Friday, December 25, 2009

Colonel John Connell


John Connell is a Scotchman by birth. Scotland has two sons, who have been honored with colonel's commissions from Iowa — Geddes and Connell.

John Connell was born the 16th day of March, 1824, in Paisley, Scotland; and emigrated to the United States in the year 1831. He settled, with his parents, in Norwich, Connecticut, where he received a common school education, and where he continued to live till the year 1852, when he came West, and settled in Tama county, Iowa. He was one of the first settlers in that county, and assisted in its organization. His first residence was in the village of Buckingham; but, in 1855, he removed to Toledo. He was a farmer in Buckingham, and, in Toledo, a merchant and trader in lands. He was once in the Iowa Legislature. The Whigs of his county elected him in 1854; but, on reporting at Iowa City, he found the Whig Party dead, and joined hands with the Republicans. He came to Iowa poor, and has now a respectable property.

Mr. Connell was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the 28th Iowa Infantry on the 16th day of September, 1862; and, on the 14th of the following March, was promoted to the full colonelcy of his regiment.

During the colonelcy of Mr. Connell, the most interesting portion of his regiment's record is to be found in the history of General Banks' march up the Red River, in the spring of 1864, and in the brilliant operations of General Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, in the following Fall. But from the time General McClernand commenced his march across the peninsula west of Vicksburg, to New Carthage and Perkin's plantation, up to the date of the battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, where he was wounded, Colonel Connell was in command of his regiment. He led it in the battles of Port Gibson, Champion's Hill, and against the rebel works at Vicksburg.

On the 1st of August, 1863, after returning from Jackson, (for the 28th Iowa joined General Sherman on that march) Colonel Connell left with his regiment on board transports, for Natchez, where he arrived on the 3d instant. The next day, he marched out to Second Bayou, seven miles from the city, and assisted in the construction of cotton fortifications. But there seemed to be no rest for the regiment; for, on the 12th instant, it was again ordered on board boats and dispatched to Carrollton, Louisiana. During the balance of the Summer, and through the following Fall, the regiment served in Louisiana; but a history of its movements during this time has been already given, and need not be repeated.

The 28th Iowa passed Christmas at Algiers, opposite New Orleans, and moved up to Madisonville, on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, early in February, 1864. There it remained till it joined General Banks in his Red River Campaign.

The command of General Banks in the Red River Expedition, consisting of detachments of the 13th and 19th Army Corps, was rendezvoused at Berwick Bay early in March, 1864. These troops were under the immediate command of General Franklin, General Banks being commander-in-chief. Only the 3d and 4th Divisions of the 13th Army Corps were present, the 3d being commanded by General Cameron, an Indiana man, and the 4th by General Ransom, later, the hero of Sabine Cross Roads. The 28th Iowa was attached to the 3d Division; and, with the 24th Iowa, the 47th Indiana and 56th Ohio regiments, constituted the Brigade. General Franklin left Berwick Bay for Alexandria, where a junction was to be formed with the command of General A. J. Smith of the 16th Army Corps, on the 13th of March, only two days before General Smith had occupied that place. His course lay nearly due north; and, for a long distance, was the same as that traveled by General Banks in gaining the rear of Port Hudson. Passing through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas and Washington, he reached Alexandria on Saturday evening, the 26th instant. In the march through the country to Alexandria, no opposition was met: only a few rebel cavalry vedettes were seen. General Banks, having in the meantime come up by boat from New Orleans, and every thing being in readiness for an advance, the 13th and 19th Corps broke camp and marched in the direction of Natchitoches. General Smith, moving with his command to the head of the rapids above Alexandria, proceeded up the river on transports.

The spirits of General Franklin's troops were buoyant, and the magnificent country through which they were passing made the march for them a mere pastime. It was holiday sport, but was soon to be changed for serious work. For a further account of this march, and of the part taken by the 28th Iowa in the battle of Sabine Cross Roads, I refer to the statement of Captain J. T. Simmons, chaplain of the regiment. His account differs in some respects from what I have been informed were the facts; but he was on the ground, and has doubtless told the truth.

