Sunday, April 26, 2009



Colonel James Baker of the 2d Iowa Infantry, who fell mortally wounded, while leading his regiment in a charge against the enemy at Corinth, was a native of Gallatin county, Kentucky, where he was born the 25th of December, 1823. He was reared and educated in Shelbyville, Indiana, where his father removed with his family in his son's infancy. In 1852, he came to Iowa and settled in Bloomfield, Davis county. At Bloomfield, he entered the practice of law, in partnership with his brother-in-law, H. H. Trimble, to which he devoted his exclusive attention from 1855 to 1861. He was a successful lawyer and had, at the outbreak of the war, secured an extensive practice.

In April, 1861, Mr. Baker entered the Volunteer Service, as captain of company G, 2d Iowa Infantry. He was the first volunteer from Davis county, and enrolled his name in the old Methodist Church of Bloomfield. Entering the field with his regiment, he served with it with the rank of captain, till the 2d of November, 1861; when he was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of his regiment. Less than eight months later, he succeeded General Tuttle to the colonelcy.

The history of the 2d Iowa Infantry, from the 22d of June, 1862, (the date of Colonel Baker's commission) till September following, is nearly the same as that of all the Federal troops camped at and in the vicinity of Corinth: the regiment did little except camp and picket-duty.

Corinth, Mississippi, where, on the 3d and 4th of October, 1862, was fought one of the most important and decisive battles of the war, especially in the South West, and where the 2d Iowa Infantry, for more than a year was stationed on garrison-duty, is a point to which attaches much interest in the history of the war. It was the first Confederate town of consequence in the South West besieged by the Federal forces. It is situated in the north-east corner of Mississippi, and is at the point of intersection of the Memphis and Charleston, and the Mobile and Ohio Railroads. To the enemy, it was a place of great importance.

From the 30th of May, 1862, the date of the place's evacuation by Beauregard, till the early part of the following September, every thing remained quiet at Corinth. Indeed, no considerable rebel force was in its vicinity; for, after its evacuation, the greater part of the rebel army was transferred to the neighborhood of Chattanooga, Tennessee. General Sterling Price made his appearance at Iuka, about twenty miles east of Corinth, on the thirteenth of September, and, on the nineteenth of that month, General Rosecrans fought with him the battle of Iuka. Defeated at that point, General Price marched his army, by a circuitous route, round to Ripley, where he was joined by Generals Van Dorn and Villipigue. The combined rebel force numbered now not less than forty thousand, and, in Van Dorn's opinion, was sufficient to capture Corinth. Price, who had recently felt the mettle of the Federal troops at Iuka, thought otherwise; but Van Dorn was the ranking officer, and an attack was determined on and ordered.

The enemy marched on Corinth from Ripley, and first encountered a detachment of Federal troops at Chewalla, a small town north-west of Corinth. This was on the afternoon of the second of October. In the meantime General Grant, having learned of the enemy's approach, had made preparations to meet him. The attack on Corinth was made from the direction of the enemy's march — on the west and north-west of the town — and met serious resistance two and a half miles out, on the Chewalla road.

The 2d Iowa Infantry, attached to the 1st Brigade of the 2d Division, was among the troops sent out to encounter the enemy, and, marching in a north-westerly direction, formed line of battle at the front. Frequent changes of position having been made to check-mate the advances of the enemy, the regiment finally became hotly engaged near what was known as the White House. Near the White House, the position of the 2d Iowa was as follows: it was stationed on high ground, and in the edge of timber. In its front, the country was open, affording almost an unobstructed view for a mile or more to the left and front. The regiment was assaulted in this position by the enemy in force, who, by a charge, endeavored to break the Federal line; but they were repulsed. They did not renew the charge, but returning to within musket-range, and covering themselves as much as possible behind stumps and old logs, opened on the Federal lines with their rifles. The fighting continued in front of the 2d Iowa for nearly an hour, but with no advantage to the enemy; for, whenever they advanced so as to expose themselves, they were driven to cover by the sharp and accurate fire of the regiment.

But now heavy columns of rebel re-inforcements were seen approaching in the distance, and for the regiment to remain where it was, and allow the enemy in its immediate front to hold their position till their re-inforcements arrived, would result in certain defeat. Colonel Baker was sitting upon his horse, watching the movements of the enemy, and contemplating the course to be pursued, when Lieutenant, now Major Hamill stepping to his side, said, "Colonel, let us charge the enemy." The suggestion was adopted and a charge ordered, which resulted successfully; but just as the enemy were being routed, Colonel Baker fell from his horse, mortally wounded. As he fell, he said, "Thank God, I fell while my regiment was victoriously charging!" He was borne from the field on a litter, and placed in hospital at Corinth, where he lay for three days and nights, breathing regrets for his sad fate. "Poor Charlie, (his wife) if it were not for you, I could die more willingly." He was never a father, and doted on his wife with the fondest affection.

