Thursday, March 5, 2009

William Milo Stone


William M. Stone was born in Jefferson county, New York, on the 14th day of October, 1827. At the age of six years, he accompanied his parents to Coshocton county, Ohio. In that State he grew up and gained a meager education. He began life at the age of thirteen, as a hired hand upon a farm. Two years later, he was hired as a team-driver on the Ohio canal, and at the age of eighteen was apprenticed to a chair-maker, which business he followed till he reached his twenty-fourth year. That same year he was admitted to the Coshocton bar. Since 1854, he has been lawyer, editor, judge, captain, major, colonel, and governor. Commencing lower down than thousands of his competitors, he has left them all gaping and staring after him, and wondering how he did it, and—there I shall leave them. All declare he is the luckiest man they ever knew.

The extent of Governor Stone's early education, was two terms, or Winters, at a common country school. His knowledge of law was gained through the assistance and encouragement of James Matthews, Esq., of Coshocton county, Ohio— later, his father-in-law. While following his trade, he had access to this gentleman's law library, and prosecuted the study of his chosen profession with such zeal and energy as to be able, in 1851, to exchange the chair-shop for the court-room. He began practice as a partner of his former preceptor, and continued with him till 1854, when he removed to Iowa, and established himself at Knoxville, Marion county. During his first year in Knoxville, he practiced his profession; but in 1855, purchased and began the publication of the Knoxville "Journal." As editor of that paper, if I am rightly informed, he was the first man in Iowa to suggest the call of a convention to organize the Republican Party, then only in embryo. He was not only the first to suggest the call of a Republican Convention in the State, but was a delegate to that convention, when called; and was nominated one of the Presidential Electors. Indeed, the beginning of Governor Stone's career as a public man, in Iowa, bears date at Iowa City, the 22d of February, 1856.

During the Presidential canvass of 1856, he visited the principal part of Southern Iowa, in company with our first Republican representative—Major-General Samuel R. Curtis. In that exciting canvass, he gained considerable note as a public speaker, which, with his genial, off-hand address, put him fairly before the people. In February, 1857, one year later, a judicial convention was called at Des Moines, to put in nomination a candidate for district judge of Stone's district. Stone was present in the convention, and through the influence of his friends, secured the nomination. From that time he became a rising man in the State. He was elected to the judgeship with a flattering majority; and, having served that term with credit, was, in 1858, re-nominated and re-elected with increased majorities. He was the incumbent of this office, and holding a session of his court in Washington county, at the time the news reached him of the firing on Fort Sumter. He immediately adjourned his court, declaring at the time, that the country demanded of him and the people other and more important services.

Returning to Knoxville, Judge Stone raised a company, of which he was elected captain; was assigned to the 3d Iowa Infantry in May, and, on the 25th day of June following, was promoted to the majority of his regiment. He accompanied his regiment into Northern Missouri as captain, and in command of his company, (B)—for he did not receive his commission as major till after his arrival at Chillicothe. While connected with the 3rd Iowa Infantry, Major Stone fought at the battles of Blue Mills, (where he was wounded) and Shiloh. In the last named engagement he commanded his regiment, and was made prisoner. Something of his sojourn in Dixie, as a prisoner of war, may be seen in the sketch of Brevet Brigadier- General J. M. Hedrick, then a captain of the l5th Iowa. In nearly all cases, Stone was the spokesman of the party; and his cheerfulness and wit contributed not a little in keeping his fellow prisoners in spirits. What, I believe, afforded the most amusement were the arguments between himself and the belligerous Colonel Shaw, of the 14th. Stone could advocate any thing, and Shaw would always take the opposite. They would often drag their discussions into the small hours of morning, while the other prisoners, congregated about them, would watch and listen attentively, except when giving occasional attention to a straggling gray-back. I imagine that I can see them now congregated together. I can see them, attired in their cleanest linen, and seated in old rickety chairs, and on benches and boxes, exhausting the whole calendar of attitudes.

But Major Stone was even lucky as a prisoner of war. In June, 1862, after some three months' captivity, he was selected as one of three Federal officers, who, being paroled by the rebel War Department, were dispatched to Washington to aid in arranging a cartel of exchange between the belligerent parties. The first mission was unsuccessful, and one of the parties, at least, (Stone) returned to Richmond and surrendered himself to the rebel authorities. Jefferson Davis, pleased with his conduct and with what he had done, sent him back to Washington to renew his efforts. His mission this time was successful, or at least was so represented; but, however that may be, it is certain that a general exchange came off in the following Fall.

