Report of Col. James L. Geddes, Eighth Iowa Infantry.
VINTON, BENTON COUNTY, IOWA,
November 13, 1862.
SIR: In compliance with your request I have the honor to submit for your information a report of the part taken by the Eighth Iowa Infantry at the battle of Shiloh, fought on April 6:
About 8 o’clock on the morning of the 6th I ordered the regiment under arms and formed line of battle in front of my encampment, awaiting orders to proceed to the front. At this time the firing on our advanced line had become general, and it appeared to me evident that we were being attacked in force by the rebel general. After remaining under arms about half an hour, during which time I had ordered the baggage belonging to the regiment to be loaded on the wagons and an extra supply of ammunition to be issued to the men, I was ordered by Colonel Sweeny, Fifty-second Illinois, brigade commander, to proceed to the front. On arriving at our advanced line I was ordered by Colonel Sweeny to take my position on the left of the brigade to which I was attached, for the purpose of protecting a battery immediately in front. Here the regiment remained about one hour exposed to a severe fire from artillery of shell and grape, killing and wounding several of my men.
About 11 a.m. I was ordered by Colonel Sweeny, through his aide, Lieutenant McCullough, Eighth Iowa, to leave my position and take ground to my left and front. This change of position brought my regiment on the extreme right of General Prentiss’ division and left of General Smith's, the latter being the division to which my regiment belonged. I was thus entirely detached from my brigade, nor did I receive any order from my brigade or division commander during the remainder of that day. On arriving at the point I was ordered to defend I formed my regiment in line of battle, with my center resting on a road leading from Corinth to Pittsburg Landing and at right angles with my line. Here I immediately engaged a battalion of the enemy, and after a severe conflict of nearly an hour’s duration, in which I lost many of my men, the enemy were driven back with heavy loss. At this time Captain Hogin, Company F, was shot dead, and Captain Palmer, Company H, severely wounded.
About 1 p.m. General Prentiss placed a battery in position immediately in front of my regiment, with instructions to defend it to the last. The precision of its fire, which was directed by the general in person, made great havoc in the advancing columns of the enemy. It therefore became an object of great importance to them to gain possession of the battery. To this end they concentrated and hurled column after column on my position, charging most gallantly to the very muzzles of the guns. Here a struggle commenced for the retention and possession of the battery of a terrific character, their concentrated and well-directed fire decimating my ranks in a fearful manner. In this desperate struggle my regiment lost 100 men in killed and wounded.
The conspicuous gallantry and coolness of my company commanders (Captains Cleaveland, Stubbs, and Benson on the left; Captains McCormack and Bell in the center, and Captains Kelsey and Geddes and Lieutenant Muhs on the right, by reserving the fire of their respective companies until the proper time for its delivery with effect and the determined courage of my men) saved the battery from capture, and I had the satisfaction of sending the guns in safety to the rear.
In this attack I was wounded in the leg, Major Andrews severely in the head, and do here take pleasure in acknowledging the courage and coolness displayed by my field officers — Lieut. Col. J. C. Ferguson and Maj. J. Andrews — and the able assistance rendered by them on that occasion.
About 3 p.m. all direct communication with the river ceased, and it became evident to me that the enemy were driving the right and left flanks of our army and were rapidly closing behind us. At this time I could have retreated, and most probably would have saved my command from being captured had I been ordered back at this time; but I received no such order, and I considered it my duty to hold the position I was assigned to defend at all hazards.
General Prentiss’ division having been thrown back from the original line, I changed front by my left flank, conforming to his movements and at right angles with my former base, which was immediately occupied and retained for some time by the Fourteenth Iowa, Colonel Shaw. In this position I ordered my regiment to charge a battalion of the enemy (I think the Fourth Mississippi), which was done in good order, completely routing the enemy. We were now attacked on three sides by the rebel force, which was closing fast around us. The shells from our own gunboats in their transit severing the limbs of trees hurled them on my ranks.
It now became absolutely necessary, to prevent annihilation, to leave a position which my regiment had held for nearly ten consecutive hours of severe fighting, successfully resisting and driving back the enemy in every attempt to take the position I was ordered to hold and defend. With a loss of near 200 in killed and wounded I ordered my regiment to retire. On retiring about 300 yards I found a division of the rebels under General Polk thrown completely across my line of retreat. I perceived that further resistance was useless, as we were now completely surrounded. Myself and the major portion of my command were captured at 6 p.m. of that day, and I claim the honor for my regiment of being the last to leave the advanced line of our army on the battle-field of Shiloh on Sunday, April 6.
I cannot conclude this report without bearing testimony to the gentlemanly conduct and dignified bearing of my officers and men during their captivity. Our captors had felt the effects and well knew the courage of my regiment in the field, but had yet to learn they could conduct themselves as well under other and very trying circumstances.
Not having received any reliable information as to the true amount of casualties at the battle and during our imprisonment, I shall forward an official list as soon as practicable of killed and wounded and of such as died in Southern prisons through privation and neglect.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. L. GEDDES,
Colonel Eighth Iowa Infantry.
His Excellency SAMUEL J. KIRKWOOD, Governor of Iowa.
SOURCE: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume X (Serial No. 10), Part I, pages 165-7