Thursday, October 29, 2009



J. J. Woods, of the 12th Iowa Infantry, has a checkered history, which will be read with interest. He is a native of Ohio, and was born in Brown county, the 11th day of January, 1823. In 1833, he removed with his father's family to Rush county, Indiana, whence, after a residence of two years, he returned to his native county.

Colonel Woods is a West Point graduate. Having completed his preparatory course at Augusta College, Kentucky, he entered the West Point Military Academy in 1843. He was a successful scholar, and graduated in 1847, the third in his class. Receiving a 2d lieutenant's commission in the 1st United States Artillery, he sailed, on the 10th of October, 1847, under orders for Vera Cruz; but, on the fourth day out, the vessel on which he had taken passage was wrecked near the Great Bahama. After several days of peril and hardship, he reached Nassau, New Providence, and sailed thence to Charleston, South Carolina, where he passed several weeks with a former class-mate, by the name of Blake. Re-embarking again for Vera Cruz, he reached that place on the 5th of January, 1848. In August of the same year, after having had yellow fever, he was recalled and ordered to report at Governor's Island, New York Harbor. He was promoted to a 1st lieutenancy the 29th of October, 1848, and soon after sailed with Companies L and M of his regiment for Oregon: these were the first troops sent by our Government to that Territory. He remained in Oregon till the winter of 1853; and, during his stay in the Territory, was stationed at Fort Vancouver, Astoria, and Middle Oregon. At the last named place he had command of the Dalles. In the winter of 1853, he was ordered to New York City on recruiting service, where he remained till the following October, when he resigned his commission. Soon after, he purchased a farm in Jackson county, Iowa, on which he has since resided.

In August, 1861, Colonel Woods was tendered the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 9th Iowa Infantry; but this position he declined, and was, on the 23d of the following October, commissioned colonel of the 12th. From that date till the expiration of his three year's term of service, he served in command, either of his regiment, or of the brigade to which it was attached. He left the army in the fall of 1864, with the respect and good-will of his regiment, and with the high personal consideration of his superior officers. His services merited recognition at Washington; but, with him as with some others, modesty blocked the wheels of promotion.

The 12th Iowa Infantry, like the other Iowa regiments which were captured with it in the first day's battle at Shiloh, has a bright record. Its first battle was Fort Donelson. It had been present at the capture of Fort Henry; but, like the other infantry troops, took no part. The late gallant Admiral Foote captured Fort Henry with his three wooden and four iron-clad gun-boats, and received the surrender of General Tilghman ; and no one will dispute with him that honor.

General Smith, in whose command was the 12th Iowa, operated on the bluffs on the west bank of the Tennessee, and General McClernand, on the east. Had McClernand moved two hours sooner, he would have invested the fort, and captured five thousand prisoners; but he floundered in miry swamps, and nearly the entire rebel garrison escaped to Fort Donelson before he came up. It was said the blunder was General Grant's; but, if it was, he retrieved it a few days after at Fort Donelson.

After the fall of Fort Henry, the 12th Iowa, with its division, marched across the country to the rear of Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland. The distance is twelve miles. One strong and important point in the long line of rebel defenses — that line extending from Bowling Green, Kentucky, down past Fort Donelson and Fort Henry, and across the country to Columbus — had been wrested from the enemy. Fort Donelson captured, and the country south, to the vicinity of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, including the city of Nashville and the railroad connecting Bowling Green with Columbus, must be yielded by the Confederates. Columbus, too, must be evacuated, and the Mississippi abandoned as far south as Memphis. Then, with prompt and energetic movement on the part of the Federal forces, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad could be cut, the strategic point of Corinth occupied, and Kentucky and West Tennessee restored to Federal authority. The issue at Fort Donelson was therefore watched with impatience and anxiety.

General Grant, with the divisions of Smith and McClernand, arrived in rear of Fort Donelson in the evening of the 12th of February, 1862. That night the troops slept on their arms, as they also did on every subsequent night, until the fort capitulated. The division of Smith, filing to the left from the Dover road, swung round against the enemy's right, and that of McClernand, filing to the right, formed line in front of the enemy's left. The right and left of these divisions remained connected; for the division of General Wallace, which was to occupy the centre, had not yet arrived, but was on its way up the Cumberland River. The 12th Iowa was still under Smith, and was attached to the 3d Brigade, commanded by Colonel J. Cook. The 4th Brigade of the same division, in which were the 2d, 7th, and 14th Iowa regiments, was next on the left and constituted both the left of the division and the left of the Federal forces.

