Reflections of the past week of 4-21-11


Editor’s Note: In this week’s “Reflections of the Past”, Vevay Newspapers wishes to share with its readers a selection from the Civil War journal of Charles Wesley Heath. This is the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

Thanks to the Switzerland County Historical Society for sharing this important historic document with the community.


I was in my 25th year when the storm of war burst upon us, and our country was startled from its peaceful repose. Troops had been called for to suppress the rebellion and many of my friends and schoolmates were enrolled, and some of them had already gone to the “front”. I pondered the subject daily and at night upon my bed. The question “Is it my duty to go to the army?” was ringing in my ears. My inclinations were to be a soldier. My grandfather – my father’s father – had fought seven years to secure the privileges of a Republican Government of Union and Liberty, and I felt the fire burn within me that burned in the patriot-bosoms of “76” – to perpetuate the government that they had suffered to secure.

I should have gone at the first bugle-note without hesitation had not I been in rather poor health and assured by all my friends that I would not be able to endure the hardships of camp-life. Finally in May – the 8th, I believe – I determined to go. I gave up my employment – a clerkship in a store, went to Vevay 12 miles distant, Switzerland County, Indiana, and gave Captain Stepleton my name and my country my services. We were quartered in Vevay for 24 hours after my enlistment when, the company being filled, we went on board the steamer for Madison, Indiana. Early the next morning we went on the cars to Indianapolis, where we arrived about 11 o’clock in the morning and marched directly to the State House yard where we expected to be mustered into the U.S. service. Having “broken ranks” for a time, the greater number of the “boys” were reclining on the grass in the shade of the trees, but I had an inclination to inspect the State House and had gone thither, when I was met at the portal by a gentleman who asked: “Do you belong to the company that just came in?” “I do, sir.” “For what length of time have you enlisted?” “Three months, sir.” “I am sorry to have to inform you that the regiment just being mustered is the last regiment of three months men required from Indiana.” I replied that we would have the satisfaction of having offered our services. “Yes,” said he, “it is as much honor to have been willing to do a thing as to have done it.”

Just at this stage of the conversation a third person interrupted us by requesting an audience with the gentleman and I saw nothing more of him until the senators and legislators were filing down the walk to dinner. The State Legislature was in session, and I supposed the gentleman I had conversed with to be a member of that body. After inspecting the buildings and grounds I returned to where the company were enjoying the cool shade, and entering into conversation with one of the lieutenants, I said: “Marquis, I want you to point out to me Governor O.P. Morton as he returns to the State House if you know him.” “I will do so. I know him very well, “said he. Soon the members came strolling into the yard, and after a time Marquis plucked my sleeve and whispered “There is Governor Morton!” I glanced at him and was considerably surprised to see the same gentleman with whom I have been talking an hour before.

In the afternoon we were informed that though the State had all the three-months men that were needed, they were receiving troops for one year and also for three years. We took a vote of the Company on the question of one year service, but the majority were in favor of returning home if they could not go for three months. It was decided to return as it was believed that enough troops had gone out to suppress the rebellion. Before turning our faces homeward, which I confess I did not like to do, we visited the Legislative Halls and heard an animated discussion in regard to transportation of troops free, or something of that kind, which was bitterly opposed by some of the dignitaries (?) and a quarrel ensued; and no wonder, for some of Indiana’s bitterest foes to Freedom were members of that body.

In the afternoon still later we were marched to a hotel where we were gratuitously fed, then returned to the State House, conducted to the Arsenal and every man supplied with a musket and cartridge box.” Take these, “said an officer, “go home and form companies for the protection of the border. These guns shall be charged to your county and use them for her protection.”

In the evening we received transportation to Vevay via Cincinnati. About 8 o’clock p.m. we took train for that city where we arrived late at night and not having been supplied with more suitable quarters we were constrained to remain the few hours till daylight in the depot. The night was chill and having no blankets, we did but little sleeping. Those who could sleep were not permitted to do so for any considerable time on account of mischief-loving boys, ever ready to put into execution a practical joke. One young man went to sleep in a wheelbarrow, but before many minutes a comrade took hold of the handles of the barrow and started on a run ache building, and after having given the sleeper a sound shaking by crossing the railroad track and platform turned the vehicle over, spilling the sleeper out upon the floor. Remonstrances were vain.

