Monday, April 27, 2009

COLONEL NOAH WEBSTER MILLS


FOURTH COLONEL, SECOND REGIMENT.

The memories of the noble dead, who have fallen in battle, we shall ever cherish; and the names of those who distinguished themselves most, we shall, regardless of their rank, hold in the highest honor. Though Noah W. Mills, at the time of his death, held only the rank of a colonel, yet, I believe, we have rarely sustained a greater loss in the death of a general officer.

The subject of this memoir was a native of Indiana, and was born in Montgomery county of that State, on the 21st day of June, 1834. In his early history there is little of special interest. His education, which was liberal, he received at Wabash College, Indiana. He had to defray his own educational expenses, and, for that purpose, passed much of his time in a printing-house. In college he was noted simply for his honesty, morality and industry. Naturally modest, he did not seek that distinction in his class to which his talents entitled him. For several months after leaving college, he was employed with an engineering corps, but subsequently became an employee of the Adams Express Company, in whose service he remained one year. While in the service of this company, he began the study of law, the profession for which he had always manifested a preference; and, as an example of his industry, it may be stated that his leisure moments, while passing to and fro over the road, were devoted to the study of his chosen profession. He was admitted to the bar in 1856, and in the fall of the same year removed to Des Moines, where, renouncing for the time his legal pursuits, he engaged in the book and printing business, with his brother, F. M. Mills, Esq., under the firm name of Mills & Co.; and the zeal and skill which he carried with him into the business were, I am informed, important elements in the success of this enterprising house.

Colonel Mills was one of the first in Polk county to enter the War of the Rebellion. His keen sense of honor and love of justice, his horror of anarchy and hatred of the institutions which were threatening to produce it, were the chief inducements for his entering the army; for he was naturally of a retiring disposition, and hated contention. He entered the service as a lieutenant in Captain, now General Crocker's company, which, being too late in its organization for the three- months service, was assigned to the 2d Iowa Infantry. At its rendezvous in Keokuk, Captain Crocker was elected major of the regiment, and Lieutenant Mills was promoted to the captaincy of his company. He held this rank till the 22d of June, 1862, when he was made major. Two days later he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel; and on the 8th of October following, the day after the death of Colonel Baker, he was promoted to the colonelcy of the 2d Iowa Infantry. He entered upon his military career with the lowest rank of a commissioned officer, and, in seventeen months time, attained, by gallant and meritorious conduct, the highest rank within the gift of the State Executive. But he was entitled to even greater distinction ; for, after his death, General Rosecrans said: "He was a gallant officer, and richly merited promotion to the rank of a brigadier."

To give his military history in detail is needless; for it is to be found in the history of his gallant regiment. He served with his regiment in all its campaigns, and fought with it in all its battles; and the force of every blow which it dealt the rebellion was augmented by his gallantry and prowess. That his merit as an officer was not of the common sort may be seen from the two following incidents; the first occurring on the hights of Fort Donelson, and the second on the battlefield of Shiloh:

At Fort Donelson, after the hights had been gained, and the works of the enemy captured, the left wing of the 2d (the right wing had not yet come up) had started, in their enthusiasm, in pursuit of the enemy, to the ravine below, when they were halted by Colonel Tuttle and ordered to re-form, so as to meet the assault of a Tennessee regiment moving against them on the right. The order was no sooner given than the company of Captain Mills, quitting the pursuit, instantly rallied in a circle around him; reminding one, as General Tuttle expressed it, "of a brood of chickens huddling around their mother, on the approach of danger." No more striking instance of the confidence reposed in him by his men could be given.

He was equally fortunate in securing the confidence of his superior officers. At about four o'clock on the afternoon of the first day's fight at Shiloh, that portion of the line formed by General Tuttle's Brigade was being held successfully: every thing in the immediate vicinity looked as though the advance of the enemy had been checked, though the heavy firing at the left and right rear indicated otherwise. Just at this juncture, Captain Mills, who held the right of his regiment, and the right of the brigade, sent a sergeant to General Tuttle with word that the enemy were passing his flank on the right, and that the command was in imminent danger. " Did Captain Mills send you to me?" inquired General Tuttle. "Yes." " Well then, there must be something wrong, and I will report it to General Wallace."

The facts are now well known. On a reconnoisance being made, the statements of Captain Mills were found to be correct; but only in time to save two regiments of the brigade from capture. After the danger was passed, General Tuttle remarked: "Had any one but Captain Mills reported that fact to me I should have taken no notice of it;" and thus he saved the 2d and 7th Iowa regiments from capture at Shiloh. "He was the coolest man in battle I ever saw; (I again use the language of General Tuttle) and his watchfulness and valor were worth a regiment."

