Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Colonel James Otis Gower


James Otis Gower, the successor of General Warren to the colonelcy of the 1st Iowa Cavalry, is a son of James H. Gower, Esq., of Iowa City, and a native of Abbot, Maine, where he was born on the 30th of May, 1834. In 1839, he accompanied his father's family West, and settled in Iowa City, where he has since made his home. He was educated at Knox College, Illinois, and at the Kentucky Military Institute. He graduated at the last named Institution in 1855, when, returning home, he, in partnership with his father, engaged in the banking business at Iowa City. He followed this business till the spring of 1861, the time of his entering the service.

In June and July, 1861, Colonel Gower enlisted Company F, 1st Iowa Cavalry, and was elected its captain. On the 1st of September following, he was promoted to the majority of the 2d Battalion of that regiment, which rank he held till the 26th of August, 1862, when he was made its colonel.

To convey a correct idea of the character of services performed by the 1st Iowa Cavalry from the time Colonel Gower assumed command of it until the date of his resignation, and, in fact, from the time of its entering the field until the time above mentioned, I can not do better than to quote briefly from the monthly reports of the regiment. I select the month of October, 1862, because it was the month in which Colonel Gower first commanded the regiment as its colonel.

"October 1st.—Marched twelve miles toward Mt. Vernon. 2d. — Passed through Mt. Vernon and camped on Centre Creek, Lawrence county, Missouri. 3d. — At 7 P. M., with brigade and division marched through Jollification to Newtonia, Newton county, arriving at 7 A.M. 4th instant, and finding and engaging the enemy in a slight skirmish, with no casualties however to the regiment. 9th. — Marched from Newtonia to Gadfly, Barry county, Missouri; and 12th from Gadfly to Cassville, Barry county. 16th. — Regiment transferred to 2d Brigade, 3d Division, Army of the Frontier. 17th. — Moved camp to McMurtry's Springs. 18th. — Marched all day and camped on Sugar Creek, near Bentonville, Arkansas. 20th. — Left camp on Sugar Creek at 5 P. M., marched all night and the next day, and 'stood to horse' on White River. Night of 21st and 22d, marched to Glade Creek, near Huntsville: took supper and marched all night to camp on White River. 23d. — Marched to Mudtown, thence toward Fayetteville, thence back to Cross Hollows, Benton county, Arkansas, into camp at Valley Springs. 27th. — Ten companies of the regiment marched at 9 P. M. to a point eight miles south-east of Fayetteville, and had a slight skirmish with the enemy on the morning of the 28th. 28th. — Quarter-Master Samuel C. Dickerson killed by guerrillas. 29th. — Scout of ten companies returned to camp at Valley Springs."

The marches and counter-marches made by this regiment during the month of October, 1862, are but a fair sample of its labors for the entire year following.

In the month of November, 1862, the regiment marched four hundred miles, visiting Elkhorn Tavern, McMurtry's Springs, Crane Creek, Ozark, White Oak Springs, Wilson's Creek, and Yellville, Arkansas. In the last five days of the month, more than half this distance was accomplished by the regiment. Leaving Wilson's Creek on the morning of the 25th, it reached Yellville on the 27th, and on the evening of the 30th instant arrived again at its camp on Wilson's Creek. These marches, made as they were in the wet season of the year, and many of them in the night-time, fill a civilian with amazement; but the marches of themselves give no idea of the fatigue, hardships and dangers endured. The regiment was often divided into small detachments, and when moving from one point to another, these brave fellows had little assurance of their safety; for the country was full of guerrillas and scouting-parties of the enemy, ready to decoy them into ambuscades, or, if his numbers would justify, attack them in more honorable warfare. Whether on the march or resting in camp, the most active vigilance had to be maintained — some resting and sleeping, while others watched.

One of the most noteworthy engagements in which the 1st Iowa Cavalry took quite a conspicuous part, was that of Prairie Grove, Washington county, Arkansas. On the evening of the 3rd of December, 1862, the 1st Iowa, with its brigade and division, was encamped near Wilson's Creek, Missouri, when orders were received to march hastily to the relief of Brigadier-General James G. Blunt, then stationed at Cane Hill, Arkansas. The regiment broke camp near mid-night and marched with the main column as far as Elkhorn. From that point the 1st and 2d Battalions, with the balance of the brigade, proceeded hurriedly at day-light on the morning of the 6th, and reached Cane Hill safely at mid-night, having for eighteen consecutive hours been constantly in the saddle. The 3d Battalion of the regiment was left behind to guard the train of the infantry troops, under the immediate command of General Herron. How the rebel General Hindman, leaving General Blunt at Cane Hill, had hurried out to Prairie Grove with the principal portion of his army, for the purpose of crushing General Herron before a junction could be formed by the Union forces, is well known. Even on the afternoon of the 6th instant, a considerable portion of the rebel force had arrived on the Prairie Grove battle-ground; for in the evening of that day, the 1st Iowa Cavalry in passing through the valley, had seen them on the hills on either side of the road.

