Thursday, March 12, 2009



John Francis Bates was the first colonel of the first regiment furnished by the State for the War of the Rebellion. He was born the 3d day of January, 1831; and is a native of Utica, Oneida County, New York. His parents were poor, and, thrown upon his own resources in acquiring his education, he defrayed his expenses for six years at the Utica schools, by sweeping the school-room and by building fires. Two years, he subsequently passed in the office of the Utica Daily " Gazette," and then became a book-keeper and salesman in a mercantile establishment of that city. From 1852 to 1855, he was engaged in the insurance business in New York City, since which time he has been a resident of Dubuque, Iowa. In Dubuque, he has been an insurance agent, a land-broker and a county politician. He was elected in 1858 to the clerkship of the District Court for Dubuque County, and was holding that office at the time of entering the volunteer service. After the expiration of his term of service, he was again elected to that office.

The 1st Iowa Infantry was the only Iowa regiment furnished by the State for the first call of the President. It was the only three-months Iowa regiment in the war. But, though its term of service was short, it made a brilliant record, and what sacred memories cluster about its name!

During the long four-year's bitter struggle that is now about to close, Iowa, in practical patriotism, in the promptness with which she has filled her quotas, and in the general efficiency of her troops, stands second to none of the loyal States. I will not say first, where all have done so well; but a press of the metropolis of our sister Empire State gives "All honor to the enterprise and gallantry of Iowa. She has, uncomplainingly and unselfishly, borne more than her share of the onerous burdens of the war; and in the field her sons have carried the Stars and Stripes well in the front, and made the name of Iowa soldiers synonymous with heroism and invincibility."

The 1st Iowa Infantry was the oldest of her sister regiments, and how much her example at Wilson's Creek had to do in making her junior sisters "heroic and invincible," it is impossible to say; but we believe that no State, whose military sun rose in such splendor as did Iowa's, would allow it to set in disgrace. All honor to the 1st Iowa Infantry!

To know the counties from which this regiment was made up will be matter of interest, as it also will to know the names and subsequent history of many of its officers and enlisted men. The members of the regiment had their homes in the counties of Dubuque, Muscatine, Scott, Johnson, Des Moines, Henry and Linn. Muscatine gave companies A and C; Des Moines, D and E; Dubuque, H and I; Johnson, B; Henry, F ; Scott, G; and Linn, K.

Of Company A, Captain Markoe Cummings was subsequently lieutenant-colonel of the 6th Iowa Infantry; Lieutenant Benjamin Beach, a captain of the 11th; First Sergeant H. J. Campbell, major of the 18th; and private Robert B. Baird, quarter-master of the 35th.

Of Company B, Lieutenant Harvey Graham was subsequently lieutenant-colonel of the 22d Iowa Infantry; and Sergeants Charles N. Lee and J. H. Gurkee, captains in the same regiment.

Of Company C, Lieutenant W. Pursell was subsequently major of the 16th Iowa Infantry; First Sergeant W. Grant, a captain of the 11th, and Corporal A. N. Snyder, a captain of the 35th.

Of Company D, the facetious, jolly captain, Charles L. Matthies, was subsequently lieutenant colonel of the 5th Iowa Infantry, then colonel, and then brigadier-general.

Of Company E, Lieutenant J. C. Abercrombie was subsequently lieutenant-colonel of the 11th Iowa Infantry; private W. J. Campbell, a captain of the 14th; private C. A. Cameron, a captain of the 39th; and private A. Roberts, lieutenant- colonel of the 30th.
Of Company F, Captain Samuel M. Wise was subsequently major of the 17th Iowa Infantry; Lieutenant George A. Stone, colonel of the 25th; private J. S. Clark, a lieutenant of the 34th; private C. W. Woodrow, a lieutenant of the 17th; and private T. J. Zollars, captain of Company F, 4th Iowa Cavalry.

Of Company G, Captain Augustus Wentz was subsequently lieutenant-colonel of the 7th Iowa Infantry, and was killed at Belmont; and private Ernest Arp, a lieutenant of the 12th Missouri Infantry.

