Sunday, October 4, 2009



James L. Geddes, of the 8th Iowa Infantry, is a Scotchman, and was born in the city of Edinburgh, on the 19th day of March, 1827. "When ten years of age, he emigrated with his family to Canada; but, at the age of eighteen, returned to Scotland, and, in the following Winter, embarked for the East Indies, where he entered the British Military Academy at Calcutta. After studying at that Institution for about two years, he enlisted in the British service, and was a member of the Royal Horse Artillery. He was connected with the British service seven years, and, during that time, served under Sir Hugh Gough, Sir Charles Napier, and Sir Colin Campbell. Under Gough, he took part in the celebrated Punjaub Campaign, and with Napier fought in the battle of Kyber Pass. He was also engaged under Sir Colin Campbell in the campaign against the Hill Tribes of the Himalaya. For his services in India, he was awarded a medal and clasp.

After leaving the British service, he returned to Canada where, being commissioned by Queen Victoria a colonel of cavalry, he organized a cavalry regiment; but, as he himself expressed it, he soon became disgusted, and resigned his commission. He came to Iowa in the fall of 1857, and purchased a farm in Benton county, on which he has since lived.

In August, 1861, Colonel Geddes enlisted a company in Benton county, for the 8th Iowa Infantry, and was commissioned its captain; but, on the organization of his regiment, he was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy, and, with that rank, he entered the field. He was promoted to the colonelcy of the 8th Iowa, on the 7th of February, 1862, vice Colonel Steele, who had been appointed a brigadier-general.

The first campaign on which the 8th Iowa Infantry marched was that of General Fremont, from Jefferson City to Springfield. The regiment's first battle was Shiloh. The part it took in this engagement is the first point of interest in its history. It was attached to the division of General C. F. Smith, which, in the absence of that general, was commanded by Wallace. The camp of the regiment was, therefore, in rear of the line first assailed by the enemy.

Early in the morning of the 6th of April, and soon after the enemy opened fire on the divisions of Prentiss and Sherman, Colonel Geddes ordered his regiment under arms and formed it in line of battle in front of its camp. In the meantime, the firing at the front was increasing rapidly, and the colonel, convinced that the enemy were advancing in force, ordered the baggage to be loaded on the wagons and driven back in the direction of the Landing. This done, his regiment was ordered to the front. The other regiments of the brigade, which was commanded by Colonel Sweeney, of the 52d Illinois, were, on the arrival of the 8th Iowa, already in position. Forming his regiment on the left of his brigade, Colonel Geddes remained in this position for about an hour, in support of a battery in his front, and during this time suffered from a galling fire of the enemy's artillery.

He was now separated from his brigade and ordered to the left, and still further to the front: and the position which his regiment now took up was in that line, portions of which were held so obstinately until about four o'clock in the afternoon. The 8th Iowa in this position was the connecting link between the division of General Wallace and that portion of General Prentiss' which had not stampeded at the first onset of the enemy. On the left of General Prentiss was the division of Hurlbut, which had just come into position. It was now nearly eleven o'clock, and every thing promised well for the Federal cause; for the enemy in their first successes had been effectually arrested.

Hardly had the 8th Iowa been aligned and drawn a long breath, when it was assaulted by a battalion of the enemy, advancing to turn Prentiss' right flank. A most determined struggle followed of nearly an hour in length. The enemy, flushed with their first successes, which surprise as well as their valor had contributed to win, would not yield the contest until they had left nearly half their number upon the field. The 8th Iowa held its ground steadily, and, like the 14th Iowa on its right, charged and bore down the enemy whenever they approached too closely. Finally they retired, after which there was a respite of nearly an hour.

