Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Colonel Joseph B. Dorr


The late Colonel Joseph B. Dorr was a native of Erie county, New York, where he was born the 6th day of August, 1825. He was educated at the common schools of Erie county, where he continued to reside till the year 1847. In the fall of that year he came West, and settled in Jackson county, Iowa, and, in the year following, became the editor and proprietor of the "Jackson County Democrat." That paper he continued to edit and publish till the year 1849, when he established the "Western Democrat and Common School Journal," the first educational journal published in the State of Iowa.

After a residence of nearly five years in Jackson county, Mr. Dorr removed to the city of Dubuque, where he soon after became an associate editor of the "Dubuque Herald." In 1855, he became sole proprietor of the "Herald," which he continued to publish till May, 1861. In justice to the colonel I should state that, his editorial connection with that paper ceased at the close of the Presidential Campaign of 1860. Though always a member of the Democratic party, he was never of the peace persuasion. From the beginning of our present troubles, he was an earnest war man.

In the summer of 1861, Colonel Dorr assisted in raising the 12th Iowa Infantry, and on its organization, was made quartermaster of that regiment. To an honest man, the position of regimental quarter-master is the least desirable of all. Its duties are difficult and arduous, and such as to render the officer extremely unpopular. With the common soldiers, to be a quarter-master is almost synonymous with being a rascal. I believe that Quarter-Master Dorr discharged the duties of his office honestly and faithfully. He was certainly popular with his regiment. At Shiloh he distinguished himself. Voluntarily waiving all claims to personal security, which are usually considered as attaching to the office of quarter-master, he acted as aide to Colonel Woods on the field, and was with his regiment taken prisoner. His services were appreciated by Colonel Woods, for in his official report he says:

"Quarter-Master Dorr, though his position did not require him to go into action, volunteered to do so, and, throughout the day, behaved in a brave and gallant manner, daringly if not recklessly exposing his person to the enemy. He made himself very useful in carrying messages, and in spying out the positions and movements of the enemy, and firing on them as occasion offered."

Colonel Dorr was commissioned colonel of the 8th Iowa Cavalry the 14th of April, 1863; but was not mustered to that rank till the 30th of the following September. He served in the field with his regiment, being a considerable portion of the time in command of a brigade, till the spring of 1865. He died of disease at Macon, Georgia, on the 8th of May, 1865. He was a most excellent citizen, and a splendid soldier.

The 8th Iowa Cavalry was rendezvoused and organized at Camp Hendershott, Davenport, Iowa; was mustered into the United States service on the 30th of September, 1863; and a few days later was ordered to report to General Rosecrans, at Chattanooga. The regiment left Iowa on the 17th of October for Louisville, where it arrived on the 21st instant.

On the 17th of November it had reached Nashville; but Thomas had in the meantime succeeded Rosecrans, and the regiment was ordered to report to General A. C. Gillem, who stationed it as follows: — The 1st Battalion and regimental head-quarters were at Waverly; the 3d Battalion forty-nine miles west of Nashville, and the 2d Battalion some thirty miles west of Nashville. The different battalions served at these stations until the spring of 1864, doing patrol- and guard-duty. During this time, no opportunity for distinction offered; but, to show that the duties of the regiment were arduous, it need only be stated that the portion of Tennessee, where it served was intensely disloyal, and infested with guerrillas.

"One expedition was made during December, 1863, which deserves notice as an opening incident in the history of a new regiment. On the 20th, Lieutenant Wilbur F. McCanon, Company G, with forty men, crossed Duck River during a violent storm of wind and rain, and under most disadvantageous circumstances, the stream being swollen out of its banks and running at a furious rate. The crossing was not effected till after dark; but, without halting, he pushed out over the low lands, already running with torrents from the overflowing river, and, traversing a thickly-wooded country a distance of fourteen miles, reached the rendezvous of a portion of Hawkins' men, and captured Captain Nance, one lieutenant, and twelve men with their horses and arms. I had expected that Colonel Hawkins and his staff with twenty-five or thirty of his best men would be found there, but he had been too careful of his life and liberty to trust himself within twenty miles of the post for quarters. The party returned across the river by day-light the next morning. Lieutenant McCanon is entitled to much credit for his perseverance under difficulties."

