I have necessarily dwelt at some length upon the circumstances of my acquaintance and connection with Williams. This for two reasons. First, it clearly portrays some of the incidental duties that devolve upon the soldier outside of what may be called the ordinary routine of a soldier's life. Second, as illustrating the indefinable, unexplainable tie of comradeship that exists between soldiers. We all feel this in our own persons and behold its exemplification in others. Just what it is, and why it is, is hard to explain.
Monday morning following I found myself at the Post Office in Shawneetown waiting and watching for the stagecoach for McLeansboro. On its arrival I informed the driver, Buck Casey (nearly everyone knew Buck Casey) I had a former slight acquaintance with him but he had forgotten me) that I was stranded and penniless, but that I wanted to go to McLeansboro with him, that after getting there I could get money to pay him my fare. He eyed me for a moment and then addressing me rather brusquely, but with a concealed vein of good humor, "Ar'nt you a soldier?" I told him I was, "Get in here then, I don't want any of your d---d money". Mr. Casey had no passengers except myself. We had a long drive but he proved himself a very entertaining companion. He had me eat dinner with him at one of his stopping places, but would not hear about receiving remuneration, either for the dinner or for my ride.
Arrived in McLeansboro about dusk, I struck out for my Uncle Armstead Hunt's about five miles out from McLeansboro. I found them all in bed asleep. When awakened they gave me a glad welcome. I had thought of going on to my mothers that night, but I was dreadfully tired and as it would be past midnight before I could reach there, Uncle insisted that I stay until morning and then go home. Bright and early in the morning I was up and away for home and was soon in sight of the place. I thought I would attempt to pass the house to see whether mother would recognize me. She had been in the habit of hailing every one that looked like a soldier to inquire of me. She was on the alert this morning. I saw her step out on the porch and look down the lane. She saw me of course and was intending to hail me. I pulled my cap down over my face as well as I could and walked on looking straight down the lane. As I came up even with the house and about to pass, I could not resist the temptation to take a little peep at her. The mother instinct partially recognized me. She said, "Isn't that John". I turned my face fully toward her. The recognition was complete and here she came for me.
I was glad to be at home, especially on my mother's account, but my stay of thirty days became quite irksome to me before the time expired. I had been away from the company nearly three months and I felt I ought to be back sharing equally with the other boys. Again, so many had gone into the army from our immediate settlement that few were left but women, children and old men. I enjoyed their association to some extent, but it did not satisfy my longing to be back with my comrades, engaged in more active pursuits. Really, I cannot say I was sorry when the time came for me to go back.
Another comrade of our company was at home at this time and we arranged to go back together. Uncle Barney Knight took his wagon, his wife, Aunt Perselia, my mother and Miss Sarah E. Flannigan, who subsequently became my first wife, went with us to Shawneetown, it being the nearest point at which we could get transportation. We did not drive the entire journey in one day. At night we camped on the bank of the Saline River just east of Equality, and the next morning drove into Shawneetown before noon. Here I parted with my mother, never to see her again this side of Heaven, where I hope by the Grace of God to meet her again. When about to part each of us had apparently determined to subdue our emotions. I could plainly see that mother was making a great effort to keep from breaking down in tears. The tension on her will power was so great that the strain was plainly visible on her face. The same motives and efforts seemingly were actuating each of us. I saw this great strain could not be long maintained so turned and walked way. I did not need to be informed as to what mother did after we separated. I knew instinctively just how she felt and what she did. I can see her face seemingly so plain today as on that occasion, with that last, lingering, loving, farewell look. I see it now as but yesterday. I went down to the river to a secluded spot and had my cry out. The free shedding of tears somewhat relived my feelings, yet I was sad and lonesome.
The comrade of whom I have spoken got hold of some "red eye" and as a result got into trouble. As a further consequence got into the calaboose. I interceded with the city marshall and secured his release in time to have taken the next boat, but after getting his freedom he filled up on booze again. When the boat arrived he was so dead asleep that it was found impossible to rouse him. I worked with him until the boat was about casting loose her mooring and then jumped aboard and left him to pursue his own course. If his inability to go along with me had been due to anything but his own licentious, intemperate habits, I would have stayed with him until now if it had been necessary. I could not control him and did not propose to be responsible for him. He is still living and therefore his name will not appear in this narrative.
I went down the Ohio to its confluence with the Mississippi, and down that stream to Columbus, Kentucky, having heard on the way down that our regiment was, or would be at Jackson, Tennessee shortly. I disembarked at Columbus and took a train for Jackson. Not palace cars by any means, but a freight train at a little way station called Trenton, where the 6th Ill. Cavalry was stationed. I got off and stayed a couple of days with the boys of the 6th, quite a number of whom were my relatives. Among them Uncle Armstead Hunt, and Uncle Wash Hunt.
