Monday, January 4, 2010

Brigadier-General Samuel Allen Rice


Samuel A. Rice, who received his death-wound at the battle of Jenkin's Ferry, is the most distinguished officer our gallant State has lost in the War of the Rebellion. Sprung from the great middle class, without name or wealth, he had, at the age of thirty-five, attained such distinction as to make his death a national calamity.

General Rice was a native of New York, and was born in Cattaraugus county of that State, the 27th of January, 1828. His boyhood was passed in Belmont county, Ohio, where his parents removed when he was young. There he gained a common school education. The father died soon after removing to Ohio, leaving his family in limited circumstances, and his son, Samuel, as their chief support. He, accordingly, engaged in the boating business on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, that promising the amplest remuneration. As a flat-boatman, he made one or more trips to New Orleans.

General Rice was liberally educated; but the expenses of his education he had to defray himself. He pursued his preparatory course at the Athens Academy, Ohio, and in 1844 or 1845, entered Union College, New York. After graduating there, he entered the law department of that University, where he studied for one year, and then left for the wild West — for so Iowa was regarded, at that day, in the Eastern and Middle States.

The history of General Rice is widely known in our commonwealth; for he was one of our most prominent public men. He first settled in Fairfield, Jefferson county, where he practiced his profession, and occasionally assisted in the editorial department of the whig newspaper of that place. But in the fall of 1851, he removed to Oskaloosa, at which place his family still reside. His first public office was that of prosecuting attorney of his county. Naturally excelling as a criminal lawyer, he attracted general attention by the able manner in which he discharged the duties of his office; and it was this which secured him the nomination in 1856, to the office of attorney-general of the State. In 1856, and again in 1858, he was elected to the last named office; and at the close of his last term, he had established a reputation that placed his name among the foremost lawyers of the State, and, I might add, among the foremost of our public men. I do not speak of him in extravagant terms. The attention and deference that were paid to his arguments before the Supreme Court, would have flattered an attorney of the greatest experience, and the most extensive practice; and the influence which he wielded, as a leading member of the Republican Party, was recognized by all of our most prominent men.

General Rice entered the United States service in the summer of 1862. He would have entered the army sooner; but he could not leave his large business without pecuniary sacrifice; and, besides, he did not believe at first that the war would be of long duration. He was commissioned colonel of the 33d Iowa Infantry, on the 10th day of August, 1862; and late in November left with his regiment for St. Louis. Early in February, 1863, he arrived with his command at Helena, Arkansas, the point where was organized the Yazoo Pass Expedition; and the first important services of the 33d Iowa were in clearing this Pass of obstructions, and opening it for the passage of our transports. For nearly three weeks prior to the starting of the expedition, the regiment was engaged in this fatiguing and dangerous work. The history of this expedition is given elsewhere.

In the long list of battles that were fought in the South West from the 27th of December, 1862, to the 4th of July following, that of Helena, Arkansas, ranks high in point of importance, not simply because Helena with all its government property was saved from capture; but because the spirit of our troops caused the rebels, on the west side of the Mississippi, to despair of ever re-possessing their lost country. Colonel Rice had met the enemy before in skirmishes, but the engagement at Helena was his first battle. Here his brigade saved the place from capture, and his gallantry and soldierly skill made him a brigadier-general. The names of his troops deserve special mention: the 33d Iowa and 33d Missouri, who most distinguished themselves and suffered most severely, engaged the enemy at batteries C and D, near the Little Rock Road: the 29th and 36th Iowa regiments would have done as well and suffered as severely, but they were stationed on the hills to the right, near batteries A and B, and were not so severely engaged. The main attack of the enemy was made on the Little Rock road, where they staked every thing on forcing an entrance. They captured battery C, and so far succeeded; but the raking fire they received from the other batteries, and from the infantry and Fort Curtis, soon forced them to abandon their dearly-won prize. Our pickets were driven in at half past three in the morning, and the fight lasted till nearly 11 A. M., when the enemy retired precipitately. I have said his command saved Helena from capture; and I may add that his casualties amounted to more than half the entire Union loss. It should be stated that two regiments of his command — the 33d Iowa and 33d Missouri — were, during the engagement, under the more immediate command of General Solomon.

In August, 1863, Colonel Rice was appointed a brigadier-general. He had saved General Prentiss and his command from defeat as a colonel; as a brigadier-general, he saved General Steele's army and train from capture at Jenkin's Ferry, on the Saline River; and, had he survived the injury he received in that engagement, he would, doubtless, have been made a major-general.

In General Steele's march against Little Rock, which left Helena on the 10th of August, 1863, General Rice commanded a division, and it was on this march that he received his appointment as brigadier-general. No great battles were fought on this expedition, and no opportunities [sic] offered for special distinction. With others he is entitled to equal credit for the success of our arms.

