Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Colonel Charles Henry Abbott


The late Charles H. Abbott of the 30th Iowa Infantry was born in Concord, New Hampshire, on the 25th day of January, 1819. His ancestors were Puritans. His grand-father of the sixth generation was George Abbott, who, coming from Yorkshire, England, settled in Andover, Massachusetts, in the year 1643. Of that patriarch's grand-children, numbering seventy-three, thirty settled in Andover. The others wandered through New England and the Middle Colonies, where they made themselves homes. The family is one of the oldest in the country, and also one of the most numerous and widespread. Nathaniel Abbott, the colonel's great-grand-father, was a captain in the Provincial Army, and served through the French and Indian wars. His grand-father, Joshua Abbott, was a captain under Warren, and commanded a company at Bunker Hill; and his father, also christened Joshua, a Congregational minister. The latter died at Norfolk, Virginia, in about the year 1828. The Rev. John S. C. Abbott, the celebrated author and historian, is a cousin of the late colonel, as is also Jacob Abbott, an author of some note.

The subject of this memoir, who was the youngest of eight children, left New England at the age of sixteen for New York, whence, after a few months' residence, he removed to Michigan. In 1850 he left Detroit, and, coming to Iowa, settled in Louisa county. Later he removed to Muscatine. His business in Iowa was that of a farmer, land-agent and banker. In 1853 he married Miss Julia Beach, an accomplished lady and a daughter of the Rev. John Beach of Michigan. Two little boys remain to her as her only hope.

Colonel Abbott entered the service in the summer of 1862, as colonel of the 30th Iowa, and commanded his regiment in the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, and in the charge against the enemy's works at Vicksburg, on the 22d of May, 1863. In the last named engagement he was killed, while leading his regiment. Of the Iowa colonels, he was the third to fall dead or mortally wounded in battle.

The operations of the 30th Iowa, while under the command of Colonel Abbott, will be found substantially recorded in the sketches of Brigadier-General, then Colonel Williamson, of the 4th, and Colonel Milo Smith, of the 26th Iowa regiments. The 30th Iowa was not engaged at Chickasaw Bayou, though it had four men wounded, while lying under the enemy's guns, on the third day of the battle — one corporal and three enlisted men.

At Arkansas Post, the regiment was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Torrence, Colonel Abbott being sick. In this action, it was under fire for about three hours. It engaged the enemy from behind their works on the left, and, lying down, kept up an incessant fire, till the white flag was hoisted. The regiment suffered quite severely in killed and wounded: five were killed, and thirty-nine wounded. Among the wounded were Captains R. D. Cramer and Uley Burk; Lieutenants H. L. Creighton and W. L. Alexander; Sergeant-Major Clendening, and Sergeants York, Detwiler and Gregg. The following is from Lieutenant-Colonel Torrence's report:

"There is nothing further which I deem it my duty to mention, save that both officers and men generally acted well for new troops. I might mention to you with great propriety a few instances of cool and commendable courage, displayed by some of the men, they having fallen under my immediate notice during the action; but I forbear mentioning any save one, and that is the case of James M. Smith, a private of Company C, a single young man, not yet arrived at his majority. * * * His conduct on the battle-field, in the late engagement, was such as to secure implicit confidence in his courage and ability." The night following the engagement was one of great fatigue to the 30th Iowa; for it was detailed to guard prisoners, and to escort them inside the fort, and was not relieved till after midnight. The "Deer Creek raid" follows next in the history of the regiment, an account of which is elsewhere given; and next, the march to the rear of Vicksburg and the environment of that city. In this march, the regiment was attached to the 15th Army Corps — Sherman's — and marched by way of Grand Gulf to Jackson, and thence to the rear of Vicksburg. General Sherman's account of the advance from Jackson will be read with interest. The 30th Iowa, it should be remembered, was attached to Steele's Division.

"On the morning of the 16th, [May] I received a note from General Grant, written at Clinton, reporting the enemy advancing from Edward's Depot, and ordering me to put in motion one of my divisions toward Bolton, and to follow with the others as soon as I had completed the work of destruction ordered.

