Monday, November 12, 2018

The Prisoner Who Never Surrendered: The Adventure of John J. Geer, 48th Ohio Infantry

Virginia-born John J. Geer was a hard-hewn “sunburnt, hard fisted, and plain worded” minister of the Gospel, and leader of the George Street Methodist Protestant Church in Cincinnati when the Civil War began in April 1861. “When the news of the outrage was received at the Queen City, he vowed that he was a United States soldier until either himself or the rebellion should be crushed,” his friend Rev. Alexander Clark wrote in 1863. “He engaged in the war not for position or popularity, but as a soldier.” Geer was commissioned a lieutenant in the 48th Ohio Infantry, and shortly after taking the field he was appointed assistant adjutant-general on the staff of Colonel Ralph P. Buckland of the 72nd Ohio Infantry. Buckland commanded an all Ohio brigade consisting of the 48th, 70th, and 72nd Ohio regiments.
First Lieutenant John J. Geer, Co. K, 

48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Lieutenant Geer ably tells the story of his capture two days before the Battle of Shiloh when the men of Buckland’s brigade took part in a fight with roving Confederate cavalry just two miles from the brigade encampment near Shiloh Church. Geer, wounded and captured during the engagement, spent nearly a year in Confederate custody and wrote Beyond the Lines; or a Yankee Prisoner Loose in Dixie in 1863 from which the following account is drawn. Geer resigned his commission in February 1863 then went on a speaking tour with fellow POW William Pittenger (of Andrews' Raid fame) during the spring of 1863. The following year, Geer was commissioned as the chaplain of the 183rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and saw action at the Battle of Franklin and later at Nashville. He served with the regiment for the remainder of the war, but died in 1867, his health broken by his period of imprisonment. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A memoir of Civil War reenacting

This week's post is outside of my normal scope of writing, but as I was going through my hard drive I stumbled across some great photos and some old newsletters dating back to my life as a Civil War re-enactor back in the early 2000s. I "served" (and I use that term carefully with full regard for the actual service rendered by our veterans) for six years as a high private in the rear rank of the 14th Ohio/3rd Arkansas unit which was based in the Toledo area. We were a very active group for a number of years, taking part in many living history events, talks, parades, and reenactments each year. Looking back on it, I really enjoyed the time I spent in the unit and developed some friendships and connections that have continued long after my days in the blue uniform where over. 
The author as a very young and determined "High Private in the rear rank" brandishing my deadly Enfield rifle and gleaming bayonet, the terror no doubt  of many a Rebel opponent. Consequently, the bayonet also made a nice implement to cook over the fire with but it blacked the blade such that I could never get it clean again. This was taken at an event at the Wood County Historical Center in 2000. 

As the name of the unit implies, we were a "galvanized" unit in that we would portray both Union and Confederate impressions depending on the needs of the event we were attending. We generally attended the Jackson Civil War Muster at Cascades Park, took part regularly in the Hastings tactical (which was a great event), living history events at Wildwood and Providence Metroparks, an event or two at the Wood County Historical Center, and every year ended with the Hayes event at the Spiegel Grove in Fremont. 

Most of these events were well-organized and a lot of fun, but what I most deeply appreciated was the opportunity to get a bit of a tactile sense of what it was like to "be" a Civil War soldier. I tended to approach events going "campaign" style; early on I shared a tent, but later just did the gum blanket/blanket thing and spent many a cold night uncomfortably on the hard ground. I got some small sense of how it felt to march long distances (the ten mile hike we did at Providence was eye opening in that regard), how challenging it was to cook over a log fire, how much hardtack hurt to chew (a lot), and how much one grew to appreciate simple things like the shade of a tree or a drink of cool water on a hot day. I shivered in the sub-zero cold of a winter's night at Billie Creek, sweltered under the hot sun of a Michigan summer at Jackson, and shivered miserably in a tent as it rained buckets all weekend.  I learned how it felt to wear a wool sack coat and pants in the summer, and how difficult it was to load your rifle when the barrel was so hot that you couldn't hold it in place without burning your hand. I learned how much black powder stinks and how quickly you lose sight of things more than a few feet away from you because everything is shrouded in smoke. I felt what is like to march around with a knapsack full of clothes, a haversack full of food, and a heavy musket on your shoulder in a pair of brogans. As I said, it was an eye-opening experience and one that immeasurably deepened my appreciation for the hardships which our Civil War veterans endured with such remarkable pluck and constancy. 
As reenactors, we always aimed to replicate scenes like the one above showing a group of saucy Army of the Cumberland veterans posing prior to Sherman's Atlanta campaign. I love this photo because it shows the un-uniformity of dress and some great examples of "she-bangs" in the background. 