Of Company H, Sergeant Charles Schaeffer was subsequently a major of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, and a staff officer of General Curtis; private T. Groetzinger, a lieutenant in the 27th Infantry.

Of Company I, Captain F. J. Herron was subsequently lieutenant-colonel of the 9th Iowa Infantry, then brigadier-general, and then major-general; Sergeant Samuel F. Osborn, a lieutenant in the 21st; private N. E. Duncan, adjutant of the 12th; private David Greaves, a captain in the 21st; private D. B. Green, a captain in the 3d Missouri Infantry; and private C. A. Reed, an assistant-surgeon of the 9th Infantry.

Of Company K, First Sergeant John H. Stibbs was subsequently a captain, then lieutenant-colonel of the 12th Iowa Infantry; Sergeant Edward Coulter, a captain in the 20th ; private G. C. Burmeister, a captain in the 35th; and private Jackson D. Furguson, a lieutenant in the 12th. He was killed at the battle of Shiloh.

In its line officers and enlisted men, this noble old regiment has been represented in a majority of the Iowa regiments, since formed; and, from these officers and men, it has furnished officers of every grade in the army, from a second lieutenant to a major-general. Its example at Wilson's Creek was not the only influence it had on the military history of the State.

The 1st Iowa rendezvoused at the city of Keokuk, and its camp was Camp Ellsworth. War, at that day, was a novelty, and there was no end to the curiosity that a boy, dressed in uniform, excited. And an officer—my! One who visited the camp of this regiment at Keokuk discourses thus:

"Their mode of life was a great novelty to us; those sentinels marching to and fro, so stern, so mute! All within ten feet of their beat was forbidden ground. What did all this signify ? Their officers were putting on style, we said, and the men were learning to be soldiers pretty easily. Then there was a gate, where stood sentinel No. 1. Through this, all who went in or out were compelled to pass. And there stood the officer of the guard — how magnificently attired! If men's merits were to be judged by their appearance, we would have supposed him a hero of twenty battles. But we forgot to salute him. What daggers he looked at us! We asked him to let us pass in.

'Where do you belong?'

'To the Third Regiment!'

'What do you want here ?'

'To see some friends.'

'Sentinel, pass them in, sir.'"

Farther along the author says:

" We plied them with all manner of questions, in reply to which they told us prodigious stories of what they had already seen and suffered for their country's sake. If we were to believe them, they were suffering greatly now. They had been in the service six weeks and a half, and the government had furnished them no clothing, and not a cent of pay! Besides, they were half-starved; and the rations furnished them were not fit for a dog! And their officers treated them shamefully too."

Thousands will recognize this as a true picture of their early soldiering.

If in the spring of 1861, a soldier in rendezvous was a novelty, he was on the eve of his departure for the field, still more so. He became an object of veneration; and, as he moved through the streets, he stirred in the hearts of the citizens the deepest emotions. "Brave, noble boy! He is going to defend our rights and the glory of the flag; and will probably never return." Big tears started in many a manly eye that had never known weeping before.

The 1st Iowa Infantry received orders from General Lyon to report at Hannibal, Missouri, on the 12th of June, and the next day the regiment left on transports. The 2d Iowa Infantry under Colonel, now Major-General Curtis, left only the day before for the same destination. The good people of Keokuk were wild with excitement, and lavish of their hospitalities; and when all was in readiness and the boats were about to drop out into the stream, a vast assemblage stood on the wharf, waving and weeping their adieus. But how all was changed in one year's time! The same people wished the 15th and 17th Iowa on their departure for the field, "good riddance;" they still admired the soldier's intrepid spirit; but they had become impatient of his mischievous conduct.

Colonel Bates was at first assigned to duty with his regiment on the line of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. His section extended from Hannibal to Macon City. The character of these services appears in the sketch of Colonel Wilson G. Williams, and need not be repeated. The duties, which were arduous, and which required the greatest vigilance, were discharged with much credit, and the regiment became popular with the loyal citizens of Missouri.

