part of a volume entitled Fifteen Years Ago: or the Patriotism of Will County by George H. Woodruff
Submitted by Merryann Palmer, firstname.lastname@example.org, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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Well, as I have said, the boys encountered the contraband immediately upon their entrance upon actual service in Kentucky. And it is something wonderful how quickly many of them forgot their former prejudices. The great inalienable right of the slave holder to his "nigger," which had heretofore seemed to some to be the corner-stone of our government, vanished into thin air, and the darkies were soon welcomed into our camps, and not unfrequently kept, concealed and protected, against the orders of the commanding general. And this was not so strange after all, as in every slave-holder the boys soon came to recognize an enemy, and in the contrabands their only reliable friends.
Perhaps no one left Joliet with stronger prejudices than the Captain of Co. G. But before the 100th had got half through Kentucky, these prejudices somehow got worn very thin. So much so, that when a good likely boy made his appearance in camp, with the story of how his "massa" abused him, and how he wanted to "go along" with "massa Linkum's sogers," the officers of Co. G, concluded unanimously that they would keep the boy, and employ him as their cook and man of all work. So they contributed around and got the boy a new rig throughout, the captain investing liberally in the enterprise. They felt very proud of their colored servant, and put on some airs before the other boys, calling their attention to the appearance of the boy, after they had got him dressed up. The boy served them well for a few days. But one morning when they were congratulating themselves upon their good luck in getting so fine a cook, and anticipating the rasher of bacon "a la Kaintuck," and the hot coffee, and de hoe cake, etc., Mr. Darkey was not to be found. His new clothes had run off with him, and the only thing Co. G had to show for their investment was his old rags. I suppose he had some Phyllis that he did not like to leave behind, which caused his heart to fail him, when the regiment was about to move. The Captain got a good many jokes over his luck in "stealing niggers," but I suppose he consoled himself with the reflection that the boy had at least proved his equality with the white man,in being like him, "mighty onsartain."
Some time later in the war, a chap in the 100th was almost as happy in giving a name to the mule, as Gen. Butler was in giving one to the darkey. It was at a time when a great many of officers were being breveted - the brevet fever as the boys called it, was prevailing alarmingly. I suppose no explanation is necessary as to what is meant by being breveted. It is a kind of fancy title by which a man is cheaply rewarded for gallantry or meritorious service, without having either the pay or the power of the rank, except when detailed for some special duty. It was however an honor much sought after at one time, and those who got it were happy, while those who did not get it, were envious. Well, one time, when the piazza of a hotel at Nashville was swarming with these breveted officers, sporting their soldier straps, some of them double the regulation length, a high private of the 100th, was riding his mule along past the hotel, when he spied the breveted gentlemen. He rode up pretty near the hotel, and commenced belaboring his mule at a terrible rate, swearing at him and exclaiming, "Get up here! get up here! you d--n brevet-horse! you d--n brevet-horse!"
After the army had crossed the line into Tennessee, they took it for granted that the orders against foraging were no longer in force, and the fences, pigs, poultry, etc., suffered. A march of sixteen miles on the 8th, brought the army through Gallatin, and Sunday they rested three miles beyond the town. On the 10th they crossed the Cumberland, marched twelve miles and camped on the Lebanon and Nashville pike, about twenty miles from Nashville, at Camp Silver Springs, and here the regiment remained some days.