Our experiences with combat were (understandably) less than realistic and the event report reproduced below touches on that a little bit. This area of the hobby always has presented a bit of a problem: how does one accurately reproduce the "reality" of Civil War combat when the reality can hardly be described, let alone reproduced without realm bullets and shells flying? The short answer was that we didn't do the subject justice (nor could we), but certainly did the best we could within the confines of the hobby. As far as it goes, tactical events always were much more interesting to me as they had no script, and pitted the minds of the respective military commanders against one another. Judged tacticals like Hastings were very cool and the judges would determine casualties, etc. The Newark event below was a non-judged tactical, and as I rather acidly remark, it turned into a "farce." 

I hope you enjoy this bit of reminiscing and enjoy "A Straggler's Memoir, or the Battle for Exit Five." 

A Straggler’s Memoir
The Battle for Exit Five:
A short history of the Sunday tactical at Infirmary Mound Park,
Newark, Ohio
By Dan Masters

    The woods echoed faintly with the reverberations of the pistol shots from the skirmishing cavalry in the distance- four men assigned from the company crept along the pathway cut through the dense growth on the lookout for the first signs of Confederate troops. Numerous pathways through the brush lead to within the briar patch, but we press on until an approaching cavalryman reports the situation to the Major. He gives the command to rush forward to assist the cavalry, and the entire company moves at the double quick to occupy exit five, or better known as the ‘Bloody Crossroads.’
    Sunday morning, June 26, 2005 was warm by most accounts, hot by others, but was a beautiful clear day. As the 14th Ohio marched at route step up the long hill to battalion formation, the perspiration had already started its incessant flow down our necks, compounding the already oppressive humidity and rapidly rising temperatures of the day.
    As sixth company, the 14th Ohio formed on the left of the battalion with Major Minton in command of the wing, Lieutenant Rob Morgan in command of the company. We walked for some time towards the front of the park in company with the rest of the battalion; a small detachment of cavalry, and one mountain howitzer dragged by the dedicated men of the battery.
    About 11 o’clock, the battalion entered the thicket and at the left fork in the road, the 14th Ohio took the road less traveled by and it made all the difference. Alone and unsupported (except by the cavalry detachment which had gone to the front), we marched along the narrow lane in search of the Confederate flank. As a member of the aforesaid advance party, following Corporal Mark Young, I kept on a close lookout for any signs of Confederates lying in ambush, or passing through the dense brush and woods that surrounded us.
    As earlier mentioned, a Federal cavalryman approached us after we had made a turn to the right along the path and informed us that they were engaged with a squad of Confederate cavalry ahead, and that with our assistance, we could push them and perhaps gain the Confederate rear. As we approached the crossroads, our cavalry started the fall back and exclaimed that “Rebs are coming around the bend.” At the Major’s command, the 14th ran to the crossroads to hold that important position before the Confederates arrived. As the first echelons of the company arrived, the Confederate cavalry made their appearance, fired their pistols in the air a few times, and just as quickly fled down the road. Strange to say, despite the superior marksmanship shown by the 14th Ohio on numerous prior occasions, we failed to bring down any of the men or horses. This questionable marksmanship manifested itself throughout the morning engagement, as I will explain later in this narrative.
The author at right with my pard and tentmate Joe Wilhems decked out in our finest Federal attire in an image taken at the Hayes event in 2000. 

