Sunday, January 10, 2010

Colonel Henry J. B. Cummings


Henry Johnson Broadhead Cummings is the only representative that little New Jersey can claim among the Iowa Colonels. He was born in the town of Newton, Sussex county, on the 21st day of May, 1831, and continued to reside at that place until he was ten years of age. He then accompanied his parents to Lycoming county, Pennsylvania, where he lived till he reached his eighteenth year. His education was acquired at the common schools of that county. In his eighteenth Winter, he taught school, and after its close, entered the law-office of Judge Maynard of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and began the study of the law. From 1851 to 1854, he edited a paper in Schuylkill Haven, after which he resumed his legal studies in the office of Henry Johnson, Esq., of Muncey, Pennsylvania, and was admitted to the bar in 1855. But, being without means, he was again compelled to return to the editorial tripod. In 1856, he came West and located in Winterset, Iowa, where he opened an office, and for the first time entered upon the practice of his profession. That same Winter, he assisted in organizing the Republican Party in Madison county; and, in the following August, was elected Prosecuting Attorney for that county. Later, he became a law-partner of the Hon. M. S. McPherson, who, in 1860, was a member of the Iowa State Senate.

Colonel Cummings first entered the war as captain of Company F., 4th Iowa Infantry. While the regiment was at its rendezvous in Council Bluffs, he was elected by the line officers its major. He was not, however, commissioned by the Governor; for Captain English, of the same regiment, had been previously promoted to that rank. Captain Cummings served in the 4th Iowa Infantry until the 6th of September, 1862, when he was promoted to the colonelcy of the 39th Iowa Infantry.

The first engagement of the 39th Iowa, was at Parker's Cross Roads, Tennessee, on the 31st of December, 1862. The enemy were led by Forest, and numbered from five to seven thousand men. The Union forces engaged comprised only one brigade, commanded by Colonel Dunham of the 50th Indiana, and numbered not quite sixteen hundred men.

So soon as the enemy learned of General Grant's plans for the capture of Vicksburg, in the fall of 1862, they at once set on foot schemes for their frustration; and, only a few days after the Federal army had marched from Holly Springs, Van Dorn and Forest were dispatched against General Grant's rear, to overwhelm small garrisons, and destroy all supplies and lines of communication. Van Dorn marched for Holly Springs and vicinity, while Forest made his appearance along the Jackson and Columbus Railroad. On the morning of the 31st of December, 1862, Forest, with the greater portion of his command, was encamped in the timber, about half a mile west of Parker's Cross Roads. A small detachment was stationed at the Cross Roads; and these Colonel Dunham, while moving with his command down the road in the direction of Red Mound, encountered at about eight o'clock in the morning.

But, to give an intelligible history of this affair, I should refer briefly to the previous movements of the 39th Iowa. On the 18th of December, 1862, the regiment left Columbus, Kentucky, under orders to report to General G. M. Dodge at Corinth. Arriving at Jackson, it was ordered by General Sullivan to disembark; for an attack upon that place by Forest was hourly looked for. It remained at Jackson four days, when, it becoming evident that Forest did not intend attacking that place, it was sent back to Trenton. There it was organized with the 50th Indiana and 122d Illinois, and sent in pursuit of Forest, then reported at Huntingdon, thirty miles east. Parker's Cross Roads is between Huntingdon and Lexington, where, as above stated, a portion of Forest's command was encountered.

The 50th Indiana was at once deployed as skirmishers, and drove the small detachment back to the main body, stationed on the hill or in the timber. Colonel Dunham now began making his dispositions to attack them in this position; but he soon learned that the position was so strong, and that their numbers so superior to his own that an attempt to rout them must be unsuccessful. After a vigorous use of his artillery, he therefore withdrew his command south, and took up a position on the east side of the road on a gentle rise of ground near Red Mound. The enemy followed and took up a position on the brow of a hill about one thousand yards distant. The enemy had eleven pieces of artillery, and the Federal troops but three; and in all other respects they were equally superior. The engagement now opened with artillery; but only a few shots had been fired, when Colonel Dunham saw that he could not hold his present position. He therefore moved down the hill into low ground, and took position behind a rail fence. The 39th held the left, the 122 Illinois the centre, and the 50th Indiana the right. The enemy still held the brow of the hill In front.

