Wednesday, October 21, 2009



William E. Small, the successor of Nicholas Perczel to the colonelcy of the 10th Iowa Infantry, is a native of the State of Maine. At the time of entering the service, in September, 1861, he was a resident of Iowa City, and a practicing lawyer. He was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the 10th Iowa Infantry, the 10th of September, 1861; and with this rank served till the second of November, 1862, when, Colonel Perczel resigning, he was promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment.

During his colonelcy, as also from the time of its organization, the 10th Iowa Infantry has a proud and interesting history. From the second of November, 1862, till after the fall of Vicksburg, the time of Colonel Small's discharge, this regiment was always at the front; and, if there was any fighting to be done, like the other Iowa regiments of the 7th Division, 17th Army Corps, the 10th was sure to have part in it.

Late in November, 1862, the 10th Iowa joined its division in the march of General Grant down the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Passing through Abbeville and Oxford, it had reached a point as far south as the Yockona River, when, the line of communications being cut, it was ordered to return. On the 26th of December, it marched with its division from near Lumpkin's Mills, Mississippi, to Memphis, having in charge a provision-train of six hundred and twenty-five wagons; and this was one of the most vexing and fatiguing marches the regiment ever made. It was the coldest part of the Southern Winter, and the trip was made without baggage, or only such as the men could carry on their persons. A cold, sleety rain was falling almost constantly, and the red, clayey mud, the dirtiest and daubiest in the world, was half-knee deep. Hanging on their flanks and rear was a band of guerrillas, ready to pick up the stragglers, and to fire into the train whenever occasion offered. Usually, men are merry on the march; but, without rest by day or sleep at night, there was little merriment here. For so short a one, this is regarded the hardest march the old 7th Division ever made.

After this march was completed, the balance of the winter of 1862-3 the 10th Iowa passed on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad; but, in the opening Spring, moved down the Mississippi to Helena. Prior to the 22d of March following, the operations of the division are detailed elsewhere; and the history of the division is the same as that of this regiment. On the evening of the last named date, the 10th Iowa sailed into the mouth of the Yazoo Pass, which opens into the Mississippi on its east side, and eight miles below Helena, This was a most wonderful expedition, and, had it not been a military movement, would have been romantic. For the labor and skill employed in opening this pass, and in clearing it of obstructions, General Grant was chiefly indebted to Iowa troops under General Washburn. For more than a week, the 24th, 28th, and 33d Iowa regiments were kept half-leg deep in mud and water, hauling out the timber, which the enemy had felled for purposes of obstruction.

The object of the Yazoo Pass Expedition was a flank movement on Vicksburg, but it ended, as it begun, in strategy. This was one of the forty-three plans, which General Grant had pocketed for the reduction of Vicksburg. The story Is as follows, but I do not vouch for its truth: A Federal soldier was captured on the Deer Creek raid, and taken before a rebel officer, when the following colloquy occurred: "What in the devil is Grant in here for? what does he expect to do?" "To take Vicksburg," was the soldier's reply. "Well, hasn't the old fool tried this ditching and flanking five times already?" "Yes," said the soldier, "but he has got thirty-seven more plans in his pocket."

From the mouth of this pass to Moon Lake, (so named from its crescent shape) the distance is five miles, and was passed over without much trouble; but, for forty miles after leaving Moon Lake, it was literally a boat-ride in the forest; for the stream was so winding that its course could rarely be seen more than forty yards in advance. It seemed to have no outlet; and gigantic trees, on every hand, challenged an advance. Small stern-wheel boats could only be used, and even these were found to be unwieldy. The force of the current which put in from the swollen waters of the Mississippi was prodigious; and the danger was in going too fast. Until the boats reached the Cold Water, their engines had to be kept reversed; and so it happened that this was called by the soldiers " the back-water expedition." Even with all the care that was used, the boats were stripped of every thing that was fancy, and of much that was substantial. Not a smokestack in the whole fleet was able to weather the storm; and whole state-rooms were raked off by projecting limbs, into whose ugly embrace the boats would rush, in spite of the pilots and engineers; and, I may add, in spite of from twenty to fifty soldiers, aligned on the decks and armed with long poles.