"Thursday morning, at half past eight o'clock, (I quote from Colonel Woods' report) we marched down to, and up the Dover road about half a mile, when we filed to the left, and formed line of battle: threw forward the flanking companies as skirmishers, and marched forward down a long slope that lay in front, the grape, shot and shell of the enemy flying thickly around us all the time. Our skirmishers advanced to the top of the hill that lay in front of us. The battalion halted at two-thirds of the distance to the top of the hill, where it was protected from the enemy's fire by the ridge in front." This position was held by the 12th Iowa the following night; and that night and the following one will never be forgotten by the regiment. A fierce north-east storm set in late in the afternoon, and raged with great fury, and the men, though drenched with the rain, and chilled with the cold, were allowed no fires, and suffered most bitterly. That morning the 12th Iowa had lost its first man killed in battle — private Edward C. Buckner. He was shot through the head on the skirmish line, and killed instantly. In the wet and cold of the following night, the sad event was talked over by the men, and they wondered who would be the next to fall.

The entire day of the 14th, (Friday) and the forenoon of the following, were passed by the 12th Iowa in skirmishing with the enemy; and, during this time, the regiment was gallantly supported by the 50th Illinois, and by Birge's Sharpshooters. No assaults were attempted on Friday, for the division of General Wallace, and the gun-boat fleet had not yet come up. The fighting on the south side of Fort Donelson closed about noon on Saturday, the 15th instant; when the enemy, having routed McClernand, returned to their works in triumph. It was at this hour that General Pillow sent his laconic report to Nashville: "On the honor of a soldier, the day is ours." "At about two o'clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 12th Iowa, 50th Illinois, and Birge's Sharp-shooters were ordered to make a feint-attack, to draw the enemy's fire. The men went cheerfully to the work assigned them; and kept up a warm fire on the enemy, while Colonel Lauman's brigade, on our left, advanced on the enemy, and got possession of a part of the enemy's outer works, and hoisted thereon the American flag." From that hour until night-fall, the 12th Iowa was sharply engaged, and during that time, the regiment suffered nearly its entire loss. It moved to the support of Colonel Tuttle by the left flank, and, marching through the deep ravine in its front, and over the fallen timber, arrived at the top of the hill, just as the 25th Indiana commenced falling back. The regiment entered the rebel works to the right of Colonel Tuttle, and held its position till morning, when the Fort and its garrison were surrendered.

The casualties of the regiment in this engagement were thirty—all, with the exception of three, being sustained on Saturday afternoon. Two only were killed. Among the wounded, was Lieutenant-Colonel Coulter, who "behaved with the utmost coolness and bravery, and performed his duties regardless of the danger to which he was exposed." Major Brodtbeck and Surgeon Parker received special mention for their good conduct. "Every commissioned officer performed his duty without flinching." Sergeant-Major Morrisy, and Color-bearer Sergeant Grannis, and many others, deserve special mention for their coolness and gallantry. Privates Buckner and Stillman were the two men killed: the former was shot in the eye, and the latter in the right temple. With the exception of the 2d Iowa Infantry, no troops are entitled to more credit, for the part they sustained in the capture of Fort Donelson, than this regiment.

The next engagement of the 12th Iowa was Shiloh, where, for holding its position too long, it was captured. It has been matter of wonder why General Grant and Admiral Foote, after the fall of Fort Donelson, did not push on directly to Nashville. The people of that city, and the rebel troops there stationed, would be in the utmost consternation; and it was believed that the place could be occupied with little or no opposition. Both Grant and Foote appreciated the situation, and were anxious to advance against the city; but Halleck, the general commanding the Department, would not give his consent. They called him the old wheel-horse. Some said he was good only on the hold-back, and, to succeed, he must have a down-hill enterprise. As it was, the enemy, in their mad fright, destroyed some two million dollars' worth of property which might have been appropriated by the Government. General Johnson's army, too, on the march from Bowling Green, might probably have been captured. A week after the fall of Fort Donelson, General Buel [sic] occupied Nashville; after which, General Grant proceeded up the Tennessee River to Savannah and Pittsburg Landing.

At the battle of Shiloh, the 12th Iowa was attached to the 1st Brigade, 2d Division, commanded by General Wallace. General Smith was absent at Paducah. Colonel, afterwards General Tuttle commanded the brigade. The part taken by the regiment in this engagement is elsewhere given. It formed a part of that line which, though at last broken, was held with such obstinacy as to save Grant's army from total rout.

