COLONEL, EIGHTEENTH INFANTRY.
John Edwards was born the 24th day of October, 1815, in Jefferson county, Kentucky, and lived with his parents at the old homestead till he reached his eighteenth year. Leaving Kentucky at eighteen, he removed to Indiana, and settled in Lawrence county; where, purchasing a form, he continued his residence till the year 1849. In Indiana he was highly respected, and, during the last years of his residence there, was elected at different times to each branch of the State Legislature.
In 1849, he sold his farm and emigrated to California. Settling in the Nevada District, he was, in 1851, elected by the people to the Alcalde; for the State Government had not at that time been formed. After serving in that body for one year, he returned to Indiana, and was again elected to the State Senate. In 1853, he came to Iowa and located in Chariton, where, engaging in the practice of law, he has since resided.
In Iowa, General Edwards has been a prominent public man. In 1858, he was a member of the State Constitutional Convention ; and subsequently served three terms in the State Legislature. He was the representative from Chariton at the outbreak of the war, and Speaker of the House. He was from the first a staunch war-man; and coming from the extreme southern part of the State took a lively interest in preparing for the defense of our southern border, which was at that time being threatened by the Missouri rebels. On the 9th of June, 1861, he was commissioned aid de camp to Governor Kirkwood, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel of cavalry; and was the first man in the State promoted to that office. For several months he had charge of a large portion of the border between Iowa and Missouri, during which time, he twice marched his troops into Missouri — once as far south as the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. Resigning his commission as aid de camp, June 20th, 1862, he was, on the 17th of July following, made colonel of the 18th Iowa Infantry. For his able and faithful services in Missouri and Arkansas, he was, in the winter of 1864-5, promoted to a general officer; and I believe none will say he did not richly earn his promotion.
The history of the 18th Iowa Infantry while under the command of Colonel Edwards is as replete with interest as that of almost any other Iowa regiment. It does not enjoy the reputation that many others have; and for the reason, I believe, that the people are ignorant of its record. From the time it engaged and defeated the braggart Marmaduke, at Springfield in January, 1863, to the time it fought Price and his subordinates on the Saline River, in the spring of 1864, its conduct has, in every instance, been such as to elicit much praise from both its division and department commanders. Indeed, I believe it would be unwilling to exchange either its number or its record with any regiment of the State; for, if others have served with more distinction, they have not with greater honesty and fidelity.
The. first march of the 18th Iowa was from Sedalia, Missouri, to Springfield; its first campaign, from Springfield into Northern Arkansas; and its first severe engagement, at Springfield, on the 8th of January, 1863.
In August, 1862, Colonel Edwards marched his command from Sedalia to Springfield, where he was organized in the Army of the South West, at that time commanded by General Schofield. In the expedition to Cane Hill, arid other points in Northern Arkansas, which soon followed, he took part, remaining with the main army till its return to Ozark, when, with his regiment, he was given charge of the sick and prisoners, and sent back to Springfield. Arriving in the latter part of November, 1862, he was, in the following December, detailed on a court-martial in St. Louis. Springfield remained the head-quarters of the 18th Iowa from that time until October of the following year.
The battle of Springfield, as already stated, was the regiment's first engagement, and in premising, I quote briefly from General Marmaduke's official report:
"Head-Quarters, 4th Division, 1st Corps, T. M. D.
Batesville, Ark., January 18th, 1863.
"Colonel: — In obedience to instructions from General Hindman, I marched from Lewisburg, Arkansas, December 31,1862, via Yellville, Arkansas, to strike the enemy in rear and flank, with sixteen hundred men under Shelby, and two hundred and seventy men under McDonald. Before marching, I telegraphed to Lieutenant-General Holmes, if it would not be best to move up the troops under Colonel White, to co-operate in the movement, to which he consented; and the order was given. Colonel Porter, with six hundred men, moved forward for this purpose." * * *
"Shelby captured and burned the fort at Ozark: the garrison fled. With Shelby and McDonald, I attacked Springfield, Missouri; and, after eight hours hard fighting, driving the Yankees before me into their strong-holds, I captured one piece of artillery, (six-pounder) a stockade fort, and a large part of the town, which the Yankees burned as they retired. At dark the fighting ceased, the greater part of the town, the fort and many of the dead and wounded Federals being in my possession. The Federal force there was four thousand two hundred. My loss was twenty killed and eighty wounded — Yankee loss much greater. I did not deem it best to renew the attack, and the next day marched toward Rolla."
