Sunday, October 4, 2009

From the 11th Iowa Regiment


FRIEND SANDERS:– I send herewith a list of the killed and wounded of the Iowa 11th in the recent battle at this place. The whole number is not so large as reported to you yesterday, nor near so large as might have been expected, from the positions occupied, the great numbers opposed, and the length of time during which our men were under fire. It seems a miracle that any escaped. I will venture to say that no regiment fought more bravely. It is even said by those who ought to know, that the first serious check received by the enemy was given by the 11th Iowa, certain it is that before this regiment and Taylors battery, the enemy was held at bay for hours, and by it was twice driven back. There is every reason to believe that if the 11th could have been relieved by another regiment as resolute, long enough to procure ammunition, the left wing of the enemy – outnumbering us six to one – would have been turned; and with proper support the whole rebel army would have been flanked, and the terrible disaster of the day mostly have been prevented. There must have been great want of generalship somewhere. I am told by those on our extreme left, where the battle commenced, that there were no pickets out more than half a mile – no mounted pickets out at all. And this when Beauregard – a Frenchman, an admirer and pupil of Bonapart [sic], and a man known to be in favor of offensive operations – was, as all the country knew, within a few miles, with an army equal probably to our own! It is not surprising that this camp was taken by surprise – the enemy marching in the night through the timber almost within our lines, before anybody seemed to know or imagine that he could be coming. I do not of course, know that the fact concerning the pickets was as above stated, but such is the report by men who were well situated to know the facts in the case. But if such were the fact, and nobody here seems to doubt it – the fearful carnage of Sabbath last, and the almost total rout of this great Federal army, resulting as it might have done in prolonging the war for months and years, throws a responsibility on some one of no common magnitude.

It is also said, and there is too much reason to believe it, that the immediate commander-in-chief, of all these brigades and divisions, was at Savannah on Sabbath morning, and did not arrive until 10 o’clock a.m. – five or six hours after the battle commenced. How this was I cannot tell, but it was too evident that there was no general plan of battle on our side during the forenoon, and very little at any time on the Sabbath. Our tens of thousands of brave men – for none ever fought more bravely in such circumstances – came too near being driven pell mell into the river.

But thank God, night came, and Buell too, with his thousands who had not witnessed the defeat of April 6th, and a great victory has been achieved – so great it is believed here, that no other great battle will have to be fought in the West.

Of the comparative valor of different regiments I cannot speak particularly. I only know that the 11th did their duty nobly, being led into battle by their brave Lieut. Colonel, whose horse was killed almost at the first fire – at three different points, twice on the Sabbath, and once on Monday. Neither is it proper to institute comparisons between different companies and officers. The report of the commanders alone will be good authority on this point. All did nobly, so far as I can judge.

The 13th Iowa also, and two other regiments, who were brigaded with the 11th, but were led by Col. Hare, a little to our left, though recoiling at the first fire, afterward rallied, and did their part well.

If there were time I could mention many daring deeds of the 11th, such as the taking of a rebel flag, led by Capt. Foster’s company – a portion of which I inclose [sic] and many other acts of cool bravery. But of these perhaps more at another time.

I have been over the field since the battle, only a short distance. The scene is too dreadful. Miles and miles of the woods are literally covered with dead men, dead horses, broken carriages, guns, &c., &c.

As to the number of killed and wounded, no correct estimate can yet be made. Probably 20,000, perhaps more have fallen in this fearful conflict.

The wounded of our regiment were all brought off the field, and on Monday p.m. our dead were buried.

The scene at the landing as the wounded were brought to the boats or laid on the bluff, beggars all description. All available space on several large boats was occupied, and by 5 p.m. on Monday I judged there were at least 1,000 wounded men lying under the bluff, many in the mud and out in the rain for two days without covering – a most appalling sight. No adequate preparation has been made for such numbers of suffering men, as evidently no such battle was expected here. The whole scene, from Sabbath morning till Monday, and even Tuesday night, seems like some dreadful nightmare. And yet no one human eye has seen more than a tithe of it, and no finite mind can even comprehend it. May a God of infinite mercy spare our land from any more such scenes as this.

Yours most truly,

– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Thursday Morning, April 17, 1862, p. 2

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