Friday, November 13, 2009



Alexander Chambers is thirty-two years of age, and a native of the State of New York. I know little more of his history prior to his entering the volunteer service except that he was a lieutenant of the 18th Regular Infantry, and a resident of Owatonna, Minnesota. After the war broke out, and before he was made colonel, he served as a mustering officer of Iowa troops. He was the United States mustering officer of the following Iowa regiments: the 1st, 2d and 4th Cavalry; and the 1st, 2d, 3d, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th Infantry. Though not an Iowa man, his military services certainly go to the credit of the State. He was commissioned Colonel of the I6th Iowa, in February, 1862, and served with this rank till the winter of 1863-4, when he left the volunteer service and returned to his former position as captain in the 18th Regular Infantry; for he had been promoted to a captaincy, in the summer of 1861.

Colonel Chambers' first engagement, which was also the first of his regiment, was Shiloh. In that action he was slightly wounded. The position of his regiment in the first day's battle was on the right of the l5th Iowa, and the part it sustained sufficiently appears in the sketch of General H. T. Reid. In the closing paragraph of an official statement concerning this engagement, Colonel Chambers says:

"The field officers were particularly cool under a destructive fire, and rendered great assistance. The horses of all the field and staff officers were killed or wounded, evidently showing an intention on the part of the enemy to pick off the most prominent officers. Captains Ruehl and Zettler, both gallant men, were killed or mortally wounded, and 1st Lieutenant Frank N. Doyle, a brave and efficient officer, was also killed. The loss during Sunday's fight was two officers and sixteen non-commissioned officers and privates killed, and nine officers and twenty-four non-commissioned officers and privates wounded, and fifteen non-commissioned officers and privates missing."

Among the wounded officers, were Captains A. Palmer, E. S. Fraser, and E. M. Newcomb; and Lieutenants Lewis Bunde, J. H. Lucas, G. H. Holcomb, and Henry Meyer. It was reported that the regiment did not conduct itself with credit, but its losses tell a different story. The conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. Sanders was especially gallant, as it ever after was, in the face of the enemy.

It is elsewhere stated that immediately after the battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing, the Iowa Brigade was organized, and that the organization was preserved till the close of General Sherman's campaign through the Carolinas, in the spring of 1865. The 16th Iowa was the junior regiment of this brigade, and much relating to its history will be found in the sketches of Generals Crocker, Reid, Belknap and Hedrick, and Colonels Hall and Shane. But the 16th has a chapter in its history, not to be found in those of the other regiments of its brigade. It fought Price at Iuka; was conspicuous upon the field, and suffered terribly in killed and wounded. Next to the 5th Iowa Infantry, it lost more heavily than any other regiment on that bloody field.

"For some ten days or more before the final move of the rebel army under General Price, eastward from the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, it was evident that an attack upon Corinth was contemplated, or some change to be made in the location of that army. This caused great vigilance to be necessary, on the part of our cavalry, especially that to the southern front, under Colonel Mizner. The labor of watching and occasional skirmishing was most satisfactorily performed, and almost every move of the enemy was known as soon as commenced. About the 11th of September, Price left the railroad — the infantry and artillery probably moving from Baldwin, and the cavalry from the roads north of Baldwin, toward Bay Springs. At the latter place, a halt of a few days seemed to have been made; likely, for the purpose of collecting stores and reconnoitering our eastern flank. On the 13th of September, the enemy's cavalry made their appearance near Iuka, and were repulsed by the small garrison under Colonel Murphy of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, still left there to cover the removal of stores, not yet brought into Corinth. The enemy appeared again in increased force on the same day, and, having cut the railroad between there and Burnsville, Colonel Murphy thought it prudent to retire to save his force."

How the 16th Iowa became separated from its brigade and fought with Rosecrans at Iuka happened thus: When Colonel Murphy was attacked by the enemy, he sent back for reinforcements: Colonel Crocker was directed to send a regiment to his support. The 16th Iowa was ordered forward, and thus formed a junction with General Rosecrans. In speaking of the part the 16th and other regiments of his command bore at Iuka, General Rosecrans says:

"The 16th Iowa, amid the roar of battle, the rush of wounded artillery-horses, the charges of a rebel brigade, and a storm of grape, canister and musketry, stood like a rock, holding the centre, while the glorious 5th Iowa, under the brave and distinguished Matthies, sustained by Boomer, with his noble little 26th Missouri, bore the thrice-repeated charges and cross-fires of the rebel left and centre, with a valor and determination, seldom equaled, and never excelled by the most veteran soldiery."

So far as I can learn, the killed and wounded of the 16th Iowa at Iuka numbered about sixty-five. Colonel Chambers was wounded and obliged to turn his command over to Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders. Lieutenant and Adjutant George Lawrence, a gallant young officer, was killed. Captain A. Palmer and Lieutenant J. H. Lucas of Company C, were both wounded, as they had also been at Shiloh. Lieutenants Alcorn and Williams were also wounded, both severely. Iuka was the 16th Iowa's second engagement, and their courage and intrepidity, on that field, was a triumphant answer to all insinuations of former ungallant conduct. They were the heroes of their brigade, and when they marched back to re-join it they were looked on with admiration, and received the eager gratulations of their sister regiments.

