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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter IX







Pictures included in this chapter are “A Typical Iowa Soldier,” Battle of Wilson’s Creek,” “Forts Henry and Donelson,” “Generals S. A. Rice, E. W. Rice, J. M. Tuttle, Colonel N. W. Mills,” and “General James B. Weaver.”


First Iowa Infantry


            For two weeks the First Iowa Infantry remained in camp at Keokuk, drilling and preparing for war.(1)  On the 13th of June, 1861, on order of General Lyon, the men embarked on the steamer for Hannibal, Missouri, and many of them looked for the last time on the Iowa shores. They were transported by rail to General Lyon’s army at Booneville, where the day before that gallant and energetic officer had defeated and dispersed Governor Jackson’s Rebel army in the first battle fought in Missouri. Here the regiment remained in camp until the 3d of July, an during this time Hiram Price, Paymaster-General from Iowa, made the first payment for services. General Lyon, who now had an army of a little more than 3,000 infantry and one battery of artillery, determined to pursue Governor Jackson’s Rebel army of nearly 7,000 which was retreating toward the southwest. On the morning of July 3d, the pursuit began. The Fourth was intensely hot and as the soldiers marched along the dusty roads, shut in by woods in places, many were overcome with heat and  compelled to fall out of the ranks. They had not as yet become inured to long marches beneath the broiling sun. At Grand River Lyon’s army was reinforced by General Sturgis, with tow Kansas regiments, a detachment of regulars and a battery of artillery, 2,800 in all. The army was now marching twenty-five miles a day and becoming more accustomed to soldier’s life. The members of the First Iowa who died on this march, were the first of the many thousands of Iowa soldiers who perished in the war for the Union. On the 1st of August General Lyon overtook a force of the enemy under General McCulloch, at Dug Springs, and after a sharp fight defeated it. On the Union side the battle was fought by cavalry and artillery, the First Iowa Infantry acting as skirmishers on the right wing.


Battle of Wilson’s Creek


            General Lyon, who was now confronted by a superior army, Price having reinforced Jackson and McCulloch, sent urgent requests for more troops. But they were not furnished and, unwilling to remain idle while the Rebel armies were concentrating about him, he determined to attack rather than retreat. He formed his plan of battle, and on the evening of August 9th, the little army moved out of Springfield with 5,500 men to assail the combined Rebel armies, more than 20,000 strong. It was a desperate venture, but with no prospect of re-enforcements, General Lyon was not the man to remain inactive until overwhelmed by the enemy surrounding him. Colonel Sigel was ordered to march by the Fayetteville road and open on the enemy surrounding him. Colonel Sigel was ordered to march by the Fayetteville road and open on the enemy in the rear with artillery, while General Lyon, with the main body, was to attack in front. The First Iowa, under Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt, was with General Lyon. After a march of several hours in darkness and silence, the Union army, at 2 a.m., came within a short distance of the enemy and halted to take a few hours’ rest. With the first dim light of the early morning the battle opened. Totten’s Battery, supported by the Iowa regiment, from a hill, opened fire on the Rebels. To the left was Dubois’ Battery, and to the right of Totten’s were the First Missouri and Second Kansas regiments. The engagement soon became general and strong lines of the Rebels charged on Lyon’s little army. These were driven back in confusion by the steady fire of the Union troops. Plummer’s battalion of regulars, numbering but two hundred and fifty men, for more than an hour successfully resisted the attack of two Rebel regiments, until their commander fell severely wounded, when they slowly fell back, fighting as they went. Sigel had made a gallant attack upon the Rebel rear and his men fought bravely until they were overwhelmed by greatly superior numbers and driven from the field with heavy loss. An now, for six hours the battle raged all along the lines. Charge after charge by fresh regiments was made upon the Union lines and repulsed. General Lyon had been twice wounded and his horse killed, but cool and undaunted, he issued his orders and cheered on his men to new deeds of valor. No soldiers ever fought more bravely than the First Iowa all through this battle. Greeley’s “American Conflict” says:


            “The First Missouri, the First Iowa and the First and Second Kansas Regiments, with Steele’s Regulars, won immortal honor by the persistent and heroic gallantry with which for hours they maintained their ground against immense odds.”


