Union soldier's diary details 500-mile march through Carolinas with Sherman's army

Union soldier's diary details 500-mile march through Carolinas with Sherman's army
Carroll Bills Civil War Photo (Source: Steve Eberly, husband of Bills' descendant)
Carroll Bills Civil War Photo (Source: Steve Eberly, husband of Bills' descendant)
Carroll M. Bills (Source: Pictoral Roster Twentieth General Assembly, Colorado)
Carroll M. Bills (Source: Pictoral Roster Twentieth General Assembly, Colorado)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Lowcountry swamps, muddy roads, and cold February temperatures did not stop General William T. Sherman's Union Army from marching across South Carolina in 1865.

A Union officer's diary describing the campaign is now on exhibit at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

"It's wonderful," said Relic Room Director Allen Roberson. "We saw it and realized this was unknown at the time and it's a major addition to our collection."

The museum has given WIS exclusive access to the diary of Carroll M. Bills, an officer with the 39th Iowa Infantry.

WIS revealed the daily diary entry on its corresponding day, 150 years later. Daily entries from the transcript verbatim are below:

March 24: (final entry) Moved from camp at 7Am, crossed the Neuse River on Pontoon Bridges, just below the crossing of the Wilmington and Weldon Rail Road. Entered and marched through Goldsboro at 1PM passing in ____ before Maj. Genl. Wm T. Sherman and went into camp two miles from the city on the Newbern Rail Road.

Whole distance marched 500 miles.

March 23: Moved forward & struck the road leading to Goldsboro, over which the command marched on the 19th. Marched twelve miles & encamped.

March 21:  During the night, ___ a spirited skirmish fire was kept up along the line. The command laid on their arms during the night behind their works & the works were somewhat strengthened by details. The company in the skirmish line from the 57th Ill was relieved by one from the 50th Ill. At 10AM received orders to erect new works two hundred yards in front of those first erected & have the same completed by 3PM & then moved forward & occupied the new line. The firing on the Skirmish Line had been kept up at slight intervals through the day, but on moving forward, the firing at once became much more severe. It being reported that the Co. from the 50th Ill were out of ammunition. Two more companies from that Regiment were ordered out & went forward. But before they reached the line, the former company (Company "C") had charged across a narrow Swamp & drove the enemy from his rifle pits, but being supported either on their right or left, were ordered back by Capt. Barber, Chief of our Posts. Leaving that Co. "C" held the enemies Rifle pits ordered forward another Company from the 50th Ill & Company "A" was sent with orders to hold the Rifle pits at all hazards, but as before stated, the enemies rifle pits had been abandoned by Company "C" before support reached them, and afterwards though repeated efforts were made, it was impossible to retake them, the enemy having concentrated his fire at that point. At about 12N, the 39th Iowa, rejoined the Command [they having been left at Cape Fear River to guard the Div. Train]. At dark, Maj. Johnston was ordered to relieve the skirmishers of the 50" Ill with his Comd'g numbering seventy men, mainly armed with Henry Rifles (16 shooters) and if possible retake the enemies rifle-pits, and as a support to him, ordered forward two companies from the 57th Ill with instructions to shortly intrench themselves & hold the Line. At this time the whole line on our left & right were engaged firing as rapidly as possible. The 39th Iowa were at this time occupying the ground formally occupied by Maj. Johnston's Command, the 2" Brigade having moved more to the right, so as to enable the 39th Iowa to get in full line of Battle. Maj. Johnston, soon after dark, succeeded in crossing the swamp, with the left of his line, but was obliged to withdraw the same to allow the artillery of the 1" Div. to play upon the enemy. The skirmish line was strongly intrenched under Maj. Johnston's efforts and though the enemy during the forepart of the night attempted severil[sic] times to advance his line, he was promptly driven back.