In February, 1864, the rebel Roddy made his appearance in Southern Tennessee, with a force estimated at four thousand men, with two full batteries. He came as far north as Pulaski and attacked that place, but was repulsed. Word was sent by General Rosseau, commanding at Nashville, to Colonel Dorr at Waverly, of the fact, with instructions to scout the country south, and develop the intentions of the enemy. Captain Burns with his company was, accordingly, dispatched to Centreville, nearly forty miles distant; but on arriving there the captain learned that Roddy had retired across the Tennessee. His expedition however was not fruitless; for on the return ho got word of a rebel recruiting party on its way to Western Kentucky, and made pursuit. The chief of the party, which was overtaken and captured, proved to be Lieutenant-Colonel Brewer, of Forest's command. The colonel made a show of fight, and would not surrender till quite severely wounded. With him, were captured important dispatches.

Captains Evans, Root, Cummings, and Shurtz, of the 8th Iowa Cavalry, are especially mentioned for their success in hunting down scouting parties of the enemy while stationed in the vicinity of the Nashville and North Western Railroad. The following is a summary of the labors of the regiment, before leaving for Chattanooga to join in the Atlanta Campaign.

"The whole number of prisoners taken by the regiment, up to the 12th of March, 1864, was between four and five hundred. Over one thousand deserters from the rebel service came in and took the oath of allegiance at the different posts of the regiment, and more than seven thousand dollars in bonds were taken from disloyal persons, to give no aid nor comfort to the rebellion, and to assist in putting it down."

After refitting at Nashville, the 8th Iowa Cavalry proceeded to Chattanooga, where it arrived on the 10th of April. It was ordered to report immediately at Cleveland, where it was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by General E. M. McCook. With this command, it led the advance on Atlanta, and made its brilliant record. Colonel Dorr commanded the brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Earner, for a time, commanded the regiment. The brigade was composed of the 1st Tennessee, 2d Michigan, and 8th Iowa Cavalry regiments. To give a full account of the operations of the 8th Iowa, from the 3d day of May, 1864, the time when, with its division, it first moved against the enemy near Dalton, till the march on Jonesboro late in the following August, which necessitated the evacuation of Atlanta, is impossible. I will quote briefly from the history of the regiment relating to the early part of the campaign, to show the nature of its services.

"On the 3d of May, the regiment moved with the division on Red Clay, by the Dalton road. On the 4th, the 8th was posted so as to cover the road to the east, supported by and supporting the 2d Michigan, on the Dalton road. On the 5th, sent out a reconnoitering party from the 8th, under command of Major Price, and found the enemy about four miles off on the Dalton road. On the 6th, sent detachments from the 8th and other regiments to scour the roads to our left. On the 7th, the brigade, the 8th Iowa Cavalry in advance, moved down the Dalton road, and, turning to the right, drove the enemy out of Varnel's Station, which we occupied. Skirmishing continued all day with a considerable force, which made its appearance on the high land to the left of the railroad. About four P. M., received orders to move so as to cover cross-roads, two miles west of the station, and had just commenced the movement, when the enemy opened upon us with shell, wounding a few men, and killing a few horses. On the 9th of May, moved to a point on the railroad three miles south of Varnel's Station, the 2d Brigade being upon our left. The 8th took post across the railroad, the left of the regiment resting on the ridge east of the railroad, one battalion being held in reserve. The 2d Michigan was on the left of the 8th, and the 1st Tennessee on the right. In this manner, about ten A. M., the brigade advanced on the enemy posted on the ridges, and drove him back some three miles. The 8th having the advance on the railroad encountered more opposition, but gallantly pushed the enemy before them at all points, including his temporary works on the ridge east of the railroad, which were captured by Company E. Corporals Pease and Sharp particularly distinguished themselves, and received promotion for it."