But in spite of all these dangers, the expedition did not lack amusement; for instance: a tall, awkward fellow, (he did not belong to the 10th) while standing on the hurricane deck of the Lady Pike, was watching a large sycamore limb, which a spar of the boat was pushing aside. He was wondering if it would not break; when just then it slipped by the spar, and, taking him across the face, knocked him several feet, and came near dropping him into the stream. He carried a "stiff upper-lip," if not a brave heart, till the expedition returned. History may, if it will, omit to mention this expedition; for it has furnished itself a record that will be read many years hence. On the trees, at nearly every bend in this stream, the name of some soldier is literally " recorded on high," and nearly every regiment in Quimby's and Ross' Divisions is thus represented. For nearly every boat of the fleet was caught at some one of these bends, and before it could be released the enterprising soldiers would carve their names on pieces of broken cracker-boxes, and nail these to the limbs. When the expedition returned, the water in the pass had fallen many feet, leaving these inscriptions high in the air; and there they still hang.

There was one feature of this expedition, which, though interesting, lacked amusement; though it was experienced only on the Tallahatchie River and the lower waters of the Cold Water. The banks of these streams are covered, mostly, with timber and thick under-brush, forming fine places of concealment for guerrillas. We were in the enemy's country and, acquainted with their chivalric mode of warfare, were looking for it to be put in practice; yet, when the first guerrilla gun was fired, it was all unexpected. Standing on the hurricane-deck, you would see in the brush near a fallen log, or the trunk of a standing tree, a blue circling puff of smoke, and then hear the pat or sharp whistle of a bullet. The report of the gun would follow, when all hands would dodge. In spite of the anticipation of seeing the thing repeated, the men would laugh at their folly, and remark, "that shows what a little noise will do."

On the 6th of April, the last of the fleet arrived above Fort Pemberton, at the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yallabusha Rivers; and a fight was expected the day after; but either General Grant had accomplished all he expected to in this direction, or had learned he could accomplish nothing, and the entire fleet was ordered to return. The last boat, in a damaged condition, arrived at the Sand Bar below Helena, at noon on the 12th of April; and, should one return from Hades, he could be little more surprised at his safe arrival on terra firma, than were many who sailed on the celebrated Yazoo Pass Expedition.

In this connection, I desire to speak of a good man, who rendered important services on this expedition, and who afterwards died at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Captain Robert Lusby of the 10th Iowa, and, at the time of his death, adjutant-general to General Crocker, was a noble man and officer.

Next in the history of the 10th Iowa, is the final Vicksburg Campaign. During this celebrated march, the details of which are given elsewhere, the regiment met the enemy at the battles of Jackson, and Champion's Hill. In the last of these engagements, it greatly distinguished itself, and suffered severely, as also did the regiments of the 3d Brigade, commanded by the gallant little Boomer. The 5th and 10th Iowa, the 26th Missouri and 93d Illinois, deserve a proud place in the history of our civil war. On the 19th of May, the 10th Iowa arrived before the rebel works, in rear of Vicksburg; and, from that day till the 4th of July following, the day of General Grant's triumphal entry into the city, did its full share of duty. With its brigade, it joined in the memorable charge of the 22d of May; and, under General McClernand, to whom the brigade had been ordered to report, was preparing to assault the right of the enemy's works, when Colonel Boomer fell, shot through the head. He was killed at sun-down, and near the crest of a hill within two hundred yards of the enemy's line. Colonel Boomer was a native of Massachusetts, and a brave and gallant officer. The confusion, incident to the loss of the brigade commander, created some delay, and, before an advance was made, orders were received to withdraw to a position behind the second line of hills. On the 24th of May, the 3d Brigade reported back to its division, whose position in the line was to the left of the centre, and about half a mile south of the rebel Fort Hill; and here the 10th Iowa remained till the surrender of Vicksburg.

Immediately after the fall of Vicksburg, the brigade of General Matthies, to which the 10th Iowa was attached, (for after the death of Boomer he had been transferred to this command) joined the command of General Sherman, in the pursuit of the rebel forces under General Johnson. The brigade arrived before Jackson on the evening of the 14th of July, having marched from Clinton; but had hardly stacked arms, when orders were received to march back to Clinton, to anticipate the rebel General Jackson in his cavalry-raid upon Sherman's train. General Matthies arrived in Clinton late that night, and just in time to meet and repulse one brigade of Jackson's cavalry, the only rebel troops sent to that point. For this gallant affair, the 10th Iowa, with the balance of the troops of the brigade, was handsomely complimented by General Sherman.

The principal portion of the time covered by these operations, Colonel Small was absent from his regiment: indeed, he was never with it much, and, if I am rightly informed, was never present in an engagement. His military record is not in keeping with that of his gallant regiment. He was a fine drillmaster, which was his chief merit as a soldier.

In person, Colonel Small is below the medium. He has a nervous temperament, a pale, sickly countenance, and a feeble constitution. In his manners, I am told, he is dignified and sedate.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 221-6

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