Monday, November 30, 2009

COLONEL BENJAMIN CRABB

NINETEENTH INFANTRY.

Benjamin Crabb, of the 19th Iowa Infantry, is a native of Ohio, and was born in the year 1821. I am ignorant of his early history, and of the time he first removed to Iowa. When I first knew him, he was the proprietor of a hotel in Washington, Iowa. I think that was his business at the outbreak of the war.

Benjamin Crabb first entered the service in the summer of 1861. He was captain of Company H, 7th Iowa Infantry. At the battle of Belmont, he distinguished himself, and was thus complimented by Colonel, afterward General Lauman: "I desire also to direct your attention to Captain Crabb, who was taken prisoner, and who behaved in the bravest manner." After being exchanged he re-joined his regiment, and remained with it till the 13th of August, 1862, when he resigned his commission, to accept the colonelcy of the 19th Iowa Infantry.

"This regiment was organized in the city of Keokuk in August, 1862, and was the first in the State under the President's call, dated July 2d, for 300,000 volunteers. The companies were mustered into the United States service, as they reported — the first, on the 17th day of August, and the last, on the 25th day of August, 1862: its aggregate number, at the date of organization, was nine hundred and eighty men."

The early history of the 19th Iowa, as also that of the 20th, was made under General F. J. Herron. Leaving Keokuk on the 4th of September, 1862, the regiment proceeded to Benton Barracks, Missouri, where it was assigned to a brigade, commanded by that officer. Its stay at Benton Barracks was only six days. Then, marching to the Pacific Railroad Depot, it proceeded by cars to Rolla.

The first three month's service of this regiment is made up of marchings and counter-marchings in Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas. On some of these, the enemy were met in slight skirmishes; but the majority of them were characterized simply by that dragging, fatiguing monotony, which is unbearable, especially if the roads and weather be unfavorable. To show the nature of these services, I quote a portion of the regiment's record, which covers only six days of its service:

"October 17th — broke up camp at Cassville, Missouri; marched southward four miles and camped for the night. October 18th — marched southward thirty-one miles, and camped on Sugar Creek, Benton county, Arkansas; lay on our arms all night. General Blunt's Division was camped near by. At five o'clock P. M., of the 20th, broke up camp; made a night's march over the Pea Ridge battle-ground, and on to White River; crossed the river — water about three feet deep, clear and cold. On the 22d instant, marched fifteen miles; halted and prepared supper. We were then within a distance of six miles from Huntsville, Arkansas. Fell in again at six P. M., and made a night's march of fourteen miles to White River, at a point below where we had first crossed, arriving at two A. M., on the morning of the 23d of October; bivouacked until seven A. M., when, without waiting for breakfast, crossed White River; marched forward, much of the time on double-quick, reaching the telegraph road at Bloomington, at twelve M.; formed at once in line of battle, expecting an attack. Remained in this position three hours, and were then ordered forward on the main road to Cross Hollows, Arkansas, where we arrived at five P. M., and went into camp, having made a forced march of one hundred miles in three days and three nights, over a very rough and mountainous country, and having compelled the enemy to retreat across the Boston Mountains."

The month of November, as well as the previous one, was passed by the 19th Iowa and the greater part of the Army of the Frontier, in a constant chase from one point to another.

The country was full of rumors; the general officers in immediate command were young and ambitious, which, taken together, made the time pass most restlessly with the poor infantry troopers. Thus far the enemy had declined to stand and fight. They were not, however, without spirit. They were organizing; and the coming December was to test their prowess. November, 1862, closed with the divisions of Totten and Herron at Camp Curtis, near Wilson's Creek, Missouri, and that of Blunt at Cane Hill, Arkansas. The enemy had in the meantime organized, and were advancing to give Blunt battle; but a history of these events has been previously given. Herron struggled with the confident but cautious enemy till Blunt came up from Cane Hill, when the cloud that before had threatened almost certain destruction, broke and disappeared. The 19th Iowa was doubtless the banner regiment of the unequal and terrible battle of Prairie Grove; but the 20th Iowa is entitled to hardly less praise, as also is the 20th Wisconsin.