An instance occurred at Varnel's Station, which illustrates the courage and gallantry of Colonel Dorr. The enemy were posted in the edge of timber, and along a ridge which could only be reached by passing up through a steep, open field, covered by the musketry and artillery of the enemy. The strength of the enemy was unknown, as was also the fact that they had artillery. Colonel Dorr, who was in command of his brigade, and who wished to develope the strength of the enemy, selected a company from his regiment (I think company E) and, placing himself at its head, charged up the ascent nearly to the enemy's works. He was of course met by a withering fire and compelled to retire precipitately. He gained his former position, with the loss of only one man wounded; but, had not the fire of the enemy been as high as it was, hardly a man of the party could have escaped.

On the 13th of May, the 8th Iowa Cavalry, with its division, marched against the enemy at Ray's Gap, six miles west of Tunnel Hill; but before the command came up the enemy fled, abandoning their strong works. The 8th arrived on the rocky hights only in time to see Johnson [sic] fleeing from Dalton, and Sherman sweeping through the place in pursuit.

The 8th Iowa led the advance over the Conasauga River, near Resaca, and also over the Coosawattie, where Colonel Crittenden feared to venture with a whole cavalry brigade. On the 19th instant, near Cassville, the regiment, with its division, run [sic] on the flank of the whole rebel army. General Stoneman coming up with his cavalry command soon after, an attack was planned and made, which resulted in forcing the enemy back near the town. Majors Price and Root, Captain Hoxie and Lieutenant McCanon are specially mentioned for gallantry in this affair. On the 24th instant, McCook came on Jackson's division of rebel cavalry at Burnt Hickory, and, during that afternoon, Captain Walden of the 8th distinguished himself by charging and routing a portion of the enemy from a strong position. At Burnt Church, Lieutenant Anderson of the 8th distinguished himself.

On the 5th of July, General McCook shifted his division from the right to the left of Sherman's Army, and, pushing on to the Chattahoochie, continued to hold different fords till the 17th instant. The next day a portion of the 8th Iowa crossed the river: it was the first cavalry on the Atlanta side of the Chattahoochie. But, where the 8th Iowa Cavalry most distinguished itself during the Atlanta Campaign, was on the disastrous raid to cut the Atlanta and Macon Railroad near Lovejoy's Station, Georgia. The object of the raid was successfully accomplished, but at a great sacrifice.

General McCook left his camp below Vinings' Station on the Chattahoochie, about noon of the 26th of July, for the rear of Atlanta. Moving down the west side of the river all that afternoon and the following night, he crossed to the east side by the Riverton Ferry, and marched south-east for Lovejoy's Station. On the route, he passed through Palmetto, on the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, and Fayetteville, and struck the Atlanta and Macon Railroad, about noon of the 29th instant. He had met opposition at only one place on the march. At Palmetto, six hundred of the enemy confronted him; but they were instantly driven off, and the depot buildings burned. Near Fayetteville, a large rebel train was captured, with several prisoners. Instantly after reaching the Macon road, the work of destruction begun. In two hour's time, nearly two miles of the road were torn up and burned; the telegraph wire was cut down; the water-tank and woodshed were burned, and also a number of platform and box cars, standing on the track. General McCook started on the return, about two o'clock in the afternoon; but the history of this portion of the expedition I shall give in the language of Colonel Dorr.

"The 1st Brigade was in the rear, in the retrograde movement. About one mile west of Lovejoy's Station, Jackson's Division of rebel cavalry were found on our road, and between us and the 2d Brigade. Almost at the same moment, I received orders from Colonel Croxton, commanding the brigade, to move forward and attack the enemy. The regiment moved up at a trot, and soon came up with the brigade commander, who ordered me to charge the enemy. I advanced at a fast trot until within striking distance, when I ordered the charge, and the regiment, right in front in column, dashed forward gallantly on the enemy. The rebels were in column in the road, and in line on the right and left of the road. Their front line gave back rapidly under this headlong charge; but those in the rear and on the left of the road poured in a most deadly fire, before which the head of the column went down like grass before the scythe. That portion of the enemy's force on the left of the road had been mostly concealed from me by the nature of the ground. I saw, just as the head of the column struck the enemy, that this portion of their force must be routed, or the column in the road would be exposed to a flank as well as a front fire. Instantly, I ordered the companies in rear of the 1st Battalion into the field on the left of the road, for the purpose of charging that portion of the enemy's line; but at this critical moment I discovered that they had not come up, having been ordered by Colonel Croxton, as they were following the 1st Battalion, to turn off the road and form in a field to the left. I had but two hundred and ninety-two men with me on the raid, and, by this order, I was, without notice, left with only about one hundred men to charge an entire brigade, and that the best brigade in the rebel service, being composed of the 3d, 6th, and 9th Texas. Indeed, it has never been certainly ascertained that Jackson's whole division was not in the field: a battle-flag, believed to be his, was seen on the left of the road, and nearly reached by my men. *"