His experience as a prisoner of war, gave Major Stone much notoriety, and put within his reach any position that ordinary desires might covet. Accordingly, after securing his liberty and returning to his home in Knoxville, he was tendered the colonelcy of the 22d Iowa Infantry, which he accepted. He was made colonel of that regiment in August, 1862, and served with it till August 14th, of the following year, when he resigned his commission with the almost certain promise of succeeding to the highest honors within the gift of his State.

Though Stone made a good record as colonel of the 22d Iowa, there is nothing strikingly brilliant about it. He first served with his regiment in Missouri, and was for several weeks commander of the post at Rolla. His regiment served as the provost-guard. In the early part of 1863, he was ordered South to take part in the experiments against Vicksburg; and immediately moved down the Mississippi, to Milliken's Bend, Louisiana. Attached to Carr's Division of McClernand's Corps, (the 13th) Colonel Stone joined in the brilliant march of Grant's army across the country to opposite Bruinsburg on the Mississippi, and thence to the rear of Vicksburg. A full account of this march, and of its incidents, will be found elsewhere. On this march the 22d Iowa first met the enemy.

In the battle of Port Gibson, the first of the campaign, Colonel Stone commanded the brigade to which his regiment was attached; or rather, he commanded it during the forenoon of the engagement. Early in the forenoon, he had become so completely exhausted as to be compelled to turn his command over to Colonel Merrill of the 21st Iowa. During the time he acted on the field, he conducted himself with much credit. In this engagement, too, the 22d Iowa reflected on itself much honor. Colonel Stone's Brigade led the advance from Bruinsburg, and was, of course, the first to encounter the enemy among the rugged hills south of Port Gibson. This was not far from the hour of mid-night. So soon as the enemy were encountered in force at Thompson's Hill, Major Atherton, the unfortunate, who was in command of the 22d Iowa, hurried the regiment to the front, and deployed it in line to the left of Captain Griffith's Battery. There the regiment rested on their arms that night. Until about ten o'clock of the following morning, the regiment acted as an artillery support, and was then led forward to charge the rebel line, which it did with gallantry, quickly routing the enemy, and promptly occupying the ground just before held by them. In the severe fighting of the afternoon, the 22d Iowa was in the front, and joined in three distinct charges against the enemy's line, each of which was successful. The following is from the official report of the regiment's conduct in the action:

" Throughout this series of engagements, the officers and men of the regiment behaved with great coolness and gallantry. I found them always ready and eager to obey the order to move on the enemy. So well did the entire command acquit themselves, I can not, without seeming invidiousness, enter into particulars. It is sufficient to say, they acted nobly, and well sustained the honors already earned by Iowa soldiers. Great care was taken to shelter the men from the enemy's fire, which the unevenness of the ground enabled us to do, with comparative success. And yet, the loss of the regiment, being greater with but one exception than that of any other in the brigade, shows plainly where they were during the long and hotly contested engagement. Too much praise cannot be awarded to our surgeons, White and Peabody."

The loss of the 22d at Port Gibson was two men killed, and fourteen wounded. Lieutenants D. J. Davis, W. M. DeCamp, J. T. Whittington, D. N. Henderson, and John Francisco were among the latter. Lieutenant Davis was adjutant of the regiment.

In the official report of the Division Commander (Carr) is paid the following compliment to Colonel Stone:

" Colonel William M. Stone, 22d Iowa, who succeeded to the command of the 2d Brigade, took his place with the extreme advance guard at night, during the advance upon the enemy, exposed himself freely, and exerted himself so much that he became completely exhausted in the afternoon, and was compelled to relinquish his command to Colonel Samuel Merrill, 21st Iowa, for above an hour. By his bravery and the admirable management of his brigade, he reflects new honor on his noble State."

In speaking of his division general, Colonel Stone, in his official report, is equally complimentary.

Soon after the action at Port Gibson, General Lawler was assigned to the command of the 2d Brigade, when Colonel Stone again assumed command of his regiment. There is little of special interest in the Colonel's military record, or in that of his regiment, from the date of the Port Gibson battle to the 22d of May following. The 2d Brigade of the 14th Division did the magnificent fighting at Black River Bridge; but both the 22d Iowa and 11th Wisconsin regiments were in reserve, and suffered little. The 21st and 23d Iowa regiments are entitled to the credit of that brilliant affair, and none will be found to dispute it with them.

That which most distinguished Colonel Stone in the service, was the part he sustained with his regiment in the memorable charge at Vicksburg, on the 22d of May. In that charge he was for the second time wounded.

The nature of the country in the immediate vicinity of Vicksburg, and the character of the enemy's works were such as to insure almost certain defeat to the assaulting army, provided the rebel garrison were not reduced to a state of total demoralization. It was precisely this that General Grant counted on, as appears in his official report; and, when we reflect that he had been a witness to the enemy's shameful defeat and flight at Big Black River Bridge, were his inferences unreasonable?

