Questionnaire William M. Moss 1915
Interview of William Mortimer Moss of the Williamson Grays
By his son William P. Moss in 1915
These are notes made by me after hearing my father’s Civil War tales. I made many such notes, more than those attached hereto. Others were lost or misplaced. I had made the notes during my High School Days or in the fall of 1915. I graduated from High School in the fall of 1915, but did not go to Vanderbilt until January 1916.
I found these some years late, when after Lee and I moved, I moved my belongings from the old home of 484 Rogue Street.
“Pap, if you had kept a diary every day during the war, wouldn’t you be glad to read it now?” I asked.
WMM: “Well, I should say so and I’ve often wondered why in the hell I didn’t do that, I wish I had kept one and marked down in it all about the battles, the different sights we saw, how far we marched each day, where we camped, and every little thing like that, and it wouldn’t have taken much time either.”
“But I tell you, whenever we got a chance, we were damn glad to get to lay right down and go to sleep. Didn’t have anytime to write anything. By George, we’d halt, pitch camp, and we’d be too damn tired to cook anything. We’d just flop right down and go to sleep. In about an hour, ‘Get up Boys’ all down the line, and up we’d have to get up and start marching again-without a bite to eat, too, mind you.”
“I tell you, people now don’t know what hardship is. Lordy, if a cannon or anything bobbed up in the road-‘Halt’ and you ought to have seen ‘em fall down in the mud or anywhere else and go to sleep. It’s a wonder we didn’t all die. And we had the terriblest looking bunch you ever saw. And they’d fight anything too. By George, they’d just wader right into bayonets or anything else. But we wasn’t that way at first. But after a while we got used to all kind of hardships and we wasn’t afraid of anything. But I tell you there were mighty few of those bayonet fights. Why Hell, I don’t remember ever seeing them actually lock bayonets, unless it was at Chickamauga. They said they did there on Snodgrass Hill , but I saw a lot of the wounded, and I never saw any bayonet wounds. But it’s a fact that they beat each other over the head with their muskets there on Snodgrass Hill.”
Pap’s account of his capture:
[William is referring to the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain the next paragraph. After the Federal attack was repulsed on June 27, 1864, the Federals dug in on the side of the hill the 1st TN occupied. They began digging a tunnel to blow up the Confederate works. On July 3, 1864 the Kennesaw Line was abandoned, not because of the tunnel but because Sherman had gotten around Johnston’s Flank.]
“On the third day of July, we could hear them digging under us, planting mines. We knew they wanted to do something great on the fourth of July, and were going to blow us up. I could put my ear to the ground hear them digging under there; and thinks I, when in the Hell are we going to leave here? But do you know, it was eleven o’clock on the night of the third before we were ordered to leave.”
“We marched down to Ruff’s Station, and there they put me and some more fellows as vidette pickets on the Smyrna Line. (So called because the Smyrna Church was there.) Vidette pickets were usually relieved about every four hours, but by God, we stayed out there all night, and they never did relieve us. At daybreak, we could see the Federals in front of us. Vidette pickets are supposed to fire when they see the enemy and then give the alarm to the rest of the army and then retreat. But, do you know, when we got back to camp every one of them were gone. We retreated to the river and there were about 75 men gathered there in the same fix as I was. They all said they would just have to take the oath and surrender. But I says ‘No Sir,’ Be damned if I surrender or take any oath of allegiance. There another fellow said the same thing. So he and I left the others. Now there were some Black Jack bushes, about 5 ft high, on the river bank. So we made for them and stayed in them all day. Federals passed us all day long. When night came, we got up from there and started out. I says, ‘My home is in Tennessee, if I can’t get back to our lines, By God, I’m going back to Tennessee.’ We walked all night through the Federals. But we never got near any light. Some of them hollowed at us but we just went right on like we were Federals going to guard duty. By morning we had gotten clear away from them and we thought sure as Hell we were free.”
“When it was good light we came to a high bluff over a little creek. We looked down in the valley, there was Hood’s whole damn division. They [the Yankees] saw us about the same time we saw them and hollowed at us. ‘Well,’ says I, ‘It’s all up now.’ ‘Yes’ he says ‘We’ll have to surrender now.’ We told them we couldn’t get down there, so we had to go down the bluff and had to go behind some tall bushes. There was a cabin near and some children had been playing and digging in the sand and under a big rock. ‘Let’s don’t let them have these guns,’ says I, ‘Let’s bury them.’ ‘Hell we might as well give them everything we got now,’ he says. ‘No, I’ll be damned if they get this gun,’ says I. So we dug up a little sand and buried our guns there. When we got down to the creek they were waiting for us. There was a mighty nice old man, Old Captain-of the 76th Illinois, says ‘Well all you have to do is take the oath and you can go back home.’ ‘No sir, I’ll never take any oath,’ says I.”
