Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Colonel William E. Miller


William E. Miller, the original colonel of the 28th Iowa Infantry, is a Pennsylvanian by birth, and was born in the year 1823. At the time of entering the service, he was a resident of Iowa City, and a practicing lawyer. He was at one time a district judge. Mr. Miller entered the service as colonel of the 28th Iowa Infantry, and was commissioned, as such, on the 10th of August, 1862. The date of his muster into the United States service was just two months later.

The 28th Iowa Infantry was enlisted in the counties of Benton, Tama, Jasper, Powesheik, Iowa and Johnson, and was rendezvoused at Iowa City. The history of this regiment and of the 24th Iowa Infantry are nearly identical. The 28th left its rendezvous for the front, on the 1st day of November, 1862, and, going to Helena, Arkansas, was there brigaded with the 24th Iowa; and from that time to the present these regiments have served in the same brigade. The first march of the 28th Iowa was that made to Oakland, Mississippi; after which it joined the White River Expedition, under Brigadier-General Gorman. General Gorman left Helena with his command for the mouth of White River about the 6th of January, 1863; and sailing up that stream until arriving near St. Charles, disembarked his command. St. Charles, a little village on the south bank of White River, and resting on its steep, high bluffs, was supposed to be held by the enemy in force; for strong works surrounding the place were visible. On sending forward skirmishers, however, it was found to be unoccupied and was entered without opposition. The next morning General Gorman moved up the river to Duvall's Bluff, preceded by the gun-boats. This place, too, the enemy were making haste to abandon. The greater part of the stores had already been sent west, over the Little Rock road, and the last train was in waiting to remove the siege-guns and small artillery. One large siege-gun was loaded, and another was raised on skids for the same purpose. But on the approach of the gun-boats, which opened vigorously upon the place, the enemy fled, having offered but slight resistance. Five or six pieces of artillery were captured, besides some two hundred and fifty stand of small arms. If the object of the White River Expedition was the capture of Duvall's Bluff and nothing more, I do not know it. I believe the object was the capture of Little Rock; for it will be remembered that Mc'Clernand's expedition up the Arkansas River to Arkansas Post was made at just about this time. After the capture of Arkansas Post, McClernand went no further, and Gorman, accordingly, turned back to Helena.

If on this expedition Colonel Miller and his regiment won little distinction, it was because no occasion offered. One thing is certain that, the hardships and exposures attending the movement were hardly ever equalled. The weather was cold; and it rained and snowed, by turns, almost incessantly. Scores contracted diseases on the White River Expedition, which totally disabled them for service.

The 28th Iowa, as a regiment, met the enemy for the first time on the final Vicksburg Campaign. On this march it was attached to the corps of General McClernand, which led the van of General Grant's army. Previous to the 29th of March, 1863, the day on which General McClernand began his march through the country from Milliken's Bend to New Carthage, General Grant had tried five distinct plans to gain a footing on the hills in rear of Vicksburg. He had even permitted a sixth plan to be tried but this last one was at the suggestion of Admiral David D. Porter, who, with a portion of his Mississippi squadron, had discovered "a new route." This expedition has already been spoken of. It should be known in history as the Steele's-Bayou-Black-Bayou-Deer-Creek-Rolling-Fork-Sun-Flower-Yazoo-River Expedition: indeed, even this prodigiously significant name does not begin to suggest the obstacles that must have been overcome to make it successful. The soldiers of Steele's Division christened it "The Deer Creek raid."

The march across the neck of land, which is embraced in the great bend of the Mississippi, and which lies just opposite Vicksburg, was thirty-five miles in length, and was attended with great hardships; for the weather was cold and stormy, and the roads so muddy as to make the transportation of large army supplies over them almost impossible. And it must be remembered too, that, at that time, the plan of running the Vicksburg Batteries had not been proven feasible; for the Silver Wave, the Forest Queen, and the Henry Clay, under the escort of Porter's fleet, did not run their celebrated gauntlet, until the night of the 6th of April. But, as General Grant said, the only way to reduce Vicksburg was to approach it from the south side, and he accordingly played this bold hand. All other plans tried had proved impracticable.

