16 - WARS END
When we were all assembled we numbered about forty five thousand men. We hadn't any apprehension as we knew how thoroughly Lee was hemmed in. We had regular communication with home which made life altogether different to what it had been before I had been home from Andersonville. We had taken all the railroads in Kentucky and Tennessee and manned the trains with northern men as Engineers and Conductors, the Firemen and other trainmen being Negroes, with the exception of some crippled soldiers who could serve as train guards.
Nothing of special note happened while we waited for action until the joyful news of Lee's surrender was brought to us by courier. Although we had expected such to happen for some time, there were wild demonstrations of joy when the news came to us at last. For the awful struggle was ended and the nation was saved, and home-sweet-home, with glorious peace throughout the land after four years of hell. as Sherman described war.
We remained here for about ten days, then the Division was scattered. Our Brigade was sent down the road toward Rossville on the Big Holston River in the very eastern part of Tennessee. Where we were instructed to clean up the bushwhackers which infested that part of the state and the surrounding country. To go back a little- before we broke camp the awful news of Abraham Lincoln's death was communicated to us by telegram - a mounted officer carrying the message. The sad news almost overwhelmed the army with grief. There was only one man in our Division that was not grieved by this sad and depressing message. He must have been hot-headed and misguided wretch; he shouted "God be praised, it's a good thing". He could say no more for as many as could get there hands upon him, had him in their clutches in an instant. The treatment he received in the ensuing few minutes can better be imagined than described here. He was soon tied to a tree and placard pinned upon his breast with the word printed in large letters- TRAITOR. Then many in passing him spat upon him and heaped curses upon him until the officers removed him from our midst, this hated man. He was put in a place where he was guarded by some of his own Company. We were at a loss to understand how one who had fought for the preservation could express that sentiment. It was an occurrence which we all deeply deplored.
We remained on the Holston River until the affairs of Lee's surrender and etcetera was settled at Appamatox. Grant then ordered that the army be reduced by three hundred thousand men. All those, or nearly so, of those who had been in the army for four years were discharged.
Our whole Regiment was ordered to Russelville in East Tennessee to capture the bushwhackers who committed awful depredations upon both friends and foes. We soon came upon a band of them upon the banks of the big Holston River and we showed them no mercy. It was really awful the way we annihilated them, but we considered that their fiendish acts justified us in shooting them like dogs.
I recognized one them as one of the guards who had been at Andersonville prison and was paroled for shooting a prisoner, a mere boy, for going upon the deadline. He didn't really mean to go upon the line, but he was so weak that he fell over onto it while we were trying to get a drink of water. So we all swore vengeance upon this heartless wretch who had done such a cruel act. He vehemently denied that he was the man but we soon proved that he was when we found his parole thirty days for shooting a prisoner on the deadline. I had known his name and here was the same name to. We hadn't the slightest doubt this being the man. He pled piteously for his life, but he had to die as the others did.
The leader of the gang escaped which puzzled us a great deal. We traced him by his blood for about a mile and then lost the trail in the timber, which we thoroughly explored, but he had evidently escaped to the mountains by some unaccountable way and we never heard of him again. We succeeded in thoroughly breaking up this band of outlaws; for this the Confederates were as thankful as the Union people.
We stayed here until sometime in May. Our principle being to guard a bridge which was feared might be burned by some outlaw or uncontrollably embittered Confederate. We enjoyed our stay at Russelville considerably by dancing and music. Some of the officers got on their dignity in seeing the Privates being so popular with the pretty girls of the place and refused to dance with the Privates. They complained to the Colonel about the freshness of the Privates but got comfort from him for their trouble. No doubt there were many heartaches when we left for Nashville early in June.
We stayed in Nashville overnight. Next day we retired to a fine large grove about four miles from the city to establish a camp until the time when we should be mustered out. The whole brigade in camp there. On the tenth day of June we received orders to be mustered out, but before leaving the boys decided to serenade Generals Thomas and Scofield in Nashville. So they got together many hundreds of banners and floats and torches and with the best music we could produce, we marched to the headquarters where our beloved Generals were and made a great demonstration of our affection for them and our joy in going home.
General Thomas came out and responded in a touching speech. He said "boys, I deeply appreciate your brave deeds in defense of your country, your loyalty to your commanders, your manhood at all times, and now let me offer you a few words of advice- Go to your homes and resume your occupations where it is possible for you to do so, and in the same gentlemanly fashion in which you have left your homes. Take up your vocations with the same vigor and spirit in which you fought for your country. Help to rebuild the nation in a quiet and gentlemanly way. Now I expect to retire from this strife with just as much of a gentle spirit as I may have had before this trying ordeal commenced. You know that there are those who have been predicting dire calamity to the country by the return of a hoard of renegades from the army who wouldn't work on account of lazy habits acquired in army life and etcetera. Now I know that there will be a very few who will be disinclined to work or to rowdyism, and will be very few, and should there be any of such, it will be because of a natural inclination and not because of the bad habits formed in the volunteer service. I wish I could express to you how much I appreciate your brave service, be just as faithful in the battles of life at home. And I hope you will be gentlemen wherever you are. God bless you all, and good-bye."
He spoke thus to us, every word ringing with sincerity. General Scofield substantially reiterated what General Thomas had said. We were glad to be going home but we were sad to bid a-do to these noble leaders.
Nashville was a very gay and happy place that night with the exception, of course, of the defeated Confederates. After this all of the veterans were allowed to go to their homes immediately. Our Regiment, being of a later enlistment, was returned to do duty in guarding stores in the city. There were great quantities of ammunition and captured goods. Beside our Regiment there were about a couple of thousand troops stayed in camp.
That same week I was sent for by Doctor Pierce, a Major Surgeon, to see him in his office. He said "how would you like to pick out some of your men of your Company to help me do some sanitary work here in Nashville?", he added " I have two or three hundred houses which need inspection and I want about eighteen or twenty dependable men to work with me and I know I can depend on you going through with the job all right. While I picked out the required number of men and acquainted them with what was really expected of us. In the first place we were provided with quarters in the three hundred room hotel which the Union had confiscated and used as a prison for about three hundred Johnny's. They were confined in a basement in the uppermost floor of the hotel building when we arrived. They were those who couldn't take the oath of allegiance and others who had committed depredations. We established ourselves very comfortably, and were given a very generous allowance of provisions by the commissary. Our duties for the Doctor commenced at nine o'clock and continued from eleven thirty o'clock till two. It wouldn't do to tell of our experiences in print for it would shock some of even those who had seen some of the rougher and immoral side of life.
There were over three hundred houses to inspect, mainly for the sake of the army boys. In these places we found men and women who were shockingly diseased. They were detained and sent out to the army hospital where they were treated in a thorough fashion. It seems we witnessed a lasting warning to those who might be inclined to such immorality. It was deplorable that many of the army did indulge in such vice, though we found none of our Regiment who needed hospital treatment.
Chicago and New York men were by far the most of those suffering from the diseases of viscous habits. There were many young men who had better died on the field of battle than to have gone home in the condition they were. The work was very distasteful to us but it was best that it should be done, so on that account we were willing to suffer the displeasure of it.
In our spare time we had much good entertainment. One of the chief places of interest to us was the State Capitol Building while the Legislature was in session. One manufactory I remembered was a plow factory where plows of wooden mold board were made. Cotton and tobacco were the chief agricultural products of that part of the country. At all the State Capitols, County Seats and chief cities, were stationed federal troops to maintain order.