"Steele's Division marched at ten A. M., and Tuttle's followed at noon. As the march would necessarily be rapid, I ordered General Mower to parole the prisoners of war, and to evacuate Jackson as the rear of Tuttle's division passed out. I paroled these prisoners because the wounded men of McPherson's Corps had been left in a hospital in charge of Surgeon Hewitt, to the mercy of the enemy, who I knew would re-enter Jackson as soon as we left. The whole corps marched from Jackson to Bolton, nearly twenty miles, that day; and the next morning resumed the march by a road lying to the north of Baker's Creek, reaching Bridgeport, on the Big Black, at noon. There I found Blair's Division (which, with one of McClernand's Divisions, and a wagon-train had been left near New Auburn) and the pontoon-train. The enemy had a small picket on the west bank in a rifle-pit, commanding the crossing; but, on exploding a few shells over the pit, they came out and surrendered — a lieutenant and ten men. The pontoon bridge was laid across under the direction of Captain Freeman, and Blair's and Steele's Divisions passed over that night. Tuttle's followed the next morning. Starting with the break of day, we pushed on rapidly and by nine and one-half A. M. of May 18th the head of the column reached the Benton road; and we commanded the Yazoo, interposing a superior force between the enemy at Vicksburg and his forts on the Yazoo. Resting a sufficient time to enable the column to close up, we pushed forward to the point where the road forks, and sending forward on each road — the 13th Regulars to the right, and the 8th Missouri to the left, with a battery at the forks, I awaited General Grant's arrival."

From this point, Sherman, by Grant's order, gained a position in front of the enemy's works north of Vicksburg. Steele's Division led the advance, and, by a blind road on the right, winding through rugged, precipitous hills, came up squarely to the Mississippi above the city. This happened on the morning of the 19th instant; and that morning a cheering sight greeted the eyes of the soldiers, who, for two weeks, or more, had been shut completely out from God's country. In plain view were the old camping-grounds at Young's Point; and, only five or six miles away, the Union fleet loaded down to the guards with government rations. Looking southward, the sight was less cheering. "Vicksburg was in plain view, and nothing separated us from the enemy but a space of about four hundred yards of very difficult ground, cut up by almost impassable ravines, and his line of intrenchments."

Without that line of intrenchments, bristling with hostile bayonets, and defended by artillery, with black, gaping mouths staring madly at you through embrasures, the sight would have been magnificent; for the dome of the court-house and the tall spires of wealthy churches looked up through the waving branches of luxuriant shade-trees, which dotted the hills and hill-slopes in all parts of the city. Splendid private residences, too, adorned with all the taste of modern art, reflected their beauty in the morning and evening sun.

The first charge against the enemy's works was made on the 19th of May, the day concerning which I have just now spoken. General Grant's reasons for making this charge, and the results which followed, he gives as follows:

"I was not without hope of carrying the enemy's works, relying upon their demoralization, in consequence of repeated defeats outside of Vicksburg; and I ordered a general assault at 2 P. M. on this day. The 15th Army Corps, from having arrived in front of the enemy's works in time on the 18th to get a good position, were enabled to make a vigorous assault. The 13th and 17th Corps succeeded no further than to gain advanced positions, covered from the fire of the enemy."

Neither this charge, nor the one made three days later, was successful; and is it strange? It is rather wonderful that every man who joined in these assaults was not left, either dead or wounded, under the guns of the enemy.

The character of the country for miles around Vicksburg is hilly and broken; and the nearer you approach the city the wilder and more impracticable it becomes. The hills lie, as a general thing, I believe, in great parallel, semi-circular ridges, with Vicksburg as the centre; but they lap each other, and shoot out spurs in every direction, thus forming deep, winding ravines, which were filled, as a general thing, with underbrush, and standing and fallen timber. The works around Vicksburg were constructed by the best engineers the Confederacy could boast; and not a ravine was there which approached these works that was not swept by artillery and enfiladed by musketry. The hill-sides were precipitous, and in many places obstructed: these were also swept by a front and enfilading fire. None who know the ground will say that I have drawn too strong a picture.

