FIRST COLONEL, SIXTH INFANTRY.
John A. McDowell is a younger brother of Major-General Irwin [sic] McDowell, who led the Federal forces in the first great battle of the war. Colonel McDowell was born in the city of Columbus, Ohio, the 22d day of July, 1825, and was graduated at Kenyan College, Gambia, Ohio, in the year 1846. While at Kenyan College he devoted much time to the study of military tactics, under the instruction of Professor Ross, a former Professor of Mathematics and Tactics in the West Point Military Academy, New York, and the widely known translator of Bourdon and other mathematical works. Colonel McDowell's experience as an officer began as captain of the Kenyan Guards, an independent military company, which, in its day, attained much celebrity for its proficiency in discipline and drill.
Leaving college with the highest oratorical honors of his class, he entered, in 1847, the office of Judge Swan, and prepared himself for the practice of law. The vast mineral wealth of California was, in 1848 and 1849, attracting thousands of emigrants from the States to that country; and, for young men of enterprise and talent, the prospects seemed nattering. Having completed his legal studies in 1848, he left in the following Spring for California, in company with the 2d United States Dragoons. He arrived on the shores of the Pacific in the following Fall, and without incident, if we except the passage of the Rio Grande. In crossing that river, he came near losing his own life, in his generous efforts to save the life of a friend. Locating in Monterey, he began the practice of law, and soon became a public man; for, in 1851, he was elected mayor of that city. Those were, in California, the days of vigilance committees, and the duties of his office required great caution and judgment; but his management was firm and judicious, and he secured the confidence of the public.
In 1852 he returned to the States, and, the following year, settled in Keokuk, Iowa. During Colonel McDowell's residence in Iowa, and prior to his entering the service, he followed the profession of civil engineering. He was at one time the City Engineer of Keokuk, but, at the outbreak of the war, was Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the Keokuk, Mount Pleasant and Minnesota Railroad.
In the spring of 1861, Colonel McDowell visited Washington for the purpose of obtaining authority to raise a regiment of infantry. Authority was granted by the War Department, and he returned to Burlington, which was to be the rendezvous of his regiment. The 6th Iowa Infantry was enlisted principally from the counties of Linn, Lucas, Hardin, Appanoose, Monroe, Clark, Johnson, Lee, Des Moines and Henry. It was mustered into the United States service on the 17th of July, 1861: its camp was Camp Warren. On the 2d of the following August, Colonel McDowell was ordered to Keokuk, and, during his week's stay there, a portion of his regiment took part in the affair at Athens, between the Union forces under Colonel Moore, and the Confederates under Green. On the 19th instant the regiment left for St. Louis, where, reporting to General Fremont, it was retained for five weeks in camp, at La Fayette Park. The first campaign on which the 6th Iowa marched, was that from Jefferson City to Springfield.
Lyon had been killed at Wilson's Creek, and Sturgis, his successor, had fallen back to Rolla; when, instantly, the rebellious citizens of Missouri, from every quarter, made haste to join Price, their deliverer. Price, strongly reinforced, in council with that mean, cowardly traitor, Claib Jackson, resolved on a march northward. Small detachments of Federal troops withdrew from his line of march; and, on the 12th of September, he laid siege to Lexington. Fremont, in command of the Western Department, having made ineffectual efforts to relieve Mulligan, quit St. Louis, and concentrated an army at Jefferson City, with which to march on Price, and either rout or capture his forces. Some claim more for this fossil hero;—that, after Price's annihilation, he was to march south, and, flanking Columbus, Hickman, Memphis, and a long stretch of the Mississippi, was to enter, in triumph, Little Rock. With him were Sigel, Hunter, Asboth, McKinstry, Pope, Lane, and his royal guard under Zagonyi. Price left Lexington on the 30th of September, and, the 8th of October, Fremont marched from Jefferson City. Such, briefly, is the history of what preceded the first great campaign in Missouri.
Passing through Tipton, Warsaw on the Osage, and thence south, Fremont arrived in Springfield the 29th of October. Price was then at Neosho. And this is all that there is of Fremont's celebrated campaign in Missouri; for he was now relieved by the President, and his command turned over to General Hunter, who forthwith ordered a return in the direction of St. Louis. I cannot forbear adding that Fremont was a better man than Hunter; for, if he had style, he also had pluck and confidence. On this campaign the 6th Iowa Infantry was under Brigadier-General McKinstry, and in three day's time marched seventy-five miles.