“We were a sorry, dirty looking pair. I had on a pair of cotton pants, an old shirt, a pair of old shoes, no socks, and an old coon skin cap with a tail behind. The other fellow was dressed about like me. The Federals had all gathered around, and were looking at us like a show. ‘Well you all look pretty dirty, wouldn’t you like to have some socks?’ ‘Yes’ He ordered one of the men to bring us a pair of socks. ‘Bring 2 or 3,’ one of the men shouted.”
“Of course a laugh followed this. So we washed ourselves there in that clear branch, and washed out our clothes. We had nothing else to put on so we hung them to dry in the sun around till they were about half dry, then put them on. Then they took us up to General Gary’s tent. He says ‘Here’s a couple of prisoners eh!’ ‘Rebels?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well by God, you’ve got enough fighting haven’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ we said. ‘Well, don’t you want to take the oath and go home?’ ‘No Sir.’ ‘Well, By God, you can go to prison and rot then. You’ll never do anymore fighting.’ He took us out there (Him a General mind you) to the top of a high hill. We could see the Confederates and Federals down there about two miles off, fighting like hell. ‘Do you see that?’ he says. ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, By God, that’s the last fighting that you’ll ever see. You can go to prison and rot. You’ll never get out of there until the war’s over.’ General Gary was the Postmaster General and the very man that appointed me postmaster, but of course he never thought of this incident. Whenever I was in Washington I never thought to go see him, having so darn much business. I know he would have been tickled to death if I had told him about that morning.”
[William was appointed Postmaster of Madison County in the 1890’s and his appointment was approved by General Gary who was the Postmaster General of the U.S. at the time.]
“But anyway they put me in a box car and carried me to Nashville. They were picking up prisoners all along the way and by the time we got to Nashville there 992 of us. And, do you know, every damn one of them took the oath of allegiance to the United States but me. They took me by myself out to the penitentiary at Nashville. Here I was only 22 miles from home and wanted to write home. I knew my father could come in and bring me things, but I had no way to write. One day a guard on the parapet heard me telling a fellow that I wished I had some stationary, and he said he’d get me some. And the guard brought me paper, envelope, and stamps, and I wrote home.”
“At the penitentiary I thought I saw a man I knew, and I asked who he was. He told me that he was Bob Irving, I had gone to school with under Crocker, and I remembered him as a boy always getting into a fight. He was mighty glad to see me. He told me that he Yankees there knew. He was a Yankee prisoner, but there for hitting the Captain in the head.”
“From there they took me to Camp Chase. Before they put me in prison they gave me my last chance to take the oath and go home. I refused, and wished many a damn time that I’d taken that oath and gone home. And I ought to have done it too because I had to take it when I got out of there anyway. And if I had I would never have had to endure all that starvation and suffering, and pneumonia. But I was too damn stubborn.”
Pap says he stayed in Camp Chase from August 12, 1864 to June 9, 1865; that he was pardoned by Abraham Lincoln shortly before the latter’s assassination. He was in a bad health and wrote a letter to the President explaining that he was nearly dead and would never be able to fight anymore, and wished to go home to die. The President wrote his pardon a day or two before his death (The President’s), but on account of the turmoil following his assassination, the pardon did not reach the camp until June (the letter had been written in March to the President.) When the General of the camp turned him loose he told him that he was indebted to the martyred President for his freedom.
When some of the boys (some fools as Pap says) in camp got the news that the President had been killed they began shouting and rejoicing. General Richardson came in and told them that it was all the Federals could do to keep the mob from breaking in the camp and massacring them all.
Pap says that they suffered many privations in camp, often going for several days without anything to eat at all. The prisoners were glad to do any kind of work for the Federals for a little extra rations, sometimes a hand full of parched corn, sometimes an ear or two of corn that they might parch. He says that he would have died in camp had it not been for two of his friends. These men worked for extra rations and divided with him.
Pap-“Lord, they are sure whipping the hell out of the British at the Dardanelles, Here I see (in the Sun) where since the beginning of the war the British have lost 96,000 men at the Dardanelles. That’s more men than we ever had on one side in a battle during the war. Well, let me see there at Chickamauga, we had about 75,000 men while the Federals had 85,000 and I remember Hill’s and Longstreet’s Corps were dressed in blue Federal uniforms.”
“What’s that for,” I ask, “Why Hell, so they could get away easier if they got captured.” When we lined up before the battle we saw the backs of Longstreet’s men all lined up in front of us and thinks I, what in the Hell is that, Yankees? But we pretty soon found out who.”
Company D Documents