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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter VII

Chapter XX


Pictures included in this chapter are: General Ed. Wright and Lt.-Col. Leander Clark




The Twenty-third Iowa Infantry


            This regiment was recruited from a large number of counties, among which were Polk, Dallas, Story, Wayne, Page, Montgomery, Jasper, Madison, Cass, Marshall and Pottawattamie. The companies went into camp at Des Moines in July and August, 1862. The regiment numbered nine hundred sixty men and was mustered into the service on the 19th of September. The first field officers were: Colonel William Dewy, Lieutenant-Colonel William H. Kinsman, Major Samuel L. Glasgow, Adjutant C. O. Dewey. Its first service in the field was in Missouri, where several months were spent on various expeditions, including hard marches, skirmishes, to which were added suffering from hardship and disease. Colonel Dewey died of erysipelas at Patterson, Missouri, on the 30th of November, and was succeeded by Kinsman, who was commissioned colonel on the 1st of December, 1862. The regiment was engaged in the hard march to Iron Mountain in February and soon after was sent down the Mississippi to Milliken’s Bend to join General Grant’s army in the campaign against Vicksburg, being assigned to the First Brigade of the division commanded by General Carr, where it remained drilling until the army marched to encompass the Confederate stronghold. Many of the gunboats and transports having run the batteries at Vicksburg and Grand Gulf, the army was concentrating at Bruinsburg. The Twenty-third joined in the march into the interior and was warmly engaged in the Battle of Port Gibson, where it did good service and lost thirty-three men. On the 17th of May, after several defeats, the Confederate army made a last stand on the banks of the Black River, and here was fought


The Battle of Black River Bridge


            At this point a high bluff rises abruptly from the water’s edge on the west side. On the east approach there is an open level bottom about a mile in width surrounded by a deep muddy bayou, from ten to twenty feet wide. Along the bayou earthworks had been thrown up mounted with artillery and long lines of breastworks manned by infantry. Half a mile in the rear was a line of earthworks, both extending from the river above the bridge to the river below. This was a strong position, skillfully fortified by able engineers.

            McClernand advanced to the attack with Carr’s Division on the right and Osterhaus on the left; General Lawler commanding the brigade in which was the Twenty-third Iowa on the extreme right of line. Several hours were occupied in skirmishing when Lawler’s Brigade was moved under cover of the river bank, from which he ordered an assault of the enemy’s works. The troops charge across the level bottom land, through the bayou, under a terrible fire form the Confederate earthworks, which covered the ground with the slain; but closing up the gaps they pressed on over the breastworks and captured eighteen pieces of artillery and 1,500 prisoners. Those of the enemy who escaped set fire to the bridge across the river to check pursuit. In this brilliant charge three hundred seventy-three brave men fell, most of whom belonged to the Twenty-first and Twenty-third Iowa regiments. Colonel Kinsman while leading this command was shot by two balls which passed through his body and he fell from his horse dead. Many of his officers and men were slain or mortally wounded, carrying great grief to scores of Iowa homes.