Early in July, Colonel Bates was relieved from guard duty on the railroad, and ordered to report to General Lyon at Brownsville. Soon after, the long and tedious march over the Missouri prairies in the direction of Springfield began.

At that day, the people of the entire State of Missouri were in a state of anarchy. The great dividing lines were being drawn, and both the Federal and Confederate authorities were, In the same district, and often in the same county, recruiting their forces. Everything seemed to threaten civil order in Missouri. We know little of the terrors of civil war in Iowa. Citizens upon our southern border only have had a foretaste. All business pursuits were not only suspended, but no one at night could rest soundly, for fear of the knife, bullet or torch of the assassin.

Harris, Green and others, had large rebel forces even north of the Missouri river. Near Springfield, the enemy were concentrating. They boasted that they would capture St. Louis, which was Fremont's excuse for his elaborate fortifications around that city. General Lyon resolved to march on and disperse the enemy, though his force consisted of not more than six thousand men, and the enemy claimed more than treble that number. He marched from Springfield on the First of August, in the direction of Dug Springs, and at that place encountered the enemy in force; but after slight skirmishing they retired. He followed them into Northern Arkansas; but not bringing them to a stand, and fearing for his own safety on account of being so far removed from his base, he fell back to Springfield. On this march, the 1st Iowa Infantry had several skirmishes with the enemy. So soon as Lyon began retracing his steps the enemy followed, and on his arrival at Springfield, or soon after, they had reached Wilson's Creek. Why did General Lyon fight the battle of Wilson's Creek? Why, if necessary, did he not fall back in the direction of Rolla, and await reinforcements? General Lyon fought this battle, I believe, for the same reasons that would have controlled any other brave, resolute general at that stage of the war. He believed that the enemy, though strong in numbers, were weak in that strength which arises from a sense of being in the right, and on the side of law and order. As a bailiff with his posse disperses a crazy, lawless mob, so he believed he could triumph over the combined rebel forces; and, had he not fallen, he might have done so, though probably not.

The battle of Wilson's Creek was not great in its proportions— only great in results. In the South West, it demonstrated the falsity of Southern boasting, that one of the chivalry "could whip six northern mud-sills;" indeed it well nigh demonstrated the converse of the proposition. It resulted in establishing military prestige in the South West in favor of the federal arms — a prestige which was never after lost.

Wilson's Creek is a tributary of White River, and, at the point where was fought the celebrated battle which bears its name, is about twelve miles west-south-west of Springfield. In the vicinity of the battle-ground, the country through which it runs is hilly and barren, and, to a considerable extent, covered with dense scrub-oak. To the west and south-west of Springfield, the stream is crossed by two roads, the one west leading to Little York and Mount Vernon, and the one southwest to Fayetteville, Arkansas. The distance between these two roads at the points where they cross the creek is between three and four miles. Nearly mid-way between these the battle was fought.

On the afternoon of the 9th of August, 1861, Lyon, with all his forces, was at Springfield, and the enemy in their camp on Wilson's Creek. That afternoon, in council with his officers, he determined to move out against them, and his plan of attack was as follows:—Sigel, with a small force, going down the Fayetteville road, was to move on the enemy and attack them in rear, while Lyon, with the chief part of the troops, was to move west over the Little York and Mount Vernon road, and attack them in front. The attack was to be made at day-light of the 10th instant. Sigel, though successful in surprising the enemy, was afterwards defeated and narrowly escaped capture. This was early in the day. Lyon's command, therefore, did the chief fighting at Wilson's Creek. The First Iowa Infantry was under Lyon, and the movements of this officer I will therefore trace.

