Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Colonel Henry Clay Caldwell


H. C. Caldwell, now judge of the District Courts for the District of Arkansas, is a son of the late Van Caldwell, who, in the early history of the State, was extensively known through South Eastern Iowa for his uncompromising whigism and his generous hospitality. Van Caldwell was one of the first settlers of that county, and deserves a passing notice. He was, at one time, a wealthy Virginia planter, but, meeting reverses in fortune, and losing the greater part of his estate, sold his ancient homestead and came to Iowa, which was then a Territory. His first claim was laid in what is now the town of Bentonsport, Van Buren county. After a four-years' residence here, he removed to Davis county, where he died. He was an old-style, Virginia gentleman.

Colonel Caldwell, the subject of this sketch, is a native of Virginia, and was born in Marshall county of that State, on the 4th day of September, 1832. Accompanying his father in his western migration, he remained with him till the fall of 1847, when he was received into the law office of Wright & Knapp, at Keosauqua, as chore-boy.

Colonel Caldwell is essentially an Iowa man — more so than any other officer whose sketch is here given; and for this reason the details of his early history may not be uninteresting. Before starting in life for himself, he did not have even the advantages of a common school education. He had attended school a few weeks at the old Indian Agency Station, now Agency City, where he might have learned to read, but nothing more. He was, however, a student at home; and it was here, by the fire-side of his father's rustic log cabin, where Judge Knapp first found him and learned his habits. The result was as has been stated.

In the fall of 1847, he left his home for a permanent residence in Keosauqua, having his entire worldly effects tied in a red cotton handkerchief. One year's schooling in Keosauqua completed his education; and this was only afforded by hard labor and the most rigid economy. In 1851, he was admitted to the Keosauqua bar, since which time his history is better known.

He first entered the practice as a partner of Judge Wright, (Judge Knapp being then on the bench) and later was a member of the firm of Wright, Knapp & Caldwell. Still later, on the election of Judge Wright to the Supreme Bench of Iowa, the firm was known as that of Knapp & Caldwell. He was the junior member of this firm at the time of entering the service, in the summer of 1861. The connection of Colonel Caldwell with this able firm was, for him, no ordinary good fortune. He would have succeeded by himself, poor as he was. Agreeable in manners, able, energetic and ambitious, he possessed every requisite of success; but his advancement was much more rapid from being associated with two such masterly minds.

In March, 1853, Colonel Caldwell married Miss Hattie Benton, an estimable lady and a niece of Judge Wright, and a sister of Mrs. Judge Knapp.

"Colonel Caldwell was always the pet of Van Buren county;" so many of her citizens have told me. With his appearance at the bar began his popularity. In the fall of 1856 he was elected prosecuting attorney for Van Buren county, by a majority of 180. He ran upon the Republican ticket, and was the only candidate in the county, of that shade of politics, who was elected. In 1860, he was elected to the State Legislature, and here again was the only successful candidate on his ticket in the county, the democrats electing the senator and the other members of the House. While a member of the legislature, he served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee; and by his counsels in the committee-room, and his nervous, off-hand speeches in the House, established the reputation of being an able lawyer and practical legislator. His geniality, moreover, secured the love and respect of every member of the House.

Mr. Caldwell entered the service in the summer of 1861, being in August of that year commissioned major of the 3d Iowa Cavalry. Subsequently to that time and till the 20th of June, 1864, when he was appointed judge of the district courts for the District of Arkansas, he followed the profession of arms. As a soldier, he met with his usual success. His military record is not as brilliant as are those of some others, and for the reason that the department in which he served did not chance to be the theatre of many hard-fought battles. The service which he saw comprised all the hardships and nearly all the dangers, but lacked the glory incident to the sanguinary campaigns in other departments. During his first year's service, Major Caldwell had a separate command, consisting of companies E, F, G and H—the 2d Battalion of the 3d Iowa Cavalry. On the 12th of December, 1861, he was ordered from Benton Barracks to Jefferson City, Missouri, and thence to Fulton, where he made his head-quarters, and from whence he led various scouting expeditions, during the Winter.