            After the battle the regiment was placed in charge of several thousand prisoners, who were captured at Champion’s Hill and Black River Bridge, to be conveyed to Memphis. Returning it was sent to Milliken’s Bend, where General Dennis was in command of about 1,500 men. They were encamped along the Mississippi between the river and the levee. Breastworks had been thrown up and rifle pits dug to protect the camp. The troops were mostly colored men who had recently enlisted and were under command of Colonels Lieb and Chamberlain. The Twenty-third Iowa, under Lieutenant-Colonel Glasgow, was now reduced by battle and sickness fit for duty. On the 6th of June, Captain Anderson, with two companies of Illinois cavalry, and Colonel Lieb, with the Ninth Louisiana, colored, made a reconnaissance on the Richmond road. They were attacked by Confederates when Colonel Lieb’s regiment opened fire, checking the advance. Colonel Lieb then returned to the Bend, where he was reinforced by the Iowa regiment. At three o’clock in the morning a large force of Confederates was discovered advancing in close column by divisions, with cavalry on the right. The little Union army in line waiting for the onset, withheld fire until the enemy was within short musket range, when it opened all along the line. The assailants wavered for a moment, but rallied and pushed on with the fierce “Rebel Yell.” The negroes fought bravely, but were greatly outnumbered, and finally forced back in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle in which clubbed muskets and bayonets were used in the deadly combat. Two gunboats now opened on the enemy, which was finally repulsed with heavy loss, leaving more than one hundred dead on the field. The Twenty-third Iowa took a conspicuous part in this battle under the leadership of Colonel Glasgow, fighting with unsurpassed courage throughout the long and desperate encounter, losing fifty men out of two hundred. Among the slain was Captain J. C. Brown, of Company I. This battle was notable as the first in which negro troops took a prominent part. The employment of colored men in the army had met with strong opposition from the time it was first proposed. But as the war continued public sentiment changed and many negro regiments were raised. The Battle of Milliken’s Bend demonstrated the fact that the colored men would not only fight bravely but in every respect made good soldiers. In this battle the Iowa regiment fought with the colored brigade, and side by side they won from General Grant warm commendation for their gallantry. After the battle the Twenty-third returned to its brigade in the army investing Vicksburg. Though weak in numbers it did good service in the various trying ordeals of the siege. After Pemberton's surrender the regiment was sent to reinforce Sherman’s army in operations about Jackson, and at the close of that campaign returned to Vicksburg. About the middle of August General Ord’s Corps was transferred to the Department of the Gulf, where for nearly a year the operations of the Twenty-third Iowa were intimately associated with the Twenty-second, as detailed in the history of that regiment. It was employed in Texas and the islands along the coast, then, returning to New Orleans in the spring of 1864, was sent to reinforce the defeated army of General Banks retreating down the Red River valley. It ascended the Mississippi with a command under General Fitz-Henry Warren and proceeded to Fort De Russey, and from there went into camp at the mouth of the Red River, joining General Banks’ army about the middle of May. Later in the season the regiment was placed in a brigade with the Twentieth Iowa, an Illinois and a Wisconsin regiment, meeting the enemy. Early in 1865 the command returned to New Orleans to join the expedition then being fitted out for the last campaign of the war, that against Mobile. Colonel Glasgow was now in command of the brigade and Lieutenant-Colonel C. J. Clark commanded the regiment. In the hard marches, the siege and assaults of that brilliant campaign, the Twenty-third bore an honorable share. In storming the Spanish Fort it again met in combat the Twenty-third Alabama, which had been encountered at Port Gibson, where it was first under fire. Here one man was killed and twenty-five wounded. After two months’ stay in the vicinity of Mobile, the regiment was moved to Columbus, in Texas, where it went into camp under command of Captain J. J. Van Houten. On the 26th of July the regiment was mustered out of the service at Harrisburg, Texas, with four hundred seventeen officers and men. They reached Davenport on the 8th of August, where the regiment was disbanded. After bidding their comrades “good-by” the war-worn soldiers separated to their homes.


The Twenty-fourth Iowa Infantry


          Soon after the President’s call for 300,000 volunteers of July 2, 1862, Governor Kirkwood authorized Eber C. Byam, of Linn County, to raise a regiment. Three companies were accepted from Linn County, two from Cedar, two from Johnson, one from Tama and one from Jones, making in all nine hundred fifty men. E. C. Byam was appointed colonel; J. Q. Wilds, lieutenant-colonel; Ed. Wright, major; and C. L. Byam, adjutant. The regiment went into camp at Muscatine in August, 1862, and on the 18th of September was mustered into service of the United States. On the 20th of October it was embarked on a steamer, reaching Helena, Arkansas, on the 28th, where camp was made on the bank of the Mississippi River. This proved to be an unhealthy locality and soon more than one hundred men were prostrated by sickness. The regiment remained here most of the winter, from time to time engaged in hard marches and fruitless expeditions. On January 11th the regiment embarked on the White River expedition, under General Gorman, and endured almost unparalleled hardships and sufferings, which cost the lives and health of hundreds of those who composed that unfortunate army.