General Rice's coolness and bravery, and his ability as an officer were best illustrated in General Steele's Campaign into South Western Arkansas, which resulted disastrously to our arms, and gave new hope to the rebels. Here he held only a brigade command. Had he commanded the expedition, some have thought the result would have been different; but this is unjust to General Steele. The loss of a brigade and wagon-train at Mark's Mills might have been avoided; but, considering the difficulties under which General Steele labored, no one could have hoped for entire success. That the chief credit which attaches to this movement or rather to the battle at Jenkins' Ferry, belonged to General Rice, no one will dispute.

The expedition in question left Little Rock on the 23d of March, 1864. Between that point and Camden, the enemy were met at Terra Noir Creek, Elkin's Ford, Prairie de Anne, and six miles north-west of Camden. The sharpest of these engagements was that at Elkin's Ford, on the Little Missouri River. Colonel Rice, though not in command of the forces engaged, received a scalp-wound, while riding to the front. But the great battle of the campaign was fought at Jenkins' Ferry, on the morning of the 30th of April, 1864.

On the evening of the 29th of April, the expedition had reached the Saline River, on its return to Little Rock. That same evening, General Steele's rear-guard had been attacked by the enemy, under Price and Kirby Smith; and it was probable that on the following morning he would have to give them battle; for a pontoon-bridge must be constructed on which to "cross, and the difficulties to be overcome were well-nigh insurmountable: these, however, have been spoken of elsewhere.

That night was stormy and dismal, and will be long remembered by Steele's old command. The floods of falling rain had swollen the Saline to the top of its banks, and covered the low bottom-lands bordering the river with water. But few slept that night: in front was a swollen river; in the rear a confident enemy, and under foot mud and water half-leg deep. Some collected piles of brush to rest on, and others passed the night on stumps and old logs. Day-light was longed for; and yet it promised little, for all believed it would be ushered in by an attack of the enemy. Some were cheerful, and cracked their jokes; but the great majority pulled their ponchos or blankets tightly about them, and remained quiet: they were thinking of their homes and friends, and of the comforts they had exchanged for these hardships.

But morning came at last, and with it the opening battle. Already General Rice's command was in line to engage the enemy, should he advance, and to defend the crossing: they were engaged promptly. The troops of his command, who met the first shock of battle, were the 29th Iowa on the right, the 50th Indiana in the centre, and the 33d Iowa on the left. Of the position of the other two infantry regiments of his command (the 9th and the 28th Wisconsin) at the opening of the fight, I am unadvised. His battery (Captain Voglies') had been sent over the river. The enemy — four to one in the first onset — advanced fairly and squarely, confident of easy victory; but they were repulsed. And not only in this, but in each renewed assault were they repulsed; till finally, near noon, they withdrew and left our forces in possession of the field. At about two o'clock, the last of our infantry forces crossed the river; and after destroying the pontoon-bridge, resumed, unmolested, their march to Little Rock. We lost in this engagement about eight hundred men. The enemy lost, according to his own estimate, nine hundred and fifty; but it is known that his loss was greater.

That was a most gloomy hour for the Federal cause in Arkansas, and the enemy were every where jubilant over the "prospects of peace and independence." They boasted that Steele's army was defeated and disheartened, and that, if it escaped at all, it would do so as a disorganized rabble. They never seemed to doubt that Steele would be compelled to abandon Little Rock, and that the entire State of Arkansas would pass again under Confederate rule. They moved north and blockaded the Arkansas River, and threatened seriously the Little Rock Railroad. The Government became alarmed, and sent nearly two divisions from New Orleans to Steele's assistance. Indeed, for many months the post of Little Rock was little better than in a state of siege; and it was only after Price's reverses in Missouri that the hopes of the Federal cause in Arkansas again rose in the ascendant. But to return.

In the enemy's last charge, and as General Rice was riding down his left wing, he received the wound which resulted in his death. He was shot by a musket-ball "through the right foot, the ball passing under the instep, just in front of the ankle, and driving the buckle of the spur before it."

He left Little Rock for his home in Iowa, on the 18th day of May. For a considerable time after reaching his home, it was supposed he was convalescing; but, (I quote from the Oskaloosa "Herald") " the virus of his wound had permeated his whole system, poisoning the vital fluids, and putting his case beyond the reach of human aid." He died on the 6th day of August, 1864.

The night before the general's death, Judge Loughridge, of Oskaloosa, his warm and tried friend, watched by his bed-side to assist in answering his wants, and to offer consolation to the grief-stricken family. His pain seemed to be intense, making the night drag heavily, and, as he turned restlessly in his bed, the judge inquired: "General, how do you feel now? Are you willing to die?" Looking up, and his eyes brightening, he replied: "I am ready. 'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with me. His rod and His staff, they comfort me.'"

