Tuesday, May 9, 2017

3rd Sergeant Charles Wright Wills: November 11, 1861

Cape Girardeau, November 11, 1861.

We have just arrived here after a week's absence from any sign of civilized life. Saturday the 2d we (our company) went out six or seven miles from the Point to guard a bridge on the Cairo and Fulton Railroad. Sunday we came back to the Point, and found the tents of our regiment all struck and everything prepared for a march. By dark we were all safely stowed on the “Aleck Scott,” and also five companies of the 11th Illinois. At 10 p. m. the boat shoved out, but had to tie to all night about 10 miles up the river on account of the fog. Monday at 10 a. m. we landed at Commerce between Cape Girardeau and Cairo and stayed there all night. Up to this time we had not the most distant idea of where we were going, but here we began to guess that we were after Jeff Thompson and company. Tuesday morning we started back into the country and camped for the night on Colonel Hunter's farm, a distance of 18 miles. (I forgot to mention that the 18th and 22d Illinois with three companies, cavalry and two pieces artillery joined us before we started from Commerce, making a total of some 2,200 men.) This Colonel Hunter is in the Rebel Army When we stopped at his farm there was a large flock of sheep, at least 40 goats and pigs, turkey, geese, chickens and ducks without number. After we had been there a half hour I don't believe there was a living thing on the farm that did not come with our train. I never saw a slaughterhouse on as large a scale before. The next day the boys made an awful uproar on the road, playing that the sheep, hogs, geese, etc., inside of them were calling for their comrades. Wednesday night we stopped at Little Water River and the slaughtering commenced immediately. All along the road up to this place every horse or mule that showed himself was gobbled instanter, a bridle cramped, and some footman made happy. It was hard to tell whether our force was infantry or cavalry that night. This was too much for the colonel, so next morning he drew the brigade up in column of company and gave us fits. He made the men turn every horse loose; told us that the next man that cramped anything without permission would be dealt with as severely as the regulations would allow. That suited me. I never have been disgusted with soldiering save in those two days, and I tell you that I did then feel like deserting. When we are marching through a country as thoroughly secesh as this is, I think that the men should be allowed fresh meat at the expense of the natives; but there is a proper and soldier-like way to get it. We can send our foraging party ahead and have all we want at camp when we halt, but to allow men to butcher everything they see is mob-like. Wednesday night Jeff's men tried to burn a bridge a short distance from us and this led to a little brush, but the cavalry only were engaged. Thursday we marched all day and went into camp at night without seeing a horse. The march was through the “Black Swamp.” The ground was covered with this black moss four inches deep and so thick that 'tis like a carpet. That was an awful gloomy road and I was glad enough to land at a nice clear stream and have orders to pitch tents. That night not a thing was pressed. The next day we got into Bloomfield about 9 a. m. and found Jeff gone. For the third time we pitched tents on one of his deserted camps. I have just now heard that we started with orders to push on down to New Madrid, but here the orders were countermanded and we were started to Cape Girardeau. This Bloomfield is a rank Rebel hole. The first Rebel company in Missouri was raised here. It is the county seat of Stoddard or Scott, and a very fine place. Here the boys got the understanding that we were to be allowed some liberties and take them they did. They broke open four or five stores whose owners had left, and helped themselves. Colonel Dick (Oglesby) thought this was going too far, so he stopped it and sent a police force around to collect the stolen (pressed rather) property. I walked around and took a look at the pile they collected. There were lots of women's bonnets, girl's hats, mallets, jars of medicine, looking glasses three feet long, boys' boots, flat irons, a nice side table and I don't know what wasn't there. It beat anything I ever saw. The men had no way to carry these things but on their backs, and what the devil they stole them for is more than I know. Well, the colonel divided the stuff out again among the men, but stopped stealing entirely for the future. We have been a respectable regiment since then. On the march back to the Cape, the 10th Iowa was ahead of us and they fired several houses. We (our regiment) saved one of the houses but the rest burned down. The march back to the Cape was a fast one but quiet. We arrested some 20 or 30 of Jeff's men but released them all again. At Bloomfield my tent was pitched under a tree on which we saw the marks of three ropes to the ends of which Colonel Lowe attached three men not very long since. The ropes had cut through the moss on the tree and the marks will be visible a long time. We also arrested a number of men that had been concerned in hanging Union men through the country, At Round Pond an intelligent man told us that 17 men (Union) had been hung and shot inside of three days and he saw their bodies in one pile lying in the woods. We have marched over 100 miles this trip, and we have not seen a mile of prairie. I haven't been 20 feet from a tree for three months. The 17th are going into winter quarters here. Our regiment will certainly be in the next fight at Columbus. We start back to the Point at 3 to-morrow morning.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 39-42

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