For 19 months, Reuben Williams, publisher and owner of The Northern Indianian and the Warsaw Daily Times, wrote a series of articles about his Civil War experiences. Williams served from 1861 until the war’s end in 1965. The weekly articles were published from Jan. 3, 1903, until July 21, 1904.
Local historian Sally Coplen Hogan has transcribed and edited Williams’ memories of the Great Struggle and the work has been published as “General Reub Williams’ Memories of Civil War Times, Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place from 1861 to the Grand Review.”
“I’ve made it more readable,” Hogan said of the original series, which is preserved on hard-to-read microfilm.
“One of Williams’ sentences might run this long in a column this long,” she said, indicating a length of about 15 inches. “He would diverge [from the topic] to have whole sections on the Revolutionary War or an invention.”
Hogan said the series was published in three volumes of books, but she couldn’t find any copies.
Williams served as an officer of the 12th Indiana Regiment. He was captured three times by Confederates, always pardoned after signing a document indicating he would never take up arms against the confederacy again.
He didn’t mean it. Williams always came back to Indiana, recruited more men and headed back to the front lines.
Incredibly, he returned home after four years of service without a scratch.
“He had many close encounters with death,” Hogan said. “He knows he was very fortunate. One time, while visiting a minister, he and another officer heard gunshots. They went outside on the porch and the minister’s little daughter came out and stood between them. She got a bullet in the forehead.”
In another battle, the 12th was stationed in a forest while the “Rebs” fired artillery from a hill. Williams and another officer watched the action from horseback. One shell blasted off a big limb that fell on the man beside Williams, killing him and his horse.
Williams had a horse shot from beneath him. Another time, the reins he held were severed by a musket ball.
En route to Savannah following a leave of absence, Williams’ berth on a steamer was switched from the Mellville to the Ajax. The Mellville went down along with more than 600 troops in a “fearful” storm off Cape Hatteras.
“The story is so wonderful. It’s so graphic. He tells of men burned down to the bone and described the conditions of the field hospitals,” Hogan said.
“His accounts created a big controversy about the burning of Columbia, South Carolina. Williams has a different view.”
“History” reports that federal troops started the fire. Williams insists the city was in flames when they arrived with the 12th Indiana, forming a fire brigade.
“He writes that the fire was going at docks with burning material floating on the wind. Again and again he says, ‘This is only what I saw.’”
He was connected with the important operations and engagements of armies in the Southwest, including the siege of Vicksburg; Jackson, Miss.; Kennesaw Mountain; Mission Ridge Atlanta; Jonesborough; Brentonville; and scores of skirmishes.
Williams’ stories aren’t all about the doom and gloom of war. He was unfailingly courteous to civilians he encountered along the way, offering them supplies and a beverage that was most appreciated – coffee.
“He relates a lot of funny things. He didn’t want the story to be a show of himself,” Hogan said.
“Williams said it was all written from memory, but he wrote letters to the newspaper. He had retold events and went to many reunions.
“He was shy. On one trip home he went to Washington, D.C., to thank a congressman for sending him a $50 gold piece. When he got there, he was asked to speak before a Congressional committee. He snuck out a side door instead.”
Hogan received permission from Reub’s grandson, the late Mike Williams, to publish the memoirs.
“It’s sad to me that Mike passed away before it was finished,” she said.
She admires the way Reub Williams managed sentences, saying he was a terrific speller, a stickler for the newspaper being accurate.
“By the age of 8 he was expected to read aloud to the family. That was their entertainment,” she said.
More than memories were brought back to Indiana with the troops. They brought back baseball; they brought back a taste for alcohol. The war broadened everyone’s view of the world.
Williams was a brevit general, an honorary rank bestowed upon him because of his service.
He began the war as a lieutenant colonel and ended it as a captain.
“What’s amazing is that all the way through the story is so readable. There are so many ‘Oh my gosh’ moments, so many serious moments,” Hogan said.
“One of Williams’ biggest regrets is not being along on Gen. Sherman’s March to the Sea. Sherman and Gen. Logan were his heroes. Williams was well-liked by the troops. Confederate prisoners wanted to sign up under him.”
The Williams book isn’t the first penned by Hogan. Her “Sesquicentennial Moments,” originally published in the Times-Union as weekly columns, has been printed in book form. Other articles have been published in various magazines and “Ideals” books and she is working on two fiction pieces.
Copies of “General Reub Williams’s Memories of Civil War Times” are available at the Kosciusko County Historical Society, Bishop Books and Readers World in Warsaw.