On arriving near New Carthage, General McClernand found the levee of Bayou Vidal broken, and the country flooded. New Carthage was an island, and could only be reached in skins and flat-boats, such as could be found in the neighborhood ; and this proving too great a task, the march was continued to Perkin's plantation, twelve miles lower down the river. The country and the scenery at Perkin's plantation were magnificent; but the owner, Judge Perkins, a bitter rebel and Confederate State Senator, had burnt his splendid mansion to the ground, declaring that the foot of no Yankee soldier should ever cross its threshold. It was said that he burned it just after the fall of Island No. 10, declaring that, if the Union troops could capture that place, they could capture every thing; and this may have been so, for rank weeds were growing among the ruins, and the shrubbery, and winding and shaded avenues, had the appearance of having been long deserted. I mention these things because they formed a theme of great interest among the soldiers, as they dragged themselves along on the weary march.

In the meantime, Admiral Porter, having run the Vicksburg Batteries, arrived in the river opposite Perkins' plantation. Here a portion of McClernand's command having embarked moved down to Hard Times Landing, which lies a little above Grand Gulf, and on the opposite side of the river. The balance of the command moved round to the same point by land. The object now was to capture Grand Gulf, and move round to the rear of Vicksburg from that point. Admiral Porter declared the plan feasible, and at once set about the reduction of the rebel works; but they would not reduce: the position was impregnable; for, during more than five hours of most vigorous cannonading, not a gun of the enemy was silenced. This happened on the morning of the 29th of April, and on the afternoon of that same day the gunboat fleet and the transports prepared to run the Grand Gulf Batteries, while the troops took up their line of march to a point down the river, and opposite Bruinsburg, Mississippi. The fleet arrived in safety; and on the following morning the 13th Army Corps, as is well known, effected a landing on the east side of the Mississippi River.

That same afternoon, the 30th of April, General McClernand marched for Port Gibson; and that same night, at about eleven o'clock, encountered the enemy's pickets. He continued to push on, and two hours later arrived at Thompson's Hill, where, when the head of the column was resting in the road, it received a heavy volley of musketry. The enemy also opened with his artillery; and for a few moments all was confusion ; but it soon appeared that his only object was to check the advance, and quiet was restored. In this connection, it is but just that I should pay a merited compliment to the skill and bravery of Captain H. H. Griffiths, of the 1st Iowa Battery. When the firing commenced, he was far to the rear; but, being impressed with the notion that he was wanted at the front, he moved hastily forward through the opened ranks of the infantry, and reported to General Carr, whose division was in the van. "Did you send for me, general?" he said. "No"; and at that very instant a shell came screaming down the narrow, excavated road, and burst just to their right. "Tear down the fence," said Captain Griffiths to his men; and in less time than is required to tell it, he had run his guns over the embankment, unlimbered them, and was playing upon the enemy. Twice he silenced the enemy's batteries, and compelled them to change position. The fighting in the darkness now closed; and in the morning, General Carr sent his compliments to Captain Griffiths, whose guns had burst the first shell on the south side of Vicksburg.

