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

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“I predict that no good will come from scattering the army in this way, and much harm.”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

December 8, 2013

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

Mud Creek Cove, Jackson County, Ala. December 8, 1863.

I was at Stevenson yesterday and put a letter in the office for you, but with my accustomed shrewdness failed to either stamp or frank it. It graphically described the gallant exploits of the detachment I have the honer to command during the past three weeks, and its loss will be deplored in common with the other heavy losses of this “cruel war.” I can now but give you the topics it discussed or elaborated, and leave to your imagination the finishing and stringing together the skeleton. First and foremost, stealing horses; second, defying bravely the tears and entreaties of helpless women, and taking their last measure of meal and rasher of bacon; third, the splendid conduct of our regiment and brigade at the late Mission Ridge fight; fourth, reflections. Do you remember, how, after the evacuation of Corinth one and one-half years ago, Halleck thought the rebellion virtually ended? And how many of the soldiers wrote home that they expected to be mustered out within three months? Then Halleck sent Buell with half of the army toward Chattanooga, Sherman and Hurlburt to Memphis, McClernand and Logan to Jackson, Tennessee; kept some four divisions at Corinth, and with three others opened and guarded 95 miles of railroad east to Decatur. That was what he called letting the army enjoy the rest they had earned by their glorious victory. The whole of the splendid army that had forced the Rebels to leave Corinth, was divided, subdivided and the subdivisions divided until, except Buell’s, there was hardly a detachment left strong enough to hold its own against any overgrown band of guerrillas. The result you know. Buell’s retreat with his heavy losses of detachments at Munfordsville, etc., our evacuation of the M. & C. R. R. between Memphis and Corinth, the driving in of our guards from Decatur to Corinth, and the fight there in October which we gained only because our side weighed only one ounce the most; and finally they shut us up in Memphis, Bolivar, Corinth and Nashville so closely thai foraging parties hardly dared venture ten miles from the siege guns, and there our army stayed until relieved by “500,000 more.” I don’t like to slander so great and noble a man as Grant, by insinuating that he has any notion similar to Halleck’s, but what I have seen with my naked eye, and heard from good authority with my uncovered ears, makes me think he has in his opinion at the Lookout, Mission Ridge, Ringgold fight, bursted the rebellion to flinders. I know that Sherman with six divisions has gone to Knoxville. John E. Smith’s and Osterhaus’ divisions are at Bridgeport on their way to Huntsville or Decatur. Some 12 companies of artillery, (nearly enough for a corps) went to Nashville yesterday, and Hooker with the11th and 12th Corps, are going back to the Potomac. Does that sound anything like active forward movements? And don’t it sound exactly like Halleck’s disposition of the army after he got Corinth? I predict that no good will come from scattering the army in this way, and much harm. Bragg has fallen back to Dalton, only 25 or 30 miles from Chattanooga, and 15 less than Beauregard ran from Corinth. The Rebel cavalry are already driving in our foragers at Chattanooga. That’s all I have to say about the matter. Our regiment, brigade and division have gone with Sherman to Burnside’s relief. They are probably at Knoxville now. All accounts agree that the regiment behaved splendidly; and Fulton county ought to either disown her soldiers or quit disgracing them by her d—sh copperheadism. You didn’t have any fears for my safety when you heard of the fight, did you? Of course you knew I wouldn’t be there. I heard three days before the fight that it would probably open Sunday or Monday. Tuesday I was out in the Cumberland mountains, near Paint Rock, some 50 miles from Chattanooga, when suddenly we heard the sound of cannonading. I thought of our regiment being in the fight and my company away, and cursed my luck to the best of my ability. I never expect to be in a battle. Being shot by a guerrilla is as good as I will probably get. It is strange that there was only the one vicinity in which we could hear the firing that day, and 25 miles nearer the scene of action they were unable to hear it. We are meeting with good success hunting horses. We only lack about 200 of having enough to mount the brigade and will have them by the time they get back from Knoxville. My men were never as healthy as now. My old convalescent “stand-bys” now walk into their double rations of fresh meat and corn pone tremendously, and do their share of duty splendidly. For four weeks we have had nothing to eat but corn bread and fresh pork. I am beginning to like it. It positively does taste better every day, and I destroy immense quantities. When reading about the elephant browsing upon the tree tops, did you ever imagine what an awful crashing he would make? That’s about like the smash I make among the spareribs and hoecake. I thought that when they set me up as horse thief, that my measure was filled, that earth had nothing left too bitter for me to quaff or “chaw.” But last night a draught was put to my lips of which I drank, and lo, I am undone. Can’t look an honest man in the face. Fortunately there are no honest men in this command, so I am spared the mortification of turning my eyes. I was sent out to steal sheep. Can’t call taking aught from these poor miserable citizen devils here anything but stealing. I made a pretty good haul. They go to the front to-day; I expect for hospital use. Of course we have to take them, but these citizens are on the verge of bankruptcy as far as eating is concerned. Saw Bill and Davis Trites at Bridgeport two days since. All right. Had just got back with their division from Chattanooga. Were both well. Captain Walsh, who was killed, was one of the finest officers in our regiment. I had formed a strong attachment for him, and mourn his loss as a dear friend and splendid fellow. His company, in camp, joins mine on the left and we were more intimate than I was with any other officer in this command.

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