IAGenWeb Project

Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter XVIII


Pictures included in this chapter are: Battle Field of Prairie Grove,
Major General Francis J. Herron, Major Wm. B. Thompson



The Nineteenth Iowa Infantry


          The opening days of July, 1862, brought a feeling of despair to thousands of patriotic people in the North. The great Union Army of the Potomac organized, equipped and drilled under the personal supervision of General George B. McClellan, from which so much had been expected, after seven days of fierce battles near Richmond had been defeated, and by direction of its commander had retreated to the protection of the gunboats. President Lincoln, however, undismayed by the great disaster, promptly issued a call on the 2d of July for 300, 000 more volunteers to reinforce the ranks of the Union armies. Under this proclamation Iowa raised twenty-two additional regiments. The first of these was the Nineteenth, which was composed of companies raised in the counties of Lee, Van Buren, Jefferson, Henry, Louisa and Washington. The regiment numbered nine hundred eighty-two officers and privates, the first field officers being Colonel Benjamin Crabb, Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel McFarland, Major Daniel Kent. The Nineteenth went into camp at Keokuk in August, where it remained about two weeks. Arriving at St. Louis on the 4th of September it was soon after attached to a brigade commanded by General F. J. Herron, which was sent to Springfield. About the middle of October the Army of the Frontier was organized, and the Nineteenth was attached to the Third Division under the same General. On the 17th began a campaign of hard marching, passing the battle-fields of Pea Ridge and White River, a distance of one hundred miles, over a rough mountain region, in three days and nights. Returning to Camp Curtis, twelve miles south of Springfield, the regiment enjoyed a rest of two weeks, when it was ordered to join the army of General Blunt just before


The Battle of Prairie Grove


            General J. G. Blunt, in command of the Army of the Frontier, had recently defeated a Confederate army under Marmaduke at Cane Hill in Arkansas and was camped near the battle-field. In the meantime Marmaduke had effected a junction with a large army under General Hindman and the combined forces turned back, making a rapid march to overwhelm the Union army. Blunt called upon Herron to come to his aid. Herron started on the morning of December 3 with his two divisions, and moving by forced marches reached Elkhorn on the evening of the 5th. From there he sent a large part of his cavalry, including the First Iowa, to General Blunt’s assistance, while the infantry made a night march over the mountains to within fifteen miles of the battle-field. In the meantime General Hindman, with his large army, had taken a position between the two Union armies to prevent their junction. The battle began on the 5th, when General Blunt’s pickets were attacked by a large force of the enemy’s cavalry, which was repulsed. The next morning, largely reinforced, the enemy renewed the attack and drove the pickets several miles. General Herron was hastening forward to reach Cane Hill and had sent two more regiments of cavalry to join Blunt. These regiments, the Seventh Missouri and Fifth Arkansas, soon encountered a greatly superior force under Marmaduke and were driven back in confusion. Upon a further advance General Herron found the main body of the Confederate army drawn up on a high ridge, covered with timber and underbrush, beyond Illinois River. The approach must be made over an open prairie of meadows and corn fields. General Herron formed his line of battle with the Second Division on the right and the Third on the left. The Ninety-fourth Illinois Infantry and a section of a Missouri battery crossed the river and opened fire on the enemy, but were soon compelled to retire before a heavy fire of artillery concentrated on them by the Confederates. Opening a road through the woods half a mile away to divert attention of the enemy and draw their fire of eighteen pieces of artillery, threw his infantry across the ford and deployed into line on the south side of the river. The artillery opened on both sides of the river. The artillery opened on both sides with increased energy and for an hour the steady roar of cannon continued. Many of the enemy’s batteries were disabled and General Herron firmly holding his ground determined to assault the confederate lines on the protected ridge, trusting that General Blunt, hearing the roar of artillery, would hasten to his aid. He realized the danger that confronted his little army facing a foe whose numbers exceeded his own more than three to one. With a river in his rear, on an open plain, he kept the enemy in check by the skillful handling of his artillery which poured a constant storm of missiles into the Confederate lines. At length a strong force was seen moving from the ridge to charge on our left. Colonel Orm’s Brigade was sent to was sent to meet the assault, while the First Brigade, under Colonel Bertram, charge directly upon the enemy’s right center. The batteries supported by the Nineteenth and Twentieth Wisconsin advanced over the open ground, hurling shell  and canister into the woods in front. Their ranks were thinned by a battery on the hill and a continuous fire of musketry as they moved steadily on to the assault. When within a hundred yards of the hill the artillery halted, and with fixed bayonets the two regiments captured the guns and moved steadily on to the assault. When within a hundred yards of the hill the artillery halted, and with fixed bayonets the two regiments charged up the hill, drove the support from the battery, captured the guns and moved on. Colonel McFarland, who was leading the Nineteenth Iowa in this desperate charge, was pierced through the heart while cheering his men to deeds of valor, his manly form being a conspicuous mark for the storm of bullets poured into the ranks. Overwhelmed by superior numbers the gallant brigade was finally driven back with heavy loss. The enemy followed, charging en masse on our artillery which met them with a terrific fire, but on they came with reckless daring to within one hundred yards of the guns when they received a fire so terrible that they were hurled back, shattered, broken and dismayed. The batteries that did such heroic service and saved the day were those of Backof, Foust and Boeries. Another gallant charge was now made by the Twenty0sixth Indiana and the Thirty-seventh Illinois, led by Colonel Houston, which captured a battery, but was finally driven back with heavy loss. While the little Union army was still holding its ground by magnificent charges against vastly superior numbers, and was anxiously listening and watching for the coming of General Blunt, at three o’clock came the joyful sound in the distance of the roar of cannon on the extreme right as his advance batteries hastily unlimbered and opened on the enemy.


