FIRST COLONEL, THIRD INFANTRY.
Colonel W. G. Williams, of the 3d Iowa Infantry, was born in Bainbridge, Chenango county, New York, in the year 1823. He is a descendant of one of the earliest settlers of Connecticut. His father, on the maternal side, was a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, and, at the capture and burning of that place by the British under Governor Tryon, was taken prisoner. Colonel Williams, while young, removed with his parents to Utica, New York, then a small village, where he passed his youth, and received a good academic education. On attaining his majority, he removed to New York City, and was, for several years, engaged in the importing business. He came West in 1855, and, locating in the city of Dubuque, opened soon after, a mercantile house. After following this business for several years, he sold out his interest to a younger brother, and purchased a farm in Dubuque county, on which he has since resided.
At the outbreak of the war, Colonel Williams was among the first in the State to tender his services to the Government. He was for a long time unsuccessful; but finally, through his own persistency, and aided by the earnest endeavors of his friends, he was commissioned colonel of the 3d Iowa Infantry.
He retained this rank until November, 1862, when he resigned his commission and returned to his farm in Dubuque county.
The 3d Iowa Infantry, which was made up from nearly every part of the State, was rendezvoused in the city of Keokuk, and mustered into the United States service, on the 10th day of June, 1861. It has the saddest, and, all things considered, the proudest .record of all the troops furnished by our patriotic State. Strife for position has been the bane of this war, especially with the Federal army; and I need not add, what was the first source of discontent with the 3d Iowa Infantry. This proved a great misfortune to the regiment. Like the 1st, 2d, 4th, 5th and 6th Iowa Infantry regiments, the 3d first served in Northern Missouri. It went to the front under Captain R. G. Herron, a brother of Major-General Herron; for Colonel Williams was left behind, not yet having received his commission. The regiment arrived at the pretty, and just before that time, flourishing city of Hannibal, in the last of June, and two days later, left on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, which it was to assist in guarding.
It entered the field under many disadvantages. It not only had no commanding officer above a captain, (for neither Lieutenant-Colonel Scott nor Major Stone had yet received their commissions) but it was without transportation and equipments. It was armed with the Springfield musket of the pattern of "1848," but had no cartridge-boxes, belts or bayonet- scabbards. When it went on board the train for the West, on the morning of the 1st of July, 1861, it did not have even a cartridge—only burnished guns and bayonets; and its route lay through that section of the State in which the rebel Thomas Harris was organizing his forces. But what was the greatest matter of surprise to the regiment, it was sent off without rations. It was stationed along the road in detachments, in the vicinity of Utica, and that night was the regiment's first night in the field. It was tired and sleepy, and the detachment at Utica threw themselves on the wet ground and slept, without even establishing a picket-post. Lieutenant S. D. Thompson, of the 3d Iowa, who has written a history of the regiment, quaintly remarks that they trusted in Providence.
The history of the 3d Iowa Infantry, while stationed in Northern Missouri, is extremely interesting; but I can not give it in detail. I shall give only those points which are of chief interest. The regiment first formed line of battle, at the beat of the long-roll, about midnight of the 3d of July, at Utica; and at Brookfield, early in August, first made the acquaintance of "gray-backs." Its first affair, which approached to anything like a battle, was that of Hager's Woods, in Monroe county, and its last, while stationed in Missouri, that of Blue Mills Landing. This last, though terminating unsuccessfully, was a most gallant affair, and will be given in full hereafter. In the affair of Hager's Woods, the expedition was under Colonel Smith, of the 16th Illinois, and numbered about four hundred and fifty men. Besides detachments from the 3d Iowa and 16th Illinois, there was one company of Hannibal home-guards. One Sergeant Fishbeem commanded the artillery, which consisted of a six-pounder swivel. This force moved from Monroe on the line of the railroad, and. came on the enemy's scouts in Hager's Woods, who, firing on the Federal advance, wounded three men. Hurrying his artillery to the front, the incorrigible Fishbeem sent the enemy flying in an instant. Night soon came on, and Colonel Smith retired.
