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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter XXIV


The Thirty-first Iowa Infantry


Pictures included in this chapter are: Colonel John Scott and Battle Field of Pleasant Hill


            Of the companies making up this regiment, A. was raised in Linn County, B, C, and D in Black Hawk County, E and F in Jackson, G in Cedar and Jones, H in Jones County and I and K in Jackson County. William Smyth of Linn County was commissioned colonel; J. W. Jenkins, lieutenant-colonel; Ezekiel Cutler, major; and E. C. Blackman, adjutant. The companies went into camp at Davenport in the early part of September, 1862, and were mustered into service on the 13th of October, numbering nine hundred seventy men. Early in November the regiment was ordered south and reached Helena on the 20th, where it went into camp. It was sent with the Hovey expedition to Coldwater River, Mississippi, and two weeks later joined Sherman’s army in the Vicksburg campaign. It fought with Hovey’s Brigade in the Battle at Chickasaw Bayou, but was not in the disastrous assault which closed the engagement. Colonel Smyth was not a military man and the thorough drilling of his regiment had been neglected, which for a time detracted somewhat from its efficiency in the early months of service. The Thirty-first was in the expedition against Arkansas Post and took part in the severe battle which resulted in its capture on the 11th of January, 1863.

            The general history of the Thirty-first regiment from this time to the close of Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg is similar to that of the Fourth, Ninth, Twenty-fifth, Twenty-sixth and Thirtieth regiments already given. In brief, it was in the Greenville expedition, in the battle at Raymond on the 12th of May, marched with that part of the army which captured Jackson and from there joined Grant’s army before Vicksburg, took part in the bloody assault of May 22d and bore its part in the labors and perils of the siege which followed, until the surrender. It did its duty nobly all through the severe campaign and met with heavy losses. Lieutenant-Colonel Jenkins was among the wounded. Joining the column sent against Jackson the second time, on the 27th of July, it went into camp on the Big Black River. Toward the last of September the regiment moved with Osterhaus’ Division to enter the campaign against Chattanooga. It was engaged in the battles of lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Ringgold, after which the Union army went into winter quarters—the Thirty-first regiment at Woodville, Alabama. On the 1st of May it marched to northern Georgia and joined the grand army collected by General Sherman for his famous conquest of the southeastern States. This army now consisted of nearly 70,000 men under General Thomas known as the Army of the Cumberland; the Army of the Tennessee under General McPherson 24,000 strong; the Army of the Ohio numbering 13,000 under command of General Schofield; making a total of more than 100,000 men with two hundred fifty-four pieces of artillery. Against this magnificent array of western soldiers, led by some of the most brilliant officers in the service, the Southern Confederacy was only able to gather an army of about 50,000 men which consisted of the corps of Hood, Hardee and Polk and 4,000 cavalry under Wheeler, all under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston, one of the ablest officers in the service. The disparity in numbers was too great for hope of being able to successfully resist the onward march of Sherman through the South.


The Battle of Resaca


          Johnston took a position at Dallas behind a lofty spur of the Alleghanies called Rocky Faced Ridge, through which runs a railway following a gap made by Mill Creek, which winds along the opening here called Buzzard’s Roost Gap. On the 7th of May the Army of the Cumberland took a position opposite the Gap on Tunnel Hill and two days later General Schofield moved down from the north close to Dalton. Demonstrations were made by Hooker had Howard and an engagement of some magnitude took place. General McPherson occupied a strong position I the mountains at Snake Gap. Leaving Howard’s Corps to watch the enemy in front of Buzzard’s Roost, General Sherman sent Hooker and Palmer with the Twentieth and Fourteenth Corps to Snake Gap where Schofield was directed to join them. On the 12th Sherman’s entire army with the exception of Howard’s Corps moved form the Gap into a more level country and marched in battle array toward Resaca, where General Johnston was found strongly intrenched on a line extending from the Oostanaula above, to the river below the town. Hood’s Corps held the right of his position, Hardee the center and Polk the left. McPherson was on the right wing of the Union army, Thomas, the center, and Schofield, the left. The battle opened on the morning of the 14th. Palmer with his Fourteen Corps on the left center made a powerful attack trying to force the enemy from his strong position. Schofield, with the divisions of Newton and Cox, made a vigorous advance further on the left, driving the Confederates from the works. Still further to the left Schofield in person led an attack supported by Howard who had followed the enemy from Dalton. They were repulsed with heavy loss at this point, retreating in confusion. But Hooker came to their aid and drove the Confederates back. Logan’s Fifteenth Corps on the right now made a successful charge and, crossing Camp Creek, drove the enemy from the rifle pits and gained a commanding position from which he opened an enfilading fire. A furious charge was made to drive him from his position but it was defeated with great slaughter. This ended the first day’s battle.

