Moving into Battle
The men broke camp March 19 and began moving toward Confederate positions around Ft. Blakely. They had to march through primitive conditions, often having to stop and build the road. On March 22nd, they ran into such muddy conditions that the troops only made five miles during the day. Thomas commented, "It is awfully hard on the teams. Saw a notice on a tree by a mud hole, 'A short way to China.' "
By March 26, Thomas' brigade had been joined with Smith's Corps, and they were much nearer to the Confederate positions. The diary entries describe the actions of the troops.
Sunday 26th. Started about 9 oclock. Marched until afternoon when the rebs met us. Our Reg. was put in the advance and S, H, and E [compaines] showed out to skirmish. Laid in line all night. Did not see any rebs.
Monday 27th. Was relieved about noon. Marched to the rear and rested about 2 hours, then marched to a position in line of battle around the reb fort. Cannonading going on all afternoon. We stayed in line where we camped.
Tuesday 28th. Wrote one letter. Firing on the fort is quite regular. Co. S & I & E were sent out in the rifle pits to sharpshoot where we are now. The gun boats came within shooting distance today.
Wednesday 29th. Was relieved at noon by the left wing of our Regt. Wrote one letter home. Cleaned up and went to bed earlier. Advanced the pits last night within rifle shot of the fort.
Thursday 30th. The left wing was relieved at midnight. This afternoon we got orders to be ready to move in 15 minutes. Marched to the right on the road to Blakely. We march there in the morning as train guard to Steele it is said.
Friday 31st. Marched 5 or 6 miles. Camped. Put up breastworks and are waiting for the Steele's train to come up. Rumors that Spanish Fort has surrendered.
Saturday April 1st. Laid in camp all day as lazy as could be. Orders to fall in at sunset whether or where we are going is not known. Last nights rumor is false.
For the next few days, the troops rotated assignments, some being on the line and others resting. On April 6th, one man was wounded from the 46th Illinois and died from his injuries. Thomas' company was held in reserve. Thomas reported that his brother Wils (Wilson) got some pickles and tobacco.
On April 9th, the troops successfully assaulted Ft. Blakely. Thomas reported that they "made our first charge right over trees, bushes, dead, and wounded of ours and rebs. Took lots of prisoners. 8 killed and 42 wounded in the 8th Illinois, none hurt in our Regt." The fort was captured at sundown. Thomas' summation of the day was, "...never so tired of running and hollowing in my life." Interestingly enough, less than two hours before the men assaulted Ft. Blakely, General Robert E. Lee has surrender his troops at Appomattox Court House. For all intents and purposes, the war was over, but the men at Ft. Blakely did not know it.
On April 12, after the victory at Ft. Blakely, the troops marched to Alabama City and boarded the boat "Planet." They crossed the bay and landed at Portsmouth place. Thomas commented that Mobile had been evacuated the previous day. On the 13th, the troops moved "in a hurry" into Mobile "without a fight." On April 14th, Thomas recorded in his diary that Lee's entire army had surrendered. This was confirmed officially on April 16th. A formal inspection and salute was fired as noon on the 17th to celebrate the victories.
For the next few days, the troops started to wind down their activities. Drills, dress parades, and guard duty were maintained, but the men had the opportunity to go to town for relaxation. On April 20th, Thomas reported in his diary that news had reached them that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. He said, "It is a great national calamity. And in the death of A. Lincoln the Seceded States have lost a magnanimous enemy. One who knew how to forgive and make enemies friends. I sincerely hope that the murderer will have to pay the penalty of the law to the fullest extent."
Winding Down the War
Thomas' diary entries for the next several weeks reported only routine events. As he put it on April 24, "No news of any account going on." His daily interests were in whether he received mail, was paid, felt healthy, and had enough to eat. On May 5, Thomas wrote that he had milked two cows and it was the first fresh milk he had had since entering the Army. He reported that he had found blackberries and mulberries to eat. His brother, Wilson, evidently ate too much ice cream on May 23rd and made himself sick.
On May 25, Thomas reported that the ammunition magazine in Mobile had exploded. His description was as follows:
"The magazine blew up this afternoon and tore a good share of the town to pieces. Beat all the sights I ever saw. The ground fairly danced all around. The Government loss is very heavy in ammunition, mules and horses, wagons and other articles. The loss of life is not as heavy as was first expected. When our Regt. started from Camp it numbered 140 men. The rest having gone down to see what the damage was on their own hook."
