Wednesday, May 10, 2017

3rd Sergeant Charles Wright Wills: November 13, 1861

Bird's Point, November 13, 1861.

Home once more. We all call this home now. Just as we landed last night the Iowa 7th was forming for dress parade. One company had but 11 and another but 15 men; all that came out of the Belmont fight safely. Other companies had half and some three-fourths of their men they started with. General Grant tries to make out that there were about 150 or 175 men lost on our side, but I’ll stake my life that we lost not less than 500. I am sure that the 22d Illinois lost not less than 175, the 7th Iowa at least 200, and the other three regiments 150 more. Grant says that he achieved a victory and accomplished the object of his expedition. It may be so (the latter part of it) but almost every one here doubts the story. He says his object was to threaten Columbus, to keep them from sending reinforcements to Price. Well he has threatened them, had a fight, and why they can't send reinforcements now as well as before, is more than I know. I never will believe that it was necessary to sacrifice two as good regiments as there were in the West, to accomplish all that I can see has been done this time. Altogether there were some 6,000 men from here, Cape Girardeau and Ironton, on the expedition that our regiment was on marching by different roads. Grant says now that we were all after Jeff Thompson. I don't believe it. I think the Paducah forces were to take Columbus, Grant was going to swallow Belmont, we were to drive all the guerrillas before us to New Madrid, and then with Paducah forces and Grant's we were to take Madrid and probably go on to Memphis or maybe join Fremont with our Army of say 15,000 men. Well, Grant got whipped at Belmont, and that scared him so that he countermanded all our orders and took all the troops back to their old stations by forced marches. There was some very good fighting done at Belmont by both sides. The 22d Illinois and 7th Iowa did about all the fighting, and sustained much the heaviest loss. The boys are not the least discouraged and they all want to go back and try it again. The whole camp has the Columbus fever, and I don't believe there are 20 men that would take a furlough if they thought an advance would be made on Columbus while they were absent. The enemy there are very well fed, clothed and armed. Arkansas and Tennessee troops with some Mississippians. The retreat was a route, for our men were scattered everywhere. I don't care what the papers say, the men that were in it say that every man took care of himself, and hardly two men of a regiment were together. The men ran because they were scattered and saw that the force against them was overwhelming, but the universal testimony is that there was no panic, nine out of ten of the men came on the boats laughing and joking. They had been fighting six or seven hours, and cannon and musketry couldn't scare them any more. There are hundreds of stories, and good ones, out but I always spoil them by trying to put them on paper.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 42-3

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