STEAMER WAR EAGLE,
Tennessee River, off Savannah,
March 17, 1862
To the Editor of the Gazette:– The 8th Iowa left Sedalia last Thursday evening, March 11th, and arrived at St. Louis the following evening. We were to embark on the steamer War Eagle, which, beside our regiment and transportation, was loading on some 225 tons of Government stores. All Thursday we lay in St. Louis. While there, Col. Geddes obtained 600 Springfield rifled muskets, new, and of the very best kind. Our flank companies were previously armed with Enflield Rifles, and the new Springfield will fully provide with first rate arms, those in our battalion companies which have been carrying the old “Tower Muskets”.” We are now as well armed as we could wish.
About sundown our boat left the wharf at St. Louis. The evening was calm and clear, and the air mild, our men in good health and fine spirits. We floated down the Mississippi, with nothing to disturb the quiet of a river trip, except the merry songs and laughter of officers and men, and the roar of musketry for two or three hours Friday afternoon, when the boys were trying their new guns. We stopped a short time at Cape Girardeau, then cam to Bird’s Point where we touched a moment, and then over to Cairo. We arrived at this latter place about dusk, and remained there till noon on Saturday unloading Government Stores. From Cairo we proceeded up the Ohio to Paducah, thence up the Tennessee.
Sunday afternoon we passed what was Fort Henry. Our boat stopped a few minutes here, and several officers and men went ashore to see the fort. It was constructed of earth, thrown up in a circular form, and strengthened by “gunnies” filled with the same material. The guns were so arranged as to command the river, and from appearances, were capable of making a strong resistance. They were nearly all dismounted, some by shots from our gunboats, during the engagement, more by the troops left there after the capture. Among the guns, I noticed the fragments of the rifled cannon which bursted; killing, it is said, a dozen or more of the rebels in the explosion; also the largest gun I have seen in the West, a 128 pounder. This gun, I understand, opened on our gun boats but once. It certainly looked as if it was capable of doing considerable damage if skillfully managed.
Since Friday morning the weather has been rainy and unpleasant until this morning, when it cleared off mild and bright. – We were sailing along as comfortably as was possible in so crowded a boat till about 2 P. M., when
THE WAR EAGLE WAS FIRED INTO.
Some rascally murderous rebels had secreted themselves in the rocks and timber along the shore, and as our crowded boat passed by their lurking place, fired into our bow. The guards were filled with men, and some of the rebels’ shots unfortunately took effect. Alex. Jenkins [sic], of Co. G, was instantly killed by a ball through the head; Martin Gentzer [sic], of Co. C, was shot through the left breast. This wound is considered by the surgeons as mortal, though the young man is still living. – A third, Wm. Phillips, of Co. H, is severely wounded in the right thigh. The ball went clear through, missing the bone, and inflicting a flesh wound. Our boys returned the fire promptly, with what effect though is uncertain. The rebels were well screened by rocks and trees, and showed themselves as little as possible. – One of the rebels was seen to spring in the air, drop his gun, throw up his hands, and fall upon his face, probably pierced by a ball from one of our Enfields. For a few moments balls whizzed rather unpleasantly across the hurricane deck, but the three mentioned were the only casualties. Poor fellows! Though wounded and Killed by cowardly, skulking, murderous rebels, yet they suffered and died as truly for their country’s sake as though they had fallen at Henry or Donelson.
As we came up to this town, we saw before us a perfect forest of smokepipes. A great number of boats loaded with troops have come up. Some of the troops have gone ashore; many are still on the boats. In the latter class are the 8th Iowa. Our Colonel has gone ashore for orders. It is said some regiments have already been sent up the river towards Florence, Ala., and that fighting has been done to-day some 30 miles above here. We begin to feel as if we were getting near the enemy in fact, and our boys are eager for an opportunity to try their guns. If we can judge of men from such a surprise as we had to-day, and I assure you it is somewhat trying to one of weak nerves to hear bullets whizzing about his head, when there is no chance of getting away, or returning the compliment, our boys may be set down as of the right kind, for they stood up manfully, and whenever a “secesh” showed himself, a dozen bullets fell in unpleasant propinquity to the place he was last seen. As we passed up the river we have frequently been greeted by those along the bank with shouts for the Union and waving of hats and handkerchiefs, mostly by women and boys. The “Union sentiment” along the Tennessee seems somewhat mixed to us, and we rather doubt its strength and genuineness; while the women wave their handkerchiefs and hurrah for the stars and stripes, the men, perhaps their husband and brothers, fire into us! We have been used to this kind of treatment in the State we have left. The “great unwashed” in Southwestern Missouri are naturally “bushwhackers,” but we expected in this State a fairer and more honorable mode of warfare. But “we shall see what we shall see,” and that before many days, I recon.
Our Colonel has just come on board with orders to proceed immediately eight miles further up the river; so there is no chance of mailing at the town of Savannah.
MARCH 18TH. – During the night we came up eight miles above Savannah. Here we found many boats. Some have already unloaded their cargo of soldiers. We are only waiting an opportunity to get near the land to debark. I understand that Gen. Bragg is near this point reconnoitering. A detachment under Gen. Sherman has been sent out by Gen. Grant. I understand an honorable position in the advance is assigned out regiment.
The man of Co. C, mortally wounded yesterday, died during the night.
– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Tuesday Morning, March 25, 1862, p. 2