FIRST COLONEL, THIRTEENTH INFANTRY.
Marcellus M. Crocker is a native of Johnson county, Indiana, where he was born on the 6th day of February, 1830. At the age of ten years, he accompanied his father's family to Illinois, whence, after a residence of four or five years, he removed to Jefferson county, Iowa. The extent of his early education I have failed to learn; but, at the age of sixteen, he was appointed, through the recommendation of General A. C. Dodge, a cadet in the military academy at West Point. He is not however a graduate of that Institution. After an attendance of some two years and a half, his health failed him, and he was compelled to leave the Academy. Late in 1849, he returned to Iowa, and began the study of law in the office of Judge Olney, at Fairfield. He commenced the practice of his profession in 1851, in the town of Lancaster, Keokuk county, where he remained till the spring of 1855, and then removed to Des Moines, his present home.
General Crocker entered the service as captain of Company D, 2d Iowa Infantry. He had recruited his company in April, 1861, for the three month's service, (as was the case with nearly every captain of the 2d Iowa) but, the State's quota for that term of service having been already filled, he was assigned to the 2d Iowa, and, at the rendezvous of the regiment in Keokuk, was elected its major. With that rank he entered the field. Four months later, he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel, vice Tuttle, promoted, and on the 30th of October following, was transferred from his regiment, and made colonel of the 13th Iowa Infantry. In the winter of 1862-3, he was appointed and confirmed a brigadier-general. His promotions were rapid and richly merited; for, with her splendid galaxy of military heroes, Iowa can not boast a better nor truer soldier than General Crocker.
During his colonelcy of the 13th Iowa, General Crocker took part in two engagements — Shiloh and Corinth. In the former, he commanded his regiment, and in the latter the Iowa Brigade — the oldest and not the least distinguished brigade command in the Army of the Tennessee. In the former, his conduct was gallant in the extreme; and how he escaped without injury is really wonderful. I have spoken elsewhere of the confusion that reigned on the field in the afternoon of the first day's battle. At about four and a half o'clock it was at its hight [sic], and was so wild and terrible as to beggar description. At that hour, Colonel Crocker was conspicuous. I am told that his splendid example of courage contributed not a little toward the establishment of the new line, which successfully resisted the enemy's further advance that night. The progress of the battle on the left, I have given in the sketch of Colonel W. G. Williams. To show its opening and progress on the right, I quote from the official report of Colonel Crocker; for that gives the clearest and most intelligible account of any that I have seen:
"Early on the morning of the sixth, the alarm was given, and heavy firing in the distance indicated that our camp was attacked. The regiment was formed in front of its color-line, its full force consisting of seven hundred and seventeen men, rank and file. It was at once ordered to form on the left of the 2d Brigade, and proceeded to that position at a double-quick, and was then formed in line of battle in a skirt of woods, bordering on an open field, to the left of a battery. Here it remained for some time inactive, while the enemy's guns were playing on our battery. In the meantime, a large force of the enemy's infantry were filing around the open field in front of our line, protected by the woods, and in the direction of our battery, opening a heavy fire of musketry on the infantry stationed on our right, and charging upon the battery. The infantry and battery to the right having given way, and the enemy advancing at double-quick, we gave them one round of musketry, and also gave way. At this time we, as indeed all of our troops in the immediate vicinity of the battery, were thrown into great confusion, and retired in disorder. Having retreated to the distance of one or two hundred yards, we succeeded in rallying and forming a good line, the 8th and 18th Illinois volunteers on our left, and, having fronted to the enemy, held our position there under a continual fire of cannon and musketry, until after twelve o'clock, when we were ordered to retire and take up a new position. This we did in good order, and without confusion.
"Here having formed a new line, we maintained it under an incessant fire, until four and a half o'clock, P. M., the men conducting themselves with great gallantry and coolness, and doing great execution on the enemy, repelling charge after charge, and driving them back with great loss. At four and a half o'clock, we were again ordered to fall back. In obeying this order, we became mixed up with a great many other regiments, falling back in confusion, so that our line was broken, and the regiment separated, rendering it very difficult to collect it."
This was the last order to retire that was given that afternoon, and the last ground yielded to the enemy; for the new line, when formed, was held successfully. It should, however, be stated that, it was now near night, and there was little more fighting that evening. It was in this new position that Colonel Hare, of the 11th Iowa, was wounded and retired from the field. During the day, he had commanded the 1st Brigade of McClernand's Division. After he was wounded and left the field, the command of the brigade was then turned over to Colonel Crocker — "his able and gallant successor."
In closing his report of the battle of Shiloh, Colonel Crocker says:
"During the day, we were under- fire of the enemy for ten hours, and sustained a loss of twenty-three killed, and one hundred and thirty wounded.
