Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Colonel William M. G. Torrence


William M. G. Torrence, the successor of Colonel Abbott to the colonelcy of the 30th Iowa Infantry, was the eighth of the Iowa colonels who lost their lives in the service — Worthington, Baker, Mills, Dewey, Kinsman, Abbott, Hughes, and Torrence. Of those who lost their lives in battle, he was the fifth — Baker, Mills, Kinsman, Abbott, and Torrence.

Colonel Torrence was a native of Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, where he was born the 1st day of September, 1823. His parents were Presbyterians, of which church he was also a member. His mother died in his early infancy, and left him to the kind care of an esteemed and most worthy sister, who reared him with almost maternal tenderness.

In early manhood, he left his native State for Kentucky, where he became a school-teacher; and in this capacity he passed several years. He was engaged in school-teaching in Kentucky, at the time war was declared against Mexico; but, like Colonel Scott of the 32d Iowa, left the school-room and volunteered. He was a first lieutenant in that war, and a member of the 1st Kentucky Mounted Volunteers, commanded by the portly, perfidious Humphrey Marshall. His cool judgment and commendable courage in action won him distinction. He was highly complimented for the part he acted at the battle of Buena Vista, being tendered a commission in the regular army of the same rank as that which he held in the volunteer service; but he declined the honor, and, at the close of the war, returned home with his regiment.

In the latter part of 1847, Lieutenant Torrence came to Iowa, and settled in Keokuk, where he resumed his former occupation, and where he made his home till the outbreak of the rebellion. During his residence in Keokuk, he was for several years City Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the spring of 1861, he enlisted a company (A) for the 1st Iowa Cavalry, and was in June commissioned major of the first battalion of that regiment. In the winter of 1861-2, he served with his battalion in Central Missouri, and had command of posts in Howard, Pettis and Cooper counties. At Silver Creek, in January 1862, he engaged and defeated the rebel Colonel Poindexter, capturing and destroying his camp and his train. While a member of the 1st Iowa Cavalry, he served with credit to himself, and was equally successful as a post-commandant, and as a leader of expeditions to hunt out and punish guerrillas. He was a terror to the Missouri bushwhackers.

On the 3d of May, 1862, for reasons unknown to me, Major Torrence resigned his commission, and returned to his home in Keokuk.

After the call of the President for additional troops in the summer of 1862, Major Torrence again volunteered, and was made lieutenant-colonel of the 30th Iowa Infantry. In October, 1862, he accompanied his regiment to the field, and was with it in all its subsequent campaigns and engagements. At Arkansas Post, where he commanded his regiment, he particularly distinguished himself; and at the memorable charge against the enemy's works at Vicksburg, where Colonel Abbott was killed, he bore himself with equal gallantry. On the 29th day of May, 1863, he was commissioned colonel of the 30th Iowa; and, from that day till the 21st of October, 1863, he remained in command of his regiment.

The history of the 30th Iowa during the colonelcy of Colonel Torrence covers the siege of Vicksburg; the march to Jackson under General Sherman after the surrender of Vicksburg, and a portion of the march from Memphis to Chattanooga. It was on the last named march that the colonel was killed.

An account of all the above operations has already been given in the sketches of other officers and regiments, and can not be repeated with interest. This however should be said in justice to the 30th Iowa: no regiment from the State surpasses it in gallant and meritorious services; and, of the Iowa troops called out in the summer of 1862, no regiment has done more fighting, and few have done as much. In the face of the enemy, it has always conducted itself with conspicuous gallantry, challenging the admiration of both its brigade and division commanders. From the time of its entering the field to the present, the 30th has served in the same division with the 4th, 9th, 25th, 26th and 31st Iowa regiments.

The services of the 30th Iowa, and of the Iowa troops before Vicksburg, were arduous and exhausting. After operations had settled down into a regular siege, the troops suffered chiefly from the intense heat in the trenches, and from the want of good water. The labor in digging the approaches, and of constructing new forts and planting artillery, was the hardest and most dreaded. The Federal camps were so securely established back behind the hills, as to render them comparatively safe from the enemy's scattering musketry, and from the ponderous missiles of their artillery. The skirmish-line was the place of chief danger; and yet, the skirmish-line was the scene of much amusement. Regiments took their regular turn on the skirmish-line, every two or three days, usually going out in the morning, and holding their posts for twenty-four hours. They were protected by old logs, fallen trees, and slight earth-works. Every man had his chosen place — in the crotch of a fallen tree, at the end of a log, behind a stump, or somewhere; and the regular day for his regiment at the front, was sure to find him there, unless he had been struck by a "Johnnie," or left sick in camp. Thousands to-day can go to the very spot where, during the siege of forty-five days, they slammed away.