An exceedingly sharp fire was maintained all night on both sides until 3 ½ AM the 22" the fire of the enemy began to cease. At day-light Maj. Johnston advanced a small party to reconnoiter the rifle pits in his front, found them deserted, and immediately advanced his entire line, occupying a Second & Third line of works & finding the enemy had disappeared. On receiving notice from Maj. Johnston that the enemy & fire had ceased, we received orders from the Gen'l Commanding, to move forward and occupy the enemies works, then a skirmish line was sent forward as far as Bentonville, under charge of Lieut. Col. Wm. Hanna, who finding no enemy & other forces coming up returned to the command.

The casualties in the 3rd Brig. during the two days were two men killed and twenty wounded. Four prisoners were taken as our skirmishers entered the enemies works. In compliance with orders, at 5PM moved back on to the ground occupied in the morning and encamped.

March 20:  Broke camp at 7AM having received orders that the Command would move on Bentonville, prepared for Battle & that no train would accompany the Command except the Ammunitions wagons & the Ambulances.

Took the advance of the Div. marching in rear of the 1" Div. and soon skirmishing commenced, after striking the Bentonville Road turned square to the left. Soon after the 1" Div. began skirmishing with the enemy which continued for severil[sic] ,miles, the columns occasionally halting to give time for the skirmishers to drive the enemy from a swamp or a dense thicket. At 12N the advance Division seemed to encounter a large force & meet with a more stubborn resistance. The 1" Division formed in line of Battle & we were ordered forward as a support in column by Regiment with the exception of the 7"Ill which moved on the left flank of the other Regts. As the enemies position was developed, the command deployed& went into Line ___ the right of the 1" Div. in an open field; soon after moved forward into the timber & then halted and stacked arms. At 3PM received orders to throw up earthworks in our front, previously a company had been sent forward in the Front from the 57" Ill to form a skirmish Line connecting with that of the 1st Div. on our left & with that of the 2nd Brigade on our right, during all this time heavy skirmishing, accompanied by heavy commanding was kept up.

March 19: Moved forward at 7.30AM in center of the Division, marched but five miles in the f_____, being delayed by bad roads over swamps. At 3PM, the road being better, the command moved forward rapidly. During the middle of the day heavy cannonading was heard on our left & in the latter part of the day, ____ move to our rear and right at dark reached Falling Creek & found some difficulty in crossing. Went into camp at 11PM having marched twelve miles. No train came up, being unable to affect a crossing over Falling Creek. The camp fires of the enemy were visable[sic] and a large force was reported in the vicinity. During the night the enemy kept firing shots at intervals with Artillery at our camps.

March 18: Left camp at 9AM in rear of the Division taking the Goldsboro. Crossed a bad swamp corduroyed by the preceding troops. Found the road better than usual; marched eleven miles & encamped at dark.

March 17: Broke camp at 7AM and immediately crossed the River, the command being obliged to wade through water knee deep. Six miles out the advance struck the enemy, and the command formed in line of battle, but a few shots from the 1" Mo. Light Artillery induced them to retreat, the 2nd Brig. however was left to cover the main Road, while the other Brigades moved forward in another Road to the left. Three miles further on, struck the 20th SC & went into camp having marched nine miles.

March 16: Broke camp at 7AM and immediately crossed the River, the command being obliged to wade through water knee deep. Six miles out the advance struck the enemy, and the command formed in line of battle, but a few shots from the 1" Mo. Light Artillery induced them to retreat, the 2nd Brig. however was left to cover the main Road, while the other Brigades moved forward in another Road to the left. Three miles further on, struck the 20th SC & went into camp having marched nine miles.

March 15: Received orders from the Gen'l Commanding to have the 59th Iowa report to Brig. Gen'l Wards for duty, to guard the Division Train, that was to be left in the rear. From here on, only Brigade trains and small trains of ammunition were to attend the Column. All unemployed negroes were also sent to the rear. Moved forward at 9AM in rear of the Division, on what was termed Burian's Cross Roads; halted frequently to repair the road. In the afternoon it rained considerable and at 3PM cannonading was heard in our front, which was occasioned by a small force of the enemy, disputing the passage of the South River. At 4PM encamped near the River in the midst of a severe rain, skirmishing going on very heavy by the 1" Brigade, while the enemy were throwing shell into our camps. Distance marched ten miles.