            On the morning of the 15th Hooker made a fierce assault on the enemy’s right and carried two important positions from which he couldn’t to be dislodged. The battle now became general all along the line. The steady roar of artillery and the incessant rattle of musketry told the desperate nature of the conflict. General E. W. Rice of Iowa, commanding a brigade in General Dodge’s Sixteenth Corps, crossed the Oostanaula below Resaca and making a fierce attack turned the enemy’s position at that point. During the night of the 15th the Confederate army retreated. The loss of the Union army in these engagements was about eight hundred killed and 4,000 wounded. In addition to the heavy loss of the enemy in killed and wounded 1,000 prisoners and eight guns were captured by General Hooker. The Iowa regiments did not suffer severely with the exception of the Seventh which had a sharp engagement at Lay’s Ferry. Lieutenant-Colonel Jenkins was again severely wounded.

            On the 28th the Battle of Dallas was fought. Here McPherson was attacked and at one time his lines were broken. But Williamson’s Iowa Brigade came to the rescue and in a brilliant charge drove the enemy from the field. All through this campaign the Thirty-first Iowa bravely did its part. At Big Shanty and at Kenesaw it was engaged with the enemy, and again at Nickajack Creek. It moved with the army in the flanking movement to Jonesboro and participated in the numerous engagements which resulted in the fall of Atlanta. It joined in the march to the sea in November. On the 15th of December, 1864, Colonel Smyth resigned and the command of the regiment devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Jenkins. In January the regiment moved with the army northward through the Carolinas and participated in the capture of Columbia and the Battle of Bentonsville. In May it reached Washington and was in the grand review of the 24th. The active service of the regiment was ended but it was not mustered out until June 27th, being at that time stationed at Louisville, Kentucky. Upon its arrival at Davenport thousands of citizens assembled and gave it a most cordial welcome. James T. Lane on behalf of the city in an eloquent address expressed the gratitude of the people at home over the return of the war-worn veterans and Colonel Jenkins responded on behalf of the regiment. As the remnants of the various companies returned to their respective homes the gladness of families and friends was tempered with sorrow of the bereaved ones for the brave boys who slept in unmarked graves from Helena to Bentonsville. Of the nine hundred seventy men who, less than three years before had proudly marched away in their country’s service, but three hundred seventy were now in the ranks of the returning veterans.


The Thirty-second Iowa Infantry


            This regiment was raised in the late summer and early fall of 1862. Company A was recruited in the counties of Hamilton, Wright, Hardin and Kossuth, B in Cerro Gordo, Winnebago and Hancock, C in Black Hawk, D in Boone, E in Butler and Black Hawk, F in Hardin and Grundy, G. in Butler and Floyd, H in Franklin and Butler, I in Webster and Humboldt, K in Marshall and Story. The regiment went into camp at Dubuque and was organized with John Scott of Story County, colonel; E. H. Mix of Butler, lieutenant-colonel; G. A. Eberhart of Black Hawk, major; and Charles Aldrich of Hamilton, adjutant. The measles in a malignant form broke out in camp and there was much suffering. The regiment numbered nine hundred twenty men when ordered to St. Louis, reaching Benton Barracks on the 21st of November. Six Companies under Colonel Scott were sent by order of General Curtis to New Madrid and the other four companies to Cape Girardeau under command of Major Eberhart. The separation of the regiment continued until the spring of 1864 and caused much annoyance, besides being very distasteful to the officers and men. The companies under Major Eberhart were A, commanded by Captain L. H. Cutler; D, Captain Thomas De Tarr; F, Captain Joseph Edgington, and G, Captain C. A. L. Roszell. They, with a company of Missouri heavy artillery, made up the garrison of Cape Girardeau until the spring of 1863. On the 10th of March the garrison was reinforced by the First Nebraska Volunteers and soon after Major Eberhart marched his detachment with a regiment of Wisconsin cavalry and a battery of Missouri artillery to Bloomfield, where it remained until the 21st of April. The Confederate General Marmaduke was now threatening Cape Girardeau. General McNeil, commanding the Union forces in the vicinity, marched at once to threatened town and called in the scattered detachments. The companies under Major Eberhart guarding a train at Dallas marched twenty miles to Jackson in less than six hours, reaching Cape Girardeau on the morning of the 24th. The nest day General Marmaduke with his army 8,000 strong invested the place. At ten o’clock that night he sent an officer with a flag of truce demanding unconditional surrender. General McNeil declined and prepared for a vigorous defense. The attack began at ten o’clock on Sunday morning. An artillery duel ensued lasting until two o’clock, when the Confederates withdrew with considerable loss just as General Vandever cam down the river with reinforcements of McNeil. Major Eberhart occupied a position on the right supporting a battery and lost but one man captured. General McNeil pursued the Confederate army some distance. Major Eberhart’s command remained at Cape Girardeau until the 11th of July, then marched to Bloomfield, where it was attached to the reserve brigade of a cavalry division of the Department of Missouri and began the campaign which ended with the capture of Little Rock.

