Colonel Tom Snell's Raid on Pie Peddlers

A Brief History of the 107th Illinois Infantry

Clinton Public

September 9, 1887

Submitted by Judy Simpson

It is not often we come across any printed reminiscences of the 107th Illinois Infantry, but Willard Musson, First Sergeant of Co. H, gives a brief sketch in a late number of the National Tribune. Musson went into the army from the neighborhood of DeWitt, but he is now living in Elk City, Kansas. The article has two illustrations, the first one representing Colonel Snell kicking over the baskets of pies brought into camp by peddlers. No one would ever recognize the colonel from the picture. In the Tribune he is represented as a great big, double-fisted warrior, with a beard and mustache that would be a terror to the whole Southern Confederacy, when the truth is the Colonel is one of the mildest-mannered men that ever crossed the Ohio river. The second illustration represents the breaking into a Kentucky jail, in which Comrade George Scott was a participant. The Gossett spoken of went from Wapella and died soon after returning home. We would like to reproduce the pictures, but will have to content ourselves by giving the history.

In October, 1862, the 107th Ill., on their way to the front, was passing through Louisville, Ky., under command of our first Colonel Thos. Snell, who had been a noted cattle dealer in Central Illinois, in which business he had acquired all the military knowledge he possessed. This was evident in his actions on drill and parade. He used to gallop his horse to head off the column when the men had not heard the word of command, and try to round us up as he would a herd of steers.

We marched through the streets of Louisville, proud of our display, and trying to keep our files in shape, when some one started the song of "John Brown's Body," and the whole regiment chimed in, ignorant of the fact that it did not accord with military rules, but not unconscious of the feeling of rage it stirred up among the citizens there. We camped south of the city and went to drilling in earnest.

A rumor circulated through camp that the "Secesh" were trying to kill off soldiers in that vicinity by


This coming to the ears of our Colonel he issued orders that no hucksters would be allowed in his camp. Of this order nothing was known outside of our regiment.

One day while we were on dress parade the Colonel spied some children in camp selling pies to our convalescents. Leaving his place, he rushed among them, kicked over their baskets, stamped their pies into the ground, and came back on parade, his top-boots glistening with mince meat and dried apples. Months afterward we came back through Louisville, and children with baskets of pastry came among us. They asked and were told it was the 107th Ill., to which they replied, "Oh, we know old Tom Snell's regiment!"

The Colonel evidently thought that as soon as we crossed the Ohio we were in rebel territory, and that was the time and place to commence


Knowing nothing of military rule or subordination, he soon made himself obnoxious to the quasi-secesh element in authority there and had to resign. Could he have staid until toned down to a regulation standard, he would have made his mark as an officer. He was well liked by his men.

In a few weeks we were ordered on a train of cars, with five days' rations. When forty miles south, at the town of Shepardsville, Companies A and H were put off the train in the dark. Major Kelley stood on the rear platform and addressed us, saying that John Morgan was in that immediate vicinity, and he had no doubt we would be attacked before morning. Subsequently we ascertained that there was no armed force of enemy


How vividly I recalled the terrors of that night. We fully believed the Major, and in anticipation of the attack, Capt. Brooks placed all the men on picket, keeping only the commissioned officers as a reserve. Eight or ten of us were posted on the Louisville pike, under command of Corporal Maxey, who had been in the Mexican war---that is as far as Santa Fe, N. M.---and was, therefore, supposed to know all about this business.

About midnight we heard a fearful racket and supposed Morgan's entire command was charging us. The Corporal took the lead, and when the enemy came within proper distance, cried, "Halt! Halt! Halt!" in rapid succession and fired his gun. Fortunately his aim was poor, and we gathered in our prisoners unhurt, consisting of


I was instructed to take our prisoner to the officers, and at the suggestion of the Corporal left my gun and accouterments, as I was expected to come right back. I led the way on foot and told my prisoner to follow. He was mounted and armed with sabre and revolvers. The thought did not occur to me to disarm him, mount his mule and tell him to "hoof it," as it would later. I hunted around town some time and finally found our officers quartered in a building, and delivered my prisoner, who proved to be a Kentucky Union soldier, full of apple brandy, taking a "French leave" to see his folks. Other frightful occurrences of like dangerous character prevented sleep that night. At daylight all the pickets were called in. The necessity of pickets in daytime was not known to us then.

