Monday, April 3, 2017

Diary of Private Charles Wright Wills: May 11, 1861

Camp Defiance. We have been seeing and feeling the roughest side of camp life, ever since my last. Rain in double-headed torrents; lightning that will kill easily at five miles; thundering thunder; and wind from away back. But the mud dries like water on a hot brick, and six hours sun makes our parade ground fit for drill. Afternoon when the sun is out its hot enough to scorch a phoenix; yesterday we drilled from 1 to 3. I was almost crisped, and some of the boys poured a pint of grease out of each boot after we finished. Up to 10 last night when I went to sleep it was still boiling, but at five this morning, when we got up, we shivered in coat, vest and blankets. Bully climate! And then the way that the rain patters down through the roof, now on your neck; move a little and spat it goes, right into your ear, and the more you try to get away from it the more you get, until disgusted, you sit up and see a hundred chaps in the same position. A good deal of laughing, mixed with a few swears follows, and then we wrap our heads in the blankets, straighten out, “let her rip.” I never was in better health, have gained four pounds since we started, and feel stronger and more lively than I have for a coon's age. Health generally excellent in our company, because we are all careful. There has not been a fight yet in the whole camp. A man was shot dead last night by one of the guards by accident. We have a fellow in the guardhouse whom we arrested a couple of days since as a spy. He is almost crazy with fear for his future. His wife is here and has seen him. His trial comes off this p. m. We all hope that he will be hung, for he laid forty lashes on the back of a man down south a few weeks since, who is now a volunteer in our camp. The boys would hang him in a minute but for the officers.

The news of the fuss in St. Louis has just reached us. We suppose it will send Missouri kiting out of the Union. General Prentiss has some information (don't know what it is) that makes our officers inspect our arms often and carefully. I know that he expects a devil of a time here shortly, and preparations of all kinds are making for it .

The boys are just now having a big time over a letter in the Transcript of the 10th, signed W. K. G. Of course it is a bundle of lies. We have given nine groans and three tiger tails for the writer W. K. G. A man just from Mobile is in camp now. He landed this morning. He took off his shirt and showed a back that bore marks of 30 strokes. They laid him across a wooden bench and beat him with a paling. His back looks harder than any one I ever saw. He says that nine men were hung the day before he left, good citizens, and men whose only crime was loyalty to the United States Government. They would not volunteer under the snake flag. He reports 1,500 men at Memphis, a few at Columbus, only 50 at Mobile, and none worth mentioning at other points. A man has been here this morning from 20 miles up the river In Missouri. He wants arms for four companies of Union men that have formed there, and who are expecting an attack from the secessionists. The Union men have but 20 shotguns now. A boat came up yesterday crowded with passengers. Looked as though she might have a thousand on her. All Northerners.

One of the boys has just come in with a report that there are “to a dead certainty” 5,000 men now at Columbus (20 miles below) who have just arrived this morning. They are after Cairo. The boys are all rumor proof, though, and the above didn’t get a comment. One of the boys has just expressed my feelings by saying: “I don't believe anything, only that Cairo is a damned mud hole.” I have not stood guard yet a minute. Have been on fatigue duty is the reason. A general order was given last night for every man to bathe at least twice a week. Most of us do it every day. The Ohio is warm enough and I swim every night now. There were over 2,000 of us in at once last night. We had a candy pulling this p. m. There was an extra gallon in to-day's rations, and we boiled it and had a gay time. Our company is, I believe, the orderly one here. We have lots of beer sent us from Peoria, and drink a half barrel a day while it lasts. (Do those two statements tally?)

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 11-13

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