            Upon the return to Helena the old camp and city were found to be inundated and a new encampment had to be prepared on a range of hills. When the floods subsided, mud almost unfathomable prevailed everywhere. A rainy winter came on, in which drilling was almost impossible, and long dreary hours and days were passed by the men cooped up in the cheerless quarters with nothing to relieve the depressing monotony. The hospitals were crowded with the sick and a feeling of hopeless despondency settled down upon the army. Late in February, General Washburn’s expedition started from Helena to open the Yazoo Pass, and this aroused the army from the lethargy that had prevailed, and gave hope of active service in the field. General Fisk’s Brigade went with the expedition, and from this time forward our regiment had daily drill and frequent dress parade. Under the instruction of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilds, now in command of the Twenty-fourth, the regiment was becoming distinguished for its fine discipline and general efficiency. When the army was reorganized in the spring for the Vicksburg campaign, the Twenty-fourth was attached to the Thirteenth Corps under General McClernand, Hovey’s Division. During the three months the regiment had been in camp at Helena, fifty members had died and many were in the hospitals. Of nine hundred fifty men who left their Iowa homes in October but little more than six hundred could be mustered in the ranks on the 11th of April when the fleet attempted to open the way to Vicksburg. The Twenty-fourth supported artillery at the Battle of Fort Gibson and was here first under fire. Not a man flinched and but six men were lost. It was at the


Battle of Champion’s Hill


            fought on the 16th of May, that this regiment made its great sacrifice and won undying fame. General Grant had already won three battles since his army started to capture Vicksburg and General Pemberton determined now to move out of his stronghold and strike the Union army a crushing blow in the rear while General Johnston was engaging it in front. His plan was a good one, and if successful Grant’s army would have been caught in the trap so skillfully laid, Grant had sent McPherson and Sherman two days before to fall upon Johnston’s army at Jackson, while he faced about the main body of his army to meet Pemberton, ordering the detached division to concentrate near Bolton. Grant learned that Pemberton was approaching with an army of 25,000 and ten batteries of artillery, and at once directed Sherman to move with all possible speed to join the main army at Bolton. Pemberton had taken a strong position on a ridge which was protected by precipitous hillsides covered with dense forests and undergrowth. His left rested on a height owned by Colonel Champion, which gave the battle-field its name—Champion’s Hill. McClernand was slow in reaching the ground and the battle was fought mainly by the divisions of Hovey, Logan and Crocker. Hovey moved on the main road until he came within sight of the enemy in his strong position. Deploying his division into line he attacked the whole front of the Confederate army with great impetuosity and for more than an hour the battle raged with great fury at this point. Charge after charge was made on the Confederate lines with varying success. At one time the Twenty-fourth Iowa, unsupported, made a desperate charge on a battery that was pouring a destructive fire into our ranks, and captured it. Carried away with the enthusiasm of their brilliant achievement the men rushed on with shouts of victory until checked by a terrible fire of musketry from greatly superior numbers. In this charge Major Ed Wright was wounded, Captains Silas Johnson and William Carbee and Lieutenants J. C. Gue, S. J. McKinley and J. W. Strong severely wounded. Hovey held his position for more than an hour and a half amid a most terrific fire of musketry when his lines were forced back by overwhelming numbers. Fortunately at this juncture he was reinforced by Crocker’s Division and, again returning to the attack, the combined forces finally, by severe fighting, broke the enemy’s lines, reinforced by Logan, the enemy retreating in great confusion down the Vicksburg road, artillery and many prisoners falling into our hands.