About six o'clock in the evening of the ninth instant, Lyon ordered his troops under arms, and without music, marched quietly out from Springfield. His course for nearly two miles was the same as that followed by Sigel. Continuing his course westward till arriving in the neighborhood of Wilson's Creek, he then took a blind or by-road to his right; for a portion of the enemy were encamped near the junction of the main road with the creek, on the bluffs south-west of the stream; and these, to make his surprise the more complete in the morning, he wished to avoid. Before midnight, and without disturbing the enemy, he gained the bluffs south-west of the creek, and at a point some three miles distant from their main camp. His position was on their left flank, and their vedettes and pickets were not far distant. There he bivouacked till three o'clock in the morning. Sigel, on the other hand, halting in the low ground on the north-east side of the creek, rested till about the same hour, with only the high bluffs of the creek separating him from the enemy.

At three o'clock, Lyon put his troops under arms, and with his skirmishers thrown out, moved down the bank of the creek in the direction of the enemy. The enemy's pickets and their reserves were encountered and driven in, about five o'clock, and very soon after quite a strong force was met on a high point, some quarter of a mile north of where they were forming their main line of battle. These were engaged and partially driven back by the First Kansas Volunteer Infantry and a battalion of Regular Infantry under Captain, afterwards, General Plummer; and near this spot, let me say, was done the principal fighting of that day. The Reverend John S. C. Abbott represents the fighting as having taken place on the north-east bank of the creek, but Mr. Abbott was misinformed. He was also misinformed as to the spot where General Lyon fell. That General was shot some four rods in rear of the First Iowa, and was not at the time leading a charge.

The First Iowa Infantry first formed line of battle on the ground in question, and on the left of Dubois' Battery, which it was ordered to support. After taking position, Lieutenant-Colonel Merritt, commanding the regiment, and who it is but just to add distinguished himself by his coolness and courage, at once sent out as skirmishers companies D and E, commanded respectively by Lieutenants Keller and Abercrombie.

The topography of the Wilson Creek battle-ground is nearly as follows: Between the Federal and Confederate forces was a ravine, penetrating the bluffs of the creek in a semi-circular course from the west. Its bed and its sides were partially wooded as before stated — enough so, to afford cover to an attacking party. On the north bank of this ravine was Lyon, and on its south bank, McCulloch. Price had in the bed of the ravine, artillery supported by infantry. Between these guns and those of Dubois, an artillery duel opened. For a time the infantry engaged each other at long range; but presently the First Kansas, stationed down the hill, were assaulted and repulsed, when instantly the First Iowa was ordered forward to relieve them. Advancing, the regiment met the First Kansas retreating in confusion. They dashed through Colonel Merritt's line, and threw it into disorder, and at the very instant he received a galling fire from the enemy. Orders were given to re-form, but the din of fire-arms and loud talking drowned Colonel Merritt's voice, and he was left with only two companies. With these he continued to advance. At this juncture, the Black Horse Cavalry made their appearance on our right and rear. They had gained their position by moving through ravines, under cover of timber.. They were commanded by one Captain George S. Laswell, a former resident of Ottumwa. Led on by this man, they were about charging Totten's Battery, when the two companies under Colonel Merritt, about-facing, delivered a fire that emptied several saddles, and placed the rebel captain out of battle; and thus the fight went on.

In the meantime, rebel infantry had been pushed up the ravine, and appeared on our extreme right. They advanced rapidly up the hill, delivering a continuous fire, but were repulsed. They reformed and advanced again, and were a second time repulsed. During the second advance, Lyon fell. I should state that before this happened, Major A. B. Porter, with companies A, F, D, and E, of the First Iowa, had been sent to the rear to watch the Black Horse Cavalry.

Sigel had, a long time ere this, been defeated, and a portion of the rebel troops that had repulsed him were now advancing up the north-east bank of the creek. To check these, the Regulars were sent across the creek ; but in that quarter there was little fighting. The battle was of more than five hour's duration. The First Iowa was at the front five hours. Of the retreat Colonel Merritt says:

"About twelve o'clock, M., the order was given to retire from the field, which was done in good order. As we retired over the hill, we passed a section of Totten's Battery occupying a commanding point to the right, and supported on the right by companies A, F, D, and E, of the Iowa troops, under command of Major Porter, and on the left by one company of Regular Infantry under command of Colonel Lothrop. This command sustained our retreat with great coolness and determination, under a most terrific fire from the enemy's infantry. After the wounded were gathered up, our column formed in order of march, and, the enemy repulsed, the battery and infantry retired in good order. Thus closed one of the most hotly-contested engagements known to the country."