Next in the history of the regiment is the battle of Corinth, a full account of which Has been given elsewhere; It lost its commanding officer at Iuka, and suffered the same misfortune at Corinth. Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders was severely wounded in the thigh, in the afternoon of the first day's fight. Of this gallant officer's conduct, Colonel, afterward General Crocker says:

"Lieutenant-Colonel Add. H. Sanders, who commanded the 16th, is entitled to great praise. He rode along the line of his regiment, amid the storm of bullets, encouraging his brave boys, who had so lately suffered at Iuka, to remember their duty, and, although severely wounded, remained with his regiment until it marched off the field."

Major William Purcell succeeded Colonel Sanders in the command of the regiment. Its loss in the engagement I have been unable to learn, but, next to the 15th Iowa, it suffered more severely than any other regiment of its brigade. Major Purcell was slightly wounded, but not so severely as to compel him to leave the field. Captain C. W. Williams was taken prisoner. Color-Sergeant Samuel Duffin, and Color-Corporals McElhaney, Eighmey and Karn are mentioned for their gallant conduct on the field.

The pursuit of the defeated and dispirited rebel army to the Hatchie, and the return to Corinth; the march to the Yockona late that same Fall; the trip down the Mississippi to Young's Point, and the operations around Vicksburg; the march to Mechanicsville, up the Yazoo; the expedition to Jackson, and the escape of Johnson; the raid to Monroe, Louisiana, and, later, that to Meridian, Mississippi; the long and tedious march from Clifton on the Tennessee, to North-western Georgia, In the Spring of 1864, and the operations of the Iowa Brigade on the memorable Atlanta Campaign, will be found in the sketches of those officers and regiments, whose histories they help to make up. The 16th Iowa Infantry took part in all these operations.

It has already been stated that Colonel Chambers resigned his commission in the winter of 1863-4. Subsequently to that date, the 16th Iowa has been commanded by that excellent officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders. Indeed, for many months prior to the resignation of the former officer, Colonel Sanders commanded his regiment; for, on the departure of General Crocker to assume command of the 7th Division, of his corps, Colonel Chambers succeeded him in the command of the Iowa Brigade.

I pass now to the most interesting and exciting chapter in the history of the 16th Iowa — a chapter which, could I write it as it was made, would equal any passage in war-literature. Certainly no regiment in all Sherman's grand army of "ninety-eight thousand nine hundred and ninety-seven men" can furnish an instance of greater and more distinguishing valor, than that of which I write.

How Sherman, having crossed the Chattahoochie, threw his army by a grand right-wheel around Atlanta, with the Army of the Tennessee — Blair, Logan and Dodge — on the left, I have written elsewhere. In the sketch of General Belknap, I have also given an account of the enemy's opening attack, which, for suddenness and desperation, would have done credit to the best marshals of France. The 22d of July, and the assault on Sherman's left, are the day and the battle of which I speak. The 16th Iowa "was posted upon the left of the 11th Iowa, and in the immediate front of the 13th Iowa, the 15th Iowa being upon the left and upon a prolongation of the line of the 13th, the brigade being the left of the 4th Division, which held the left wing of the Army of the Tennessee." The 16th Iowa, therefore, held the extreme left and front of Sherman's victorious legions — a post of honor deserving double honor, on account of its gallant defense. "Companies B and G, under the respective commands of Captain Henry Lefeldt and Lieutenant Timm, were deployed as skirmishers in front, connecting on the right with the skirmishers of the 11th Iowa, and on the left with those of the l5th." This position had been taken up, and these dispositions had been made, (earthworks in front of each regiment having been in the meantime constructed) on the previous afternoon. And it is proper to state in this connection that the left of the Army of the Tennessee had not joined in the general advance made by Sherman's army on the morning of the 22d.

As elsewhere stated, the ground occupied by the Iowa Brigade was open, with the exception of being covered with under-brush; but, immediately after taking up the position, the 11th, 15th, and 16th Iowa had "policed" in their front, from thirty to fifty yards. No enemy could pass that line under cover, and to come within it was almost certain death. The skirmish line was posted in the thicket beyond.

Just before noon of the day in question, General Giles A. Smith, in person, had directed Colonel Sanders to have his regiment ready to fall in at a minute's notice, adding, "you must hold your works to the last, as the safety of the division may depend on the delay occasioned the enemy at this point." This was the last order received by Colonel Sanders from his superior that day. Already the reign of ominous silence, which commonly precedes great battles, portended the approaching conflict, and, hardly had General Smith rode back to his head-quarters, when the roar of musketry along the skirmish line signaled the advance of the enemy. It was sharp and spiteful, and told the brave boys, who sprung for their guns and the trenches, that a desperate struggle was at hand. Instantly the skirmishers, with anxious faces, made their appearance, and came running back to the works. They were sent back by Colonel Sanders, but had scarcely entered the thicket, when they were fired on and again driven back. The enemy were coming in heavy line of battle, and closely on the heels of their own skirmishers, while the 16th Iowa, crouched in their trenches and, with their muskets pointed toward the threatened point, awaited their approach. "When you fire, fire low, but don't fire a gun till you receive my command, no matter how near they come," were the orders of Colonel Sanders, and they were strictly obeyed. Then followed a moment of anxious, protracted suspense and then the opening battle.