    After clearing the Confederates from the crossroads, we advanced down the right fork on the pathway in pursuit of the cavalry. Advancing at a moderate pace for about 100 yards, we came to a gradual concave bend in the road which prevented those on the right side of the road from seeing very far ahead, but enabled those on the left to gain a clear view for some distance down the pathway. As expected, we came across a few members of the ironclad cavalry squad, but Corporal John Molitoris discovered that some of the cavalry were making for our rear, hoping to gain the crossroads through a field that lay a little to the left of our position on the road. By following such a path, they would strike the left fork on the road near the crossroads and put our company into a nest of trouble. But then again, they were only cavalry. Several rounds were fired at the cavalry through the woods before we ran back to the crossroads to prevent the cavalry from capturing this important, and apparently, coveted piece of real estate.
    Once again, the 14th arrived in nick of time and received one charge from the cavalry before they high tailed it (literally) out of there. However, we were not out of our scrape yet as a company of Confederate infantry was advancing down the road we had just retreated from, determined to force us to retreat further and give their Buttermilk Rangers a chance to gobble us piecemeal. Several well directed volleys were fired at this new threat before the Confederate infantry slowly pulled back, apparently needed on another portion of the field. Our casualties to this point were minimal, actually nonexistent. Suffice to say the damage we had inflicted on the enemy was also negligible.
    At this point, Major Minton expressed some disgust at the apparent disappearance of our cavalry, which should have been dealing with the opposite numbers in gray. Outnumbered nearly two to one, with a decent sized enemy infantry company on the right, and a whirling squad of desperadoes on the left, the Major ordered us to fall back a short ways to cover the crossroad and minimize the effects of enemy fire which was pouring down both roads in a steady pace.
    We then were ordered forward on the left road and a runner was left to watch the right road for any advancing infantry. We spent only a few minutes in this position before I was ordered with Corporal Molitoris, and our young but gallant Musician Bud “Frenchie” Young to make a demonstration along the right road while the company went around on the left to flank the Confederates, using the woods as cover. After being instructed to make noise and fire occasionally to convince the Rebels we were there, we advanced a short ways down the path. I was on the right side of the road, and as such, could see nothing of the Confederates but Corporal Molitoris fired a few rounds from the left. We were creeping forward when on the left we heard a crashing in the woods and loud voices as our company poured out of the woods and flushed the two Confederate sentinels back onto their support.
    At this critical junction in our struggle, our company (in a somewhat discombobulated condition organizationally but eager for a fight) found itself in the enviable position of being on the right flank of the Confederate infantry company which we had fought earlier with only four or five skirmishers before us. We delivered several crisp but ineffective volleys, which strangely enough did not even attract our intended targets’ attentions. Pressed by Union infantry on their front and flank, one brave Confederate finally admitted defeat and took a hit.
The author decked out as a member of the 3rd Arkansas infantry, complete with inverted US belt buckle. I do not have a date for this image but believe (from the background) that this was taken at an event we did in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area. 