In the meantime General Prentiss had placed a battery in position immediately in front of the 8th Iowa, and ordered the regiment to hold and defend it at all hazards. It was now about one o'clock in the afternoon, the hour when the fiercest fighting of the whole day began; for the enemy had completed their reconnoissances, and were advancing at nearly every point along the line. The battery placed by General Prentiss in front of the 8th Iowa opened upon the advancing columns of the enemy, under the direction of the general in person, and so accurately and rapidly was it served that it soon became to them an object of special attack. "To this end {I quote from the statement of Colonel Geddes to Governor Kirkwood} they concentrated and hurled column after column on my position, charging most gallantly to the very muzzles of the guns. Here a struggle commenced for the retention and possession of the battery, of a terrific character, their concentrated and well-directed fire decimating my ranks in a fearful manner. In this desperate struggle, my regiment lost one hundred men in killed and wounded. The conspicuous gallantry and coolness of my company commanders, Captains Cleaveland, Stubbs and Benson on the left; Captains McCormick and Bell in the centre; Captains Kelsey, Geddes and Lieutenant Muhs, on the right, by reserving the fire of their respective companies until the proper time for its delivery with effect, and the determined courage of my men, saved the battery from capture; and I had the satisfaction of sending the guns in safety to the rear."

And thus the conflict raged along the line, but at few points with as great fury as in front of the 8th and 14th Iowa. Finally, after the struggle had lasted nearly two hours, the enemy retired, leaving the troops at this point masters of the field. But they had not been equally unsuccessful at other points. They had broken the line on the right, and had forced back the left and centre of Prentiss' Division and the right of Hurlbut's. Heavy volleys of musketry were now heard to the left and rear of the 8th Iowa, where Prentiss, having rallied his troops, had formed a new line. This line was at nearly right angles with his former one, and the enemy were promptly engaging him in this new position. At this time, about half-past three o'clock, there was no enemy in front of the 8th Iowa, or on its immediate left; but, to conform with Prentiss' new line, Colonel Geddes threw back the left of his regiment, and dressed it on the right of the 58th Illinois, the right regiment of Prentiss' Division.

The rest is soon told. Prentiss' new line gave way and fled in terror to the Landing, and the enemy, meeting with no further opposition, swung round to the rear of the 8th Iowa; and thus it was that the regiment was captured. The 58th Illinois stood nobly to the last, and was captured in like manner. General Prentiss was near these troops, and was also made prisoner. It has been asserted by many, that, had all the troops at Shiloh fought with the same determination as did the 58th Illinois, the 8th Iowa, and the four other Iowa regiments on its right, the first day's battle would not have been disastrous to our arms. Some have blamed General Prentiss for holding his position so long; but, had he abandoned it sooner, who can tell the calamities that might have followed; for, with all the delay he and the Iowa troops on his right occasioned the enemy, the Federal forces barely escaped capture, and the day closed with little hope.

Of the conduct of Colonel Geddes and his regiment at Shiloh, General Prentiss, in his official report, says:

"He acted with distinguished courage, coolness and ability. His regiment stood unflinchingly up to the work the entire portion of the day, during which it acted under my orders."

The loss of the regiment in this engagement was nearly two hundred. Captain Hogin was shot dead early in the day, and soon after the regiment took up its position on the right of General Prentiss' Division. Captain Palmer was at nearly the same time severely wounded. Later in the day, and at the time the conflict was going on for the retention of the battery in his regiment's front, Colonel Geddes was wounded in the leg. Major Anderson was at the same time severely wounded in the head. Among those mentioned for special gallantry was Lieutenant-Colonel Ferguson, who, throughout the day, was reckless in the exposure of his person to the enemy.

The history of that portion of the 8th Iowa Infantry which escaped capture is to be found in the record of the Union Brigade. This brigade, which was organized immediately after the battle of Shiloh, and which retained its organization until the 17th of the following December, acted an honorable part in the battle of Corinth, in the fall of 1862, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Coulter of the 12th Iowa Infantry. On the morning of the 18th of December, 1862, the detachments of the 8th, 12th and 14th Iowa regiments, which had served in the Union Brigade for upward of eight months, left Corinth, by order of General Dodge, to report at Davenport, Iowa, for re-organization in their respective commands. This, it will be remembered, was at the time of Forest's raid through Tennessee into Kentucky; and, on the arrival of these troops at Jackson, Tennessee, they were ordered by Colonel Lawler, Commandant of the Post, to assist in defending the place against the threatened attack of the enemy, who were reported to be in strong force, and supported by artillery. But Jackson was not attacked. The enemy's demonstrations before that city were only intended to divert the Federal forces, while they in the meantime destroyed the railroad north in the direction of Columbus; and this work they effectually accomplished. Forest now fled the State, and Lieutenant-Colonel Coulter proceeded with his command to Davenport.

