William White

Unknown Company, 90th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

April 1865 Letter Home, page 1

Goldsboro N.C.
April 6th, 1865

My Dear Wife,

In fulfillment of my promise I proceed to give you some account of our late campaign, or rather that portion of it in which the regiment and myself participated. Ref(erence) to our arrival at Pocotaligo S.C. you are already fully informed, and from there I might date the commencement of the campaign, as it was there we last had communication.

We left on the 1st of February, and a beautiful day it was, an omen perhaps, of the success that was to attend us. The trains were loaded to their capacity with ammunition and supplies. Everybody was in good humor and confident in the skill of our chief, with cheerful hearts bed adieu to line (?) and base, and land on the ocean of the confederacy. Our first day's march was in a northwesterly direction, the road pretty good save where it crossed a marsh or slue, and invariably at such places it had been obstructed by fallen timber, but the pioneer corps without assistance from the troops were able to remove such paltry "obstacles" in advance of the column. The houses by the way were nearly all vacated, and such as were so we left in ashes. The fences, woods, and everything combustible, was on fire, so that in many places the smoke and heat us .. The village of McPhersonville to our right shared the fate which the conduct of our men today seemed to threaten all South Carolina.

We halted to rest in the evening at a plantation, the outhouses of which were all on fire, wind was pretty high and wafted the flames to the dwelling which burned so furiously, the family saved nothing but themselves. When I saw them there were a melancholy looking group, and a cheerless prospect before them. You must not think that this desolation was the work of our regiment. There was thousands in advance of us, and to them belongs the credit or disgrace ­ which ever it may be. I never knew a man of our regiment to fire a building without orders, though I do not say some of them have not done things as bad.

On this march we have the same regulations regarding forage as on the Georgia march and a pack mule to each company is allowed. The people tell our foragers, with mournful acquiescence, "well, I suppose you can take what Wheeler left." Wheeler you know is Hoods Cavalry commander and an old acquaintance of ours. Some of his men were here yesterday.

Next morning at an early hour found us again on the road. Fallen timber was occasionally met until we came to a place where there was a number of trees half cut, as though they had not time to finish their design, and from here we found no more obstructions of this sort. We passed the handsome residence of Gen. D. H. Ellis and expressed our appreciation of his cause and distinguished services by leaving it in ashes.

Some mounted men of the 1st Division were in advance of ours and towards evening found the Johnnies and got up a little skirmish. There was two of the latter killed and one or two of ours wounded. The Rebs retired across a small stream at "Windhams Mill" and declined to yield further. Our Division moved up and encamped so close that the Rebs favored us with an occasional shot during the night.

Next morning it was raining which I always a disagreeable circumstance when there is a fight in prospect. It happened also to be the 3rd Brigade's turn in advance and of course that made it our duty to dislodge the enemy and accordingly everything not needed for the fight was left in camp. Gen. Sherman was around and I noticed he looked rather glum, perhaps he did not like the delay. To cross the stream was our object, to do so directly in front of them would be a dangerous enterprise and to avoid it the 48th Illinois went down the creek some distance, waded across and due time made its appearance on the Rebel flank when they took alarm and left in a hurry much to the delight of us who did not expect to get out of it so easy. The whole Brigade now pushed forward in pursuit but the enemy being mounted were not to be overtaken.

We returned to camp and remained until noon the next day, by which time the weather had cleared up. Moving again we turned to the right, the 17th Corps was on that side of us, and artillery was heard in that direction in the morning. the road after the rain was in a bad condition, and large details were at work corduroying for which purpose the fences within reach were appropriated. Orders had been issued against firing buildings, but still there is some of it done.