The march from Macon City to Kirksville, comes next in order. The object of this expedition was to intercept and rout the forces of Colonel Martin Green, which were, at that time, reported in camp on Salt River. The line of march from Macon City was taken up at midnight, of the 15th of August. The expedition was accompanied by Fishbeem with his "unfailing six-pounder;" but how Green with his rebel command, having been routed by Colonel Moore and some Iowa home-guards at Athens, on the Des Moines River, subsequently made good his escape south, is well known. This was the result of a blunder, for which one, who subsequently became distinguished, wan responsible. It was positively asserted at the time, that, had General Hurlbut used more powder and fewer proclamations, the result would have been different. On this expedition the 3d Iowa had one man shot by rebel citizens.
Before Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, with his detachment of the 3d Iowa, had returned from Kirksville, Colonel Williams, with the balance of his regiment, left on an expedition to Paris, in company with six companies of the gallant 2d Kansas. On arriving at Paris, the enemy was reported in large force near that place—more than three to one. The country in the vicinity was reconnoitered, and a portion of the scouts were captured. Colonel Williams became alarmed, and beat a hasty retreat to Shelbina, the point on the railroad from which he had marched. In his retreat on Shelbina, Colonel Williams had exercised good judgment; for he had only reached the town, when, on looking to the rear, he saw first, dense clouds of dust, and then the head of a column of cavalry, emerging from the timber. These proved to be the forces of Green, and numbered not less than three thousand. Having formed in line of battle, the enemy sent in a flag of truce; but to Green's demand to surrender, Colonel Williams replied, " go to h---."
The enemy's artillery was now in position, and they began throwing shells into the town; it moreover appeared that they were about surrounding the place, to force a surrender. Colonel Williams had sent for reinforcements; but they had failed to come, and now, calling a council of war, it was determined to escape on the railroad, while there was yet opportunity. For his conduct in this affair, Colonel Williams was put under arrest by General Hurlbut. In this matter, even the Colonel's enemies thought that General Hurlbut acted unjustly; for his conduct merited approbation, rather than censure. It was said that the Colonel was drunk at Paris; but the general, with his own weaknesses, would hardly have put him under arrest for that. After much delay, the papers were lost, and the case never came to trial. That which most annoyed the Colonel's regiment in this matter, (for it had no love for him) was its fears that his arrest would be a reflection on its own conduct; but in this its apprehensions were needless; for no one ever questioned the courage of the 3d Iowa Infantry.
The battle of Blue Mills Landing, on the Missouri River, in which the 3d Iowa, under Lieutenant-Colonel John Scott, so distinguished itself, was fought on the 17th of September, 1861. It terminated unsuccessfully; but it also discovered, on the part of the 3d Iowa and its gallant commander, a spirit of fortitude and promptness to duty, unsurpassed in the record of any engagement.
It will be remembered that, at the time General Price was besieging Colonel Mulligan in Lexington, Missouri, in September, 1861, Colonels Boyd and Patton, with their rebel commands, marched against and captured St. Joseph. At that very time Generals Pope and Sturgis were at or near Macon City, with the ostensible purpose of organizing means for the relief of Mulligan. From the movements which followed, it seems that the aim of these officers was two-fold: to attack Boyd and Patton, and re-capture their long train of plunder, and afterwards to concentrate near Lexington, and raise the siege of that city. In pursuance of these plans was fought the battle of Blue Mills Landing.
Lieutenant-Colonel Scott left Macon City, with his regiment, for Cameron, on the 15th of September, 1861. His orders from General Sturgis were, to leave Cameron, march south to Liberty, and act against the enemy in co-operation with Colonel Smith of the 16th Illinois; and here I should state that Colonel Smith was to march south, in the direction of Liberty, from a point on the railroad some twenty-five miles west of Cameron. These, then, were the forces which were to attack Boyd and Patton, and either capture, or compel them to destroy their train of plunder. In the meantime, General Sturgis, with about eleven hundred men, marched from Macon City, in nearly a direct course for Lexington.
