Tuesday, December 1, 2009



William McE. Dye was born in the State of Pennsylvania, about the year 1831. At the time of entering the volunteer service, he was a captain in the regular army — I think, in the 8th Infantry. When promoted to the colonelcy of the 20th Iowa, his residence was in Marion, Linn county, Iowa. I know no more of his history.

The history of the 20th Iowa Regiment is nearly the same as that of the 19th. From the first, these two regiments have served together, and much of the time in the same brigade. With the 20th Wisconsin and 94th Illinois, they constituted Herron's Brigade, with which he marched from Rolla to Springfield, in September, 1862. Prairie Grove was the 20th Iowa's first battle, as it also was the first of the 19th. However, at the time of this action, the 20th regiment was attached to Totten's Division, (the 2d) the 19th being attached to Herron's (the 3d) — all of the Army of the Frontier, as organized on the 15th of the previous October. But, as has been previously stated, both Schofield and Totten being absent, General Herron marched to Blunt's relief, at Cane Hill, with both divisions, and chief in command.

For a further history of the battle at Prairie Grove, and more particularly for the part taken in it by the 20th Iowa, I shall refer to the interesting and official statement of Lieutenant-Colonel Leake; first premising, however, that the regiment entered the engagement in support of the three left guns of Captain Murphy's Battery, which, having been pushed across Illinois Creek, were put in position in the edge of the woods on the north side of the prairie.

"Immediately after forming in line, I was ordered to throw out a party of skirmishers, to protect our right and rear from surprise, for which service I detailed twenty men of Company A, under the command of First-Lieutenant C. L. Drake of that company. The 26th Indiana, the only infantry regiment in the 1st Brigade, of the 2d Division, was formed to the rear of, and between the 37th Illinois and the 20th Iowa. These dispositions having been made at one o'clock P. M., the engagement was opened by the firing of a gun from the battery, under command of Lieutenant Marr. At about two o'clock, the order was given to advance the battery, I receiving orders to move the regiment forward in support. We advanced in this order across the open field, to within about two hundred yards of the foot of the hill, and in front of the house of H. Roger, when the battery was ordered back, but the regiment left in its advanced position. I presently received orders from Colonel Dye, in pursuance of which the regiment moved to the right, into the adjoining field, and in front of the orchard on the left of the house of William Rogers, to check a movement of the enemy to out-flank us on the right. At this time, the 20th was on the extreme right of the 2d and 3d Divisions. This movement was executed under a galling fire, which we returned, advancing to within a few paces of the edge of the orchard."

"At this time, a force appeared on our right, advancing up the valley. Fearing that we were being outflanked by the enemy, I was ordered to fall back across the field, and take position behind a fence in our rear, which was executed in good order, under fire. I then threw out Companies A and F, under command of Captains Bates and Hubbard, as skirmishers. Shortly after a cavalry force appeared upon our right and rear, whereupon the skirmishers were recalled, and a change of front made toward the approaching force. Colonel Dye having sent forward and ascertained that the cavalry were from General Blunt's command, the 20th Iowa at once changed front, and resumed its former position behind the fence, fronting toward the orchard. We had scarcely re-taken this position, when an aid from General Blunt reported to me that the forces that had come up the valley and were taking position in the field on our right was the command of General Blunt

"Blunt at once sent forward a part of the 1st Indiana regiment as skirmishers. Colonel Dye reported to General Blunt, and ordered me to make a charge with the 20th up the hill, on the left of, and operate with the forces of General Blunt. I moved the regiment rapidly forward in line of battle across the field, obliquing to the left; crossed the orchard fence; drove the enemy through the orchard; and advanced beyond the upper orchard fence, and through the woods a short distance. The left wing being more severely engaged, the right had passed further in advance, when some of the Indianians came running back through the woods to the right, gesticulating violently, and pointing in the direction whence they came. At the same moment an officer shouted to me that we were firing on our friends. Seeing some men with United States overcoats on, I gave the order to cease firing, and rode toward the left. I feared that the troops on our left wing had ascended the hill, and advanced to our front; but I now saw directly in our front, a mass of troops moving down upon us. At nearly the same instant, they fired a volley, under which the left wing recoiled nearly to the orchard fence, when they promptly rallied at my command, and renewed the firing with great rapidity and, I think, with great effect.

"The Indiana regiment having fallen back, I received orders to retire behind the fence at the foot of the hill, and hold it, which movement was promptly executed by the regiment, and in good order, the men climbing the fence under a galling fire, lying down behind it and continuing their fire between the fence rails."

In this position the fighting of the 20th Iowa practically closed; for, so soon as the regiment left the orchard, Blunt's and Herron's artillery opened a vigorous fire on the enemy, and drove them back; and, though they kept up a fire till after dark from their retired position, they did not advance to renew the attack.