Now we began to realize that our situation was alarming. Apparently we had been left there as a gift to Morgan, or were


In anticipation of the latter, those of us having any money ate from two to five meals per day at the hotels in addition to what we consumed of our rations. We endured this fare for two or three days. Then the men were heard complaining that they would not live on the salt meat issued us without butter or soft bread, and one out of a herd of fine cattle that wandered near our camp was shot, cut open and the entrails dragged out. Then each of us feeling so disposed would strip the hide back far enough to cut out a chunk of meat, which we would toast on the end of a ramrod.

This stripping process continued until only the skeleton was left, from which the hide was not wholly detached. Late one afternoon an illy-clad [sic], stoop-shouldered old woman came to camp, and observing the carcass, said she wanted some of it. We very politely said to her; "Certainly, madam; take it all if you wish." Imagine our surprise at seeing her slip one arm through the ribs, partly shoulder it, and go off across the commons, the heard and horns hanging in front of her and the skeleton and hide trailing behind 10 or 15 feet.

One day Capt. Brooks came into camp with a letter purporting to have been written by a Union soldier confined in jail there, setting forth the very ill treatment he was receiving from the civil authorities for some purely military offense, as he claimed, and intimating that his time would be short if we moved off and left him to the mercy of the rebels in authority. We, in our innocence, believed the story. Capt. Brooks said: "Boys, I can't do anything. It won't do for me to tell you to take him out, but we must not leave him there; he must come out!" We needed no further hints, but set to work organizing and perfecting plans for the release of the prisoner. A few of the older and wiser ones tried to dissuade the boys from this attempt without avail; we only thought them cowards and wholly lacking in the elements that constitute a soldier. Their assertions that we were wrong and that civil law was in full force there was unheeded.

As soon as it was dark we filed out of camp, visited a store, where we procured an ax, some candles, etc., and proceeded to the jail. We demanded the key of the jailer, who would have given them up, but his wife had them and decidedly refused to surrender them. Baffled in this, a stick of timber was brought into use as a battering-ram, and the first stroke broke in the jail door. Gossard, one of our tallest men, stood at one side, held the light and directed the movements. Next we proceeded to


but in this we were shortly interrupted. The boys reported a force crossing the bridge on double-quick. At the other end of the bridge two companies of the 91st Illinois were camped. Pitching our ax and other tools into the cells, we decamped in haste, and when the officers of the 91st came to our camp demanding an explanation and ordered a roll-call, all answered to their names. Gossard was the only one identified, being conspicuous for his stature and holding the light and giving commands. He passed a few weeks in the guardhouse at Louisville in expiation of the offense. Later we learned that our efforts effected the release of our man, who was a citizen confined for stealing horses; also some negroes incarcerated for murder and other offenses. I venture to make this public now for the first time, thinking action against us for violating the laws of Kentucky must be barred by the statute of limitations.

Our first action was at Huff's Ferry, in East Tennessee, while trying to prevent Longstreet from crossing the Tennessee River. Capt. Brooks had been promoted to Major. We were advancing in line, and some of the enemy's skirmishers were firing from the shelter of a house. Seeing this, the Major gave the following order: "Capt. T. J. Milholland, deploy Co. A as independent skirmishers. Surround that house, scour those premises thoroughly, and murder the d----d inhabitants if necessary." Whether the Major was excited and gave the order as stated, or whether it originated in the fertile imagination of Capt. Tom Milholland, may be a matter of doubt, but the expression still lives and is one of the first things heard when the boys meet at a reunion.

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