Sunday, November 8, 2009



William Worth Belknap, the successor of Colonel Reid to the colonelcy of the 15th Iowa Infantry, is a son of the late General Belknap, who, as a colonel, distinguished himself in the Mexican War. Entering the United States Army in 1812, the late General Belknap continued in the service till the day of his death. For his efficient services in the Mexican War, he was made a brevet brigadier-general. He died in Texas soon after the publication of peace, and near the fort bearing his own name. He was, at the time of his death, traveling in an ambulance from one portion to another of his command.

William, the subject of this sketch, was born in the year 1830, at Newburg, New York. He was named after General William J. Worth, a warm friend of his father's family. In about the year 1856, he came to Iowa, and located in the city of Keokuk. Prior to coming to Iowa, General Belknap had studied the law, and, soon after settling in Keokuk, he entered upon its practice. As a lawyer, he was quite successful. He is one of the few young attorneys, who, settling at that day in the city of Fast Living and High Prices, was able to secure a paying practice, and establish himself as a permanent resident. He was engaged in the practice of his profession at the outbreak of the war, and till as late as the fall of 1861, when he abandoned it to enter the service.

In compliment for his successful efforts in assisting to recruit the 15th Iowa Infantry, he was commissioned major of the regiment. With this rank he accompanied it to the field. On the promotion of Lieutenant-Colonel Dewey to the colonelcy of the 23d Iowa Infantry, he was made lieutenant-colonel, and still later — the 22d of April, 1863 — was commissioned colonel, vice Colonel Reid, promoted to a general officer.

If we except General Belknap's services at the battle of Corinth, where he distinguished himself, his military record, that has made his name familiar in Iowa, and secured his appointment as brigadier-general, was almost wholly made in General Sherman's campaign against Atlanta. The same is true of his old regiment. Brigaded with the 11th Iowa, the 13th and 16th ever since the spring of 1862, the history of the l5th Iowa is almost identical with that of these regiments. It took part in the battle of Corinth, October 3d and 4th, 1862; but, with this exception, the l5th, with the balance of the Iowa Brigade, escaped every hard-fought battle until the spring of 1864; and this, too, notwithstanding it was always in the front, and present in the Department that, of all others, was characterized by its bloody battle-fields and vigorous campaigns.

Of the different regiments of the Iowa Brigade, the l5th most distinguished itself at the battle of Corinth. The following is from Colonel Crocker's report, the brigade commander:

"The execution of the order to move back had just commenced, when the enemy, in greatly-superior force, attacked the front of the line (the 15th and 16th Iowa). The officers and men of these regiments, acting with signal determination and bravery, not only held the enemy in check, but drove him back, and held their position, until notice was received that the artillery had passed safely to the rear, when they were ordered to fall back and form in line of battle on the right of the second line, which they did in good order, the enemy declining to follow. This engagement lasted three-quarters of an hour. The firing was incessant, and the regiments, especially the l5th, suffered severely. I deem it my especial duty to particularly mention Lieutenant-Colonel Belknap, who commanded the 15th regiment. This regiment was under the hottest fire, and Colonel Belknap was everywhere along the line, mounted, and with sword in hand encouraging, by voice and gesture, his men to stand their ground." * * *

The opening of General Sherman's campaign in the spring of 1864, forms a new and sanguinary chapter in the history of the Iowa Brigade. Returning from veteran furlough, the brigade proceeded to the front at Kenesaw Mountain, after which, for nearly sixty days, it was almost constantly under fire; and its scores of killed and wounded, during this period, are witnesses of its conspicuous gallantry. From the time the enemy was flanked at Kenesaw Mountain, till he was forced back to and into his entrenchments at Atlanta, there were few engagements in which this brigade did not take part. But the greatest battle of the campaign was precipitated, just at the time it was supposed the contest for the Gate City had closed.