In the fighting at this point, during which Colonel Dorr was compelled to withdraw, the 8th lost, among the killed, Lieutenant James Horton, acting adjutant, and Lieutenant J. H. Cabb. "Both were as gallant young officers as ever drew a sabre." The regiment then withdrew in the direction of Newnan.

"During the night following, we continued the march through swamps and over most difficult roads, portions of the regiment, under command of Major Isett and Root, operating on the flanks and rear. About noon of the 30th, the head of the column entered Newnan, when it unexpectedly came upon Roddy's dismounted cavalry On their way to Atlanta. This force, in addition to Wheeler's which came up soon after, gave the enemy fully eight thousand men, and enabled them to force back the Federal column, and occupy the road in front. The 2d Brigade was in the front, followed by the 1st, Colonel Harrison's Brigade being in the rear. Both the 2d Brigade and Harrison's were slightly engaged. The 8th was ordered to dismount in the road, where the command was halted, and ordered to throw up barricades, which was done. We remained in this position for sometime without hearing any thing of the enemy. While absent a few hundred yards from the regiment on account of a wound received at Lovejoy's Station on the 29th, I received orders to move forward, and requested Captain Sutherland, adjutant-general, who brought me the order, to give to Major Root, who was with the regiment. In a few moments I came up and found the regiment had made a charge, one portion under Major Root, and the other under Major Isett. The enemy gave way in confusion, and Major Isett captured a large number of horses of Ross' Brigade. General Hume, commanding a brigade, was captured by Lieutenant George M. Detwiler, but was re-captured by the enemy, together with the gallant officer by whom he had been taken.

"The 8th had cleared the way. Captain Walden reported this to me just as I came up, and it was also reported to the brigade commander; and had the whole division then moved forward, we should have been able to hold the road. But the enemy so largely outnumbered that portion of the expeditionary forces engaged that they soon rallied and again occupied the road. * * * * * It was five o'clock when General McCook determined to abandon his artillery, ambulances and wounded. The artillery-carriages were cut down, and the pieces spiked and heavily loaded with percussion or shell.

"About this time, Colonel Croxton, commanding the brigade, was reported missing, when I received orders to take command of the brigade. Major Root having been missing since the first charge, I directed Major Isett to take command of the regiment. But now I soon learned from Captain Sutherland that the other regiments of the brigade could not be found. Of the 8th Iowa, there was not far from one hundred men, which was, indeed, all that was left of the 1st Brigade; and of these several were wounded, and many of them without arms, having lost them in the fight. After abandoning the artillery, the column moved to the left and crossed some fields, intending to take a by-path through the woods, which entered the La Grange road some little distance from the battle-field. Just as the head of the column was entering the forest, General McCook rode back to me and asked if I could form the 8th on the brow of the hill that we had just passed and check the enemy. I replied, 'I can.' He then ordered me to do so, saying: 'This retreat must be protected.' I at once directed Major Isett to form the regiment on the ground indicated, which was in plain sight of the enemy, who were then seen advancing. In this position we were obliged to remain, seeing the enemy move toward our flank, until the fragments of regiments, the stragglers and skulkers, who filled the road over which the column had moved, got out of the way. Every minute's delay I knew lessened our chances of escape; but there was no help for it, and the regiment, with a few exceptions, did their duty gallantly, and calmly awaited orders. General McCook with the main column was heard sharply engaged, as he successfully cut his way out."