This night we camped at Oswell's crossroads and before the picket was posted a few Rebel Cavalry dashed in and captured two of Gen. Hazen's ambulance horses. He afterwards got in their stead two splendid iron grays, as fine a team as I ever saw. I was on picket this night, and had the good fortune to have a very good post and taking warning by the fate of the General's horses, we barricaded to make ourselves more secure. But the night passed without our being disturbed. Morning found us in motion again, and the crossing of Salt.. Swamp and Combabee river at Buford's Bridge was the only incident of that day. This crossing had been fortified and from the front was impregnable, but the 17th corps with Shermanic tact had flanked them, though they had quite a severe skirmish where they first crossed. This was the firing heard yesterday morning. At this place was a small village called "Buford's Bridge." It was standing when we passed but I heard it was afterwards burned which very likely was true. Since leaving Beaufort the country has been a level plain, divided between plantations, pine woods, and swamps, but on crossing Combabee River the land became more rolling and in places too rugged for cultivation. We got into camp early this evening and expected to remain a day or two. But next morning while some were drawing rations and others enjoying the supposed rest by a prolonged sleep, the Brigade buglar very unexpectedly "sounded the general" which means whatever you are doing stop and pack up ready to move in two minutes, in a pretty mess we were caught this time, and the time allowed was even shorter than usual. We bundled out however in great haste and confusion, but only to cross the road and wait three whole hours, for what we were in such a hurry I have not yet learned.

While we were halted the 20th Corps was passing on a road to our left. In the morning the sun shone out but by the time we got on the road it grew dark and lowering. Our regiment was in advance for pioneer duty. A regiment from each brigade has to do this each day in its turn, and by this means unless the road is very bad the trains will not be delayed at all. The road not needing much repairs we got considerable distance ahead of the column and halted at a house for it to close up.

While there the story got circulated that there was whiskey in the house, which collected a crowd that could hardly be drawn by any other attraction, but a few peanuts was the only result of their search and they quietly dispersed. Moving on we soon caught up with the 1st and 3rd Divisions which had been skirmishing with some Rebel cavalry across a swamp.

It had not begun to rain and we had to wait over an hour till the road was clear, which they were making great haste to do marching the train in double column, one across the bridge and the other through the water up to the wagon beds.

We camped about dark, but our wagon did not get in for two hours after, so we were that long in the rain without our tent, but we had improved our time by collecting boards and drying them by the fire to lay on, and when the tent was up we slept quite comfortable. Next day, Feb. 9th, we started early. It was still raining and we expected a skirmish at the railroad, but no, the Johnnies had gone. As we came near we met a Cavalry man with a box of tobacco. The 90th made a raid on him and captured it, telling him as he was mounted he could go look for more. We reached the road at "Bamberg Station" about eleven o'clock.

The remainder of that day and all the next was spent in destroying the road which is effectually done by piling up the ties, then laying on the iron, set fire to it and when it is hot, twist and bend it, and it will require the action of a rolling mill to render it again fit for use. During our stay here we had any amount of "peace rumors" and the citizens were highly indignant at the idea of our foraging after the war was over, and though we were as anxious for peace as they we could see, as yet, nothing of the wished for boon.

It was said Gen. Sherman's headquarters were on the "Calhoun Estate," the former residence of John C. Calhoun, the celebrated originator of the doctrine of "State Rights." If he could rise from the tomb and behold the result of his teachings in his own loved stated, wonder what he would think. At daylight Feb. 9th we moved from Bamberg, the day was pleasant and the country good, which is always a sure omen that the foragers would return laden. Gen. Howard, commander of the army of the Tennessee, passed us, the first time we saw him since leaving Beaufort. We got into camp early and threw up a temporary work. The advance had reached the south Edioto River and had been skirmishing. The next day was occupied in crossing the river which was easily bridged by pontoons, but beyond it was a swamp of near half a mile in length over which a temporary bridge of rails was built for the infantry to pass. The trains had to take it through the water. After getting over we went but a short distance and camped and again threw up works, lest some of our Rebel friends should call unexpectedly and find us unprepared. Next day (11th) our Regiment was pioneering again and that night camped at "Poplar Springs" where the 4th Div. of our Corps from Savannah overtook us and brought a mail. I got three letters which was an agreeable surprise as they were not expected there. Poplar Springs is a village of a few houses, but has some notoriety as a fashionable resort in the summer season. Next day a march of three miles brought us to the North Edisto River across which the enemy were entrenched and disputing the passage. A brigade was down skirmishing with them across the river but could not do much on account of a swamp on this side. Our Brigade went about two miles to the right to cross there and get round in the enemies' rear. We got over the river on a raft build of hewn timbers which fortunately lay on the bank. But now another obstacle presented itself in the shape of a swamp of unknown width and deepness. The firing at the bridge a few moments before had been very brisk, and Gen. Hazen was anxious to push on, and taking the lead ­ on foot for no houses could cross on the raft ­ he plunged into the swamp and bade us follow, which we did, and such hallowing as was then heard never before woke the echoes of that swamp. It was covered with timber and brush so you could not see the end and could not tell whether you were going up down or across. The water was cold as ice, most of the way waist deep and in places up to the arm pits. It was about half a mile across though to us it seemed twice that distance. One man took cramps and had to be carried and several fell down and lost their guns.