March 14: Resumed the march at 6AM, moved to Cape Fear River, two miles & then halted until 3d Div. 17" SC had passed over. Then crossed the River on Pontoon Bridge and encamped two miles out, at 3PM, leaving two Regiments a mile in the rear to corduroy the Road.

March 13: Resumed the march at 6AM, moved to Cape Fear River, two miles & then halted until 3d Div. 17” SC had passed over. Then crossed the River on Pontoon Bridge and encamped two miles out, at 3PM, leaving two Regiments a mile in the rear to corduroy the Road.

March 12: Moved forward at 8AM forming the center of the Division, passed Rock fish village, a fading town, and Rockfish River, at 12N a few miles further struck a Plank road leading to Fayetteville. Camped two miles west of the City at 3PM distance marched 13 miles. Transports had already reached the city by way of Cape Fear River, thereby once more placing us in communications with the civilized world.

March 11: Broke camp at 8AM moving in rear of the Div.; during the day passed through a succession of pine swamps which had been corduroyed by the advance divisions, at dark we had made only ten miles then struck a good road and marched six miles, crossed Rock Fish Creek and went into camp at 10PM having marched sixteen miles.

March 10: At 8AM the Brigade was ordered forward, again in the advance of the Div. two miles out, crossed Lumber River, marched two miles further and halted for the train to come up at 4PM. Rec'd orders to go into camp.

March 9: Started at 9AM being in advance of the Div. and moving on Laurel Hill road. Two miles out across the Wilmington and Charlottesville R. R. at Laurel Hill overtook the 1” Div. and waited sivirel [sic] hours for that Div. to cross a stream and corduroy a swamp in front. 3PM moved forward, during the remainder of the afternoon, & until 9PM it rained constantly making the roads almost impassable and rendering it necessary to corduroy almost every road of the way; at dark were ordered into camp on Black Creek; three regiments, but before the fourth reached the company ground, was ordered forward to Lumber River, at this time rain fell in perfect torrents, the road its self became a Creek almost knee deep; and for two miles the command encountered the hardest marching it had ever experienced; at 9PM were again ordered into camp. The train being far in the rear. Having marched a distance of twelve miles.

March 8: Broke camp at 7AM and at 9AM Rejoined the Division. Commenced raining in the morning and rained almost incessantly, during the entire day making the roads very bad and requiring much labor in the way of corduroying. Passed through a rich and fertile country, abounding in forage. About 12N, crossed the Boundary line between North Carolina and South Carolina. Marched ten miles and encamped at Springfield.

March 7: During the latter part of the night, after the 20th SC had passed to the bank of the River, the city was quiet. At 8AM Commenced crossing, leaving the detachment of the 7th Ill. under Major Johnston, to bring up all struggles of the different Commands & to act as rear guard. Considerable delay was occasioned by waiting for foragers from the 20th SC who were coming up from the River their advance having got in, and begging that the Pontoons might not be taken up until they crossed their trains.

March 6: At 7AM a tremendous explosion took place in the ravine above named, which totally destroyed severil [sic] houses, Stampeded a train nearby, and killed and wounded a number of soldiers belonging to a command that happened to be passing. On investigation it was ascertained that kegs of powder and shells had been buried by the enemy in the ravine, and trains of powder laid therefore reaching to the Street in several places, and loose powder had been scattered around. Just before the explosion a Regiment halted on the street & the soldiers observed the loose ___ began igniting matches & applying them to the powder for amusement, at last one of the trains caught fire & communicated with the Burned kegs and shells. It was rumored that the number of casualties among the soldiers amounted to eight. Severil [sic] ladies were severely injured by the falling houses. Just at dark the 20” SC entered town & the 15th SC having not entered crossed the river, halted in town and during their stay, a number of unimportant buildings were fired and consumed; although the entire Brigade was kept on duty constantly.

