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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter XVII


Picture included in this chapter is Battle Field of Corinth


Seventeenth Iowa Infantry


            The counties of Decatur, Lee, Van Buren, Polk, Wapello, Appanoose, Washington, Marion, Louisa and Dallas furnished the men who formed the Seventeenth Regiment which was organized at Keokuk in March and April, 1862, and consisted of nine hundred thirty-five men. The first field and staff officers were: John W. Rankin, colonel; David B. Hillis, lieutenant-colonel; S. W. Wise, major; S. Guthrie, adjutant; Nathan Udell, surgeon; E. J. Aldrich, quartermaster; William L. Wilson, chaplain. On the 19th of April the regiment was sent to St. Louis, and early in May joined Halleck’s army near Corinth. After the close of that campaign it was on duty in that region until September 18th, when it marched to reinforce General Rosecrans’ army at Iuka. Upon arriving at the front it was hurried into battle, of which Stuart says:


            “Its position was at the cross-roads and along the open ridge. Just across a narrow ravine filled with dense brush was the enemy. Hardly had the regiment come into line, when it was met with a terrible fire of grape, canister and musketry, and General Sullivan ordered it to a less exposed position. While Colonel Rankin was giving the command for the movement, a portion of General Rosecrans’ bodyguard in reconnoitering at the front encountered a terrible fire from the enemy, rode hurriedly back and finding the Seventeenth Iowa drawn up across the road, dashed through its ranks, knocking down and injuring several men. About this time Colonel Rankin’s horse was shot and becoming unmanageable ran and threw him, his head striking a tree which rendered him insensible. Standing under fire for the first time, overrun and its ranks broken by stampeding cavalry; its commanding officer disabled, is it a matter of wonder that the Seventeenth was throw into temporary confusion and partially discouraged? A portion of the left wing got separated from the right, but the greater part of the regiment was present through out the engagement. Indeed it may be said that in all its hard fought battles the Seventeenth Iowa never did better, all things considered, than it did in its luckless fight at Iuka.”


Battle of Corinth


            After the Battle of Iuka the Confederates, under Price and Van Dorn, with large reinforcements, increasing the army to 38,000 men, commanded by General Van Dorn, moved against Corinth, held by General Rosecrans with an army of 20,000. On the morning of the 3d the Union army was in line of battle; General Hamilton on the right, between the Hamburg and Purdy roads; General Davis held the center, between the Memphis and Columbus roads; while General McKean held the extreme left facing the west on the Chewalla road. General Hamilton on the right, between the Hamburg and Purdy roads; General Stanley’s Division was in reserve; cavalry covered the flanks and front on the north and east. This position was some distance from the town, and was ordered to be held until the force and position of the enemy was fully developed. It was then proposed by General Rosecrans to take a new position behind strong earthworks defended by artillery near Corinth. At 9 o’clock in the morning the Confederate army began the attack, Van Dorn leading the right wing and Price the left. They were met with a heavy fire all along our line. But their superior numbers gradually pressed our army back from one line of intrenchments to another, in spite of the most determined resistance, and with heavy losses to both sides. Colonel Baker, of the Second Iowa, fell mortally wounded. When night came the Union army had been forced back into the strong intrenchments of the inner line of defenses, where the heavy guns were mounted. Stanley’s reserves were in line of battle early the next morning, while the earthworks had been everywhere strengthened. Van Dorn, before daylight, opened the battle with artillery, and the sharpshooters on both sides were soon warmly engaged. At nine o’clock the enemy’s batteries were withdrawn and the columns were formed for assault. They came on between the railroads presenting a huge, wedge-shaped form, moving direct upon our center. Our batteries opened upon the advancing army with grape, canister and shells, tearing huge gaps in the compact mass, but on it came without faltering. Soon the wedge opened, spreading out right and left in great wings, sweeping onward over the whole field. Then the musketry opened upon the advancing host, before which hundreds fell. Still on they came, closing up the great gaps in their ranks in front and on the flanks, and the slaughter became fearful. Davis’ Division gave way before them and the heads of the columns began to enter the town. General Sullivan, in whose brigade was the Seventeenth Iowa, hurried to the support of Davis, charging with bayonets and driving the enemy back in confusion, Davis’ Division rallied, joining in the charge upon the charge upon the Confederate lines. Lovell led his division against our left and a fearful combat ensued all along the line, but nothing could long stand against our left and a fearful combat ensued all along the line, but nothing could long stand against the steady advance of the victorious Union army. The Confederate charge was defeated, and Van Dorn saw that the battle was lost. Soon after noon, he reluctantly gave the order to retire and abandoned the field to General Rosecrans. The Iowa troops who bore a conspicuous part in this battle were the Second, Fifth, Seventh, Tenth, Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Infantry and the Second Cavalry. The “Union Brigade” consisting of the remnants of the Eighth, Twelfth and Fourteenth regiments, which had escaped capture at Shiloh, was also engaged. The Second Infantry, under Colonel James Baker, went into the battle with three hundred forty-six men, lost in killed, wounded and missing one hundred eight, among whom were Colonel Baker and Lieutenant-Colonel N. W. Mills, mortally wounded. Major Clark R. Wever, upon whom the command devolved, paid a glowing tribute to the unflinching bravery of the officers and men of the regiment. The Seventh, under Colonel E. W. Rice, lost one-third of its number. The Seventeenth was under the command of Major Banbury, of the Fifth, and smarting under the censure cast upon it at Iuka, went into the Battle of Corinth with a resolve to redeem its good name from undeserved reproach. It fought with superb valor all through the fierce engagement. In the crisis of the battle, when Davis’ Division gave way and the army was in great peril, the Seventeenth made a heroic charge on the advancing foe, arrested the fierce onset and followed up the confused retreat. General Sullivan, in sending a stand of colors captured in this charge to Governor Kirkwood, wrote:


            “I have never led braver men into action than the soldiers of the Seventeenth proved themselves in the desperate and bloody Battle of Corinth.”


            The colors were captured from the Fortieth Mississippi by Corporal John King, of Company G, from Marion County, who was afterward mortally wounded at Champion’s Hill. General Rosecrans issued a special order commending the gallant conduct of the Seventeenth at Corinth. The regiment in this battle inflicted as heavy loss on the enemy as any in the engagement, but by good management lost but twenty-five from its own ranks. After many months’ service in various expeditions in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, in April, 1863, it returned to the army General Grant was concentrating for the most brilliant campaign of the war. In that wonderful march into the heart of the enemy’s country, where by rapid movements he prevented the junction of the two Confederate armies of Pemberton and Johnston, the Seventeenth Iowa was in the fighting line. On the 12th of May it participated in the Battle of Raymond, where the enemy was defeated. Two days later it was in the front brigade of General Crocker’s Division, crowding the enemy into Jackson, where it fought bravely in that bloody battle, losing twenty-five per cent. of its men. On the 16th it reached the battle-field at Champion’s Hill, and took part in that desperate conflict where Pemberton made a determined stand to beat back Grant’s army. But nothing could withstand the fierce assault of Grant’s western regiments, and the Confederate army was again forced to retreat with heavy loss. The Seventeenth Iowa captured a battery, a stand of colors and nearly two hundred prisoners, and received the personal commendation of General Grant. The regiment remained on the battle-field several days to assist in burying the dead and caring for the wounded of both armies, and then joined the army which was now investing Vicksburg from the rear. Toward the last of May Colonel Hillis resigned, Lieutenant-Colonel Wever was promoted to the vacancy, Major Archer to lieutenant-colonel and Captain Walden to major.


            During the siege of Vicksburg the Seventeenth Iowa was engaged in one fierce encounter with the enemy. A strong defensive work had been erected by the Confederates on the Jackson road named Fort Hill. This post had been mined under direction of General John A. Logan. On the 25th of June it was ready to be fired and the Seventeenth was one of the two regiments chosen to assault and hold the works after the explosion. Early in the afternoon the center of the fort was blown up and some of the troops rushed into the breach and held it, but were not able to make much impression on the enemy. At eleven o’clock at night the Seventeenth Iowa entered the breach and for three hours made a desperate effort to dislodge the enemy. Our men stood on the summit of the shattered parapet and kept up a continuous fire. The enemy hurled shells and hand-grenades among the assailants continuously. Thus the combat continued for three hours, when the regiment was relieved by the Thirty-first Illinois. Its loss in this conflict was three killed and thirty-three wounded, many of whom died. Major Walden was in command of the regiment in this assault.


