Patricia Craig Johnson --- Searching for My Ancestors --- Sharing My Life Stories

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Friday, June 6, 2014

William Oliver Sanford Civil War Diary

William Oliver Sanford Civil War Diary

William Oliver Sanford (1822-1914) wrote a wonderful history of his life and his ancestors.  I am fortunate that my mother, Dorothy Olive Cary, gave me a copy of this history.  This covers the life of William Oliver Sanford until  late in his life.  The part I am transcribing for you is the part where he describes his Civil War experience.  
On the 26th day of February 1865 in obedience to the call of the President of  the U.S. for 300,000 more soldiers to suppress the Slave-Holders Rebellion, I left home in Hamilton (Illinois) to Chicago, the general rendezvous and after much delay and bartering among ambitious officers for men, we finally enlisted in a company of good men mostly from McHenry Co., Ill. and were assigned, consolidated as Company G in the 23rd regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Capt. George W. Hardacre, Col. Mulligans Old Irish Brigade, then fighting Lee in Virginia. A part of this time in Camp Fry in North Chicago, while waiting to be assigned and even before enlistment, multitudes of us were crowded into uncomfortable barracks and locked in like so many animals, under closed guard, waiting to be sold to this Capt or that Capt who could pay the most for the number of men sufficient to fill up their companies so they  could be mustered in and commence to draw their pay and show their authority over men better than they were.
On March 2nd 1865 we enlisted for Alden Township, McHenry Co.  M. L. Hoy Township Agent.  On Friday, March 17 our Company was finally organized, George W Hardacre Captain, H. J. Mack 2nd Liet, and myself 6th Corporal.  Time was all filled up in active drill, guard duty and regular camp instructions preparatory to regular field duty.  I was assigned in addition to duty in the Capt. office in making out the muster rolls, issuing arms, clothing, requisitions for rations, etc.

Saturday the 8th of April, I at last with 500 others were forwarded direct to Richmond, Va. For active duty, by rail to Baltimore, then by steamer down Chesapeake Bay to Fortress Monroe, then up the James River to Richmond.  Arrived there in time to help put out the fires in the burning city, a few days after its evacuation by the rebels, went into active service, south of the James River, East and South to City Point, Petersburgh and all that region of the country.  Sometimes watching Mosleys Guerillas, and guarding and holding places and territory vacated by the Main Army now fighting the last battle with Lee and the rebels at Appomattox.

Finally when the end of the rebellion came, I with a few chosen companies of our regiment were sent into the City of Richmond to guard Government property and maintain order in that desperately demoralized city.

All business was stagnant, confederate money was worthless, everybody was destitute and starving.  The whole population was bitter and angry over their defeat and hostile at the Union soldier as a savage ever dared to be.  Our Army had to feed the population and the women spit upon and offered every indignity while we were doing so.  We had to go from place to place in squads and constantly armed for self protection, for the city was full of straggling. Destitute Confederate soldiers and rebel desperados, made it a pastime to murder and rob every Union Soldier whenever he could be caught alone.  Murder of this character were a constant daily and nightly occurrence. 

The Negroes from all that region flocked in the city like stray animals and this made matters much worse.  They had no owners and had no means to make a living.  They robbed and plundered everything to sustain life.   We gathered them together, organized them into companies under competent overseers and set them to work cleaning up the city, loading and unloading boats, cars, etc. and fed  them Army rations.  At night we furnished them sleeping quarters in the various tobacco warehouses in the city and I had charge of one of these boarding houses and had 2,000 negro boarders.

We cooked barrels of pork and made two large barrels of coffee for each meal three times a day.  Negroes did the cooking and all the work.  After incredible labor and planning we restored comparative order and quiet in the city and business commenced to revive.

I with others were seldom idle or out of imminent peril both day and night, for night was as busy as the day time.  Night and day, rain or shine, week day or Sunday was all the same to us, constant vigilance and active duty was imperative.

On the morning of the last day of June I was ordered without previous warning to start for N.Y. City.  The day before I had been promoted  to3rd Sergeant, over 2 Coporals and three Sergeants, to their great dissatisfaction, also without any previous notice.

I had no intimation what I was to go to N. Y. for, or how I was to go.  I had not a cent of money and of course was in a quandary.  But obedience is the first duty of a soldier and I knew my instructions would be given proper time. I had not long to wait for soon the long roll sounded and the whole Company run for their places in the ranks, always with arms in their hands.   

