Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Iowa Boys At Pittsburg

April 26th, 1862.

EDITOR GAZETTE: – If your correspondent of the 11th has neglected to keep you posted up as to our doings, &c., pray excuse me, for I have and a more pressing engagement, which I could not decline. – We, i. e., our mess and Chaplain, had just finished our breakfast on the morning of Sunday, April 6th, in the open air, and were discussing, quietly enough, the meaning of the occasional volleys of musketry from the southwest, which, as heretofore, might be from returning pickets; the men were preparing guns for Sunday inspection, and the Chaplain was just turning into our sleeping tent for a Bible, to pick a text for the day’s sermon, when lo! a squad of fugitives in uniform came running through our camp with the cry of “the enemy are cutting us to pieces!” followed hard by a mounted orderly dashing past to the tent of Col. Hare, who commanded, to-day, our brigade.  The long roll beats, and in fifteen minutes the Iowa 11th is in line of battle, under Lt. Col. Hall.  The other regiments of our brigade, the 13th Iowa, and the 8th and 18th Ill., are moved off half a mile to our left, while the 2d brigade of McClernand’s division (the 11th, 45th, 20th, and 48th Ill.) are between them and us, placing our regiment on the extreme right of McClernand’s division, and of the whole line of battle, from 8 A. M. until 2 P. M.

I am thus particular as to our position, in order to show where credit is due for some hard work claimed by the Ill. 11th and 45th, who were next to us.  We were hardly in line before the scattered fugitives had grown to a huge crowd, and soldiers were seen flying from the foe by thousands, and not a stray shot or shell from a cannon came whistling past – our Chaplain brought us a specimen picked up in lieu of his text – and in long and serried lines the compact masses of the foe moved in sight.  75,000 to 90,000 of the bravest and best drilled soldiers of the South, under Polk, Bragg and Hardee, guided by Beauregard and Johnston, and surprised our camp of five divisions, of less than 40,000 fighting men, and before 8 o’clock A. M. had utterly routed two of these divisions – Sherman’s and Prentiss’.

Look at the map of our battle field given in the Chicago Tribune of the 16th inst., and you will see that the victorious enemy rushing on from Sherman’s towards the river would fall upon McClernand’s and Hurlbut’s divisions next, and they came upon us expecting an easy victory. Our regiment had been detached to act as a reserve for the reinforcement of any part of our division needing aid; but so overwhelming was the force of the enemy, now over three to one, that within twenty minutes of our getting into line we were in the hottest of the fight.  Repeated efforts were made to turn our right flank, and as one brigade of the enemy became exhausted and discouraged, it was withdrawn and fresh forces brought up.

For five hours we maintained the unequal contest and every man fought as though he felt that the salvation of our army depended that day on our holding our position until reinforcements should arrive.  Twice after getting our first position were we compelled to fall back to prevent the enemy from outflanking us, and for the third time we charged upon the foe- although our ranks were reduced one third by dead, wounded and those helping off the wounded – rolling back the storm of war to our first position, and holding the enemy there until our ammunition was expended and we were ordered back by Gen. McC. for more, at one P. M.  We fought in the camp ground of the Ill. 11th and 45th, and those of your Iowa readers who noticed the gallant fighting done there ascribed to these regiments by Chicago reporters will justly be proud to know that Iowa was there.

The account given by the special correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette, and copied into the St. Louis and Chicago papers and by far the most accurate I have seen, speaks thus:  “Once more its right swept around and drove the enemy a considerable distance,” &c.  Iowa was there, notwithstanding that no reporter, so far as I have seen has noticed our gallant State except in disparaging terms, as unjust as disparaging.  I venture to say that no troops ever did better fighting than did the Iowa 11th and 13th in McClernand’s division, on the 6th; nor were the 8th, 12th, and 14th behind in valor, though more unfortunate.  They were taken because of fighting too long and to obstinately.  The 6th Iowa was one of our advanced regiments, surprised in the morning.  She literally fought her way back to her friends, and first of all the outposts, was in line for another fight.  The Iowa 2d and 7th, as ever, did their duty, and maintained their reputation, though, not placed in so prominent a part of the field as some other regiments on the first day.  And here I desire to correct an error of the correspondent above alluded to.

The Iowa 15th and 16th were brought up just before noon, to support McClernand’s right, where we were fighting and forming on our own old parade ground, and were under fire nearly two hours before getting a chance to pitch in, and when led up to take their place their place marched boldly and gallantly up into the very jaws of death.  Our old soldiers say, that such a fire of musketry as we were opposed to was never experienced before them in battle; and the two raw regiments, unused to guns, having never practiced loading and firing, many having never seen a cartridge until they received them that morning, were thrown into confusion, and driven from the field; not, however, until a loss of 35 to 40 killed, and 250 wounded in the two regiments attested their courage and devotion.  Courage and devotion are of little use without discipline in such a fight.