March 5: At 9AM received orders from the Gen'l Commanding, to move the command into the City immediately and relieve the Brigade of the 17” A.G. there provost on duty, accordingly moved into town & relieved the Brigade on duty there, soon after rec'd orders to remain in the city guarding the same until after the entire corps had crossed the PeeDee River, and then to cross over and move as a guard to the Pontoon Train as far as Springfield, NC. Soon after entering the Town, a large fire broke out on Main Street, which threatened in its progress to reach the rebel Hospitals few in number filled with some five hundred patients, to prevent this, Maj. Johnston Commanding the 1st Illinois Vol commenced with his command tearing down and removing such buildings as were necessary between the fire and Hospitals, thereby saving them; although the greater portion of Main Street was burned to the ground. Guards were placed at nearby all the houses in the City, and the streets were kept constantly patrolled. At 2PM Col. Gillett of Genl Howard's staff called for a detail of two commissioned officers & fifty men, and three teams to remove a quantity of gun-powder cartridges and shell from a ravine north-east part of the city where they had been thrown by the enemy on their evacuation. The detail was furnished under the order of Col. Gillett, cleared the ravine of Powder, shell and were dismissed by Col. Gillett.

March 4: Broke Camp at 7AM taking the advance passed through the rebel breast-works, crossed Thompsons Creek, found the road impassable for the Train over the bottom land, halted and had the whole Command engaged in corduroying the road, until near 10AM then moved forward preparing the road from time, to time, until the head of the ____ reached the City of Cheraw, passed through the city, marched two miles to the west thereof and went into camp at 3PM. Distance marched seven miles.

March 3: Moved from camp at 7AM. Flanking the greater part of the train 1st Brig ___ in advance, the 2nd Brig. were left behind as a guard for the Department Train. At 2PM reached Sugar Creek, when the Department Train & 2nd Brig. came up. Marched to within five miles of Cheraw & camped near Thompsons Creek in front of a line of rebel works abandoned by the enemy in the morning. Distance marched eleven miles.

March 2: Broke camp at 8AM foot bridge having been constructed over the creek, a passage was affected without difficulty. Found the road impassable for the train. Corduroyed the same, and a mile & a half out formed in line of Battle in the night and left of the road. In accordance with orders thru up a line of works. Remained here until 4PM when we were ordered forward four miles to New Market Cross=roads. Arrived there at 7PM & went into camp. Distance marched six miles.

March 1: At 2PM the train had crossed and orders were received to move at once. Encountered bad road which required corduroying. Marched eight miles and encamped at 7PM near Duboi's Bridge on Black Creek.

February 28: We yet remained in camp. It commenced raining during the night, and was continued at intervals during the day. The bridge not yet completed.

February 27: Remained in camp. Foragers report the enemy five miles in our front. The creek having fuller so that Pioneer Corps' commenced building a bridge for the crossing of the train.

February 26: Were ordered in line of Battle at daybreak. Moved forward at 7 ½ AM in the center of the Div and Flank of the Train, marched eight miles, reached Lynches Creek & _____ Rains had swollen the Creek so that it over-flowed its banks, and the bottom land adjacent a quarter of a mile in extent on each side, water in many places being waist deep. As soon as the 1st Brig. had crossed, the 3rd Brigade moved forward. The most of the men having taken off their clothes preparatory to wading; and through the water reached their arm pits in places, the ____ crossed without loss, and went into camp a mile beyond in the sight of road in line of battle; ____ up Earth works in front, the enemy living in our immediate vacinity[sic]. The Brigade, train did not affect a crossing until the next day. Tolerably heavy skirmishing ensued after crossing by our advance.

February 25: Left camp at 7 ½ AM taking the Florance [sic] Road and leading in advance of the __ 2nd Div. Coming up and having the advance of the Corps, marched this far, a distance of eight miles. Went into camp at Pinetree Church at 12PM.

February 24: Still raining. Resumed our line of march at 7 ½ AM. Still pursuing the Camden Road. At noon left the Camden Road on our right, passed by Camden went into camp at dusk. Having marched a distance of twenty miles.

February 23: At 9AM moved forward being the rear of the Div. and crossed the Wateree River at 1PM. At 4PM passed through Liberty Hill, a small, but pleasantly situated Village. After sun-down the evening being dark and raining the train moved with difficulty and it was past 9PM when the command went into camp. Distance marched fifteen miles.