The records of the regiment thus modestly tell the story of this engagement:

"The 19th Iowa and 20th Wisconsin charged and broke the rebel centre, and took a battery, but were unable to hold it. Lieutenant-Colonel McFarland was killed dead on the field, while leading the regiment in this charge. Lieutenant Smith, of Company F; Lieutenant Johnson, of Company I; and Sergeant-Major C. B. Buckingham, were also killed on the field. Our whole loss was forty-five killed, and one hundred and fifty-five wounded. Captains Wright, of Company D; Paine, of Company I; Jordan, of Company B; and Lieutenant Brooks, of Company D; were severely wounded."

Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel McFarland was a brave and good man, and his loss was sincerely mourned. He was a native of Pennsylvania, a resident of Mount Pleasant, and first entered the service, as captain in the 11th Iowa Infantry.

After the battle of Prairie Grove, the 19th Iowa enjoyed its first rest since leaving Springfield in the previous October. It camped on the battle-field the night after the engagement, as though unwilling to part with its dead comrades, just buried. The regiment remained at Prairie Grove nearly three weeks; and then broke camp and, with its division, marched across the Boston Mountains to Van Buren, on the Arkansas. From Van Buren it returned to Prairie Grove. And now its marchings again became uninterrupted: indeed, from the 2d of January, 1863, when it left Prairie Grove for White River, till the 25th instant, when it went into camp near Forsyth, Missouri, it heard little else than the beat to "fall in," and the command, "forward." At Forsyth, it remained to guard the place, while its division proceeded to Lake Spring, Missouri.

Late in April, 1863, the regiment proceeded to Ozark, and from that point marched against Marmaduke, who was threatening the country in the vicinity of Hartsville; but it failed to meet the fleet-footed rebel. The services of the regiment in Missouri were now drawing to a close. On the 3d of June, it marched from Salem, Missouri, to Rolla, whence it proceeded by rail to St. Louis, and embarked on the transport Chautau for Vicksburg.

Such has been the character of service imposed on the Federal troops in Missouri — most annoying and fatiguing in its nature, and almost wholly destitute of honor. Had the 19th Iowa been retained in Missouri, and had it not fought at Prairie Grove, every man of it might have marched to his grave, and yet the regiment be without a record.

But little of the history of the 19th Iowa was made under Colonel Crabb. He remained with it, and in command of it, till its arrival at Springfield, in September, 1862. At Springfield he was made Commandant of the Post, and never I think joined it afterward. He was at Springfield, at the time that place was attacked by Marmaduke in January, 1863; and, after General Brown was wounded, assumed command of the Federal forces; and I am informed that he succeeded to the duties and responsibilities of the command with much honor. He resigned his commission in the following Spring, and returned to his home in Washington.

The 19th Iowa left St. Louis for Vicksburg, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Kent: it was one of the regiments of General Herron's Division, and, before Vicksburg, was on the right of that command. Its duties during the siege, and its triumphal march into the city after its surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Kent gives as follows:

"Our fatigue duty consisted in digging rifle-pits, planting batteries and siege-guns to bear upon the enemy's works. This was continued and unremitting, (well named fatigue-duty) until the morning of the ever-glorious fourth day of July, when the glad news came to us that, Vicksburg had surrendered. We were then ordered to join in the march of the triumphant army, which we did; and now occupy a part of the enemy's works."

Private Thomas Fender, of Company I, was the only man of the regiment wounded during the siege.

After the fall of Vicksburg, the 19th Iowa joined in the expedition up the Yazoo River, which was made by General Herron's Division, and which is detailed elsewhere. On the return to Vicksburg, General Herron sailed with his command for Port Hudson; whence, after a few days' stay, he proceeded to Carrollton, Louisiana; and now soon follows the saddest page in the history of the 19th Iowa.

