Friday, August 28, 2009



John M. Corse is the only military prodigy the State has furnished in the War of the Rebellion. For his family and intimate friends I am unable to speak, but I have knowledge positive that, with all others, his brilliant military career has created the greatest surprise. In civil life, though possessing large self-esteem, he was looked on as having only ordinary ability; and, therefore, his promotion in the army to nearly the highest rank in the volunteer service, was wholly unlooked for.

General Corse is a native of Pennsylvania, where he was born in about the year 1833. When young, he accompanied his parents West and settled with them in Burlington, Iowa; where he has since resided. He was at one time a cadet in the West Point Military Academy, New York; but had spent, I think, hardly two years at the institution, when he was politely informed that, should he tender his resignation, it would be accepted. At all events, he left West Point, and returned to Burlington, where he entered the book-store of his father. Not long after he became a partner in the business, and was thus engaged at the outbreak of the war.

He entered the service as major of the 6th Iowa Infantry, and, up to the time of its arrival at Pittsburg Landing, has a military history similar to that of his regiment. During the siege of Corinth, he was a staff-officer of General Sherman — I think, his inspector-general. From the time of their first meeting, he was held in high esteem by that general. He "was mustered a lieutenant-colonel the 21st of May, 1862; and, on the resignation of Colonel McDowell, was made colonel of his regiment, and returned to its command. From that time forward, he grew rapidly popular.

During his colonelcy and after, the history of the 6th Iowa is one of great interest. It is the same as that of Sherman's old Division. It was the only Iowa regiment in that division. On the assignment of General Sherman to the command of the 15th Army Corps, its division was commanded by General William L. Smith, who, during the siege of Vicksburg, joined the army of General Grant in rear of the city. "Smith's and Kimball's Divisions, and Parke's Corps were sent to Haine's Bluff. * * This place I [Grant] had fortified to the land-side, and every preparation was made to resist a heavy force." After the fall of Vicksburg, the 6th Iowa marched with Sherman to Jackson, where it made itself conspicuous — with the exception of the 3d Iowa, more conspicuous than any other Iowa regiment. On the morning of the 16th of July, Colonel Corse was put in command of the skirmishers of the 1st Division, 15th Army Corps, and ordered to report to Major-General Parke, commanding the 9th Corps. The 6th Iowa was included in the colonel's command; and, to show the part taken by the regiment in the advance of that morning, I quote from his official report:

"I assumed command of the line formed by the skirmishers of the 6th Iowa; and, at the designated signal, the men dashed forward with a shout, met the line of the enemy's skirmishers and pickets, drove them back, capturing eighteen or twenty, and killing as many more. Clearing the timber, they rushed out into the open field, across the railroad, over the fence, up a gentle slope, across the crest, down into the enemy's line, when two field-batteries of four guns each, pointing west, opened a terrific cannonade. The enemy were driven from two pieces at the point of the bayonet, our men literally running them through. In rear of the batteries, two regiments were lying supporting the gunners, and, at our approach, they opened along their whole line, causing most of the casualties in this gallant regiment. With such impetuosity did the line go through the field that the enemy, so completely stunned were they, would have precipitately fled, had they not been re-assured by a large gun-battery, nearly six hundred yards to our right, which enfiladed the railroad line of skirmishers. Startled at this unexpected obstacle, which was now in full play, throwing its whirlwind of grape and canister about us until the corn fell as if by an invisible reaper, I ordered the bugle to sound the 'lie down.' The entire line fell in the corn-rows, and I had the opportunity to look round. * * * * Feeling that I had obtained all the information I could, I ordered the 'rise up' and ' retreat,' which was done in the most admirable manner, under the fire of at least three regiments and seven guns— three of these enfilading my line. But few of those who had so gallantly charged the battery got back. I cannot speak in too extravagant terms of the officers and men of the 6th Iowa on this occasion. * They awakened my admiration at the coolness with which they retired, returning the incessant fire of the enemy as they slowly fell back."

The loss of the 6th Iowa in this encounter was one killed, eighteen wounded, and nine missing. The conduct of the regiment filled the general commanding the division with admiration:

“Head-Quarters, First Division, Sixteenth Army Corps,
"In Front or Jackson, Mississippi, July 16th, 1863.

"Colonel Corse, commanding 6th Iowa Infantry:

"The valor of your noble regiment has been conspicuous, even amidst the universal good conduct that has marked the operations of all the troops of the 1st Division, during our advance upon Jackson, and since our arrival here. I can not too highly commend the gallantry you have displayed in two successful charges you have made. The true heart swells with emotions of pride in contemplating the heroism of those who, in their country's cause, charge forward under the iron-hail of half a dozen rebel batteries, and, exposed to a murderous fire of musketry from behind strong intrenchments, capture prisoners under their very guns. Such has been the glorious conduct of the 6th Iowa this morning; and those who shared your dangers, and emulated your valor, will join me in tendering to you and the brave men under your command my warmest thanks and most hearty congratulations.

" Most truly yours,

" William Lov'y Smith,
"Brigadier-General commanding 1st Div., 16th A. C."

In October, 1863, the 6th Iowa, with its division, (which in the meantime had been transferred to the l5th Corps) marched to the relief of Chattanooga. Under General Hugh Ewing it fought on Mission Ridge. Its position was just to the left of the two brigades of General John E. Smith; and, with those troops, it fought for the possession of that point which covered General Bragg's line of retreat. It was so far to the left that it escaped the flank movement of the enemy from the railroad tunnel, and lost few, if any prisoners. The regiment, however, suffered severely in killed and wounded. Eight fell dead upon the field, one of whom was the gallant Captain Robert Allison. Major Ennis, and Captains Calvin Minton, L. C. Allison and G. R. Nunn were wounded. The total number of killed and wounded was sixty-eight.

If foraging in the enemy's country is always a labor of danger, it is also sometimes attended with sport. Apropos, the 6th Iowa Infantry was one of the most expert and successful foraging regiments in the service. At all events, it was, in this respect, the banner regiment from Iowa; and I am aware how high is the compliment I am paying it. If that sergeant is still living, (I did not learn his name) he will recognize the following: Hugh Ewing's Division led John E. Smith's in the march from Chickasaw on the Tennessee to Bridgeport. That of which I speak occurred between Prospect Station and Fayetteville. We were marching along leisurely through a beautiful, highly-improved country, when, of a sudden, there was great confusion in the front. It would remind you of a crowd running to witness a show-day fight. A sergeant of the 6th Iowa, with a squad of one man, two mules and a revolver, had left his regiment on a foraging excursion, and returned with a whole train, ladened with the fruits of the land. He had fresh apples and dried apples, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, bed-clothes, and butter-milk in canteens: all were loaded on old rickety wagons, drawn by half-starved mules, and driven by American citizens of African descent. To share these spoils was the cause of the confusion. "He had got them for his boys," he said; but precious few of them did his boys ever get.

At Fayetteville, the 6th Iowa was infantry, and, only two days later, when they passed us in the woods near Winchester, nearly half the regiment was cavalry. "What in the d—1 do you go a-foot for?" they said to us; but they lost their horses before reaching Chattanooga, and, like us, fought at Mission Ridge on foot. The regiment was as reckless in battle as it was on the march.

General Corse was severely wounded at Mission Ridge, and disabled for several months. His intrepidity there, and his previous good conduct, secured his promotion to the rank of brigadier-general. When partially recovered, he was, I think, ordered on duty in Indiana. In a short time he was placed on General Sherman's staff, and in August, 1864, was assigned to the command of a division. That passage in his military history which will make his name distinguished hereafter, is that which records his defense of Allatoona, Georgia. At the time in question he was in command of the 4th Division, 15th Army Corps, one of the divisions comprised in General Dodge's command during the march on Atlanta. An account of the defense of Allatoona will be found elsewhere. I give below simply the correspondence of Generals French and Corse, and the congratulatory orders of Generals Howard and Sherman:

"Around Allatoona, October 5th, 8:16 A. M.
"Commanding Officer U. S. Force, Allatoona:

"Sir: — I have placed the forces under my command in such positions that you are surrounded, and, to avoid a useless effusion of blood, I call on you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally. Five minutes will be allowed you to decide. Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner, as prisoners of war.

"I have the honor to be, very respectfully, yours,

"S. G. French,
"Major-General commanding forces C. S."

[the Reply.]

"Head-quarters Fourth Division, Fifteenth Army Corps,
Allatoona, Georgia, October 5th, 8:30 A. M

"Major-general S. G. French, C. S. A.:

"Your communication demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply that we are prepared for the useless effusion of blood whenever it is agreeable to you.

"I am very respectfully your obedient servant,

"John M. Corse,
"Brigadier-General commanding 4th Division, 15th A. C."

How needless was the effusion of blood the following orders of Generals Howard and Sherman will show:

General Field Orders No. 18.

"Head-quarters Department And Army or The Tennessee,
Near Kenesaw Mountain, October 16th.

"Whilst uniting in the high commendation awarded by the General-in-chief, the Army of the Tennessee would tender through me its most hearty appreciation and thanks to Brigadier-General J. M. Corse for his promptitude, energy and eminent success in the defense of Allatoona Pass, against a force so largely superior to his own; and our warmest congratulations are extended to him, to Colonel Tourtellotte, and the rest of our comrades in arms who fought at Allatoona, for the glorious manner in which they vetoed 'the useless effusion of blood.'

"O. O. Howard,


Special Field Orders, No. 86.

In The Field, Kenesaw Mountain, October 6th.

"The General commanding avails himself of the opportunity in the handsome defense made of ' Allatoona,' to illustrate the most important principle in war, that fortified posts should be defended to the last, regardless of the relative numbers of the party attacking and attacked.

"Allatoona was garrisoned by three regiments commanded by Colonel Tourtelotte, and reinforced by a detachment from a division at Rome, under command of Brigadier-General J. M. Corse on the morning of the 5th, and a few hours after was attacked by French's Division of Stewart's Corps, two other divisions being near at hand, and in support. General French demanded a surrender, in a letter to 'avoid an useless effusion of blood,' and gave but five minutes for an answer. General Corse's answer was emphatic and strong, that he and his command were ready for the 'useless effusion of blood,' as soon as it was agreeable to General French.

"This answer was followed by an attack which was prolonged for five hours, resulting in the complete repulse of the enemy, who left his dead on the ground amounting to more than two hundred, and four hundred prisoners, well and wounded. The 'effusion of blood' was not 'useless,' as the position at Allatoona was and is very important to our present and future operations.

"The thanks of this army are due, and hereby accorded to General Corse, Colonel Tourtelotte, officers and men for their determined and gallant defense of Allatoona, and it is made an example to illustrate the importance of preparing in time, and meeting the danger when present, boldly, manfully and well.

"This Army, though unseen to the garrison, was co-operating by moving toward the road by which the enemy could alone escape, but unfortunately were delayed by the rain and mud, but this fact hastened the retreat of the enemy.

"Commanders and garrisons of posts along our railroads are hereby instructed that they must hold their posts to the last minute, sure that the time gained is valuable and necessary to their comrades at the front. " By order of

" Major-General W. T. Sherman,
" L. M. Dayton,
"A. D. C.

At Allatoona General Corse was again wounded. A musket- shot struck him in the cheek, and, for a time, rendered him insensible. Colonel R. Rowett of the 7th Illinois, as ranking officer, succeeded him in command; and the fighting continued as before with great fury. At twelve o'clock M., Sherman had reached the summit of Kenesaw, and from that point signaled to the garrison: — "Hold on to Allatoona to the last; I will help you." Not long after the enemy retired, having failed to draw their one million and a half of rations.

For his brilliant defense of Allatoona, General Corse was made, by brevet, a major-general. Since that time, he has remained in command of his division. He joined Sherman in the march from Atlanta to Savannah, and from that city to Raleigh. They say Sherman calls him, "my pet.”

Subsequently to the engagement at Mission Ridge, the 6th. Iowa Infantry has been commanded a chief portion of the time by Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Miller. During the winter of 1863-4 the regiment was stationed with its division along the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, between Bridgeport and Huntsville; but in the Spring was ordered to the front and served through the Atlanta campaign. It fought at Resaca, Dallas, Big Shanty, Kenesaw Mountain, before Atlanta and at Jonesboro; and lost in killed and wounded, in the months of May and June, an aggregate of one hundred and six. Lieutenant Rodney F. Barker, of Company A, was wounded in the first day's engagement at Dallas. On the 28th of May, the day following, Lieutenant F. F. Baldwin was killed, and Lieutenant and Adjutant Newby Chase mortally wounded. The former was killed while saving two guns of the 1st Iowa Battery from capture, and the latter, shot in the throat and mortally wounded, while on the skirmish line. A correspondent of the regiment says: " Better men never drew swords." Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. Miller was severely wounded in this same engagement at Dallas. Indeed, three of the four regimental commanders of the 2d Brigade, 4th Division, were struck, two of them being killed—Colonel Dickerman of the 103d Illinois and Major Gisey of the 46th Ohio. The total loss of the 6th Iowa at Dallas, was seven men killed, and fifteen wounded.

On the 15th of June the regiment joined its division in the brilliant charge near Big Shanty, and, two days later, took part in the unsuccessful charge at Kenesaw Mountain. In that of the 15th instant, Lieutenant J. F. Grimes, acting adjutant, was killed. At the opening of the campaign, the 6th Iowa arrived before Dalton, nearly four hundred strong; and by the middle of July had suffered a loss of fifty per cent. The last services of the 6th Iowa Infantry were performed in the marches from Atlanta to Savannah, and thence to Raleigh.

General Corse is a small man. He is not above five feet eight inches in bight, and weighs less than one hundred and twenty-five pounds. He is small in stature, and, to look at him, a stranger would not think his mind and body much out of proportion. He has more ability than he seems to have. He has sharp features, a dark complexion, large, dark eyes, and black hair, which he usually wears long. In his movements, he is dignified and somewhat consequential, carrying a high head, and wearing a stern countenance.) (I speak of him as I saw him in the service.) Before he entered the service, his neighbors in Burlington told on him the following story. I do not suppose it is true, but possibly it illustrates his character. When he became a partner with his father in the book business, the story goes, there had to be a new sign made. The father suggested that it read, " J. L. Corse & Son;" while the future general insisted that it should read, "John M. Corse and Father."

I omitted to mention in the proper place that, in I860, the general was a candidate for the office of Secretary of State.

Perhaps I ought to omit it now, for I venture to say, he is not proud of that passage in his history; he was the candidate on the old Hickory ticket, with a certain prospect of being defeated.

In battle I believe General Corse to be as cool a man as ever met an enemy. His defense of Allatoona shows that. He has always seemed to act on the principle suggested by General Jerry Sullivan: "Boys, when you have fought just as long as you think you possibly can, then fight ten minutes longer, and you will always whip." General Corse has richly earned his distinguished reputation, and the State will always be proud of him.

SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, pp. 153-162

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