February 22: At 10PM moved out in advance of the Div. and in rear of 2 and 3d Div. & Taking the Rockymount Road, moved over rough rocky country, got into camp at 2PM near Wateree River. Distance marched nine miles.

February 21: Resumed the march at 6 1/2"AM in the center of the Div. in the Flank of the Train, pursuing a North Easterly course. Passed over a hilly section of country, thickly settled and well cultivated. At 5PM went into camp on Dutchmans Creek. Distance marched fifteen miles.

February 20: Left camp at 7AM in rear of the Div. Passed over a barren Sandy tract of country almost entirely destitute of water, the troops suffering much for the want therof. At 2PM struck the 3Div. which moved out from Columbia, in the direct Road from Columbia to Camden, and from thence on, took a road out by the Pioneer Corps of our Div. parallel with the Camden Road, and went into camp as early as the remainder of the Corps, notwithstanding our detour and work upon the R.R. Distance marched twenty miles.

February 19: Broke camp at 7Am (sic) and again to march South, down the R.R. marched six miles and tore up and destroyed one mile of R.R. at 3PM resumed the march, moved in a North Easterly direction some two miles and went into camp at 5PM. Distance marched nine miles.

February 18: Moved out at 7AM in the center of the Div. Marched four miles east on the South Carolina R.R. halted stacked arms, and commenced destroying the R.R. tearing up the rails and ties, piling them up and burning them. Destroyed one mile of Road and then moved five miles forward between the 1st and 2nd Brigades, and destroyed another mile of R.R. It being nearly dark, we started back to our last nights camp, But after marching four miles toward Columbia, were ordered into camp by the Genl. Com'd'g.

February 17: In the morning skirmish firing and occasionally Artillery between us and the City near Broad River evidently made by our forces, in their efforts to affect a crossing. At 1PM received orders to move out with plenty of ammunition, and two days rations to last four, and accompanied by no train except one Ambulance to each Regiment. Moved forward immediately thereafter, crossed Broad River on Pontoon Bridge, and moving down two miles passed through the City of Columbia. We went into camp about one mile east of the Same. Distance marched four miles. In the early part of the evening fires broke out in the city and at 12 (Midnight) the entire city seemed to be erupted in flames.

February 16: The air being clear. Spires and some of the larger buildings of the City of Columbia were distinctly visible, at 10AM the 3 Brig. being the advance of the Div. moved forward to the left of the road, across fields to a commanding position in a raise of ground or hill to cover a road running in that direction from the City. Here we were ordered to stack arms and await further orders. During this movement toward the left, a brisk engagement took place between the advance Divisions of our corps and the enemy. At 1PM we were ordered forward. Passed a line of Rebel fortifications not wholly completed, also several vacant camps of the enemy. Again struck the main Road along which we moved along some distance, and there formed in line of battle on right of the 1” Div. in front of the city, on west side, nothing apparently between us and the City, but the Congaree River. On our right, and left, both up & down the River Artillery firing was kept up heavy. At 4PM moved forward up the Road in a westerly direction, and at 7PM crossed the Saluda River, in Pontoons, and at 10PM went into Camp, about midway between the Saluda and Broad Rivers. Distance marched five miles. [I was detailed at Brig. Hdqtrs for “Special duty,” and reported in person at the Same Hqtrs on the morning of the 16th.]

February 15: Broke camp at 8AM being the advance of the Div. and soon came up to the 1st Div. and there halted in ___, and there again moved in at 10AM. Artillery fire was heard in our front and from time to time Musketry. During the afternoon it was reported that the 2nd Div. had a spirited skirmish with the enemy, in our front, in which they drove the enemy back over a creek, and out of a strong line of works on the opposite side pursued them 1 ½ miles beyond. We then moved up & crossed at dark & went into camp in the right hand side of the road, along the line of the enemies earth works. The ground was an open field of bottom land, and had recently been overflowed by a freshet and hence was the worst camping ground it had been unfortunate to occupy in the campaign. In our front across this same open muddy field were the 1st & 2nd Divisions in line of battle, and beyond them in the edge of some timber, was posted the enemy. Distance marched six miles. During the night artillery fire was kept up by the enemy at intervals, and the whistles could be distinctly heard of the enemies trains of cars which were busily engaged, running back & forth in Columbia, SC we were encamped 4 ½ miles from the city.

