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Stillwell’s Story Of A Common Soldier
Army Life in the Civil War 1861 – 1862 by Leander Stillwell, Late of Co. D, 61st Illinois Infantry. Partial transcription, from Marty Crull.
SHILOH ….. April 1862
The regiment to which I belonged was the 61st Illinois Infantry. It left its camp of instruction (a country town in southern Illinois) about the last of February, 1862. We were sent to Benton Barracks, near St Louis, and remained there drilling (when the weather would permit) until March 25th. We left on that day for the front. It was a cloudy, drizzly, and most gloomy day, as we marched through the streets of St Louis down to the levee, to embark on a transport that was to take us to our destination. The city was enveloped in that pall of coal smoke for which St Louis is celebrated. It hung heavy and low and set us all to coughing. I think the colonel must have marched us down some by-street. It was narrow and dirty, with high buildings on either side. The line officers took the sidewalks, while the regiment, marching by the flank, tramped in silence down the middle of the street, slumping through the nasty, slimy mud. There was one thing very noticeable on this march through St Louis, and that was the utter lack of interest taken in us by the inhabitants. From pictures I had seen in books at home, my idea was that when soldiers departed for war, beautiful ladies stood on balconies and waved snowy-white handkerchiefs at the troops, while the men stood on the sidewalks and corners and swung their hats and cheered.
There may have been regiments so favored, but ours was not one of them. Occasionally a fat, chunky-looking fellow, of a German cast of countenance, with a big pipe in his mouth, would stick his head out of a door or window, look at us a few seconds, and then disappear. No handkerchiefs nor hats were waved, we heard no cheers. My thoughts at the time were that the Union people there had all gone to war, or else the colonel was marching us through a “Secesh” part of town.
We marched to the levee and from there on board the big sidewheel steamer, Empress. The next evening she unfastened her moorings, swung her head out into the river, turned down stream, and we were off for the “seat of war.” We arrived at Pittsburg Landing on March 31st. Pittsburg Landing, as its name indicates, was simply a landing place for steamboats. It is on the west bank of the Tennessee river, in a thickly wooded region about twenty miles northeast of Corinth. There was no town there then, nothing but “the log house on the hill” that the survivors of the battle of Shiloh will all remember. The banks of the Tennessee on the Pittsburg Landing side are steep and blurry, rising about 100 feet above the level of the river. Shiloh church, that gave the battle its name, was a Methodist meeting house. It was a small, hewed log building with a clapboard roof, about two miles out from the landing on the main Corinth road. On our arrival we were assigned to the division of General B. M. Prentiss, and we at once marched out and went into camp. About half a mile from the landing the road forks, the main Corinth road goes to the right, past Shiloh church, the other goes to the left. These two roads come together again some miles out General Prentiss division was camped on this left-hand road at right angles to it. Our regiment went into camp almost on the extreme left of Prentiss line……… , during the few days intervening between our arrival and the battle I roamed all through those woods on our left, between us and Stuart, hunting for wild onions and “turkey peas.”
The camp of our regiment was about two miles from the landing. The tents were pitched in the woods, and there was a little field of about twenty acres in our front. The camp faced nearly west, or possibly southwest.
I shall never forget how glad I was to get off that old steamboat and be on solid ground once more, in camp out in those old woods. My company had made the trip from St. Louis to Pittsburg Landing on the hurricane deck of the steamboat, and our fare on the route had been hardtack and raw fat meat, washed down with river water, as we had no chance to cook anything, and we had not then learned the trick of catching the surplus hot water ejected from the boilers and making coffee with it. But once on solid ground, with plenty of wood to make fires, that bill of fare was changed. I shall never again eat meat that will taste as good as the fried “sowbelly” did then, accompanied by “flapjacks” and plenty of good, strong coffee. We had not yet got settled down to the regular drills, guard duty was light, and things generally seemed to run “kind of loose.” And then the climate was delightful. We had just left the bleak, frozen north, where all was cold and cheerless, and we found ourselves in a clime where the air was as soft and warm as it was in Illinois in the latter part of May. The green grass was springing from the ground, the “Jobnny-jump-ups” were in blossom, the trees were bursting into leaf, and the woods were full of feathered songsters. There was a redbird that would come every morning about sunup and perch himself in the tall black oak tree in our company street, and for perhaps an hour he would practice on his impatient, querulous note, that said, as plain as a bird could say, “Boys, boys! get up! get up! get up!” It became a standing remark among the boys that he was a Union redbird and had enlisted in our regiment to sound the reveille.
