Friday, January 15, 2010

Brigadier-General W. L. Elliott


Washington L. Elliott was the first regular army officer appointed to the colonelcy of an Iowa regiment. In the early history of the war, it was the opinion of Governor Kirkwood, and of a majority of the people, that none but men of military education could be safely entrusted with the command of a regiment of volunteers; but it was all a mistake.

The place of General Elliott's nativity, and the date of his birth, I have been unable to learn; but in May, 1846, he was appointed from Pennsylvania to a second lieutenancy of mounted rifles, and served in the Mexican War. At the close of that war he served in New Mexico, and, in 1854, was promoted to a captaincy. In the fall of 1858, he distinguished himself in conflicts with the Navajoes, and, in the following year, was placed in command of Fort Bliss, Texas.

Captain Elliott was commissioned colonel of the 2d Iowa Cavalry on the 14th day of September, 1861, and by his energy and military ability soon made for himself and his regiment a most enviable reputation. Indeed, it has often been claimed as regards the Iowa troops that the 2d Infantry, the 2d Cavalry, and the 2d Battery, are the star troops of their respective arms of service; but this claim is certainly not founded in justice; though it may be conceded that the 2d Iowa Cavalry has done as much hard fighting as any other Iowa cavalry regiment.

On the 19th of February, 1862, which is the date of the commencement of their field-service, the 2d Iowa Cavalry arrived at Bird's Point, Missouri. Having watched the movements of the enemy for several days in the direction of Belmont and Columbus, the regiment started on the 27th instant in pursuit of Jeff. Thompson towards New Madrid, and after a march of thirteen days through the almost impassable swamps that here border the Mississippi, reached that place in time join the forces of General Pope in its capture. After the capture of Island No. 10, in which a detachment of the 2d, under Lieutenant Schnitger, took a conspicuous part, the regiment sailed for Hamburg Landing on the Tennessee River.

The services of the 2d Iowa and the 2d Michigan Cavalry regiments before Corinth, in the spring of 1862, gave to the 2d Brigade of General Pope's Cavalry Division a national reputation. From the 29th of April, the date of the capture and burning of the enemy's camp at Monterey, Mississippi, till the 30th of the following May, the 2d Iowa Cavalry took part in five distinct expeditions, and not less than ten skirmishes and engagements; and, in nearly all these operations, were joined by the 2d Michigan Cavalry, under the gallant Colonel Philip H. Sheridan. The most noteworthy of these expeditions is that which under Colonel Elliott in command of the 2d Brigade, left its camp near Farmington for Boonville, Mississippi, at one o'clock on the morning of the 27th of May, 1862. Connected with Colonel Elliott's exit from camp, is a laughable incident which I can not forbear relating. A new regiment, which had just come to the front, had its camp near the road over which Colonel Elliott passed. Its camp-guard was commanded by a lieutenant – an able lawyer, but at that time a green soldier. Soon after mid-night, hearing the heavy tramp of twenty-three hundred cavalry on a hard-beaten road, he supposed the enemy were upon him and, rushing to the tent of his Colonel, he broke through its fastenings, and thus reported:

"For God's sake, colonel get up: the enemy with ten thousand cavalry are upon us; and we are within half a mile of h—1!"

It was this Boonville Expedition of Colonel Elliott, which afforded General Pope the chief material for his celebrated report, of date, I think, the 3d of June, 1862; and it was really a most important affair. Moving from Farmington in a southerly direction, and crossing the Memphis and Charleston Railroad about ten miles west of Iuka. Colonel Elliott, from this point, marched in a south-westerly direction and, passing through the country intersected by the Tombigbee swamps, arrived before Boonville on the morning of the 30th of May, before day-light. The surprise was complete. Some two thousand prisoners were captured, the majority of them, however, being sick or convalescent. But the amount of rebel property destroyed was of chief importance. Beside three hundred kegs and barrels of powder, and large quantities of commissary-stores, ten thousand stand of arms and equipments to correspond, were destroyed. For his successes here, Colonel Elliot, was most highly complimented by General Pope.

The most gallant achievement of the 2d Iowa Cavalry, while under Colonel Elliott, was its charge on the rebel battery at Farmington, Mississippi, on the morning of the 9th of May, 1862. On the afternoon of the 8th of May, the divisions of Stanley and Payne, by order of General Pope, made an important reconnoissance in the direction of Corinth and Rienzi, surprising the enemy and driving them through and beyond the little village of Farmington. Then, the Federal forces fell back to the east side of the village and bivouacked for the night, Colonel Loomis' Brigade in advance. Thus things stood on the morning of the 9th when the guns of our sentinels gave notice of the advance of the enemy. Chafed by the surprise of the day before, which lost them their advance-line, they were moving in force to restore it; but Pope was resolved on maintaining his advanced position, and hastily dispatched General Plummer's Brigade to take position to the right, and somewhat in advance of Colonel Loomis. But these dispositions were not completed when the enemy were seen advancing in column by division. Soon two regiments of Plummer's Brigade broke in confusion, and fled to the swamps in their rear, when his two remaining regiments had to be withdrawn from the field.

