Saturday, April 8, 2017

Diary of Private Charles Wright Wills: June 13, 1861

Cairo. I am converted to the belief that Cairo is not such a bad place after all. The record shows that less deaths have occurred here in seven weeks among 3,000 men, than in Villa Ridge (a higher, and much dryer place with abundant shade and spring water), in five weeks among 1,000. There has been but one death here by disease in that time, and that with miserable hospital accommodations. The soldiers lie like the d---1 about Cairo. The days are hot of course, but we do nothing now between 8 a. m. and 9 p. m. but cook and eat, so that amounts to not near as much as working all day at home. The mosquitoes and bugs are furious from 6 p. m. to 11, but we are drilling from 7 p. m. to nearly 9, and from that to 11 we save ourselves by smoking, which we all do pretty steadily. The nights after 11 are splendidly cool, so much so that we can cover ourselves entirely in our blankets, which is a block game on the mosquitoes, and sleep like logs. I believe those Camp Mather boys are hard sticks from the accounts we get of their fingers sticking to chickens, vegetables, etc. The citizens here say that the boys have not taken a thing without permission, or insulted a citizen. “Bully for us.”

We had a little fun yesterday. At 8 p. m. we (the Peoria and Pekin companies) were ordered to get ready for marching in ten minutes. So ready we got (but had to leave knapsacks, canteens and blankets) and were marched down to the “City of Alton,” which had on board a six pounder and one 12 pound howitzer. We cast off, fired a salute of two guns and steamed down the Mississippi. After five miles the colonel (Oglesby) called us together, told us that he was out on a reconoitering expedition, and his information led him to think we should be forced into a little fight before we got back. We were then ordered to load and keep in our places by our guns. At Columbus we saw a secesh flag waving but passed on a couple of miles farther where he expected to find a secesh force. Failed and turned back. At Columbus the flag was still waving and the stores all closed, and quite a crowd collected on the levee, but one gun though, that we could see. The colonel ordered the flag down. They said they wouldn't do it. He said he would do it himself then. They answered, “We'd like to see you try it.” We were drawn up then round the cabin deck guards next the shore in two ranks, with guns at “ready,” and the captain jumped ashore and hauled down the serpent. We were all sure of a skirmish but missed it. Flag was about 15x7, with eight stars and three stripes. I send you some scraps of it. They raised another flag one hour after we left and sent us word to “Come and take it.” The ride on the river was the best treat I've had for two years.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 17-9

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