ll tell you a couple of items to show you how the war is being conducted here now. A train was captured a few miles west of here a few days ago, and three prisoners taken, carried off. A lieutenant among them was footsore and unable to keep up; one of the Rebels, for that reason alone, shot him through the head, killing him. The conductor of the train surrendered, but a Rebel after that shot at him three times, when the conductor concluding it was death anyway attempted to escape and succeeded. This morning I saw a crowd across the street and walked over. Some secesh prisoners had been brought in, among them the conductor had discovered the man who tried to kill him. The conductor tried hard to get to kill the scoundrel, but the guard prevented him. I tell you, if any of that stripe of fellows fall into my hands, you’ll have a brother who has been concerned in a hanging scrape. I’m as decided on that point as I know how to be. I don’t see any prospect of an immediate fight in this country. There is no force except a few hundred guerrillas within 50 miles of us, but General Smith uses every precaution. We are all under arms an hour before daylight, and the picketing is very systematical and good. The pickets are, however, annoyed more or less every night. These citizens are bringing immense bills of damages before our board. Three came in to-day amounting in the aggregate to $50,000, and more I think. To-morrow General Smith closes the lines at this post. No more going in or out by citizens. That is the best thing that has happened before my eyes during the war. The town has been full of citizens every day since we have been here, and of course they are all spies.

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