Passing through Hainsville and Centreville, Lieutenant- Colonel Scott arrived at Liberty, at about eight o'clock in the morning of the 17th instant. Here he expected to find Colonel Smith; but, disappointed in this, he dispatched a courier to him, with the request that he come up with all speed; for he knew that the enemy were in the vicinity, since, on entering Liberty, Lieutenant Call, in command of the van-guard, had driven their pickets through the town and forward to the main body. From eight A. M. until one P. M., the time was passed in the most harrowing suspense. From the citizens the numbers of the enemy had been learned, and, although their sympathies were with the rebel party, yet, from the honesty of their deportment, their statements were doubtless correct. All told, Scott's force was not more than five hundred and fifty, and that of the enemy was not less than three thousand. But why did not Colonel Smith come up? was the ever recurring question with Lieutenant-Colonel Scott. It was eleven; he would certainly be up by twelve; but twelve, and even one P. M. passed, and still no signs of his coming. The enemy were probably crossing the Missouri, only four and a half miles distant, and would soon be beyond reach. Lieutenant-Colonel Scott hesitated, for he was to act with Colonel Smith. But just then six distinct artillery reports were heard in the direction of Independence. The citizens, too, said there was fighting on the opposite side of the river. The enemy were being attacked near the crossing, on the opposite side of the river, by forces from Kansas .City, was the conclusion of Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, and he hesitated no longer. Besides, his regiment had not forgotten the affair at Shelbina, and were earnest in their demands to be led against the enemy. Such were the considerations influencing Lieutenant-Colonel Scott to fight the battle of Blue Mills Landing.
It was now nearly two o'clock, and the colonel dispatching another messenger to Colonel Smith, ordered his command to "fall in." Lieutenant Call, with his advance-guard, composed of volunteer mounted Missourians, encountered the enemy's pickets two miles south of Liberty, and was pursuing them rapidly down the road, when he suddenly found himself ambushed. A murderous volley from the enemy emptied five saddles, and four men were killed dead. Their ghastly bodies, lying by the road-side, were soon passed by the infantry troops; but the sight only nerved them for the pending conflict. Finally, the enemy were encountered in the dense timber bordering the Missouri, and about one mile from the Landing. Their position was in a semi-circular, dry slough, whose arc, near its centre, was crossed by the road leading to the Landing. They were consequently well concealed, and the Federal skirmishers came on them unexpectedly.
Lieutenant-Colonel Scott was still marching by the flank, when his skirmishers, who were only a few yards in advance of the head of the column, discovered the enemy. Not only the skirmishers, therefore, were within range of the enemy's musketry, but nearly the whole column; for, as I have said, the dry slough, in which the enemy were concealed, swung round on both the right and left flanks. Rising to their feet, the enemy delivered one concentrated fire, and then began to advance, first on the right, and then in the centre and on the left. They looked for instant and total rout; but in this were disappointed. By order of Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, his cannon (for he had one piece) was brought forward, and discharged twice almost in the teeth of the enemy; but the gunner and horses were instantly either killed or wounded, and the piece rendered useless. In front, the enemy were repulsed and retired to their cover. In the movement against the right, they had also been repulsed; for, after receiving the first volley, the column had deployed, a part to the right, and a part to the left of the road. For half an hour, the fighting was most desperate; and, in spite of every effort, the enemy were held in their places of concealment; but now the Federal troops began gradually to give ground. During all this time, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, with his color-guard, Lakin, had been in the extreme front, cheering the men and watching the conflict. The colonel's orders had been neither to advance nor retire; for, to advance would result in the capture of his command, and, to retire precipitately, might be equally disastrous. He therefore sat on his horse and watched — a mark for the enemy, and a sign of hope for his men. They gradually yielded their position, and he watched, cheered and followed. The enemy pursued for a time, and then returned to the Landing.
With the exception of his caisson, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott lost nothing. The gun was dragged from the field by Captain Trumbull and Lieutenant Crosley. Thus closed the battle of Blue Mills Landing. That night Colonel Smith came up, but declined to renew the engagement before morning; and before that time, the enemy had crossed the river, and were en route to join Price before Lexington.
Of all the battles that have been fought in Missouri, that of Blue Mills Landing ranks second to none in point of gallantry. "Major Stone, Captains Warren, Willet and O'Niel, were severely wounded; and also Lieutenants Hobbs, Anderson and Knight. The latter refused to retire from the field, after being three times wounded, and remained with his men till the close of the engagement." "Scott's horse was hit several times, and several balls went through his clothes. Eight balls went through the flag, in the hands of Lakin, and a ninth one struck the staff." Sergeant Abernethy, who commanded the twelve skirmishers, also deserves special mention for his gallantry.
General R. D. Atchison made the official report of this battle, on the part of the enemy. He was not, of course, present in the engagement, but that makes no difference; for he would not have told the truth any way. In speaking of the results of the battle he says:
"The Federal troops almost immediately fled, our men pursuing rapidly, shooting them down until they annihilated the rear of their army, taking one caisson, killing about sixty men, and wounding, it is said, about seventy. Our men followed them like hounds in a wolf-chase, strewing the road with dead and wounded, until compelled to give over the chase from exhaustion, the evening being very warm."
