As December 1863 showed her frosty face, the brave soldiers from Will County serving on the front began to make their way to winter camp. They were cold, wet, starving and bone-weary and yet they put one foot in front of another hoping against hope to find some rest at last.
For the men of the 100th George Woodruff’s book Will County in the Civil War, he documents the diary entries during the march to winter camp.
“Dec. 1st. Lay in camp till 2 p. m., and then march. We go through a fine country, about 11 miles and camp again.”
“Dec. 2nd, we go through Decatur, a pretty little place. After going on a while we come to a large house, the owner of which is a bitter rebel. We take his mules and horses from his stables, go into his pasture and drive up his sheep and take them along. Then the boys go into the house and take his provisions. We load on two loads of pork and take it along. We go into camp after a 20-mile march and have a good supper.”
“Dec. 4th. Rations run out and we have to forage, and on the 5th we go past Robinson’s mill to the little Tennessee, which we cross near a deserted place called Morgantown; forage again, and so we go on marching, camping and foraging until we reach the vicinity of Knoxville, the night of Dec. 7th. “Our advance came up with the rear guard of Longstreet at Louden, but he raised the siege of Knoxville, and slipped away through Bulls gap into Western Virginia. Some fault was found with Col. Granger because the corps did not make better time, but I guess those who made the march thought they went fast enough.”
“It must be remembered that this march had been made by our corps after two months of short rations, the exhausting fighting in front of Chattanooga, and on Mission Ridge, and the chase after the enemy without any rest. The boys were many of them almost barefooted and all thinly clad, and much of the time on deficient rations. We had left with the expectation of returning soon and were allowed no transportation for extra baggage, only one wagon to a regiment, and hence were poorly prepared for a winter in East Tennessee. But this we soon learn is to be our lot.”
“Dec. 12th. Marched to Louisville 14 miles. We had to wade the little river, which made the boys squeal some, the water was too cold.” “After staying here about two weeks the regiment was ordered to join the brigade at Blair’s cross roads, about 20 miles above Knoxville. So we cross the Holston and go back to Knoxville and take quarters in an old college. Get supper, draw rations, and then are ordered to fall in again and we march down to the railroad, get aboard some cattle cars and go about 20 miles to a place called “Strawberry Plains.” The night was dark as Egypt. The rain poured down in torrents, and it was freezing cold; and no one knew where to find rails and water, those indispensable articles for a soldier’s bivouac.”
“At last Capt. Stewart, having pressed through the blackness, rain and sleet, found a rail fence, and the 100th having made their coffee, lay down in the rain once more happy. We left some men in Knoxville with such bad shoes that they could not travel. We hear that the rebels have been reinforced, and that they mean to take Cumberland Gap, and, that our corps has been sent down here with Illinois Voluntary Infantry that march began on November 27th Burnside’s to prevent them.”
Back at home the citizens welcomed home the convalescents. At the same time preparing for what was surely to be a draft. We read in Woodruff’s book: “Adjutant Rouse, and Colonel A. N. Waterman, and Captain Nelson, of the 100th, the two latter wounded, were home. Capt. Bowen, also wounded, and Lieut. Ewen, were home this month, trying to get recruits for the thinned ranks of the
100th.Surgeon H. T. Woodruff arrived from Libby prison, (having been exchanged), the latter part of December, bringing us news of Col. Bartleson, and others he had left behind.”
“The board of enrollment of this district, having completed their labors, all persons who have been enrolled, and who are not liable to military duty, are notified to appear before the 20th of December, and to present their excuses, and to get their names stricken from the roll. Notice is also given, that unless our quota is filled by the 5th of Dec., the draft will probably come.The enrollment lists have been printed, and are posted in conspicuous places, and are eagerly read by the crowds of passers-by. Crowds also fill the office of the enrolling board, from early morning ‘till late at night, presenting their reasons for exemption. Some curious ones were given. One man, after a long time waiting his turn, when asked his excuse, in a manner both confident and confidential, whispered in the ears of the captain, that he was the only father of a small boy, and was ready to make his affidavit to the fact!”
“Some who had voted for years, and voted early and often, suddenly discovered that they were not citizens of the United States. A second hegira (mass migration) to Canada also took place.” Yes, the glory of war had faded and the cold, bitter truth had set in. There was no end in sight, and nothing else to do but doggedly go forward into 1864 putting one foot in front of the other.