            The enemy was now driven from every position, beaten and in full retreat, but our losses had been very heavy in this by far the greatest battle of the campaign. The killed, wounded and missing in our army were 2,457, of which Hovey’s Division lost more than 1,200. The Confederate army lost more than 2,000 prisoners, twenty pieces of artillery and General Tilgham killed. Of the Iowa regiments engaged in this battle the Fifty, Tenth, Seventeenth, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-eighth were in the thickest of the fight and were particularly distinguished for their bravery. The Twenty-fourth lost one hundred ninety-five men, of which forty-three were killed and forty mortally wounded. The regiment bore a prominent part in the siege and capture of Vicksburg, and few suffered more or accomplished more in bringing about that great victory. The Twenty-fourth joined General Sherman’s army and participated in his campaign through central Mississippi, after which it was transferred to the Department of the Gulf. In October and November it was with General Franklin’s expedition to Opelousas. Upon its return while camped at Carencro Bayou Captain J. C. Gue was killed by a band of Texas Rangers. The regiment was in the battle near that camp, where General Burbridge was attacked on the 3d of November. During the winter months of 1864 the Twenty-fourth was in camp near New Orleans until in March, when it joined General Banks’ army and was in his disastrous Red River expedition. The army, accompanied by an immense baggage train, was strung out in a long struggling line of many miles, as it made its way along the various roads through a dense pine forest. On the 8th of April at Sabine Cross Roads, near Mansfield, the advance cavalry came upon the Confederate army drawn up in order of battle across our line of march. The cavalry was soon routed and fled back upon the infantry in great confusion. One at a time the divisions of the Thirteenth Corps were sent into action and fought bravely to check the advancing foe, but each in turn was defeated. The Nineteenth Corps made a strong fight to recover the fortunes of the day but was overwhelmed by superior numbers, and the whole army was soon in retreat closely followed by the victorious Confederates, who were sending death and destruction into the disordered, fleeing mass of men and horses. But one-half of the Twenty-fourth Iowa was engaged in this battle, as five companies were in the rear guarding the trains. The part of the regiment engaged and the division to which it belonged fought bravely for an hour, but was finally compelled to retreat with heavy loss. Captain W. C. Dimmitt was mortally wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy, where he died. Dr. Witherwax, surgeon of the regiment, with his assistant, Dr. Lyons, were made prisoners while caring for the wounded. During the retreat the Twenty-fourth was frequently engaged in skirmishes with the enemy, in one of which Captain B. G. Paul was killed. At Alexandria Lieutenant-Colonel Wilds joined the regiment after some week’s absence in the recruiting service. Colonel Byam had resigned soon after the Battle of Champion’s Hill.

            On the 22d of July the regiment began its long voyage by river, gulf and ocean to Alexandria, Virginia, arriving on the 30th. It was soon sent to join General Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley, and participated in the Battle of Winchester, where it own especial distinction. When the fortunes of the day seemed to be going against the Union army, after the Nineteenth Corps and a part of the Sixth had been overwhelmed and thrown into a disorderly retreat, the Confederates advanced steadily with yells of triumph and a constant roll of murderous musketry. It was the bloodiest, darkest and most dramatic moment of the day. Through the midst of hopeless confusion, when all seemed lost, Captain William T. Rigby of the Twenty-fourth Iowa was observed leading a sergeant and twelve men, all marching in perfect order toward the assigned rallying point. “Captain, you are not going to retreat any further, I hope?” said Bradbury, of the first Maine Battery. “Certainly not,” said Rigby. “Halt! Front! Three cheers!” and the little band cheered loudly. It was the first note of defiance that broke the desperate monotony of the panic; it gave heart to every one who heard it and made an end of retreat on that part of the field. In a few moments a battalion of men from a dozen regiments had rallied around the brave little band, supporting Captain Bradbury, who had opened with two guns of his battery on the advancing enemy. Inspired by the sight, soldiers rallied by the hundreds, our shattered lines were reformed and the disorderly retreat ended. A heavy fire of musketry was now poured into the ranks of the exultant Confederates, which compelled them to halt. Regiment after regiment of Union soldiers was hastily reformed; our second line advanced and gained the lost ground amid terrible slaughter. All along the lines our men had rallied and the order was given to charge. With loud shouts of defiance the soldiers rushed to the attack, and the tide of battle was turned. The enemy gave way before the impetuous charge; the lines were broken by the terrible onset, and the whole Confederate army melted into a routed, disorganized mass of fleeing men, sent whirling up the valley pursued by Crook’s cavalry. Three thousand prisoners and five guns were captured. Our loss in killed and wounded was about 3,000. The Twenty-fourth did as good service as any regiment on the field and none contributed more to stay the panic early in the day and turn that disaster into a sweeping victory. It lost seventy-four men, only three of whom were captured. Among the killed were Captain J. R. Gould and Lieutenant S. S. Dillman, while Adjutant D. W. Camp and Lieutenants Edgington and Williams were wounded. Immediately after the battle General Early rallied his retreating army at Fisher’s Hill, a strong position just beyond Strasburg, his line extending across the valley, while his right and left rested on mountains. On the 22d, General Sheridan drew up his men in line of battle before the Confederate army and made his preparations for attack. It was a short but brilliant action as the Union army moved to the assault and swept everything before it. One thousand two hundred prisoners and sixteen cannon were captured. The Twenty-fourth went into battle in support of a Maine battery and took part in the final charge on the enemy’s lines, joining in the pursuit during which Captain McKinley was severely wounded.