Early in September, the enemy appearing in force in the vicinity of Morganzia, General Herron was sent back to that point, where he operated for about a month. During these operations, the 19th Iowa was captured in the engagement at Sterling Farm, near the Atchafalaya. I quote from Major Bruce's official report:

"On the 29th instant, the enemy, having received reinforcements, turned our right and attacked us in the rear, cutting off our retreat. He at the same time attacked us in front. My regiment was first called into action, met the enemy boldly, and at short range, delivering a deadly volley, which compelled him to fall back. He however rallied again in overwhelming force, and, after a firm and desperate struggle, in which we were well supported by the 26th Indiana, we were completely overpowered and compelled to surrender. Many of our men, however, refused to give up until the guns were taken from their hands by the rebels.

"The rebels were commanded by General Green in person, and consisted of three brigades — in all, a force of five thousand men. Our entire force was about five hundred. My regiment had only about two hundred and sixty men in the action: many having been left sick in convalescent camps at Carrollton, Louisiana, were not present on the expedition. The fight was short, but deadly, considering the numbers engaged. The corn and high weeds concealed the enemy's lines, until they approached within pistol-shot. Many of our men escaped and. came straggling into camp for two days afterward."

The loss of the 19th Iowa in this action, was two officers and eight enlisted men killed, and one officer and eleven enlisted men wounded. Eleven officers and two hundred and three enlisted men were captured, and marched to prison at Camp Ford, Texas. Lieutenants Kent and Roberto of the regiment were among the killed. Captain Taylor, of Company G, was severely wounded, and died of his wounds soon after. The 19th Iowa constituted the first installment of Iowa troops, taken to Camp Ford; and its locality and surroundings may be given here with interest. I quote from a letter of Chaplain M. H. Hare, of the 36th Iowa, who, at a later day, was himself a prisoner of war in this wretched den.

"The prison-camp is one hundred miles south-west of Shreveport, Louisiana, and four miles from Tyler, Texas. It is situated on high table-lands, covered with pine and oak, and might be considered, for this country, healthy. There are about eight acres in the stockade. A spring in the south-west corner of the lot furnishes a good supply of water, impregnated with sulphur, and tolerably cool. Old prisoners say this water is healthy. The stockade is formed by placing logs, halved, upright, planted some two feet in the ground, and standing seven feet above the surface. The prisoners have to build their own quarters, and are very much in the condition of the old Israelites, who were required to make brick without straw."

The 19th Iowa was captured on the 29th of October, as already stated, and was at that time the fourth Iowa regiment that had been captured entire, or nearly so. Three others have since suffered the like misfortune. In April, 1864, the 36th was captured near More Creek, Arkansas; in July of the same year, the 16th was captured south-east of Atlanta; and, in the following October, the 17th was captured at Tilton, Georgia. The 19th Iowa were the first Iowa troops that, as prisoners of war, suffered great cruelties, on the west side of the Mississippi. Indeed, previous to this, the Confederate authorities at Richmond had not resolved on disabling their captives for further service, by exposure and starvation. But these were not the only cruelties practiced; for instance: "A private of the 26th Indiana regiment, named Thomas Moorehead, was one day near the guard-line, waiting for wood, when he was abruptly commanded to fall back. The Federal soldier was aware that an order had been promulgated forbidding prisoners to approach within three paces of the line, and he had halted, therefore, at a distance much greater. Nevertheless, in compliance with the sentry's demand, he was turning back, when the brute, whose name is remembered as Frank Smith, shot him, the ball passing through his body and shattering the arm of another prisoner, who stood near by. Moorehead, fatally hurt in the bowels, died the same night; and the wounded man was left without surgical assistance, other than could be afforded by a hospital-steward, captured soon after."