The last part of this march was made after dark. Two of the boys of Co. G, got so disgusted with marching in the dark, and were so tired withal, that they concluded that they would fall behind and take a rest for the night, and catch up with the regiment in the morning. So they dropped out on a favorable opportunity, and made their bed under some bushes, and slept as only tired soldier boys can sleep, dreaming no doubt of home and its delights, until the sun awoke them in the morning. When they jumped up and looked around, to their no small surprise, they found themselves in a camp, men and horses all around, some still sleeping, and some, like themselves, getting up. Sentinels too are standing guard all around the camp. They have a strange look - who can they be? certainly not their old comrades of yesterday. The mystery is soon solved. The boys are discovered, and are soon surrounded by a lot of rebel cavalry men, John Morgan's famous rangers. Of course they are prisoners. How they cursed, (inwardly) their folly in straggling last night! But there is no help for it. They are now at the disposal, and under the orders of men in butternut. The camp is all astir, and after a hasty breakfast, of which they are allowed a slender share, they are treated to a rapid march of about fifteen miles in the opposite direction to the one they wished to go. Marching to keep up with the cavalry, was worse even than that of the night before. They are all uncertain too as to what was to be their fate. Their captors took delight in playing upon their fears, and even talked of hanging them. But after keeping them three days, they paroled them and let them go. Not, however, without first effecting quite a change in their personal appearance. The rebels compelled them to strip off their good clothes, and to accept in exchange a suit of the hateful and dirty butternut, confiscating at the same time the contents of their pockets. They then made their way back to the regiment, sadder and wiser, and, let us hope, better boys. They put the best face they could upon the matter, as they made their entree into camp at Silver Springs. The shouts and yells of welcome that went up from the boys on discovering who they were, I presume they will never forget. The colonel, however, was somewhat indignant at their course, and threatened at first that he would not respect their parole, but put them in front. He relented, however, and let them off.
This adventure entitled them to an honorable retirement to the veteran reserve corps! It is said that a photograph of them, taken while dressed in their new uniform, is still extant, and is the admiration of their friends. The Baptist church at Beloit would hardly recognize in one of them their eloquent and well-beloved pastor - but he was one of the boys.!
While at Silver Springs, the weather was mostly cold and rainy, and the men were worn out with their campaign, and a large number were sick. Some mornings, 100 to 150 would report at surgeon's call. On the 15th, all fit for duty were out on a trip attempting to capture a force of the enemy's cavalry. They pursued them to Lebanon, and then gave up the chase, and returned about 9:30 p.m., having traveled twenty-eight miles, part of the time on the double-quick.
Tuesday, the 17th, was a sad day for the regiment, as they were called upon to bury two of their number, A. Leonard, of Co. E, from Troy, of typhoid pneumonia, and Wm. Sutton, of Co. A, from Wilton, of typhoid fever. They were buried with miliary honors.
The regiment remained at this camp nine days, the longest stop which had been made since leaving Louisville.
On the 19th, it moved eight miles, stopping about an hour near the "Hermitage," giving the boys an opportunity to visit one of or national shrines, the residence and tomb of "Old Hickory." Many expressed the wish that Old Hickory had been in the executive chair when the rebellion commenced. Next day crossed Stone River, and marched some three or four miles. That afternoon the ambulances were sent into Nashville with seventeen of the sickest ones of the regiment. It was supposed that the army would remain some time at this point, and so the men fixed up their camp in good style, setting out evergreens, building chimneys, etc., and receiving a daily mail from Nashville, and enjoying the presence of a sutler who had driven in from Louisville. But just as they had got nicely fixed up, they moved again on the 26th, going to a point about four miles southeast of Nashville, which was their camp until the advance on Murfreesboro, the 26th of December.
On the 27th, another member died in camp, Amos Gawthrop, of Co. H, from Wilton. He had been on detailed duty with the battery attached to the brigade, and was sick for some time there, and was then sent to the regimental hospital, where he died, making the fourth death with the regiment. The other boys who had died on the march, had been buried without coffins, but Co. H, determined that Gawthorp should have a coffin. They were camped at this time on the land of a Mr. Jones, who lived near the camp,and who like a good many others, was a good Union man when our army was around, and the boys applied to him for some boards to make a coffin. But he refused to give or sell them any. They reported the matter to the colonel, who told them to go and help themselves. So they stripped off a lot of boards from his fences, and made a rude coffin, and wrapping the soldier in his blanket, put him into it and buried him near a brick church, Chaplain Crews officiating. This soldier had two brothers in the 100th and another brother in the 4th cavalry, and a half brother also in the service. One died of disease, and one was killed at Chickamauga.
