Friday, January 15, 2010

Colonel William Thompson


William Thompson was born in the State of Pennsylvania, in about the year 1814. He came to Iowa while it was yet a Territory, and settled in Burlington, where he was at one time the editor of a democratic paper. He became, soon after coming to the country, quite a distinguished politician, and, in 1848, was elected to Congress. At the time of entering the service, he was a resident of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and a practicing lawyer; for that was his profession. Colonel Thompson entered the service as captain of Company E, 1st Iowa Cavalry, the company which he had recruited in Henry county, in the months of June and July, 1861. Holding this rank until the 5th of April, 1863, he was at that time promoted to a majority of the regiment, and in August, 1864, was made colonel.

In the sketch of Colonel Thompson, I shall include a portion of the history of the 1st Iowa Cavalry, which was made during the colonelcy of Mr. Anderson; for I can do so with propriety, since during this time the regiment was not commanded by Colonel Anderson.

Having passed the previous Fall and Winter in scouting in the vicinity of Little Rock, the 1st Iowa Cavalry in the opening of Spring joined the command of General Steele in the march to Camden. The regiment was brigaded with the 3d Missouri and the 10th Illinois Cavalry, these troops being the same that had been organized into a brigade command nearly a year before at Pilot Knob, Missouri. The brigade commander was not the same. Colonel Glover, a brave and good man, had been compelled to leave the service from disability, and Colonel Anderson, as the ranking officer, became his successor. But, as has already been stated, Colonel Anderson was, on the eve of General Steele's departure, seized with sudden illness, and Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, of the 1st Iowa Cavalry, succeeded to the command of the brigade. There had also been a change in the division commander. After the possession of Little Rock, the radicalism of General Davidson had so conflicted with the conservatism of General Steele, as to produce repeated misunderstandings; and the report was that, by the mutual efforts of these officers, General Davidson was relieved and given a command elsewhere. General Davidson's successor was General E. A. Carr, of Pea Ridge notoriety. Major, now Colonel Thompson, commanded the 1st Iowa Cavalry, and thus commanded, and thus associated, the regiment marched on its most eventful campaign.

The leading events of the Camden Expedition are related elsewhere. It was one of great dangers and hardships, and the cavalry portion of the command, which led the advance, was hardly ever out of peril. From Prairie de Anne, (than which there is not a prettier little district of country in the Old or New World) to Camden, the enemy were never out of view. Wherever the character of the country was favorable, they were sure to be found in position, and during the whole of this distance, their skirmishers were constantly in the front, to harass the cavalry-advance. A detachment of the 1st Iowa Cavalry, and one of the 3d Missouri Cavalry were the first troops to enter Camden. Two and a half miles west of Camden, (and General Steele marching down the south-west side of the Washita River, entered the city from the west) the road forks. The left-hand road enters the city from the west, and the right-hand one from the south-west. Starting from these forks, two hundred and fifty men from the 1st Iowa Cavalry, and two hundred and fifty from the 3d Missouri Cavalry, dashed into Camden. The Iowa troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, taking the right-hand road, entered the city just before sun-down, and almost simultaneous with those of the 3d Missouri Cavalry. The enemy offered no resistance, for they had fled to avoid capture.

On entering Camden on the evening of the 15th of April, General Steele was unwilling to believe he had reached the terminus of his march southward. Nor when the Old Flag was raised on the Court-House did he think that it must soon be hauled down, and he be compelled to march back hurriedly to Little Rock.

But the 1st Iowa Cavalry was to go no further. Indeed, its leaving Little Rock was a matter of its own choosing; for the regiment had re-enlisted as veterans, and the first of March had been fixed as the time for its departure North. But General Steele had said "You had better go along, for we shall need you;" and where is the Iowa regiment that would not have done likewise? The horses of the 1st Iowa Cavalry were the individual property of the regiment, and by a general order these had to be sold and transferred to the Government, before the regiment could start back to Little Rock. It was a matter of irksome delay, but it saved the regiment from capture; for it was to accompany the brigade and train that were surrounded and captured at Mark's Mills, Arkansas on the 25th instant.