            On the 13th our detachment was sent on three gunboats up the White River. It ascended the Little Red River to the town of Searcy, there destroying a pontoon bridge and capturing two steamers. On the return little fleet was attacked by three hundred Confederates who directed their principal fire on the prize “Kaskaskia,” which was manned by half of Company D, under command of Lieutenant W. D. Templin. The crew made a gallant defense driving the assailants off with heavy loss.

            A large quantity of public property was destroyed and some prisoners captured by this expedition. At a heavy skirmish at Bayou Metou on the 27th the detachment of the Thirty-second Iowa lost one killed and two wounded. Returning to Duvall’s Bluff it had charge for a time of more than 1,200 sick soldiers and on the 10th and 11th of September moved on to Little Rock, having the care of more than a regiment of sick and wounded. Remaining there until the last of January, 1864, it was sent to Memphis and from there taken down the river and attached to the Division of General A. J. Smith. On the 27th of February it marched out to Black River to await the return of the army operating in the interior.

            Returning now to that portion of the regiment under the command of Colonel Scott, which had been sent to New Madrid, we find that it was kept here to garrison the post and prevent contraband trade with Arkansas. On the 17th of December, 1862, Colonel Scott sent out a party of one hundred men under Captain Peebles as far as St. Francis River which gathered up valuable public property and brought in several prisoners. On the 28th of December upon order of Brigadier-General Thomas A. Davies, Colonel Scott spiked the siege guns, destroyed the other public property and evacuated the post at New Madrid. He was very reluctant to execute the order as he felt confident of his ability to hold the place against any force likely to be sent against it. But the order was peremptory and General Fisk whom he consulted, assured Colonel Scott that Davies had authority from General Curtis who had command of the Department. Under these circumstances Scott obeyed the order and moved the garrison to Fort Pillow. General Carr preferred charges against Colonel Scott and a special commission was convened to investigate the facts in the premises. On the 26th of February, 1863, the commission made a report fully exonerating Colonel Scott from all blame or censure for his action in the affair and decided that he did right in obeying the order of General Davies. The command remained at Fort Pillow for nearly six months doing garrison duty and going on scouting expeditions into the interior. On the 17th and 18th of June the regiment embarked in detachments for Columbus, Kentucky, where it remained for about seven months, Colonel Scott being in command of the post most of the time. Union City, Tennessee, was taken by the enemy on the 10th of July and our command hastened to its relief, but the Confederates made a rapid retreat and were not overtaken.

            The regiment was again divided into detachments which were scattered about in various places. In the month of January, 1864, six companies were again brought together and embarked for Vicksburg, where they were assigned to the Second Brigade of General A. J. Smith’s Division. They were in an expedition sent to destroy railroads and public property belonging to the Confederates and were engaged in several skirmishes. Captain Peebles, while in command of a foraging party of twenty-five men belonging to Company C, was attacked by three hundred mounted Confederates and lost eight out of twenty-one wagons and one man killed. Upon returning to Vicksburg the regiment was greatly rejoiced to find Major Eberhart with the four companies, so long absent on detached service, and for the first time since November, 1862, the whole command was together. Colonel Scott issued a special order in which he warmly congratulated the regiment upon its reunion after long separation and the gallant services rendered by all. He closed with an eloquent tribute to those who had met death on the march, in battle or hospitals. Soon after came the order transferring the command to the Department of the Gulf under command of Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks of Massachusetts. General Banks had been a prominent politician, a member of Congress, Speaker of the House and Governor of the State, a Whig and later a Republican. He was an ambitious man and had many admirers who hoped some day to see him President. He was favorite with many influential politicians and when the war began was one of the many civilians who was promoted to high rank in the army while experienced soldiers, educated in military affairs, had to slowly win their way to commands by merit on the field of battle. This eminent politician was the man who organized and led the Red River Expedition to disastrous and disgraceful defeat.

