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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter XII


Picture included in this chapter is of Battle of Belmont



Seventh Iowa Infantry


            The ten companies composing this regiment were raised largely in the counties of Muscatine, Washington, Chickasaw, Floyd, Cerro Gordo, Mahaska, Lee Wapello, Henry, Iowa, Des Moines, Jefferson, in Iowa, and Hancock and Henderson counties, in Illinois. A majority of them were mustered into service at Burlington soon after the Battle of Bull Run, in July, 1861. The regiment numbered nine hundred and two men, and so urgent was the need of troops at this time that the Seventh was sent to St. Louis before its organization was complete, and before clothing arms, or equipments were furnished. Hurried into the field at Pilot Knob as soon as armed, it took the first lessons in drill and manual of arms at Ironton, Missouri. From here the regiment marched with General Prentiss’s army to Cape Girardeau and was transported by steamer from there to Cairo. Jacob G. Lauman had been appointed colonel, and Augustus Wentz now joined the regiment as lieutenant-colonel; Elliott W. Rice, a sergeant of Company C, was promoted to major; D. F. Bowler, a lieutenant of Company D, was promoted to adjutant; Dr. Amos Witter(1) was appointed surgeon; I. H. Clark, chaplain, and Lieutenant S. E. Forska, of Company D, quartermaster. The regiment had now become well instructed in military drill and duties, and presented a soldierly appearance.


            General Grant, who was now in command of the District of Southeaster Missouri with headquarters at Cairo, was a man of action. On the 6th of November, 1861, he started with 3,000 men to make a reconnaissance toward Columbus to prevent the enemy from sending reinforcements to General Price, in Missouri. He also proposed to destroy a Confederate encampment on the Missouri side of the river. Among the colonels commanding regiments in this expedition were the following, who afterwards became distinguished officers in the Union armies: John A. Logan, commanding a detachment of cavalry; Colonel N. B. Buford of the Thirtieth Illinois, and General J. A. McClernand, commanding a brigade. The Seventh Iowa, under colonel Lauman, was in a brigade commanded by Colonel Dougherty of the Twenty-second Illinois. Early on the morning of the 7th, Grant moved his little army by steamer within three miles of Belmont. Up to the morning of the attack the encampment consisted of three additional regiments, and took command. General Grant moved on the enemy immediately, meeting with stubborn resistance, but after a sharp conflict, drove the Confederates down the river bank, capturing their artillery and setting fire to the camp and stores. While the men were destroying the camp, Generals Cheatham and Polk, with five fresh regiments, hastened across the river from Columbus, and with greatly superior numbers attempted to capture Grant’s small force. But, in spite of overwhelming numbers, the Union army charged with such gallantry as to cut its way through the enemy’s lines, taking two of the captured cannon, and gained the landing about five o’clock in the afternoon. Seven hours the little army under Grant had fought and the last part of the battle had been a conflict of the most desperate character. Step by step the retreating army cut its way through heavy ranks, while the Union gunboats opened a steady fire upon the enemy. At last the steamers were reached, and the army safely embarked. The object of the expedition had been attained, but at heavy cost, as our losses amounted to five hundred and forty-six in killed, wounded and missing. The confederate loss in men was nearly 1,000, while a large amount of property was destroyed. It was near the beginning of the war and very few of the Union soldiers engaged had ever seen a battle, so that this conflict with superior numbers gave them great confidence in themselves, and proved again that there was no better material in either army than the volunteers from Iowa and Illinois. General Grant said in his order congratulating the men upon their coolness and courage in the battle:


            “It has been my fortune to have taken part in all the battles fought in Mexico by Generals Scott and Taylor, save Buena Vista, and I never saw one more hotly contested, or where troops behaved with more gallantry.”


            The Seventh Iowa was in the thickest of the fight all through the battle and General Grant said, in his report, that “it behaved with great gallantry and suffered more severely than any other of the troops.” Among the killed were Lieutenant-Colonel Lauman, Captains Ream and Gardner, while Colonel Lauman, Captains Gardner, Harper, Parrott and Kettrege were wounded. The total loss of the regiment in killed, wounded and missing was two hundred and twenty-seven. Lieutenant-Colonel Wentz was a promising officer, and his loss was greatly regretted. It was generally believed that he would have won high rank had he lived through the war. The Seventh went to St. Louis soon after, where Captain Parrott was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. Early in February, 1862, the regiment was with General Grant’s army in the expedition against the forts on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. After the capture of Fort Henry it proceeded with the army against Donelson. The Seventh bore an honorable part in the battle, serving in the brigade commanded by Colonel Lauman, losing thirty-nine men. In March Colonel Lauman was promoted to Brigadier-General and took command of a brigade in General Hurlbut’s Division. Major E. W. Rice succeeded  to the command of the Seventh Regiment, and Captain J. W. McMullen, of company C, became major. The regiment joined Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing. It fought bravely at the Battle of Shiloh, serving in the Iowa Brigade commanded by Colonel J. M. Tuttle, and lost thirty-four men during the engagements. Moving with Halleck in his slow and cautious approach on Corinth, following in pursuit of the leisurely retreat of General Beauregard and returning to Corinth, the Seventh rested until the middle of September, when it was sent to Iuka, but was not engaged in the battle of the 19th. In the two days’ battle at Corinth on the 3d and 4th of October, the regiment took a conspicuous part, maintaining the reputation it had won at Belmont, Donelson and Shiloh and losing nearly one-third of its number. Captain B. K. Smith was among the killed and Lieutenant-Colonel Parrott, Major McMullen, Captain Conn and Lieutenants Bennett, Camp, Hope and Irvin were among the wounded. The regiment remained at Corinth during the winter of 1862-’63 and most of the season following was engaged in uneventful but necessary duties connected with guarding and occupying the vast regions wrested from the Confederacy in Mississippi and Tennessee. There were railroad lines to be held, bridges to be rebuilt and guarded, wagon trains to protected over long routes and frequent scouts and foraging parties to be sent out. At Pulaski the Seventh remained some time and the men made themselves comfortable by erecting “shebangs,” as the army named the huts erected at various stopping places. Unoccupied buildings furnished the material and there was always skill among the western troops to enable them to construct comfortable houses to shelter them from sun, storms and chilling winds. In raids for provisions the men often picked up furnishings for their temporary homes, and where they remained several months, they had a way of making their “shebangs” quite comfortable. Some of them became ornamented with luxuries not altogether appropriate to camp life, but the boys were not discerning as to harmony and artistic effects. While at Pulaski, orders were received allowing the men, who had been two years in the service, to reenlist, thus becoming veterans, with the privilege of a month’s furlough. Three-fourths of the men in the service, fit for duty, reenlisted, and on the 20th of January, 1864, they started for Iowa. After a month at home, where every honor was bestowed upon them, they assembled at Keokuk and returned to the army on the 27th of April the Seventh started with Sherman’s army on the Atlanta campaign. In the march through Georgia and the Carolinas the regiment participated in the numerous skirmishes and battles which marked the progress of the army, always doing its duty bravely, and winning honor in every conflict. At the crossing of the Ostanaula River on the 15th of May, Colonel Rice, in command of a brigade, led the advance of the Army of the Tennessee. The day before he had made a demonstration at a point higher up the stream. Early on the morning of the 15th he rapidly threw his brigade across Lay’s Ferry by means of a flat boat and pontoons. To engage the attention of the enemy he had first sent a detachment of sharp-shooters over on the flat boats, which, under cover of a heavy artillery fire, supported by the Sixty-sixth Indiana, drove the Confederates from their rifle pits, while the main body crossed. Hastily throwing up defense beyond view of the enemy, he awaited the crossing of the Third Brigade, which took position on his left. General Walker, with a whole division, now confronted the three brigades. The Seventh Iowa, major McMullen commanding, supported by an Indiana regiment, was now sent forward against the enemy’s left flank. Charging, with loud shouts and great vigor was now sent forward against the enemy’s left flank. Charging, with loud shouts and great vigor, on the flank, the regiment surprised and threw the enemy into confusion. Two batteries now opened upon them, but they still advanced and after a sharp engagement, drove the enemy from position and opened the way for our entire army to advance. In this brilliant engagement the Union loss was seventy-four men, of which sixty were in the Iowa regiment. While the regiment was at Rome the Presidential election took place. The Iowa Legislature had provided by law a method by which our soldiers could vote in the field.


            General McClellan, having failed as a military commander, was now the candidate of the “peace” wing of the Democratic party for President, against Lincoln, who was giving every energy of his grand character to the subjugation of the armed enemies of the Nation. Out of the three hundred and twenty-two votes cast by the gallant Seventh Iowa, Lincoln received three hundred and twenty and McClellan two. From Rome, our regiment marched to Atlanta and from there to Savannah, meeting with but slight loss. Colonel E. W. Rice had been promoted to Brigadier-General on the 20th of June, 1864, having entered the service in 1861 as a sergeant of Company C, in the Seventh. Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Parrott was now in command of the regiment; Samuel Mahon, major, and W. W. Sapp, adjutant. The army moved from Savannah on the 28th of January, 1865, on its march through South Carolina, amid the storms of mid-winter, wading swamps, swollen creeks and rivers. For four hundred and eighty miles to Goldsboro, North Carolina, the Seventh bravely endured the hardships without complaint, losing but three men. The campaign ended here, where camp was made on the 24th of March. During this march, Sherman’s army had built thirty-nine miles of corduroy road through the otherwise impassable swamps. The regiment marched to Washington by way of Richmond and participated in the grand review. Soon after it was transported to Louisville where it was mustered out, as the war closed. The record of the Seventh Iowa, from the day it left its first camp to the end of the war, was one of which every member had reason to be proud. The people of the State will never cease to remember its deeds of valor.


Eighth Iowa Infant


            This regiment was raised during the months of August and September, 1861. The ten companies were enlisted largely in the counties of Scott, Clinton, Luisa, Washington, Benton, Linn, Marion, Keokuk, Iowa, Mahaska and Monroe. They went into camp at Davenport, in September, nine hundred and twenty strong. The first field and staff officers were: Frederick Steele, colonel; J. L. Geddes, lieutenant-colonel; J. C. Ferguson, major; G. H. McLaughlin, adjutant; William McCullough, quartermaster; James Irwin, surgeon; and C. G. Vanderveer, chaplain.


            The regiment was sent to reinforce General Fremont’s  army in southwest Missouri and suffered severely in the hard marches over bad roads. Returning to Sedalia in November, most of the winter was spent in camp and field in that vicinity. Early in February, 1862, Colonel Steele was promoted to Brigadier-General; Geddes became colonel of the regiment; Major Ferguson was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and Captain Joseph Andrews, of company F, became major. On the 12th of March the Eighth joined General Grant’s army at Pittsburg Landing. In the Battle of Shiloh, on the 6th of April, the regiment was in the division commanded by General W. H. L. Wallace, which was stationed in the rear of General McClernand, with its right near the Landing. As the Confederate army advanced, gradually forcing our troops in the front from their positions, the Eighth came under fire. For an hour it supported a battery on the front and suffered from the enemy’s artillery. Later the regiment was ordered forward on a line that was making a most obstinate resistance, where the enemy was held in check until near four o’clock in the afternoon by the splendid fighting of the Union troops. The Eighth was the connecting link between the Division of General Wallace and what remained of General Prentiss’ command. Here it was assaulted by a battalion of Confederates and for an hour a severe engagement ensued. Charge after charge was made on the Eighth and Fourteenth Iowa, which held their position, beating back and charging in turn the shattered columns of the foe. During the desperate efforts of the Confederates to break our lines at this place, General Prentiss placed a battery in front of colonel Geddes’ position and the regiment was ordered to defend it at all hazards. It was now one o’clock and all along the lines the fighting was of the most desperate character. The confederate army, in greatly superior numbers, was gradually forcing the Union army back toward the river. Grant had sent courier after courier to find and bring General Lew Wallace’s strong division of veteran soldiers into the battle, but he did not appear. The battery placed by General Prentiss was mowing down the enemy at a fearful rate, and column after column was hurled against it, charging up to the muzzles of the guns. But they were met by Colonel Geddes’ men but it saved the battery and held the position for two hours. At last Prentiss’ line gave way, the enemy followed, swung around to the rear of the Eighth Iowa which was now surrounded, and forced a surrender at half past five. All day long it had made a most heroic fight and, to the last, stood firm and undaunted, refusing to save itself by flight as did several regiments on that terrible day. General Prentiss, who was also captured, in his official report, says of Geddes and his regiment:


            “He acted with distinguished courage, coolness and ability. His regiment stood unflinchingly up to the work the entire portion of the day during which it acted under my orders.”


            The loss of the regiment in killed and wounded, was nearly two hundred. Captain W. F. Hogin was killed; Colonel Geddes, Major Andrews, Captain F. S. Palmer and H. H. Benson, and Lieutenants E. Tichenor, D. J. Craigie, C. S. Wells and W. T. Hayes were wounded. About four hundred were captured, including most of the officers of the regiment.


            That portion of the regiment not captured went into the Union Brigade, and participated in the campaign of the summer and fall in Tennessee and Mississippi under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Coulter of the Twelfth Iowa, and fought bravely at the Battle of Corinth. This brigade consisted of soldiers of the Eighth, Twelfth and Fourteenth Iowa Volunteers who escaped capture when their regiments were compelled to surrender at Shiloh. The prisoners of these regiments captured at Shiloh were confined in various Confederate prisons, suffering from sickness, starvation and every kind of inhuman treatment, resulting in death and life-long disability to many. Most of them were released on parole or exchanged in the course of eight months. The Eight Regiment was reorganized at St. Louis early in 1863, and in April joined General Grant’s army and participated in his brilliant campaign against Vicksburg. The regiment was in General Tuttle’s Division in the Battle of Jackson and took part in the assault on Vicksburg, May 22d. It served with Sherman in the pursuit of General Johnston’s army, where Colonel Geddes commanded a brigade. During the siege of Vicksburg Lieutenant-Colonel Ferguson died from sickness. He was a gallant and highly esteemed officer whose death was a loss to the service. For many months after the fall of Vicksburg the Eighth was engaged in service in Tennessee and Mississippi. Toward the close of 1864 a large majority of the men reenlisted as veterans and visited their homes on furlough. The regiment was stationed at Memphis for a long time and took part in the defense of that city against the attack by General Forrest, losing over forty men in that battle. In this conflict Lieutenant A. S. Irwin was killed; Captain C. P. Earl, Lieutenants J. A. Boyer and J. L. Tinkham, wounded, and Lieutenant John Harver captured. Captain William Bell, of Company C, was promoted to lieutenant-colonel after the death of Ferguson, and Captain William Stubbs, of Company G, was promoted to major in place of Palmer, resigned. Early in March, 1865, the regiment was sent to New Orleans and soon after joined in the campaign against Mobile.