My position with the other officers was in the rear of the line.  The commanding officers commenced on the right, marched along the front, selected one Lieutenant, one Sergeant (myself), one Corporal and twelve men, ordered us all 4 paces front, then read publicly the order of my promotion, and gave us our orders to guard and escort two regiments of discharged troops to N. Y. City, and turn them over to proper officers for their pay, muster out and discharge and return again in seven days.  On the last day of June we embarked on the large ocean steamer Creole, steamed down the James River from City Point to Norfolk, Fortress Monroe and out to sea and saw no more land til coming in sight of  N. Y. City.  Soon after starting our Lieutenant was taken sick and went below, and the whole duty fell upon me the rest of the trip. My business was to maintain order on ship board, see that all their rations were on time and keep all soldiers out of the rigging – at first a hard matter to keep them from straggling into cabins and engine rooms, etc.

I succeeded so well that the captain of the ship was twice going to put me in irons for disobedience to his orders, but I had the best backing and knew I was right in the course I pursued and he had he persisted my soldiers openly threatened to throw him overboard, but on arrival at the docks in N. Y., the colonels and captains discharged troops came and publicly thanked me for the skillful and satisfactory manner in which I had discharged my difficult task.

We returned to Richmond on time and made report and we were warmly greeted by officers and comrades.
Thus matters went on all about the Capitol til the 26th of July when we were ordered home, started for Chicago and on the 2nd day of August, 1865 were paid off (in part) and discharged.
The end of what William Oliver Sanford wrote in his life history.
William Oliver Sanford was a member of Russell Post No. 86 Department of Illinois Grand Army of the Republic.  His personal war sketch follows:
I first entered the service on the spring of 1861 at Alden Township, McHenry Co., Ill. Was mustered in at Chicago.  Joined 23rd Reg. Ill. Vol. Inf. 2nd brigade, 2nd Division, 24th Army Corps at Richmond, Ill. as sixth corporal.  Was promoted to Third Sergeant June 30th, 1865. In place of Sergeant E.C. Parks, reduced to ranks, and at the close of the war my rank that if Third Sergeant.  I was first discharged after the battle of Athens, MO. At Hamilton, Ill. after the accomplishment of the object of enlistment.  I re-enlisted on March 2nd, 1865 at Alden Ill. when we were consolidated with the 23rd Reg. Ill. and was finally discharged July 24th, 1865 at Chicago, Ill. by reason of the close of the war.  I was never wounded, nor confined in a hospital.  But was sick in camp near Richmond two weeks with Rheumatic fever.  I was never taken prisoner, but was once locked up in the guard house with about one hundred others, for what reason no one ever new, but suppose it was to secure bids form Capt’s for men to fill up companies, so reported.

The most important events in my  service I consider to be, the constant guard duty in Richmond and Petersburg and frequent detached service as Captains Clerk, Guarding Government Stores, Libby Prison, A contraband camp and other detailed service.
In April 1865 I had severe sickness from Rheumatic fever – effects of which still exist.  On duty in Petersburg when Sheridan’s Cavalry returned from Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, on duty  in Richmond with my Reg’t and Division to receive and do honors of the day when Gen’l Mead received his army as they (65,000) strong) passed through Richmond on their route to Washingtonn after Lee’s Surrender.  Was in Richmond and received Sherman’s (70,000) as they passed through the City on their march north frorn Savannah  to Washingotn.   As Sergeant had charge of guard duty in the City including Libby Prison for 4 months.  Had charge of camp of Two Thousand contraband  Negores, and boarded and cared for the same.  Had charge of corral of 2,000 horses and mules quartered the same two miles from Richmond.

I was detailed with 2nd Lieut Guy C. Clark, Co. I with ten picked Guards to escort two New York Regt’s home to be discharged.  Started July 1st 1865 on a steamboat from Richmond to City Point – thence transferred to ocean  steamer “Creole” to N.Y.  The Regt’s mutinied and after three fierce battles among themselves and forcing the Capt. of  the ship below – order was restored by the Guards at point of bayonet.
We landed them safely in New York and returned to Richmond at the end of seven days and remained on active duty until  mustered out an d discharged July 24th 1865.

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