In the march from Big Black River to the rear of Vicksburg, Sherman followed the Bridgeport road, McPherson the Jackson road, and McClernand the same road as McPherson, till he reached Mount Albans; then, turning to the left, he gained the Baldwin Ferry road. This threw Sherman on the right of the investing line, McPherson in the centre, and McClernand on the left. The 22d Iowa, being attached to the command of McClernand, was therefore on the south side of Vicksburg. The general character of the ground over which the charge was made, and the kind of obstructions to be overcome, I have given elsewhere. I give below an extract from Major Atherton's official report, showing the particular part the 22d took in the murderous assault.

"At four o'clock A. M., the regiment took position opposite the enemy's works, preparatory to the charge, where we were sheltered by the crest of a hill, and companies A and B deployed as skirmishers. We lay upon our arms until ten o'clock A. M., the appointed hour for the charge, when we formed in line of battle on the summit of the hill, and immediately pressed forward. From our first appearance upon the hill, we were exposed to a terrible fire from the enemy, concealed within their forts and rifle-pits. The men maintained their line and advanced like veterans to the ravine in front of the enemy's works, and made a charge upon the fort situated to our right. While here we were exposed to a murderous fire from the front, and an enfilading fire from the right and left, the enemy's works being so constructed as to effect this result. The column pressed forward, stormed the fort, took possession of the same and its inmates, and held it till dark. We maintained our position during the day, receiving and returning the enemy's fire—they concealed in their forts and other defences, and we, in a great measure, without any shelter. A continuance of the contest was deemed unadvisable, and we retired under cover of the night."

In this action, the 22d Iowa lost heavily. Colonel Stone was wounded, and Lieutenant-Colonel Graham taken prisoner. Captain James Robertson and Lieutenant M. A. Robb were among the killed. They were both good men, and their loss was deeply mourned in the regiment. One of the severely wounded was Sergeant Leonidas M. Godley. When near the enemy's works, he was shot above the knee, and his leg badly fractured. He lay under the enemy's guns till after midnight, when he was rescued by the enemy and taken into Vicksburg. He still lives to tell the story of his prison-life in the beleaguered city. The chief hero of Grant's army, that day, was a member of the 22d Iowa—Sergeant Joseph E. Griffiths. " No troops," says General Grant in his official report, " succeeded in entering any of the enemy's works, with the exception of Sergeant Griffiths, of the 22d Regiment Iowa Volunteers, and some eleven privates of the same regiment. Of these, none returned except the Sergeant, and possibly one man."

The charge of the 22d of May, at Vicksburg, was Colonel Stone's last engagement. Having received early in the fight a gun-shot wound through his left fore-arm, he retired from the field, and a few days later left for his home on leave of absence. Fortune was again favoring him.

Soon after arriving at his home in Knoxville, the Republican Gubernatorial Convention assembled at Des Moines. He attended it, and in a contest between himself, Honorable Elijah Sells, and General Fitz Henry Warren, received the nomination; then, returning to Vicksburg, he resigned his commission, and at once entered upon the vigorous canvass, which resulted in his election. Such rapid and uninterrupted success has never before fallen to the lot of any man in Iowa.

His administration of the Executive Department of the State, has been characterized by that shrewdness and energy which has marked his whole political course. Thus far, it has been a popular one; and, in this respect, contrasts favorably with that of his predecessor. Though not so able a man as Ex-Governor Kirkwood, his prospects for the future are now much the brightest. His conduct as governor has been criticised, to my knowledge, only in one particular. His visits to the army were pronounced by some buncombe expeditions, but the soldiers did not, I am informed, so regard them.

Governor Stone is about six feet in hight, and slender and erect. He has a Grecian face, a large, straight nose, large, full, gray eyes, and spare features. His appearance is intelligent and prepossessing. The chief elements of his success are, I believe, an easy, entertaining address, untiring industry, and unlimited self-confidence. These, sustained by a vigorous constitution, and driven by an iron-will, have enabled him to accomplish whatever he undertook. He rarely loses his temper, and seldom discovers an immodest desire for distinction.

As a public speaker, Governor Stone is fluent and forcible, but not polished—just what one would expect, when he remembers that all his early oratorical efforts were made at the bar. He has the happy faculty of forgetting himself in his theme. Many were witnesses of this fact at Des Moines, when himself and General Warren addressed the delegates the evening before the convention. Colonel Stone's wound was still troubling him, making it necessary for him to carry his hand in a sling; but, after entering upon his speech, he forgot that he had but one well arm, and, drawing it from the sling, began twirling it in violent gesticulations.

Governor Stone's past successes have not only disappointed his enemies, but surprised his friends. He is the most remarkable public man in Iowa, and his future, as promising as that of any man in the State.

SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 7-15

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