   Dumbfounded by the evident lack of marksmanship and firepower wielded by the two Union companies confronting this lone Confederate company (unsupported and flanked), it seemed to me that this tactical was in danger of becoming a farce. Perhaps a farce is too strong a term, but at the very least, a poorly directed grade school play. But I digress…
    As the Union company in our front pressed the Confederates out of position, we moved back along the road but shortly headed into the woods on our left and advanced across a dry stream bed and saw our targets in an open field. A few scattering shots were fired by both sides before we pulled back into the woods and headed back to the road.
    It was at this point that I started to straggle. The oppressive heat and excitement of the morning’s engagement (as well as an empty canteen) prevailed upon me to slow down and rest a little. The company moved back to the crossroads and headed down the left road, but Private Tom “Dutchie” Lingeman and I lingered in the rear and soon took our ease in the shade. To perhaps salve our consciences, Dutchie and I agreed that we were guarding the crossroads. A necessary duty for all of the effort and sweat expended to control that point, but a duty to which neither of us took very seriously as was soon evident by our gear and weapons lying on the ground. Fortunately for us, the battle seemed to be ending as the last parting shots rent the late morning air. In fact, the woods became somewhat quiet and a passing two wheel cart driven by two ladies stopped to offer us water. Soon there after, First Sergeant Minton rousted us from our ease and we rejoined the company. To say the least, I felt done in.
    As we left the woods, no one seemed to be sure if we had won or lost our engagement. It was declared a victory, but the hard evidence of it was difficult to find. We had the Confederates cornered once- they took one casualty. Perhaps in the later fighting which I missed, more damage was done to the enemy, but I doubt it. This defect was more than made up for later that afternoon when the Confederates again found themselves flanked by artillery and the 14th Ohio safely ensconced behind breastworks. The bloodshed was frightening to behold, more so when the deranged Confederate commander ordered the pitiful remnant of his brave command to charge an advancing Union infantry company. The men were cut down to the last, with the lone exception of a defiant color bearer who retreated off the field to hoots of derision from the men in blue.
A shot of the 3rd Arkansas Infantry in our glory at the Jackson Civil War Muster in 2004. A nice mix of gray and butternut uniforms captured the raggedness of our Arkansas forebears. I am unfortunately not in this picture as I had slipped and broken my tail bone some weeks previous, which gave me the opportunity to see us in action. The boys (and ladies) made me proud. Yes, we had Corporal "Carl" who was actually a very charming young lady named Keira (third from left in the front rank next to Sergeant Rosser), and she was a good soldier. 

    The carnage of that field convinced all of this horrendous business, war. However, it is clear that in the struggle between the historical memory and the historical fact of the Civil War, the historical fact is no longer in the ascendant. Suicide charges and bloodless battles make a mockery of the men we represent (and purport to honor) and reflect poorly on the hobby in general.
   Next month, I might have to break out my own soapbox to speak of the importance of taking casualties in believable proportions.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Music of the Spheres: The 11th Ohio Battery at Battle of Iuka

The primary focus of this research log since its inception last June has been to discuss and bring forth hitherto rarely used or forgotten accounts that illuminate the sacrifice and heroism exhibited by Ohio’s soldiers on the battlefields of the Civil War. History records few more poignant examples of these traits than the struggle of the 11th Ohio Battery at the little-known Battle of Iuka which was fought September 19, 1862 in the wilds of northeastern Mississippi. “The 11th Ohio Battery entered the fight at Iuka with 102 officers and men, and of these 18 were killed and 39 wounded, many mortally. Of the cannoneers alone, 46 out of 54 were killed or wounded. Fox’s Regimental Losses in the Civil War states that the losses of the 11th Ohio at Iuka were 22% greater than that sustained by any other light battery in any one engagement during the war.” (Ryan, Daniel J. The Civil War Literature of Ohio. Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1911, pg. 267)
11th Ohio Battery marker in Iuka, Mississippi

The fact that the battle is little known is a function of size, timing, and geography. Fewer than 8,000 men participated directly in the action but almost a quarter of these participants became casualties. The battle occurred a mere two days after the Battle of Antietam and would be overshadowed by the even more ferocious Battle of Corinth just two weeks later. In the fall of 1862, the nation was adrift in a sea of blood and for all its ferocity, Iuka was just another point on the way to greater horrors generated at places such as Corinth, Perryville, Fredericksburg, Stones River, and beyond. Geography also played a role: Iuka then as now was little more than a stop along the strategic Memphis & Charleston Railroad, and engagements fought this far west rarely elicited much notice from the influential Eastern newspapers or from post-war historians. Regardless, the story of the 11th Ohio Battery speaks to me as a sterling example of Buckeye courage and fortitude in the face of daunting odds. And it’s a story well worth re-telling…

The 11th Ohio Battery marched onto the field at Iuka, Mississippi under the command of First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears with six guns manned by five officers and 97 men. (Captain Frank C. Sands was the battery commander but was not present at the battle.) The battery had been mustered into service the previous October with men from Athens, Butler, Hamilton, Vinton, and Wyandot Counties and was then serving in the Army of the Mississippi under Major General William S. Rosecrans. The battery was armed with two six-pound James rifles, two six-pound smoothbores, and two twelve-pound field howitzers, and initially at least, two horse-drawn water tanks. “The uniforms for the men were made to order from actual measurement of the best material and each man was furnished with a pair of superior buck gauntlets in addition to the regular uniform,” wrote Whitelaw Reid. “The non-commissioned officers, in addition to their regulation saber, were armed with Beal’s patent revolver and the privates with saber bayonets.” (Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statemen, Generals, and Soldiers, Vol. II. Cincinnati: The Robert Clarke Company, 1895, pg. 855)
First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears commanded the 11th Ohio Battery and Iuka and would receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