"On the morning of the 7th, we were ordered to continue with Colonel Tuttle's Division, and to follow up and support our forces that were attacking, and driving back the enemy. We followed them up closely, moving to support the batteries, until the enemy was routed, after which, we were ordered to return to the encampment that we had left on Sunday morning, where we arrived at eight o'clock, P. M. Our total loss in the action of the 6th and 7th is killed, twenty-four; wounded, one hundred and thirty-nine; missing, nine: total, one hundred and seventy-two. The men, for the most part, behaved with great gallantry. All the officers exhibited the greatest bravery and coolness; and I call especial attention to the gallant conduct of my field officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Price and Major Shane, who were both wounded in the action of the 6th, and acknowledge my great obligations to my adjutant, Lieutenant Wilson, who, during the entire action, exhibited the highest qualities of a soldier."
The last gun was fired at Shiloh, before two o'clock in the afternoon of the 7th, and that same evening, the main portion of Grant's army marched back to their former encampments, where, having buried the dead and cared for the wounded, they rested.
Immediately after this engagement, the Iowa Brigade was organized, and placed under the command of Colonel Crocker. It was composed of the 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th Iowa regiments, and afterward, as I have already said, became one of the most distinguished brigade commands in the Army of the Tennessee. Under its first commander, it acquired that discipline and efficiency, for which it was noted under each of the general's successors—Chambers, Hall and Belknap. It has distinguished itself on half a score of battle-fields, and once saved the Army of the Tennessee from calamitous defeat It has a most brilliant record. With this brigade, Colonel Crocker fought at the battle of Corinth; but an account of that engagement will be found In the sketches of other officers.
In the winter of 1862-3, the colonel was made a brigadier-general. His sterling qualities as a soldier, and his continued gallant deportment earned the promotion. After receiving his commission, he continued with his brigade till the latter part of April, 1863, when, by order of General McPherson, he succeeded General Quimby in the command of the 7th Division, 17th Army Corps — the division which fought so gallantly, and lost so heavily at Jackson and Champion's Hill. He joined his division at Bruinsburg, just after it had crossed the Mississippi, and commanded it in the two above engagements.
On the evening of the 13th of May, the 7th Division bivouacked, with its army corps at Clinton, ten miles west of Jackson. The following night it was to camp in Jackson. The character of the country between Clinton and Jackson, the condition of the roads, and the state of the weather on the morning of the 14th instant, I have given elsewhere. Crocker's Division led the advance. This post of honor was granted by McPherson, at the general's own request, which barely anticipated a similar one from Logan. The march was made, and the enemy encountered about two and a half miles west of the city. Their line of battle was along a high ridge, and extended from north to south, as far as the eye could reach. The rain was falling in torrents, and, until it partially ceased, the two armies stood and watched each other. In half an hour it broke away, when General Crocker, pushing forward the 12th Wisconsin Battery, saluted General Johnson. Tuttle's Division of Sherman's Corps, which had in the meantime come up on the south side of the city, opened on the enemy at nearly the same instant. The 2d Iowa Battery, Lieutenant Reed, tired the first gun on the south side of Jackson. The enemy's force was about ten thousand, and the principal portion of it was in Crocker's front; but he pushed his leading brigade, which was drawn up in a continuous line, to the farthest point that afforded cover, and then ordered a charge. It was a magnificent sight, for the conduct of the brigade was magnificent. The battle was bloody, but not protracted: in ten minutes after the order to charge was given, the enemy were fleeing in total rout; nor did they stop until they had crossed Pearl River.
For so great results, the Federal loss was small — only two hundred and eighty-six; but all, except six or eight of the casualties, were from the 2d Brigade of Crocker's Division. The press of Illinois gave Logan the credit of fighting the battle of Jackson. It was all wrong. His command was not under fire; nor did it lose a man, even by a stray shot. The general himself was at the front, where he always was, when there was any fighting to be done; but he was only a spectator. He sat quietly on his horse, caressing his huge mustache, till word came of the flight of the enemy across the river, when he rode into the city. In his official report, General McPherson says: — "Colonel Sanborn was directed to send the flag of one of his regiments, which had borne itself most gallantly in the battle, and place it on the Capitol of the State of Mississippi, and shortly before four o'clock the flag of the 59th Indiana was proudly waving from the dome." The 59th Indiana "bore itself gallantly," but it did not fire a gun at Jackson. The 10th Missouri, 17th Iowa and 80th Ohio made the charge, and captured the city; and why the flag of the 59th first waved from the dome was, the regiments entitled to the honor bad been left on the field, and could not be reached. Had General Crocker delayed five minutes longer, the colors of the 95th Ohio of Tuttle's Division, would have flaunted from the rebel Capitol.
As soon as the fighting was done, General Crocker rode down his line to the 17th Iowa, and to the other regiments of the brigade, and thanked them for their gallantry; and as he looked back on the hill-slope, where were lying the dead and wounded, his eyes filled with tears, and his voice choked with emotion. "Noble fellows," he said, "I am sorry, but we can not help it."
