Thursday, April 6, 2017

Diary of Private Charles Wright Wills: May 23, 1861

Lots of men come through here with their backs blue and bloody from beatings; and nine in ten of them got their marks in Memphis. A man from St. Louis was in camp a few days since with one-half of his head shaved, one-half of a heavy beard taken off, two teeth knocked out and his lips all cut with blows from a club. This was done in Memphis the day before I saw him. My health continues excellent. Never felt so well, and think that care is all that is necessary to preserve my health as it is. I can't think that this Illinois climate is mean enough to give a fellow the chills, after it has raised him as well as it has me.

I never enjoyed anything in the world as I do this life, and as for its spoiling me, you'll see if I don't come out a better man than when I went in.

We have commenced fortifying this point. One company is detailed every day to work on this. It is said that it will cost three million. As for enlisting for three years, I can't, or rather won't say now. Tis a sure thing that as long as this war continues I will not be satisfied at home, and if I would there will certainly be no business. There is no use trying to coax me now for I can't tell until my three month's are up. Then, if I feel as now, I shall certainly go in for the war. Our company gets compliments from all the newspaper correspondents.

The whole camp is aching to be ordered to Memphis. Bird's Point is not occupied. We had a company there for one day but withdrew them.

I commenced this about 12 last night in the hospital, but I had so much to do and there were so infernal many bugs that I concluded to postpone it. We do have the richest assortment of bugs here imaginable, from the size of a pin-head up to big black fellows as large as bats. I was sitting up with an old schoolmate from Bloomington, whose company have gone up to Big Muddy and left him to the tender care of our surgeons. The poor devil would die in a week but for the care he gets from a dozen of us here that used to go to school with him. There are about 50 men in our regiment's hospital, and save the few that go up to care for their friends unasked, the poor fellows have no attendance nights. I gave medicine to four beside my friend last night, two of whom are crazy with fever. One of the latter insisted on getting up all the time, and twice he got down stairs while I was attending the others. Not one of our company is there, thank heaven.

Yesterday our company with the whole 7th Regiment were at work on the fortifications. Wheeling dirt and mounting guns was the exercise. The guns we mounted are 36 pounders and weigh three and one-half tons each. Our regiment, except this company, are at the same work to-day. To-morrow the 9th works. General Prentiss paid us a very handsome compliment in saying that our company did more work than any two companies have yet done in the same time. You should see our hands. Mine are covered with blisters. You might as well be making up your mind to the fact that I am not coming home soon. There is but one thing in the way to prevent my going in for the war. That is the talk of cutting off the heads of all lieutenants over 25 years of age, and of all captains over 35. Now under that arrangement all three of our officers will lose their heads, and we know we cannot replace them with as good. This thing, though not certain yet, has created a great deal of excitement in camp, and if it goes into effect will smash our company completely. Our company is the best officered of any in camp. There are no two sides to that proposition.

You'll see that your Canton company will not regret the selection of officers they have made. The companies here with inexperienced officers have worlds of trouble, and five captains and one lieutenant, though good men at home, have resigned at the wish of their companies. Four of these companies tried to get our first lieutenant for captain, but he won't leave us. The thousand men who occupied Bird's Point the other day are most all Germans; many of them “Turners,” and a very well drilled regiment. They will get their cannons from St. Louis next week. None of the men expect an attack here, but we know that General Prentiss thinks it at least possible, and from his actions we think he expects it. A family were in camp yesterday who were driven away from a place only 12 miles from here in Missouri, and left a son there with a bullet through his brains. It happened yesterday morning. We have had our uniforms about a week. Gray satinet pants and roundabout, with a very handsome blue cloth cap. Nine brass buttons up the jacket front and grey flannel shirts. We are obliged to wash dirty clothes the day we change and to black our shoes every evening, and polish our buttons for dress parade. Our company is the only one that does this though, and they call us dandies. We have done more work and better drilling though, than any of them, so we don't mind it.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 14-6

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