Such, briefly, was the battle of Wilson's Creek. Though imperfect in detail, I believe that, so far as it goes, it is correct. Compared, however, with the brilliant accounts of our modern war-historians, it would not be recognized as the same engagement. It was the first battle of importance fought in the South West, and, becoming the theme of exciting comment in almost every paper in the loyal and disloyal States, gradually increased in proportions, till it was in print one of the most sanguinary battles of modern times. And it was in fact a severely contested and bloody fight; for the loss of the 1st Iowa Infantry alone was more than one hundred and fifty. This regiment however suffered more severely than any other of the troops, and was admitted by all to have borne itself with conspicuous gallantry. Captain Alexander L. Mason, a native of Indiana, and a resident of Muscatine, was the only commissioned officer killed. He fell in a charge at the head of his company. Captain Frederick Gottschalk and Lieutenants H. Graham and William Pursell were wounded. The loss of the regiment in killed was only eleven, though several died afterwards of their wounds. Colonel Bates was not present in the engagement, though I am advised he made an effort to be. He was left sick at Springfield.

The following is the roll of honor, as given by Lieutenant- Colonel Merritt:

"It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge valuable aid and assistance from Major A. B. Porter, Adjutant George W. Waldron, who was wounded in the leg, and Sergeant-Major Charles Compton; and to express my unbounded admiration of the heroic conduct displayed by both officers and men. No troops, regular or volunteer, ever sustained their country's flag with more determined valor and fortitude. They have covered themselves with Imperishable honor, and must occupy a conspicuous place in the history of their country."

In this connection, it is proper to state that the term of service of every line officer of the regiment expired on the afternoon of that evening in which they marched out to Wilson's Creek; but not one of them claimed exemption from the coming battle. The same can not be said of officers of some other troops. The term of service of the enlisted men of the 1st Iowa Infantry expired four days after the battle.

Wilson's Creek was a drawn battle; for, though the Confederates kept the field, they did not make pursuit. They had been severely punished; but I doubt if that alone deterred them, for, in numbers, their strength exceeded that of the Federals more than four to one. They had not yet nursed their treason to that fanatical point which made it synonymous with patriotism, and they were cowards.

After the fall of General Lyon, Major, now General Sturgis, assumed command of the Federal forces and fell back to Springfield, and soon after to Rolla. In the meantime General Sterling Price, who had succeeded McCulloch in command of the rebel forces, occupied the country, and in the latter part of the month, moved north and laid siege to, and captured Lexington.

The term of service of the 1st Iowa Infantry had now expired, and, returning to their homes, they were welcomed as the first heroes of the State in the war. Wherever they appeared, they were looked on with wonder. They had gained more distinction in that solitary battle than is now accorded our veterans of twenty battles; but they are the sires of our military prowess, and who would detract from their hard-earned glory ?

Colonel Bates is a fine looking man. He is five feet nine inches in hight, and has a well developed and pre-possessing person. He has a social disposition, and makes a warm friend and a sleepless enemy. I do not admire his political course, and may be prejudiced against him; but this certainly must be conceded—he is entitled to much credit for surmounting the obstacles of poverty and a deficient education, and for making himself what he is.

The Colonel, I think, was not popular with his regiment. He would allow no foraging. In restoring the seceded States to their proper functions in the Union, and in establishing within their limits a respect for the laws of the Government, he believed more in moral suasion than in corporal castigation. His officers and men charged him with being too kind to the rebels, though they gave him credit of being sincere in his convictions. After leaving the service, he continued to act and vote with the so-called Peace Party.

SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 22-34

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