The rest is soon told. Seeing that the enemy did not intend to attack him in the position he then held, but that their object was to cut him off and capture him, Colonel Dorr mounted his command and continued the retreat. He first endeavored to escape through timber to the left, but, finding that impracticable, turned and hurried on after the retreating column. The road led through heavy timber, and he had scarcely entered it when he met the 4th Tennessee, returning at full run, with the alarming story that they were cut off. It was impossible to pass these frightened men in the narrow road, and the colonel turned back to let them through, after which, he dashed down the road, determined to cut his way out; but in the meantime a whole rebel brigade had gained his immediate front, making escape impossible. Some few of the regiment, striking out by themselves, finally reached the Federal lines. All others were made prisoners.

In speaking of the conduct of his regiment, Colonel Dorr said: "In the engagement, which was of the severest character, the men and officers of the 8th behaved with a gallantry and steadiness, which drew from General McCook a public compliment on the battlefield. As on the day before, there were but few exceptions to this, .while there were many instances of great gallantry displayed." And then follow the names of Major Isett, Captain Morhiser, Captain, now Major Shurtz, Captains Moore and Doane, Lieutenants Moreland, McCanon, Loomis, Belfield, Bennett, Pritchard, Anderson, Morrow, Ogle, Detwiler, and Haight. He also adds a long list of non-commissioned officers and privates. Lieutenant John B. Loomis and Sergeant William Mitchell were among the killed; and Captain, now Major Shurtz, Lieutenant J. T. Haight and Sergeants William Pulliam, (who afterward died) and T. M. Thomas were among the wounded.

Colonel Dorr was retained a prisoner of war till the following Fall, and was then exchanged. He re-joined his regiment the 7th of November, 1864, while it was stationed at Florence, Alabama, and a few days before General Hood crossed the Tennessee, and marched on Nashville. He commanded his regiment in the engagements round Nashville, and in the pursuit of the flying enemy; and, finally joined General Wilson in his brilliant raid through Alabama and Georgia. That was his last march; for, as already stated, he died while in camp with his regiment, near Macon.

The only time I ever saw Colonel Dorr was in the summer of 1863, when he was traveling through the State on business relative to his regiment, then being recruited. He was, at the time, in company with an old Democratic friend, who, like himself, was an earnest war man. In the course of conversation his friend suggested— " Why don't you go and talk with Mr ?" (also a former party friend, but then, antibelligerent.) "I'll tell you," he replied, " there is no use in talking to him, till you whip out his friends."

Colonel Dorr was a man of about five feet eleven inches in hight, and had, when I saw him, a stocky and vigorous frame. The expression of his face, which was deeply bronzed by exposure, was frank and manly. I judged him to be a man of great energy, and of much practical ability. As a citizen, he was held in the highest esteem; and his death was deeply mourned in Dubuque. His "kindness of heart," says the "Times" " hardly knew bounds; and appeals from needy ones were never disregarded by him. Those who were most intimate with him, and understood his motives, loved and admired him most. The feeling among the -Union men in this city over the news of his death is that of sincere grief. He leaves a wife and several children, for whom there is felt a deep sympathy."

I have already said he was an excellent soldier. He was brave to rashness, and his love for his men was unbounded. The following is from a communication, sent by him to the Adjutant-General of Iowa:

"I take the greater pleasure in incorporating their names in this report, because the enlisted soldier, whose gallantry wins promotion for his commanding officer, rarely reaps any other reward than the consciousness of having done his duty. He bleeds and dies for his country; he wins her battles, and crowns her standard with glory. At last, he occupies six feet by two of his native soil, or that of a foreign land, and leaves no void behind, except in the hearts of those who called him father, son or brother."

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p.639-50

1 comment:

Ellen Dorr Smith said...

Thank you so much for sharing this story on Colonel Joseph B Dorr. It is much appreciated. I also recently came across this story about the vases he made while a prisoner. The story starts on page 6 of this pdf file.