By his own statement, Marmaduke attacked Springfield with at least eighteen hundred and seventy men. The place was commanded by General Brown of Missouri, and garrisoned with the 18th Iowa, (numbering five hundred muskets) a few companies of Missouri State Militia, and some one hundred and fifty convalescents of the Army of the South West. "The only defenses were some incompleted works." In one particular Marmaduke's report is correct — the fighting lasted about eight hours; but in other respects it is at issue of falsehoods — a grim joke. On its own face, he should have been court-martialed and dismissed the service.
The 18th Iowa held the works south of Springfield, and the Missouri troops those on the east. The fighting commenced early in the morning of the 8th between the skirmishers. Little advantage was gained by the enemy until late in the afternoon: then, massing his troops south-east of the city, he charged gallantly, and overbore the militia-men, capturing their works. This was the only critical hour of the day, and, through the promptness and intrepidity of the 18th Iowa, it soon passed. "In the most critical juncture of the attack, when the militia were retreating in confusion, and defeat appeared certain, a part of the 18th Iowa was ordered to the threatened point; and by a desperate charge, in which they lost four commissioned officers and fifty-two enlisted men, killed and wounded, broke the enemy's lines, and restored the wavering fortunes of the day. The enemy retreated in haste, under cover of the night, leaving their dead and wounded on the field." And thus it happened that Marmaduke "did not deem it best to renew the attack." He marched north-east from Springfield; was met and severely punished by Colonel Merrill of the 21st Iowa, at Hartsville; and then swung round south to Batesville, where he issued his report. And thus ended his movement against "the enemy's rear and flank."
Colonel Edwards was placed in command of the Post at Springfield, in April, 1863; and, from that time forward, has been in the immediate command of his regiment but little. All of its history, however, has been made under him; for, whether in command of a post, a brigade, or a district, it has always been with him. In August, 1863, the colonel was assigned by General McNeil to the command of the District of South West Missouri. In the same month, Shelby made his invasion of Missouri, with a force numbering more than two thousand men. Colonel Edwards promptly organized his forces and made pursuit; and it was said his "combinations were such as would have resulted in the interception of the enemy, had they not been disconcerted by causes beyond his power to control."
General Steele captured Little Rock the 10th of September, 1863; and the next October General McNeil, in whose command was the 18th Iowa, marched from Springfield in pursuit of the enemy, and captured and occupied Fort Smith, Arkansas. A chief portion of the time since, Colonel Edwards and the 18th Iowa have served at that post. In December, 1863, the colonel was placed in command of the Post of Fort Smith, which he held till January, 1864. At the last named date, he was given a brigade command, which he has held ever since. His first brigade consisted of the 18th Iowa, 2d Kansas Cavalry, 1st Arkansas Infantry, and the 2d Indiana Battery; and his second, of the 18th Iowa, the 1st and 2d Arkansas Infantry, and the 2d Indiana Battery. With this last command, he accompanied General Steele on the march to Camden.
For the part taken by Colonel Edwards and the 18th Iowa in the unfortunate Camden march, I am indebted to one who shared the hardships and perils of the campaign:
"On April 11th and 12th, Colonel Edwards and his brigade took part in the battle of Prairie de Anne, in which the whole forces of Price, Maxey, Shelby and Gano were opposed to General Steele. April 13th, 1864, the battle of Moscow took place thirty miles north of Camden. The 3d Division guarded the rear of the army, and had just gone into camp, when six thousand of the enemy, under the rebel generals Dockery, Fagan, Maxey and Gano, attacked them, driving in their pickets and pouring a heavy fire into their quarters. Colonel Edwards with his brigade, alone at first, but soon reinforced by the 2d and 3d, repulsed the enemy and drove them five miles. The engagement lasted from one to six o'clock P. M."