At day-light on Sunday morning, the 7th, Colonel Gower had the 1st and 2d Battalions of his regiment in their saddles, ready to lead Blunt's advance in the direction of Fayetteville; for the plans of the enemy had already been divined. To this advance the enemy made but slight opposition since, as already stated, his main force was at Prairie Grove. It was near noon when Herron opened the engagement, and General Blunt, then seven miles distant, heard distinctly the reports of the artillery. His rout was necessarily circuitous; but he pushed rapidly on, and just before sun-down came on the rear and left flank of the enemy, who was just then rejoicing at the prospects of victory. The rest is well known. As was natural, the gratitude of Generals Herron and Blunt was mutual: Herron saved Blunt and Blunt saved Herron from ruinous defeat. In the advance from Cane Hill the 1st Iowa Cavalry was repeatedly engaged with the enemy's skirmishers, and yet its loss was only one man wounded and two captured. With the expedition to Van Buren on the Arkansas River, which the 1st Iowa Cavalry accompanied and in which were captured one hundred prisoners and five river steamers, closed the year 1862.

The character of service of the 1st Iowa Cavalry did not change with the opening of the new year of 1863. The regiment still continued its journeyings from one point to another, in pursuit of guerrillas and small detachments of the enemy, and principally under the command of Major, now Lieutenant-Colonel J. \V. Caldwell; for Colonel Gower was in command of a brigade. Of the many laborious marches performed by the 1st Iowa Cavalry, in the eight months following the first of January, 1863, the most noteworthy one is that executed in April and May of that year, where some five hundred men of the regiment, under command of Major J. W. Caldwell, scoured a principal portion of South Eastern Missouri, in pursuit of the rebel cavalry force under General Marmaduke. Since the first of January, 1863, and previous to the time of the above named expedition, the regiment had marched more than three hundred miles, and had visited Huntsville, Dry Fork, Crooked Creek, Kingston, where extensive saltpetre works were destroyed by Major Caldwell; Yellville, Arkansas; Forsyth, Missouri; Finley Fork, near which place six members of the regiment were captured; Mountain Grove, where the regiment received new Sharp's carbines; and Lake Springs.

To create a diversion in favor of Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg, the rebel General Marmaduke, with a cavalry force reported to be seven thousand strong, had marched from Arkansas into South Eastern Missouri, and, in the latter part of April, 1863, was threatening Pilot Knob and Cape Girardeau. The authorities were even alarmed at St. Louis, and all available troops stationed at that point were hastily forwarded to Pilot Knob, to check a further advance of the enemy. At the time in question, the 1st Iowa Cavalry was encamped at Lake Springs, Missouri, seventy-five miles distant from Pilot Knob. On the morning of the 21st of April, Major Caldwell, with a detachment of five hundred men from his regiment, started for the last named place, where, arriving in the afternoon of the 23d, he remained till the 25th instant, awaiting the approach of the enemy. Report now placed Marmaduke at Fredericktown, twenty miles east from Pilot Knob; and, on the 25th, General Vandever with the cavalry marched for that place; but the enemy retired on his approach, and he entered the town without opposition. On the 26th he proceeded in the direction of Cape Girardeau and arrived at Jackson that same evening. But in the meantime it had been learned that the enemy, who had attacked Cape Girardeau, had been repulsed, and were now encamped on the Dallas road, only a few miles distant from Jackson.

The celebrated night-attack was now planned, which, by its skillful execution, completely routed the rebel forces. The chief credit of this affair belongs to the detachment of the 1st Iowa Cavalry under Major Caldwell, the troops selected to make the charge. "At midnight [I quote from the records of the regiment] Lieutenant Hursh, Company F, with a platoon of eight men and two howitzers, approached within thirty yards of the unsuspecting rebels, discharged howitzers and carbines, and then joined the column, which, with sabers drawn, charged upon and routed the entire force, killing many and capturing horses, arms and camp-equipage. Not a man of the regiment was harmed." Major Caldwell returned with his command to Lake Springs on the 14th of May. The detachment had been absent twenty-four days, and had traveled nearly five hundred miles.

Colonel Gower is of medium size, rather slender in person, and weighs about one hundred and sixty pounds. He has light-brown hair, a light complexion, and gray eyes. In dress he is exceedingly neat and tasty. He never looks dirty nor slovenly, no matter what he is doing. When in the service he was celebrated for his cleanly appearance, whether in camp or on the march. The colonel is quiet and rather dignified in his manners with strangers, but not so with his friends. He is fond of fun, but likes to enjoy it in a quiet way.

As a soldier, he was brave and a good disciplinarian. Disability was the cause of his resignation.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 547-52

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