The official reports from Federal officers indicated that the explosion took place at the Marshall warehouse, corner of Lipscomb and Commercial Streets, at about 3:00 p.m. Some twenty tons of captured powder and shells exploded. The neighboring buildings, wharves, and ships were destroyed. Apparently, approximately six acres of buildings were destroyed and as many as 500 people were killed or injured. (War of the Rebellion, Capt. Jas. G. Patton, May 25, 1865)
On May 27th, Thomas' Regiment boarded ships and moved to Alexandria, arriving there June 4th. they camped in the Confederate Army barracks about one mile from the river. Thomas found that duty in Alexandria was not very interesting. On June 13, he observed that "This is a very lonesome place and makes time very slow and tedious." However, Thomas did manage to visit the state seminary at which General Sherman was the principal before the war and saw the house where he lived.
The troops now began to be sent home in large numbers. Equipment was turned in and inventoried. The men evidently became rather careless about their duties. In the diary entry for June 19, Thomas reported that he had been assigned fatigue duty for the afternoon, but he walked away from it. He expected to be punished by having to do additional duty later.
For the next few days, Thomas was very sick. He described a fever, and the doctor diagnosed it as the "ague", which we would recognize today as malaria. He was severely weakened by the reoccurring fever and had no appetite. He tried to sit in the shade all day if at all possible. His friend Jimmy also was sick and had to go to the hospital in Alexandria.
By early July, Thomas was feeling better and was assigned the
duty of assisting in processing the soldiers out of the Army.
He turned in his rifle July 10 and went by the hospital to bid
Jimmy goodbye. Thomas' unit was moving out momentarily.
On July 12, the men boarded the stern wheeler Aroganot and moved toward the Red River. The trip took several days. Along the way, the men saw alligators and plenty of mosquitoes. A soldier by the last name of Woods from Company K fell off the boat but was able to swim to shore. For some reason not explained, the boat returned to Alexandria and the men were transferred to the boat Sallie List. They moved up the river again to Grand Ecore.
The troops again were placed in a holding area where they just waited. Thomas' diary entries for the next few weeks contained brief references to daily life -- improving their tent with shade and an inside bunk. He wrote letters, "loafed," and read books. He duly recorded that he had read Ovid's Art of Love, Milton's Paradise Lost, and a short work on ancient history.
This being early to mid-August, the farmers' crops were ready to be harvested. Thomas enjoyed access to an abundant supply of fresh peaches and cherry tomatoes. He must have liked the latter for he said, "They make a good sauce." Later, he got his fill of tomatoes and described collecting them as a "warm and tiresome job." In late August, he managed to find a pumpkin to eat. "It was good," he said, "and something new besides."
One's health was precarious in those days, and Thomas frequently recorded how he felt and what was happening to his friends. On August 30, he received a letter from his friend Jimmy who reported that he had been released from the hospital. On the 31st, Thomas recorded that "G. Raymonee of this Company died this evening in the Reg. Hospital of fever and flux."
The men had time to visit one another. On September 10, a G. Peironett came to visit. On the 17th, Charley Austin visited and someone named "Chase" was a frequent visitor over the next few weeks. It is not clear who this person was, but, according to the diary, they enjoyed pitching horse shoes together.
The Return to Amboy
As the fall season moved into October, Thomas reported that more and more of the troops were shipping out to go home. On October 7, 1865, he happily had reached the end of his Army service. His muster-out papers were finished that afternoon, and he left camp on Sunday October 8. It must have been a happy time for he described that "several of the boys got pretty tight."
On September 10, 1865, Thomas' sister Rebecca wrote a letter to the two brothers. Her letter was full of the ordinary news of the day, but she clearly was excited about the return of her brothers. She wrote,
Amboy Sept. 10th.
I have seated myself this Sabbath morning to try to write a
few lines to you, but fear I shall not succeed very well
We are all enjoying our usual health. I do not feel very bright this morning. My head ached all day yesterday. It rained Thursday from morning till night. I did not get home until yesterday morning. The slough was higher than it has been this summer. It beats all what rains we have had this year. I hope it will not rain any more for the next two weeks. I shall be done crossing that dreaded slough then. [This probably is a reference to the creek on the south side of Amboy.]
Mr. Keefer thinks he has lost about fifteen tons of hay. It was cut down and heaped up, but is not worth much after standing under water two or three days.
There was a show & circus in Amboy yesterday and last night -- the first one this summer. The bills promised a handsome thing, but Father was in town yesterday morning and said there were only ten or twelve wagons in the procession.
Mother received a letter from Thomas yesterday dated Aug. 14th, one week older than the ones we received last week. We were really hoping that the next letters would be written at Baton Rouge. Perhaps we will get some today. Deacon Barrell forgets to inquire for our letters half of the time.
I understand that Mr.Kriss returned last Saturday, and I presume school commenced last Monday. I wish I was able to commence attending to-morrow. But I guess I will not be able to go to school this Winter. I wish Alma could go.
