William White

Unknown Company, 90th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

"A Sunday in the South"

A Sunday in the South

by Lieutenant William White

In commencing this sketch I suppose it would be proper to give a description of this place, but as I have done so partially before, I will omit it. This morning, December 28, 1862, I arose before daylight and had the pleasure of beholding the sun rising in the east and flooding with his golden light the hills and valleys of Mississippi, and giving promise of such a day as you might be glad to welcome amid the scenes of May. The roll call which follows immediately after reveille, being disposed of, the next duty that devolves on the soldier in these parts is to prepare something to eat, a task which on the present occasion seemed more than agreeable to your correspondent, who with the assistance of a shade (not of night) procured a pail of water, called on the commissary, and were furnished some beef steak, and corn meal, and proceeded with the laudable task of getting breakfast, and in due time produced on the table (box) a steaming pot of tea, steak, butter and corn bread, or in the language of the country, "hoe cake," having regaled our appetite with this inviting meal and indulged a vigorous application of soap and water, and a change of clothes, I bethought myself that a visit to Holley Springs would not be an uninteresting way to pass the day, so I proceeded in search of some one similarly inclined and had the good fortune soon to find two very agreeable companions in the persons of Lieut. Ballingall (this may be a Lt. Charles Bellingale, whom I found on a list of 90th Inf on a website) and drum major Ball. We held a short consultation as to whether we should employ the services of certain long-eared animals that were available, or adopt pedestrian means of transportation. We chose the latter, the wisdom of which choice, experience confirmed, as the distance was only about four miles and on arriving there we were unencumbered. We at once reported at the Provost Marshall's office of this post, where we were furnished with the necessary papers to insure us against arrest, and commenced our journey along the railroad. We soon came to our own pickets, and merely asked if we had passes, and answering in the affirmative, were permitted to pass on. Our way for a time lay through a succession of hills and hollows, capable of producing nothing but willows and scrubby timber of a dwarfish growth. I began to soliloquize, can it be possible that we are fighting for a country such as this, and was about to express my thought, when a smiling valley opened before us, on whose fertile soil still stood the evidence of a bountiful crop. Passing this, we came to the bridge, guarding which was entrenched a company of the 101st, the same who had left it so suddenly just eight days before, but had again returned now that their work was in a measure needless. Their sentinel however managed to muster sufficient courage to demand our papers, which were found satisfactory, and we kept on, by the road. I noticed oats that was scattered from the cars, growing green about two inches high, enshrined in all the loveliness of spring. The railroad through this country must have cost much labor to build it. The land is so uneven, but shovels can be used without the assistance of bricks, as a stone is a thing never seen or seldom heard of in this section. The stations of the other three companies of the 101st were successively reached and passed, and we soon found ourselves in the presence of the Holley Springs picket, who also required to see our pass.

On entering the town the first object that attracted our attention was the ruins of a large foundry which the rebels had destroyed. Passing this we halted next at the depot, or where the depot used to be, the only evidences of its existence that remained was a pile of broken brick and smoldering ashes. Here you could see what was left of the cars just as they burned standing on the track. From here we turned into a street which led up town. On the way we passed several large buildings which floated a red flag indicating that they were used as hospitals. We saw many nice yards adorned with beautiful green trees, but here we stopped to view one more attractive than the rest. A splendid iron fence lined the front. On the iron culvert in front of the gate we read the name "W. H. Cox." The house, a beautiful cottage built in the latest style, stood back about fifty paces and was approached by a walk of many windings, lined with various kinds of ever greens. A sentinel stood at the gate, and of him we inquired what was doing here. We were informed that this was Gen. Grant's Headquarters. "Is there any admittance?" we asked. He was instructed to pass officers, so we determined to see the General. On the porch we (met) the Adgt. Gen. of his staff ­ a Lieut. Col. Rollins, with whom my friends were acquainted. I was introduced and showed us to the presence of Maj. Gen. Grant. My companions are from his town. He did not recognize them at first but soon brought them to mind and reached his hand. I was formally introduced and had a shake hand with the General. He is a man below the medium height, slightly stoop shouldered, light complexion, and has a piercing eye. His office was the double parlor connected by sliding doors. The mirrors were hanging on the wall, and many other articles of furniture about the house. There was several colonels there and many other officers, besides a number of red tape gentlemen.