The loss of the 20th Iowa in this action was forty-seven. Lieutenant Harrison Oliver was the only commissioned officer of the regiment killed. He was a native of Massachusetts, and a young man, I am told of much promise. Lieutenants R. M. Lyth, T. G. G. Cavendish, Fred. E. Starck and E. Stowe were wounded. Seven enlisted men were killed, among whom were Sergeants T. B. Miller, and F. M. Steel. Major William G. Thompson, who acted with great courage, was quite severely wounded. He received high commendation from Lieutenant-Colonel Leake: "I was assisted in the discharge of my duties as commander of the regiment, by Major Thompson who, although exposed to the hottest fire, conducted himself with great gallantry and self-possession. He was wounded late in the action, and, though suffering great pain, did not leave the field until the command was safely withdrawn from under the fire of the enemy." The good conduct of Lieutenant J. C. McCelland, acting adjutant, was most highly commended, as was also that of Sergeant-Major George A. Gray. "The men acted throughout the engagement bravely and with entire self-possession, retiring under fire repeatedly, and rallying with the utmost promptness at the word of command." General Herron in his official report omits mentioning the name of Lieutenant-Colonel Leake, though I am told none showed greater coolness and determination on the field than he. "The conduct of Colonel W. McE. Dye was admirable."

From the date of the Prairie Grove battle till the fall of Vicksburg, and, indeed, till the arrival of Herron's Division at Carrollton, Louisiana, and its return to Morganzia, the history of the 20th Iowa will be found substantially recorded In the sketch of the 19th. Their fatiguing marches through the alternating mud and dust of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas; their exposures in inclement weather; their labors before Vicksburg; their march from Yazoo City, across to the Big Black and back to the river; their trip to Port Hudson and Carrollton, and back to Morganzia — in all, their experiences are nearly the same.

The 20th Iowa was not in the action at Sterling Farm, though Lieutenant-Colonel Leake of the regiment was in command of the forces, which fought there and were captured. Only thirteen men of the regiment accompanied the colonel, and these served as mounted infantry, and were employed in scouting and as vedettes. On the day of the battle, they were stationed some eight miles distant from the main body, and at that point were attacked and routed by a portion of the same rebel force, which fought Colonel Leake. As stated in the sketch of the 19th Iowa, Lieutenant-Colonel Leake was captured, and shared all the hardships of the prison-life. He seemed to have been one of the chief counselors of the unfortunate captives; for, at the time Private Moorehead, of the 26th Indiana, was shot by the brute, Smith, the prisoners determined "to rise, massacre the small guard, and sack the neighboring town of Tyler;" but the colonel counseled moderation, and "calmed an excitement, which might have resulted in a rash outbreak that could only end in the destruction of all." Lieutenant-Colonel A. J. H. Duganne, a prisoner at Camp Ford, and the author of "Twenty months in the Department of the Gulf,” pays Colonel Leake the following compliment: "He was one of the most genial and intelligent officers that I met at Camp Ford."

The 20th Iowa remained with its division in the vicinity of Morganzia, until about the 10th of October, 1863, when it left on the return to Carrollton. General Banks was already organizing his forces, preparatory to his expedition into Texas; and Herron's Division was summond [sic] below, to join in this service. All things were in readiness late in October, and the 24th of that month Banks cut loose from the Crescent City, and steered for Brazos Santiago. He had an ample out-fit — sixteen vessels, loaded down with troops and supplies, and three gun-boats. The expedition promised much, but for some reason resulted in nothing substantial. The territory recovered, was all afterward abandoned. Indeed, General Banks, though a brilliant and most worthy man in some respects, has been unsuccessful or unfortunate, from the time of assuming command at New Orleans, forward to — I don't care how far. His operations at Port Hudson were not brilliant; his "Teche Raid" was only ordinary; his efforts at Sabine Pass, where a mud fort repulsed him, were inglorious; his movements up the Rio Grande, and along the Texan coast were substantially failures; and his expedition up the Red River an alarming disaster. Evidently, he is not fit for the field; though, as a military governor, he possesses merit.

An account of the passage from New Orleans to Brazos Santiago has been given in the sketch of Colonel Crabb, of the 19th Iowa. On arriving at the last named point, the 20th Iowa did not accompany its division to Brownsville; but crossing the Lagoon de Madre to Point Isabel, proceeded to Mustang Island, where it remained for several months.

When Canby and Granger were about to attack the forts at the mouth of Mobile Bay, the 20th Iowa with the other troops of its division were summoned to that department. The regiment took part in those operations, and, in the following Fall, moved up the Mississippi to Morganzia. For many weeks, it operated in Louisiana and Arkansas; but a history of these movements will be found elsewhere. It last served under General Steele, in the operations against Mobile, marching from Pensacola, Florida, via Pollard to the rear of Fort Blakely. Of the particular part it acted in this grand movement, I am unadvised.

I am told that Colonel Dye is a little above the medium in size; that he has a freckled face, sandy hair, light eye-brows, and bright blue eyes. He is either a relation or a friend of Ex-Governor Kirkwood, and, like that able, unpretending man, is careless in dress and unostentatious in manners. He ranks high as an officer, and is held in the highest esteem by General Canby.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 361-6

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