            Early on the morning of the 7th General Blunt discovered that a large portion of the Confederate army had disappeared from the field, and surmising that it had gone to intercept Herron’s approach, he instantly put his army in motion for the battle-field. Hurrying forward by forced march in a few hours he heard the distant roar of cannon which told the story of Herron’s peril. On double-quick his army made the last five miles in an hour, and with loud cheers appeared on the enemy’s left. His artillery soon opened on the right to the great relief of Herron’s sorely pressed regiments. The battle was now waged with great fury all along the line. Colonel Dye of Iowa, commanding a brigade of the Second Division, in which was the Twentieth Iowa, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Leake, made a vigorous charge on the enemy’s lines.(1) Charges and counter-charges were continued, while the destructive fire of artillery thinned the ranks on either side until darkness put an end to the desperate conflict. Now despairing of victory General Hindman, under cover of night, began his stealthy retreat. Muffling the sound of his artillery and wagons by wrapping the tires with blankets, he silently moved his defeated army in the direction of Van Buren, and when morning dawned the main portion of his army was many miles from the battle-field in rapid retreat. The Confederates’ loss in this bloody battle was reported by General Blunt to be over, 2,000, while that of the Union army in killed and wounded and missing was 1,143, more than nine hundred being in General Herron’s command. When the greatly superior strength of the Confederate army is considered, this victory must be regarded as one of the most remarkable of the war.(2)


            The Nineteenth Iowa remained in the vicinity of the battle-field until the close of the year. For several months the regiment was employed in southwestern Missouri, marching to various places threatened by the enemy, guarding trains and property. In May it was for a time at Salem, attached to the command of General Thomas Ewing. Early in June it was sent to reinforce General Grant’s army before Vicksburg. Here it remained, participating in the various duties devolving upon the army of investment, until the surrender of that stronghold. On the 4th of July the regiment was a part of the conquering army that marched triumphantly into the captured city of Vicksburg. A week later it was sent with General Herron on an expedition to Yazoo City, participating in the hard marches of that midsummer campaign, returning to Vicksburg on the 21st of July. The regiment was next sent with the army that moved by transports down the river to Port Hudson, where it suffered greatly from sickness, of which many died. In August the command continued down the river to Carrollton, near New Orleans, and camped in a beautiful grove on dry and healthy ground, where for three weeks the men regained spirits and vigor. Early in September General Herron was sent with his command up the river to disperse parties of the enemy who were attempting to blockade the Mississippi near the mouth of Red River. The army first landed at Morganza and made a fortified camp, sending out scouting parties in various directions. Constant skirmishes were taking place between small forces of the two armies.


            On the 12th of September Lieutenant-Colonel Leake of the Twentieth, was sent seven miles to Stirling Farm in command had frequent skirmishes with the enemy. On the 29th a large force suddenly came upon his command, making a fierce attack in front, flank and rear. This attack was met with a sharp fire. But soon rallying in vastly superior numbers the enemy surrounded the small Union force and opened a deadly fire at close quarters. Seeing no hope of escape, to avoid the useless sacrifice of the lives of his brave soldiers, Colonel Leake at last surrendered. Ten members of the Nineteenth were killed and twenty-four wounded in the fight.(3) The prisoners were taken to Texas, and it was nearly a year before they were exchanged. The remainder of the regiment was now in command of Captain William Allen. About two-thirds of the members had fortunately been absent owing to sickness, and the captured numbered but two hundred thirty-one, two of whom were mortally wounded. The enemy lost fifty killed and many wounded. The next service of the Nineteenth was under General Banks in an expedition into Texas. At Brownsville it formed a part of the garrison under command of Colonel Dye, where it remained until July, 1864. Returning to New Orleans on the 7th of August one hundred eighty of those captured at Stirling Farm, who had been exchanged, joined the regiment. IT was a joyful meeting of comrades long separated. Many had died during the imprisonment, and Captain William Adams died from its effects soon after reaching New Orleans.


