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

Post image for “These women here have so disgusted me with the use of tobacco that I have determined to abandon it.”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

“These women here have so disgusted me with the use of tobacco that I have determined to abandon it.”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

February 7, 2014

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

Scottsboro, Ala., February 7, 1864.

This has indeed been a day of rest. More like a home Sabbath, than the Lord’s day often seems, here in the “show business.” None of my company have been on duty, and as the day has been bright and warm, the men have been nearly all out in front of the quarters; all looking natty and clean and healthy, sunning themselves real country-Sunday fashion. Seems to me that I grow prouder every day of being captain over these men. If I could only get 30 good, healthy recruits, I expect I’d have to be “hooped.” The boys brought a fiddle in with them yesterday from our Lebanon march, and as nearly all of them play, “more or less,” it has seen but little rest to-day. Every man I have present (42) is for duty, and if there are any soldiers in the army who can outmarch them, or do duty better, “I want them for Babcockses,” as the boys say. Frank Post was in my tent to-day, and informed me that in her last letter, Laura told him that some horrible stories of my cruelty to women and children while in command of the mounted detachment, were in circulation at home. He wanted me to trace the author of them, but I respectfully begged to be excused. The person who told such stuff, falsifies; for I never killed a fly, or stepped on a worm, or kicked a dog, or threw a stone at a cat, and know I wouldn’t treat a woman or child worse, if they were Rebels. I do take a little private satisfaction in knowing that I have never said a word, except respectfully, to any woman in the Confederacy, that I have ever touched a cent’s worth of private property for my own use. We, with 600 more of our brigade, had to take horses and rations from a poor set of people, but that was no more our fault than the war is. Those pretty crystals I sent you by Lieutenant Dorrance, are “Iceland Spar,” which is, I believe, the only stone which possesses the power of double refraction. If you put a thin piece of it over a black mark on paper, and look closely, you will see two marks; try this piece which I enclose. I took a lesson in chess last night, played a couple of games. Don’t think I would ever make a player. Colonel Dickerman is at present commanding the brigade, and Major Willison the regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Wright being on detached service as a division inspector general. Mattison is in his quartermaster department almost constantly, and Dorrance’s absence leaves me quite alone. Dorrance was in a way, good company. Always in a good humor and talking. Real accommodating, too, if carefully handled.

I went to the nearest house to camp to-day, to beg a little piece of tallow to soften a pair of marching boots. I sat down by a fire, in company with three young women, all cleanly dressed and powdered to death. Their ages were from 18 to 24. Each of them had a quid of tobacco in her cheek about the size of my stone inkstand, and if they didn’t make the extract fly worse than I ever saw it in a country grocery, shoot me. These women here have so disgusted me with the use of tobacco that I have determined to abandon it. Well, we are again under orders to march at a moment’s notice. Received them about noon to-day, and expect to start in the morning. It is intimated that we go to Chattanooga, first, and then either to Dalton, Knoxville, or garrison Chattanooga, and let its present occupants go. I was much pleased to get the orders, for above all things, do hate a permanent camp. I enjoy the tramping, the mud, the cold, and being tired, and everything mean there is about soldiering, except being hungry. That beats me to a fraction. If I could only go without eating three or four days at a time I would pass as a soldier, but bless me, missing a meal is worse than drawing a tooth. I never tried it as long as I have been in the army, but it seems to me that putting me on quarter rations would be equivalent to putting me in a hospital bed.

Hurrah for the march. No such place for real fun elsewhere. We have our regular races, and tough ones they are, too, sometimes. Each regiment takes its turn in having the advance, one day at a time. Say, to-day we have the lead, then to-morrow we will march behind all the rest, and the next day the regiment which succeeded us in the lead will fall behind us, etc. It is a great deal easier to march in front than in the rear, because in passing defile, or crossing streams on single logs, all of the time that is lost falls, finally, on the rearmost regiment, and after it crosses it sometimes has to double-quick it a mile or more to catch up again. A common time step or 90 to the minute, in front with a brigade of 1,500 over the average of these roads, makes the rear in order to keep up, take more than quick time, or over 112 steps to the minute, during their marching time. So you can imagine our races, though fun to the advance, make the rear work—no laughing matter. The point of the race is for the advance regiment to move so fast that the others will break up, tired out, and straggle. Yesterday the 97th Indiana coming in had the lead and undertook to run us. We had the rear, but by not waiting to cross on logs, but wading through creeks up to our knees or middles kept at their heels for 8 miles without a rest. ‘Twas raining all the time and the roads were awful slippery. Our brigade tried hard to run us down at first, but now none of them doubt our ability to march with any regiment. When the men are resting along the road they have a great fashion of making remarks about any strange soldier or citizen who passes. As we were resting on the 5th inst., a bare-footed, sick-looking soldier came hobbling through. One man said, “He’s sick, don’t say anything to him;” another said, “No, he’s shod a little too rough;” another, “Yes, and he interferes;” another, “Keep still he’s slipping upon something;” another, “He’s showing us how Fanny Elssler went over a looking glass;” another, “Come here and I’ll take the pegs out of your shoes,” etc. Wouldn’t that be interesting to the passerby?

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