I then went on to Jackson. Here I ran across a former acquaintance, Robert Townsend, a member of General Logan's staff. Together we went up to Logan's headquarters. I was also personally acquainted with General Logan. He informed me that my regiment was heading for Memphis, Tennessee and advised me to return to Columbus and take a steamer for Memphis. I did so and arrived at Memphis one morning about sunrise. Almost the first person I saw was my comrade I had left at Shawneetown. The regiment had not yet arrived but was expected that morning. I was so eager to see them that I went out two or three miles to meet them. Troops soon began to come and pass. I watched and waited, waited and watched until finally I recognized our regiment. Oh! how dirty and dust-begrimed they were. They had been tramp, tramp, tramping in the hot July sun and dust for a long series of days. I was almost wild with delight and the boys all appeared glad to see me again.
We now settled down to regular camp life. The troops had been actively campaigning since May, and were greatly in need of rest. Our camp was situated on the bank of the river just below Memphis. The place we occupied there is now all filled up with new and beautiful residences. While here we drilled almost daily, did camp guard and fatigue duty, and much of the time did provost or police duty in the city, using a building known as the "Irving Block" as headquarters and prison pen. Our duty in the city was to preserve order as much as possible, taking the place of the regular police, most of whom had gone south, many of them into the Confederate army. This duty brought us in direct contact with the rough, law-breaking element, citizens and soldiers, the intemperate, the incendiary, thieves, thugs, etc. We had many rough and tumble scraps with them, usually landing them in prison. During this time one of our comrades shot and killed a man, a prisoner. Most of us thought this an extreme measure and really unnecessary, but the comrade was on duty, under orders and could not be legally censured. Most of us would have been more discriminative and would have discharged our duty without reprehending our conscience, permitting the poor fellow to escape. It is an easy matter to shoot and miss the mark. I do not know whether the comrade ever suffered any remorse of conscience over the unfortunate act or not. I am glad, however, that my conscience is not burdened with such a load.
While here people from home visited some of our comrades. In this connection I have a sad story to tell. Mrs. Johnson, wife of C. C. Johnson, and mother of James A. Johnson, both of our company, with her little child, paid her husband and son a visit. Uncle Chris, as her husband was familiarly called, was sick when she came and died shortly after. The little child sickened and soon followed its father. This double affliction and bereavement soon brought the mother down. She followed her husband and little one to that borne from whence no traveler returns. Thus a home was broken up and desolated and a comrade's heart saddened beyond conception.
Our camp here was high and dry, the air salubrious, therefore
healthy, and our stay here very pleasant. Toward the latter part
of November our stay here was suddenly terminated by General Grant's
movement towards the rear of Vicksburg via Oxford and College
Hill, Mississippi. General Van Dorn of the Confederate army successfully
interrupted this movement by a raid to our rear, capturing Holly
Springs where was stored an immense amount of commissary stores.
The surrender of Holly Springs to the enemy was one of the most
cowardly and defenseless acts that I remember occurring during
the war. This necessitated a retrograde movement of the army.
After dispatching Sherman with a portion of his troops by way
of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, to try to effect a lodgment
on the high ground in the rear of Vicksburg, Grant slowly drew
the remainder of his army back to Memphis and its vicinity. I
remember that we spent our 1863 New Year in camp near the Tallahatchie
River in our little "Dog Tents". Many comparative remarks
were indulged in by the boys regarding our improved methods of
celebrating New Years Day.
The next day we resumed our backward march to Holly Springs, staying here several days. Here Colonel Hicks, who had been severely wounded at Shiloh, returned to us and resumed quasi command of the regiment. The old fellow had his own peculiar ideas as to how the war should be conducted. One of these was the preservation of property in the south. He was irrevocably opposed to foraging of any kind, and did not think we should burn rails to make a fire, or for any other purpose. He had an intense love for his regiment. In a neat little speech he made to us he said, "I want all my brave boys to so conduct themselves while absent from home, that when they return they may be able to take a mother, wife or sweetheart by the hand and say truthfully, here are hands as clean as the day I left you," No doubt, many of us would have advantageously profited by heeding his council. Colonel Hicks was intensely loyal, brave almost to rashness, immensely proud of and greatly wrapped up in the prowess of his regiment. If you wanted a scrap with the Colonel, all you had to do was to say or do something derogatory to the character of his "Gallant 40th Illinois".