Their position was most admirable. Retiring just behind the crest of the hill, and charging their artillery, they would then shove it forward, and, depressing the pieces, continue a most destructive fire on our lines. Their infantry, too, at long range and well covered, did much execution; while our troops, lying along the fence in the bottom, were able only by their presence to hold the enemy at bay. The right of the line, however, was able to do some execution. Thus matters stood till about four o'clock in the afternoon, when the enemy, despairing of routing the Federal troops from the position they then held, dismounted a force of about one thousand men, and sent them round to the rear of Colonel Dunham's right flank. Moving by a circuitous route through the timber, they were not discovered till their skirmishers opened fire on the right-rear of the Federal line. This was the signal for the enemy on the hill in front to concentrate their artillery-fire on the Federal left; for this was necessary to save their own men, approaching from the rear; and now the shower of grape and canister, which fell on the 39th Iowa, was terrific. With the enemy approaching in its rear, and this terrible fire in front, the right wing of the 39th broke, and sought shelter in a cornfield to the west of the road. Portions of the 50th Indiana and 122d Illinois also joined in this brief stampede. But relief was now near at hand: a brigade of reinforcements — the "Ohio Brigade" —soon fell upon the enemy's rear, and scattered their lines in confusion. This, however, was not done till after the 39th Iowa had rallied, and, with the balance of the brigade, driven back the enemy's flanking-party. The engagement now closed, and the Federal troops rested that night on the battle-ground. The following is the result of the engagement: Four hundred prisoners were captured. Five hundred horses and seven cannon were also among the spoils of war; but the three pieces of artillery belonging to the command of Colonel Dunham had been literally knocked to pieces. The losses of the 39th Iowa, in killed, wounded and missing, were forty-seven. Three only were killed; and among these was the color-guard, J. C. Stearns. The gallant Lieutenant-Colonel Redfield, while rallying his men, was severely wounded in the shoulder. Major Griffiths, Captain Browne and Lieutenant Rawls were also among the wounded. This was the first engagement of the 39th Iowa; and all things considered, it sustained itself well.

With the battle of Parker's Cross Roads closed the old year of 1862. On the morning following, the 39th Iowa, with the balance of its brigade, started on the return march to Jackson, where it arrived on the evening of the 2d. At Columbus, as already stated, Colonel Cummings had been ordered to report to General G. M. Dodge, commanding 2d Division, 16th Army Corps, and on the 6th instant he left Jackson with his regiment for Corinth. Arriving at Corinth, the 39th Iowa was assigned to the 2d Brigade, Colonel M. M. Banes, and, for more than a year thereafter, was attached to that command. From the date of its arrival at Corinth, till the time it joined the forces of General Sherman in the grand march on Atlanta, the history of the 39th Iowa may be soon told. It was stationed on garrison-duty, and passed the most of its time in camp.

The march to Tuscumbia, Alabama, the object of which was to cover the movements of Colonel Streight, in his raid into Georgia, I must not, however, omit to mention. All things being in readiness, General Dodge moved out of Corinth with his entire division on the 15th of April, and, proceeding by easy marches, arrived at Bear Creek without incident. At Bear Creek, his advance encountered the enemy under Roddy, and soon after that force was strengthened by the arrival of Forest. But General Dodge pushed steadily on, driving back the enemy with a line of skirmishers, until he arrived at Town Creek. Here the enemy, on the opposite bank, had their artillery in position, which was well supported. An artillery-duel followed of half a day in length, when, bridges having been constructed under the enemy's fire, the forces of General Dodge began crossing to the east side of the stream. The enemy now retired precipitately, and General Dodge, knowing Colonel Streight, who had passed by the enemy's left flank, was well on his way, returned to Corinth. The 39th Iowa arrived at Corinth on the 2d of May. Four days after, Company H of the regiment, while guarding a corral near Corinth, was surrounded by a large body of rebel cavalry and captured. Its Captain, James H. Loomis, was made a prisoner, and only a few of the men escaped.