Our regiment, as it fell back, obtained new supplies of ammunition and returned to the fight – eight companies to the left of our line, and two companies of rifles, B. and C, under Capt. Foster, were stationed with Birge’s sharpshooters again on the right, now a mile nearer the river, and across a small creek, to guard against the storming of a hill and log house which was admirably adapted to the work of sharpshooters.  We were here subjected to a heavy cross-fire from two batteries; but as often as a force of secesh showed themselves, they dropped back very suddenly again.  Our regiment did good work on the left, and lent gallant aid in beating back the foe in his last efforts to storm our lines.  On the next day our troops acted mostly as reserves, or as support to batteries, and were but little exposed, compared to the risks of the first day.

Iowa went into the fight with ten regiments and one part of a regiment (seven companies 14th,) in all some 5,500 effective fighting men.  250 of these sleep on the battle field; 1,200 are wounded, and some 1,400 are prisoners – prisoners because they fought on while regiments from other States gave way and suffered them, contesting every inch, to be surrounded by immense odds.  These are facts, and yet because we send soldiers and not reporters, must we get no credit; while no other State (although all did well) can show such a record – one half her soldiers given in a single fight.  Reporters on Grant’s staff make him the hero of the fight and he praises his staff.  Now this tickle-me-and-I’ll-tickle-you sort of talk will not do; it can’t make history.  They may all be good soldiers – in a horn – and write on some safe nook, descriptions of charges which were never made.  Why was this gallant army surprised?  The people who have given sons, citizens, husbands, to the country, ask why this needless slaughter, and these “errors of omission” are not atoned for by “errors of commission,” for we fought all day on Sunday without Generals.  Nothing but undaunted bravery of troops and the good conduct of company and regimental officers saved our army on that terrible day.  For while we had less than 25,000 men engaged on Sunday, more than half our total loss occurred on this day.

The 11th buried on Tuesday and since, as a result of this battle, 32 soldiers, and 160 wounded; the 13th nearly as many more.  No officers distinguished themselves more for cool courage than Lt. Col. Hall, commanding the 11th, and Col. Crocker, commanding the 13th, while Col. Hare well maintained his ability to command a brigade, until wounded and compelled to retire.  Maj. Abercrombie, of the 11th was wounded severely while ably seconding Col. Hall.

I have already spun out this too long, but I would fain add one or two incidents of a personal character.  As we were charging the third time on the enemy, Corporal Kersey, Co. B, hand a finger on the left hand shot away, and immediately took out a pocket knife and cut away the fragments of the wound, bound up the finger and was in the fight all day and next saying as he did it, “they can’t drive me out for one finger.”

As we rose over a short hill we could see the enemy advancing down another, just across a small branch, and some fifteen rods distant.  A well directed volley sent the most of them to the “about face.”  The standard-bearer, however, fell and Private Haworth, of Co. B, captured the flag, the first trophy of the day, while the Captain (Foster) picked up the rifle of a fallen rebel, just loaded, and blazed away at the retreating foe.  Capt. McFarland, of Co. G, did the same thing, and both have their Enfield rifles as trophies of a first shot each at the foe.

One spunky little Frenchman, Jo. Laplant, assistant wagoner to Co. B, would not stay with the team, and so mixed in the fight in the afternoon of Sunday, ventured too far, and was taken prisoner.  Deprived of his gun and placed under a guard of three men, to be taken back, he went very submissively along until two guards went back to help off a wounded officer.  Watching his chance, he knocked down the guard, and with the rebel’s gun hastened down to the river side, near the gunboats, where he lay all night and came in next morning.

I notice it very extensively discussed whether we were whipped on Sunday.  Never! And wouldn’t have been, even if Buell had not reached us.  The truth is the rebels surprised our camps and gained great advantages of us, until checked by McClernand and Hurlbut’s Divisions in the morning.  From that on until 4 P. M., our forces slowly retired; but at 4 the gunboats threw their weight into the doubtful scales, and the enemy, exhausted and spent, were entirely checked.  Lew Wallace, of our army, came in with his division that night, and the balance was then in our favor.  We should have gained the next day any way.  Of course the arrival of two divisions of Buell’s army, and especially of Buell himself, was most opportune; for our disjointed, confused and fragmentary army was organized, and massed and directed.  Our numbers on Monday were about 50,000.  Everything then was like clockwork, and the rebels who had the night before saved our camps and baggage so as to use them, were on Monday night busted out too hastily to destroy what they could not keep.  We beat them back on Monday over the ground they had gained the day before. – “Line upon line” Buell hurled his brave troops at them, and they retreated, fighting every step, until they reached the old battle ground of 8 o’clock Sunday morning, when they broke and fled.  The roar of cannon, the terrific whiz of musketry suddenly cease, (except the occasional shots of pursuers,) and naught remained by the peaceful quiet dead and groaning wounded.

In looking over the list of Iowa regiments I desire to pay a tribute of deserved praise to the 3d Iowa Infantry.  After the most heroic fighting on Sunday, in which they lost every field officer and all their captains, they were led the second day by Lieut. Crossly; and again won imperishable laurels by their heroic conduct.

Yours, &c.

– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Wednesday Morning, May 7, 1862, p. 2

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