Thursday, January 7, 2010

Colonel Sylvester G. Hill


The late Colonel S. G. Hill was a native of Washington county, Rhode Island, where he was born on the 10th day of June, 1820. His education, which was academic, was received at the old and popular institution at Greenwich, Rhode Island. Leaving Rhode Island in 1840, he removed to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained till 1849. A chief portion of this time he was engaged in the lumber business. In 1849 he removed to California; but being disappointed in the country and in its business prospects, he returned to the States in the following year, and soon after settled in Muscatine, Iowa. In Muscatine he resumed his former business. He was engaged in the lumber trade in the summer of 1862, just before entering the service.

In July, 1862, Colonel Hill recruited a company of infantry, of which he was elected captain, and which, in the following August, was assigned to the 35th Iowa Infantry. On the 10th of August he was promoted to the colonelcy of that regiment.

I can not with interest give a detailed history of the 35th Iowa; for the majority of movements in which it took part have been already given. During the winter of 1862-3, it served at Cairo and Columbus, and at other points on the Mississippi, and in the following Spring joined General Sherman at Milliken's Bend. The march to the rear of Vicksburg, and the investment and capture of the place; Sherman's return march to Jackson; and McPherson's Expedition through Clinton to Brownsville, late in October of the same year, have all been given, and in all these the 35th Iowa joined. On the close of the last named expedition, Colonel Hill marched with his regiment to Vicksburg, whence he proceeded by boat to Memphis. From Memphis his regiment left for La Grange, Tennessee, where it went into Winter-quarters. Its history will be better understood if I state that during all these operations, and up to the time General Sherman made his celebrated raid through Mississippi to Meridian, the regiment was attached to the division of General J. M. Tuttle.

After Sherman's return from Meridian, the 35th Iowa was attached to the command of A. J. Smith, and left under that general for the mouth of Red River. Its subsequent history will be found in the brilliant operations of the 16th Army Corps. The part taken by General A. J. Smith's troops in Bank's disastrous Red River Campaign; their operations against Forest in Tennessee, and Price in Missouri, have been detailed elsewhere. I therefore enter upon an account of the brilliant operations which in December 1864 overwhelmed the army of General Hood in defeat and rout at Nashville.

Before however giving a history of these brilliant movements, I should state that in the retreat from Alexandria, [Louisiana], the 35th Iowa suffered severely. It was in this part of the luckless campaign that the regiment lost its noble major. Major Abraham John, if I mistake not, is the only officer of that rank from Iowa, who has been killed in battle. In the Red River Campaign Captain Henry Blanck, of the 36th Iowa was killed, and Captain William Dill wounded.

In giving General Hood's march on Nashville, I quote from the official report of Major-General George H. Thomas.

"Pending these operations in Tennessee, [the raid of Forest into the State, and his expulsion by the Federal troops] the whole aspect of affairs about Atlanta, had undergone a change. Hood had crossed the Chattahoochie River, and had sent one corps of his army to destroy the railroad between Allatoona and Marietta, which he had effectually accomplished for a distance of over twenty miles, interrupting all communication between the forces in Tennessee, and the main army with General Sherman in Georgia. He then moved round south of Rome, to the west side of the Coosa River, and, taking a north-westerly course, marched toward Summerville and La Fayette, threatening Chattanooga and Bridgeport. * * On the 12th instant, [October] the enemy's cavalry attacked Resaca. * * On the 13th, one corps of Hood's army appeared in front of Dalton, and a summons to surrender, signed by Hood in person, was sent in to Colonel Johnson. * * After remaining at Dalton one day, during which he destroyed about five miles of railroad, the enemy moved off to the westward, through Nick-a-jack Gap, to re-join the remainder of Hood's army near Summerville, to which point he had been followed by Sherman, with the 4th, 14th, 15th and 17th Corps, the 20th having been left behind at Atlanta, to hold the place.

* * On the 21st instant, the enemy was at Gadsden, Alabama, while Sherman's forces were at Gaylesville, both armies remaining inactive and watchful of the other's movements."

At the last named point, Sherman quit pursuit, and suffered Hood to go on and beat his brains out at Nashville, while he turned about, and walked through to the Atlantic Slope.