"We reached Alexandria on Saturday, and stayed over Sunday. * * On Monday morning our division, taking the lead, moved forward and reached Natchitoches, a distance of eighty-five miles, in three days and a half. When within twenty-three miles of that place, we received intelligence that the enemy were pressing General Lee's cavalry, and a forced march was begun. Our regiment was in front, and we reached the place in six hours. * * On the 6th of April we again started, and on the 7th received orders to hurry up to the assistance of General Lee, and after a rapid march reached Pleasant Hill.

"Pausing a few moments, we were ordered to fall in, and were sent out one mile to support the cavalry, but after an hour's waiting returned again to camp. On the morning of the 8th, our division moved forward to support General Lee; and one brigade of the 4th Division soon engaged the enemy. Reaching Ten-Mile Creek, we halted in line of battle. At 2 P. M., we moved forward to Moss' Lane, am1 went into the action near Mansfield."

The country between Pleasant Hill and Mansfield, Louisiana, is hilly, and for the most part, covered with heavy timber: the road connecting these two places is narrow and difficult. More especially is this the case just east of where the enemy were first met. In this road and near the front was a portion of General Banks' train, including his head-quarter wagons. General Ransom led the advance on the morning of the 8th instant and was the first to engage the enemy. They were met in heavy force, when, after a desperate struggle the 4th Division was completely routed. Word came back that the division was all cut to pieces, and that the 3d Division which was at Ten-Mile Creek must hurry to the front. These troops accordingly started at double-quick, but hardly had the column got in motion before stragglers were met. A little further on, the wagon-train was encountered which completely blocked the narrow road, but in such an emergency this was no obstacle, for the troops swinging into the timber by the sides of the road hurried on. The scene of confusion was now reached. Here were met the shattered and bleeding battalions of the poor 4th Division, hurrying in rapid flight from the field. Terror stared from the faces of all: many were wounded and covered with blood, and all had the same alarming story: "We are all cut to pieces! We are all cut to pieces!!"

The 2d Brigade now came to where there was a clearing on the left of the road, and timber on the right, and here was formed the new line of battle. The position of the 28th Iowa was in the edge of the timber, with the clearing and a ravine in front. To its left were four companies of the 24th Iowa. This position was gallantly held till out-flanked, when, falling back, the 2d Brigade again formed line, some three-quarters of a mile to the rear; and this line was held till sun-down. In the meantime, the 19th Corps had come up, which, coming into line, checked the further advance of the enemy. That night a retreat was ordered; and, on the afternoon of the next day, was fought the battle of Pleasant Hill.

With no desire to disparage the conduct of other troops engaged at Sabine Cross Roads, I must, in justice, state that the 28th Iowa and the detachment of the 24th, which was present, were the last troops of their division to leave the second line. Nor, when they retired, did they do so in confusion, but fought along down the road from wagon to wagon, and held back the rebel centre, so as to enable the wagon-masters to save a portion of the train.

Colonel Connell was wounded in this engagement and lost his left arm, and the circumstances under which it happened are as follows: While he was falling back with his regiment they came to a battery, blocked up in the road, and stopping they tried to extricate it, but the enemy pressed them so closely that nearly all the men retired, leaving the colonel still at work. He did not observe his men when they left, but looking up the instant after saw them retiring and prepared to follow. Before starting he turned round and stooping looked through the brush to see how near the enemy had approached: that instant a shot struck him. As he stooped, his left hand was resting on his hip which threw his elbow up. The ball struck him above the elbow and passed down through the joint, fracturing it severely. He then tried to run but became so faint he was obliged to rest, when the enemy coming up captured him. He was retained a prisoner till the following June, when he was paroled and sent within our lines. He re-joined his regiment at Carrollton, Louisiana, and his reception is thus recorded: — " The colonel stepped from the cars, while an armless sleeve hanging from his left shoulder but too plainly suggested the past. He was introduced to the regiment by Major Meyer, and was received by the regiment with an expression of that unmistakable affection and enthusiasm with which soldiers always regard a true man."