            On the 14th of August the regiment embarked for Pensacola, Florida, where it remained scouting in the adjacent country until the 6th of December, when it was sent to Fort Gaines in Alabama, and from there into Mississippi, where it had frequent skirmishes with the enemy. In January, 1865, the Nineteenth was back at Fort Gaines, and took a conspicuous part in the brilliant campaign of marches, siege and engagements which resulted in the capture of Mobile. The regiment was in the assault on the Spanish Fort where the Eighth Iowa covered itself with glory. In this battle the Nineteenth lost four killed and seventeen wounded. The fall of Mobile was substantially the last battle of the war and in July the Nineteenth Iowa was there mustered out of service. Returning to Davenport it was disbanded the last of the month, being then under command of Colonel John Bruce.


The Twentieth Iowa Infantry


          This was one of the first regiments raised in Iowa under the call for 300,000 volunteers issued in July, 1862, and was formed of ten companies raised in Scott and Linn, each of these counties furnishing five companies. They were rendezvoused at Clinton, where the organization of the regiment numbering nine hundred two men, was completed on the 20th of August. Captain William McE. Dye, who had served in the regular army, was commissioned colonel; J. B. Leake, lieutenant-colonel; William G. Thompson, major; C. S. Lake, adjutant. Leake and Thompson had been prominent members of the Legislature. A week after organization the regiment went to Camp Herron at Davenport, where it remained a few days before embarking for the seat of war. On the 8th of September arriving at St. Louis it remained in Benton Barracks about a week, when it was sent to Springfield under a command of Lieutenant-Colonel Leake, Colonel Dye being in command of a brigade consisting of the Twentieth Iowa, Thirty-seventh Illinois, First Iowa Cavalry and a section of the First Missouri Light Artillery. This brigade was assigned to the division under command of General Totten and for two months was kept moving through the rough country of southwest Missouri and western Arkansas.


            During the months of October and November the Twentieth marched more than five hundred miles over bad roads, encountering cold rains, mud and swollen streams, which had to be forded. The baggage trains and artillery were often mired in the water-soaked roads, while the soldiers in drenching rains, shivering in their wet clothing, waited for them for hours unsheltered. The sufferings were so great that hundreds were prostrated by sickness until the hospitals were overflowing and deaths were frequent. At no time during the entire term of service did the Twentieth regiment endure more wretched discomfort than during these first tow months of hard marching unrelieved by any of the exhilaration of a conflict with the enemy. To the common soldiers it seemed like a useless, fruitless and even a cruel campaign as they could see no results. But General Curtis, who commanded the department and was more competent to judge of its effects, held a different opinion. Hard marches sometimes accomplished more far-reaching results in a comprehensive campaign than a brilliant battle. Toward the last of November the Second Division, in which was the Twentieth regiment, was back in Camp Lyon near Springfield, where it remained about two weeks. On the evening of December 3d a courier arrived from General Blunt calling for reinforcements as he was about to be attacked by a largely superior army. Early the next morning the Second Division was on the road and made the march of one hundred ten miles in three days, reaching the field just in time to take a glorious part in the Battle of Prairie Grove. An account of the gallant service of the Twentieth Regiment has already been given in the description of this battle found in the history of the Nineteenth Regiment. The loss in that conflict was eight killed and thirty-nine wounded out of two hundred seventy who were in the engagement. After the battle the regiment went into camp on the field, remaining until near the last of December resting from its arduous services of the past three months.


            The defeat of the Confederate army at Prairie Grove was most beneficial to the Union cause in Missouri, saving that State from pillage, waste and the horrors which an invading army inflict upon the loyal people along its line of march. The army of the Confederates, numbering more than 20,000 at the time of the battle, was now defeated, demoralized and dispersed over the southwest in small bands. It was two years before another large army of Confederates could be mustered in that region north of the Arkansas line.