"On the 16th instant, the enemy's infantry made its appearance in strong force in front of Decatur, Alabama, and during the afternoon attacked the garrison, but not vigorously, and without effect. * * * On the 29th, General Granger reported the enemy in his front, to be withdrawing from Decatur toward Courtland. The same day, General Croxton, commanding a brigade of cavalry picketing the north bank of the river, reported the enemy crossing at the mouth of Cypress Creek, two miles below Florence. * * Hood's plans had now become evident, and from information gained through prisoners, deserters, and from other sources, his intention was to cross into Middle Tennessee."

Hood's march from the Tennessee to Nashville, will be found elsewhere. During the march, he fought the terrible battle of Franklin, where he lost more than six thousand men in killed, wounded and captured, among whom were thirteen general officers. Thomas fell back to Nashville, where, on the 1st of December, he formed line of battle on the hights surrounding the city, and awaited Hood's approach. General A. J. Smith's command, (to which, as I have already said the 35th Iowa was attached) had already arrived from Missouri, and now Thomas' line of battle before Nashville was as follows: Smith held the right, Wood, commanding the 4th Corps, the centre, and Schofleld the left. In this position the Federal army rested, ice-bound, until the morning of the 15th instant; and during those two weeks, the dispirited rebels suffered most intensely from cold and hunger. They had been promised much plunder and little fighting; and there they stood shivering over their lazy, smoking camp-fires, staring destruction in the face. They could see the promised city, with its inviting shelter and comforts, but, like one of old, they could not enter.

By special order No. 342 the battle was to be opened at the earliest day the condition of the weather would admit and that day proved to be the 15th of December. In the morning of that day the weather was moderate, a circumstance which contributed not a little to the Federal successes; for a dense fog arose which only lifted toward noon. Under cover of this fog, Thomas advanced to the attack. Smith, who still held the right, marched out on the right of the Harding pike and struck and doubled back the enemy's left flank. On Smith's right were the cavalry who, dismounted, joined in the general advance; and these were the opening successes.

For the part taken by the 12th and 35th Iowa in the first day's battle (these troops were of the same brigade) I refer to the official report of Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Stibbs of the former regiment.

"At about ten o'clock, the order to advance being given, our skirmishers pushed rapidly forward, and found a considerable force of the enemy, who were easily driven back. Our main line advanced steadily, and without opposition, constantly changing our point of direction toward the left, until we had advanced two miles, when, coming on to the crest of a hill, we were opened on by one of the enemy's batteries posted directly in front, and distant about a thousand yards. Our men were then ordered to lie down, when our brigade battery was brought forward, and opened on the enemy. We were held in this position for about an hour and a half, the enemy keeping up a constant fire on our line, doing us but little damage.

"The first and second brigades of our division to our right, having advanced their lines, swung round to the left, charged and captured the enemy's redoubts in our front. We were then moved forward, swinging our line to the left, and conforming to the line on our right. After advancing about half a mile, we came upon a strong redoubt of the enemy, situated to the right of the Hillsboro pike, and just five miles from Nashville; our line was pushed well forward, and shortly before four o'clock, P. M., every thing being ready, we were ordered to charge.

"Our men moved rapidly up the hill, but, before gaining the crest, the enemy moved their guns and most of their support to a fort about three hundred yards in the rear, and to the right, from which they gave us a heavy raking fire as we moved on to and over the first work. On gaining the first work, our brigade commander, Colonel S. G. Hill, 35th Iowa Infantry, was shot through the head, and instantly killed."

And thus closed the first day's fighting in this part of the field; for it was now near night and soon the whole line was compelled to halt.

The engagement at Nashville stands among the most brilliant of the war. It is Thomas' celebrated left-wheel battle, where with Schofield's and a part of Wood's command, he guarded Nashville and held the enemy's right, and with Smith and Wilson's Cavalry bore back and shattered his left.

When the first day's fighting had closed, the issue of the battle was decided; and now Hood only thought of how he should conduct his retreat. There was, however, much hard fighting on the 16th instant; but before four o'clock of that day Hood fled in utter despair southward. Thomas followed the disorganized rebel army as far as Clifton, and there went into camp. In the following Spring, the 35th Iowa followed General Smith to Mobile, where it closed the interesting portion of its history.

Colonel Hill was a man of middle size, weighing about one hundred and sixty pounds, and having a bilious-sanguine temperament. He was a brave soldier, and an honest, unpretending man. If he was distinguished for any thing, it was for his courage and caution. He had good judgment, and enjoyed the love of his regiment, and the confidence of his superior officers.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 507-12

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