Colonel Samuel Merrill is a native of the State which was first settled by traders and fishermen "on the Maine," and is a representative-man of New England. He was born on the 7th day of August, 1822, in the town of Turner, Oxford county, where he resided till the age of sixteen; when he moved with his parents to Buxton, York county, of the same State. After removing to Buxton, he taught and attended school by turns, until he attained his majority, and then visited the Southern States, with the intention of settling there, and making teaching a permanent business. But, as the colonel himself expresses it, "he was born too far north." Suspicions were awakened, many questions asked, and he was finally advised to leave, which he did in disgust. Nor did he ever return, until, under orders from his Government, he led his regiment to the field. Returning to Maine after his rebuff in the South, he purchased a farm, and two years later married. In 1847, he lost his wife, after living with her only fourteen months. Soon after, he sold his farm and moved to Tamworth, New Hampshire; where, in company with his brother, J. H. Merrill, Esq., he entered the mercantile business. This he followed with good success, till the year 1856, when he removed to McGregor, Iowa, and established a branch house of the same firm.
While a citizen of New Hampshire, Colonel Merrill was twice elected to the State Legislature. He was a member of that body in 1854 and in 1855, the time when the celebrated struggle for United States Senators came off, which finally terminated in the election of John P. Hale and James Bell. For nearly forty consecutive years previous, the State had been democratic.
In 1854, Nathaniel B. Baker, our present adjutant-general, was Governor of New Hampshire, and Colonel Merrill a member of the House. Just six years later, both of these gentlemen were elected to the Iowa State Legislature, and served together in that body.
In January, 1851, Colonel Merrill was again married, his second wife being a Miss Hill, of Buxton, Maine. From this union three children were born; though all of them died young, the oldest living to be only two and a half years old. From 1856 till the spring of 1861, Colonel Merrill continued in the wholesale and retail dry-goods and grocery business; but, at the last named date, sold out and became a member of the McGregor Branch Bank.
In the summer of 1862, Colonel Merrill entered the United States service. Ardent in temperament and radical in sentiment, it was only his unsettled business, as I am credibly informed, that prevented him from enlisting in the war sooner. He was commissioned colonel of the 21st Iowa Infantry, on the 1st of August, 1862, and, on the 16th of September following, left Dubuque in command of his regiment for St. Louis on the steamer Henry Clay.
One of the most interesting pages in the history of the 21st Iowa, is that which relates to the battle of Hartsville, Missouri — an engagement, of which less is known in our State, than of almost any other, in which Iowa troops have fought. Colonel Merrill arrived with his command at Rolla, Missouri, on the 23d of September, 1862, and, previous to the 11th of January, 1863, (the date of the Hartsville battle) had marched it from one point to another in Southern Missouri, without ever meeting the enemy. We should, however, except the affair at Beaver Creek, where, on the 27th of November, a small detachment of the regiment, while guarding a provision-train from Rolla to Hartsville, was cut to pieces by rebel cavalry.
General J. S. Marmaduke, on the 31st of December, 1862, (I quote from the rebel general's report) "marched from Lewisburg, Arkansas, via Yellville, Arkansas, to strike the enemy in rear and flank," with a force numbering, according to his own estimate, three thousand three hundred and seventy men. Advancing by way of Ozark, the rebel force appeared before Springfield on the 8th of January, 1863, and at once began an assault on the place.
As has been already stated in the sketch of General Edwards, Springfield was, at the time in question, commanded by General Brown of Missouri. Doubting his ability to make a successful defense against so unequal a force, he telegraphed General Fitz Henry Warren, commanding at Houston, Missouri, for reinforcements. The telegram was received by General Warren on the morning of the 9th. Without waiting to confer with General Curtis, commanding the Department, he promptly organized a force, consisting of the 21st Iowa, the 99th Illinois, three companies of the 3d Iowa, and the 3d Missouri cavalry, and two guns of the 2d Missouri Battery, and, placing it under command of Colonel Merrill of the 21st Iowa, ordered that officer to proceed by forced marches to Springfield, and report to the commanding officer of the place. On Saturday evening, the 10th instant, Colonel Merrill had reached Woods' Fork, about six miles west of Hartsville, where he halted his command for supper and rest. Reveille was beat on Sunday morning at two o'clock, and preparations made to resume the march, when scouts came in with the report that the enemy, in heavy force, was advancing on the Springfield road. Colonel Merrill at once comprehended the situation. Marmaduke had been repulsed at Springfield; and he had now to fight the entire rebel command. With this understanding he made a hasty disposition of his forces, and met the advance of the enemy with so vigorous an attack that he soon fell back, and, moving south to the old Springfield road, continued his march in the direction of Hartsville. Being advised of this movement, Colonel Merrill moved back hastily, and secured a commanding point to the west of the town that not only made his own position secure, but enabled him to command the place.