After receiving orders to fall back, Colonel Woods says, in his official report:

"Seeing ourselves surrounded, we nevertheless opened a brisk fire on that portion of the enemy who blocked our passage to the Landing, who, after briskly returning our fire for a short time, fell back. A brisk fire from the enemy on our left was going on at the same time. Seeing the enemy in front falling back, we attempted, by a rapid movement, to cut our way through; but the enemy on our left advanced rapidly, coming in behind us, pouring into our ranks a most destructive fire. The enemy in front faced about, and opened on us at short range, the enemy in our rear still closing in on us rapidly. I received two wounds, disabling me from further duty. The command then devolved on Captain Edgington, acting as field officer. The enemy had, however, already so closely surrounded us that their balls, which missed our men, took effect in their ranks beyond us. To have held out longer would have been to suffer complete annihilation. The regiment was therefore compelled to surrender as prisoners of war."

The regiment's list of casualties was great, though the exact number I am unable to give. The killed and wounded numbered about one hundred and fifty. Of the conduct of his regiment, Colonel Woods says: — "Captains Earle, Warner, Stibbs, Haddock, Van Duzee and Townsley performed well their part, as did all the lieutenants in the action, in a prompt and willing manner. The non-commissioned officers and men stood bravely up to their work, and never did men behave better." Lieutenants Ferguson and Moir, two brave and worthy officers, were both killed. As already stated, Colonel Woods was twice wounded, and taken prisoner. He was shot through the left leg and right hand. The former wound disabled him, so that he could not march to the rear with the other prisoners, and the fortunes of the following day restored him to liberty; for he was re-captured by our forces. Over four hundred of the 12th Iowa were captured, and, of these, eighty died in Southern prisons. That is the saddest page in the history of this noble regiment.

The 12th Iowa was re-organized in the winter of 1862-3, that portion of it which had been captured having been previously exchanged. The regiment was again led to the front by its unassuming colonel, and assigned to the 3d Brigade, 3d Division, 15th Army Corps. The command of the brigade was given to Colonel Woods. A detailed account of the movements of the regiment need not be given here; for a full history of operations in the rear of Vicksburg will be found elsewhere.

The 12th marched with its corps from Milliken's Bend, via Grand Gulf to Jackson, and thence to the rear of Vicksburg, where it participated in the long and arduous siege. On the fall of that city, it marched back with Sherman to Jackson, and, after the flight of Johnson, assisted in the almost total destruction of the place.

The regiment's next important services were rendered in Northern Mississippi, in the spring of 1864; though I should not omit to state that it marched with Sherman on his trip to Meridian.

It re-enlisted as a veteran regiment, in the winter of 1863-4, and came North on veteran furlough; after which, it was assigned to the command of General A. J. Smith, and, under that general, fought at the battle of Tupelo, July 14th, 1864. Its conduct in this engagement, and in saving Smith's train from capture and burning the day before, between Pontotoc and Tupelo, made it one of the star regiments of the expedition.

The previous reverses, sustained by the army stationed at and near Memphis, under General Sturgis, are stated in the sketches of other officers. The expedition in question left La Grange, on the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, on the 5th of July, 1864; and, proceeding in a southeasterly direction, passed through Ripley and Pontotoc, and thence on to Tupelo. The heat and the dust rendered the march extremely painful and exhausting; but the brave men endured the hardships with great fortitude, for they were to retrieve our arms in that quarter from disgrace.

On the 13th instant, the 12th Iowa was assigned the duty of guarding the supply-train, a task which was not without its dangers, and which, on account of the hilly and timbered country through which the march lay, required the greatest vigilance. The country, too, was full of scouting parties of the enemy. Early in the afternoon, Lieutenant-Colonel Stibbs, commanding the regiment, was informed by one of his flankers that, the enemy's cavalry, in large force, were advancing rapidly through the timber on his right. It proved to be Maley's Mississippi Brigade. Learning their intended point of attack, the colonel threw his regiment in their front, and, concealing his men in the dense brush, ordered them to hold their fire till they received the proper command. Soon, the enemy came dashing through the woods, firing their carbines, and shouting like demons. They were allowed to approach within less than twenty paces, when a well-directed volley from the regiment checked them, and a second one drove them back in confusion, with the loss of their colors. They continued a scattering fire for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then retired.

In this affair, the loss of the 12th Iowa was one man killed, and twelve wounded. Among the latter, was Captain C. L,. Lumbardo. The battle of Tupelo opened the next morning.