            With a fine army of experienced veteran soldiers led mostly by able, brave and accomplished officers, the commander came near sacrificing the entire army. The splendid fighting of the western soldiers under their trusted and heroic leaders, alone saved the expedition from a greater disaster than any that befell a Union army during the war. It has already been related how, on the 9th of April while the narrow roadway leading to the front, where the confederate army was lying, was obstructed by a long wagon train, our advance regiments were attacked and cut to pieces at Sabine Cross Roads. Reenforcements were sent, a division at a time and shared the same fate, until more than 2,000 men had been sacrificed, artillery and wagon trains captured and the whole army in wild retreat.


The Battle of Pleasant Hill


          Fifteen miles from the field of carnage the army halted; General A. J. Smith had come up with his fresh troops and General Banks decided to make a stand. A line was formed consisting of the First Brigade of the 19th Corps on the right; Second Brigade in the center, supported by Shaw’s Brigade in which was the Thirty-second Iowa; Third Brigade on the left. There was skirmishing during the morning but the heavy fighting did not begin until near four o’clock when a tremendous cannonade opened upon our lines, followed soon after by a cavalry charge. Senator W. V. Allen of Nebraska, then a private in Company G, gives the following graphic account of what followed:


            “The cloud of smoke from our guns hung for a moment in the breeze, then rose, revealing to us the sickening sight of riders and horses lying in a promiscuous heap of dead and dying. Their warm life-blood was forming little pools, which uniting, ran away in streams, while the pitiful neighing of dying horses, and the sorrowful cries and appeals of the dying soldiers for help and water was a sight to make the soul sick. While we were contemplating this horrible picture there debouched from the opposite woods three strong lines of infantry, the division of Churchill, Parsons and Majors, with wings spread out like a great fan. Their bayonets were fixed ready for use an they carried their guns at right shoulder shift. It was our time to turn pale. There were two of them to one of us, three strong lines to our single line. They broke forth in the ‘Rebel yell,’ which was simply a cheer from fine voiced men, a high piercing noise like the call of a woman made at long distance. It differed from the cheer of our men, which was heavier, heartier and more uniform. They brushed aside our skirmishers and dropped their guns to the position of a charge. They were to fall upon and crush in our center by the fury of their assault and the machine strength of numbers, while other portions of their army were to envelope, overlap and crush our flanks, and thus rout if not capture our entire army. Their success the previous day had made this, to their minds, not an impossible feat. Banks, always fruitful in blunders, had sent back to Grand Ecore a large part of the Thirteenth Corps and all our cavalry except one brigade, which being roughly handled early in the fight was unfit for offensive service when needed; so that when the enemy struck us in full force with his assaulting columns, we were weakened fully by this reduction of our numbers. We were ordered to shield ourselves as best we could from the enemy’s fire, and reserve our own, until he approached within a few rods of us. The chivalrous Shaw was at his best. His usually dull eye kindled with an unnatural fire, and his unusually homely countenance grew almost beautiful in contemplation of the death struggle that was at hand. He rode along the line giving his orders as coolly as if on dress parade. ‘Aim low, boys; it is better to wound than to kill, for it will take two good men to carry a wounded man from the field,’ he said. Above the din of the gathering storm, again rang out the voice of Shaw as the Rebels approached us. ‘Fix bayonets,’ he said, and in an instant every man’s bayonet was ready for use. The Rebels were upon us. The noise of 1,600 Springfield rifles rang out in unison as 1,600 minie balls sped into the enemy’s ranks to do their deadly work. He was strong and stopped, but rallied and again renewed the assault with additional fury. Another volley thrown full and fair into his ranks caused the enemy to reel and stagger like a drunken man, but he rallied to renew the attack. The assault was repeated and another made, this time along parts of the line the bayonet was used; but each assault was repulsed with great loss of life and limb on both sides. So the fighting went on, on other parts of the field. Our right wing was crushed in and driven back to the reserves, and this made it necessary to retire Shaw’s Brigade a distance to keep a connected line. The order was given, and the Twenty-fourth Missouri, Fourteenth and Twenty-seventh Iowa drew back, but Adjutant Charlie Huntley, brave as a lion and mild as a woman, while bringing the order to the Thirty-second was killed, and the order never reached the regiment. Having previously orders to hold the position at all hazards there was but one thing for Colonel Scott to do, and that was to hold his position unless wrenched from him by the enemy. The regiment at our left had been withdrawn, leaving both flanks of ours exposed. For more than an hour this regiment alone was fighting ten times its number. Everywhere in front, on the flanks and in the rear the contest raged with great fury and loss of life. Nowhere in ancient or modern warfare can be found an instance of more heroism than was here exhibited. Up to this time the enemy had been the assailant, but now that he was weakened, the time came for us to take the offensive. General Smith had made all preparations to receive the advancing foe; and as the human tide came rolling up the hill, almost to the muzzle of his guns, a sheet of flame flashed along his lines and swept the front like the besom of destruction. Hundreds fell dead and dying before that awful fire. Scarcely had the seething lead left the guns when the word ‘charge’ was given and 7,000 men precipitated themselves upon the shattered ranks of the enemy. Emory’s division was pushed forward and joined the Sixteenth Corps, driving the Rebels rapidly down the hill to the woods, there they broke and fled in confusion. The victory was won, and our troops followed the enemy until night put an end to the pursuit.”