So the time passed pleasantly away until that eventful Sunday morning, April 6, 1862. According to the Tribune Almanac for that year, the sun rose that morning in Tennessee at 38 minutes past five oclock. I had no watch, but I have always been of the opinion that the sun was fully an hour and a half high before what was coming. It turned out to be the old mans battle harangue.
“Gentlemen,” said he, in a voice that every man in the regiment heard, “remember your State, and do your duty today like brave men.”
That was all. A year later in the war the old man doubtless would have addressed us as “soldiers,” and not as “gentlemen,” and he would have omitted his allusion to the “State,” which smacked a little of Confederate notions. However, he was a Douglas Democrat, and his mind was probably running on Buena Vista, in the Mexican war, where, it is said, a Western regiment acted badly, and threw a cloud over the reputation for courage of the men of that State which required the thunders of the Civil War to disperse. Immediately after the colonel had given us his brief exhortation, the regiment was marched across the little field I have before mentioned, and we took our place in Iine of battle, the woods in front of us, and the open field in our rear. We “dressed on” the colors, ordered arms and stood awaiting the attack. By this time the roar on the right had become terrific. The Rebel army was unfolding its front, and the battle was steadily advancing in our direction. We could begin to see the blue rings of smoke curling upward among the trees off to the right, and the pungent smell of burning gun-powder filled the air. As the roar came travelling down the line from the right it reminded me (only it was a million times louder) of the sweep of a thunder-shower in summer-time over the hard ground of a stubble-field.
And there we stood, in the edge of the woods, so still, waiting for the storm to break on us. I know mighty well what I was thinking about then. My minds eye was fixed on a little log cabin, far away to the north, in the backwoods of western Illinois. I could see my father sitting on the porch, reading the little local newspaper brought from the post-office the evening before. There was my mother getting my little brothers ready for Sunday-school; the old dog lying asleep in the sun; the hens cackling about the barn; all these things and a hundred other tender recollections rushed into my mind. I am not ashamed to say now that I would willingly have given a general quit-claim deed for every jot and title of military glory falling to me, past, present, and to come, if I only could have been miraculously and instantaneously set down in the yard of that peaceful little home, a thousand miles away from the haunts of fighting men.
The time we thus stood, waiting the attack, could not have exceeded five minutes. Suddenly, obliquely to our right, there was a long, wavy flash of bright light, then another, and another! It was the sunlight shining on gun barrels and bayonets–and–there they were at last! A long brown line, with muskets at a right shoulder shift, in excellent order, right through the woods they came.
We began firing at once. From one end of the regiment to the other leaped a sheet of red flame, and the roar that went up from the edge of that old field doubtless advised General Prentiss of the fact that the Rebels had at last struck the extreme left of his line. We had fired but two or three rounds when, for some reason, — I never knew what, — we were ordered to fall back across the field, and did so. The whole line, so far as I could see to the right, went back. We halted on the other side of the field, in the edge of the woods, in front of our tents, and again began firing. The Rebels, of course, had moved up and occupied the line we had just abandoned. And here we did our first hard fighting during the day. Our officers said, after the battle was over, that we held this line an hour and ten minutes. How long it was I do not know. I “took no note of time.”
We retreated from this position as our officers afterward said, because the troops on our right had given way, and we were flanked. Possibly those boys on our right would give the same excuse for their leaving, and probably truly, too. Still, I think we did not fall back a minute too soon. As I rose from the comfortable log from behind which a bunch of us had been firing, I saw men in gray and brown clothes, with trailed muskets, running through the camp on our right, and I saw something else, too, that sent a chill all through me. It was a kind of flag I had never seen before. It was a gaudy sort of thing, with red bars. It flashed over me in a second that that thing was a Rebel flag. It was not more than sixty yards to the right. The smoke around it was low and dense and kept me from seeing the man who was carrying it, but I plainly say the banner. It was going fast, with a jerky motion, which told me that the bearer was on a double-quick. About that time we left. We observed no kind of order in leaving; the main thing was to get out of there as quick as we could. I ran down our company street, and in passing the big Sibley tent of our mess I thought of my knapsack with all my traps and belongings, including that precious little packet of letters from home. I said to myself, “I will save my knapsack, anyhow;” but one quick backward glance over my left shoulder made me change my mind, and I went on. I never saw my knapsack or any of its contents afterwards.
Our broken forces halted and re-formed about half a mile to the rear of our camp on the summit of a gentle ridge, covered with thick brush. I recognized our regiment by the little gray pony the old colonel rode, and hurried to my place in the ranks. Standing there with our faces once more to the front, I saw a seemingly endless column of men in blue, marching by the flank, who were filing off to tbe right through the woods, and I heard our old German adjutant, Cramer, say to the colonel, “Dose are de troops of Sheneral Hurlbut. He is forming a new line dere in de bush.” I exclaimed to myself from the bottom of my heart, “Bully for General Hurlbut and the new line in the bush! Maybe well whip em yet.” I shall never forget my feelings about this time. I was astonished at our first retreat in the morning across the field back to our camp, but it occurred to me that maybe that was only “strategy” and all done on purpose; but when we had to give up our camp, and actually turn our backs and run half a mile, it seemed to me that we were forever disgraced, and I kept thinking to myself: “What will they say about this at Home?”
I was very dry for a drink, and as we were doing nothing just then, I slipped out of ranks and ran down to tbe little hollow in our rear, in search of water. Finding a little pool, I threw myself on the ground and took a copious draught. As I rose to my feet, I observed an officer about a rod above me also quenching his thirst, holding his horse meanwhile by the bridle. As he rose I saw it was our old adjutant. At no other time would I have dared accost him unless in the line of duty, but the situation made me bold. “Adjutant,” I said, “What does this mean–our having to run this way? Aint we whipped?” He blew the water from his mustache, and quickly answered in a careless way: “Oh, no; dat is all ride. We yoost fall back to form on the reserve. Sheneral Buell vas now crossing der river mit 50,000 men, and viII be here pooty quick; and Sheneral Lew Vallace is coming from Crumps Landing mit 15,000 more. Ve vips em; ve vips em. Go to your gompany.” Back I went on the run, with a beart as light as a feather. As I took my place in the ranks beside my chum, Jack Medford, I said to him: “Jack. Ive just had a talk with the old adjutant., down at the branch where Ive been to get a drink. He says Buell is crossing the river with 75,000 men and a whole world of cannon, and that some other general is coming up from Crumps Landing with 25,000 more men. He says we fell back here on purpose, and that were going to whip the Secesh, just sure. Aint that just perfectly bully?” I had improved some on the adjutants figures, as the news was so glorious I thought a little variance of 25,000 or 30,000 men would make no difference in the end. But as the long hours wore on that day, and still Buell and Wallace did not come, my faith in the adjutants veracity became considerably shaken.
It was at this point that my regiment was detached from Prentiss division a?s served with it no more that day. We were sent some distance to the right to support a battery, the name of which I never learned.* It was occupying the summit of a slope, and was actively engaged when we reached it. We were put in position about twenty rods in the rear of the battery, and ordered to lie flat on the ground. The ground sloped gently down in our direction, so that by hugging it close, the rebel shot and shell went over us.
It was here, at about ten oclock in the morning, that I first saw Grant that day. He was on horseback, of course, accompanied by his staff, and was evidently making a personal examination of his lines. He went by us in a gallop, riding between us and the battery, at the head of his staff. The battery was then hotly engaged; shot and shell were whizzing overhead, and cutting off the limbs of trees, but Grant rode through the storm with perfect indifference, seemingly paying no more attention to the missiles than if they had been paper wads.
We remained in support of this battery until about 2 oclock in the afternoon. We were then put in motion by the right flank, filed to the left, crossed the left-hand Corinth road; then we were thrown into the line by the command: “By the left flank, march.” We crossed a little ravine and up a slope, and relieved a regiment on the left of Hurlbuts line. This line was desperately engaged, and had been at this point., as we afterwards learned, for fully four hours. I remember as we went up the slope and began firing, about the first thing that met my gaze was what out West we would call a “windrow” of dead men in blue; some doubled up face downward, others with their white faces upturned to the sky, brave boys who had been shot to death in “holding the line.” Here we stayed until our last cartridge was shot away. We were then relieved by another regiment We filled our cartridge boxes again and went back to the support of our battery. The boys laid down and talked in low tones. Many of our comrades alive and well an hour ago, we had left dead on that bloody ridge. And still the battle raged. From right to left, everywhere, it was one never-ending, terrible roar, with no prospect of stopping.
Somewhere between 4 and 5 oclock, as near as I can tell, everything became ominously quiet ……
There was in my company a middle-aged German named Charles Oberdieck. According to the company descriptive book, he was a native of the then kingdom of Hanover, now a province of Prussia. He was a typical German, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, quiet and taciturn, of limited and meager education, but a model soldier, who accepted without question and obeyed without a murmur the orders of his military superiors. Prior to the war he had made his living by chopping cord-wood in the high, timbered hills near the mouth of the Illinois river, or by working as a common laborer in the country on the farms at $14 a month. He was unmarried, his parents were dead, and be had no other immediate relatives surviving, either in his fatherland or in the country of his adoption. He and I enlisted from the same neighborhood. I had known him in civil life at home, and hence he was disposed to be more communicative with me than with the other boys of the company. A day or two after the battle he and I were sitting in the shade of a tree, in camp, talking over tbe incidents of the fight. “Charley,” I said to him, “How did you feel along about four oclock Sunday afternoon when they broke our lines, we were falling back in dis-order, and it looked like the whole business was gone up generally?” He knocked the ashes from his pipe and, turning his face quickly towards me, said: “I yoost tells you how I feels. I no care anydings about Charley; be haf no wife nor children, fadder nor mudder, brudder nor sister; if Charley get killed, it makes no difference; dere vas nobody to cry for him, so I dinks nudding about myselfs; but I tells you, I yoost den feels bad for de Cause!”
Noble, simple-hearted old Charley! It was the imminent danger only to the Cause that made his heart sink in that seemingly fateful hour. When we heard in the malignant and triumphant roar of the Rebel cannon in our rear what might be the death-knell of the last great experiment of civilized men to establish among the nations of the world a united republic, freed from the curse of pampered kings and selfish, grasping aristocrats — it was in that moment, in his simple language, that the peril to the Cause was the supreme and only consideration.
I was walking by the side of Enoch Wallace, the orderly sergeant of my company. He was a man of nerve and courage, and by word and deed had done more that day to hold us green and untried boys in ranks and firmly to our duty than any other man in the company. …………
The last place my regiment assumed was close to the road coming up from the landing. As we were lying there I heard the strains of martial music and saw a body of men marching by the flank up the road. I slipped out of ranks and walked out to the side of the road to see what troops they were. Their band was playing Dixies Land,” and playing it well. The men were marching at a quick step, carrying their guns, cartridge-boxes, haversacks, canteens, and blanket-rolls. I saw that they had not been in the fight, for there was no powder-smoke on their faces. “What regiment in this?” I asked of a young sergeant marching on the flank. Back came the answer in a quick, cheery tone, “The 36th Indiana, the advance of Buells army.”
I did not, on hearing this, throw my cap into the air and yell. That would have given those Indiana fellows a chance to chaff and guy me, and possibly make sarcastic remarks, which I did not care to provoke. I gave one big, gasping swallow and stood still, but the blood thumped in the veins of my throat and my heart fairly pounded against my little infantry jacket in the joyous rapture of this glorious intelligence. Soldiers need not be told of the thrill of unspeakable exultation they all have felt at the sight of armed friends in dangers darkest hour. Speaking for myself alone, I can only say, in the most heart-felt sincerity, that in all my obscure military career, never to me was the sight of reinforcing legions so precious and so welcome as on that Sunday evening when the rays of the descending sun were flashed back from the bayonets of Buells advance column as it deployed on the bluffs of Pittsburg Landing.
My account of the battle is about done. So far as I saw or heard, very little fighting was done that evening after Buells advance crossed the river. The sun must have been fully an hour high when anything like regular and continuous firing had entirely ceased. What the result would have been if Beauregard had massed his troops on our left and forced the fighting late Sunday evening would be a matter of opinion, and a common soldiers opinion would not be considered worth much.
My regiment was held in reserve the next day, and was not engaged. I have, therefore, no personal experience of that day to relate. After the battle of Shiloh, it fell to my lot to play my humble part in several other fierce conflicts of arms, but Shiloh was my maiden fight. It was there I first say a gun fired in anger, beard the whistle of a bullet, or saw a man die a violent death, and my experiences, thoughts, impressions, and sensations on that bloody Sunday will abide with me as long as I live.