February 14: Brok [sic] camp at 7AM found the road's comparatively good, the Country thickly settled & wealthy. Reached Sandy Run SC at 9AM moving a few miles further were ordered to form in line of Battle on right hand side of the road and throw up Breastworks. Soon after the order to throw up Breastworks was countermanded and were ordered to make camp for the night. During the afternoon it rained most of the time. Cannonading heard on our night Supposed to be the 17th Corps. Distance marched eight miles.

February 13: Left camp at 8AM in rear of the Div. after crossing the River passed Rebel earth works which were reported to have been occupied by two thousand of the Enemy the day before. passing through a fine country having marched eighteen miles.

February 12: Moved at 6AM taking the advance of the Div. at 10AM heavy skirmish firing in the front at 11AM by order of the Gen'l Commanding formed in line of Battle on the left of the Road. The 1st Div. Came up and formed on the right of the Road, the 1” Div. being on the advance & endeavoring to affect a crossing of the north Edisto River at 3PM. Rec'd orders to go into camp.

February 11: Commenced marching at 7AM passed through a fine siction [sic] of country. Crossed the South Edisto River at 3PM & went into camp at 5PM having marched 15 miles.

February 10: Marched in rear of the Div. taking the Road leading to Lanes Plantation, found the road better than usual, marched eighteen miles.

February 9: Broke camp at 7AM in advance of the Div., throwing one Regiment forward to Cow Pen Branch, to repair the crossing. Reached the Little Salkehatchie at 12M & then went into camp, on the ground formaly[sic] occupied by the Rebel Genl. McLaw, who disputed the passage of the stream & swamp with the 4th Div. of the 17th SC.

February 8: Found the center of the Division & marched on the flank of the Train, corduroyed the Road as usual over swampy ground. Reached Whipple Swamp on River at dark. The rear of the corduroy crossed over at 9PM & encamped Brig. Train came up at midnight. Distance marched ten miles.

January 31-February 7: There are no entries for these dates

January 30: Moved out in advance of the Div. repairing the road reached Springfield, a small town, at 10AM. Said to have been the Headquarters of General Wheeler lately. Remained there until the Div. came up & then moved in the flank of the Train. Road still bad, requiring constant repairing. Camped within three miles of Sisters Ferry, having marched ten miles. Received an informed Notice that the command would remain here to corduroy over a mile or more & before the rear of the train fairly left camp. The command was engaged in repairing the road most of the time during the day. At dark reached the Coosahatchie River crossed & went into camp at Hicory Hill [sic]. Distance marched eight miles.

January 29: Moved out at 6 1/2AM taking the Road leading toward Sisters Ferry Road Swamps & bad mud, made but ten miles & encamping at 4PM.

January 28: Broke camp at 8 AM, began work on same road again on the Same route. At noon left the Rail Road, moving more toward the North. Went into camp at 3PM under orders from the General Commanding the rest of the Division having come up. Distance Marched ten miles.

January 27: In accordance with orders received from Brevt. Maj. Gen'l. Jno. M. Corse the evening of the 26th of Jan'y 1865 at 8AM the 27” inst, we broke camp, moving through Savannah, and took the Road leading to _____, which for the first tin [sic] miles out ran parallel with the Georgia Central Rail Road. Orders were to repair the Road so that it would be suitable for the passage of the Division Train, that was to follow the next day to gather with the other Brigades. Repaired the dirt Road when it was practicable, but for the most of the way making a new Road by clearing the Rail Road of Burned ties and Iron [sic] and making a Road there. Went into camp at dark having marched nine miles.

After the war, Bills went on to serve in the Colorado General Assembly. 

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