Two days after the battle at Jackson, General Crocker commanded his division at Champion's Hill. His own, with Hovey's and Logan's Divisions, fought that battle — the bitterest of the whole campaign, if we except the charge on the 22d of May; but an account of this engagement has been already given.
In June, 1863, General Crocker came North on sick leave. His health, always bad, had been rendered much worse by the hardships and exposures of the recent campaign, and he accepted his leave, at the urgent request of General Grant. There is a story connected with this sick leave, which illustrates the kind-heartedness of General Grant, and which affords me pleasure to relate. On the return of General Quimby in the latter part of May, he resumed command of his old division, when General Crocker was placed temporarily upon the staff of General Grant. Crocker's tent being near that of Grant, the attention of the latter was attracted by the severe and almost incessant coughing of the former during the night; and, on meeting him the morning after, General Grant said: "General Crocker, was that you whom I heard coughing so last night?" "Yes," replied the general. "Well, then, my dear fellow, you must go straight home, for you will die here."
The general was at his home in Des Moines, at the time the Union Gubernatorial Convention was held in that city. During its session, he visited the hall of the Convention, and the eclat with which he was received, was a flattering testimonial of the esteem in which he was held by his State. He was the choice of the Convention for Governor of Iowa, and was earnestly solicited to accept the nomination; but his answer was: "If a soldier is worth any thing, he can not be spared from the field; and, if he is worthless, he will not make a good Governor." The argument was unanswerable, and his name was reluctantly dropped.
Early in July, 1863, General Crocker returned to the field, and was given a division command, and made Commandant of the District of Natchez. While commanding at Natchez, he made his expedition to Harrisonburg, Louisiana. "The expedition consisted of the following troops: the 2d Brigade, 4th Division, Colonel C. Hall, 14th Illinois, commanding; the 3d Brigade, 4th Division, General W. Q. Gresham commanding; Company F, 3d Illinois Battery, and the l5th Ohio Battery, with the 17th Wisconsin Infantry, mounted, commanded by Colonel Mallory." At Harrisonburg, the enemy were reported in considerable force, and intrenched [sic] in strong works. The object of the expedition was to destroy these works and ordnance property, and capture or disperse the rebel garrison. It resulted in the capture and burning of one small steamer on Black River at Trinity, the capture and destruction of Fort Beauregard at Harrisonburg, the destruction of all ammunition and six pieces of artillery; and the capture of about twenty prisoners and two six-pound brass cannon. There was no battle — only trifling skirmishing.
In the fall of 1863, General Crocker returned to Vicksburg, where he joined Sherman on the Meridian march. In the following Spring, he joined his corps (the 17th) in its march across the country to Georgia; but, on account of ill health, was relieved, and, early in the summer of 1864, was tendered a command in New Mexico, with head-quarters at Fort Sumner. Believing the climate would be beneficial to his health, the general accepted this command, since which time he has served in that department.
General Crocker is about five feet ten inches in hight, with a slender, nervous form, which can never pass one unnoticed. He has a passionate temper, and is plain-spoken, often saying things which, in his calmer moments, he would leave unsaid.
His mode of discipline is severe and uncompromising, and a careless blunder he would never excuse. On one occasion, while in command of the Iowa Brigade, a general review was ordered, and great pains was taken to avoid all mistakes. One can imagine then what must have been the general's mortification to see Colonel ____, of his leading regiment, ride past the reviewing officer, with his sword at a protracted "present." That was bad enough; but next followed Colonel ____, whose regiment passed with arms at a "right-shoulder-shift." When the review was over, the regimental commanders were summoned to the general's head-quarters, when, beginning with the chief in rank, he administered the following rebuke: — "Now, Sir, aren't you a pretty man — and pretend to be a military man—and educated at a military school! " " But—" (began the colonel, wishing to apologize) "Hush up, Sir. I'm doing the talking here." It all ended in a friendly chat, and in an order for a new review; and there was no more mistakes.
As a military man, General Crocker has been pre-eminently successful, not only as a disciplinarian, but as a bold and able leader. As a division commander, he has no superior in the State, and, what is a little remarkable, this fact is universally conceded.
Nor was the general less successful as a civilian, than he has been as a soldier. Though young, he ranked, at the time of entering the service, among the best lawyers of Des Moines — the city which boasted one of the ablest bars in the State. C. C. Cole, (now Judge of the State Supreme Court) J. A. Kasson, (now Congressman from the 5th District) C. C. Nourse, (Attorney General of the State) T. F. Withrow, (State Supreme Court Reporter) P. M. Cassady, (General Crocker's law-partner) General Williamson, Polk, Jewett, W. W. Williamson, Finch, St. John, Ellwood, Rice, Clark, Mitchell, Ingersoll, Smith, Phillips, White, McKay and Brown, was Des Moines' roll of attorneys in the spring of 1861, and of these the general ranked among the very best, as an advocate and circuit practitioner. Some say that, in these respects, he led the Des Moines Bar.
SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 255-64