Wednesday, June 7, 2017

3rd Sergeant Charles Wright Wills: January 10, 1862

Bird's Point, January 10, 1862.

Since daylight yesterday morning we have been all ready with five days' rations and expecting every moment the orders to fall in and commence a march. We were delayed untill 11 a. m. to-day by a fog so dense that boats could not run even from Cairo to this point. All that time we were in the greatest suspense and after everybody had conjectured all their conjectures, we were yet perfectly in the dark in regard to our destination. All the troops here, save enough for guard duty, are going. I believe I'm within bounds when I say that 75,000 different lies have been circulated here in the last 36 hours, and all in regard to the present expedition. Well the suspense is over and we (think we) know that Columbus is our goal.

At 11 a. m. to-day the fog was dispersed by a cold north wind, and immediately two gunboats steamed down the river, giving us the first intimation of our route. They were shortly followed by other gunboats and then by steamers loaded to their utmost capacity with soldiers. All afternoon they have been going down. The last boat that I saw was towing a couple of flats loaded with ambulances, or “soldier-buggies.” I think all the troops have gone from Cairo and the boats that carried them will be back and take us at daylight to-morrow noon. I think they are landing them about six miles this side of Columbus, maybe not so far from there. General McClernand is taking his whole stock in the soldier business with him. It's a permanent thing certain. If this really means Columbus, and I don't see how it can be anything else, it has been managed with more secrecy than any expedition, besides, up to this time in war. I never guessed it within the possibilities of a month. These generals, we have three of them here (Grant, Paine and McClernand) may know their business, but we of the ranks don't understand what kind of truck 20,000 men want with the army at Columbus. And 10,000 is, I'm sure, considerably outside of the number that will move from here. There are probably 10,000 more at Paducah, that I think are also going. Well, maybe we'll get the place, hope we will. If we don't it won't be the men's fault, for we do hate that hole. It's funny what an effect this soldiering has on men. I suppose there is no mistake about our being within two days, at farthest, of a great battle, and yet these men don't to any eye show a sign of even a shadow of care or concern. Since I commenced this I don't believe that one of them has given it a thought. To save my neck I can't get up enough excitement to kill a flea or even to warn him. The boys are almost all playing cards. Sam Nutt and my chum Hy thought they didn't get enough supper to-night, so they put about a peck of beans in to boil and have just got them in eating order. I suppose Sam can plant more beans than any other living man of his weight. They have also a lot of pig's feet between them. Little Ame Babcock and Ike McBean are going with us to-morrow. Colonel Kellogg goes with five companies of his regiment. The Canton company does not go. I am not real well now but I wouldn't miss this trip to Columbus to save my life. I've had my heart set on being at that fight a long time and I'm [going] if I can walk two miles.

January 13, '62. I wrote this letter and thought I wouldn't send it untill we'd start and save myself a chance of being fooled, but now I'll send it to show how badly I was misled.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 53-4

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