Colonel Mills' last engagement was that of Corinth, October 3d and 4th, 1862. On the afternoon of the first day's fight, the gallant Colonel Baker was mortally wounded; and the command of the regiment devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Mills. He himself was struck in the foot by a spent ball, and his horse killed under him, in the same charge in which Colonel Baker fell; but fortunately he was not disabled.

The morning of the 4th of October dawned with but little hope for the Union army at Corinth. Our lines on every hand had been forced back, and on the north, west and south sides of the city, the enemy had possessed themselves of the outer defences; and the contest, which would decide the final issue, could be of but short duration. Soon after day-light, the enemy resumed their advance, and a few moments later the battle was raging in every quarter. On the north side, Battery Robinette was repeatedly charged; but the enemy were each time repulsed with dreadful slaughter. Despairing of success at that point, they massed their forces on the south side, and, with an appalling yell and at double-quick, came dashing into the town, many of them even reaching the Tishamingo House. At this critical moment, when victory was almost perching on the banner of the enemy, three Iowa regiments sprang to the rescue, and, with an answering yell of defiance, charged the rebel legions and drove them back in utter confusion. To the 2d, 7th, and 17th Iowa regiments belong the credit of meeting and repelling the final assault of the enemy at Corinth. The last desperate charge of the enemy on Battery Robinette had been made just before.

In this final charge, Lieutenant-Colonel Mills was conspicuous. Springing to the front of his regiment, he snatched its tattered battle-flag from the color-guard, and, in the very face of the foe, cheered on his men to the onset. It was in this charge, and after the enemy had been routed, that he was wounded. He was shot in the foot with a musket-ball, which entered at the big-toe joint and lodged in the heel. A week after he was wounded he was attacked with lock-jaw, from which he could receive no relief; and he died at sun-down, on Sunday evening, the 12th of October, 1862. He retained his consciousness to the last. He knew he must die, and wrote: (he could not speak) "I am not alarmed, if the danger is great. If this is to be fatal, it is my time, and God is wise and just: I am not afraid to die." And he added: "In the army I have tried conscientiously and prayerfully to do my duty; and, if I am to die in my youth, I prefer to die as a soldier of my country. To do so as a member of the 2d Iowa is glory enough for me."

To leave his beloved wife and his two dear little children, was his greatest cross; and many kind and touching messages he left them. The grief of that noble woman but few can understand; for, in the engagement at Corinth, she sacrificed her all. Her father, General Hackelman, of Indiana, was killed in the first day's battle. Colonel Mills' farewell to his parents was: "Your teachings have done me good through all my life, and I honor and thank you for them." But he had a Christian burial in a Christian land, which in a degree assuaged the grief of his friends; and John A. Kasson, his warm friend, and one of Iowa's most eloquent and distinguished sons, pronounced his eulogy.

Immediately after learning of the death of Colonel Baker, Governor Kirkwood promoted Lieutenant-Colonel Mills to the colonelcy of the 2d Iowa Infantry; and, though he did not live to receive his commission, he died a full colonel of that noble regiment.

The names of Colonels Baker and Mills are immortal—at least in the annals of Iowa. In life their regiment learned their worth, and in death it mourned their loss:

"Resolved, That in view of the gallant conduct of these brave men, we, the officers and men of the 2d Iowa Infantry, join in paying fitting honor to their memory.

Resolved, That, at Donelson, Shiloh and Corinth, they displayed that coolness and bravery, which will secure for them a place upon the brightest page of our history; while posterity will gratefully remember and emulate them, as among the most worthy martyrs in the cause of their country."

Colonel Mills was tall and erect in person, and, in health, had the appearance of being rather portly. He had light-gray eyes, a fair, florid complexion, and light-brown hair. His voice was clear and kind: his manners frank and unassuming. He had good literary taste; was a good writer and a fine scholar. In civil life he was quiet, urbane and industrious; and, though young, was a prominent, useful and influential citizen. Though few predicted for him great success as a military man, yet, his friends and those who knew him best, were not surprised at his brilliant military career. He was taught from childhood to hate Slavery. From the first he saw it was the cause of the war, and he believed there could be no peace till it was utterly destroyed. Soon after entering the field he wrote to his friends: "I never fail to pray that this rebellion may be the beginning of the end of Slavery." With him the maintenance of Liberty and Justice were paramount. To this end he gave his life a willing sacrifice; and his friends can rejoice that it was not given in vain.

SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 65-70

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