The first night out from Holly Springs, Lieut. Col. Barnhill, still in nominal command, drew us up before a cross fence and gave his command Stack Arms, Draw your wood, B- G-d, and go to bed. We always made it a rule to only take the top rail, but somehow the top rail soon became the bottom rail also. That fence was gone in less time than it takes to tell of it. This threw the Colonel into a rage which was intensified next morning when we came to where Company G had been on picket the preceding night. The carcass of a cow was nearby, with the most succulent and choice parts skinned out. This was too much for the colonel. The idea that his brave boys had presumed to utterly ignore his kind fatherly admonitions was unutterably too bad, and they must be reprehended. He halted the regiment, called the officers to the front and center and was giving them a genuine curtain lecture when the Brigade Commander happened along. Colonel Hicks reported the facts to him. He looked around a moment retrospecting the situation, then very pleasantly remarked that if Company G. ever slaughtered another beef and did not do a better job of it than they did of this one he would have the last d-d one of them arrested, and rode on leaving the Colonel to his own inferences and reflections. It should be remembered that Colonel Hicks had been absent from us for seven months. During this time much change of sentiment had taken place in regard to the conduct of the war. The old man had not yet come to realize as we had, that to destroy railroads, burn bridges, and consume the substance of the country, was as effectually crippling the enemy as actual conflict. We were in the throes of a life and death struggle. At times it even looked as though the tide was set against us. Therefore, every legitimate means that we could command to weaken our adversary, we considered as conservatively right and proper.
Our next move took us to a place called Davis Mills. So-called because a man named Davis (said to be a cousin of the Confederate states president) had two water mills and a small steam saw mill situated on Wolf River seven miles southwest of LaGrange, Tennessee. We put up our little "dog tents" and proceeded to make ourselves as comfortable as possible under the surrounding circumstances and conditions. The night following there fell what was called a large snow for northern Mississippi, but it about all melted off the next day. One incident of this camp. I turned a sleight of hand trick on Hardin Pittman of our company. Hardin was an excellent cook. He had gotten hold of some of Davis' cornmeal, having previously purloined an old fashioned skillet like those our mothers used to bake such good corn bread in. I was walking down the company street and came to where Hardin was busy cooking. He had just emptied the skillet of a nice lucious brown loaf of bread and was putting in another. He was intently engaged at the time arranging live coals upon the lid of his skillet. I picked up the loaf of bread and was admiring it, with possibly no more evil thought than envy. Just across the street a mass was seated on the ground eating their supper. They signaled me to come over. I looked around at Hardin, still busily engaged with his skillet. I walked over to where the boys were eating with Hardin's bread in my hand, sat down and we all began to eat of it. Hardin now raised up from his fire and discovered his loss, anger, chagrin and mortification clearly outlined in his countenance. Off he rushed up towards the head of the company, looking into every tent as he passed. Then crossed over to the side on which we were. We all thought then that our little trick would soon be exploded. However, we put on a bold front and kept on quietly eating. Hardin came up to and passed us, meantime looking with all the eyes he had for his bread. At the foot of the company he turned back, coming right by us again, sitting quietly in the open street, eating his bread right before his eyes, yet he could not see it. He lingered a moment with us and we actually invited him to eat with us. Still he failed to discover his bread. He went on searching but never found it. I doubt whether he ever found out who got it. Our open, apparently square dealing disarmed him of all suspicion of us.
The 25th Ind. had been located here for a considerable period, and had erected very pleasant, comfortable quarters. They were ordered away a few days after our arrival. We took quiet, peaceable possession of same where we remained until April or May, living happily, almost luxuriantly for soldiers. We drew our supplies from LaGrange seven miles distant. Towards spring the roads became impassable for wagons. O. P. Kelley of our company, a kind of natural mechanical genius, got hold of a set of car wheels, took the engine from Davis saw mill, put it on those car wheels and did all our hauling from LaGrange. He gave this combination car a name. I am sorry I have forgotten it.
Our stay here came to an end. We were ordered out on a chase after the Confederate general Chalmers who with a force cavalry was hovering around our front. The prime purpose of our movement was to divert Chalmers' attention from General Grierson, who was just starting on his notable raid through Mississippi to the rear of Vicksburg. We succeeded in decoying Chalmers away from him, and after a tramp of nine days returned to LaGrange. We started on this trip with three days' rations, passing over a section of country which had been so completely devastated by both armies that a crow flying over would be wise in taking a full haversack. Prior to this time I thought I had often felt the pangs of hunger, but I was mistaken. Never before had I fully realized what it meant to be really and truly hungry. For several days our entire ration consisted of a half pint of raw corn meal to the man per day. It was amusing to witness the ingenuity of the men in finding ways in which to cook their meal. It was made into dough and some cooked or rather scorched it in the ashes. Some found flat stones, some pieces of bark, some one thing, some another. One day we came to a flour mill. We got plenty of flour, but having no cooking utensils, no salt nor grease, we were at our wits end how to manage the stuff. Some ingenious fellow solved the problem by spreading down his poncho (gum blanket) working his flour into dough, rolling it out in long rolls, wrapping these around long sticks and holding them to the fire to cook. By the way, while warm it did not taste bad at all. But take care, when cold you could kill a mule with a roll of it.
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