Capture of Mobile


            General Gordon Granger, with the Thirteenth Corps, and General A. J. Smith, with the Sixteenth Army Corps, marched up to the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, while General Steele, with an independent column, marched from Pensacola. There were several Iowa regiments in the army that was concentrating around the city. The defenses of Mobile were very strong; the Spanish Fort on the left and Fort Blakely on the right commanded the approaches by land. They must be taken before the city could be occupied. Between these forts, which were several miles apart, were numerous earthworks and redoubts, the approaches to which were obstructed by ditches, trees, wires and torpedoes. At Spanish Forth there were several lines of inferior rifle-pits for skirmishers outside of the principal works. A formidable ditch added to the strength of the position and a most elaborately constructed abattis presented its sharp points to the assailants. Trees were felled and laced together for an area of many acres around and the ground everywhere was thickly strewn with torpedoes. Artillery of various caliber bristled along the walls and 3,000 soldiers held the interior of the fort, which was crescent-shaped, its right and left defenses swinging back to near the river. At the northern extremity of these defenses, a deep ravine runs down to the river, dividing the high bluff along its eastern bank. On the northeast side of this ravine was the Brigade of Colonel Geddes, in which was the Eighth Iowa. At the mouth of the ravine was low bottom land and this was the point selected from which to carry Spanish Fort. The Eighth Iowa led the advance. For an hour and a half our artillery had been sending balls and shells into the fort and the sun was just sinking below the horizon when Colonel Geddes gave the order to charge. Instantly, the men of the Eighth Iowa sprang to their feet and rushed among the fallen trees, pushing their way through the obstructions and across the mouth of the enemy. Those behind the log breast-works fired on volley and fled. But from the extreme left of the rifle-pits a heavy fire was poured into the ranks of the Iowa men until the foremost of them mounted the bluff and took the enemy in the rear. Three hundred Confederates were made prisoners on the spot and the others retreated toward the interior of the fort and a new line of battle was formed. For more than three hundred yards the gallant Eighth had fought its way toward the enemy’s center. It was now dark, and in obedience to orders the regiment halted and constructed rifle pits. At eleven o’clock in the night the enemy began to retreat and the whole Union army moved against the fort. But little resistance was made, as our army took possession, capturing six hundred prisoners, forty pieces of artillery, a large quantity of ammunition, and other property. General Steele had been equally successful at Fort Blakely. When the news of Colonel Geddes’ victory at Spanish Fort reached Steele, on the morning of the 9th, he at once ordered an assault, and in a short time everything was in our possession and the victory complete. This campaign, so successful, reflected great credit on Iowa soldiers. General Steele had been the first colonel of the Eighth Iowa, and his Assistant Adjutant-General was Captain John F. Lacey. Twelve Iowa regiments shared the honors of this brilliant campaign, which captured more than 5,000 prisoners and more than one hundred and fifty cannon, besides a vast amount of small arms, ammunition and other property. Beside the Eighth, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Bell, the following Iowa regiments were in the assault: The Twelfth, Major Knee; Nineteenth, Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce; Twentieth, Lieutenant-Colonel Leake; Twenty-first, Lieutenant-Colonel Van Anda; Twenty-third, Colonel Glasgow; Twenty-seventh, Lieutenant-Colonel Lake; Twenty-ninth, Colonel Benton; Thirty-third, Colonel Mackay; Thirty-fourth, Colonel Clark, and Thirty-fifth, Colonel Keeler. General Gilbert, Colonels Geddes and Glasgow commanded brigades.


These regiments all won high honors in this closing campaign of the war. It was conceded that Colonel Geddes’ assault on Spanish Fort, in which the Eighth took such a conspicuous part, was the most brilliant achievement of that notable campaign. Lieutenant-Colonel Bell and Lieutenant Henry Vinyard were especially commended for their gallantry. This was the 1st battle in which the Eighth took part, but it was not mustered out of service until April 20th, 1866. Colonel Geddes was made brevet Brigadier-General June 5, 1865, and Captain S. E. Rankin was promoted to major July 1, 1865.


 End Note:


1. Dr. Amos Witter had been a distinguished member of the Legislature, representing at various times the counties of Scott, Cedar and Linn. He was the author of the first Prohibitory Liquor Law and an eminent physician. He was captured at Belmont while attending our wounded soldiers, and died from the effects of his arduous duties after the battle at Fort Donelson


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