During the winter of 1861-2, Colonel McDowell was stationed on the Pacific Railroad, which he guarded from Sedalia to Tipton; but, in the opening of the Spring Campaign, was relieved at his own request, and sent to the front. Early in March he sailed with his regiment up the Tennessee River, and landed at Pittsburg Landing, where he was immediately assigned to General Sherman's Division, and placed in command of a brigade. At the battle of Shiloh his command held the extreme right of General Grant's Army, and was stationed near the Purdy road. The 3d Iowa, it will be remembered, was stationed near the extreme left. The 11th and 13th Iowa, under McClernand, were to the left of Sherman; and the 2d, 7th, 8th, 12th and 14th Iowa, in Smith's Division, commanded by W. H. L. Wallace, and to the left of McClernand. The 15th and 16th Iowa fought on their own hook. The 8th Iowa, however, fought under Prentiss. These were all the Iowa troops in the battle of Shiloh.
The 6th Iowa was commanded at Shiloh by Captain John Williams; and, to show the part acted by the regiment, I quote briefly from his official report:
"On Sunday morning, when the attack was made on General Grant's centre, the regiment was immediately brought into line of battle, and was then moved about fifty yards to the front, along the edge of the woods. Company I was thrown out as skirmishers, and Companies E and G were moved to the left and front of our line, to support a battery just placed there. We were in this position for more than two hours, when we were ordered to fall back to the rear of our camp, on the Purdy road. The battle at this time was raging fiercely in the centre, and extending gradually to the right. The line was slowly yielding to a vastly superior force, and it now became evident that we must change our position or be entirely cut off from the rest of the army.
"The regiment then marched by the left flank about six hundred yards, crossed an open field about one hundred and fifty yards wide, took a position in the edge of the woods and formed a new line of battle, which was succeeded by another line, nearly perpendicular to the former, the right resting close to the Purdy road."
This left flank movement was to the left and rear; but this position was held but a very short time, when the regiment was marched to the rear about half a mile; for McClernand's Division, and the left of Sherman's, had been driven back rapidly. The next position taken by the regiment was in the edge of the woods, and formed a part of that line which, for several hours, held the enemy successfully at bay. At this hour, things looked more hopeful; and, had all the troops that had stampeded and straggled been now in their proper places, Grant would probably have suffered no further reverses at Shiloh. It was in this last position that the 6th Iowa suffered its severest loss. Captain Williams was wounded here, and the command of the regiment turned over to Captain Walden.
Of less than six hundred and fifty men that went into the engagement, sixty-four were killed, one hundred wounded, and forty-seven missing. The 6th Iowa, as a regiment, was not engaged in the second day's battle, and its losses were slight. Among the wounded in the first day's fight were Captain Williams, and Lieutenants Halliday and Grimes. The names of the killed I have failed to learn. " In regard to the bravery, coolness and intrepidity of both officers and men, too much can not be said. Where all did so well, to particularize would seem invidious." The regiment continued with Sherman during the siege of Corinth, and Colonel McDowell in command of his brigade. The 6th was one of the regiments of his command.
After the fall of Corinth, Colonel McDowell marched with his brigade to Memphis, where he remained the balance of the Summer, and during the following Fall. In November, he marched with his division on the campaign down through Oxford, and to the Yockona, after which he returned to La Grange, Tennessee, where he passed the Winter. While on the march from Corinth to Memphis, he was attacked with a disease, pronounced by his surgeon an affection of the sciatic nerve. It had been contracted through exposure and by almost constant duty in the saddle, and was extremely painful; but he continued on duty. Finally, receiving no relief, he tendered his resignation, which was accepted late in the winter of 1862-3.
While stationed at Memphis, he received from General Sherman a recommendation for brigadier-general, which was endorsed, I am informed, as follows: — "I think it but right and just that a gallant officer, who has discharged faithfully the duties of a brigadier for many months, should enjoy in full the rank and pay of the position." On leaving the service, his regiment presented him with a costly silver set, which, in its own language, was " a token of their esteem for him as a man, and their appreciation of his merit as an officer."
Colonel McDowell is a large man, and well proportioned, but a little too fleshy to look comfortable. He is above six feet in hight, and erect; has a mild blue eye, light complexion, and a good-natured countenance. Usually, he seems kind and approachable, but, when aroused, the flash of his eye makes him look, as he really is, a most formidable opponent. He has large self-esteem, a good education and fine social qualities. His conversational powers are remarkable. He is fond of merriment, to be convinced of which you have only to look on his shaking sides: he laughs, like Momus, all over,
Colonel McDowell has fine ability, but is naturally, I believe, inclined to be a little lazy. He is a close observer, and forms positive opinions. His experience in the army destroyed his faith in field artillery. "There are occasions," he once said, " when it is invaluable; but, as a general thing, it is vox proe-ter-er nihil. If you fight to whip, you must fight to kill; and whoever heard of a dead or wounded artillery-man? These things that you hold straight at a man, are the things that hurt."
As a soldier, Colonel McDowell excelled as a disciplinarian and tactician: he was a splendid drill-master, a fact attested by his regiment, which was one of the best drilled in the volunteer service.
SOURCE: Stuart, A. A., Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 147-152