"On the 17th of April, Colonel Edwards, being then encamped at Camden, ordered the 18th Iowa, and one section of the 2d Indiana Battery, under command of Captain Duncan of the 18th Iowa, to reinforce Colonel Williams of the 1st Kansas, (colored) who was in charge of a forage train to Poisoned Springs, about eighteen miles distant from Camden. The 18th Iowa guarded the rear of the train, and. the 1st Kansas the front. The whole were surrounded by a force of the enemy six thousand strong, on the morning of the 18th instant. The 1st Kansas, after losing heavily, was completely surrounded and compelled to retreat in haste through the line of the 18th Iowa, which was now left to sustain the attack alone. The regiment was broken by fierce charges of the enemy seven times, and as often stubbornly re-formed, contesting every inch of ground, until being surrounded on three sides and falling rapidly under a withering fire, and being left alone on the field, it finally cut its way through, and returned in good order to its camp at Camden, having lost one officer and seventy-six men, killed, wounded and prisoners."
"In this engagement, Captains Blanchard, Clover, Stonaker and Conway showed especial bravery and gallantry. Captain Blanchard, who commanded the color-company, and who was already wounded, seized the colors at a critical time, when the regiment was hotly pressed, and told Captain Clover, who was mounted, to form the regiment on him, which that officer did in gallant style, the men responding with cheers. It was owing in a very great measure to the exertions of these officers that the regiment was extricated from its perilous position. Sergeant Dean, Company E; Sergeants Bowers and Oleson, Company A; Sergeant Mordis, Company C; Sergeant Bullock, Company B; and Sergeant Kirkpatrick, Company H; behaved with a courage and coolness which deserve special notice. Everywhere, all behaved with common bravery."
In the terrible battle of Saline River, fought on the 30th of April, and which is described elsewhere, Colonel Edwards, with his brigade, held the reserve; and had in charge the ordnance train. This being the last of the engagements fought on the campaign, the 18th Iowa, and the other troops of Steele's command, returned to their places of starting, unmolested. On arriving at Fort Smith, the records of the 18th Iowa showed the following: From the time of entering the field till the 23d of May, 1864, the regiment had marched over eighteen hundred miles, and had lost in action, and from disease contracted in the service, thirteen commissioned officers, and five hundred and sixty enlisted men — nearly two-thirds of its original strength; for, when mustered into the service, its aggregate of officers and enlisted men was only eight hundred and sixty-six.
Subsequently to its return from South Western Arkansas, the 18th Iowa has been retained on garrison-duty at Fort Smith. It has marched on some expeditions, but has, I think, been in no engagement, since the Camden Campaign.
For the valuable services which I have briefly enumerated above, Colonel Edwards was made a brigadier-general; but the most honorable part of his record remains yet to give.
From the organization of the first volunteer troops, our army has been infested with thieves and robbers: indeed, this has been a crowning evil of the war. For officers of a low grade, quarter-masters have led the crowd; and it long since passed into a proverb that an honest quarter-master could not long retain his commission. But the most stupendous robberies have been practiced by officers of high rank, and holding important commands; for they would not soil their hands with hundreds, but with hundreds of thousands. In their operations, too, they were not limited to a few clerks, but had whole commands. I venture the assertion that, in the last four years, the Government has been defrauded of not less than one hundred millions of dollars.
For many months during General Steele's administration in Arkansas, Fort Smith was a den of thieves; and Steele, though not implicated himself, was removed because these abuses were not corrected. General Thayer, Steele's subordinate, was doubtless guilty; and yet, backed by Kansas politicians, who had snuffed the breezes of our Capital, he escaped disgraceful dismissal.
Let it be said to the credit of General Edwards that, though he served at Fort Smith from the time the place was first occupied by our troops, none ever breathed the least breath of suspicion against him. Indeed, it is said (and if true let it be recorded to the eternal infamy of those concerned) that, because he had complained of these abuses, his life was threatened, and he dared not, unaccompanied, appear in the streets after dark. At home, he was called "Honest John Edwards," and the sobriquet has been doubly earned.
General Edwards, in appearance and in character, is a good type of a Northern gentleman. He is unassuming in his manners, and brave and chivalrous without being boastful and pretending. He has not a commanding person, and with strangers would not pass for what he is worth. With one exception, the portrait here published is a correct likeness: the expression of his countenance is much kinder than the portrait represents. He has blue eyes, a light complexion, and a sanguine temperament, and is slightly stoop-shouldered. When he walks, he usually drops his head forward, and keeps his face turned to the ground. He is not a brilliant man, but he is able and honest.
SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 343-50