During the greater part of the night of the 21st of July, 1864, the rumbling of artillery, and the confusion so common in the movements of large bodies of men, were distinctly heard by our troops, in the direction of the enemy; and it was supposed by many that, General Hood was evacuating Atlanta; McPherson thought otherwise, and was anxious and watchful. In the disposition of our forces in this engagement, the 17th Army Corps held the left, and on the extreme left of this corps, was the Iowa Brigade. The position held by this brigade, was a commanding ridge on the east side of the McDonough road, and almost at right angles with the main line of battle, which was west of, and nearly parallel with, the above named road. The head-quarters of the 15th Iowa were not more than two and a half miles north of the Atlanta and Macon Railroad, and about three miles south-east of the city of Atlanta. The country on every side was broken, and for the most part, heavily wooded; but that portion lying in the direction of the Macon road, was more especially so. In this dense timber, General Hood had massed his forces on the evening of the 21st instant. At a little after twelve o'clock on the afternoon of the 22d, Colonel Belknap and Lieutenant-Colonel Hedrick had just seated themselves for dinner, when the first gun of the sentinels was fired. The suddenness of the enemy's attack was unprecedented. Colonel Belknap had barely time to buckle on his sword, and hurry from his head-quarters to the front of his regiment, when the line of skirmishers was driven in. Almost at the same instant, the enemy was seen coming at double-quick, and in a line of battle, nearly at right angles with that of General Blair's along the McDonough road. In the suddenness of his attack, the rebel general was aping Napoleon. He doubtless expected to force in our line, as one would slide in the sections of a telescope, thus crowding the Army of the Tennessee together in hopeless confusion; but he had reckoned without his host. The Iowa Brigade, having hastily formed, met and repulsed the assaults of the enemy in their front; when, his centre being repulsed, his left and right wing swung round to the Federal front and rear. And in this way, is accounted for the almost incredible story of our troops fighting, first on the one, and then on the other side of their intrenchments. Subjected to a galling artillery-fire, and now well-nigh surrounded, Colonel Belknap had no other alternative than to retire, which he did, in a north-westerly direction, and across the McDonough road. During that afternoon, the 15th Iowa fought in seven distinct positions; and its losses are proof of the stubbornness with which each was contested. The following were among the gallant dead: Lieutenants Logan W. Crawford and E. M. Gephart. The latter was killed in the regiment's fourth position. Seeing, as he thought, a small detachment of the enemy in cover not far distant, he rallied a few volunteers, and rushed out to capture them; but they proved to be quite a large force. He turned to retreat to his regiment, but was shot before he reached it. He was a young man of much promise.

The loss of the 15th Iowa in killed, wounded and missing, was one hundred and fifty-three. Lieutenant-Colonel Hedrick was severely wounded, as was also his brother, Captain Hedrick. Lieutenant W. P. L. Muir was wounded for the fourth time in the head, and was captured. Lieutenants Evans and Scheevers were also severely wounded.

At one time during the engagement, the 15th Iowa was assaulted by the 45th Alabama Infantry, Colonel Lampley. The 15th in this instance was protected by earth-works, and literally slaughtered its assailants, while they were rushing to the onset with the most determined bravery. Only a few of the entire rebel regiment reached the foot of the works, and of these, one was killed, and the others either wounded or captured. Colonel Lampley was captured by Colonel Belknap in person. Connected with this charge of the 45th Alabama, was an amusing incident. A young boy, of the genuine chivalry, was among the party that reached the foot of the works. After the assault had been repelled, and the firing had slackened, Colonel Belknap stepped up on the works to secure his prisoners ; but he had no sooner exposed his person than the young boy fired on him. The ball passed under his chin and cut through his whiskers. He was enraged and, seizing the boy by the hair of the head, dragged him over the works; but, in spite of himself he could not help admiring the pluck of the young rascal.

For his gallantry in this and in other battles of the campaign, Colonel Belknap, on the recommendation of General Sherman, was appointed a brigadier-general. After receiving his commission, he succeeded Colonel Hall of the 11th Iowa, in the command of the Iowa Brigade, which he has held ever since.

General Belknap is about five feet, eleven inches in hight, and rather portly. His eyes, which are dark-blue and very expressive, are his handsomest feature. In his manners he is rather dignified; but he is educated and refined, and a favorite in the social circle.

In the legal practice, he did not excel as an advocate. He made no pretensions to oratory; but, in preparing a case for trial, he had few equals. It was a rare thing for a demurrer to be sustained to one of his pleadings.

At the time of entering the army, he was reputed an able and honorable business-man. In the army he has been known as a good disciplinarian, a brave officer, and a warm friend to the soldier. His neighbors in Keokuk look upon his brilliant military career with much pride.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 289-94

No comments: