Monday, October 7, 2013

16th Iowa Infantry Correspondence

May 4, 1862.

EDITOR GAZETTE. – I have been intending to write to you for some time, but our frequent moving, sickness, &c., have prevented.  Even now there is no certainty that a letter commenced will be finished at one writing or in the same camp, even if it take[s] only an hour to write it.  Our marching orders are sudden, and the brief interval is a busy time of preparation.  At all times we have to be prepared for a battle, and generally with rations cooked ahead.  The battle will be daily or hourly expected until it happens, unless we should get news of Beauregard’s retreat, something we do not expect.

A little over a week ago we were in camp thirteen miles from our present location.  An order to move received after dinner, a dismally rainy afternoon, took us four miles away through mud and mire to supper.  We left a beautiful camp, but located in one even more lovely, we occupy the left, the 15th next, 13th next and the 11th on the right, Col. Crocker of the 13th commanding the brigade – (these are the regular positions of the regiments of the brigade in camp.)  Had a brigade inspection, by Inspector Gen. Judah, and our regiment was probably more complimented than any other.

On the 29th our brigade was ordered to march with all the ammunition we could carry, and two day’s rations.  We started in the afternoon, with the prospect of a fight ahead, Lieut. Col. Sanders in command of the 16th, Col. Chambers being absent for some days, with the intention of staying perhaps a month, on business connected with his old government duties.  We marched eight or nine miles and after dark we halted in the woods, where we slept on the ground without covering, in the old style.  In the morning we marched about a mile farther, halted, and soon about faced and marched back to our own camp.  Gen. Wallace’s cavalry attacked Purdy, and we were sent out to support him, and make a reconnoissance.  But he took the place without our aid, and destroyed a long railroad bridge and another property used by the rebels – a serious disaster to our butternut breeched friends.

April 30th, we had our regular inspection and muster for May.  The “pay” has not yet turned up, however.

May 1st, We again struck our tents, and made another move of four miles towards the advance, and in such a lovely place we felt an inward conviction it could not long be enjoyed by us.  Here we received notice that our Division (6th) had a new commander, Gen. McKean being transferred to the first division, and Gen. T. W. Sherman (Port Royal and “Sherman’s Battery” Sherman) commanding our division.  He is reported a splendid officer.

My 3d, yesterday we again moved our camp, taking a five mile step in the advance.  This time the 16th landed with its tents in the middle of a wheat field, far different from the rare forest beauties of our other camps.  The wheat is about a foot high and moderately thick.  The planter is doubtless with the rebel army.  At all events as there are tents scattered all over the immense field, the crop will be effectually blasted.  This country is sparsely settled, and but little cultivated.  It is a beautiful region, but soil generally poor – yet good enough to produce will under free culture.  Whether our camp is in Tennessee or Mississippi, I do not know.  It is certainly very near the line, and about seven miles from Corinth.

Yesterday afternoon there was heavy artillery firing several miles off, and for an hour or two we expected to be called to march and mingle in the strife.  The roar of guns finally died away, and the cause remains yet unexplained to us.  At night we were ordered to provide four days rations, and may any hour be ordered to march leaving our tents behind.

Yesterday, our regimental commander commenced “stripping” us for a fight or quicker marching.  Each company left behind two or three of its five Sibley tents, one of the two officers’ tents, and all the “property” that could be spared, the hospital and extra commissary stores, bed ticks, extra blankets and sick.  Although we have not so large a sick list as a week ago (about one hundred off duty now) yet the sick have been a great incumbrance, and their frequent removals over these very rough roads have been anything but beneficial.  Every regiment has a train of convalescents straggling in its rear when changing camps, with the bed confined to follow in ambulances and wagons.  Yesterday our sick were sent to the river hospital, excepting those likely to be ready for duty in a few days.  This will greatly relieve us, and be better for them.  Several of our officers are sick, and this morning Capt. Smith, of Co. A, will be sent to the hospital, where he out to have been days ago.  He is the “noblest Roman of all,” did his whole duty in the battle, and has been the most eager for another fight.  The prevailing sickness is diarrhea, and it seems uncommonly difficult to control.  Mere astringent medicines will not do it in most cases, but the cause has to be struck at.  The 15th has about two hundred on its sick list, and ever regiment has a pretty large list.  There are however, but few deaths.  Several have died in our regiment, and among them is the old drummer, Mr. Russell, of Boone county.  He was 78 years old, and was a drummer in the war of 1812.  He had not been well since we left Camp McClellan, and here he got the diarrhea which in a few days carried him off.

A letter in the Lyons Mirror has created great indignation among our men and officers, from Clinton Co. especially.  Speaking of the battle the writer (suspected to be an officer most ridiculously bepuffed in the letter) says the 15th did not leave the field until the 77th Ohio and the 16th Iowa had retired.  Now the fact is, the 16th did not leave till that identical 15th flag sent home to the State Historical Society with several holes in it, had gone from the field, and the most of the 15th with it.  This flag had been stuck up on a stump in the battle, and was a pretty mark to shoot at, and without endangering the color sergeant or guard.  I was in another part of the field, but these are told me as facts by a number of reliable officers and men who witnessed what they state.  Our color sergeant was killed while gallantly bearing his banner, and six of the eight color guard wounded.  The 15th did not occupy the position at all stated by this Lyons Mirror correspondent, who was either not in the battle or too badly scared to notice the position of things.  Both regiments did well, and neither should, in doing justice to itself, do injustice to the other.  Both have been outrageously slandered, without cause, and both are eager for another fight to properly annihilate these slanders by deeds instead of words.

Our old friend Wilkie, the war correspondent of the N. Y. Times, is in our camp nearly every day, and is actively at work getting items in this great field of military operations.

J. B.

– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Thursday Morning, May 15, 1862, p. 2

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