A well received letter home ………… Leander Stilwell
The wildest possible rumors got into circulation at home, about some of the results of the battle. I have now lying before me an old letter from my father of date April 19th, in answer to mine (which I will mention later) giving him the first definite intelligence about our regiment and the neighborhood boys. Among other things he said; “We have had it here that Frys regiment was all captured that was not killed; pretty much all given up as lost. That Beauregard had run you all down a steep place into the Tennessee river, * * * that Captain Reddish had his arm shot off, that Enoch Wallace was also wounded;” — and here followed the names of some others who (the same as Reddish and Wallace) hadnt received even a scratch. My letter to my father, mentioned above, was dated April 10, and was received by him on the 18th. It was brief, occupying only about four pages of the small, sleazy note paper that we bought in those days of the suttlers. I dont remember why I didnt write sooner, but it was probably because no mail-boat left the landing until about that time. The old mail hack ordinarily arrived at the Otter Creek post-office from the outside world an hour or so before sundown, and the evening my letter came, the little old post-office and general store was crowded with people intensely anxious to hear from their boys or other relatives in the 61st Illinois. The distribution of letters in that office in those times was a proceeding of much simplicity. The old clerk who attended to that would callout in a stentorian tone the name of the addressee of each letter, who, if present, would respond “Here!” and then the letter would be given a dextrous flip, and went flying to him across the room. But on this occasion there were no letters from the regiment, until just at the last the clerk called my fathers name — “J. O. Stillwell”and again, still louder, but there was no response, Whereupon the clerk held the at arms length, and carefully scrutinized the address, “Well,” said he finally, “this is from Jerry Stillwells boy, in the 61st, so I beckon hes not killed, anyhow,” A murmur of excitement went through the room at this, and the people crowded up to get a glimpse of even the handwriting of the address. “Yes, thats from Jerrys boy, sure,” said several. Thereupon William Noble and Joseph Beeman, who were old friends of fathers, begged the postmaster to “give them the letter, and they would go straight out to Stillwells with it, have him read it, and then they would come right back with the news,” Everybody seconded the request, the postmaster acceded, and handed one of them the letter, They rushed out, unfastened their horses, and left in a gallop for Stillwells, two miles away, on the south side of Otter Creek, out in the woods, As they dashed up to the little old log cabin they saw my father out near the barn; the one with the letter waved it aloft, calling at the top of his voice: “Letter from your boy, Jerry!” My mother heard this, and she came running from the house, trembling with excitement. The letter was at once opened and read, — and the terrible reports which to that time had prevailed about the fate of Frys regiment vanished in the air, Its true, it contained some sad news, but nothing to be compared with the fearful accounts which had been rife in the neighborhood. I have that old letter in my possession now.
LEANDER and Jersey Boys during the War
“Stillwell! shoot! shoot! Why dont you shoot?” I looked around and saw that this command was being given by Bob Wylder, our second lieutenant, who was in his place, just a few steps to the rear. He was a young man, about twenty-five years old, and was fairly wild with excitement, jumping up and down “like a hen on a hot griddle.” “Why, lieutenant,” said I, “I cant see anything to shoot at.” “Shoot, shoot, anyhow!” “All right,” I responded, “if you say shoot. shoot it is;” and bringing my gun to my shoulder, I aimed low in the direction of the enemy, and blazed away through the smoke. I have always doubted if this, my first shot. did any execution — but theres no telling. However, the lieutenant was clearly right Our adversaries were in our front, in easy range, and it was our duty to aim low, fire in their general direction, and let fate do the rest.
Jack Medford of my company came up to me with a most complacent look on his face, and patting his haversack, said, “Lee, I just now got a whole lot of paper and envelopes, and am all fixed for writing home about this battle. “Seems to me, Jack,” I suggested, “youd better unload that stuff, and get something to eat. Dont worry about writing home about the battle till its done fought.” Jacks countenance changed, he muttered, “Reckon youre right, Lee;” and when next I saw him, his haversack was bulging with bologna and cheese. All this time the battle was raging furiously on our right, and occasionally a cannon ball, flying high, went screaming over our heads. (battle of Shiloh)
When we were thrown into line on our new position and began firing, I was in the front rank, and my rear rank man was Philip Potter, a young Irishman, who was some years my senior. When he fired his first shot, he came very near putting me out of action. I think that the muzzle of his gun could not have been more than two or three inches from my right ear.