Co. A also buried a good man in a similar manner next day, Wm. Birdenstein, of the town of Reed, whose brother died also December 19th. Other deaths had occurred among those who had been left behind in hospitals.
The location of the camp was not a very pleasant one, and the weather was most of the time cold and wet, and consequently there was a good deal of sickness in the regiment, principally measles and lung affections, for which sleeping on the ground could not be very good. Several were sent from time to time into the city, which was now one great hospital.
The men all had some interesting experiences in this camp. Being comparatively young soldiers, they had not yet learned how to make the best of it, had not yet learned all the shifts and devices by which an old campaigner knows how to alleviate the discomforts of such a life, even under the most untoward circumstances. The 100th was brigaded with old troops, and one might naturally suppose that these would stand ready to assist and instruct their new comrades. Not a bit of it! On the contrary, they seemed to find great satisfaction in standing by and witnessing the awkwardness and mistakes of the fresh fish. But the 100th soon learned all the tricks and devices of the camp, and took their revenge by playing the same role with other new-comers; a curious phase of what we call human nature, seen also in college life; when the freshman becomes a soph., he seems to find sweet revenge for the indignities to which he had been subjected, by playing them off on his vealy successors.
On the night of Dec. 1st, the camp had a rough experience. It had rained hard all day, and in the evening there was a terrific thunder-storm, accompanied by very high winds. Imagine how unwelcome such a storm must be in clod weather, with nothing overhead but cotton cloth, and nothing underneath but the bare ground!
The two assistant surgeons, Harwood and Woodruff, occupied a tent together. About nine o'clock, the ditch which had been dug around the tent, for the purpose of carrying off the water, began to overflow, and the water came into the tent. As the beds consisted of nothing but straw with the blanket thrown over, they soon became uncomfortably moist, and the surgeons had to forsake their downy couch and excavate a deeper cut to carry off the water - not a very agreeable job in the darkness, the wind, and the rain. The next tent was occupied by the senior surgeon and his clerk. They were no better off, if so well, for in addition to the water, the tent pins had got loosened, and the clerk was out trying to drive them in the darkness, and he could only see them when a flash of lightning lit up the scene momentarily, showing also the senior surgeon standing en dishabille in the tent door, and most emphatically giving directions to his clerk in a composite language, mainly English and German, with now and then a word that ought not to be in either language. I think the old adage, "Misery loves company," was true in this case, and the sub-surgeons drew no little satisfaction from the glimpses they caught of the chief, revealing the fact that he was in a worse plight than themselves. But they got punished for so selfish a feeling, for they had no sooner got settled down again before the chimney fire, where they had drawn the bed, than, without any warning, down came their ten, an irreparable wreck, in the darkness. Hastily gathering up books and papers, they had to retreat to the hospital tent, where they sat up the balance of the night on the boxes, thoroughly disgusted with army life. In the morning they were again comforted to find that the rest of the officers had had similar experiences. The colonel, for the first time since leaving Louisville, had undressed, and was enjoying the unwonted luxury of clean sheets once more when his tent blew down, and he was caught literally sans culotte - whatever that means!
On the 4th, the division was reviewed by General Rosecrans.
Life in camp now moved on with but little to interrupt its monotony. The regiment took its turn occasionally in going out to guard forage trains. The officers and men discussed over their coffee and pipes the rumors and speculations that were rife respecting further movements, and anyone fortunate enough to get news from home, shared it with his comrades. Anything to read was a godsend. Dime novels and illustrated papers found a ready market, and were devoured most greedily. The Republican and the Signal were especially welcome. Not a few, let us hope, read the testaments which their mothers had crowded into their carpetbags! And here they remained until after Christmas - the last Christmas many of them would see!
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