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August, 1863 – The Taste of Victory Sours

It is said the taste of victory is sweet, but the sweetness soon passes and the sour taste of the reality of war sets in. While July of 1863 saw glorious victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, by August reality soon looked the Will County boys in the face.

For the 20th Illinois Voluntary Infantry, stationed in Vicksburg, reality came when the smoke cleared and they looked around. Lieut. Branch of Company F wrote home on August 17 with the news that of the 103 boys of that Company who left Joliet in 1861, only 16 remained with the regiment and of those, only seven reported for duty that day. Twenty-nine were absent, eight on detached duty, 21 sick or wounded and the balance were dead.

In his book Fifteen Years Ago, Will County in the Civil War, writes, “After the surrender, the men were nearly all sick. The excitement being over, they seemed to collapse.”

He also writes of several incidents that took place while the 20th was in Vicksburg. “An order was issued from headquarters, forbidding any person wearing U. S. clothing (blue) that did not belong to the army, and authorizing the provost guard to strip any such persons of all such clothing. The 20th was at this time doing provost duty.”

“One day, walking down the main street, they saw a gent coming, with a lady on each arm. He had on one of our blue blouses and a military vest. The boys asked the officer in charge what they should do. ”

“Obey orders, of course.” So they ordered the gent to strip, but he showed fight, inspired by the presence of the ladies. The boys knocked him down, and stripped him of his coat and vest, and left him to escort his ladies in his shirt sleeves.”

“On another occasion, they stripped a man of his pants also, leaving him in a still more unpresentable condition.”
Meanwhile, the 100th was stationed in Tennessee under the command of Col. Buell. On August 16 they were ordered to move. Woodruff tells us about it.

“The day was extremely hot, and starting on a fast walk, many were soon used up, being nearly sun struck. At 4:30, they were at the foot of the mountain, 11 miles from Hillsboro. All took a good look at its steep and rugged sides, and dreaded the morrow’s work, past experience having taught them that it would be no easy job to get the train up the mountain. The order for the next day was given out – reveille at 3, march at 4 o’clock.”

“The next day more than fulfilled their expectations. The regiment was marched part way up the mountain, stacked arms, and turned in to work again reinforcing the mules, pushing and pulling at the wagons.”

“The road was full of sharp turns, and the ascent at times almost perpendicular. The wagons had to be partially unloaded, and two trips made for each load. The first one was not concluded before midnight. The regiment was then allowed to rest, and most of them fell asleep in their tracks, when one of those strange and unaccountable panics broke out, the origin of which, at the time, no one could tell.” “It started, no one could tell why, where, or how, but all at once the men found themselves running around in the dark, stumbling over the rocks and each other, and for a few moments all was confusion and apprehension of something, they knew not what.”

“Some were under the impression that the returning teams had run away, and they were in danger of being run over. But the scare soon ended, with nobody hurt. It was afterwards found that some mule driver ran over a soldier sleeping in the road, who started up from a sound sleep, half awake, and made such an outcry as to arouse the rest and create the panic.”

The ascent was completed by half- past nine o’clock the next morning, and a rest was given until one o’clock p. m. In getting up the mountain, the boys lost and had to throw away much of their baggage. Headquarters mess lost their provision box. The colonel lost his favorite camp chair. The adjutant and major lost their cots, and all, their tents.”

“About the seventh day rations began to give out, and the boys were put on three-fourths allowance; but they would not stay put, and occasionally a gun was heard to go off, and soon after two soldiers would be seen coming into camp, the one in front with a pig on his shoulder, and the other behind him with fixed bayonet, as if taking him to the provost.”

The 100th would remain in the hills and valleys until September when they would be involved in the bloody battle of Chickamauga.