            The army took up a position on Cedar Creek and proceeded to fortify its lines on the left and center. General Early, having been heavily reinforced, determined to risk another battle. General Sheridan was absent in Winchester on the 19th of October when the attack was made. It was a complete surprise of the Union army as no one suspected the presence of an enemy in the vicinity. Starting early in the evening of the 18th the Confederate army in two columns, made its way over six miles of rough ground on the mountain sides. For a long distance the enemy made its silent march close to General Crook’s line, but so stealthy was the midnight movement that no alarm was given. An hour before daylight all of the divisions of Early’s army had reached the places assigned them. The command was given and a tremendous volley of musketry in flank and rear roused the sleeping soldiers of the Union army. Then came the well known battle yell as the enemy charged into our bewildered lines and occupied the trenches. In fifteen minutes our army was a flying mob. Generals Grover and Emory made heroic efforts to stop the wild panic, and with a few brigades, which retained their organization, to check the fierce onslaught; but they were overwhelmed with great slaughter. The Sixth and Nineteenth Corps made a stern resistance, but were unable to stand long against the fearful odds and soon the whole army was in retreat with the loss of twenty-four guns and 1,200 prisoners, camps and equipage. AT ten a.m., Sheridan, after his famous ride from Winchester, reached the field just as Wright had succeeded in checking the retreat. The Confederates, exhausted by sixteen hours’ hard marching and fighting, had now halted to rest or were slowly marching without firing. Sheridan’s presence and cheering words soon inspired confidence, each command was ordered to face about, form lines and advance. For two hours he rode along the newly forming lines visiting different parts of the field, encouraging the men and carefully studying the situation. Emory had posted the Nineteenth Corps in the woods on the left, thrown up a rude breast work of rocks and rails where he was attacked at one p.m., but the enemy was repulsed. This cheering news soon reached other parts of the field, inspiring courage and hope. At three p.m. the order was given for the entire line to advance. Steadily bit firmly the long lines of infantry pressed forward pouring in a deadly fire of musketry. The Confederates faltered, broke and fled. A second charge completed the victory as our cavalry rode fiercely through the disordered ranks of the enemy now in full retreat. All of the lost guns were recaptured with additional ones, also 1,500 prisoners, besides rescuing most of our men taken in the morning. In this the last of the three great victories of the campaign the Twenty-fourth Iowa bore a brilliant part. No regiment in that famous and desperate battle fought more steadfastly and heroically all through the varying fortunes of the day than the Twenty-fourth. Nearly a hundred of its officers and men were killed or disabled. The brave Colonel Wilds was mortally wounded and died soon after the battle. Major Ed Wright, Captains E. H. Pound, A. R. Knott and A. M. Loomis and Lieutenant C. H. Kurtz were wounded, and Captain W. W. Smith and Lieutenant Charles Davis were taken prisoners.

            The regiments remained in Virginia until early in January, 1865, when it was sent to Savannah, Georgia, where it remained tow months, afterward doing duty in North Carolina and various part of Georgia. It was mustered out of the service on the 17th of July, 1865, at Savannah. During the term of service one colonel and six of its captains were killed, and the regiment participated in nine of the great battles of the war. No State ever contributed a better regiment to the Union army.(1)




End note


1. Levi L. Hoag, corporal of Company C, kept a diary in which was briefly recorded a history of the doings of the regiment every day from the time it left Muscatine until it returned to Iowa at the close of the war. He served through the entire war in the exposed position of color bearer without receiving a scratch.




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