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October, 1863 – Waiting for the Cracker Line

The battle of Chickamauga in September of 1863 left the country reeling. The Army of the Cumberland under Gen. Rosecrans had been soundly defeated. The troops were scattered, and the supply lines, known as “cracker lines” after the nickname for hardtack, was broken. The boys from the 100th Illinois Voluntary Infantry were tired, dirty and starving.

Sergeant George W. Holmes, from Green Garden Township took the time to write a diary of that time. From it we learn what those brave men had to endure. Note, one piece of hardtack was about 3 inches square and about one-half inch thick. It was made of flour, water and sometimes salt.

“October 1 – It rained nearly all night; we got up to stand at arms at 5 o’clock. I am detailed to go with a party to pile up brush in front of our breastworks to frustrate the enemy if they should attack us. We also stretch a wire along in front, so that they will be thrown down if they should come up in the dark. Several of our own men, myself included, forgetting about it, have got several falls from it.”

“Oct. 3 – Orderly Sergeant Thomas Bleber (Jackson Township) and I got a pass to go down town and see the wounded boys. Found them in good spirits.”

“Oct. 5 – The rebs began to throw shell about four o’clock, but they do not reach us. We send them some in reply, but cannot tell the effect, but hope they will be hard to digest. The cannonading is kept up slowly all day.”

“Oct. 7 – Here we are in sight of the rebels. The two armies lie within gunshot all the time. The pickets talk with each other and exchange papers.”

“Oct. 8 – get up at 5 and march at 7. We go about a mile, and then halt at the field hospital. I run over and look at the boys, and find them all snug and comfortable in good tents and beds. After an hour’s halt we go on a march of about 7 miles. We are fired upon by the rebels from across the river. They keep themselves concealed, so that we could get but few shots at them, while we are entirely exposed. They killed 3 and wounded 7 of our men, and killed and wounded 20 mules”

“Oct. 9 – Started on this morning, road very uneven. We are out of rations, so I step out and run on ahead down the mountain, and come to the house of a Mr. Knox, and ask them if they have anything cooked. The old lady goes to the table and breaks off a piece of corn bread. I also got my canteen filled with some milk, and pay the woman 20 cents. After resting a short time, start on for Jasper. Luckily, the sutler of the 185th Illinois overtakes me, and I ride with him to Jasper. Here I go to a bake shop, and buy two pies, and two loaves of bread, and eat them, and am still hungry. Going along a little further, I find Prince, our old sutler, who is here with a stock of goods. I get some cakes and maple sugar. By this time the train comes up and the boys empty every bake shop and every other eating establishment in the town.”

“Oct. 10 – On the move again early. Gen, Hooker is here with two corps. Saw the old gent, a fine looking old man. His soldiers, especially the officers, look as though they had just come out of a band box, and they carry very heavy knapsacks loaded with extra clothing and blankets, purp tent, etc., enough to load a mule. We drew three days’ rations to last six.”

“Oct. 11 – the train loads up with hardtack, sow belly, coffee, etc., etc., and a little after noon, takes the back track. Get to Jasper, about noon of the 12th. We press on, and the rain comes on, and we go into camp after dark.”

“Oct. 13th to 23rd. Nothing new, rations getting very short, work more or less on breastworks. Today we hear that Rosecrans has been relieved and Gen. Thomas placed in command.”

“Oct. 24 – drew rations of crackers, and we have got to come down more yet, for we are not to have a whole cracker at a meal only about half.”

“Oct. 25 – About half past 3 we were called up, told to pack up and get ready for a march after a hurried breakfast, and a very short one. Draw half rations for two days.”

“Oct 26 – Stand at arms this morning. I eat all my rations for two days at one meal, and now, so far as I can see, I have to go two days without anything more. But Providence will provide I never starved yet. I am detailed with three men John Mason (Channahon), Sam. Johnson (Jackson Township), and James Coplantz (Joliet). We draw a little beef to-day, and boil it with an ear of corn and this, with two biscuits from Lieut. Williams, helps us out.”

“Oct. 27 – Good news this morning. Our folks have opened a new ” cracker line.” Last night an expedition floated down the river, which was covered with a dense fog, past the rebel pickets, without being observed. One of the boats struck against a tree, and the rebs took the alarm and fired into them. On this our boats rowed to the shore, and routed the rebs. We can cross our train now about six miles up the river and get supplies in much quicker time. This evening we draw nearly five crackers for two days! Lieut. Williams knows we are hard up, so he gives me something for supper, although he gets but two-thirds rations. These are the hardest times we have ever seen for rations, but I will ‘trust in Providence and keep my powder dry.”

“Oct 28 – Drew two days’ rations again, getting four hard tack, a little sugar, coffee, and a small piece of salt pork.”

“Oct. 30 – Parched corn for breakfast, with coffee. Dinner, boiled corn and boiled corn fried. This p. m. drew some beef, and have beef and corn boiled together for supper.”

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