In the Republican convention held in Amboy week before last James H. Preston was nominated as candidate for School Commissioner.
I tell Father he had better run for that office next time. It will pay better than farming.
Yesterday I received a letter from Lew Schuyler. He is going to school in Orangeville. Adam [Schuyler] had just received his discharge and got home.
Last Thursday a week ago, Jimmy Scott's team ran away and the tongue of the wagon struck into the ground and threw him out, it is said some twenty feet in the air, and he fell on his head and shoulders injuring him severely. but he is reported as recovering.
There is an Advent Meeting down in the grove [Paw Paw Grove]. The Amboy Times says there will be baptisms today.
That most estimable paper has changed hands again. Pratt has sold out, a gentleman by the name of Goff has become Editor. He is a real fine looking man. He has taken Mr. Tookers class in the Sabbath School. So I have him for a near neighbor.
Mr. Hazen commences his labors as pastor today. You know he has been a soldier. We all like him so much.
The church have bought Mr. Finche's house, and are going to prepare it for a parsonage. They bought the property for $1000.00 and it will cost about $500.00 more to build an addition to it.
The State Fair has been held in Chicago during the past week. A great many of our neighbors and acquaintances have been attending. The hot weather still continues. This is the longest spell of warm weather we have had this summer. There I can write quite a letter when I get the first change. When you are coming home you must let us know, so we can meet you at the cars. We will be madder if you go to Deacon Barrell's first. We want to see you before every body else does. Now I must stop and help about the work.
From your sister Reba.
On October 12, Thomas was in Baton Rouge aboard the Ste. Margarita. He got to New Orleans on October 13 and "took up quarters at a coffee house at the rate of $1.00 per day." He played the role of tourist for the next few days stating that he "run around town all day sight seeing." His last diary entry was on October 17, 1865, when he was still in New Orleans. He was working on the Company rolls, trying to get them straightened out. His last observation of New Orleans was, "Saw the Asylum children out marching this afternoon."
Thomas B. Fisher and his brother Wilson returned to Amboy, Illinois, and re-entered civilian life. Thomas married Stella Lucinda BUCKINGHAM, daughter of another area farming family. Stella's mother was Cordelia FOWLER from Geauga County, Ohio. I previously have documented Cordelia's move to Amboy in a series of articles entitled Letters from the Western Frontier.
Thomas continued to live in Amboy. He was an active member of the Amboy Baptist Church, and he owned a farm on the west side of the county. The farm was located just north of River View Road, east of highway 19, and south of highway 14. He and Stella had sons Edward Alexander, Howard LeRoy, and George Thomas. I am a descendant of Howard Fisher. Howard married Eliza Pearl SMITH. Descendants of the SMITH family still live in the Amboy area.
Thomas died February 7, 1923, and his wife Stella died December 9, 1932. They are buried in the Prairie Repose Cemetery in Amboy.
Wilson became a postmaster, bookkeeper, and Methodist minister in Wisconsin. He married Charlotte Ella CASE. Their descendants live primarily in Wisconsin and California. I have not met them, but I have corresponded with them and exchanged information.
Both Thomas and Wilson were very active in the G.A.R. organization throughout their lives. In fact, one faded family momento is an old newspaper clipping from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. This shows Wilson Fisher and James D. Gibson looking at newspapers written during the Civil War. The men were in their late 80's and were the last two survivors of G.A.R. Post #22 in Wisconsin Rapids.
Rebecca married Abel Burnham and died in Chicago September 29, 1893. Their son Judson Burnham farmed land just west of Amboy, near the old Fisher farm. I am aware of some descendants now living in the Chicago area.
Alma never married. She served as a teacher for a number of years, but being the youngest daughter, it became her duty to take care of the elderly parents. She died in Amboy in 1917.
There is nothing particularly daring about the adventures of Thomas and Wilson in their military service. They were not important officers; they did not participate in famous battles. The importance of the information reported in this article lies in its reflections on the daily life of a family in Amboy. The fact that letters and a diary have been preserved for 130 years is extraordinary in and of itself.
As I sit at my computer finishing this manuscript, I feel a closeness with my far distant relatives. I can sense their fears and their pride. I can perceive the family love and religious faith. I am impressed with their perseverance in a life that was hard, hard, hard.
Most importantly, through conducting the research for this manuscript, I have developed a better sense of who I am and where my family fits in time and space. In 1994, my daughter and her husband presented me with my first grandchild. As I look at this little baby, I realize that he is part of my chain of life. Perhaps this is why so many people take up genealogy as a hobby in the later years of their lives. Somehow these things take on an importance that was not apparent at all when one is 16 years old. If you have not undertaken a study of your family, why don't you begin now?
Copyright 1993 Thomas H. Fisher, Tallahassee, Florida 32312
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