Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Defense of Springfield, Missouri: Jan. 7-8, 1863

- From Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers during the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 3, p. 118-9

At Springfield, the Eighteenth Iowa constituted an important part of the garrison which numbered about 1,500 troops of all arms, and several pieces of field artillery. The defenses consisted of earthworks and detached forts, but the number of troops in garrison wereinsufficient to man the works at all points. Brigadier General Brown was in command of these troops, with Colonel Crabb of the Nineteenth Iowa in command of the Post. Lieutenant Colonel Cook was in command of the Eighteenth Iowa, five companies of the regiment being on out-post duty some distance from Springfield. The rebel General Marmaduke had, by a skillful and daring movement, eluded the vigilance of the Union Army, and by a series of rapid marches reached the vicinity of Springfield on the evening of January 7, 1863. On the forenoon of that day the scouts of General Brown had discovered the approaching force of the enemy, and the garrison therefore had warning of the impending attack and made every possible preparation to meet it. The Union men of the town armed themselves, offered their services for the defense, and afterwards fought bravely with the troops. Even the sick in hospital, who were able to leave their beds, took their guns and went to the front. On the morning of January 8th, the cavalry pickets of General Brown discovered the enemy's skirmish line and the preliminary fighting began some three miles from the entrenchments. In his history of the regiment, Colonel Hugh Campbell gives the following brief account of the engagement which ensued:

January 8, 1863, the rebel forces, thirty-five hundred strong, under Marmaduke, attacked Springfield, then held by the Eighteenth Iowa, and a few hundred militia. The regiment was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cook. After a severe engagement, lasting the whole of the day, the enemy retreated, leaving one hundred and eighty killed and wounded. The Eighteenth Iowa suffered severely in the action, losing fifty enlisted men killed and wounded, and two commissioned officers killed—Captain William R. Blue, Company C, and Captain Joseph Van Metre, company H, who died of wounds received in the action—and two commissioned officers wounded, Captain Landis, Company D, and Lieutenant Conaway, Company C. The regiment behaved nobly, standing their ground against three times their number, and by their coolness and determination saving the town and its valuable stores on which the army of the Frontier, thence drawing its supplies, depended for its existence.... The regiment received a well merited compliment from Brigadier General Brown, commanding, for their bravery and gallantry in this action.2

3The official report of the part taken by the Eighteenth Iowa in the gallant defense of Springfield not being obtainable, the compiler has availed himself of the account given by Major Byers, in his "Iowa in War Times," and that of L. D. Ingersoll, in his "Iowa and the Rebellion," to supplement the statement of Colonel Campbell. The following is a part of the concluding portion of Major Byers' account:

By two o'clock, the rebels massed their forces several lines deep and made a determined effort on the Union right and center. It was then that Captain Landis, of the Eighteenth Iowa, with a piece of artillery, was pushed forward into an exposed and dangerous position at the right. Three companies of the Eighteenth Iowa, under Captains Van Metre, Blue and Stonaker, were sent along as supports. By a bold dash, with overwhelming numbers, the rebels succeeded in capturing the gun, but not till Captains Blue, Van Metre and Landis were wounded—the two former mortally. At their sides fell many of their brave comrades. At the same moment the rebels got possession of a strong stockaded building south of and near to the town, and from this vantage point poured a heavy fire into the Union line. In another hour Brown's forces were being heavily pressed, and the position seemed extremely critical. Then the "Quinine Brigade,"' led by Colonel Crabb, rushed to the front. They were real soldiers, if they were sick ones. In an hour's fighting they drove the enemy back on their left center, but an immediate and very nearly successful assault by the rebels followed at the right. Some of the militia were giving way. General Brown hurried to their front to reform them, but was shot from his horse in the endeavor. It was now four o'clock, and Colonel Crabb assumed the command. Again the battle was resumed at the center, and for another hour continued with varying results. Once more some of the militia faltered and for a time all seemed lost, when others, also militia, charged for the lost ground with a cheer. At the same time Lieutenant Colonel Cook, with the remaining companies of the Eighteenth Iowa who had. hurried from outpost duty to the scene, came up, and they, too, charged the rebel center with a shout and drove it rearwards. Darkness soon ended the contest, and that night the defeated rebel army withdrew.... This handful of brave men and the sturdy, heroic militia of Missouri had saved Springfield with its enormous stores, and it had saved a disaster to the Union Army. . . .

Ingersoll, who wrote a lengthy account of the engagement, giving the details with great particularity, confirms the statements of Major Byers heretofore quoted. Near the close of his account he says:

Meantime five companies of the Eighteenth Iowa, which had just reached the scene of action from an outpost at some distance from Springfield, came up in fine style, under Lieutenant Colonel Cook, and went into the fight on the center with such effect as to drive the rebels back into the stockade, and encourage the men who had been fighting for hours most wonderfully. Darkness was now coming on and the firing gradually ceased.... The enemy retired under cover of the night from his position south of town, and had taken position more than a mile to the eastward. Hither Colonel Crabb sent a cavalry force to engage them and retard their advance, but they declined battle, and soon retired in haste. They had lost in the battle more than two hundred in killed and wounded. Our loss was about the same. There were but five companies—A, C, F, G and H—of the Eighteenth Iowa taking part in the contest until near its close, when the other five came up and turned the tide of battle in our favor, as has been related. The number of the regiment engaged was less than five hundred, of whom fifty-six were killed or wounded.

2Adjutant General of Iowa's Report, 1866, page 277.

3The compiler has made diligent search of the archives for the Official report of Lieutenant Colonel Cook, but has failed to discover it, or any Official report of the subsequent engagements in which the Eighteenth Iowa participated. He has, therefore, been compelled to rely upon the history above referred to, and such other information (deemed reliable) as he has been able to obtain.

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