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

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“People here are very indignant about our taking all their provisions away from them…”–Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, Charles Wright Wills.

June 29, 2012

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

Headquarters 1st Brig. Cav. Army of the Miss.,

Rienzi, Miss., June 29, 1862.

What the deuce this army is trying to do, I cannot guess. Buell’s corps moved off in an easterly direction two weeks since. Grant’s is, I think, between Corinth and Memphis, and the headquarters of Pope is about four miles south of Corinth, while his army is scattered for 75 miles west of here. The left wing, Plummer’s and Jeff C. Davis’ divisions moved through here yesterday, bound for Holly Springs, 60 miles due west. General Ashboth’s reserve division, stationed here, have thrown up quite extensive works, fronting the enemy, who are not in any force, within 75 miles of us. Our cavalry division is doing the outpost duty on a line 40 miles long, running east and west, and about 20 miles south of Corinth, with videttes out eight or ten miles further, and scouting parties go 15 miles below the videttes. We are losing about two men a day skirmishing. I noticed a statement in the papers that 20,000 new-made graves could be seen between Corinth and the Tennessees, caused by the swamp miasmas, etc., during our approaching the enemy. We don’t believe that there have been 400 deaths from disease since the battle of Shiloh, and 250 will cover the number of deaths from wounds received since that fight. You know there have been an immense number of sick men furloughed, but that was to satisfy the State governnors more than necessity. For instance, John Shriner went home on sick furlough and you know his condition. There were thousands of such cases. I think the health of our army never was better than now. I notice that our Illinois troops stand this climate very much better than the men from Michigan and Iowa. Do not think we have more than one-third the sickness in our regiment that the troops from the last named States have. There is a prospect of our brigade’s being ordered to Ripley this week. I am well satisfied here, but have no doubt will flourish equally well there. They charge outrageous prices for eatables throughout the country. Half-grown chickens 25 cents each, eggs 25 cents per dozen, buttermilk 20 cents per quart, etc. We keep a cow for our headquarters, though, that supplies us with milk, and we have six hens that lay as many eggs every day, and my colored boy plays sharp and buys new potatoes, peas, beans, etc., for half what I can, on the strength of his chumming it with colored folks of the farms. There was a regiment raised in this country that are now flourishing in Camp Douglas. A lady played the piano and sang for me last night that has a husband and brother residing in said camp. Mourning goods are quite fashionable here, and I see limping around town several that lost a limb, each, in some of the early battles. There are a few that I have met who were taken prisoners by our troops, one of them at Manassas, and paroled. Deserters come in yet every day. An intelligent man that belonged to an Arkansas regiment came in yesterday. He says that he thinks the main body of the Southern Army started for East Tennessee, via Chattanooga the day after he left them. Breckenridge’s brigade has gone to Vicksburg, etc. I would like to send you some of the late orders issued by Rosecrans, if it were not so much trouble to copy them, in relation to police of camp and discipline. He looks after the health of men more than any general I have served under

People here are very indignant about our taking all their provisions away from them, and then appealing to the North to contribute to keep them from starving. There is some truth in the idea, but not much. They certainly do need eatables here, and the North will have to furnish them free or take scrip. Dinner: Blackberry jam, pie and raw berries. Oceans of them here. Day before yesterday the Rebels surprised one of our picket parties and captured 1st and C men, and yesterday they captured another. But Company K (Nelson’s) followed them 12 or 15 miles and I think got the prisoners back with one Rebel, several horses and lots of traps. I got a letter from you a few days since relating the affecting parting scene between those spirits who left home, etc., for three months, and the sweet spirits that wept so heart breakingly thereat. I think your ideas were not unsound in regard to the parting scenes, and if you had boxed a few ears and pulled a little hair belonging to the ninnies that so abused the noble art of crying that day, you would have been excusable in my eyes. I must take a nap as quick as my boy comes back to keep the flies away.

11 p.m., 29th.—There is talk among the officers that Buell with 60,000 men is en route for Atlanta, Ga., intending to occupy that city, and thus cut off connection between the eastern and western portions of the Rebel Army. It will be a bold strike and looks safe; but it seems to me, from a glance at the map, that the occupation of Montgomery, Ala. would more effectually accomplish that end, for then there would be no railroad line open to the Rebels (we holding the Memphis and Charleston) while there are two lines running east from Montgomery, only one of which a force at Atlanta could cover. A deserter came in this evening who says that they are organizing the army at Tupelo, mustering the men as five years’ regulars, with promises of furloughs until this war is over. That England and France have decided that the Southern States shall all have a chance at the ballot box, and must, within 60 days, say whether they will cleave to the Government of the United States or be independent; if the latter, those governments will sustain them and thus end the war, and if the former, the war will be ended accordingly. So they are organizing a regular army upon the supposition that they will be an independent confederacy. The above shows they are able to start as huge a lie in their camps as we can in ours. I wouldn’t have believed it before.

The colonel, A. D. C. and myself took tea with General Ashboth this evening. He is such a pleasant man. Has a great liking for pets. He has a tremendous large dog, who lays his head on the table right by the general’s plate during meal time, and he gets his share at the first table. On the other side of him two little Indian ponies range themselves as quick as he sits down, and he lays biscuits on the corner of the table for them, which they gobble with the greatest relish. He spreads biscuits for one pony with sugar, and with salt for the other. His conversation is divided about equally between his ponies, the dog, and his other guests. The ponies he got in Arkansas, and they are the prettiest little fellows imaginable. The general is one of the most polite and kind men I ever saw. His troops all love him. He carries his right arm in a sling yet from a wound received at Elkhorn.

If you’d multiply all the bugs, say by 10,000, you’d have something near the number that visit me nightly. They are of all sizes less than a door knob, and the shapes and colors are innumerable. When they’re bumping against you by candle light, if you were not acclimated, you would swear someone was brickbatting you.

We could overrun the whole West and Southwest as fast as we could travel, with the army we had here, if it were policy. Vicksburg cannot stand two hours when attacked. But it has leaked out at headquarters that we are letting them think they are holding us in check, so that they will keep all their forces in the West until after the big fight at Richmond. I have heard from Captain Nelson that Sammy Nutt distinguished himself in the skirmish yesterday. He captured that prisoner I spoke of. Captain says Sam was the head man in the chase and that no man ever behaved better. Sam’s pistol went off accidentally after he had captured the secesh and the bullet came within half an inch of knocking a hole in the Rebel’s head. The boys all give Sam a great deal of praise. ‘Twas daring of the captain to run his handful of men almost into the enemy’s camp, and 25 miles from any support; but if any company can do it, Company K can. Captain Nelson looks well but grumbles at being brought back from the front to where there is nothing to do but rest. His men feel the same way. For my part I don’t consider myself in the war here any more than I would be in Canton.

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