Cairo. The bells are just ringing for church. I intended going, but it is such hard work getting out of camp that I concluded to postpone it. Anyway, we have service in camp this p. m. This is an awful lazy life we lead here. Lying down on our hay constitutes the principal part of the work. As our routine might be of interest to you, I will give it. At 5 a. m. the reveille is sounded by a drum and fife for each regiment. We arise, fold our blankets in our knapsacks and prepare to march. We then “fall in,” in front of our quarters for roll-call; after which we prepare our breakfast and at the “breakfast call” (taps of the drum at 7) we commence eating; and the way we do eat here would astonish you. At 9 a. m. we fall in for company drill. This lasts one hour. Dinner at 12. Squad drill from 1 to 3 and supper at 5:30. At 6 p. m. the whole regiment is called out for parade. This is merely a review by the colonel, and lasts not more than 30 minutes and often but 15. After 8 p. m. singing and loud noises are stopped; at 9:30 the tattoo is beat when all are required to be in quarters, and at three taps at 10 p. m. all lights are put out, and we leave things to the sentries. Our company of 77 men is divided into six messes for eating. Each mess elects a captain, and he is supreme, as far as cooking and eating are concerned. Our company is considered a crack one here and we have had the post of honor assigned us, the right of the regiment, near the colors. Our commanders, I think, are anticipating some work here, though they keep their own counsels very closely. They have spies out in all directions, down as far as Vicksburg. I think that Bradley's detective police of Chicago are on duty in this vicinity. We also have two very fleet steamers on duty here to stop boats that refuse to lay to, and to keep a lookout up and down the Mississippi river. Yesterday, p. m., I noticed considerable bustle at headquarters which are in full view of our quarters, and at dark last night 20 cartridges were distributed to each man, and orders given to reload revolvers and to prepare everything for marching at a minute's notice, and to sleep with our pistols and knives in our belts around us. That's all we know about it though. We were not aroused except by a shot at about 2 this morning. I heard a little while ago that it was a sentinel shooting at some fellow scouting around. The Rebels have a host of spies in town but I think they are nearly all known and watched. The men confidently expect to be ordered south shortly. Nothing would suit them better. I honestly believe that there is not a man in our company that would sell his place for $100. We call the camp Fort Defiance, and after we receive a little more drilling we think we can hold it against almost any number. We have 3,300 men here to-day, but will have one more regiment to-day and expect still more.
We are pretty well supplied with news here; all the dailies are offered for sale in camp, but we are so far out of the way that the news they bring is two days old before we get them. Transcripts and Unions are sent to us by the office free. I wish you would send me the Register once and a while, and put in a literary paper or two, for we have considerable time to read. We have a barrel of ice water every day. Milk, cake and pies are peddled round camp, and I indulge in milk considerably at five cents a pint. Everything is much higher here than above. Potatoes, 50 cents; corn, 60 cents, etc. It has been raining like blue blazes since I commenced this, and the boys are scrambling around looking for dry spots on the hay and trying to avoid the young rivers coming in. Almost all are reading or writing, and I defy anyone to find 75 men without any restraint, paying more respect to the Sabbath. We have not had a sick man in camp. Several of the boys, most all of them in fact, have been a little indisposed from change of diet and water, but we have been careful and are now all right. There are 25, at least, of us writing here, all lying on our backs. I have my paper on a cartridge box on my knees.
SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 10-11