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May, 1862 – Time to Smell the Roses

The battle of Shiloh in April of 1862 had Will County reeling. Their pride and joy, Captain Bartleson had been wounded making it necessary to amputate his arm. The 20th Illinois was down to one-third of its original number, and the South’s backbone was far from broken. May 1862 found the Will County boys resting and licking their wounds.

At home, the talk was all about Shiloh, the losses, the wounded and those stories that come from battle. One such was reported in the May 7, 1862 Wilmington Independent; “It is stated that in the battle of Pittsburg Landing, one of our men saw his father in the butternut (wearing a rebel uniform) lying wounded on the ground, as we advanced. He went up to him, and the venerable (father), coming the lofty reproachful, said in a tone of mingled dignity and pathos, “My son, perhaps you wounded me!” The son replied, “Well, maybe I did’ can’t say for certain; but, father, you had no business to be there.”

Starting about May 1st, the 20th started a slow advance on Corinth, Mississippi, traveling only five miles in three weeks. When they arrived they found that the rebels had “skeedaddled.” Corinth was taken without a fight.

The 39th had a slow time of it as well. Writing from Surray, Virginia, an unnamed volunteer from Company E writes, “We are still guarding the bridge across the Shenandoah. The companies of our regiment which were at the other bridge have come down here and our tents have arrived; so we are all encamped, and living in good soldier style once more. Our camp is a mile west of the river, on a fine piece of meadow land; so that notwithstanding the very wet weather which we are having, our quarters are tolerable dry and comfortable. All appears quiet in these parts at present; and this section of Virginia seems to be pretty well cleaned out.”

While not engaged in battle, the 39th had other duties. One of them was to patrol for whisky. George Woodruff in his book Fifteen Years Ago, the Civil War in Will County describes this task. “Whisky had been made contraband of war, and was also excluded by military edict from the army lines at least from the rank and file of the army. Hence it was part of the duty of officers and men, when doing provost work, to hunt it up, and destroy or confiscate it, and get into safe hands.”

“Now, in the 39th, as in most other regiments, there were some who had a fondness for the contraband, and many were the devices of such to hide it from the provost details. It is said that some were in the habit of hiding their canteens in the tents of the officers, well knowing that no one would think of looking in them for anything contraband, and that there they would be perfectly safe.”

“Well, one day, a private of the regiment was returning to the camp from a foraging expedition. He was a good and brave soldier, but sadly fond of contraband, and his gait and general appearance now showed plainly that he had somewhere got hold of some of it. In this plight he was met by the colonel, who, seeing his condition, felt bound to call him to account. He therefore halted him, charged him with being drunk, and demanded of him where he had got his whisky.”

“The man stoutly denied the charge, although his speech and manner testified sadly against him. The colonel was somewhat taken aback by the man’s bold denial, and was about to pass on, when he discovered that the man was trying to conceal his canteen. He then demanded of him what he had got in his canteen. “Nothing,” was the unblushing reply.

“Nothing,” says the colonel, “hand it up and let me see.” The man had no choice but to comply, and a slight examination only was required to demonstrate that it was full of whisky. Enraged at the man’s mendacity, he asked him what he meant by lying so. The soldier avowed that he had not lied. “Not lied,” said the colonel, “why, you told me that you had nothing in your canteen, and here it is full of whisky. What do you mean?” “Oh,” said the soldier, “this is not my canteen; my canteen is in my tent.” “Not your canteen; then whose is it, sir?” demanded the colonel. “Oh this is Major Munn’s canteen!” The colonel confiscated the canteen and contents, and rode on.

Men from the 39th were also allowed passes to visit the local points of interest. The men of Company E explored a local cave in May of 1862, describing it “All along are numerous scenes of interest and beauty; but now, after much creeping and scrambling through small and large passages, and down many steep, rough stairways, we find a large apartment which in splendor and brilliancy far surpasses everything else we have seen. The stalactites hang down in clusters and bunches all around from the roof and sides. There are numerous columns, all figured and carved off, supporting the roof above; and also numerous statues, which at a little distance have the appearance of finely carved images. This room in the dim light of our candles, have the appearance of a splendid long hall set with gold, diamonds and precious stones.”

“We emerge from the dark cavern below, inhabited only by bats and eyeless insects, where never a ray of sunlight penetrates, feeling that though there was beauty and splendor hidden far down below, to repay him who would toil for it, still there was far more, freely spread out for us all in the bright light of day, and the varied scenes of nature which daily meet the eye. We were muddy and weary, but felt well satisfied with our explorations and the sights we had seen.”

Wearied from battle the men of Will County took time to smell the roses.