I have said the 19th Iowa were marched as prisoners of war to Tyler, Texas; but they had many sufferings before reaching that place. They were first sent to Alexandria, then to Shreveport, and from that point to Tyler. It is said their guard from Shreveport to Tyler, were rebel Red River steamboat-men, who practiced on them great cruelties. In the early winter of 1863-4, they were paroled for exchange, and marched back to Shreveport; but for some reason no exchange was effected, and after remaining at Shreveport all Winter they were again sent to Tyler. Their treatment on this march was more brutal than ever. Their course was marked by the blood from their swollen and lacerated feet. "Men, who failed to keep up from swollen feet, were lassoed and dragged by the neck. Many were wounded by blows from swords and muskets. Proper representations of this treatment were made to General Kirby Smith, but without effect." They were finally exchanged on the 23d of July, 1864, and delivered to Colonel Dwight near the mouth of Red River. Proceeding to New Orleans, their wretched condition excited much sympathy; and they were photographed in a group, and prints of the negative sent to all parts of the country.

Though it seems hardly possible, there are not wanting those who now clamor for an amnesty that shall shield the instigators of these enormous crimes from justice. For my part I will never cease to pray that blood may flow till all these inhuman wretches have suffered the full penalty of the law. Let our innocent blood be avenged, or peace will never be secure! Let all leading traitors die!

That portion of the 19th regiment which escaped capture at Sterling Farm, and its sick and convalescent at Carrollton and other points, were afterward united, and, under Major Bruce, joined in General Banks' expedition into Texas, late in the following October.

The above expedition left New Orleans, and, passing down to the Gulf through the South West Pass, anchored out side the bar in the evening of the 28th instant. On the morning of the 29th, it put to sea. The three-days trip across the Gulf will never be forgotten by Banks' old command. The majority of the troops were land-men, and, with pleasant weather and an even sea, would have experienced little pleasure; but the elements conspired against them. The morning of the second day out broke with a violent storm from the north, which lashed the waters into frightful commotion. Unfortunately, many of the troops were embarked on old and frail transports. These were loaded to the water's edge, and every surge of the heavy sea made them groan like huge monsters at bay. Several of the boats became leaky, and, to lighten them, mules, wagons, caissons, and forage were thrown overboard. The storm finally abated, and the whole fleet arrived at the Island of Brazos Santiago in safety. The bar was crossed on the second of November, and a landing effected. The 19th Iowa was the first regiment to land, and that was soon followed by the 20th.

Four days were consumed in disembarking the troops, unloading the baggage and supplies, and in reconnoitering. Then, —November 6th— a portion of Herron's Division, of which was the 19th Iowa, led the advance to Brownsville, which was entered on the evening of the next day, without opposition. Portions of the town were at the time in flames, as also were the barracks of Fort Brown. The town had been occupied by rebel troops; but they fled on the approach of the Federals. I should not omit to state that the country through which our troops marched was historic: the line of march led past the battle-fields of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. Large quantities of cotton captured, and the breaking up of a considerable trade between Mexico and the Confederacy, were the chief fruits of this military movement.

In the summer of 1864, that portion of the 19th Iowa which escaped capture returned to New Orleans, where it was joined by its comrades, just released from Tyler, Texas. The regiment then joined in the operations that resulted in the capture of the forts guarding Mobile Bay. Much of the fall of 1864, and of the following Winter, it passed at different points along the Mississippi, and operated with the forces that were changed from one point to another in Louisiana and Arkansas, to check-mate the movements of the enemy. It last served under General Granger in the operations against Mobile, being brigaded with the 20th Wisconsin, 23d Iowa, and the 94th Illinois. With its brigade, it held the extreme left of the Federal forces before Spanish Fort. In the reduction of this strong-hold, it suffered little if any loss.

Benjamin Crabb was the only colonel the 19th Iowa had. At the time of his resignation, the ranks of the regiment had been so depleted in action and by disease, as to reduce it below the minimum of a regimental organization. In justice to a gallant and faithful officer, I should state that the regiment, a chief portion of the time since the resignation of Colonel Crabb, has been commanded by Major John Bruce, a Scotchman by birth, and a resident of Keokuk, Iowa.

Colonel Crabb is a large, portly man, and has the appearance, on short acquaintance, of being easy-going and good natured. He walks like a lazy man, but his neighbors say he is not. He was an efficient officer, and left the service, I am told, on account of ill-health.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 351-60

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