            After the surrender of Vicksburg the Seventeenth remained in the city until the 9th of September, when the division of which it formed a part embarked for Helena, to reinforce General Steel’s army, and participated in the capture of Little Rock. Soon after the regiment was sent to General Sherman and marched with the Army of the Cumberland to Chattanooga. It took a conspicuous part in this brilliant campaign, fighting with great valor on Missionary Ridge, where it lost fifty-seven men, killed, wounded and prisoners. For several months the regiment was employed in Georgia and Alabama scouting, guarding foraging trains and lines of railroad. During the two years’ service the Seventeenth had traveled over 4,000 miles, taken part in twelve battles, two sieges of Confederate strongholds and a score of skirmishes. Its numbers had been reduced to four hundred seventy-nine men, all of whom reenlisted as veterans on the 1st of April, 1864. For several months the regiment was employed in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, guarding lines of communication. In July it was sent to Tilton. In August, two companies, H and I, were attacked two miles from Dalton by a greatly superior force of the enemy, and, after a brave resistance were compelled to surrender.


            On the 13th of October the Confederate General Stewart with a large force appeared before Tilton. Lieutenant-Colonel Archer, of the Seventeenth Iowa, had two hundred seventy-five men with which to defend the place. The blockhouse built of heavy timbers, would hold seventy-five men. Two hundred were placed in the trenches, and as the enemy approached a heavy fire was opened by the little garrison, which was so effective that the Confederates were held off for several hours. General Stewart then sent in a flag of truce, demanding unconditional surrender. Lieutenant-Colonel Archer refused to surrender and again opened fire on the enemy. Stewart next brought up several pieces of artillery and opened on the blockhouse at close range. Every shot struck the building, shattering the heavy timbers, and piercing the roof in many places. Still the little garrison undismayed kept up a hot fire from the loopholes. Thus the fight went on until nearly three o’clock, when Archer’s men had less than a dozen rounds of ammunition left. A shell crashed through the shattered wall, exploded among the brave defenders, prostrating and wounding many. Colonel Archer realizing that further resistance was hopeless, reluctantly surrendered after eight hours steady fighting. Twenty-four of the brave little garrison were wounded, but none killed. Colonel Clark R. Wever, of the Seventeenth, was at this time in command of a brigade at Resaca. On the 12th of October General Hood approached with his army and opened an attack. Colonel Wever’s force numbered but seven hundred men with four pieces of light artillery. In order to deceive the enemy as to the size of his little army Colonel Wever so placed his men and artillery in the forts as to give the appearance of a formidable army. Hood began to attack with artillery and musketry on three sides. The garrison opened upon his army with a rapid fire, running guns from one embrasure to another in quick succession, while a steady and deadly fire of musketry was belching from the forts. For hours the roar of cannon and rattle of musketry was kept up and no progress was made by Hood. At four o’clock he sent a flag of truce to the fort demanding immediate and unconditional surrender. Colonel Wever refused and the combat opened again with renewed vigor and was kept up until long after dark. In the meantime Colonel Watkins, with five hundred cavalry, had come up from below, crossed the river and gone into the fight to reinforce the garrison. Other reinforcements came during the morning and the battle went on until afternoon, when, upon the approach of General Sherman’s army, Hood made a hasty retreat. All but about forty members of the Seventeenth had been made prisoners at the surrender of Tilton. The remnant of the regiment took part in the campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas. Colonel Wever joined Sherman’s army at Savannah and commanded a brigade through the campaign, serving with great efficiency. The few men left of the Seventeenth remained with the Army of the Tennessee until the regiment was disbanded in August, 1865.


The Eighteenth Iowa Infantry


            The companies making up the Eighteenth Infantry were recruited from the following counties: Company A from Linn, Clinton, Jones, Dubuque and Winneshiek; B from Clarke; C from Lucas and Monroe; D from Iowa, Keokuk and Mahaska; E from Muscatine, Louisa and Linn; F from Wapello and Appanoose; G from Marion, Warren and Polk; H from Fayette, Benton and Clinton; I from Washington, Polk; H from Fayette, Benton and Clinton; I from Washington, Polk and others; K from Muscatine and Mahaska. The regiment numbered eight hundred seventy-five men and officers, and was mustered into service in August, 1862, at Clinton. The first field and staff officers were: John Edwards, colonel; Thomas F. Cook, lieutenant-colonel; Hugh J. Campbell, major; Charles E. Braunlich, adjutant; Sidney S. Smith, quartermaster; John H. Allen, surgeon; and David N. Smith, chaplain.


            In August the regiment was ordered to join the Army of the Southwest at Springfield, Missouri, then under command of General Schofiled. A tedious campaign of hard marches, over bad roads, in bad weather, began in Missouri, extending into Arkansas, bringing much suffering to the soldiers who were learning their first lesson in the hard duties of army life in the enemy’s country. The Eighteenth regiment was sent back to Springfield with the sick and prisoners late in November, which place remained its headquarters until October of the next year. Here it was employed for nearly a year in guarding a great depot of army supplies, fortifying the place, operating against guerrilla bands and scouting.