The enemy advanced their line boldly into the clearing in front of the Sixteenth's works, and, with bayonets fixed and their pieces at a charge, began raising their accustomed shout, when Colonel Sanders gave the order to fire — first to the rear rank, and then to the front. " The response was a terrific and deadly volley from one rank, followed immediately by another, and then a continuous, rapid firing, as fast as eager, experienced soldiers could load and discharge their guns. The result of our fire was terrible. The enemy's line seemed to crumble to the earth; for even those not killed or wounded fell to the ground for protection. Another heavy line of the enemy advanced, and was repulsed in the same terrible manner. Officers and men worked enthusiastically, and guns became so heated that they could not be handled, the powder flashing from them as the cartridges were dropped in. The officers prepared the cartridges for the men, and helped them load their guns. More splendid firing, or more effectual in its results, was never before witnessed in the army." I have taken the above from Colonel Sander's report; for, should I make the same statement myself, it would pass for fiction.

Simultaneously with the attack on the 16th, the 11th and 15th Iowa were charged in their works. The left of the 15th had no protection, and, as the enemy came swinging round to its rear, it had no alternative but to draw out of its works and retire. The 11th Iowa was dislodged in like manner. But just before this occurred, the enemy in front of the 16th (the 2d and 8th Arkansas and two companies of Texan troops) put up the white flag and surrendered as prisoners of war. When they arrived in Colonel Sanders' rear, he found that he had two prisoners for every man in his ranks. But there were other prisoners to the left, or men whom Captain Smith claimed as prisoners, but who refused to throw down their arms. Learning this, Colonel Sanders hurried down to the left, and began disarming them himself, but he had taken the guns of only two, when he was surrounded by a rebel squad, who demanded: "Surrender, Sir, and we won't hurt you." Startled by such a demand, he turned and looked about him. For the first time he now saw that the works of the 13th and 15th Iowa in his rear were in the possession of the enemy. Believing that he had held his works "to the last," and hoping that he might break away and escape with his regiment to the rear of the 11th Iowa, he sprung away, and, with the exclamation — "I am not talking of surrender now," hurried back to his command. The rebels stared in wonder and none fired at him except a rebel captain, who instantly after was shot dead by Captain Lucas of the 16th Iowa.

On reaching the right of his regiment, the last hope fled; for the works of the 11th Iowa were already in possession of the enemy. The regiment was thus surrounded, and had no choice but to surrender or be butchered. The 16th Iowa was the sixth Iowa regiment to be captured nearly entire. "The regiment numbered, on the morning of the twenty-second, four hundred and twenty-five effective men: of these, a fatigue detail of three officers and eighty men was made in the morning, most of whom were captured afterward, while fighting in front of field-works near by."

During the Atlanta Campaign, or rather up to the 23d of July, the 16th Iowa lost in killed, wounded and captured, three hundred and sixty-eight men. Of these, twenty were killed, and one hundred and six wounded. Private Charles M. Stark was the first man of the regiment killed. He was shot through the head on the 14th of June, and while on picket near Big Shanty, Georgia. From the 14th of June to the 22d of July following, hardly a day passed without adding one or more to the regiment's list of casualties; and to show the character of warfare in which the regiment engaged, it may be stated that, of the twenty killed, nine at least were shot through the neck or head. Quarter-master-Sergeant John W. Drury was the only man killed by a shell, and Corporal James Huntington, the only one killed by a solid shot. Lieutenant George H. Holcomb was one of the killed, and among the wounded were Captains Hugh Skillings and Peter Miller, and Lieutenants Thomas A. Burke and Samuel Duffin: the latter afterward died of his wounds.

The greater part of the enlisted men of the 16th Iowa, who were captured on the 22d of July, were exchanged in September, 1864; but the officers were held until the following Winter and Spring. The regiment has closed the interesting portion of its history in the siege of Atlanta, and in the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns, all of which operations have been fully detailed.

I am told Colonel Chambers is a trim, black-haired, black eyed gentleman, with the airs and deportment of a regular army officer. He was a severe disciplinarian, and, by reputation, ranked well with the Iowa Colonels. After the fall of Vicksburg, he was appointed by the President a brigadier-general; but the appointment failed confirmation in the Senate. His status defeated him; he was neither an Iowa nor a Minnesota man. Iowa would indorse his appointment, provided he was credited to Minnesota, and Minnesota, vice versa. He is the only Iowa officer who was killed by having too many friends.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 303-12

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