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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter X



Third Iowa Infantry


Pictures included in this chapter are General Grenville M. Dodge,

Battle of Chickasaw Bayou and General James A. Williamson.



            This regiment was raised in May and June, 1861, and was made up of the companies enlisted in the counties of Dubuque, Marion, Clayton, Winneshiek, Story, Fayette, Warren, Mahaska and Black Hawk. There were, however, men from various other counties in this regiment, which numbered nine hundred and seventy men, and went into camp at Keokuk. Nelson G. Williams was appointed colonel; John Scott, lieutenant-colonel; William M. Stone, major; and Fitzroy Sessions, adjutant. After drilling at Keokuk for about a month, the Third was sent to Hannibal, Missouri, where the regiment was scattered, companies being sent to various places to guard towns and railroads. Colonel Williams was not popular with a portion of the regiment, as there had been a long and bitter strife in the choice of field officers, and the commissions had been issued when the regiment was sent to Missouri. The men went into service without equipments and were armed with old Springfield muskets of 1848 pattern. Seven companies were stationed at Chillicothe and three at another point. Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, with a  portion of the regiment, was sent to Macon in August, in pursuit of the Rebel General Green; Colonel Williams, with another portion and six companies of a Kansas regiment, engaged the Rebels at Paris and retreated with slight loss to Shelbina, where he was put under arrest by General Hurlbut.


Battle of Blue Mills


            On the 15th of September, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, now in command of the regiment, with a squad of artillery, was ordered to march to Liberty and join Colonel Smith of the Sixteenth Illinois. When he reached there on the morning of the 17th, Smith had not arrived. A courier was dispatched to him as a large force, under General Atchison with four pieces of artillery, was reported to be at Blue Mills Landing. Firing was heard at the Landing, where some Union troops were resisting the advance of Atchison. Hearing nothing from Smith, Scott finally started his small force in the direction of the firing. He was obliged to march through a dense wood penetrated by a narrow road. When about half way to the river, a road crossed at right angles his line of march. Here was a farm, making a small clearing in the woods. Skirmishers had been thrown out in advance and word came from them that the Rebel army was nearing in strong force. A few minutes later the column was enveloped by a sudden blaze of musketry, and found it had marched straight into an ambush, and men were falling along the whole line. The officers and men, however, retained their presence of mind and deployed as well as possible, while a cannon was brought into position and opened on the enemy with canister. Another volley from the enemy killed and drove off the gunners, and Colonel Scott ordered a retreat. Of the sixteen officers ten had fallen, killed or wounded. The little band fell slowly back, dragging the cannon by hand and keeping up a steady fire. The Rebels fell on the flank, but, meeting with stubborn resistance, were driven back with loss, and the retreat continued. The engagement lasted about an hour; our little army fought as it retreated, bringing off most of the wounded. Reaching Liberty just after dark, the loss was found to be one hundred and eighteen men killed and wounded, out of about six hundred. The loss of the Third Iowa was ninety-four. Although ambushed, taken by surprise and greatly outnumbered, Scott’s command fought bravely and retired in good order. Captain Trumbull and Lieutenant Crosley brought off the cannon by hand under a hot fire. The Third spent the winter along the line of the North Missouri Railroad, with headquarters at Mexico. In February, Colonel Williams was released from arrest and returned to his regiment, which, early in March, was sent to join General Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee. It was assigned to the division commanded by General Hurlbut. In the Battle of Shiloh, on the 6th and 7th of April, the Third fought bravely for many hours on the first day of the battle and shared in its disasters. Major Stone and many others, were taken prisoners. Late in the day, the remnant of the regiment, led by the gallant Lieutenant G. W. Crosley, cut its way through the enemy and non the next day, commanded by Lieutenant Crosley, it did good service. Colonel Williams, who commanded a brigade in the battle, was severely injured. Lieutenant-Colonel Scott was ill and Major Stone commanded until he was captured. Captain Hobbs was killed and several other officers wounded. The losses of the regiment were very heavy. On the 5th of October, the Third, now under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Trumbull, took part in the Battle of Hatchie, where it made a gallant charge, crossing the bridge under a terrific fire of the enemy’s batteries. In November, Colonel Williams resigned and was succeeded by Colonel Aaron Brown. In August, Scott was promoted to Colonel of the Thirty-second Regiment and Major Stone to Colonel of the Twenty-second. Captain James Tullis became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Third in place of Trumbull, reigned. Lieutenant G. W. Crosley was promoted to major and G. H. Cushman was promoted to adjutant upon the resignation of Sessions. In May, 1863, the Third embarked on the steamer Crescent City to join Grant’s army before Vicksburg. The steamer was fired on near Greenville, by a Rebel battery and riddled with shot. The Third, with the aid of a cannon on board, drove the Rebels into the woods, after having fourteen men wounded. The regiment shared in the battles of that great campaign and the capture of Vicksburg. It was next in the siege of Jackson, and took part in Lauman’s assault of July 12th, where it met with fearful loss. Early in 1864, two hundred of its members re-enlisted as veterans, and were, in March, granted a furlough to visit their homes. The remainder oft the regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Tullis, was sent to join General Banks in his disastrous Red River expedition, after which it was discharged, as the term of service had expired. Upon the return of the veterans, the number was so reduced, that they were organized into a battalion of three companies. At the battle before Atlanta, July 22, this veteran battalion was nearly annihilated. It rallied around the color-bearer, fighting desperately, until surrounded and cut to pieces; the remnant at last was compelled to surrender. The survivors were consolidated with the Second regiment, and the gallant Third passed out of existence. Captain Jacob Abernethy, who had been promoted to lieutenant-colonel for gallant service, commanded the regiment on this bloody field and was killed. Captain Robert P. Griffith, who, as corporal, had bravely carried the colors on former battle-fields, fell mortally wounded. An eyewitness of this last fight of the Third wrote as follows to the Dubuque Times:


            “As the battle grew raging hot and desperate, a handful of our undaunted men gathered amidst the pelting showers of shot and shell, and there around the flag they stood its guard in the most perilous moments. The color-bearer, the bravest of the brave, relinquished his hold by death their hopes began to fail. As the last of the little band were surrounded by overwhelming numbers, they were finally captured and disarmed. They were marched through Atlanta and their names reported to the provost-marshal. In passing through the city, whenever a shell fell in the streets from our batteries, they cheered and sang ‘Rally Round the Flag.’ Rebel officers ordered them to ‘shut up,’ as they were prisoners of war. They answered ‘We will always cheer a Yankee shell.’ A squad of Rebel cavalry was passing through the street with a flag of the Iowa Third captured after the color-bearer fell pierced with bullets. Some members of the regiment who were prisoners saw it, and making a rush upon its captors, wrested it from them, and amid threats and curses tore it into pieces. Unarmed by the enemy, unflinching in courage and patriotism to the end, the last heroic remnant of the veteran Third thus closed its long record of glorious deeds.”


            Of the officers of this regiment, its first major, William M. Stone, became Governor of the State, in 1864, and afterward Commissioner of the United States Land Office. Lieutenant-Colonel John Scott became Lieutenant-Governor in 1868; Captain M. M. Trumbull became Colonel of the Ninth Cavalry; Lieutenant G. W. Clark became Colonel of the Thirty-fourth; Lieutenant G. W. Crosley became Lieutenant-Colonel of a regiment in Hancock’s Veteran Corps; Lieutenant G. A. Eberhart became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Thirty-second, as did also Sergeant E. H. Mix, who fell at Pleasant Hill; Sergeant G. L. Wright became Lieutenant-Colonel of the consolidated Second and Third; Captain J. B. Knight became Lieutenant-Colonel of the Ninth Cavalry. Many other members of the Third became officers of other regiments.


Fourth Iowa Infantry


            This regiment was made up largely in the southwest portion of the State. Company A was form Mills County; Company B, from Pottawattamie, Harrison, Cass and Shelby; Company C, from Guthrie and Dallas; Company D, from Decatur and Clarke; Company E, from Polk, Warren and Dallas; Company F, from Madison and Warren; Company G from Ringgold; Company H from Adams and Union; Company I from Wayne; Company K from Taylor and Page. The first field officers were: G. M. Dodge, colonel; John Galligan, lieutenant-colonel; W. R. English, major, and J. A. Williamson, adjutant. The regiment went into camp at Council Bluffs in June and July, 1861, and, early in August, was ordered to Missouri, and was in camp at St. Louis and Rolla for some time, drilling and preparing for active service in the field. It was in Curtis’ army in the campaign which closed with the Battle of Pea Ridge, in which Dodge commanded a brigade, and the Fourth Regiment was under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Galligan, who was wounded in the battle and resigned, April 3d, when Adjutant J. A. Williamson was  promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and Lieutenant R. A. Stitt became adjutant. The Fourth was in the thickest of the fight at Pea Ridge on both days, and did excellent service, losing nearly one-half of its entire number in killed, wounded and missing. Dodge and Williamson were among the wounded. In the first day’s battle, on the 7th of March, 1862, the Fourth Iowa, in the brigade commanded by Colonel Dodge, fought like veterans. Early in the day, General Carr’s Division, on the right wing of Curtis’ army, assailed by overwhelming numbers, made a most determined fight. For seven hours the Rebels pressed on his lines, and his division was forced back half a mile, while presenting an unbroken front to the enemy. The Fourth Iowa and Thirty-fifth Illinois, under Dodge, lying behind an old fence, were now attacked by a greatly superior force supported by artillery. The charge was met by a deadly fire and the enemy driven back in confusion. Again and again the Rebels rallied and renewed the attack and were each time repulsed with heavy loss. At one time the ammunition became exhausted and the Fourth made a gallant bayonet charge under the direction of General Curtis. The splendid fighting of the Fourth Iowa and Thirty-fifth Illinois challenged the admiration of General Van Dorn and other Confederate officers. For brilliant services in this battle, Colonel Dodge was made a Brigadier-General; Williamson was promoted to colonel; Captain Burton to lieutenant-colonel.


            Having driven the Confederate army out of Missouri, General Curtis marched toward Little Rock. The continuous rains rendered the roads nearly impassable and after remaining at Batesville and Jacksonsport several months, and finding it impossible to subsist his army in the country, he marched to Helena.


            A number of cotton speculators followed the advance of the Union army to reap rich harvest in getting possession of that staple. General Curtis, in attempting to control these rapacious speculators and use the cotton in a way to bring the greatest benefits to the Government, made enemies of many influential men of wealth, who were looking solely to personal gain. Helena and the surrounding country had a large slave population. As the negroes came into the Union lines the commanding General found another serious problem confronting him. Our Government had adopted no settled policy to govern the action of the department commanders in the matter and each had to act upon his own judgment. The Fourth Regiment remained at Helena until December, when it joined General Sherman’s expedition against Vicksburg and took a prominent part in that campaign, which terminated so disastrously to the Union cause.


Battle of Chickasaw Bayou


            On the 20th of December, 1862, General W. T. Sherman embarked with a large army on transports at Memphis, and, descending to Helena, was joined there by General Steele and his command. The army, which filled a hundred transports, then continued the journey to Milliken’s Bend, about twenty-five miles above Vicksburg. On Christmas evening orders were issued for the fleet, next day, to attack Vicksburg. The plan was for General Grant to march to the rear of the city and cooperate with Sherman in the attack. On the 20th of December, General Grant’s army was at Oxford preparing to move on Jackson and Vicksburg. He had collected at Holly Springs, arms, ammunition and provision for the army during the campaign. Colonel Murphy, of the Eight Wisconsin, with 1,000 men, was guarding them. He was surprised by Van Dorn’s cavalry early one morning and, without resistance, surrendered, with all of the army supplies. This loss of his trains and supplies compelled Grant to fall back to Grand Junction, and defeated his plan of cooperation with Sherman in the attack upon Vicksburg. Grant’s retreat had liberated the Confederate army, which had been gathered at Grenada to oppose his advance, and unknown to Sherman, it had hastened to the defense of Vicksburg. This city occupied a range of high bluffs bounded on the north by swamps and bayous almost impassable. Protected by abatis covering rifle pits, with the bluffs as strongly fortified as skill and slave labor combined could make them, the place was absolutely impregnable from assault, when defended by a large army. The mighty task which Sherman attempted was simply impossible; but somewhere in the long line he hoped to find a weak place where the army could force its way. The men were in excellent spirits and anxious to be led against the stronghold. Porter’s gunboats were ready to render all possible assistance. The troops were landed along the Yazoo River on the 26th of December. By the morning of the 29th the entire army was in position to move upon the works. The Rebel batteries opened fire on our lines and the battle began. All night our soldiers had heard the heavily loaded trains rolling into Vicksburg, bringing reinforcements from Pemberton’s army. Thayer, who commanded the brigade in which was the Fourth Iowa, charge upon the enemy and carried the first line, drove the Rebels from the second and halted under a terrible fire, waiting for support, scores of brave men and officers falling at every discharge. The couriers, sent for reinforcements, were shot down. Thayer rode along the line, in anguish over the slaughter of his men and warmly commended their bravery. But no help came, and, at last, he gave the order to fall back. Slowly the regiment retired in order, as the terrible fire thinned its ranks. Ingersoll says:


            “There were many Iowa regiments and batteries which behaved with that high degree of credit which the troops of the State everywhere maintained throughout the war, but no regiment from any State behaved with more devoted gallantry than the Fourth in the assault of the 29th of December. Every officer and man did his whole duty and only regretted that they could not accomplish more.”(1)


               The regiment went into action with five hundred and eighty men and officers, of which one hundred and twelve were killed and wounded. Colonel Williamson and Captain Still were wounded, Lieutenant J. M. Miller and Leander Pitzer were killed. General Grant, long afterward learning of the  gallant conduct of the regiment, commanded by general order that the Fourth Iowa Infantry have inscribed on its colors, “First at Chickasaw Bayou.” All the brave fighting and sacrifices of that bloody battle were in vain, as it was not possible for the gallant army and its able commander to take that strongly fortified city by assault, and it was an undeserved humiliation for the President to remove General Sherman from command, by placing over him General McClernand.


            The Fourth Iowa was in the campaign led by McClernand against Arkansas Post and was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Burton, Colonel Williamson being disabled by wounds, and sickness. In January, 1863, the Fourth was again in the army before Vicksburg, where, for two months, were spent the darkest days of its service in the cypress swamps, under that frowning batteries of the enemy. Toiling on the famous canal, struggling in mud and rain, lying in camp through that dreary winter, while Grant was working out the great problem of how to subdue the Rebel stronghold and open the Mississippi River. With Steele’s Division, the Fourth embarked on steamers, early in April and, ascending the river to Greenville, thence marched eastward, threatening Vicksburg in the rear and collecting great quantities of provisions for the army, while Grant was drawing his lines around the doomed city. Returning towards Vicksburg, this division of the army rejoined the main body at Grand Gulf and took part in the brilliant campaign, which drove Pemberton’s army back into the city. The Fourth was in the assault of the 22d and met with severe loss in the general defeat; the, for forty-seven days, it was employed in the siege. It was there to rejoice in the final great victory, which resulted in the capture of the stronghold and the entire Confederate army defending it, by far the most damaging blow inflicted upon the enemy up to this time. After the surrender, the Fourth joined Sherman in his movement against General Johnston’s army, capturing Jackson, the Capital, and driving Johnson out of the State. Colonel Williamson was now in command of a brigade in which was the Fourth Iowa. The regiment was in Osterhaus’ Division in his expedition to Corinth, Iuka and Cherokee, and took part in several engagements. In November, the division joined the army at Chattanooga. In the Battle of Lookout Mountain the Fourth was on the extreme left of Hooker’s command. When the battle opened, te division moved across an open field to Lookout Creek, where it was for some time exposed to a severed fire, but finally moved on up the mountain, where the fight was warm. As night came on, the regiment held its position on the mountain prepared to renew the battle next day. When morning dawned, it was discovered that the enemy had withdrawn to Missionary Ridge. Early in the morning, the Fourth, Ninth and Thirty-first were sent to Rossville Gap, and placed in a good strategic position, turning the Rebel left. They were attacked by a heavy column of the enemy and a fierce battle ensued in which the Fourth bore an active part until the Rebels were routed. It joined in the pursuit on the 26th, and at the Battle of Ringgold, the next day, fought with great gallantry, saving two railroad bridges, which were set on fire by the retreating army. After these battles the Fourth moved to Woodville on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and went into winter quarters. On the 25th of February, 1864, the men were mustered in as veterans, and were granted furloughs. They reached Des Moines on the 9th of March, while the Legislature was in session, which adjourned to give the veterans a royal reception. The ladies of the city joined with the General Assembly in tendering to the gallant soldiers a banquet, where all honors were accorded to the boys in blue, who had won fame on so many battle-fields. By the first of May, the regiment had again joined the army of General Sherman, which was sweeping onward toward the sea, overcoming all opposition. In the long marches, skirmish lines, and battle-fields. Williamson’s Brigade, composed of the Fourth, Ninth, Twenty-fifth, Thirtieth and Thirty-first regiments, bore a prominent part. In the battle of July 22d, before Atlanta, this brigade made a gallant charge, recapturing De Grass’ famous battery of twenty-four-pound Parrott guns, which had been taken.


            A correspondent of the New York Tribune says of Williamson’s Iowa Brigade, in the battle of the 22d: “It was one of the bravest, truest, most tenacious fighting brigades that has marched to the rescue of our Nation’s liberties.” The Fourth had fought bravely at Resaca, New Hope Church, Kenesaw Mountain and at Jonesboro, until losses had reduced its numbers below two hundred. Major Nichols was severely wounded, Captain A. R. Anderson was promoted to major.


            In the pursuit of Hood’s army which began October 5th, the Fourth Iowa took part. It remained with Sherman in his march through the Carolinas and fought at Bentonsport, the last battle of that famous campaign. Early in January, 1865, Williamson received his well-earned and long-delayed commission as Brigadier-General. The Fourth Regiment marched form Raleigh to Washington and participated in the final grand review, and was then sent to Louisville, where it performed provost duty until mustered out in July, 1865. It reached Iowa, at Davenport, on the 28th, numbering four hundred and fifty seven men and twenty-three officers. Entering the service with 1,000 men, three hundred had been added to its ranks as the war progressed. Now, at the close, the 1,300 were reduced by sickness, disability from hard marches, wounds, death, starvation in Rebel prisons, nearly eight hundred. Such was the terrible waste of four years of war in one regiment.



1. “Iowa and the Rebellion.”



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