From the first, there was no hope of saving his life, and he was drugged to kill his intense pain. He lingered till the morning of the seventh of October, when he died. Of the Iowa colonels, he was the first that had fallen in battle, and the second that had fallen in the service of the country. Colonel Worthington, of the 5th Iowa Infantry, had been shot during the siege of Corinth by a frightened sentinel.

When Colonel Baker fell, Lieutenant-Colonel Mills assumed command of the 2d Iowa, and soon after was ordered to fall back in the direction of Corinth, and take position in the vicinity of the Federal battery, Robinette, where the regiment remained during the following night. In the next day's engagement, Colonel Mills received a wound which terminated fatally, five days after the death of Colonel Baker.

In the two day's engagement at Corinth, the loss of the 2d Iowa was severe—especially in officers. When it marched out to the front on the morning of the 3d, there were, in officers and enlisted men, an aggregate of three hundred and forty-six. In the first day's battle, it lost three officers killed, and two wounded; and in the second, one killed, and five wounded. The entire loss of the regiment, in killed, wounded and missing, was one hundred and eight. Thirteen enlisted men were killed. The officers killed dead, were Lieutenants Huntington, Snowden, Bing, and George W. Neal.

The following is from Major Weaver's official report:

" Among those who distinguished themselves was Adjutant George L. Godfrey, who could always be seen and heard charging along the line upon his horse, shouting to the men to be cool and steady. He is one of the most valuable young officers with whom I have ever met. Captains Cowles, McCulloch, Mastic, Howard, Ensign and Davis were marked instances of bravery and efficiency upon the field, and reflected great credit upon themselves and their commands. Captain Holmes, on account of a wound received in the battle at Fort Donelson, was unable to take command of his company during the engagement.

"Conspicuous for bravery, were Lieutenants Parker, Duffield, Marsh, Wilson, Tisdale, Suiter, Hamill, Hall, Blake, Duckworth, Ballinger, Twombly and McCoid. After Lieutenants Parker and Twombly of company F, were wounded, Sergeant James Ferry took charge of the company, and displayed marked efficiency and courage. Likewise after the fall of Lieutenants Huntington and Suiter, of company B, Sergeant Lewis, (acting lieutenant) took charge of the company, and rendered most satisfactory service. Too much credit can not be bestowed upon our excellent First Assistant Surgeon Elliott Pyle, then in charge of the Medical Department of the regiment. He was most indefatigable in his attention to the wounded. Nor upon our Quarter-Master Sergeant John Lynde, who was ever present upon the field to supply the wants of the men. Sergeant-Major Campbell distinguished himself throughout the battle for coolness and bravery. Color-Sergeant Harry Doolittle, whilst supporting the colors, was again wounded, and Color-Corporals Henry A. Seiberlich, G. C. Phillips, G. B. Norris, I. C. Urie and John H. Stewart were all wounded, whilst supporting the old flag."

Captain Ensign distinguished himself by capturing a battle-flag, and in the charge upon the battery, was the first to reach it, and turn the guns upon the enemy.

Colonel Baker was a man of middle size, and had a stocky and vigorous form. He had a dark, or olive complexion, black hair, and dark, lustrous eyes. In personal appearance he was extremely prepossessing. With his friends he was extremely sociable; but he had little to say to strangers. During the last months of his service, he became somewhat convivial in his, which was doubtless occasioned by his inactive camp- life at Corinth.

The Colonel had great independence of character, and never fawned nor flattered. He never asked favors; but, for preferment, relied solely on his merit and ability. He had fine legal talent, and there were few lawyers in Southern Iowa who were his superiors. But he had one peculiarity — a weakness, if it may be so termed, attributed by his friends to his native modesty, which he could never overcome — he never attempted to address a jury or a public assembly without at first showing signs of fear. It could be seen in his pale face, his compressed lips, and in the nervous tremor of his hand. This is the more remarkable since he was a fine public speaker, and never spoke with hesitancy.

The Colonel was a fine officer: indeed, the State has furnished few better. His remains now lie buried on his former happy homestead in Bloomfield, and a fine monument, erected by his wife, marks the spot of his burial.

SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 59-64

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