The night before on board the steamer no rest or sleep could be secured on account of those reckless fellows, and this night in the depot proved equally devoid of sleep. Daylight found us marching to the steamboat landing, where we found and went on board the very same boat that had carried us to Madison. We deposited our arms on the hurricane deck and the boys were at liberty to go where they chose. The Captain informed us that we would provide breakfast for us by 9 o’clock and warned the boys to be on board by that time if they wished anything to eat. Many of the boys went into the city, while others sat in the cabin, dozing in their chairs. Still others were a number of these mischief-lovers on the alert for fun. A young man lay down on two chairs and in a short time was fast asleep. The jokers placed a third chair under his feet, placed his hands across his breast, tied a handkerchief under his jaw, wrapped him in a sheet off the bed, laid a napkin over his face, suspended the flag over him and stationing one of the boys at the door they await the approach of a comrade from up-town. Presently the guard looks in at the door and announces “Here he comes!” All the jokers except the guard take seats around the corpse with bowed heads and kerchiefs to their eyes; they sit in woebegone silence. Up comes the unwary and is met at the door by the guard, who informs him in a whisper and with a sob: “One of our boys is dead.” “Who?” and “What was the matter?” and half a dozen questions are asked in rapid succession. The answer is always the same: “C. is dead. He died a few minutes ago. We do not know what his disease was. Come, I will show you the corpse.” They approach the corpse in silence and as they near the head of the deceased, one of the boys rises from his seat with his handkerchief to his eyes and gently removes the napkin. After a steady look, the spectator, seeing the flushed face and regular breathing of the sleeper says: “Gentlemen, I give it up, I am sold!” A laugh goes round and the victims joins the jokers to assist in humbugging the next arrival. I was one of the humbugged, as I very well remember, and afterward assisted until breakfast was ready. Finally one of the jokers fell asleep in his chair and the boys procured some napkins from the wash-room, and placing one around his body bound him to the chair; then taking two napkins bound each leg to the legs of the chair. Finally, one of the boys stuck a pin in the sleeper, and he, in attempting to spring up, fell upon the floor with the chair fast to his body, and lay upon the floor using language not altogether polite, though rather eloquent in his wrath, until his tormentors loosed his bonds and set him free.

At noon we started down the river and after a considerably lively time we arrived at the wharf at Vevay 48 hours from the time of starting there from. I walked that evening 8 miles and slept at the house of a friend and on the next day I reached home again without a wound from my first campaign as a soldier.

Upon my arrival at home I learned that the store in which I had been engaged had been sold, and since I had no employment I went, after a few days at home, to Darke County, Ohio, to visit some relatives I remained in Ohio at work on a farm until July 12th, when I concluded to visit a brother-in-law in Howard County, Indiana. He had written that he was sick and unable to harvest his crop and asked me to come and assist his son for awhile. I went, helped to secure the crop and commenced plowing for wheat and thought of doing the seeding, but as the war was still progressing, and the army of the south seemed to be gaining strength rather than being crushed as we had expected, in a short time my sense of duty to be a soldier overcame all else, and early in September I bid my friends adieu and started home to visit my parents before going to the field. I went by railroad from Kokomo to Madison, Indiana. At the latter place the conductor, a former acquaintance came to me and said: “You will stop with me tonight.” I stopped with him and at an early he following morning I was startled at hearing the reveille and drum beating “Roll-call.” I asked my friend in regard to the troops that were there and was surprised to hear that a company from Switzerland County were in camp nearby. After we had breakfasted, I went to camp where I found the 6th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry. The soldiers were at breakfast and as I walked down near the rude tables by which the “boys” stood taking their morning meal I was very much surprised at beholding my brother Sylvester quietly masticating his ration. A surprised expression flitted over his countenance when I spoke to him and after a few hurried questions he said: “You must go with us. Good officers, good fare and good comrades I think, though they are all strangers. “I took time to reflect, was introduced to the Colonel, T.T. Crittenden, and he joined my brother in urging me to go with them. I told them I would go home and see my parents and then they might expect me. In the evening I took steamer and arrived at home that night. I found the County Fair in operation near my father’s and spent two or three days there. In the meantime, the regiment had been ordered to move and had already gone through Louisville, Kentucky, to protect that city from the forces of the rebel General Buckner who was threatening it. Monday, the 23rd of September 1861 I spent in calling upon my acquaintances and on Tuesday the 24th I took my departure for the field and the camp. Arriving in Vevay about noon I was presented with a pass to Louisville and in the evening I stepped on to the mailboat “Major Anderson” and arrived in Louisville in the night. The clerk, Mr. Byington, gave me an invitation to breakfast with him which I gladly accepted, after which he gave me an additional pass to my regiment, which I learned was down near Elizabethtown, 40 miles south of Louisville.

Having secured my papers I called a hack and drove rapidly to the Louisville and Nashville depot where we arrived just in time to see the morning train disappearing down the road. I was asked by a gentleman if I wished to go to the army, and answering him in the affirmative he inquired: “What regiment do you go to?” Sixth Indiana, sir.” “Well,” said he, “you can not go today but if you have no friends here in the city, I would advise you to keep away from the hotels as they are poor affairs and charges are high. I keep a boarding house,” he continued, “and if you will go there you will be welcome to the best we have.” He further informed me that he was one of the directors of the road and would find a place for me on the first train and forward me. He went with me and pointing out a large brick building remarked: “My wife keeps boarders there while I attend to my duties as director. Go there and I will see you again.”

I went to the house and was made comfortable while I remained. When at the depot I saw General Anderson of Fort Sumpter notoriety, now commanding the army in Kentucky. In the evening Mr. Reed, the boardinghouse gentleman who had introduced me to his wife’s establishment, came in with another gentleman to supper. The unknown gentleman was introduced to me as the conductor, and he informed me that a train would leave early in the evening for the front, with a regiment of troops; and he told me to be at the depot about 7 o’clock and he would secure me a comfortable seat. I ate my supper, and calling for my bill was kindly informed by Mrs. Reed that there were no charges. She said, “I am a Hoosier and have been in Louisville only about two years. All my sympathies are with the Union army and especially your regiment, for it was the first to come to our rescue. “She and her husband said: “Come here when the war is over and we will board you two weeks free of charge.” I hastened to the depot thankful that I had found at least two true-hearted people in Kentucky the first day out.