But no rascal of his pattern, would tell the truth against himself; and he goes on to say:
"Colonel Saunders, Colonel Patton, Colonel Childs, Colonel Candiff, Colonel Wilfley, Major Grease, Adjutant Shackelford, and all other officers and men, so far as I know, behaved gallantly."
With all these commands, (and why the commanders if not the commands?) the enemy could have had scarcely less than four thousand in this engagement. Indeed, with this number of men, the Federal troops should have been handled as roughly as is declared they were by the rebel historian, Pollard; for, after asserting that the jay-hawkers numbered five thousand five hundred, and the " loyal Missourians" only five hundred, he goes on to say: — " Charging the jay-hawkers with shouts of almost savage ferocity, and fighting with reckless valor, the Missourians drove the enemy back ten miles, the conflict becoming a hand-to-hand fight between detached parties on both sides;" and such history as that has sustained the rebellion.
The 3d Iowa Infantry remained in Northern Missouri until the 18th of October, 1861, when it left for Quincy, Illinois. Here it remained a few weeks, and was then ordered to Benton Barracks, St. Louis. From Benton Barracks, it was sent out on the Northern Missouri Railroad, where it remained till March, 1862, when it sailed for Savannah, on the Tennessee River. It took a distinguished part in the battle of Shiloh.
I have stated that the case of Colonel Williams, with reference to his conduct at Shelbina, never came to trial, the papers having in some way been mislaid or lost. He was therefore released, and restored to command in November, while his regiment was at Benton Barracks. "Immediately on assuming command, he arrested a number of officers, his personal enemies, without the knowledge of the commandant of the post." For some reason, which I do not understand, this, too, was deemed an offense, and he was again put under arrest by General Halleck; but, on a hearing of the charges in this case at St. Louis, he was acquitted, and again restored to his command. He re-joined his regiment while it was stationed on the Northern Missouri Railroad; and, on its departure for the front, left in its command. From this time on, till the date of his leaving the service, he was much more popular with his regiment. It was claimed that his experiences had worked great improvement in his conduct; but whatever is said against Colonel Williams, it must be admitted that, from the first, he was a fine disciplinarian. It was doubtless this, with his naturally overbearing disposition, that made him so unpopular with his regiment.
But few outside of our State are aware of the important part the Iowa troops acted in the battle of Shiloh. On that bloody, chaotic field, as at Fort Donelson, the chief credit and glory- belong to their banners. The disposition and conduct of the troops in this engagement, and the particular part sustained by those from Iowa, are given elsewhere. On the first day's fight, they saved Grant's army from capture.
The 3d Iowa Infantry disembarked at Pittsburg Landing, on the 17th of March, 1862, with the 4th Division, commanded by General Stephen Augustus Hurlbut. On the re-organization of that division by brigades, the regiment was assigned to the First, which was commanded by Colonel Williams, as the ranking officer. The brigade was composed of the 28th, 32d and 41st Illinois, the 3d Iowa and Burrow's Battery of light artillery. It was a fine body of troops, and Colonel Williams was proud of his command.
The part taken by the 3d Iowa at the battle of Shiloh, I will endeavor to give briefly, after first premising that the divisions of Hurlbut and Smith (the latter commanded in the battle by W. H. L. Wallace) were in camp between the front and the Landing. The divisions of Prentiss, McClernand and Sherman held the front, from left to right, respectively.
Early in the morning of the 6th of April, while eating its breakfast, the 3d Iowa Infantry was startled by firing at the front. Similar firing had occurred in the past few days, and it created no alarm. But it soon appeared that the firing now was not wholly the work of the pickets, for with every instant it continued to increase in volume and rapidity. Couriers, too, were now seen hurrying in every direction; and soon the call "to arms" was sounded through the camps of both Hurlbut and Wallace. Leaving its breakfast unfinished, and buckling on its armor, the 3d Iowa was soon in line and in march to the front, under its major; for its colonel was in command of the brigade, and its lieutenant-colonel sick with typhoid fever, and absent. Marching down the road, Major Stone was directed to the left, and ordered to the support of Prentiss. In front, the battle was now raging with the utmost fury, and from the 3d Iowa's camp-ground to that point the distance was but little more than a mile. The regiment moved on at quick-step, but had not proceeded far before encountering the stragglers and the wounded; and that was the hour when began that babel of confusion which, with the exception of a few hours, reigned supreme throughout that terrible day. To those who have never seen five thousand men frightened in battle, and fleeing from a victorious enemy, no idea can be gained, by words, of the wildness of the scene, I care not how glaring the picture, nor how accurate the language. With the unsuccessful party, not only the human, but even the brute creation become overwhelmed and crazed with terror. With the Union Army, this hour was just dawning on the Shiloh battle-field.
