"The Price of Our Heritage"

 

In memory of the

Heroic Dead of the

168th Infantry

 

 

HISTORY OF THE OLD THIRD IOWA

 

Formation

 

 

    Back in 1859 was formed at Council Bluffs, Iowa, a military organization for the purpose of affording protection to the settlers of northwestern Iowa and the portions nearest Iowa of those states which bound the great land of corn.  Protection was necessary, for not far to the north were the Sioux Indians, not far to the east and north were the Sac and Foxes, two races of Redmen who were not at all times in those days peacefully inclined.  But mere tribes of Indians were not the only reasons why western Iowa and its contingent territories decided upon a military defense. Men of a paler race, a race which it pleases us most of the time to call white, wandered without the law in those lands. Protection from them also was needed, and so the company at Council Bluffs was formed.

    When our bewhiskered forefathers gathered together in the "Bluffs" sixty years ago, they worked better than they knew. For in the years that have followed, that organization which they formed has done much for the freedom of the world. Its original task of defending the Missouri river frontier has long since become in a military sense, the most minor part of the work. Two years after it had been formed, two years which were crowded with war and rumors of war (it was in those days that the pre-Civil War battles in Kansas and lower Nebraska took place) it became the nucleus of the Iowa Volunteer regiments, which made such a name for themselves in the great war of the Rebellion.

     It is not the purpose of this book to give our readers a complete history of the regiment, which is its subject. It is the purpose to write just a little appreciation of the members who have passed through it, so that those for whom many of them gave their lives and all of them offered theirs, may appreciate that which has been saved for them.
      After the Civil War the Iowa soldiers returned to their homes and gave themselves to civilian pursuits. But in their leisure time, when they might have been playing, they still remember their county. The old organization was kept alive, so that today we can trace the regiment without difficulty to meetings for drill in the days when young men wore whiskers.

      We'll skip a few years -- few in a historical sense, yet a generation in men's lives. In 1888 it was decided that more compactness was needed in the state military force of Iowa, so a merger of the Third Iowa Regiment and the Fifth Iowa Regiment of Infantry was arranged.  The whole became the Third Iowa.

      Ten years was spent in weekly and bi-weekly drilling. Occasionally the men would see a little active service in riot duty; now and then a military encampment was held.
      In 1898 war again descended upon the country.  A call for volunteers was made.  The services of Iowa's guardsmen were ready and, without hesitation, offered.  On April 26, the call into service for the Iowa soldiers came. The state fairgrounds at Des Moines was their assembling point, and it was there on  May 30, they ceased to be state troops and entered into Federal Service as the Fifty-first Iowa Volunteers.
     On June 5, they moved to San Francisco on their way to the Philippines. For a month they laid in the famously unhealthy camp called Merritt near the Golden Gate. Then they moved to the Presidio. It was from here on November 2, 1898 they sailed aboard the troopship Pennsylvania, a former Alaskan freighter. A few days later they stopped at Honolulu for a day or so, and then continued their trip to Manila.

     Actual fighting, as every soldier will testify, is just a minor incident of war. The hardships of an army come in the monotony of waiting, the heavy marches without food, the cold nights without shelter, the rain, and the mud. The Iowa boys in 1898 had experienced many of the hardest trials of soldiering even before leaving the state, but before they stepped on land again, they saw more.

     In Manila, the Pennsylvania laid from December 7 until December 26, with its load of soldiers from the middle western prairies. Each day brought rumors of disembarking, each day saw former rumors proven false. At last, on December 26, the Pennsylvania weighed anchor, and with the Eighteenth Infantry, the Sixth Filed Artillery and several other regular army units, the boys sailed to the harbor of Illio in the Island of Panay. The troopship's convoy was the B. S. S. Baltimore.

     Again a long, tiresome wait. Arriving at Illio on December 31, they laid in the harbor until January 30, 1899, when they again sailed for Manila. February 2, after the longest stay on shipboard ever recorded in the world's history -- a long distance record which even the history of the great war hasn't beaten -- the troops were unloaded in the Island of Luzon, just as the Philippine Insurrection was breaking out.

