I am not from Iowa, am not a descendant of anyone who
served in the regiment, and have no interest
in anything but accuracy. Twenty years ago I was given
numerous original documents regarding
the regiment, that piqued my interest and, since then, I've
visited every place it visited, spent
thousands of dollars purchasing military and pension records
from NARA for hundreds of its
members, visited sites in Iowa, amassed a library of more than
400 books almost exclusively relating
(albeit sometimes remotely) to actions of this regiment,
reviewed many rolls of microfilm, purchased
numerous Iowa newspapers from the era, purchased additional
records from the State Historical
Society, conducted many hours of on-line research, obtained 135
original letters and copies of many
other letters and documents, purchased photographs, made a
presentation to the Des Moines Civil
War Roundtable, secured copies of five diaries, etc.
The erroneous information relates to the regiment's
participation in the three-minute assault at the
Big Black River during General Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. The
"The regiment was again engaged at Black River Bridge, May
17th. Here Col.
Merrill was suddenly taken very sick; the boys yelled for Van
Anda, who dashed to
the front, assumed command, and led the gallant but bloody
charge, the success of
which was due to his cool and daring courage. The regiment
suffered severely in this
terrible charge, losing eighty-three men in three minutes, but
captured a large
number of the enemy. After the charge, Col. Merrill was
slightly wounded by a stray
shot from the prisoners the boys had taken, while coming up in
the rear." The
History of Delaware County. Iowa (Western Historical Company,
Although not stated in the article, there's an implication
that Colonel Merrill "suddenly" became sick
to avoid participating in the assault (something for which
another officer was discharged), that
Lieutenant Colonel Van Anda led the assault, that Colonel
Merrill came up "in the rear" after the
assault that he was wounded by a prisoner, and that the wound
was slight. There is nothing in the
mass of materials I've reviewed that even hints at such things,
nothing except the single account in
the 1878 History that was repeated in 1914, and there is a
considerable amount of documentation to
In fact, there is no indication Merrill was taken sick, he is
one who suggested an initial movement,
he is the one who gave the order to charge, and he led the
charge of his regiment. He was not sick
and there is nothing in his military or pension records or
anywhere else that even hints at such a
thing. He gave the order. He led the regiment up and out of a
ravine in which they had been
concealed. During the charge he was shot with the ball
striking high on his right thigh and passing
through both thighs (accounts that say he was shot in the hips
were wrong). The wounds were
extremely serious, he fell on the field, and some even
reported he had been killed (that erroneous
report was repeated most recently in Steve Meyer's book, "Iowa
Valor ", in which he has a photo of
Merrill with the caption that he "was killed in action in the
Engagement at Big Black River Bridge").
When Merrill fell, the charge continued with Van Anda then the
commanding officer, although there
wasn't much commanding to do since the entire assault lasted
only three minutes, was already in
progress, and the men, exposed to fire the entire time, were
understandably running as fast as they
could from start to finish with no time to re-load after their
initial volley - into the bayou, through barbed wire, over trees and other obstructions, and into
the enemy trenches. Merrill did not come
up "in the rear." He couldn't walk. He was carried from the
field and laid next to his Adjutant,
Henry Howard, who was mortally wounded during an earlier
movement. He wasn't shot by a
prisoner. He wasn't "slightly" wounded. He was sent north to
recuperate and was not well enough
to rejoin the regiment until almost nine months later, on
February 11, 1864 in Texas. Even then his
wounds prevented him from riding a horse and he resigned four
Since there is absolutely no doubt about what happened, one
might question how the article could
be so wrong.
Merrill had a very successful career,
serving two terms as Governor of Iowa, and then moving to
California where he was a co-founder
of several small cities near Los Angeles. His 1899 funeral was
attended by governors and exgovernors of half a dozen states as well as numerous other
to make the corrections concerning the Colonel Merrell and the
Big Black River Engagement.
A report by Brigadier General Michael Lawler (commanding
the brigade at the Big Black) in the government's "Official Records" says Merrill "was wounded
early in the charge: while gallantly
leading his regiment against the enemy."
|02. "Col. S.
Merrill was wounded seriously at the battle of Black River bridge while leading his men
gallantly to victory." Clayton County Journal (June 4, 1863).
|03. "Our Colonel,
Merrill, of the Twenty-first Iowa . ..
suggested to General Lawler that he move
his command to the right, along the belt of timber skirting the
river, and from that position
charge the enemy's works . ... Quietly along the line was
passed the order, 'Fix bayonets!' and
as quietly it was obeyed . .. Colonel Merrill saw at once that
a movement in this order would
be impossible, and shouted his words ringing out clear above
the din of battle, 'By the left flank,
charge!' .... Merrill is shot through both hips . ... I was
one of four who carried of four
beloved Colonel. We laid him beside that noble Christian
soldier, Adjutant Howard, who was
mortally wounded, fearing that his fate would be the same. "
Col F .M. Thompson, The Charge
at Black River Bridge. Midland War Sketches, Volume VI (July
1896), pages 172-173.
Merrill "was severely wounded through the hip. He was
laid up from the 17th of May
to January, when he again joined his regiment in , and in
June, 1864, on account of suffering from his wound, resigned and return to McGregor. "
History of Monona County. Iowa
Publishing Company, Chicago, 1890), page 136.
|05. "[TJhat while the impetuous charge of Black River Bridge was
being made, Colonel Merrill was
severely, and reportedly fatally, wounded . ... While Colonel
Merrill was leading his regiment
in this deadly charge, he received an almost fatal wound
through the hips. This closed his
military career. It was long before he was able to walk, even
with the help of crutches; and even
yet, on damp days, the old wound gives him twinges of pain."
The Western Monthly (Reed,
Browne & Co., Publishers, 1869), Volume II, Page 73.
|06. "Colonel Merrill, gallantly leading his regiment, fell
with a bullet through both thighs, which
well-nigh proved fatal." George Crooke, The Twenty-First
Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry.
A Narrative (King, Fowle & Co., Book Printers, 1891), page 70.
|07. Brigade commander Mike Lawler's official report said, "the
command 'Forward' was given by
Colonel Kinsman . ... The Twenty-first Iowa led by Colonel
Merrill moved at the same instant
.... Colonel Merrill, the brave commander of the Twenty-first
Iowa, fell wounded early in the
charge . ..." Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers, Volume III,
Historical Sketch, Twenty-Third
Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry (1910, page 678-688).
|08. "Let it suffice here to say that Colonel Merrill was
there well nigh mortally wounded" Lurton
Dunham Ingersoll, Iowa and the Rebellion (J. B. Lippincott &
Co., 3rd ed. 1867), page 468.
|09. "Lawler signaled Merrill and Kinsman to start the action .
... Kinsman and Merrill went down
almost immediately . ... Among the wounded still lying where
they had fallen were . .. Colonel
Merrill." Dick Barton, Charge at Big Black River. America's
Civil War (09/1999).
The article is also wrong regarding the number of
casualties. It did not lose 83. There are a
documented 7 killed and 18 fatally wounded; another 38
suffered non-fatal wounds, some very
slight and their service was not impaired. It's possible there
were other casualties that don't appear
in the record, but I'd have to order military records for the
balance of the regiment to know.