Colonel Cummings remained with his regiment at Corinth, until November, 1863, and then marched with the command of General Dodge to the line of the Nashville and Decatur Railroad.

He arrived with his regiment at Pulaski the 11th of November, and the day following was sent north seven miles to Reynold's Station, where regimental head-quarters were established. Five companies remained at head-quarters. Three were stationed at grist-mills; and two on guard-duty, at railroad-bridges. Seven weeks later, regimental head-quarters were removed to Culleoka, twenty miles further north. The regiment remained here till the 12th of the following March, when, with its brigade, it marched south to Athens; but its day of garrison- and railroad guard-duty was now soon to close.

In the early part of May, 1864, the 39th Iowa marched with its brigade to Huntsville, where the whole command of General Dodge assembled, preparatory to joining General Sherman on the march against Atlanta: from that point it moved directly to the front at Dalton. But the movements of the left wing of the 16th Army Corps during the Atlanta Campaign have been given elsewhere, and up to the time of the occupation of Rome, the history of the 39th is the same as that of this command: the 39th Iowa, and, I think, all the regiments of its brigade — the 7th, 50th and 57th Illinois Infantry regiments, went no further than Rome, being left at that point to guard Sherman's flank, and his line of communications. Where the regiment most distinguished itself, and where it lost its best officer — Lieutenant-Colonel James Redfield — was at Allatoona, Georgia.

Its defense of this place was gallant in the extreme, and a full history of the affair would be read with the greatest interest; but want of space forbids me giving it. The following is from a statement of Major, afterward Lieutenant-Colonel Griffiths:

"The entire force on our side was one thousand eight hundred: that of the enemy, seven thousand. Our forces were commanded by Brigadier-General J. M. Corse. They arrived at 10 o'clock P. M., expecting that the enemy would not attack, knowing they (we) were reinforcements. In this we were deceived. They attacked in the morning at 7 A. M. General Corse had time only to hastily dispose of his little force, when they came up with massed columns.

"The 39th Iowa was placed at the forks of a road, three hundred yards from the fort, where the heaviest column of the enemy charged. It was important to hold this position, and check the enemy. This they did twice, although terribly cut to pieces. The third time the enemy was in such force as to be irresistible, and the remainder of our regiment fell back, contesting every foot of ground to the fort.

"General Corse and the veteran troops, who witnessed the heroism and determination of the 39th on that day, say they have never before seen such fighting. They pronounced it 'Chickasaw Bayou,' continued for five hours. It was during this time that the above named officers, except Lieutenant Blodgett, were killed. He was one of the four officers who succeeded in reaching the fort, and was shot while carrying a message from General Corse to Colonel Rowett. There were ten of our officers in the engagement: five were killed, and two wounded and captured, leaving but three with the command.

"It gives me great pleasure to testify to the heroism, valor and gallantry of these officers. I have seen them before when in discharge of their duties and under fire, and can say of them that in every emergency they displayed coolness and determined courage. As officers, they had the respect and confidence of the command. As men, they had won, by their geniality of disposition and uniform courtesy of manner, the kindest regards and affections of their officers and men, so that we can feelingly exclaim: Their places, who can fill them?"

The regiment lost, in killed, five officers and twenty-seven enlisted men, and, in wounded, one officer and sixty-one enlisted men. Two officers and sixty-eight enlisted men were captured. The commissioned officers killed, were Lieutenant-Colonel James Redfield and Lieutenants O. C. Ayers, A. T. Blodgett, N. P. Wright and J. P. Jones. Lieutenant-Colonel Redfield was a man of much excellence. It has often been said he should have been colonel of the 39th Iowa.

Colonel Cummings is a short, fleshy man, with blue eyes, and a large, red face. In his manners, he is dignified and consequential. He is reputed as being able to endure as much rest as any man in Iowa. He was a good tactician, but, beyond that, possessed little merit as a soldier.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 525-32

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