Monday, July 13, 2009



William H. Worthington, who was shot dead before Corinth, in the spring of 1862, by a frightened sentinel, was linked by blood to the earliest and most distinguished families of the country — on the paternal side to the Virginia line of Madisons, and to General Andrew Lewis, the Virginia soldier, who was recommended by General Washington as "Commander-in-chief of the American Army:" on the maternal side, to the Slaughters, also a distinguished Virginia family. His grand-father, Colonel Gabriel Slaughter, who emigrated to Kentucky in its earliest history, was twice elected lieutenant-governor of that State — first with Governor Scott, and last with Governor George Madison—and each time succeeded to the administration of the government, as survivor of the governor elect. He was also the colonel of a Kentucky regiment which fought with General Jackson at the battle of New Orleans. His faithfulness and ability as an executive officer, and his gallantry at the battle of New Orleans, have been commemorated by his adopted State, in the erection of a fine monument to his memory.

Colonel Worthington's grand-father, Edward Worthington, a Marylander, was also an early and distinguished settler in Kentucky. His father, the Rev. John Tolly Worthington, D. D., a devoted Christian and zealous patriot, is still living, and a resident of Pittsfield, Illinois. William H. Worthington was born at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, on the 2d day of November, 1828. He lost his mother in early infancy, and was adopted, reared and educated by his maternal grand-uncle, Major William Hord, also a distinguished Kentucky gentleman. I am thus particular in giving the colonel's lineage, for his military enthusiasm was of ancestral inheritance.

His primary education Colonel Worthington received in the schools of Louisville, at that time the residence of Major Hord; and it was there, while under the instruction of a Polish officer, that he first gave token of that military spirit which, in despite of his untimely fate, has made his name celebrated in the history of our State. Having graduated at Bacon College, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, he was, at the age of nineteen, married to Miss Anna Eliza, daughter of Dr. Tomlinson, a lady of reputed beauty and intelligence; and now, throwing aside his books, he began life on a farm. This calling soon proved uncongenial to his tastes, and he abandoned it for the law. After being admitted to the bar, he opened an office in his native town; and, though his professional studies had been chiefly of his own shaping, he soon gave promise of future eminence. In 1857 he moved to Iowa, where, establishing himself in a lucrative practice, he made his home till the beginning of the war.

When the war broke out he was serving as the captain of the "City Rifles," a military company in the city of Keokuk; and it was the aptness which he discovered in military matters while in this position, that first brought his name into favorable notice with Governor Kirkwood.

While in Washington City, seeking a position in the regular army, (which he only failed in obtaining on account of all vacancies being filled) he was tendered the colonelcy of an Iowa volunteer regiment. This he accepted; and, returning to Iowa early in July, received his commission as colonel of the 5th Iowa Infantry, on the l5th of the same month.

The 5th Iowa Infantry entered the service under peculiar and promising omens: its colonel was a descendant of our most illustrious revolutionary heroes, and its drummer-boy, Robert Bain, beat the same drum with which his father, in 1812, and his grand-father, in 1776, had stirred the hearts of the Revolutionists. For aught I know, this same drum beat defiance to Sir George Packenham, on the battle-field of New Orleans.

The history of the 5th Iowa is a proud one. From the time it took the field in August, 1861, till it was consolidated with the 5th Iowa Cavalry, three years later, no blot or stain disfigures its fair record. I have stated elsewhere that the regiment first served in Missouri. Leaving Jefferson Barracks the 14th of August, it proceeded to Jefferson City, where it remained till the first of September. From Jefferson City it marched to Columbia; from Columbia to Boonville; from Boonville to Glasgow; from Glasgow to Springfield; from Springfield to Syracuse; from Syracuse back to Boonville, and thence to Cairo, Illinois, where it arrived on the 20th of February, 1862. Thus far, the regiment had failed to meet the enemy in a general engagement.

When the 5th Iowa, under Colonel Worthington, arrived at Cairo, it was one of the best drilled and disciplined regiments in the volunteer service. This, at first, was secured at the expense of the colonel's popularity. Indeed, in the early history of the war, the people of the North were so largely imbued with their peculiar ideas of Democracy, (doing as they pleased) that it was hard for them to learn the duties and submit to the requirements of soldiers; and this, with the 5th Iowa as well as with other Iowa regiments, was the cause of much discontent. The men were, at first, restive under Colonel Worthington's strict discipline. But the semi-official order of General Pope, of October, 1861, announcing: "Colonel: your regiment is the most soldierly-appearing one I have seen in Missouri," secured, in the future, an unquestioning compliance with his orders; for the men were proud of their good name, and knew to whom belonged the credit. This, too, in connection with the fact of his having periled his own life in rescuing a private of his command from drowning in the Missouri River, secured him, from that day to the day of his death, the respect and esteem of his regiment.