In the following Summer, in connection with a detachment of the Missouri State Militia and Merrill's cavalry command, he took part in the engagement at Moore's Mills, in Galloway county. This battle, though short, was fiercely contested, and, of all that were fought during that Spring and Summer, ranks highest in importance.

On the 5th of September, 1862, Major Caldwell was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 3d Iowa Cavalry, vice lieutenant-Colonel Trimble, resigned. In the winter of 1862-3, he served in the Army of the Frontier, and then joined General Davidson, at that time in command of the Army of South East Missouri. For several months, although only a lieutenant-colonel, he commanded a brigade. Subsequently, he was made chief of cavalry on General Davidson's staff, and served in that capacity till after the capture of Little Rock.

Colonel Caldwell most distinguished himself, I believe, in the Little Rock Campaign. At the head of his command, he was the first to enter the Arkansas Capital.

How Steele, having completed his reconnoissance, marched via Shallow Ford and Ashley's Mills to the Arkansas, and crossed the river some eight miles below the city, has been given elsewhere. The passage of Davidson's cavalry command across the Arkansas, and the march on Little Rock is thus given by General Steele:

"Two regiments of infantry passed over the river to drive the enemy's skirmishers out of the woods, and the cavalry division passed on without serious interruption until they reached Bayou Fourche, where the enemy were drawn up in line to receive them. The rebels held their position obstinately until our artillery on the opposite side of the river was opened upon their rear and flank, when they gave way and were steadily pushed back by Davidson, the artillery constantly playing upon them from the other side of the river. Our two columns marched nearly abreast on either side of the Arkansas."

Long before reaching the city, General Steele knew that the enemy were evacuating; for dense clouds of dust and smoke were seen rising in the distance, in the direction of the town, and soon small bodies of troops were seen hurrying hither and thither, like so many frightened sheep.

On approaching the city, Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, who had been given the advance, disposed his troops and charged through the streets; but the enemy, with the exception of some few stragglers, had fled. Soon after the cavalry took possession of the place, the infantry came up and marched through its deserted streets, after the music of the "Star Spangled Banner " and " Yankee Doodle." It was an inspiring scene, and will be recalled as a day of proud recollections by Steele's old command.

Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell was commissioned colonel of his regiment, on the 4th of May, 1864, and, on the 20th of the following June, was promoted to his present office. In the spring of 1864, and before he was promoted to the colonelcy of his regiment, he had been recommended by both Steele and Davidson for promotion to a general officer; and, had he not been tendered his present position, he would have been made a brigadier-general, and in that case would have been the second officer from the State to receive like honor. I am told that, by the advice of his friends and through the solicitations of Governor Murphy, Senator Baxter, Doctor Kirkwood, and other prominent Union men of Arkansas, Colonel Caldwell waived a brigadier's commission, and accepted his present office. The position he now holds is both honorable and lucrative, and he deserves his good fortune.

Colonel Caldwell is tall and slender in person, and gentlemanly and pleasing in his address. His constitution is not very vigorous; that, at least, would be the judgment of a stranger ; for he has a thin, pale face, and is nervous and restless in his movements. The hardships of the service and his constant mental labors have conspired to make him an older looking man than he is. He is himself careless in dress, and never measures other men by their broad-cloth. In conversation, he is earnest and emphatic, and has a habit of constantly winking.

Though the colonel has first-rate ability, it is not of that voluntary kind that accomplishes wonders spontaneously. Through his whole life, he has been an untiring student. As a public speaker, he is off-hand, impressive and laborious, and. at the close of a long argument, seems nearly exhausted. While in the practice of his profession, he rarely took the time to make a short speech, in consequence of which his arguments were desultory. But he always had this excellent trait: he never talked because he wished to say something, but because he had something to say.

Colonel Caldwell's character as a soldier may be inferred from the following extract from General Davidson's official report of the capture of Little Rock.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, whose untiring devotion and energy never flags during the night nor day, deserves, for his gallantry and varied accomplishments as a cavalry officer, promotion to the rank of a general officer."

Is it to be wondered that Iowa is proud of this distinguished young citizen and soldier?

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 591-6

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