            Three companies of the Iowa regiment, H, I and K, were placed in ambush by General Granger of the regulars. Lying down close to the brow of a hill, they waited for another charge of the enemy. Soon it came in overwhelming numbers. Not a sound was heard among the Iowans until the Rebels were within thirty-five or forty feet, when they poured the contents of their muskets into the enemy, routing him, though suffering heavy loss themselves.

            General Lyon now ordered a bayonet charge by the First Iowa and Second Kansas regiments and led it himself. “Come on, brave men,” he exclaimed, and they again charged the enemy, as the gallant Lyon fell mortally wounded.

            The command now devolved upon Major Sturgis. For half an hour the combat ceased, while each army was preparing for a renewal of the struggle. The remnant of the small Union force still firmly held its ground. Companies form the First Missouri, first Iowa and First Kansas regiments were brought up to the support of Dubois’ Battery, which was assailed by the enemy; falling upon his flank, they poured in a murderous fire, killing or wounding almost the entire Rebel force. This was the last charge made on the Union lines, and the Rebels withdrew to a safe distance, badly shattered and demoralized. The Union army retired to Springfield in good order, its total loss in killed, wounded and missing being 1,235 men. The Rebel loss was probably about the same. The death of General Lyon was a loss to the union cause that can scarcely be overestimated. In his brief career he had developed the rare qualities of great energy, fine military ability, promptness in execution and dauntless courage. At the time of his death, we had few officers in the service so valuable. Nowhere in the long war which followed can be found, in the great list of battles, one in which so small a Union army made so heroic and successful a fight against such superior numbers. The First Iowa lost in killed, wounded and missing, at Wilson’s Creek, one hundred and fifty-five men, and no Iowa regiment during the entire war won greater fame on a battle-field. Three months before all of its members were civilians, and in ninety days they had become soldiers whose achievements were not excelled by veterans of any war. Soon after the battle the army returned to Rolla, and the First Iowa, whose term of service had expired four days after the battle, was sent to St. Louis, where the men were paid and mustered out. They had marched more than six hundred miles during their short term of service, showing endurance and valor unsurpassed. When they returned to Iowa, they were welcomed and honored everywhere. In the short period of three months they had proved, by long marches and heroic courage on the field of battle, that Iowa citizen-soldiers were superior to the boastful, slave-driving “border ruffians” of Missouri and Arkansas. They had won glory and renown by brave deeds which should be an inspiration to Iowa soldiers for all time. This pioneer regiment furnished many gallant officers to other regiments as the war progressed.

            Of Company A, Captain Marko Cummins became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Sixth Regiment; Lieutenant Benjamin Beach, a Captain in the Eleventh; Sergeant H. J. Campbell, Major of the Eighteenth, and Private R. B. Baird, Quarter-Master of the Thirty-fifth. From Company B, Lieutenant Harvey Graham became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Twenty-second; and Sergeants C. N. Lee and J. L. Gurkee, captains in the same regiment. Of Company C, Lieutenant W. Pursell became Major of the Sixteenth; Sergeant W. Grant, Captain in the Eleventh, and Corporal A. N. Snyder, Captain in the Thirty-fifth. Of Company D, Captain C. L. Matthies became Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel of the Fifth, and later a Brigadier-General. Of Company E, Lieutenant J. C. Abercrombie became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Eleventh; Private W. J. Campbell, Captain in the Fourteenth; Private C. A. Cameron, Captain in the Thirty-ninth; and Private A. Roberts, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Thirtieth. Of Company F, Captain S. M. Wise became Major of the Seventeenth; Lieutenant G. A. Stone, Colonel of the Twenty-fifth; and T. J. Zollars, Captain in the Fourth Cavalry. Of Company G, Captain A. Wentz became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Seventh. Of Company H, Sergeant Charles Schaeffer became Major of the Fifth Cavalry, and a staff officer of General Curtis. Of Company I, Captain F. J. Herron, became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Ninth, and was afterward promoted to Brigadier-General in the Twenty-first; Private D. B. Green, a Captain in the Third Missouri; Private N. E. Duncan, Adjutant of the Twelfth, and Private C. A. Reed, Assistant Surgeon of the Ninth. Of Company K, Sergeant J. H. Stibbs became a Captain and then Lieutenant-Colonel of the Twelfth; Sergeant Edward Coulter, a Captain in the Twentieth, and Private G. C. Burmeister, Captain in the Thirty-fifth. From its privates and officers, the First Iowa furnished, as the war progressed, officers of every grade from Second Lieutenant to Major-General.