The Battle of Springfield


            On the 7th of January, 1863, General E. B. Brown, who was in command of the Union army of the Springfield district, learned that the Confederate General Marmaduke with an army of several thousand men had crossed the White River and was marching toward Springfield with several pieces of artillery. Re-enforcements were called in by couriers sent to the various stations within reach, and energetic efforts were promptly made to strengthen the defensive works about the city. Three pieces of light artillery were hastily mounted on wheels and placed in one of the forts. All night troops, aided by the citizens, worked on the barricades and other defenses. The convalescents in the hospitals were armed and organized into a brigade. The Eighteenth Iowa was the only effective regiment in the city. The entire force that could be mustered in defense of the vast depot of army stores here collected did not exceed 1,500 men, including militia, volunteer citizens, convalescents and soldiers. The forts designed for defense of the city were all unfinished. But General Brown was determined to make a desperate defense. Sharpshooters met the enemy three miles out and opened a galling fire from every sheltered spot, retreating slowly as the army advanced. Marmaduke had formed his line of battle with artillery in the center, strongly supported by infantry, while heavy bodies of cavalry were spread out on each wing. As they advanced from the south over the open prairie in battle array, firing from a battery of rifled guns in the center, it was an imposing sight. The moment it came within range of our guns the artillery opened fire which, for a short time, checked the advance. Colonel King, with the Third Missouri Cavalry, and Colonel Hall, Fourth Missouri Cavalry, all militia, bravely charged the enemy’s right and center, but were unable to check the advance. The artillery from Fort Number Four now opened on the foe and for a time held the center in check and forced it back. After the battle had been raging along the entire line for more than an hour and but little progress had been made by the enemy, Marmaduke massed his forces in compact lines and advanced upon our right and center. To meet this formidable movement Captain Landis of the Eighteenth Iowa, with his piece of artillery, was ordered to the front supported by three companies of the regiment under Captains Blue, Van Meter and Stonacre. The enemy at once charged upon the gun and a desperate struggle ensued. Surrounded by overwhelming numbers our men made a heroic fight to save the gun. Captains Blue and Van Meter fell mortally wounded among their slaughtered comrades, while Captain Landis lost his gun after receiving a severe wound. The Confederates captured a stockaded building in the south part of the city, which they used as a fort from which a deadly fire was poured into our ranks. It was now the middle of the afternoon and the enemy was still pressing heavily upon our lines at several points, and it seemed that the lines would be pierced in spite of the utmost efforts of the defenders. Colonel Crabb now led a fierce assault on the enemy’s left center, driving it from position. General Brown rode forward encouraging the militia who were making a desperate fight against overwhelming numbers, when he was shot down and carried from the field. The command devolved upon Colonel Crabb and the battle continued with varying fortune. At one time a part of the Missouri militia gave way before superior numbers, and for a time it looked as though Springfield was lost. But soon rallying, it charged the enemy with great spirit, while at this critical time five companies of the Eighteenth Iowa, stationed at an outpost some distance from Springfield, reached the battle-field. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cook they went into the fight with such effect as to drive the enemy’s center into the stockade. The garrison, which had for many hours been hard pressed and fighting desperately a greatly superior force, was now encouraged by this reinforcement, and, as night came on, the Confederate army retired to the east and the battle was ended. The Eighteenth regiment had something over five hundred men engaged in the battle and its loss was fifty-six. By the splendid courage and heroic resistance of this Iowa regiment and the Missouri militia, Springfield and its valuable army stores were saved from the enemy, who lost more than two hundred men in the engagement. Our loss was about the same. The Eighteenth remained at Springfield several months after the battle, and in April, Colonel Edwards joined it and assumed command of the post. In the fall it marched into Arkansas and on to Fort Smith, where Colonel Edwards was placed in command and the Eighteenth was again assigned to garrison duty. In the spring of 1864, Colonel Edwards was in command of a brigade composed of his own regiment, the First and Second Arkansas and the Second Indiana Battery in the expedition under General Steele into Louisiana. It was a campaign of inefficiency, blunders, needless suffering, heavy losses of trains and useless loss of life. While retreating from Camden the rear guard of General Steele’s army was fiercely attacked by the Confederates near Moscow. The brigade of Colonel Edwards for a while stood the brunt of the battle. Afterward it was reinforced by two other brigades and the conflict lasted several hours, throughout the whole of which the Eighteenth was engaged. On the 17th of April the regiment with a battery was sent to reinforce the First Kansas, which was guarding a forage train threatened by a large force of the enemy. The Eighteenth took its position in the rear of the train, the Kansas regiment being at the front. On the morning of the 18th several thousand Confederates made a fierce attack. The Kansas regiment was overwhelmed and driven in confusion through the lines of the Eighteenth Iowa, which promptly closed up to resist the assault. Seven times the Confederates charged on the regiment with great impetuosity, often piercing its lines, but meeting the most determined resistance. Thus the struggle went on until the Iowa troops were surrounded by vastly superior numbers. Then, charging with fixed bayonets, a bloody path was cut through the enemy’s lines and the survivors returned to Camden, leaving on the field seventy-seven of their comrades killed, wounded and captured. In the retreat of General Steele’s army, which continued before a powerful and victorious Confederate force, the Eighteenth Iowa shared all the hardships and suffering which attended this disastrous campaign. For more than three weeks its march continued through swamps and miry forests short of provisions, subsisting chiefly upon raw corn. The gallant army bore its sufferings, defeats and disasters with fortitude. At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry the Twenty-ninth, Thirty-third, Thirty-sixth and Fortieth Iowa regiments fought with their old-time valor, and the lamented Samuel A. Rice received a wound which proved fatal. The Eighteenth Iowa was in the reserve under Colonel Edwards guarding the ordnance train and was not engaged in the battle.


            At the close of the campaign the regiment returned to Fort Smith, and for several months was employed in that vicinity. Colonel Edwards had been promoted to Brigadier-General, and Lieutenant-Colonel H. J. Campbell was made colonel of the Eighteenth, with J. K. Morey as major. During the winter the regiment made a hard march on short notice beyond Fort Gibson. It was sent to protect a train of six hundred wagons of army supplies, Indian goods and sutlers’ wares. The men for a part of the time subsisted on corn in the ear, and after their return to Fort Smith often suffered for food. The supplies which came by steamboats were often delayed by attacks from the enemy. The Eighteenth remained in the service until late in the summer of 1865, when it mustered out and returned to Iowa. While it had been engaged in none of the great battles of the war and thus deprived of winning the fame and glory shared by many other Iowa regiments whose brilliant achievements are associated with historic fields, it can be truthfully recorded that the Eighteenth Iowa never failed to render faithful service in every station in which it was placed


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