Subsequently to the re-organization of the 8th Iowa Infantry and up to the spring of 1864, the history of the regiment is similar to that of the 12th Iowa. It joined General Grant's army at Milliken's Bend in the spring of 1863, and was assigned to the 3d Brigade, 3d Division, l5th Army Corps, which it accompanied in all its long and tedious marches through Mississippi. But when that corps left Vicksburg for Chattanooga, in the fall of 1863, the 8th Iowa with its division was left behind. The regiment remained at Vicksburg until the following Winter, when, having re-enlisted, it was sent North on veteran furlough. On its return, it was ordered to Memphis, since which time it has served under Major-General A. J. Smith.

When Forest made his dash into Memphis, late in August, 1864, the 8th Iowa was stationed in the city on garrison-duty, and took an important part in driving out, and dispersing the forces of the guerrilla chief. "Sergeants Ostrander, and privates A. M. Walling, Charles Smith, I. F. Newman and Perry Clark, watched their opportunity, and fired a volley on the flank of the enemy, killing the rebel Captain Lundy and wounding several others." Lieutenant-Colonel W. B. Bell commanded the 8th Iowa in this affair; and, before the enemy were dispersed, the regiment suffered severely. Lieutenant A. S. Irwin was mortally wounded and died soon after. Lieutenants J. A. Boyer and J. S. Tinkham were also wounded. Among those mentioned for good conduct, are Captain Geddes, and Lieutenants Stearns and Campbell.

The 8th Iowa has recently and most signally distinguished itself, in the operations of General Canby around Mobile.

The arrival of A. J. Smith's Corps at Barley's Mill on Fish River, and the march to Spanish Fort and its investment will appear elsewhere. The 8th Iowa Infantry was attached to this Corps, and its position in front of the fort was to the extreme right of the Federal line. The brigade to which the regiment was attached, was commanded by Colonel Geddes, and the division by General E. A. Carr.

Of Spanish Fort, which is situated on Blakely River, and nearly east from Mobile, one who was on the ground writes thus:

"At Spanish Fort, there were several lines of inferior rifle-pits for skirmishers, outside the principal works. A formidable ditch added to the strength of the position; the most elaborately constructed abattis presented its sharp points to an enemy; a line of chevaux de frize intervened between the ditch and the abattis; the trees were felled and laced together for an area of many acres around, and the ground everywhere was pretty thickly sown with torpedoes. Artillery, of all kinds and calibres, bristled along the walls, and three thousand men with muskets held the interior of the fort."

Spanish Fort was crescent-shaped in form, its right and left defenses swinging back to near the river. Just at the northern extremity of these defenses, a deep ravine puts down to the river, dividing the high bluff along its eastern bank. On the north-eastern side of this ravine was the brigade of Colonel Geddes in position, and, on the opposite one, the northern extremity of Spanish Fort. At the mouth of the ravine was low bottom-land, not long since covered with dense and heavy timber; but this had all been felled, to enable the rebel gun-boats to sweep it from the river. This was the point selected from which to carry Spanish Fort.