Second Iowa Infantry


            This regiment was the first from our State to enlist for three years’ service and the first that left the State for the theater of war. Its members volunteered during the first outburst of patriotic enthusiasm that followed the firing on Fort Sumter. It was made up of ten companies, one each from the counties of Lee, Polk, Jefferson, Van Buren, Davis, Washington, Clinton, Wapello and two from Scott.

            The first field officers were Samuel R. Curtis, colonel; James M. Tuttle, lieutenant-colonel; M. M. Crocker, major. Lieutenant N. P. Chipman, was appointed adjutant. The regiment was fortunate in its officers. Curtis was a graduate of West Point Military Academy, and had served as Adjutant-General of Ohio and as colonel in the War with Mexico. Crocker had also received a military education at West Point. Whereas most of the regiments were first necessarily officered by men from civil pursuits, the Second Iowa had the great advantage of being under the command of a veteran officer, who had won high honors in the military service. The regiment was mustered into the United states service on the 27th and 28th of May, and thorough drill was at once instituted. On the 13th of June, the regiment left camp at Keokuk, going by steamer to Hannibal, and from there was sent to Saint Joseph, where it helped to protect western Missouri from the Rebel element. Late in the summer it was sent south to Easton, Missouri, and in October, to St. Louis. It suffered greatly from sickness, since of nine hundred and eighty-nine men mustered in, but four hundred were now present, fit for duty.  Curtis had been promoted to Brigadier-General, and, on the 6th of September, Tuttle was promoted to colonel, and James Baker to lieutenant-colonel. Crocker was appointed Colonel of the Thirteenth Regiment, on the 30th of October. While guarding a museum in St. Louis, the Second Regiment was held responsible for the disappearance of some of the property, and upon order of General Halleck, was publicly disgraced.

            The year 1861 closed with a general feeling of disappointment and gloom on the part of the loyal people of the country. The defeats at Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff had seemed to paralyze the commanders of the great army gathered about the National Capital. McClellan, from whom much was expected, having an army of nearly 200,000, was cooped up in Washington, with Rebel batteries commanding the Potomac, and not a movement made against them. The army had gone into winter quarters, with Washington virtually besieged by the Army of Virginia.


Battle of Fort Donelson


            General Grant, who was in command at Cairo, could however, fight battles in the winter. Early in February he moved his army of 15,000 to the Tennessee River, and in conjunction with Commander Foote with a fleet of gunboats ascended the river and captured Fort Henry, thus opening the way for the Union army into the heart of Tennessee. Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, was garrisoned with a Rebel army of 15,000, and was defended by water batteries and heavy guns. Grant marched against it promptly and Commodore Foote cooperated with the fleet of gunboats. The river attack by Commodore Foote on the 14th, failed. The next day General Pillow made a desperate attack upon General Grant’s lines, force McClernand back some distance and captured a battery. Grant reinforced the weakened points, and, at 3 p.m., ordered a general advance, Wallace leading the attack on the left and General C. F. Smith on the right. Both were successful and several of the outworks were taken and held. As night came on the weather became intensely cold, and our men held the lines without tents of fires, amid sleet, snow and piercing wind. Hundreds were frost-bitten and some of the wounded were frozen to death. General Grant had been re-enforced until his army now numbered about 30,000, and it became evident to General Floyd, commander of the Rebel army, that there was no hope of victory or retreat. Two steamers reached the fort during the night, when Floyd and Pillow, leaving General Buckner in command, loaded the steamers with soldiers, and escaped up the river. The next morning General Buckner surrendered the effort, seventeen heavy siege guns, forty pieces of field artillery, about 15,000 soldiers, and all of the stores and property. General Grant’s losses amount to about 2,000 killed, wounded and missing. This victory, by far the greatest Union victory up to this time, was hailed with rejoicing everywhere. It was the first surrender of a large Rebel army, the first battle that seriously weakened the Rebellion. Iowa had three regiments in this battle—the Second, Seventh and Fourteenth. The Iowa regiments, one of western sharp-shooters, the Twenty-fifth and Fifty-second Indiana, made up the brigade commanded by Colonel J. G. Lauman, of the Seventh Iowa. This was the one selected by General Smith to lead the assault on the left, on the 15th. Colonel Tuttle, with the Second, led the advance.


