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

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“Some of the officers will, I think, have cause to wish they were never mounted;”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

January 5, 2014

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

Scottsboro, Ala., January 5, 1864.

Your brother no longer represents the Festive Mamaluke, but has returned from his paradise of fresh pork, cornbread, honey, milk, and horse, to his original heavy infantry exercise, his nix-Grahamite diet of army rations, to that headquarters of red-tapeism, a “permanent camp,” in short, to the elysium of the enlisted men, and purgatory of company commanders winter quarters. In short, the powers that be concluded that dismounting us would not render the salvation of the Union impossible, and as the detachment was getting a very hard reputation, and making much trouble for said powers to settle, ’twas decided to unhorse us. It’s all over now, the mounting part has “played” and that string will not probably be harped on again for this brigade to dance to. I think that to-day, Sherman, Logan or Ewing would not trust a detachment of this brigade on sorebacked mules if they had only three legs. This little squad of 500 men in the two months they have been mounted have committed more devilment than two divisions of regular cavalry could in five years. Everything you can think of, from shooting negroes, or marrying these simple country women, down to stealing babies’ diapers. From taking $2,700.00 in gold, to snatching a brass ring off the finger of the woman who handed a drink of water. From taking the last “old mar” the widow had to carry her grist to mill, to robbing the bed of its cord, for halters, and taking the clothes line and bedclothing “to boot.” I’ll venture that before we were dismounted, not a wellrope, tracechain, or piece of cord of any kind strong enough to hold a horse could be found in the districts through which we have foraged. I want you to understand that my command is not responsible for the heavy devilment. I have steadily discountenanced it, and watched my men carefully. I am willing to be responsible for all they did, and will probably have a chance, as I understand a board of inquiry sits on the subject shortly. Some of the officers will, I think, have cause to wish they were never mounted; and to think that “Mission Ridge” would have been preferable to the duty they have been on. We had been looking for General Ewing out to our bivouac to review us for several days, and I rather saw in the distance that dismount was an order we’d get shortly, and had sent in to our colonel, lieutenant colonel and staff some of my best horses, knowing that if we got dismounted they would be taken by Sherman, Logan or Ewing. Sure enough, on the morning of the New Year’s day came an order to form to be review by some heavy staff. The review consisted in their picking out what good horses there were, turning the rest into a corral, and sending us to our regiments on foot. We got here the same day, found the regiment just pitching camp, with the idea that winter quarters or a good long rest, at least, was their portion. Our company already has good comfortable quarters up, and is as well fixed for winter as we care about being. But already we hear it rumored that our division is to move down to Huntsville in a short time, and we have had no orders to prepare winter quarters. All right. It has been pretty cold here although we have had no snow nor ice that could bear a man. A great deal of rain. The regiment is very healthy. Not a dozen men complaining. My wrist is improving slowly. Not worth very much yet. Doctor says ’twill take it a year to get well. That bone at the wrist joint protrudes considerably. All right. The veteran feeling is “terrific” here. Three regiments in our brigade the only ones eligible (that is that have been in two years) have re-enlisted almost to a man. 40th Illinois, 46th Ohio and 6th Iowa. In our division there are seven regiments eligible and all have re-enlisted, and are going home in a few days. It is, I think, the grandest thing of the war. These old soldiers so enthusiastically and unanimously “goinginimously.” I guess no one is more astonished at it than the very men who are enlisting. One of the 40th boys told me that “about 15 of us were talking about it and cussing it, until every son of a gun of us concluded to, and did re-enlist.” Our regiment hasn’t been in long enough to make veterans. Wouldn’t you rather have me stay in service until this war ends? I get the blues, though, sometimes, and think of getting out and denying that I ever was in the war. Haven’t I a brilliant record, Thirty-three months in service and not a battle.

Clear and cold this morning. I’m very comfortable. Have built me a brick fireplace and chimney, raised my tent two and one-half feet on a broad frame. Made me a good bed with broom sage for soft, and am living high.

I received three recruits yesterday and have at least one more coming. I have more men for duty than any other company. Night before last two Confederate soldiers came into our camp and stole three horses, two of them belonging to our surgeons, and the other to the adjutant. The Rebels crossed the Tennessee river, which is only four miles from here and recrossed safely with their horses. I call that pretty sharp. The horses were only about 30 yards from where I sleep. They might just as well have got me. I feel highly complimented by their prefering the horses to me. We had one-fourth of an inch of snow last night. Gone now. Yesterday three teamsters, belonging to Logan’s headquarters while foraging went to pillaging a house. The woman of the house tried to stop them, when one of the fellows struck her on the head with a gun and killed her. This was about three miles from here.

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