After a three days' rest at Cairo, Colonel Worthington crossed the Mississippi with his regiment, and marched out to Benton, Missouri. From that point, he accompanied General Pope to New Madrid, where, during the ten days' siege, he was conspicuous. In the meantime, he had assumed command of a brigade, and with that was assigned the important task of assaulting and capturing the ' Upper Fort,' which, I may add, would have been successfully accomplished, had not the ruse de guerre of General Stanley been divined by the enemy. This was on the morning of the 7th of March, 1862, and, on the morning of the 13th, the place was evacuated. But the gallantry of companies A and B, of the 5th Iowa, and three companies of the 39th Indiana, (these regiments were of Colonel Worthington's command) I should not omit to mention. On the afternoon of the 4th of March, these troops, under command of Major Robertson of the 5th Iowa, made the first demonstration against New Madrid. After engaging the enemy's pickets, and driving them through the large corn-field that lay to the north of the town, they suddenly found themselves confronted by a force which, in numbers, was not only treble their own, but which was supported by artillery. Here, however, they maintained their position, in the face of a galling fire, for upwards of two hours; nor did they retire till ordered to do so by Colonel, now General Granger.

During the operations around Island No. 10, which was surrendered to General Pope on the 7th of the following April, Colonel Worthington was again conspicuous; and the troops of his command were, by order of General Pope, permitted to inscribe on their flags, " Island No. 10." He now sailed to Hamburg Landing, on the Tennessee, where, with the command of General Pope, he took up his position before Corinth, on the left of our army. But his gallant career was soon to close: he was shot by a heedless and frightened sentinel, on the morning of the 22d of May; and the story, a brief one, is thus sadly told:

"General Orders No. 53.

"Head-quarters Army Of The Mississippi,
Near Farmington, May 22d, 1862.

"The general commanding announces to the army with deep regret the death of Colonel W. H. Worthington, Fifth Iowa Volunteers. He was killed by an unfortunate accident this morning, at two o'clock, while in discharge of his duties as general officer of the day. * * * *

"Speed Butler,
Assistant Adjutant General."

" By order of General Pope."

The report of the gun was heard by Captain Wever and myself, who, at the time, were on picket-duty, on the extreme left. It came to us across an open field to our right and rear, and from the edge of the timber, which was some quarter of a mile away. On our return to camp in the morning, we learned the sad story. The night was dark, and the sentinel, having left his post, was walking carelessly to the rear, when the officer of the day approached. Forgetting that he was within the line, and alarmed at what he supposed the approach of the enemy, he fired, without even challenging the approaching party. The ball took effect near the left eye, and the colonel, falling from his horse, died almost instantly.

Of the many gallant Iowa officers who have fallen in the service of their country, few were more deeply and sincerely mourned than Colonel Worthington. Many were the tributes that were offered to his memory. The army in which he served, his regiment, the District Court of his county, his old company, the "City Rifles," — all spoke his praise and joined in one common wail: all, as was expressed by Judge Francis Springer, "mourned the loss, and cherished the memory of the noble-hearted, brave and heroic Worthington."

At the time of his death, the future of no officer in our army was more promising than his. He loved the service, and was a model soldier. Already he had been recommended for promotion; and, had he survived the siege of Corinth, he would have been made a brigadier-general. I do not speak without authority. "In Colonel Worthington" (I quote from the above order of General Pope) "this army has sustained a serious loss. Prompt, gallant and patriotic, a brilliant career in the military profession was before him."

I remember well the first time I saw him. We had just arrived at the front, and he had called on Colonel Rankin to enquire and talk of friends at home. His manly form, and frank, open countenance impressed me; and, though I did not then know his name, I knew he was no ordinary man.

Colonel Worthington was a Southern man, with a Southern education and Southern prejudices; and, during the Presidential canvass of 1860, advocated the cause of Bell and Everett. Even at the outbreak of the war, he was a conservative. But he was also loyal; and no sooner was Abraham Lincoln declared elected, than he recognized and respected him as the legal Executive of the Nation. Indeed, when it was rumored that the rebels were threatening the Capital, he declared to his father: "If they enter Washington they shall march over my dead body!" Before leaving Missouri, he wrote to his father: "You know my conservative views heretofore; I am now a radical; and so he died. To his wife he wrote: "If I fall, teach my son to do likewise, if his country needs his life." His love for his country he sealed with his blood, and died a true patriot.

SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 125-30

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