     We'll skip their campaign in the Philippines, although it deserves much mention. Suffice to say that the soldiers began fighting the minute they set foot on land, and before they departed September 22, 1899, they had fought and won seventeen battles  for the old Flag. Seventeen battles with the long, dreary nights of outpost duty, guarding against treacherous foes, against savages of the night. We ship it, but we shouldn't.

     We're going home! Nobody but a man who has soldiered in a strange land knows or appreciates the music of those words. We're going home! That was the cry of the Third Iowa Infantry, camouflaged as the Fifty-first Volunteers, September 22, 1899. And another historic sea-trip was begun.

      On the way back the troopers visited Japan. First they put into Nagasaki, then they passed through the Inland Seas to Yokohama, where they laid for a short time, during which many had an opportunity of visiting Tokio. For a time it promised to be more than the last stage of the trip to 'Frisco. For a times it promised to be the last journey on this earth.

      A short ways out of Yokohama, going east, the troopship ran into the tail end of a typhoon, --one of those whipping, vicious storms for which the far eastern seas are notorious. For several days the ship was torn by the elements, whipped back and forth on the water like a ship of cork. But she weathered the gale, and emerged victorious, though terrifically battered.

      News of the sailing from Japan reached the Iowa homes long before the boys. With it came the news of the terrific storm into which their ship had sailed. No word of the transport, however, sifted out of the western mist. The ship became due, then overdue, then lost. Iowa waited patiently, hoping that the boys would come through.

     At last a day of prayers was set aside in the commonwealth -- a day to be devoted by the folks at home for supplication to the Almighty for the safe return of their warriors.  A Sunday afternoon, October 22, was the day chosen. And, as Iowa was praying, into the Golden Gate two thousand five hundred miles away, rode the ship with the men for whose safety she prayed.

     On November 2, 1899, Iowa once more had the opportunity to welcome her boys of the Old Third Iowa back into civil life after they had helped win for their flag.

     Now again, we'll let the time slide by. The Fifty-first Iowa Volunteers became once more the Third Regiment of Infantry.  The men who had fought in the ranks in the Philippines passed up the ladder into commissioned officers. Ernest R. Bennett of Des Moines, a first Lieutenant in the Antipodes, became, eventually, commanding officer of the regiment. Lieut. Mather A. Tinley of the famous old Company L of Council Bluffs, became major, then lieutenant colonel. Guy S. Brewer of Des Moines, a corporal in 1898 climbed the ladder to major while a brother corporal, Edward O. Fleur of Des Moines went, by stages, to captain. Dan Newquist, from mechanic went to lieutenant.
     From 1909 until 1916 were years of peace in Iowa.  The Third Iowa, as of old, however, gave its playtime to drill.  Each summer there was a month of encampments, practicing the business of war. Weekly the men gathered in their home armories to give a night for their country in preparing for her defense.

     In 1916, two years after the great war had broken loose in Europe, the same sort of clouds which had obscured the European continent from all that is good, started gathering to the south of the United States. War with Mexico was at hand acts of war had already been committed.

    In June came the call for soldiers. Americans knew where to go for men in a crisis -- she had had experience before, and the National Guardsmen were summoned.

    Iowa's civilian soldiers gathered at Camp Dodge, their encampment station northeast of Des Moines, late in June A month was spent in equipping, preliminary drilling, policing, patrolling began.  Nine months they served, giving protection to Uncle Sam's southern boundaries.

    Ask the men of the Third Iowa of their service on the border, and they will tell you of Maneuvers, "northers," sand, dirt, lizards and the rest. But ask the higher officers and they will tell you of record hikes, of exemplary camp sanitation, of the best work to be expected of soldiers.

     There were rumors and hard work, there was the great storm of August 15. There was much to make the life hard, yet more or less interesting, before those pleasant words "We're going home" once more sounded throughout the Iowa camp.  Early in 1917 those words became true; and the regiment returned again to its home state. Mustering out came February 20, but the country was drifting closer towards the maelstrom of the greatest war the world every knew, then raging in France.                                          

 

 

~ reference: "THE PRICE OF OUR HERITAGE", W. E. Robb,  1919 American Lithography and Printing Company, Des Moines, Iowa

~ Transcribed and contributed by Cay Merryman for Iowa in the Great War Special Project