Four years before, he had said, while pronouncing an eulogy upon our lamented Judge Stockton:

"We can but feel and realize that, like the deceased, we too must undergo that great change, allotted to all living. When that change shall come; when the shadows of the last night shall gather around us, may we meet it like one that draws the drapery of his couch about him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."

His prayer was realized. He died in the full possession of his mental faculties, and with the hopes of a Christian.

My admiration of the character of this noble man, I am unable to express. Few as able and deserving as he have been sacrificed to the Moloch of Slavery. One who served long with him in the army writes thus of him:

"But above all, and overall stands the name of one, whom Iowa will be proud to own — General Samuel A. Rice. I have never yet seen his equal, either on the field, or in the camp. * * All admit that his brigade saved the army from defeat and consequent destruction, at the battle of Jenkins' Ferry."

Testimonials of his worth meet me on every hand, to which, I regret, I am unable to give place. His old division has contributed funds for the erection of a monument to his memory; but his "good name will live, when monuments of brass and stone shall have crumbled to dust."

The proceedings of the Supreme Court at Des Moines, on learning of his death, I must briefly allude to. Hon. C. C. Nourse, the general's successor, as Attorney-General of Iowa, Hon. Thomas F. Withrow, and Hon. Chief Justice Wright offered touching eulogies to his memory. In the course of his remarks, our honored Chief Justice said:

"I parted with him in May, as he was nearing his home, with his family and friends around him: he was reclining on what proved to be his death-bed. I shall ever remember his face, and the sparkling expression of his flashing eyes, as, taking me by the hand, he said: 'I shall not die: I know that I shall live — I shall live to return to the field, and assist in crushing this most accursed rebellion.' These hopes — these high resolves were doomed to disappointment."

After the addresses were closed, the following preamble and resolutions were entered of record:

"WHEREAS, General Samuel A. Rice, formerly a member of the bar of this Court, and for four years Attorney-General of the State, died at his home in Oskaloosa on the 6th day of July, 1864, from a wound received in battle at Saline River on the 30th day of April, 1864, and whereas, the high standing of the deceased as a member of the profession, as well as his exalted patriotism and many personal virtues, demand a special notice of his memory upon our part; Therefore, be it

"Resolved, By the members of the bar now in attendance upon the Supreme Court:

1. "That we deeply deplore this dispensation of Divine Providence, in thus removing from our midst one who adorned his profession, and endeared himself to us by his uniform courtesy and upright conduct.

2. "That by his death a brave and true soldier and officer has fallen in defense of his Government, a kind father and true husband has been lost to his family, a valued citizen has been lost to the State, and an honored and able advocate has been lost to the profession.

3. "That we will cherish in affectionate remembrance his many virtues, and request the members of the bar to wear the usual badge of mourning during the term.

4. "That we tender to the bereaved family our sincere testimony of the worth of the deceased, and assure them of our sympathy and condolence in their affliction.

5. "That the court be requested to have these proceedings and resolutions spread upon the records of the court, and to furnish a certified copy of the same to the family of the deceased.

" Committee. — Jefferson F. Polk, H. S. Winslow, William H. Seevers, C. C. Nourse."

I first met General Rice in the spring of 1857, at the Oskaloosa bar. Then, he had just been elected Attorney-General of the State; and I scanned him closely. He was, at the time, arguing a case with Judge Seevers; and Governor Stone was sitting upon the bench. He was dressed poorly; was unshaven, and looked to me to be below the medium in size. I thought we never elected such men to like positions in New England. Three years later, I saw him again; when he looked more like himself — an able and polished gentleman. The portrait here published is not a perfect likeness, though the mild, intelligent expression of the eye is correct.

General Rice was not a man of brilliant parts. He had a large brain and a sound judgment; and hard study did the rest. He was an able reasoner. His cast of mind was more practical than theoretical; for instance: on one occasion, two applicants for admission to the bar presented themselves in the Oskaloosa Court. It was Governor Stone's first term upon the bench. Judges Loughridge and Seevers and General Rice, having been appointed by the court the examining committee, the latter approached the young men, and, taking one of them by the hand, said: "Gentlemen, you look as though you could practice law; if you can not, you will get no business, and if you can, all right. I will vouch for you."

The general was kind-hearted and unassuming. I never saw him without a smile upon his face, and no one could be embarrassed in his presence. Few promised him the success he met in the service. He was as successful with the sword, as he had been in his civil profession. He was a noble exemplar of our Free State Chivalry.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 487-96

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