Poor Phil! On December 7,1864, while fighting on the skirmish line near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and just a few paces to my left, he was mortally wounded by a gun-shot in the bowels and died in the hospital a few day later. He was a Catholic, and in his last hours was almost frantic because no priest was at hand to grant him absolution.
When we “went in” on the above mentioned position old Capt. Reddish took his place in the ranks, and fought like a common soldier. He had picked up the musket of some dead or wounded man, and filled his pockets with cartridges and gun caps, and so was well provided with ammunition. He unbuckled his sword from the belt, and laid it in the scabbard at his feet, and proceeded to give his undivided attention to the enemy. I can now see the old man in my minds eye, as he stood in ranks, loading and firing, his blue-gray eyes flashing, and his face lighted up with the flame of battle. Col. Fry happened to be near us at one time, and I heard old Capt. Jobnyell at him: “Injun fightin, Colonel! Jest like Injun fightin!” When we finally retired, the Captain shouldered his musket and trotted off with the rest of us, oblivious of his “cheese-knife,” as he called it, left it lying on the ground, and never saw it again.
Owl Creek Camp. . . . . . .homesickness. . .It was a dismal day, the rain was pattering down on the tent and dripping from the leaves of the big oak trees in the camp, while inside the tent everything was damp and mouldy and didnt smell good either. “Jim,” says one, “I wish I could jest be down on Coon crick today, and take dinner with old Bill Williams; Ill tell you what Id have: first, a great big slice of fried ham, with plenty of rich brown gravy, with them light, fluffy, hot biscuits that Bills wife could cook so well, and then Id want some big baked Irish taters, red hot, and all mealy, and then — ” “Yes, Jack,” interrupted Jim, “Ive et at old Bills lots of times, and wouldnt I liketo be with you? You know, old Bill always mast-fed the hogs he put up for his own eatin, they jest fattened on hickory nuts and big white-and bur-oak acorns, and hed smoke his meat with hickory wood smoke, and oh, that meat was jest so sweet and nuttylike! — why, the meat of corn-fed hogs was no-where in comparison.” “Yes, Jim,” continued Jack, “and then Id want with the biscuits and taters plenty of that rich yaller butter that Bills wife made herself, with her own hands, and then you know Bill always had lots of honey, and Id spread honey and butter on one of them biscuits, and —” “And dont you remember, Jack,” chimed in Jim, “the mince pies Bills wife could make? They were jest stuffed with reezons, and all manner of goodies, and —” But here I left the tent in disgust. I wanted to say, “Oh, hell!” as I went out, but refrained. The poor fellows were feeling bad enough, anyhow, and it wouldnt have helped matters to make sarcastic remarks. But I preferred the shelter of a big tree, and enduring the rain that filtered through the leaves, rather than listen to this distracting talk of Jack and Jim about the flesh-pots of old Bill Williams.
Patriot, May 27, 1920.
Memories: 61 Camp Carrollton. From Judge Stillwells book “The Story of a Common Soldier.”
Judge Leander Stillwell, a Jersey County boy in 1861, enlisted in the Sixty-first Illinois volunteers at Camp Carrollton, and now, nearly 60 years after, has written the story of his own experiences in the Civil War and a history of the regiment that was recruited at Carrollton.
Photographs of a number of youthful looking soldiers in the uniform of the Civil War, and under these pictures are names familiar to residents of Greene & Jersey Co. Among these we notice; Col. J. B. Nulton, for many years an attorney and official in Carrollton, Lieut Col S. P. Ohr, who was editor of the Carrollton Press (immediate predecessor of the Patriot) whoc suspended his paper to go to war, Lieut Samuel F. Carrico, who enlisted here; Elder B. B. Hamilton, Chaplin of the regiment; Lieut Lorenzo J. Minor, killed in battle; and several others from Jersey County, including the author as a boy soldier. Judge Stillwell refers to the fact that perhaps 90% of the people in Greene, Jersey, Scott, Morgan and other adjoining counties were of southern antecedents and therefore to some extent southern sympathizers, and this was one of the reasons why Gen Jacob Fry, a Kentuckian by birth, was chosen to recruit, organize and become colonel of the Sixty-First. His previous military experience also was a strong point. The author says: “He was a grand old man, of temperate habits, stric integrity and unflinching bravery. But he was 62 years old, and that proved to be a handicap that eventually resulted in his resignation.”
