Thursday, June 22, 2017

1st Lieutenant Charles Wright Wills: March 26, 1862

Camp near Point Pleasant, Mo., March 26, 1862.

It is, to-day, very much warmer. I'm altogether too hot to be comfortable in my shirt sleeves. Don't know what is to become of us in July if it is so hot in proportion. I shake in my boots at the thought of the mosquitoes, flies, etc., we will have to endure. Vegetation is giving the surroundings a greenish appearance already, and have seen a peach tree in nearly full bloom. Wheat is about three or four inches above ground. Makes a very respectable sod. I think there are more Union people here than in any part of Missouri that I have been in, and fewer widows. Men are nearly all at home and putting in their crops as coolly as though there was no war. Some of our soldiers impose on the natives pretty badly. You don't know how thankful you ought to be that you don't live in the invaded country. Wherever there is an army, for 10 or 15 miles around it there will be hundreds of stragglers. Some out of curiosity, some to see the natives and talk with them, but the majority to pick up What they can to eat. There is not a farm house within ten miles of camp, notwithstanding the positive orders against straggling, that has not, at least, 50 soldier visitors a day, and they are the poorest soldiers and the meanest men that do all the straggling, or nearly all. They will go into a house and beg what they can and then steal what is left. Rough, dirty, coarse brutes, if they were all shot, our army would be better off. Most of these fellows are bullies at home, and that class makes plunderers in war. I've seen enough of war to know that it isn't the brawling, fighting man at home that stands the bullet whistle the best. A favorite game of these chaps, where they are not utterly depraved (there are a good many of the latter), is for a couple of them to go in the house and make themselves as interesting as possible while the others clean out the smokehouse, chicken yard, and the premises generally. The greatest objection and the only one I have to being in the army, is the idea of being associated, in the minds of the people of this country, as well as the home folks, with such brutes. But I tell you, that I have always acted the gentleman to the best of my ability since I entered the army, and I don’t believe I’m a whit worse than I was at home. I haven't drank one-tenth as much liquor as I did in the same length of time at home, and you know how much that was, and that I hate the stuff too much to ever taste it unless forced upon me. The last I touched was with poor George Shinn just before the 17th left the cape. We drank to “Our next shake hands, may it be at the end of the war, at home and before three months.” George was a No. 1 soldier. We bays all think everything of him. Tell him we all sympathize with him and wish him a speedy recovery, and that his services may not be needed any more. Seems to me I write you nearly every day, but haven't had a letter from home for two or three weeks. Our mail is very irregular though, and I can excuse, but I would like you to get all of mine and save them, for I would like to look these over myself when I get home, as I keep no diary. The day is so warm that our boys are all out bathing in a little swamp lake near here. The Lord knows some of them need it. Cleanliness is undoubtedly the best preventive of disease in the army. Hardly any of the boys that are cleanly suffer from disease. The colonel and Sidney went to Cairo yesterday. The colonel with dispatches from General Pope, I believe, and Sid. just because he could. We buried our two boys yesterday morning that were killed at Cane Bridge, and I (never felt sadder in my life. I’m sure that knowing I would be killed to-morrow wouldn’t hurt me half as much. These poor fellows have suffered all the hardships and trials of the private soldier's life, and are now put under the ground in the dark-swamp, without a friend here, save their comrades, and probably after the army leaves, a friendly eye will never see their graves. I sent a package of letters back to a young lady that one of them was engaged to. Our men have been living on mush and the other messes, makeable from cornmeal for a week, without coffee or any thing else. Couldn't get provisions through from Cairo near fast enough, and Pope gobbled up everything that did come for the troops at Madrid. Chet. Caswell, a Canton boy, is here now and cooking for our mess, I can live on fried mush as long as the next man. The frogs, bugs, blackbirds and sich like, keep up a perfect bedlam around us the whole time.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 73-5

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