Monday, January 11, 2010

Colonel John Alexander Garrett


John A. Garrett is a native of Carlisle, Sullivan county, Indiana, and was born on the 15th day of November, 1824. He was educated at Hanover College, and at the Indiana University, and was a member of the last named institution, not having yet graduated, when he enlisted as a private in the 4th Indiana Infantry, Colonel, now General Gorman. Landing at Vera Cruz under General Scott, he accompanied his regiment from that place to the city of Mexico; and, on that campaign, took an active part in two engagements—Huamartla (which was Santa Anna's last) and Atlixco.

At the close of the Mexican War, he returned to his native town; where, entering the mercantile business, he remained till 1857. In the fall of that year, he came to Iowa, and, after a brief residence in Des Moines and Leon, settled, in 1859, in Newton, Jasper county, where, re-establishing himself in mercantile pursuits, he continued to reside till the opening of the war.

John A. Garrett enlisted in the present war late in July, 1861. In the following August he recruited a company in Jasper county which was assigned to the 10th Iowa Infantry, and of which he was elected captain. Until after the evacuation of Corinth and till as late as September, 1862, Captain Garrett was constantly on duty with his regiment. He took part with it in the expedition against New Madrid, and with his company (I) led the advance of the detachment, which, under Major McCalla, first occupied the place after its evacuation by the enemy. He was also present at the taking of Island No. 10, and was with the force, which, crossing the river on the afternoon of the 7th, marched out to Tiptonville and received the comical surrender of five thousand of the enemy.

In the sharp skirmish of the 10th Iowa before Corinth on the afternoon of the 26th of May, 1862, Captain Garrett distinguished himself, and for his good conduct in this and in other encounters with the enemy was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the 22d Iowa Infantry. His commission was issued on the 2d of August, 1862; but the delay occasioned by the "red tape" system prevented his leaving his company until the following September. On his way North to join his new command he learned from the Chicago "Journal" that the 22d Iowa had already left their rendezvous for the field. He also learned, and with greater surprise, that he had been commissioned colonel of the 40th Iowa Infantry.

The 40th Iowa Infantry entered active service in the latter part of December, 1862, and was first stationed at Columbus, Kentucky. On the first night of its arrival, that place was threatened by the enemy under Forest; but as is well known, no attack was made. The regiment served at Columbus and at Paducah, Kentucky, until the 31st of May, 1863, when, by order of General Grant, it moved down the Mississippi, and joined the grand army of that general in the operations around Vicksburg. It reached Sartatia on the Yazoo on the morning of the 4th of June, and, from that date till the surrender of the rebel strong-hold, served with that portion of the army which was stationed at and in the vicinity of Haine's Bluff, to anticipate any movement that might be made by General Johnson, to relieve the beleaguered city. During the protracted siege, the 40th never met the enemy, and lost no men in battle, but, stationed on the banks of the Yazoo, it had drunk of those deadly waters, and when, on the 23d of July, the regiment embarked for Helena, many a brave boy had been laid beneath the sod, and many more totally disabled for the service. The fifty days' service of this regiment in Mississippi forms the saddest page in its history.

Colonel Garrett arrived with his command at Helena on the 26th of July and after a few days' rest, marched with the forces of Major-General Steele against the Arkansas Capital. The fatigues and hardships of this march, made in the face of the enemy and in mid-summer in almost a tropical climate may be imagined when it is stated that, out of some six hundred men of the 40th Iowa who started on this campaign, only about two hundred and fifty reported for duty the morning after General Steele's entry into Little Rock. From Brownsville, on the line of the Duvall’s Bluff and Little Rock Railroad where Steele had halted a few days to reconnoitre the position of the enemy, the advance was made against the enemy's right to the Arkansas River via Shallow Ford and Ashley's Mills.