The fair grounds, a half mile east of Carrollton, were designated as the camp of instruction, and recruiting began about the last of September 1861. Young Stillwell helped finish up the fall work on the farm, hauled up the winter firewood, and after the holidays told his parents he intended to go to Carrollton.
“Early next morning he saddled and bridled Bill, (He relates) the little black mule, and struck out. Carrollton was about 20 miles from home, almost due north and the main road ran mainly through big woods with an occasional farm on either side of the road. It is likely these woods are all gone now. I reached the camp about the middle of the afternoon.”
After giving a humerous account of his trepidation at being called up for examination by the “fat, jolly old surgeon, Dr. Leonidas Clemmons,” and finding the ordeal and unexpectedly easy one, says he spent the afternoon and night in the camp. Then he gives this description of the fair grounds camp:
The grounds he says, “contained about 40 acres, and were thickly studded with big native trees, mainly white and black oak and shag-bark hickory. The grounds were surrounded by an inclosure of thick, native timber planks with the lower ends driven in the ground, and the upper parts firmly nailed to crosswise stringers. There was only one openeing, which was at the main gate, about the center of the northside of the grounds. A line of guards was maintained at the gate and all around the inside of the inclosure, with the beat close to the fence, for the purpose of keeping the men in camp. No enlisted man could go out except on a pass signed by his Captain, and approved by the colonel.
“The drilling of the men was conducted principally inside the grounds, but on skirmish drill we went outside, in order to have room enough. The quarters or barracks of the men were, for each company, a rather long, low structure, crudely built of native lumber and covered with clap boards and a top dressing of straw; containing two rows of bunks, one above and one below. These shacks looked like a Kansas stable of early daysbut they were abodes of comfort and luxury to what we frequently had later.”
Of the drill in Hardees infantry tactics, he says: “It was simple and easily learned. All day long, somewhere in the camp could be heard the voice of some officer callling, ‘Left! Left! Left! Right, left! To his squad or company, to guide them in the cadence of the step. We were drilled at Carrollton in the school of the soldier, ‘school of the company’ and skirmish drill, with dress parade at sunset. We had no muskets and did not receive them until we went to Jefferson Barracks of St. Louis. I do not remember of our having any battalion drill at Camp Carrollton. The big trees in the fair grounds were probably too thick and numerous to permit that.
“Our fare consisted of light bread, coffee, fresh meat at some meals and salt meat at others, Yankee beans, rice, onions and Irish and sweet potatoes, with stewed dried apples occasionally for supper. The salt meat, as a rule, was pickled pork, and fat side meat, which latter table comfort the boys called ‘sow-belly.’ It took us, of course, some time to learn how to cook things properly especially the beans, but after we had learned how, we never went back on the above-named old friends. But the death of many a poor boy, especially during our first two or three months in the field, is chargeable to the bad cooking of his food.
“At Carrollton the jolliest time of the day was from the close of dress parade until taps sounded lights out. There was then a good deal of what you might call ‘prairie dogging,’ that is the boys would run around and visit at the quarters of other companies. And oh, how they would sing! All sorts of patriotic songs were in vogue then, and what was lacking in tone we made up in volume.”
The author says the health at Camp Carrollton was fine only a few cases of measles, but none fatal. He remembers taking a bad cold, but cured it himself without going to the surgeon “I took some bark of a hickory tree that stood near our quarters, and made about a quart of strong hickory-bark tea. I drank it hot, and all at once, just before turning in for the night. It was green in color and intensely bitter, but it cured the cold.”
Judge Stillwell says the regiment left Camp Carrollton on Feb. 27, 1862 not Feb. 21, as published in the adjutant generals reports.
“Early in the morning of that day, the regiment, filed out at the big gate, and marched south on the dirt road. Good-bye to old Camp Carrollton! Many of the boys never saw it again, and I have never seen it since but once, which was in the summer of 1894. I was back then in Jersey County on a visit, and was taken with a desire to run up to Carrollton and look at the old camp. I found the old camp still being used as a county fair grounds, and the same big trees, or the most of them, were there yet, and looked about as they did 32 years before. Of course every vestige of our old barracks was gone. I stood around and looked at things a while; and thoughtthen left, and have never been there again.”
From Marty Crull.