            The Twentieth Regiment participated in General Blunt’s capture of Van Buren, where General Hindman’s army was further dispersed and several steamers and a large amount of army supplies destroyed. Upon the return of the Union army to Prairie Grove, General Schofield assumed command and soon after began a series of hard marches and counter-marches in pursuit of General Marmaduke’s army among the passes of the Boston Mountains. Rain, snow and mud brought great discomfort to the troops in this exhausting campaign. Late in April the Twentieth Regiment was sent to St. Louis and there divided, performing various duties in and about the city until the middle of May, when it was sent to Pilot Knob. In June the Twentieth rejoined the command of General Herron. Captain Barney, in speaking of the services of the regiment in Missouri says:


            “We had marched on foot since leaving Rolla on the 10th of September one thousand one hundred and twenty-seven miles, most of the marches being made during the winter season, exposed to rains and at times over roads almost impassable on account of the mud. Much of the time we had been on half rations and with inadequate supplies of clothing. The hardships endured on these marches had thinned our ranks more than would as many hard fought battles. And now, even after the lapse of time, and more stirring scenes of sieges and battles in which we took part, our memories still retain vivid recollections of the lonely wayside graves where we deposited the bodies of our comrades along the route of those unparalleled marches. They fell not in battle, but by disease contracted while in the performance of duties beyond their strength, and under circumstances of peculiar hardship. We shall never cease to honor their memories for the heroism which enabled many of them at times while even suffering under disease to still continue in the discharge of their duties.”


            The command was soon ordered to join Grant’s army, then pushing the siege of Vicksburg from the rear, reaching its position on the left on the 14th of June. Here it remained taking an active part in the various duties required until the surrender of the Confederate army and the strongly fortified city. On the morning of the 4th of July our regiment marching at the head of the division entered the Confederates’ works and was the first on the left to plant the Stars and Stripes on the battlements of Vicksburg. Soon after the surrender General Herron’s Division was sent to reinforce the army of the Gulf, then under the command of General N. P. Banks. The change from the command of the great General who never lost a battle to that of one who brought only disasters to armies he led, was most unwelcome to the Twentieth, taking it from the stirring scene of brilliant victories to a region of monotonous marches and weary garrison duty. At Post Hudson the regiment suffered greatly from sickness and many brave soldiers died during the three weeks’ stay. Early in September the Twentieth was sent with the expedition to Morganza, during which Lieutenant-Colonel Leake was sent out with a small command, including part of the Nineteenth Iowa, to hold an untenable position. Attacked on all sides by overwhelming numbers his small force made a heroic attempt to cut its way out, but the odds were too great and after fifty men had fallen in the struggle Colonel Leake was compelled to surrender. Colonel Dye being in command of a brigade, that of the regiment now devolved upon Major Thompson. Early in November the regiment was stationed on the island of Brazos Santiago in Texas, and remained among the islands of this vicinity and on the mainland for a long time, afterward doing garrison duty on Mustang Island seven months, making trips along the bay and coast of the mainland in the spirit of adventure. A detachment of the regiment under Captain Barney captured the “Lizzie Bacon,” a blockade running vessel, and took her to Mustang Island in May. Major Thompson resigned on the 18th of May, leaving Captain M. L. Thompson, of Company C, in command of the regiment. On the 24th of June, 1864, the regiment was relieved from there marched to Brownsville, where it remained until the 29th of July. In August it was sent to Fort Gaines, Alabama, and later participated in the siege and bombardment of Fort Morgan without loss. Early in September it was carried by transport to New Orleans and up the river to Morganza, the old camp near which its commander was captured by the enemy nearly a year before. Her Lieutenant-Colonel Leake again joined his regiment, having been exchanged after a long imprisonment in Texas. The regiment was employed at various points along the river and in Arkansas until the 8th of January, 1865, when it was moved to Pensacola, Florida. IT was actively engaged in the Mobile campaign, doing excellent service in the brilliant achievements of the Union army. The Twentieth took part in the investment and assault of Blakely and was in the column that stormed and captured the works in the face of a terrific fire of artillery and musketry on the 9th of April. On the 14th the regiment was moved into Mobile, where it remained until the 8th of July, 1865, when it was mustered out. It was disbanded at Clinton, Iowa, on the 27th in the presence of a large gathering of citizens, friends and relatives who welcomed the return of the gallant and war-worn soldiers who had survived the ravages of three years of hard service.





  1. The loss of the regiment in this charge was forty-seven men. Major Thompson was among the wounded.

2.   The Nineteenth Regiment lost forty-five killed and one hundred and fifty-five wounded in this battle. Among the killed were Lieutenants L. M. Smith and Thomas Johnston.

  1. Among the killed were Lieutenants Silas Kent and J. W. Roberts, while Captain Andrew Taylor and Lieutenants L. M. Woods and Thomas A. Robb were wounded


back to History Index