            Then was repeated the stupid blunder perpetrated by McClellan after the Battle of Malvern Hill. A sweeping victory had been won by his subordinate officers and superb soldiers and the only demoralized man in the army was the commander-in-chief, who ordered a retreat. So it was with Banks at Pleasant Hill, after his army by unsurpassed valor had redeemed the disastrous rout and slaughter of the day before by a hard won victory, he ordered a retreat, abandoning his wounded officers and men and leaving the dead unburied. The Confederate army fled in one direction while Banks hurried his army away in the opposite direction. When General Dick Taylor learned the next day of Banks’ flight he faced his beaten army about, returned to the battle-field, took our wounded men prisoners and claimed a victory. But what of the heroic Thirty-second on that fateful day? When its supporting regiments were withdrawn and no order came to Scott to retire, there was but one thing to do—fight to the end. Lieutenant-Colonel Mix and Captain A. B. Miller holding the right of the regiment, fell mortally wounded and three companies gave way before over-whelming numbers. The lines now faced in three directions while a destructive fire was rapidly thinning the ranks. Captains Peebles and Ackerman, Lieutenants Devine and Howard had fallen dangerously wounded. The sun had gone down and the enemy had passed on to the rear. Colonel Scott was now able to move his regiment to the left, where it joined our most advanced troops. The loss of the regiment was two hundred ten men out of four hundred twenty, or one-half of the entire number that had answered to the roll call  in the morning. It was a larger per cent. than that suffered by the famous “Light Brigade” in its charge at Balaklava. General Banks in his official report of the battle did not even mention Shaw’s Brigade, which by its heroic fighting and fearful sacrifice, saved the army from utter rout. Neither did he mention an Iowa regiment. But he did a few months later secure the dismissal from the service of the gallant and fearless Colonel Shaw for daring to tell the truth about some of the drunken and cowardly officers high in command at Pleasant Hill. But impartial history rights many wrongs.

            Greeley’s “American Conflict” says:


            “Shaw’s Brigade moved forward and took its position in front, and the brunt of the fighting fell on this gallant brigade. It could hardly have found one more able and willing to meet it.”


            The brigade lost five hundred men, more by far than any other in the battle. It covered the retreat to Grand Ecore. In the retreat from Alexandria the Thirty-second regiment had several engagements with the enemy. Colonel Scott resigned on the 27th of May, 1864, and was succeeded by Colonel Eberhart. From June to November the regiment was in various expeditions in Tennessee and Missouri and later moved to Nashville and joined the army of General Thomas. It took part in the great battle of December 15th and 16th and captured a battery of five guns and many prisoners, losing twenty-five men. Its next important service was in the campaign against Mobile early in 1865; in which additional honors were won for duty faithfully performed upon all occasions. It remained in Alabama several months after the fall of Mobile and was mustered out of the service at Clinton, Iowa, on the 24th of August.



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