            “The Rebel works were five hundred yards in advance; the line of march was up a hill obstructed by abattis. The advance was sounded at 2 p.m. Silent as the grave and inexorable as death the Second Iowa pushed its way up the hill through a storm of grape, shell and ball. Many dropped dead and many were wounded. Reaching the works the men sprang over without a moment’s hesitation. The Rebels made a stubborn fight but nothing could withstand the fierce charge of the Iowa Brigade. The outer works were captured and the men held them, sleeping on their arms as night came on . Color-Sergeant Henry B. Doolittle fell early in the charge; Corporal S. Page seized the flag and press on until killed. Corporal J. H. Churchill raised the colors as Page fell and bore them aloft until his right arm was shattered, when Corporal V. P. Twombly seized the thrice fallen flag and bore it aloft to the end of the fight. Captains Slaymaker and Cloutman were slain in the charge, and Major Chipman was severely wounded.” (2)


            Such was the heroism of the regiment that General Halleck had sought to degrade for a slight offense. He now atoned by telegraphing to Adjutant-General Baker: “The Second Iowa Infantry proved themselves the bravest of the brave; they had the honor of leading the column which entered Fort Donelson.” The Second went into the battle with six hundred men, of which forty-one were killed and one hundred and fifty-seven wounded. The regiment remained at Fort Donelson about a month and went from there up the Tennessee River, arriving at Pittsburg Landing on the 19th of March. In the great battle at that place on the 6th and 7th of April, Colonel Tuttle commanded a brigade composed of his regiment and the Seventh, Twelfth and Fourteenth Iowa, and Lieutenant-Colonel Baker was in command of the Second. The brigade was in the hottest of the battle for many hours the first day and lost heavily. The Second made a gallant charge the next day and lost in the battle seventy-eight men. After the Battle of Shiloh, Tuttle was promoted to Brigadier-General; James Baker to colonel of the Second; N. W. Mills, lieutenant-colonel; J. B. Weaver, major, and G. L. Godfrey, adjutant of the regiment. The Second was in Halleck’s slow advance on Corinth, and took part in the battle at that place on the 3d and 4th of October. Colonel Baker fell, mortally wounded, on the 3d, and Lieutenant-Colonel Mills, who succeeded to the command in the next day’s battle, was severely wounded on the 4th and died on the 12th. The regiment suffered heavy loss in these battles, amounting to nearly one-third of the officers and men engaged. Major James B. Weaver was promoted to colonel of the regiment to succeed Mills, Captain H. R. Cowles became lieutenant-colonel, and Captain N. B. Howard, major. For the next year, the Second did duty in Tennessee, and, at the end of 1863, became a veteran regiment. It was in a brigade commanded by General E. w. Rice, and in the Sixteenth Corps under General G. M. Dodge, when it joined Sherman’s army in the Atlanta campaign. It was in the battle of July 22d, before Atlanta and other engagements following. In November 1864, three companies of the Third Regiment, and one company of recruits and drafted men were consolidated with the Second, and Lieutenant-Colonel Howard was promoted to colonel; G. S. Botsford, lieutenant-colonel; M. G. Hamill, major; and V. P. Twombly, adjutant. The regiment continued with General Sherman’s army to the close of that brilliant campaign and marched north by Richmond and Washington, and at the close of the war, was disbanded at Davenport. No better regiment ever entered the service than the gallant Second; it sustained the high reputation of Iowa soldiers won by the immortal First at Wilson’s Creek. Its first colonel, Curtis, resigned a seat in congress to enter the service, ad became one of the great Generals of the war, for a long time commanding the Army of the Southwest, in Missouri and Arkansas. Crocker became a distinguished Major-General, and Tuttle, a Brigadier-General. Colonel J. B. Weaver was twice a candidate for President of the United States, and for two terms a prominent member of congress from Iowa. Tuttle was, in 1863, the Democratic candidate for Governor of Iowa. Chipman became General Curtis’ chief of staff. He was Judge-Advocate of the court which tried and hung was brevetted Brigadier-General. McKenney served on the staff of three different major-Generals, and was brevetted Brigadier-General. Twombly served four years as State Treasurer of Iowa.


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