The 2d Brigade, 3d Division, 7th Army Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel F. M. Drake commanding, left Camden for Pine Bluff for supplies, at five o'clock on the morning of the 23d of April, 1864. Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Caldwell, in command of his regiment, was not able to leave until twenty-four hours later. The regiment had disposed of their horses and, with the exception of the officers, were to travel on foot. The order directing the regiment to sell and transfer their horses, also required them to turn over their arms; but against this Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell protested, and they were allowed to retain them. This was most fortunate; for their trusty arms proved their salvation. Early in the morning of the 24th instant, the 1st Iowa Cavalry crossed the Washita, and started in rapid pursuit of the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Drake. The country was full of the enemy's scouts. The citizens were sullen, and to all questions gave ominous answers. At the same time rumors were repeated of the defeat of Banks; all of which justly made Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell apprehensive of pending danger. He therefore called on General Carr for a cavalry-escort, which was reluctantly granted; but it turned back on the morning of the second day's march, and proved of no service. Camp was pitched on the evening of the 24th instant, about twenty-five miles from Camden.

The next morning, the march was resumed at day-light, and by great exertion, the edge of Moro Bottom was reached at ten o'clock. Here had been the encampment of Lieutenant-Colonel Drake's command only the night before, and, by hard marching, Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell hoped to overtake that command that night. The men of his regiment now ceased to be apprehensive for their safety, and began to indulge in dreams of home-greetings, and to devise plans by which they could most surprise their friends. But they had not quite reached the stream from which Moro Bottom derives its name, before a cry of alarm was heard in the front; and in the next instant all was confusion.

That morning the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Drake had been attacked by a superior force of the enemy—not less I think than seven thousand, and after a brief but most spirited fight, the greater portion of it captured. The camp-followers and teamsters, cutting loose the mules from the train, mounted them, and at full speed rode back in the direction of Camden; and from one of these Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell learned of that morning's disaster. To conceive the terror with which these poor fellows were overwhelmed is impossible. Stripped of all but their boots, pants and shirts, hatless, coatless and covered with mud, their eyes protruding, and their hair standing on end, they came at full run and shouting from their already hoarse throats: "We are all lost! they are all lost! we are all lost! they are all lost:" To the repeated calls of Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell, "Stop, stop!" they paid no attention, and the only way he could learn what had happened was, by laying his strong hand on the shoulder of one as he was passing, and holding him fast till he had told the story. But he was not half done, when the report of musketry was heard at the front. Some four hundred of the enemy's cavalry were in pursuit of the fugitives, their object being the capture of the mules on which they were escaping. Reinforcements were at once sent forward to the advance-guard, which had arrived at the bridge over the Moro in time to prevent the enemy from crossing. Quite a sharp engagement followed, during which Lieutenant-Colonel Caldwell burned his small train with its contents. This was the cause of much regret to his men; for in their saddle-bags were many cherished souvenirs which they had for a long time preserved as gifts for their friends; but it was impossible in the deep mud to turn the wagons and drive them to the rear. The enemy finally ceased their attack and riding down the creek, disappeared and gave no further trouble.

The 1st Iowa Cavalry now returned to near Camden, and accompanied General Steele to Little Rock. The departure North of this gallant regiment on veteran furlough, was made the occasion by General Carr, of a very complimentary order to not only that regiment, but to the Iowa troops generally. The same order alluded in flattering terms to the gallant conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Caldwell on the Camden Expedition.

About the middle of July, 1864, its leave of absence having expired, the 1st Iowa Cavalry left Davenport for the front, via Cairo, Illinois; but, on arriving at that place, was ordered by General Halleck to Benton Barracks, Missouri, where it remained until the 12th of the following August. At the last named date it was ordered to Mexico, Missouri; and later was ordered on duty on the line of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.

At the time of General Price's invasion of Missouri in the fall of 1864, the regiment was ordered to Jefferson City, and at that point joined the forces of General Rosecrans, and marched on the campaign that resulted in the expulsion of the rebel forces from the State. Returning to Warrensburg, Missouri, the regiment was there made the cavalry-escort of General Rosecrans, which conducted him back to St. Louis. After its arrival in that city, it was ordered into quarters at Benton Barracks, and in January, 1865, sent back to Little Rock, where Colonel Thompson joined it, and in the vicinity of which place it has since served.

Colonel Thompson is a large man, weighing about one hundred and ninety pounds, and having black hair and eyes, and a dark complexion. He is reputed an able, intelligent man.

SOURCE: Addison A. Stuart, Iowa Colonels and Regiments, p. 559-64

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