The battery had taken part in the New Madrid and Island No. 10 campaigns under General John Pope in the spring of 1862, before arriving as reinforcements for General Halleck’s army at Corinth. By September 1862, the battery had been assigned to Colonel John B. Sanborn’s First Brigade which consisted of the 48th Indiana, 5th Iowa, 16th Iowa, 4th Minnesota, and 26th Missouri infantry regiments; this brigade formed a part of Brigadier General Charles S. Hamilton’s Third Division.
Brig. Gen. Charles S. Smith

First Lieutenant Cyrus A. Sears (who would become a Medal of Honor recipient for his heroism at Iuka) wrote the following account of Iuka to his brother in Wyandot County, Ohio just three days after the battle. His brother shared the with the editor of the Wyandot Pioneer who then published it in the October 3, 1862 issue. To supplement Sears’ account, I have interspersed accounts from other participants including Lieutenant Henry M. Neil of the 11th Ohio Battery and a Confederate soldier who was among those who charged the battery on September 19, 1862…

Iuka, Mississippi
September 22, 1862
          Our long continued marching orders terminated in the midst of a splendid rain storm at 4 o’clock on the morning of the 18th, when the Army of the Mississippi started in quest of General Price and Co., then supposed to be in the vicinity of this place. It seems to have been the understanding that General Grant with about 12,000 men was to take an eastern road and come in on the rear of the enemy, simultaneously with the Army of the Mississippi under General Rosecrans who was to attack the enemy in front, or on the western side. The Army of the Mississippi marched about six miles the first day, nothing of importance occurring. We resumed the march at daylight next morning, the 5th Iowa regiment in advance, the 11th Ohio Battery immediately following. Skirmishing with the enemy’s pickets commenced at about 10 o’clock and thence continued all along the way, several being killed and wounded on both sides. When within about five miles of this place, we supposed that we had found the enemy in force and formed our line of battle accordingly.
11th Ohio Battery Flag (Phil Spaugy's Blog)

“The country was exceedingly difficult of passage, being from Thompson’s Crossroads to within about two miles of Iuka but little better than an uninterrupted swamp extending indefinitely on either side of the road upon which the column was moving. From the northern margin of this extensive bog to Iuka, the face of the country is broken into innumerable hills and ravines, the hills rising gradually higher and higher toward the north with southern slopes admirably suitable for the maneuvers of battle, or at any rate, admirably adapted to the posting of troops so that their fire could be simultaneously effective.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 101)

“The men knew that an engagement was imminent,” remembered Lieutenant Henry M. Neil of the 11th Ohio Battery, “but their immediate front was unknown and unexplored. As usual, we had no maps. While marching through a defile at the crest of a thickly wooded hill we noticed that the rifle fire in front was suddenly increased, but there was no pause to reconnoiter. The battery marched from the defile into within short range of Price’s whole army. As we emerged from the cut, this sudden concentration of rifle fire gave me the impression of being in a violent rain storm. The storm of bullets was passing just over our heads. We hastened to get into position and unlimber before they could get the range. We turned to the right into the brush and took position facing this road.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909. Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press, 1909, pg. 6)

Sears: We soon discovered our mistake and moved forward with greatly increasing skirmishing until arriving within about a mile and a half of this place, when a volley of infantry and artillery from the enemy hastened us into line of battle on the double quick. Our front was in the form of a letter A, the 11th Ohio Battery being the apex, the 5th Iowa on their right, the 48th Indiana on our left, and the 26th Missouri in our rear to support us. Our position was among thick underbrush in which it was impossible for artillery to maneuver at all had there been occasion for it. Before we had half time to form, two divisions of the enemy commenced charging upon us; we reciprocated as fast as possible, and “hell was to pay in less than no time.” The enemy seemed to concentrate their fire upon the battery which suffered most severely as you can judge from the list of killed, wounded, and missing.