Grant failed to carry the enemy's works on the 19th instant. The following are his reasons for attempting it on the 22d.:

"I believed an assault from the position at this time gained could be made successfully. It was known that Johnson was at Clinton with the force taken by him from Jackson, reinforced by other troops from the east, and that more were daily reaching him. With the force I had, a short time must have enabled him to attack me in the rear, and possibly succeed in raising the siege. Possession of Vicksburg at that time would have enabled me to turn upon Johnson, and drive him from the State, and possess myself of the railroads and practicable military highways, thus effectually securing to ourselves all territory west of the Tombigbee; and this, before the season was too far advanced for campaigning in this latitude. I would have saved the government sending large reinforcements, much needed elsewhere; and finally, the troops themselves were impatient to possess Vicksburg, and would not have worked in the trenches with the same zeal, believing it unnecessary, that they did after their failure to carry the enemy's works."

There was one other reason, I believe, which influenced General Grant in making the assault, of which from some cause he does not speak. Valorous Falstaffs at the North, some of them wearing civic honors and others at the head of influential public presses, had long croaked of indecision and inactivity. Such (and they were legion) could not be appeased, except by blood; but even now he had not closed their twaddling lips; for they prated of the "useless sacrifice." Now that he wears triumphal honors, they fawn about him like so many worthless curs; but I know he spurns them with contempt.

Twice it has been my fortune, myself removed from danger, to witness the fierce conflict of two contending armies. Once, standing on a high hill on the north bank of the Tennessee, I saw the veterans of Howard assail the enemy and drive them from their works on Orchard Knoll, back of Chattanooga. I also had previously witnessed the bloody and unsuccessful charge of the 22d of May, at Vicksburg: that was the grandest and most terrible sight I ever looked on. The high ground east of Fort Hill and near the White House was the standpoint; and I can now recall the whole scene, as though it had passed but yesterday. Here was Grant's look-out, and, near him, were McPherson and Logan. Sherman was already advancing on the right; and soon McClernand was boasting that he had captured three forts, and was master of his position. I heard a lieutenant-colonel announce this to Logan, when that general yelled with an oath to the new brigadier, Leggett, "to move at once on the enemy's works in his front, or he would arrest him."

All this time, and for more than an hour previous, above an hundred pieces of artillery had been booming, and throwing their ponderous projectiles into and above the enemy's works. Porter, during the same time, was tossing his big mortar shells into the doomed city. Huge volumes of smoke in front, and on the right and left, were rising lazily in the air, revealing the most interesting and anxious part of the scene — the infantry. There they were — some winding their long lengths through the deep ravines, to gain their designated positions, and others, further on, deployed on the hill-sides, and, with their bodies thrown forward, working their way up toward the enemy's works. So intent was I in watching those in front that I did not observe others. These, soon arriving near the summit of the hill across which stretched the enemy's works, raised the battle-cry, and dashed forward. I began to hope there was no enemy to oppose them, or that they would not fire; but at that very instant, the smoke from at least two thousand muskets leaped down in their very faces. Horrors! It seemed as though three-fourths of them fell. The line did not waver: the men were butchered; for I saw only a few run hurriedly back down the hill. By reports afterward made, however, the casualties could not have been as large as I suppose: many of the men, while enveloped in the smoke, must have sought and found cover.

The 30th Iowa was under Steele, away on the extreme right, and beyond my observation; but it joined in the same general charge, a portion of which I have given. Among the many gallant men who fell that day, on the slopes and ridges that encircle Vicksburg, was the lamented Colonel Charles H. Abbott. He was struck in the chin by a musket-ball, which, passing through his throat, came out at the back of his neck. He fell instantly and was carried from the field. His last words were words of cheer to his men. He never spoke after he was shot, and lived only about three hours. He died and was buried near the spot where he fell; and the valley beneath whose turf he was temporarily laid was designated by General Sherman as "Abbott's Valley." His body was afterward removed to Muscatine and buried on the banks of the majestic Mississippi. Iowa, "the land of flowers," and the State he loved so well is the shrine of his mortal remains. Brave, good man! he lived worthily and died nobly; and his name stands among the first on the State's Roll of Honor.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 453-60

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