In speaking of the charge of the 8th Iowa, which led the advance, the same correspondent goes on to say :

"For nearly an hour and a half the bombardment continued, before Colonel Geddes judged it expedient to move; and the sun was just sinking below the western horizon when the signal to advance was given. Instantly the men of the 8th Iowa sprang to their feet, and the company of skirmishers, followed by the entire regiment, threw themselves among the Mien and matted timbers in the swamp, and urged their way, as rapidly as possible, across the mouth of the ravine. A loud shout from the rest of the division, as if the whole were about to charge, distracted the attention of the enemy, while the bold advance of the 8th Iowa seemed to strike him with dismay. Such of his men as were posted behind the log breast-work, (that which extended from the bluff down across the low ground to the river) fired a scattering, hesitating volley, and ran for their lives. But from the extreme left of the rebel rifle-pits, a heavy fire was poured upon our boys, until the foremost of them, mounting the bluff, came full upon the rear of the enemy.

"It was just here that Lieutenant Vineyard, the gallant leader of Company G, fell dangerously wounded. Some of his men halted a moment where he lay. 'Pay no attention to me,' he said; 'move on;' and they did move on. The frightened rebels seeing the boys still clambering over the bluff, and not knowing what force there might be behind, threw down their arms. Three hundred were made prisoners on the spot. Others retreated rapidly toward the centre of the fort, and a line of battle was now formed by the enemy to check the further advance of our troops into the fortress. For more than three hundred yards, the brave 8th fought its way toward the enemy's centre; but it was now dark, and, in obedience to orders which they had received, the victorious Hawkeyes halted, and hastily constructed a line of rifle-pits."

At about eleven o'clock at night, it was learned that the enemy were evacuating, when, nearly an hour later, the whole Federal line moved against the fort. There was little resistance made; for nearly all the enemy had left. Of all the prisoners captured, there were less than six hundred; but, besides large quantities of ammunition, nearly fifty pieces of artillery fell into our hands. The 8th Iowa Infantry should be permitted to inscribe on their banner, First at Spanish Fort. The troops with which the 8th was brigaded were the 81st, the 108th and the 124th Illinois.

Of the scenes inside the fort after its evacuation, the author from whom I have quoted goes on to say:

"For several hours on Monday morning, I wandered about over the interior and battlements of the deserted fortress. Objects and localities of interest abounded. Here was the point where the 8th Iowa effected its entrance; the swamp covered with fallen timbers through which it had clambered; the huge ravine whose mouth it had passed; the bluff up which it had climbed; the line of rifle-pits which it had thrown up after gaining a lodgment. Here lay a huge columbiad, dismounted during the bombardment on the 4th. One of the heavy iron trunnions was knocked off, and lay beside the gun. Down there was the formidable water battery, from which you could, with ease, see Mobile and the entire upper part of the bay, with all of its rivers and shores and indentations. That cabin there, was occupied as the quarters of the general commanding this fort, Randall E. Gibson. Surely, it could have been no enviable residence; for the trees all around it were torn to pieces with shot and shell, and the timbers of several similar cabins in the immediate vicinity had been shivered and splintered by the fiery missiles.

"Other effects of the terrible bombardment to which the fort had been subjected were plainly and painfully visible. Haversacks and clothing crimsoned with blood were scattered over the ground. In several places gory streams had run for a considerable distance along the trenches, and the little pools of it, which even the thirsty sands had not yet drank up, were standing here and there. At other points the life-blood from the bosoms of the rebel soldiery along the lines had spurted upon the walls, dying them even a deeper red from the head-log to the foot of the rampart. Oh, it was a sickening sight! Gun-carriages shivered to pieces; hundreds of iron fragments of missiles which had burst; solid shot and unexploded shells that had been flung from grim-mouthed cannon; great holes in the earth, dug out in an instant by some ponderous projectile ; immense rents in the earthworks, through which the fiery bolts had ploughed their way — all these were every where visible. The bombardment of the evening before must have indeed possessed every feature calculated to terrify the souls of those who lay within the fort."

Colonel Geddes is a small, slender man, weighing about one hundred and thirty-five pounds. He has thin, sharp features, fine, brown hair, and large, hazel eyes. He is active and Intelligent, and has much general information. As an officer, I am told, he was always held in high esteem by his men. He has most certainly enjoyed the full confidence of his superiors.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 185-94

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