“The fighting commenced about 5 o’clock in the afternoon and from that time until darkness put an end to it, the conflict raged with a fierceness never exceeded in any combat between civilized men. In the immediate vicinity of the Ohio battery, the combat was terrible. The guns were manned with unsurpassed skill and kept constantly throwing into the Rebel ranks at close range a storm of fatal iron.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 102)

Captain DeWitt C. Brown of Co. C, 26th Missouri lay in support behind the 11th Ohio Battery and relayed the following: “The Rebels kept up a severe fire of canister from their battery which raked the sassafras bushes above our heads and wounded several of the battery horses in our immediate front. The battle had already become intensely exciting. The 11th Ohio Battery opened on the Rebels who in turn came on to the charge with deafening cheers. Simultaneously they opened fire of musketry upon the battery, the left wing of the 5th Iowa, and the 48th Indiana. Their line of battle must have been several regiments deep as volley followed volley in rapid succession.” (Letter from DeWitt C. Brown, Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 30, 1862, pg. 1)

“When the 11th went into position Lieutenant Sears was in command. As junior First Lieutenant, I had the right section, while Second Lieutenant Amos B. Alger fought the center section. Acting Second Lieutenant William K. Perrine had the left section and Bauer the line of caissons. During the fight I succeeded to the command when Sears went to the rear with a wound; Alger was captured, and Bauer was killed,” wrote Lieutenant Neil. (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909. Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press, 1909, pg. 8)

Private William H. Domm wrote the following account to the Cincinnati Daily Commercial: “At 5 o’clock the battery boys discovered the enemy advancing on our front and forming in line of battle at a distance of 200 yards from us. The fact was reported to Colonel Sanborn commanding the brigade who immediately ordered us to fire canister into their ranks. They were but 100 yards from us when we let out on them. After the first round, they started forward on a charge with a yell. We were then ordered to load and put two canisters in each load which checked the enemy a little, but still they kept advancing.” (Letter from William H. Domm, Cincinnati Daily Commercial, September 27, 1862, pg. 1)
Colonel John Sanborn of the 4th Minnesota

Sears: It is doubtful whether the history of warfare furnishes a parallel in destruction of a single corps in one engagement. The men of the battery as a whole exhibited obstinate and perhaps even foolhardy bravery. The 26th Missouri seems to have become panic stricken and entirely failed to support us. The battery was the first to open fire, and the last to close, until the rallying of our second line; the remainder of the men of the battery falling back after the infantry of our first line and the battery being now lost.

“The battery must be silenced or taken, Price saw, or he could make no headway. The Rebels were accordingly massed upon it to take it at whatever cost. Before this overpowering charge, the 48th Indiana gave way and the left of the battery fell into the enemy’s hands. Fresh troops came to the rescue, charged bayonets upon the exultant Rebels, and drove them from the guns. Three times was this devoted battery taken and retaken within an hour. The horses were all killed or wounded, most of the gunners were disabled or dead, the battery itself was little better than a mass of ruins as the guns themselves being the only parts left not riddled with bullets or torn to splinters by the fearful agencies of awful strife.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 102)

Private Thomas J. Abbot of Company E, 17th Arkansas Infantry was one of the Confederates assaulting the Federal position. He remembered: “When the battle began, the armies were about 400 yards apart but after an hour of hard fighting, we advanced on the enemy to within about 70 yards. After another hour’s fighting, we advanced again to within about 50 yards. We then moved on the double quick towards the enemy and when within about 30 yards they fired one piece of artillery at us with canister shot, but we pushed on across their line. We captured the battery, a sergeant, and a private. {This is undoubtedly the 11th Ohio Battery as it had just two men captured-DM} As we were pushing on to the enemy’s line, the smoke was so thick that we could scarcely tell the enemy from our own men. This private, who was wounded, cried out, “You are firing into your own men!” I passed the word back and the order came to cease firing. I asked this private to what company he belonged and found that he was with the enemy’s battery. I then passed this word back and as soon as the mistake was discovered, the firing opened again.” (Yeary, Mamie. Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray, 1861-65, Vol. I, Dallas: Wilkinson Printing Company, 1912, pg. 1)
Map of the Battle of Iuka for Lurton Ingersoll's Iowa and the Rebellion

