Saturday, April 1, 2017

Diary of Private Charles Wright Wills, April 28, 1861

Cairo. This is the twilight of our first day here. We started from Peoria last Wednesday at 11 a. m. amid such a scene as I never saw before. Shouting, crying, praying, and shaking hands were the exercises. Along the whole line from Peoria to Springfield, from every house we had cheers and waving of handkerchiefs. Got to Springfield at dark and marched out to Camp Brick (it is a brickkiln) by moonlight. Our beds were of hay, scattered on the earthen floor of the dry shed. We had to sleep very close together, being cramped for room. Our eatables are bread, bacon, beef, coffee, beans, rice, potatoes and sugar and molasses and pickles.

I had to quit last night because the light wouldn't wait for me. Well, we stayed at Camp Brick until Thursday 25th in the p. m., when we were marched over to Camp Yates to form a regiment. Ten companies of us, numbering from 93 to 125 men in each, were trimmed down to 77rank and file, each. This created considerable dissatisfaction and made a deal of very wicked swearing. Some of the men who were turned out of our company threatened to shoot our captain, but he is still living. After we were trimmed to the required number we were sworn in by company and then quartered in Camp Yates, though we elected our officers first. You will see by the papers who they are. To be certain I will put them down: Colonel, Oglesby; Lieutenant Colonel, Rhoads; Major, Post; Captain, Denison; First Lieutenant, Wetzel; Second Lieutenant, Probstein. Our quarters are the old cattle stalls. Eight men are allowed the same room that one cow or jackass had. I heard Douglas Thursday night and cheered him for the first time in my life. Saturday night at 9 we started for this place. Flags were displayed from houses the whole distance, and the feeling seems as good here as at home. Sixty miles above here, at the Big Muddy bridge, occurred the only trouble the boys have had here. A lot of traitors from over the Ohio river tried to burn the bridge and are still trying to do it. A company of Chicago Zouaves are posted there with a 6:25 field piece. They shot at fellows spying around four times Saturday night. We are more afraid of ague here than of the enemy. We drink no liquors and keep ourselves as cleanly as possible. There are 3,000 of us here and we think we can hold it against 15,000. If they cut the levee the river is so low that we will not be flooded. We have 15 cannons now and will have 15 more to-day. We stop every boat that passes and take off all provisions and ammunition and clothing. The boys are allowed to appropriate what clothing they need from that which is seized. There are now 5,000 men twenty miles below here, at Columbus, Ky., who intended trying to take this spot, but the arrival of our regiment will, it is thought, stop that movement. It is well worth their trouble to take us for we have thousands of dollars worth of their goods here which are seized. You cannot conceive anything like the feeling that possesses our troops here. Although about half of us are green, raw militia, and will need discipline to make us what we should be, yet to a man they all pray for an assault. Kentucky, right across the river, is as strongly for secession as Mississippi can be, and I have no doubt but that we will be attacked the latter part of this week if no more troops come.

Our quarters here are much the same as at Camp Yates. The shed in which our company sleep is entirely open to the south, and very well ventilated otherwise. It is quite warm here though, and we all go in our shirt sleeves even when off duty. The trees are nearly in full leaf and grain is up eight or nine inches.

If any boys go from Canton, they should have a pair of woolen undershirts, ditto drawers, and two flannel overshirts, woolen stockings (feet don't blister as quick in them) and a heavy blanket or pair of light ones. Our company all have a revolver (Colt) and knife each. Mine were given to me by friends in Peoria.

This is a lovely place — a gorgeous hole! It smells just like that bottom below Dorrance's mill, and will breed fever and ague enough to disable all the men in this state. I just now hear the boys saying that we move to-morrow up the river to form a battery to stop a move expected from the Rebels. We can't rely on any of these rumors, though. The boys are shooting at marks all round us with their revolvers. I shoot about as well as any of them.

George Bestor, Jr., sits near me and just now said that he saw a man from Memphis this morning, who said that they were making preparation to come up here and take this Point, relying partly on the disloyal citizens for help. They will have a good time of it.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 7-10

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