Friday, August 11, 2017

Captain Charles Wright Wills: December 12, 1862

Provost Marshal's Office, Waterford, Miss.,
December 12, '62.

From captain of the provost guard, I have been changed to provost marshal. I had charge of two companies, doing the guard duty for the provost of our division until yesterday; the division was ordered forward to Oxford, except our regiment, which was left to guard the railroad between this point and the Tallahatchie river. Headquarters being here, Colonel Dickerman appointed me provost and sent my company to guard a bridge one and one-half miles south of this place. My business is to attend to all prisoners, deal with citizens (administer oaths, take paroles, etc.), give all passes for citizens and soldiers leaving, have charge of all soldiers straggling from their regiments, issue permits to sutlers, etc., and overlook the cotton trade. Altogether, quite enough for any one man to attend to. The little advantage of having a comfortable house to live in, etc., is worth something; but I kind o' feel as if I would rather be with my company. Another regiment came in to-night, 12th Indiana, and we may possibly be relieved to-morrow. Shall be glad if we can only get with our division again. General Lauman has again taken command of our division, and although we know nothing against McKean, yet we know so much good of Lauman, that we're much pleased. Eight of our companies are guarding bridges, so we only have two here. Confound this railroad guarding; I'm down or. it. 'Tis more dangerous than regular soldiering, harder work, and no shadow of a chance for glory. There's a smart chance of fun in my present business, particularly in the citizens branch thereof. It would have furnished you with amusement enough for a month, could you have heard an old lady talk who visited me to-day. She was a F. F. and blooded, Oh, Lord! We let all come within the lines; but before they can pass out, an oath or parole is required of them. How they squirm! Rebels, though they are, 'tis shocking and enough to make one's blood boil to see the manner in which some of our folks have treated them. Trunks have been knocked to pieces with muskets when the women stood by, offering the keys, bureau drawers drawn out, the contents turned on the floor, and the drawer thrown through the window, bed clothing and ladies' clothing carried off and all manner of deviltry imaginable perpetrated. Of course the scoundrels who do this kind of work would be severely punished if caught, but the latter is almost impossible. Most of the mischief is done by the advance of the army, though, God knows, the infantry is bad enough. The d----d thieves even steal from the negroes (which is lower business than I ever thought it possible for a white man to be guilty of) and many of them are learning to hate the Yankees as much as our "Southern Brethren" do. The army is becoming awfully depraved. How the civilized home folks will ever be able to live with them after the war, is, I think, something of a question. If we don't degenerate into a nation of thieves, 'twill not be for lack of the example set by a fair sized portion of our army. Do you remember that I used to write that a man would no sooner lose his morality in the army than at home? I now respectfully beg to recall the remark, but I believe the sight of such devilish, pointless wickedness disgusts me, and that your brother's moral principles are strengthened by contact with these ungodly. Instance, in my present position, I know without danger of exposure, I could pocket at least $500 within five days; but for conscience sake and my self-respect, I sit back with my purity, and tumble my keys and comb round in my otherwise empty pockets and feel good. Well, it won't do to brag on such a subject, but my confidence in the honesty of man has waned so much since I entered the army that I can't help saying, there are few that would not, in my position, make a raise. Can't hear anything from the front. Know that part of Sherman's army has returned to Memphis to join the expedition down the Mississippi and that is all. This town only contains a dozen or 20 houses, but they are good ones. Great many here profess to have always been Union, and many are taking the oath willingly. Good joke on them when the guerrillas come in after we leave. Suspect they have most all been Rebels, so I don't pity them as much as I do out-spoken seceshers. I rode out in the country eight miles day before yesterday, and found three convalescent soldiers of Price's army at one place, A lieutenant of the 53d Illinois was with me, so we brought them into camp and put them with the other prisoners. We have now nearly 3,000 soldiers in the hospital at Lagrange and yet the army is very healthy. Don't be much surprised if you hear of us being gobbled up by the guerrillas, for these railroad guards are only baits for them; nothing more.

SOURCE: Charles Wright Wills, Army Life of an Illinois Soldier, p. 135-7

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