Having hastily formed their line of battle just in rear of the large white house in the north-east portion of the town, and, where General Pope the day before had made his headquarters, they threw forward their batteries, and commenced shelling the position of Colonel Loomis. And now comes the gallant charge of the 2d Iowa, which had already arrived at the front:

"Moving the column to the top of the hill, I ordered Major Coon, with Companies H. G, C, and part of A, of the 2d Battalion, and Major Love's 3d Battalion, to charge the battery on our left in echelons of squadrons. Deploying the columns to the right and left when we had passed our infantry lines, we attacked the skirmishers and supports of the enemy, driving them in and killing and wounding some. The fire from the battery on our left, near the Farmington road, was very severe, but on account of the ground being impracticable, and the battery and supports protected by a fence, this could not be reached; yet the enemy's gunners evidently alarmed at the charge, ceased working their guns. Major Coon's Battalion, led by him, gallantly attacked the battery near the building known as the cotton-mill (the centre battery). Lieutenant Reily, commanding Company F of 3d Battalion, attacked and carried two guns in battery on our extreme right. The centre battery was fairly carried, the gunners driven from their guns, the enemy limbering up his guns without taking them off the field. Finding our horses badly blown from a long charge over rough ground, and the infantry of the enemy in great force, I under a heavy fire ordered all companies on my right to retreat to the right and rear, forming on the swamp-road, and those on my left to join the regiment in this road. I ordered Major Hepburn to move to the rear, retaining Major Coon with two companies to pick up the wounded and scattered. My orders were carried out better than I could have expected. My chief bugler's bugle was rendered useless in the charge. Four of my orderlies had their horses killed, and two of the orderlies were shot out of their saddles while transmitting orders.

"The conduct of officers and men was in every way commendable. Captains Lundy and Egbert, and Lieutenant Owen, were wounded near the enemy's guns; and Lieutenants Horton, Moore and Schnitger, all had horses killed under them. Captain D. J. Crocker, and Lieutenant Moore, of Company H; Captain McConnell, and Lieutenant Foster, of Company M; Captain Kendrick, of Company E; Captain Eaton, and Lieutenant Bilden, of Company L, all of the 1st Battalion, led in the finest manner by Major Hepburn, rode through the hottest fire, and were rallied by Major Hepburn on the right when retiring in fine style, forming in good order in rear of the swamp, to await orders. Major Coon, Captain H. Egbert, Captain William Lundy, Lieutenants Owen and Horton, of the L Battalion, led the charge on the right in the finest manner, riding boldly in advance of their commands, and in advance of the entire regiment. The daring of Lieutenant Queal, commanding Company B, was conspicuous, cheering his men to the very muzzles of the enemy's guns. Captain Bishop, of Company I, and Captain Graves, of Company D, obeyed my orders promptly, under a heavy fire. Lieutenant Schnitger, acting regimental-adjutant, and Lieutenant Metcalf, battalion-adjutant, did their duty to my entire satisfaction. Before, and at the time of the charge, Captain Freeman and Lieutenant Eystra, with detachments of Companies A, G and H, dismounted as skirmishers, did excellent service in the swamps on our left, holding the enemy's skirmishers in check. There were about four hundred men in the charge. Our loss will scarcely exceed fifty killed and wounded, fifty horses killed, and fifty rendered unserviceable from wounds."

Immediately after the 2d Cavalry had retired, the enemy advanced his infantry when, after a sharp fight between them and the brigade of Colonel Loomis, General Pope ordered his troops to withdraw to the east side of the creek. The enemy pursued no further. In this engagement, not only the Iowa troops, but, with the exceptions already mentioned, those from Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, distinguished themselves.

Dr. M. K. Taylor, afterward the able and courteous surgeon in charge of the United States General Hospital at Keokuk, was at the time surgeon of the 26th Illinois, Colonel Loomis, and was conspicuous in his efforts to rescue the wounded. He was among the last to leave the field, in charge of the dead and wounded.

The 17th Iowa arrived at the front that evening, and bivouacked near the camp of the 2d Iowa Cavalry. That night we first saw the bodies of dead men killed in battle, and for the first time heard the piteous groans of the wounded, and witnessed their unmitigable agonies.

For his promptness, and for his soldierly qualities discovered during the siege of Corinth and before, Colonel Elliott was promoted to brigadier-general, his commission dating the 11th of June, 1862. He was soon after made Chief of Cavalry to General Pope, and not long after, accompanied that general to Washington, and served with him in his unfortunate campaign on the Potomac. After General Pope was relieved of his command in the East, General Elliott accompanied him to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he remained till the winter of 1862-3. He was then transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, and made chief of Cavalry to General Thomas.

General Elliott is a smallish man, with stooping shoulders, sharp features and gray eyes. He is a man of great energy, and has the reputation of being a splendid cavalry officer.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 565-70

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