The fight at Hartsville opened with artillery at eleven o'clock A. M. and continued till four in the afternoon, when the enemy, repulsed and punished at every point, withdrew from the field. The force under Colonel Merrill in this engagement was about one thousand: that of the enemy was not leas than three thousand three hundred and seventy — probably, not less than five thousand. The contest was unequal, and the victory all the more brilliant. Of this battle General Marmaduke says, in his official report: "At Hartsville, I met, fought, and drove, in the direction of Lebanon, sixteen hundred infantry and five hundred cavalry, under General Merrill. The battle was desperate." It was indeed desperate for him; for he lost among his dead one brigadier — the "brave McDonald" — three colonels, and one major, "besides other brave officers." General Marmaduke, in his retreat to White River, frequently said to Lieutenant Brown of the 3d Iowa cavalry, whom he had taken prisoner at Wood's Fork: "Why, Lieutenant, your boys fought like devils."
At Hartsville, the loss of the 21st Iowa was thirty in killed, wounded and missing. Four enlisted men were killed, and two officers and sixteen enlisted men wounded.
Subsequently to the winter of 1862-3, and till after the fall of Vicksburg, the history of the 21st is nearly the same as are those of the 22d and 23d Iowa Infantry regiments. Brigaded with the two last named regiments, together with the 11th -Wisconsin, (a splendid body of troops) the 21st Iowa marched on the Vicksburg Campaign, and took a distinguished part in the battles of Port Gibson and Big Black River Bridge. In the former of these the regiment led the advance of its corps, and received the first fire of the enemy.
"At the widow Daniel's plantation, some nine miles from Port Gibson, we were ordered by General Carr to take the advance. I ordered Company A, commanded by Captain A. R. Jones, and Company B, commanded by Captain W. D. Crooke, as advance skirmishers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Dunlap, and supported by Companies D and F, commanded by Major Van Anda; next was a twelve-pound field piece from that excellent battery, the First Iowa: all supported by the balance of my command."
The road from Rodney, Mississippi to Port Gibson, (and it was on this road that the battle was fought) runs along a high, broken ridge, and is cut down in many places to a great depth. The 21st Iowa, when near Thompson's Hill, where the Federal skirmishers were fired on, was ordered to halt and rest in one of these cuts. A majority of the men had thrown themselves down in the road, and upon their backs, using their knapsacks as a support — a favorite position for the soldier, when ordered to rest on the march. Others were leaning up against the steep banks of the road. Among the latter, were Dr. William L. Orr, surgeon of the 21st Iowa, and, I believe, Colonel Merrill, both having dismounted. It was now nearly two o'clock in the morning. The colonel and doctor stood talking together unconcernedly, when they were startled by a brilliant flash, and, at the same instant, a storm of musket-balls came whirling down through the cut. Almost at the same instant, the enemy opened with artillery. They were in force on the hill above — and thus the fight opened and lasted about and hour, when both parties, as if by mutual consent, ceased firing. The battle was renewed at day-light the next morning, and lasted nearly the entire day. The 21st Iowa fired the first gun; but, although engaged nearly all day, the loss of the regiment was only one officer and thirteen men wounded. Colonel Merrill, in the afternoon of the engagement, commanded his brigade, and had his horse so severely wounded that, it was necessary to leave it upon the field. For his conduct in the engagement, he was thus complimented by General Carr, the division commander: "The 21st Iowa, Colonel Samuel Merrill, first in the battle, and one of the last to leave the field." Of Company B, and its gallant captain, the same report says: "Company B, 21st Iowa, Captain Crooke, received the first fire of the rebel pickets, and returned it with great coolness." Lieutenant-Colonel Dunlap was the only commissioned officer of the regiment wounded in this engagement.