On the evening of the 7th, the cavalry of General Davidson reached the river near Ashley's Mills where they had a sharp skirmish with the enemy. At this point the plan of attack was determined on; and on the night of the 9th of September General Davidson threw across his pontoons preparatory to an advance on the morning of the 10th. General Davidson was to move up the south, and General Steele the north side of the Arkansas — a movement which, being least expected by the enemy, would contribute most to their surprise.

In crossing the Arkansas River the 40th Iowa under Colonel Garrett led the advance. The banks of this stream opposite to where the crossing was made were covered with dense timber, and it was supposed not only by Colonel Garrett but by Generals Steele and Davidson that the moment the opposite ride was reached by our troops a murderous fire of canister and grape from masked batteries, and a more fatal one of musketry from long lines of infantry would meet them. But doubting their ability to hold their position, the enemy had retired. The gallantry of Colonel Garrett and his regiment is, however, no less worthy of mention; for, to meet a supposed enemy in the manner above described is the chief test of a soldier's bravery.

The fall of 1863, and the following Winter, were passed by the 40th at Little Rock, and but little occurred during this time worthy of special notice; but the Spring of 1864, opening with the campaign of General Steele to Camden, afforded the regiment new and ample opportunities to establish their prowess in battle. In the great battle of the campaign — Jenkin's Ferry — Colonel Garrett distinguished himself; but full credit has never been awarded either to him or his regiment for the gallant part they acted. In the engagement, the regiment was divided, which may be the reason. Two companies were stationed on the extreme right of the line of battle, two on the extreme left, and two in the centre, (the last two in support of a battery) Colonel Garrett, with the four remaining companies, engaged the enemy for four long hours without being relieved, and in that part of the line where the fighting was the hottest. His list of casualties is evidence of the part he sustained in this sanguinary contest, it being larger in proportion to the number in line, than that of any other command engaged. His brave boys — they were but a handful — the colonel led; and in one of the many charges of the enemy he joined in repulsing, his horse was shot under him. The colonel not only distinguished himself, but nearly every officer and enlisted man of his command; and the name of Adjutant L. A. Duncan is deserving of special mention. Kirby Smith and the ubiquitous General Price, notwithstanding their vastly superior numbers, were bitterly punished at Jenkin's Ferry; and from this point back to Little Rock, the army of General Steele marched unmolested.

Subsequently to the unfortunate Camden Campaign, and up to the early spring of 1865, the 40th Iowa remained in camp at Little Rock. Much of this time Colonel Garrett served on a court-martial. But at the time above mentioned, General Thayer was relieved of his command at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and General Bussey made his successor. The latter officer, fearing that in overhauling the affairs of his new command he might not have the cordial support of the troops stationed there, requested General Reynolds to give him the 40th Iowa, as that regiment he could rely on. The request was complied with, and General Garrett, with his regiment, was at once [ordered] to report at that Post, where it has since served.

Colonel Garrett is six feet in hight, has a lair complexion, dark-blue eyes and chestnut hair. He has a thin, pale face, and a spare form; and his general appearance indicates any thing but a vigorous constitution. In his habits he is strictly temperate: he regards not only intoxicating liquors and tobacco, but tea and coffee as his deadly enemies; and thus, although possessed of naturally a weak constitution, he has preserved his general health, not having varied in the last fifteen years five pounds in weight.

He is brave and cool in action. This he so finely illustrated in the battle of Jenkin's Ferry that it has since been the subject of frequent comment with the officers and men of his command. He is a good, but not a strict disciplinarian. Few officers, however, have a better control over men than he; and there are few in the 40th Iowa, who would not prefer the guard-house, with its rations of bread and water, to a reprimand from their colonel. His character as an officer is illustrated by a little speech which he is reported to have made, on one occasion, just before leading his regiment into battle.

"Boys! we will probably have a little fight. Remember your own good name, and the fair fame of the glorious young State which sent you to the field. Don't tarnish them. Do you see that flag? Follow and defend it. Don't shoot at the sky; there are no rebels up there. That climate does not suit them. Aim low, and send them where they belong. That's all."

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 533-8

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