A favorite amusement with many of the men, was to stick their hats on the end of their guns, and then, thrusting them just above the works, invite the "Johnnies" to "hit that." It was nothing uncommon, too, for the men to "take a game of seven-up." It is wonderful what indifference to danger men acquire from being constantly exposed to it.

The greater portion of the months of August and September, 1863, were passed by the 30th Iowa in camp on Big Black River. In the latter part of September, the regiment marched with its brigade to Vicksburg, and proceeded thence by boat to Memphis. Going by rail from Memphis to Corinth, It marched thence for Chattanooga. The 30th was attached to General Osterhaus' Division, which marched out to Tuscumbia, Alabama, to call the attention of the enemy from Sherman's real line of march. It was on that march that Colonel Torrence was killed.

He was shot by the enemy, in ambush, just beyond Cherokee Station and among the wild hills of northern Alabama. I remember the day well. It was in the afternoon of the 21st of October, and stormy and dismal. The troops of John E. Smith's Division, being only about seven miles in rear of Osterhaus', could hear the firing distinctly. That night no baggage was unloaded, and we slept in a cold, drizzling rain. We expected to be thrown to the front the next morning, and all were gloomy. But the next morning we remained in camp, and watched the ambulances that were bearing to the rear the dead and wounded of Osterhaus' Division: when the dead body of Colonel Torrence went past, there were not a few sad hearts among the Iowa troops. The Colonel was shot through the breast while at the head of his regiment, and died almost instantly.

The following, as nearly as I can learn, are the circumstances under which Colonel Torrence was killed; and General Osterhaus was severely censured by some, for the part he acted. The enemy were met just beyond Cherokee. Between the Federal and Confederate forces was an open field, bordered by dense timber; and Osterhaus' line of march was eastward in the direction of Tuscumbia. Forming his line, he advanced across the field, when the enemy fell back into the woods, in their rear. Colonel J. A. Williamson, in command of the brigade to which the 30th Iowa was attached, on arriving at the edge of the timber, left his command in line, and rode forward to reconnoitre. On returning, he met Colonel Torrence advancing with his regiment by the flank, and said to him: "How is this, Colonel? you are not obeying orders." Colonel Torrence, lifting his hat, and in his bland, gentlemanly way, replied: "I am acting under the orders of General Osterhaus." Colonel Williamson then rode back to the balance of his command, but had hardly re-joined it, when a volley of musketry was heard down the road.

Colonel Torrence had discovered the enemy only an instant before they fired, and was just deploying his regiment in line. He was shot through the breast, and, as I have before said, fell from his horse, and died almost instantly.

In the skirmish near Cherokee, (for so it was called) the loss of the 30th Iowa was twenty-seven in killed, wounded and missing. Captain William H. Randall was among the killed. He was a native of Indiana, and a resident of Birmingham, Van Buren county. Brave, modest and unassuming, he was deservedly one of the most popular officers of his regiment.

If I ever saw Colonel Torrence, I did not know him; but I am told he was a tall, slender man, with agreeable manners and affable address. At the time of his death, his head was heavily sprinkled with gray. He was a good scholar, and, judging from his official papers, a man of good taste and judgment. He was a Christian gentleman, and, as a citizen, held in the highest esteem.

The following is an extract from his last communication sent to the adjutant-general of Iowa:

"Head-quarters 30th Regiment Iowa Volunteers,
Iuka, Mississippi, October 13th, 1863.

"N. B. BAKER, Adjutant-General of Iowa:

"Accompanying this, you will receive two flags, worn out in the service. They were carried by the 30th Iowa during their marches a distance of five thousand seven hundred miles, between October 26th, 1862, and October 10th, 1863."

Quite in contrast is the following extract from the report of an Iowa officer, whose name I will not give.

"Exposed to every danger, they were ever conspicuous for their cool, daring courage, and the ardor of their souls, blended with pure love for their country, beamed from their countenances, and hung about them, ' Like the bright Iris, o'er the boiling surge.'"

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 461-6

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