Among the officers and men whose names are mentioned for good conduct in this engagement are Captains Benton, Harrison, Voorhees, Boardman and Watson, and Sergeant B. Krist. The latter captured a rebel orderly, who was at the time bearing dispatches.
The battle at Big Black River Bridge, where the 21st Iowa next distinguished itself, is one of the most gallant affairs of the whole war: an account of it will be found in the sketch of the late Colonel Kinsman, of the 23d Iowa. It was in this charge that Colonel Merrill, while leading his regiment, received the wound which afterward necessitated his leaving the service. His regiment, too, suffered severely. Seven enlisted men were killed, and three officers and sixty-four enlisted men wounded. In his official report of the engagement, Lieutenant-Colonel Dunlap says:
"Colonel Merrill, commanding the regiment, fell in the first part of the charge, severely wounded, while gallantly leading his regiment against the enemy. * * * *
I can not of course make mention of all those who distinguished themselves on that battle-field, as that would be to copy the roll of all present. Major S. G. Van Anda, received the highest credit for the coolness and bravery with which he conducted the charge, the left being in front, through the storm of leaden hail. Much of the success of the charge is owing to his gallant conduct and daring example. Captain Harrison was one of the first officers on the enemy's works. Captains Swivel, Voorhees, Watson, Boardman, and Crooke behaved with great coolness. Lieutenants Roberts, Childs and Dolson, received the praise of all who saw their bravery. Lieutenant Howard of Company B, acting adjutant, received a mortal wound while gallantly performing his part of this gallant charge.
With no desire to do injustice to other brave men of the regiment, I will mention, specially. Captain Jesse M. Harrison, Company C; for his conduct on the field was most admirable. He was one of the first to enter the enemy's works. On coming to the bayou in front of the rebel works, he saw a fallen tree, lying in the water, and sprung upon it, and from that to the opposite side, which he reached without wetting his feet. His company having waded the stream, followed directly to the bridge to cut off the retreat of those to the right. His forethought and courage added not less than five-hundred to General Grant's roll of prisoners. The captain's residence is in Dubuque, and I am told he is a wealthy bachelor. I am in wonder at the status of so brave a man.
After participating in the siege of Vicksburg, (during which the brave Lieutenant-Colonel Dunlap was killed) and the second march on Jackson under General Sherman, the 21st Iowa was ordered to report to General Banks at New Orleans. A chief portion of the time since the regiment has served in the trans-Mississippi Department. I have already said its history was much the same as that of the 23d Iowa. It was stationed at Old Town, Texas, early in March, 1864, when Colonel Merrill, not yet fit for duty, re-joined it. The colonel's wound was much more severe than was at first supposed; for after the lapse of nine months he was still unfit for duty. Believing that he could not again endure the hardships of field service he wrote a letter to his officers in which he expressed his determination to resign his commission; but they and the regiment would not consent, and a petition was drawn up and forwarded to him which in length measured nearly twenty feet.
Colonel Merrill re-joined his regiment in March as already stated, but his health was gone, and after a few weeks he resigned his commission and returned to his home in McGregor. The history of his regiment since he left it is not an eventful one. It has served on the Gulf and along the Mississippi River.
Colonel Merrill in his habits and manners is a New England man; and, in person, he is a fair sample of the sons of Maine which is noted for her stately forests and stalwart men. He is six feet high, and weighs two hundred and fifteen pounds. As a soldier, Colonel Merrill ranked high, and was popular both with his command and his superiors. When he entered the service, he was strictly a civilian, but notwithstanding this, he was, though of a nervous temperament, cool in action and brave to a fault. That he was regarded as possessing the [qualities] of a commanding officer, I need only state that he was placed in command of a division at West Plains, Missouri, when he had been in the service only five months. In politics, he is radical, and deems the term "Black Republican" of no reproach. On resigning his commission in the army, he was elected President of the First National Bank, McGregor, Iowa, which position he still holds.
SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 367-374
Sunday, December 6, 2009
COLONEL SAMUEL MERRILL