Monday, May 1, 2017

Private Charles Wright Wills: September 16, 1861

Norfolk, September 16, 1861.

We are still here at Norfolk and now in camp for we don't know how long. We got tents the day after the date of my last, and splendid ones they are. They are full 10 feet high and 15 feet across. They each accommodate about 15 men. Since we have been here we have been out scouting three times. The first time we were down the river about five miles. That was the time our gunboats had the fight with the “Yankee” and the land batteries. Two days afterward a body of the enemy's cavalry came up almost to our camp, and after dinner we were sent out to look them up. We were scooting along through a thick wood when one of our cavalry men came back half scared out of his wits (we had about 20 of the cavalry ahead acting as scouts) and reported a whole mess of men just over a rise of ground ahead of us. Our company was in the van, and the column came into line on us and our cavalry tried to draw the enemy back on our position, but Mr. Enemy “drawed” the other way and again we missed our little fight. Last Saturday we started out again at noon and went down the river 10 miles where we thought sure we'd find secesh, but he had again left. We had 2,000 men this time and 6 pieces of artillery. We had stopped to rest when a cloud of dust was observed rising on our side of the river about four miles from us. Some of the boys had glasses with them and made out the cause to be a body of cavalry. Our right was marched a few hundred yards to the front and placed in line of battle with the left at the river bank and our right extending along an edge of woods and fronting a cornfield and open pass between it and the river. A splendid place (for our side) for a fight. Our gunboat then started down the river, fired at and dispersed one body they saw and then slipped a few shells into Columbus and returned. We were within four or five miles of Columbus where there are (our colonel says) 26,000 troops, and on ground where the secesh were encamped but lately with 16 pieces of artillery. We started back at dusk and got home about 10 o'clock; some of the boys pretty tired. I stand these little trips like a horse and would rather go every day than lay around camp. Yesterday (Sunday) the “Yankee” came up and shelled the woods where we were the day before. She tried to throw some shells into our camp but they didn't reach us by a mile and a half. One of our gunboats has to lay here all the time or the “Yankee” would make us skedaddle out of this on double quick. Don't talk about furloughs. They are played out. A dispatch came this last week to Colonel Oglesby that his wife was dying. He went up to Cairo but General McClernand showed him an order from McClellan, vetoing furloughs, no matter for what. So the colonel had to return here. I'd like very much to go home but I'll enjoy it all the more when this business is finished. The 17th is encamped just opposite us on Island No. 1, but we can't get to see them. Our boys are in good spirits. Sid. and Sam and Theo. are now all right. Milo Farewell thinks he has the dumb ague. Fred Norcott is sick in Cairo. Charley Cooper is also sick I have heard. I am all right. My office is sergeant, two grades below private. Our company goes out on picket to-night.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 30-1

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