Having seen all that was to be seen we took our leave, and kept on up town. We were much pleased with the appearance of the place. We could not help but admire those beautiful trees, so neatly trimmed in various shapes. This must have been a very nice town before the rebel raid, but grass will not grow. The summer is so hot it burns up. A short distance ahead of us I observed a group of gentlemen, among whom I thought I saw a familiar face and as we neared I did not fail to recognize J. V.'s old boss, Gen. Wood. I saluted his honor; he gave me his hand saying my countenance seemed familiar, but he could not place it. I put him right on this score and then inquired for Jeems,(?) and was told he had gone to Alton. I bade him good day.

On the square we stopped a moment to contemplate the scene. One side is burned to the ground as also a few scattering buildings that were used by Government. Every place they found a wagon they destroyed it. In the distance could be seen a handsome Gothic church with the windows all broken, a fit emblem of the religion of the country. In the centre stood the court-house, a dilapidated looking structure of considerable size. While we were standing, a Doctor Riley of the 45th came up. He was an old acquaintance of Lieut. Balingall's, and invited us to his hospital. At one o'clock we promised to go, and started on to see what we could see until the time was up. there is no stores open except sutter stores. Into one of those we went and got two of the poorest pies of the poorest kind, for which we paid 25 cents a piece, and 25 cents for three cigars. I indulged a smoke, being the first since my arrival in Dixie. The streets were full of soldiers, and you might pick up a regt. of strays in very short notice. Our next visit was to the office of Maj. Coates, Provost Marshall, where we renewed our passes and betook ourselves to the hospital. The Doctor and a sutter's clerk of the same regt. with whom our boys were very intimate, met us at the door, and showed us into what was once the parlor of this very fine house. There was a good carpet on the floor, a piano in one corner, a sofa in another and a full set of spring bottom chairs to match. No sooner were we seated than the Doctor ordered the groceries to be brought out, in response to which order a three gallon jug was placed on the middle of the floor, a small pitcher, and glass was then produced and we invited to help ourselves, which we did with the grace of veterans. Dinner for five was next ordered and the table took the place of the jug. The meal was soon ready, and we drew up and helped ourselves to roast mutton, coffee, light bread biscuit, butter, preserves of different kinds, besides various other things too numerous to mention. We enjoyed the meal capitally. Our party unanimously agreed it was the best dinner that fell to their lot since they left the United States. The Doctor is a whole souled host; the pitcher went around again. During the meal he gave us a correct account of the surprise and capture of Holley Springs, in which Col. Murphy was held deeply culpable. I would repeat it to you but I suppose you have heard it all through the papers before now.

Official business now demanded the attention of our host and we with many thanks for his kind treatment, bade him good evening, as we intended to be back in time for dress parade and were about satisfied with our visit. We thought it best to start without further delay. We returned by the same way, so of course have nothing new to say about it. We were just in time for parade, after which we had supper as usual. The night was a beautiful one, the moon in all the loveliness of her refulgent light, shone bright. The merry twinkling stars seemed conscious of the fact that is was Sunday. After tattoo the men assembled at Father Kelly's tent, as they do every night, and said the rosary with simple piety but seemed a solemn ceremony, beneath inspiration of such a night. The devotion ended, the men retired to bed, as did your humble servant. My account of "A Sunday in the South" is finished. If an opportunity offers I must tell you something of the next day's foraging

(By Lt. William White, age 23 years old, written during his military service in the Civil War.)

Many thanks to Marguerite Harris Main who submitted this information.

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