When we got through our clothes were a little damp, but we had the satisfaction to learn that the Johnnies had skedadled, leaving fifty prisoners and about two hundred guns in our hands. This was the result of the rapid firing heard before entering the swamp. had they waited until we got around we might have gobbled them all. From here we marched about two miles and encamped as we supposed for the night and had collected rails, fodder, etc. to make ourselves comfortable and were drying ourselves by the fire when the "general" sounded and we were again moving and marched about two miles to where the other troops were camped.

Here wood and everything had been taken by those who got in first so there was but little left for us. The wagon did not get up until twelve o'clock and until then my mess was without tent or blankets. Our pack mule had given out and we had to put them in the wagon, but from the time they came we slept comfortable until morning. A ration of whisky was then issued to counteract the effects of the wetting. The wetting did not seem to hurt anybody in our regiment except Capt. Corcoran of Company A who has since been laid up with rheumatism. An old citizen told us he had lived there for twenty years and never knew a man to cross that swamp before.

The 3rd Div. moved ahead of us which left us a little time to get ready. But we were out about 8 or 9 o'clock. The 17th Corps was on the Railroad at Orangeburg to the right of us. We moved towards there as far as "Andrews Plantation" which is the largest and best appointed I saw in South Carolina until then. There was a widow lady living on the place, and seemed much afraid the house would be burned, and I afterwards heard that it was. From her we first learned the result of the peace conference. She thought it would be "terrible if the South had to submit to the terms proposed by Mr. Lincoln." From here we turned off towards Columbia and the 17th Corps followed the railroad strewing destruction in their path.

Nothing unusual occurred until the evening of the 14th when we passed through the village of "Sandy Run" which consisted of a few dilapidated houses, a forge, and a grocery. That was the whole hid between two hills. It began to rain as we passed here, and we expected to camp but finding the 4th Div. there we moved on past them and closed up to the 1st Div. which was skirmishing with the enemy. The 3rd Div. was in rear of us. so the whole corps was on the same road, a circumstance, experience has taught us to regard as suspicious of a fight. It rained all night, and occasionally you could hear a shot from the Johnnies and a return with interest from our fellows. The 1st Div. being in advance of us, of course we were out of range.

By morning they had fallen back, but as we were not approaching Columbia, it was known we would soon find them again.

Our regiment on account of being small was detailed to guard the train, and the 1st and 2nd Div. unencumbered moved on. The 1st had some pretty sharp skirmishing, and artillery was used quite freely, but nothing like a battle took place. Our division did not become engaged. We with the train got along very slow. The road after the rain was bad, and the whole corps train of fourteen or fifteen hundred wagons being together it was a slow coach, so very slow indeed that we made only three miles. There was a guard like ourselves with each division train besides a rear guard. The 19th Ind. of our brigade had been rear guard of our division that day, and had camped with the train, but about 9 o'clock were ordered to the front, and had to tramp out in the mud and dark with a brisk artillery fire from the enemy to steady their nerves. We wished them no harm, but thanked our stars that it was not us. The Rebs continued to ply their artillery all night, and we could hear locomotives continually whistling. No doubt they wished us to believe reinforcements were arriving, but the same bustle has always been as far as my experience goes, rather indicative of an evacuation.

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Many thanks to Marguerite Harris Main who submitted this information.

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