The 28th Iowa, which was attached to the division of General Hovey, did not cross the Mississippi till evening, when, having drawn three days' rations, it started for the front. At one o'clock in the morning, and just after it had ascended the hills that lie some four miles back from the river, it heard the booming of artillery. The regiment pushed on through the darkness, and at sun-rise arrived at the foot of Thompson's Hill, where, having eaten a hasty breakfast, it prepared for battle. Its first position was on the crest of Thompson's Hill, where all but three companies lay under fire for an hour. In the meantime Companies B, G and K joined the 34th Indiana in charging a rebel battery, which, I may add, was captured, with nearly three hundred prisoners. But the enemy had now massed their forces heavily on our left, with the hope of forcing it and gaining our rear. The 28th Iowa was therefore ordered to this point, where it engaged the enemy till he fled from the field. While in this position, the regiment was opposed to the 2d and the 5th Missouri (rebel) Infantry. If was now nearly dark, and the 28th Iowa, which had been separated from its brigade the greater part of the day, was ordered by General Stevens to re-join it; and that night it encamped on the bloody battle-field of Thompson's Hill, or Port Gibson. The casualties of the regiment in this engagement were not great: only one man was; killed — Jacob Souervine—and sixteen wounded.

In the battle of Champion's Hill, the 28th Iowa distinguished itself, and suffered severely. The part taken by the regiment in this engagement is thus given by Chaplain J. T. Simmons:

"At 11 A. M. our command was ordered forward, and in a short time the whole line of our division had engaged the enemy. Moving steadily forward, we were thrown across a deep ravine, densely set with timber and underbrush, which rendered our advance difficult. On reaching the top of the hill we were fully under the fire of the enemy, yet continued to advance, driving him from his position. The work of death had now fairly begun, and our brave men falling in numbers from the ranks, dead or wounded, told too plainly the terrible earnestness of the engagement. Attendants began to gather the fallen, surgeons to dress their wounds, ambulances to convey them to the rear; and all the machinery of a dreadful conflict was in motion. The regiment with the whole division continued to press the enemy back over an open field for nearly one mile. During all this time the fighting had been most fearful. Here the enemy massed his forces in front of our single line of battle, already weakened by the loss of hundreds, and at the same time a move was made to turn our left flank. This compelled us to fall back, which was done in good order. Outnumbered, pressed, and overwhelmed, our men were still driven back, until we had lost a large portion of the ground that had been gained, when General Quimby sent to our relief a portion of his command, commanded by General Crocker, among which were the 10th, 17th and 5th Iowa. These troops charging through our shattered lines, came nobly to the rescue. Here a most terrible struggle ensued, when the enemy in turn gave way; and our men, now flushed with victory, rapidly pressed them back again over the ground already twice fought for. So hotly was he pressed, that the enemy could not avoid confusion; his lines wavered and broke, and his rout became complete, leaving his dead, wounded, and many prisoners, in our hands."

The 28th held the left of its division which extended to the Raymond road; and, in endeavoring to resist the flank movement of the enemy, was subjected to a most terrible enfilading fire of musketry. Four companies came out of the fight without a commissioned officer; and the total, in killed and wounded of the regiment, was an even one hundred. "Lieutenant John J. Legan, of Company A, and Captain Benjamin P. Kirby, of Company I, were killed; and Lieutenant John Buchanan received a severe wound of which he died." Twenty enlisted men were killed.

After the battle of Champion's Hill, the 28th Iowa followed the enemy as far east as Edward's Station, and there rested till the 20th instant. It was then ordered to the Big Black, where it remained till the 24th, and then re-joined its division in rear of Vicksburg.

At the time of entering the service, Colonel Miller was afflicted with a troublesome disease which the exposures and hardships of the field so aggravated as to compel him to resign his commission. He left his regiment just before it marched on the Vicksburg Campaign.

In personal appearance Colonel Miller is prepossessing. He is heavy set, with broad, square shoulders, and is about five feet, eight inches in hight. His hair and eyes are both dark, and the expression of his countenance is frank and manly. He has a heavy, firm voice, and possesses good taste as a military man. He was a good disciplinarian, and was regarded by his regiment as a good and brave soldier. Had he retained his health, he would doubtless have made a fine record.

It was with the greatest reluctance that Colonel Miller left the service: indeed, he delayed sending in his resignation, until many thought he could not live to reach his home; and, after arriving in Iowa City, but few of his neighbors expected him to recover.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 429-36

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