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

Post image for Mrs. General Grant.–Vicksburg.–Black river.–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

Mrs. General Grant.–Vicksburg.–Black river.–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

September 22, 2013

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

Camp at Messenger’s Ferry, Big Black River, Miss.,

September 22, 1863.

I wrote you a few lines from Vicksburg on the 18th inst. to notify you that I had escaped the perils of navigation (sandbar and guerillas) and of my safe arrival. I had a delightful trip down the river. A splendid boat, gentlemanly officers, not too many passengers, and beautiful weather. Major General Tuttle and wife and Mrs. General Grant were of our number. I think Mrs. Grant a model lady. She has seen not over thirty years, medium size, healthy blonde complexion, brown hair, blue eyes (cross-eyed) and has a pretty hand. She dresses very plainly, and busied herself knitting during nearly the whole trip. Believe her worthy of the general. Vicksburg is a miserable hole and was never anything better. A number of houses have been burned by our artillery firing, but altogether the town has suffered less than any secesh village I have seen at the hands of our forces. But very few buildings escaped being marked by our shot or shell, but such damage is easily repaired in most cases. No business whatever doing in the town, except issuing orders by generals, obeying them by soldiers and the chawing of commissary stores without price by the ragged citizen population. I was of the impression that I saw some rough country in Tishomingo County, Miss., and in the mountains in north Alabama, but after a day’s ride in the vicinity of Vicksburg and to our present camp, I find I was mistaken. They call it level here when the surface presents no greater angles than 45 degrees. I found only one officer to a company present here, and the colonel is also on leave. There is a great deal of sickness but the health of the regiment now is improving. We have lost a large number by disease since I left the regiment. Anyone who saw us in Peoria would open wide his eyes at the length of our line now, and think we’d surely passed a dozen battles. The greater part of the material this regiment is made of should never have been sent into the field. The consolation is that these folks would all have to die sometime, and they ought to be glad to get rid of their sickly lives, and get credit as patriots for the sacrifice. We are now in the 2d Brigade 4th Division 15th Army Corps, having been transferred from the 16th Army Corps. We are camped on the bluffs of Black river, which we picket. Our camp is the finest one I ever was in. There are two large magnolias, three white beeches, and a half dozen holly trees around my tent. I think the magnolia the finest looking tree I ever saw. Many of the trees are ornamented with Spanish moss, which, hanging from the branches in long and graceful rolls, adds very much to the beauty of the forest. Another little item I cannot help mentioning is the “chigger,” a little red insect much smaller than a pin-head, that buries itself in the skin and stings worse than a mosquito bite. Squirrels skip around in the trees in camp, and coons, owls, etc., make music for us nights. Capt. Gus Smith when on picket several nights, saw a bear (so he swears) and shot at it several times. The enemy’s cavalry are maneuvering around on the other side of the river, constantly making it unsafe for our boys to straggle much over there. Sabbath evening we, our brigade, moved out across the river about four miles to meet a party of Rebels, but as usual they were not there. We ate our supper while waiting for them and returned by moonlight, 8 o’oclock p.m. We’ve had a brigade review and a short brigade drill, and I’ve eaten a very hearty supper since finishing the last period. I feel perfectly well once more. Much better than I did any day while North. Did I tell you that I had the ague for a week or so before I started South? My continued ill health more than anything else is what started me off for the regiment so suddenly. The general wanted me to stay until after the fair, but I wouldn’t have done it for a horse. Altogether, I feel very happy over getting back to my company. The boys profess being very glad to have me with them again, and I assure you that such compliments do me good. I didn’t know that I could take as much interest in any strange humans as I feel in these men of my company. While I was in Central Illinois I wished many times that this war was over, and that I could settle in one of the many good points I saw for trade. I know that I could do well selling goods in any of a half dozen towns that I visited there, and even in Decatur. But I know I could not be satisfied out of the army while this war lasts. I am glad to be out of staff duty for several reasons. One of the most important is that it costs all my pay to keep me. I did not make a cent while with the general, and have only two months’ pay due me now. It has been very cold here. Night before last I had six blankets over me, last night five and will use four to-night. ‘Twas quite warm this p.m., but the nights are very cold. We will have hot weather yet. There is a great deal of ague here.

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