The loss of the 28th Iowa at the battle of Sabine Cross Roads was about eighty in killed, wounded and missing. Among the wounded were Adjutant J. G. Strong and Lieutenants Weaver and Dorrance. Lieutenant Hughes, regimental quarter-master, was captured.

In the battle of Pleasant Hill, the 28th took little part, the 19th Corps, and the command of General Smith doing the chief fighting — I should say, the brigade of Colonel Shaw, of the 14th Iowa, doing the chief fighting; for such is the fact. The long and perilous retreat which followed the last named battle is replete with incidents which of themselves would make a large and interesting volume. General Banks' army reached Alexandria in the latter part of April, where it remained till the 13th of May following, and then continued the march to Simmsport and Morganzia Bend.

Subsequently to the Red River Campaign, the chief portion of the history of the 28th Iowa has been made in the valley of the Shenandoah, and in the Southern Atlantic States. It is the same as are those of the 22d and 24th Iowa, and will be found in connection with the histories of those regiments.

I should not close, however, without saying that the regiment sustained its good name in the Valley of the Shenandoah. There it met the enemy in the three memorable engagements of Winchester or Opequan, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek. Each of these battle-fields drunk its blood, and each are dotted with its graves. I give below the official report of Lieutenant-Colonel B. W. Wilson, concerning the part taken by his regiment in the battle at Fisher's Hill; for a full account of this affair has not been previously given.

"Head-quarters Twenty-eighth Iowa, In The Field,
Near Harrisonburg, Va., September 27th, 1864.

"COLONEL — Sir: In compliance with your request, I submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the battle of Fisher's Hill, on the 22d day of September, 1864. On the morning of the 22d we moved forward toward the enemy a short distance, who were strongly intrenched at Fisher's Hill, a naturally strong position, a short distance above Strasburg. We got into position, and were ordered to intrench. We had scarcely commenced work, when I received orders to report with my regiment to General Grover for a special duty. On reporting, I was ordered to the front line; a commanding position, from which the enemy's sharp-shooters had just been driven. As a battery immediately preceded me, I supposed that I was there as its support, and soon had constructed a sort of intrenchment as protection against the enemy's sharp-shooters. Here I remained until about 4 P. M., when I received orders from General Grover to deploy as skirmishers on the right of the 22d Iowa, as far as practicable toward the intrenched position of the enemy. We advanced toward their works, to within about three hundred yards, pouring in volley after volley with great rapidity. The enemy seemed to waver, whereupon I ordered a charge. With a prolonged shout, we went after them, scaling their works and driving them in confusion before us, capturing a six-gun battery, a large quantity of ammunition, and a number of prisoners. After following them about a mile, I received orders to return for the knapsacks of my regiment, which had been left when the charge began. I have no fault to find with either officers or men. All deserve praise. Not one flinched, or fled, when it seemed we were charging right into the very jaws of death. My loss was exceedingly light, being only ten men wounded."

At the battle of Winchester the loss of the regiment was eighty-seven; at Fisher's Hill, ten, and at Cedar Creek more than ninety. Captains Palmer, Houseworth and Riemenschnieder were among the killed in these engagements; and among the wounded were Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson, Captain Carr, and Lieutenants Strong, Dean, Summers and Hanerly. The enlisted men who fell are equally deserving of mention, but want of space forbids me giving their names.

In appearance, Colonel Connell is intelligent and unassuming, and his countenance wears a frank and modest expression which makes one like him. He has a good form, sandy hair, and a florid complexion, and, I may add, just the sort of temperament to meet a rebel. Indeed, our red-headed men, throughout the war, have been the most successful soldiers.

Colonel Connell never commanded his regiment after he lost his arm in Louisiana. Since that time it has been commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel B. W. Wilson and Major John Meyer, both, I am told, fine officers.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 437-44

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