But the 3d Iowa moved on, paying little heed to the tales of of [sic] these frightened, disorganized men, and arrived safely at the front. The regiment had sought the front for glory, and it was resolved now to win it. Its position was at first in an old cotton-field; but this was soon abandoned for one further to the rear in the skirt of the timber, with the cotton-field still in front. It held the right of its brigade, but, with this exception, held the left of the entire army. To its right were the 1st and 2d brigades of its division, and then came the division of Wallace, in which were the 2d, 7th, 8th, 12th and 14th Iowa regiments. This is the line which was held till four o'clock in the afternoon; and this the position where was done such magnificient fighting. This line broken, and this position lost, and there was no other successful stand made until the frightened troops had reached the Landing. It was on this line, too, that the 8th, 12th and 14th Iowa were captured, as also was the 58th Illinois. While retreating from this line, Major Stone was captured. This was the line which the enemy had tried so hard, but unsuccessfully, to break for five long hours. When they had accomplished this, not by attacks in front, but by flank movements, the day was so far gone that they could not push their successes to full victory; and hence, I say, the Iowa troops saved Grant's army from capture at Shiloh.
As to the conduct of the 3d Iowa in this part of the field, I can only say: It held its position, when the troops on both its right and left had been driven back, and utterly routed. So fully did it win the confidence of its commanding general that, riding up to Major Stone, he said: "I look to the 3d Iowa to retrieve the fortunes of this field;" but, already, the fortunes of that part of the field were past retrieving. It is a wonder how the regiment escaped capture; but, like the 2d and 7th Iowa, it by some means worked its way through the circling lines of the enemy.
While stationed in the skirt of the timber above alluded to, Colonel Williams was badly injured and taken from the field. A solid shot struck his horse just behind the saddle, killing it instantly, and completely paralyzing the colonel. He did not recover from the effects of the injury for many months: indeed it was on account of this injury, I am informed, that he finally tendered his resignation.
Out of the four hundred and fifty officers and men of the 3d Iowa who were engaged in the battle, more than two hundred were either killed, wounded or captured. Captain Hobbs, an unassuming, but noble-hearted man, was killed. He was the idol of his company. Of the other officers, O'Neil, Knight, Merrill and Wayne, were wounded and captured; Trumbull, Ogg, Weiser, Tullis and Hamill were wounded. Sergeant Lakin, who bore the battle-flag of the regiment at Blue Mills Landing, again flaunted it in the face of the enemy at Shiloh. With a few exceptions, every member of the regiment fought gallantly. In the second day's fight, the 3d Iowa was commanded by Lieutenant Crosley; but, in the operations of this day, it did not suffer severely.
Colonel Williams, recovering partially from his recent injury, was returned to the command of his regiment, and, after the fall of Corinth, marched with his division to Memphis, where he was soon after prostrated by sickness. On the 27th of November, he resigned his commission, as I have already stated. After leaving the service, he was appointed a brigadier-general, but his appointment failed confirmation in the Senate.
I never saw Colonel Williams but once, and that was late in the fall of 1862, when he was on his way to re-join his regiment, after a leave of absence; but his person and manners impressed me so strongly that I am still able to recall them. He has a dark complexion, dark eyes, a large head, and a rather low and retreating forehead. In person, he is short, and heavy set, with full chest and large, square shoulders. He is not attractive in his personal appearance.
While sitting by himself, he looked grum and uncompanionable; but his whole manner changed as soon as he was addressed. I saw that he was fond of amusement, and all its concomitants: indeed, there have been few officers who would not occasionally indulge in a game of cards, et cetera.
As a commanding officer, I judged him to be precise and exacting; and I have since learned that this was his character. While in command of his regiment, he was tyrannical, and, by a majority of both the officers and men, sincerely hated.
SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 83-96
Friday, May 8, 2009
COLONEL WILSON G. WILLIAMS
FIRST COLONEL, THIRD INFANTRY.