November 29, 1895
THE LAST RECRUIT
A Passage of History of Co. A, 107th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, with a Local Interest.
In April, 1864, while the Army of East Tennessee was at Mossey Creek, Tennessee, being reorganized, expecting soon to join Sherman to take part in the Atlanta or Georgia campaign, the writer wandered through the woods one sunny day. He accidentally came upon a blue-eyed, light-haired boy of fourteen years, sitting alone on a large log. I sat on the log with the lad, thinking he was a native of that country, and entered into conversation with him. He said he lived in Indiana, having become dissatisfied with home. His mother was dead. His father had married again and he and his step-mother could not get along together. He had made up his mind to run away from home and join the army. He asked me what state I was from. Being informed that I was from Illinois, he asked if he could get into my company and regiment. As we sat there I tried to persuade him that he was too young and small to make a soldier; that he had better return home to his father. To this he answered, no; that he had started out to become a soldier and if he could not get into my regiment he would try some other one. I then told him if he was bound to be a soldier, he had just as well join my regiment as any. I said, we will go and see my captain and find whether he will take you in my company or not.
We found him in his tent alone, writing. When we entered, he looked up and said, "Hello, boys, sit down." We sat down until the captain could give us his attention. In a few minutes he stopped writing, turned around and addressed me, saying, "Scottie, who is the little fellow you have with you?" I then told him where I had found the lad, the conversation I had had with him; that we had come to him to see if he would muster him into our company. The captain turned to the blue-eyed boy: "You want to be a soldier? You are not big enough to carry a gun and knapsack; you had better go back to your home, and stay with your father two or three years, then, if the war is still going on, you will be able to make a soldier." To this the boy replied, "I have started out to be a soldier and I am going to be one; if you will not take me in your company I will find some other company that I can get into." To this the captain said, "Well, if you're determined to enlist, you had just as well belong to Company A of the 107th Illinois, as any other regiment or company. Come with me; we will go and see the colonel and find out what he thinks about having you mustered into the regiment." We started to the colonel's quarters. On the way down I stopped with my company.
The captain and the boy went on to see the colonel. In a short time they came back through my company. The captain called me as I approached him and the lad, and said to me, "Here, Scottie, is your recruit. Take him and see if you can fit him out with a gun, uniform and knapsack; teach him the drill; make a soldier out of him as fast as possible." I took the blue-eyed boy and soon had him fitted out with a full Yankee uniform and got him a gun and knapsack. When fitted out he did look like a little soldier. The lad took hold of things with earnestness, and soon became acquainted with all the boys in the company. They all took a great interest in him.
In a very few days after this, we broke camp and started on our march to join Sherman's great army to take part in the great Atlanta campaign. It wasn't long until Robert SMITH (for that was the name under which the blue-eyed boy enlisted) became a favorite in the company. The first time he came under fire was at Buzzard Roost and Rocky-Face Ridge, Georgia. He showed himself to be made of the right kind of material. He never flinched nor showed any signs of being excited. From the above place, and for weeks, we were daily under fire. Little Robert Smith was always in his place of duty. When on the skirmish line he was always discreet and careful in his movements; but did not like to fire his gun unless he had dead aim on his mark. He stood up under the hard work of the campaign until we got quite close to Atlanta, when he was taken suddenly ill and was taken back to the hospital. In a few days the news came from the hospital that our little Robert Smith was very sick with brain fever. It was thought by the doctors that he could not live. Days passed, still the report from him was bad. The army slowly moved toward Atlanta. Smith was left farther and farther behind. After a long time, news came that little Smith was on the mend and would likely recover. His recovery was very slow.
Atlanta was taken by Sherman's grand army, after which a few weeks' rest was given. Another campaign was begun, Sherman dividing his great army, sending the 23--4 corps back to Tennessee to take care of the rebel general Hood, who was there in command of the rebel soldiers then in our front, who had concluded to force his way back into Tennessee, to intercept, if possible, Sherman's great march to the sea, with the other part of his army. This movement placed our little blue-eyed Smith farther and farther from the regiment. We often thought of and talked about him, but we never saw him nor heard of him again.
The war closed, the regiment was discharged, the men went to their homes, but none of us could tell what had become of the little light-haired, blue-eyed boy. Thousands of times have we thought of the boy and wondered if he had lived to get out of the army; had he died, and his people, perhaps, never to know what had become of their boy.
A few days ago, after a lapse of thirty years, to our utter surprise, we received a long letter from our little recruit, dated at Kingston, Tennessee, which reads as follows: "My dear friend and comrade Scott:---I am so glad I have found you out at last. I feel as though I had found some of my dearest kinfolks." He says further: "I am a married man; have a wife and eight children; am a farmer; work from ten to fifteen hands all the time; am Justice of the Peace of Roan [sic] county, Tenn.; settled here after coming out of the army; have been here ever since; am doing well; would like so much to see you; think I will have to make a trip up to Illinois on purpose to see you."
Now in concluding this little sketch of war history, will say: Never did I receive a letter from anyone that did me more good to read than the one I received a few days ago from our once little blue-eyed Robert Smith, who is now a grown man, the father of a large family, and doing well in the world. Now, my company comrades, those of you who may see this piece of history in the paper, will no doubt remember our little blue-eyed, light-haired recruit, who now signs his name to his letter, which I received from him a few days ago, R. W. GAMBELL, and states that he was enlisted under an assumed name, Robert Smith. As soon as he was discharged he again took up his proper name. Thinking this little sketch of history will be of interest to my comrades, I will quit for this time.
G. W. S.
[George W. Scott]
SMITH, Robert Recruit Knox Co. Apr 1, 1864 Transferred to 65th ILL. Inf.
SCOTT, George W. Private Wapella Sep 4, 1862 Mustered out Jun 21, 1865