On Thursday, the 14th instant, Smith's army was put under arms at three o'clock in the morning, and was soon after marched out and formed in line, on the right of the Pontotoc road. The position of the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, to which was attached the 12th Iowa, was as follows: "On the extreme right was stationed the 6th Indiana Battery, four guns; next in line, on the left, was the 33d Wisconsin, of the 4th Brigade; next, the 33d Missouri; next, the 2d Iowa Battery, four guns, commanded by Lieutenant J. Reed; and on the left of the brigade, in the most advanced position of our front line of battle, was the 12th Iowa, the 7th Minnesota being in reserve."

Immediately after the line was formed, skirmishers were thrown out; and soon, the enemy, moving from their cover in the timber, appeared in force, and formed for the encounter. The battle opened with artillery, which was fired with great rapidity and precision. The range was short, and the screeching [sic] of shells, and the whistling of grape and canister, was frightful. In the meantime, the enemy pushed their infantry forward, and engaged the whole Federal front. The 12th Iowa was protected by an old fence thrown down for a barricade, from behind which it did terrible execution, repelling every rebel assault. And thus the fighting continued for upward of two hours, when the regiment, having exhausted its ammunition, was sent to the rear. In half an hour, it returned with replenished cartridge..boxes, and, taking up its former position, again engaged the enemy. As the battle progressed, the enemy made charge after charge, confident of victory. They would approach within fifty yards of the Federal line, when, met by terrible volleys of canister and musketry, they would stagger for a moment, and then retire precipitately. To whip Smith's forces, was to be a "fore-breakfast spell"; but they must have thought their breakfast a long way off. Finally, they were charged in turn by the 12th Iowa in the van, the 35th Iowa, the 33d Missouri, the 33d Wisconsin and two companies of the 7th Minnesota. They could not face the valor of these veterans, and fled to the woods, leaving the bloody field in possession of the Federal forces. Nor did they return that day to renew the contest.

Of the second day's fight, and of the results of both days' battles, Lieutenant-Colonel Stibbs says:

"On the morning of the l5th instant my regiment was assigned a position to the left of the Pontotoc road, and formed the left centre of the brigade line. We had a substantial breastwork of cotton-bales in our front, which served as an admirable protection against the enemy's sharp-shooters. We took full part in the fight and charge of the day, losing one man killed and three wounded. Our loss during the three days' fighting was one officer and eight men killed, one officer and fifty-four men wounded, and one man missing."

Lieutenant A. A. Burdick, acting regimental quarter-master, was killed by a shell, while assisting to bring forward ammunition. He was a gallant young officer, and held in the highest esteem by his regiment. Sergeant Robert Fowler and Corporal G. R. Holden were also killed.

Being without supplies, General Smith could not continue the pursuit; and he therefore moved back in the direction of Memphis. Indeed, I am informed that the object of the expedition was accomplished on the battle-field of Tupelo — Forest and his command had been routed. The enemy's cavalry followed on the return as far as Oldtown Creek, giving the rear guard much trouble; but so skillfully and successfully was the march conducted, that not a single wagon of the long train was lost. The expedition arrived at La Grange on the 20th instant; and from that point all the wounded were sent forward to Memphis.

The entire Federal loss in the fighting at Tupelo was about six hundred, while the enemy's was estimated at not less than two thousand.

After General Smith's operations against Price in Missouri, in which the 12th Iowa took part, we next find the regiment with that general before Nashville. In the battles fought south of the last named city, it figured conspicuously; and its gallantry became the more noted, from the fact that it went into the fight without a single line officer: each company was commanded by a sergeant. Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Stibbs commanded the regiment, and Captain, now Major Knee was acting major — both brave and true men. The regiment's conduct at Nashville is deserving of the greatest praise; for its colors were among the first to be placed upon the enemy's strong redoubts. It accomplished much, with but small loss — two killed and eighteen wounded. The 12th Iowa last operated with General Smith, in the reduction of Mobile, or rather the strong forts, by which that city was defended.

Colonel Woods has a slender, stooping form, brown hair, a light complexion, and mild, blue eyes. He is, in appearance and in fact, the most unassuming of the Iowa colonels. He speaks slowly and kindly, and was accustomed to give his commands with great coolness and deliberation. The officers and men of his regiment at first thought he lacked style and energy; but they soon learned he possessed great worth as a commanding officer. He is the farthest removed from every thing that distinguishes regular army officers.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 243-54

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Joseph Jackson Woods class ring is on display at West Point. It was donated to West Point by his daughter Nellie Eva Woods Whedon.

Ben F. Woods Jr.