Monday, September 21, 2009

From The 16th Iowa Regiment

We received the following private letter last evening, and aware of the anxiety felt in regard to this regiment, take the liberty of publishing it:–

PITTSBURG, Tenn., April 7, 1862.


The “bloody 16th” has availed itself at an early day of an opportunity for its first battle – and the greatest battle has just been fought, or is now fighting, that ever occurred on this Continent. The forces engaged altogether amounted to perhaps 150,000 men, although the newspapers, will most likely gave each side that number. The rebels had the advantage in numbers the first day, but at the close of that day reinforcements commenced arriving from Buell’s army, conveyed across the river here by steamboats. But I can attempt no description of the great battle which some hours, raged fiercely at several far distant points at the same time. There are to-night thousands lying dead within a few miles of the place where I write, and some within a few yards.

The battle of Fort Donelson was a mere trifle in comparison with this, as I have been informed by two Generals where were at both places. In fact, there were more killed the first day here than all the time there – yet to-day, both sides largely reinforced, the battle raged still more fiercely than yesterday. The rebels gained a decided advantage yesterday, penetrating into our camp, destroying many tents, capturing a large number of prisoners, and seriously threatening the destruction or capture of our army. They fought bravely, and had a much larger number in the field than we had. The attack was sudden and able, Beauregard being their General, and for a time everything looked threatening. It was their last great desperate effort seemingly, and desperately fought out to the bitter end. This evening the rebel army is miles away, our army in pursuit, and our danger over – but the loss on both sides fearful. How far our Iowa regiments have suffered, and how many of their well known officers have been killed or captured, cannot now be told. There is every reason to believe the 12th and 14th regiments have been captured – others have lost severely in killed and wounded. I have just heard Lt. Col. Hall, of the 11th was slightly wounded. Capt. Bob Littler, of Co. B, 2d regiment, had one arm badly crushed by a ball, and it will likely have to be amputated. He did his duty nobly, and has effectually refuted the charges made against him on another occasion. Col. Reed [sic] of the 15th, was shot in the neck, but is not dangerously wounded. Col. Hare of the 11th, had his hand shattered. So it goes.

But I must tell you something of the 16th. We arrived here Friday night last, after a pleasant trip. It was, of course, very muddy. We had to make a road up a steep bluff to get out our wagons, mules, goods, &c. We were ordered to join Gen. Prentiss’ division, next to the advance line, nearly four miles out, and one of the first afterwards attacked by the enemy. We nearly succeeded in getting out there Saturday night. Had we done so, we would have lost all our property, and perhaps all our regiment. The move, however, was fortunately delayed till Sunday evening. – We then had everything ready to start when the booming of the cannon and volleys of musketry announced the battle. The 15th and 16th formed on the bluff, distributed ammunition, and by ten o’clock were on the march to battle – raw troops, only partially drilled, and utterly unpracticed in the use of arms. We ought never to have been put in the field under such circumstances – more especially in a battle between what proved between ourselves and experienced troops with a battery of sharpshooters. We marched out several miles – then a General, who, I don’t know, ordered us across an open field and partial return in the face of a battery. Our boys stood it very well for new soldiers, although bombshells burst over their heads, and several arms and legs were knocked off by cannon balls. He finally got them in what was designed as our “position” in an open space, near a battery, with their sharpshooters protected by large trees in open woods. It promised to be a clear case of butchery. The men laid down flat, half rising to fire. They did all they could, and held the position longer than more experienced troops probably would have held it. The regiments retired, but not in hurried confusion, when an attack was being made by a large body of troops in front and flank. Col. Chambers received a ball through is right arm, but only a flesh wound. Another ball shockingly tore his coat, struck the saddle, went into his coat pocket, tore several holes in his handkerchief, and then the ball was found in his pocket. I lost both my horses, Bally and Lettie, and my Wentz saddle and bridle – so am now on foot, but expecting hourly to confiscate a horse. Adj. McCosh rode Bally by special favor. The horse had his leg shattered, and was led off, but I suppose never got far. My Wentz mare received three balls before she fell, the last when I was trying to rally the 16th for a stand. – Before I arose the regiments were off the ground, and as I walked off, the bullets whistling around thick, I was the last man alive or unwounded on the ground. Dozens of regiments were broken [into] fragments during the day and men looking everywhere for their companies.

I rallied a portion of the regiment on our return, and led them out again. This time we were called with others to protect a battery, or series of them. Our men laid three hours under rushing cannon balls and bomb shells – nearly all fortunately aimed too high. These batteries of ours probably stemmed the rebel tide of victory for that day and kept them from planting a battery which would have been terribly destructive. From that position we were marched to the advance line, and there remained all night. From 7 a.m. till 11 p.m. I was in the saddle, excepting an hour when I had no horse to ride – had nothing to eat for twenty-four hours – sat up all night, the rain literally pouring down at intervals. I call that a pretty rough beginning, anyhow. To-day we were left to protect a battery, only needed in case of a reverse, and were not therefore in the fight.

Among our killed were Capt. Ruehl, of Dubuque, an excellent officer, and Lieut. Doyle, also of Dubuque. Capt. Zettler is dangerously wounded. Private Bowling, of Davenport is also badly wounded. Several non-commissioned officers, were killed; and a number of privates – among the latter Mr. Howell, Quartermaster’s Sergeant at Camp McClellan. I will try to send you the list that you may have it published.

But I must close. We have not had an opportunity yet of pitching our tents or getting to our baggage, and we will sleep in the rain and mud tonight uncovered except by our blankets, an single one each, and no overcoats, as they have been laid aside for fighting. We sleep just where we happen to be at night – and may be called on to march any day on the track of the flying but still hard fighting enemy. It is now late at night and I have had nothing to eat since breakfast, and that breakfast was a hard cracker, piece of fat bacon and coffee made out of coffee grains boiled whole. No chance for supper, although the boys have had theirs. But I rather like this life. It is novel anyhow, to me. I do not know when I can write to you again.


– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Thursday Morning, April 17, 1862, p. 1

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