Sergeant Major William T. Kittredge of the 4th Minnesota had a superb vantage point while stationed with the reserve to watch the struggle. He wrote to his father: “As soon as the rebels came up in full view, the infantry opened on them and they replied. The din was awful! Awful! Our fire told with terrible effect on their dense ranks, but they pressed on to within 50 yards when they broke and fell back but only to reform and come on again. And thus it went on for a little over an hour.” (Letter from William T. Kittredge, Norwalk Reflector (Ohio), October 7, 1862, pg. 2)

The 48th Indiana on the left was driven back which left the left flank of the battery unsupported and the 5th Iowa was soon driven from the right. Lieutenant Neil continues: “With the line melted away, the battery found itself facing in three directions and battling with masses on three fronts. The guns were being worked with greater speed and smaller crews. Cannoneers were falling. Other cannoneers coolly took their places and performed double duty. Drivers left their dead horses and took the places of dead or wounded comrades, only to be struck down in turn. The surviving men were too few to do more than work the guns. On the fifth charge, the survivors finally choked from the guns they would not abandon.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909 (Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press), 1909, pg. 9)

Sears: Instances of personal bravery not to be exceeded were exhibited at almost every piece, two or three of which I will mention: John Ettle, after being mortally wounded by a shot through the breast, the blood flowing copiously from his wound, passing by me for ammunition; and smiling as though it were only a good joke, remarked, “Well, Lieutenant, I guess I’ve got hell but I’m going to try and give ‘em two or three rounds yet.” Suiting the action to the word, he continued at his post until he fell.
Acting Corporal Buckley fired three or four shots alone, after every other man at his piece was either killed or wounded. D.W. Montgomery continued at his post carrying ammunition until the last, when discovering there was a load in the gun, he seized the lanyard to discharge it when he was throttled by a big Secesh who raised his gun to strike him. He got rid of him by seizing a canister out of his haversack and administering it externally over the eye, flooring him. Henry McLoughlin did duty at his post after being wounded four times, once severely. Several of the wounded are severely hurt, two or three perhaps mortally.

“One singular feature of this fight was that but two members of the battery were taken prisoners,” wrote Lieutenant Neil. “The guns were captured and recaptured several times before dark. The battery men never abandoned them voluntarily. One Confederate prisoner afterwards said, “Those battery boys had so much spunk that we took pity on the few who were left.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909 (Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press), 1909, pg. 13)

Sergeant Major Kittredge of the 4th Minnesota continues: “At length the battery was taken when three-fourths of its men and all its horses but three were shot and the infantry on its flanks were outflanked and borne back by sheer weight of numbers. The firing died away and the air rang with the exultant shouts of the Rebels! But the reserves were ordered up and our regiment was hurried around to the spot. All I remember was a rush, a deafening volley, another and another, and we held the battery again while the Rebels fell back to return no more. Darkness came on and there we lay in line amid the dead and wounded. I slept but little I assure you.” (Letter from William T. Kittredge, Norwalk Reflector (Ohio), October 7, 1862, pg. 2)

Sears: Although the battery was thus severely handled, it fully reciprocated. It fired about 100 rounds, nearly all canister, right into the face and eyes of the enemy, doing terrible destruction among them, as they freely acknowledge. Our first line was now overpowered and fell back, leaving the battery with the exception of the men in the hands of the enemy. Forty-six out of the 84 horses with which we went into action were killed, and a large proportion of the rest wounded. Every commissioned and non-commissioned officer’s horse except one was either killed or wounded. The men of the battery now retired or were carried to the rear, when our second line charged upon the enemy and retook what was left of the battery and darkness put an end to the fight. My wound is rather severe, though not dangerous (in the right shoulder) and so far rendered me nearly helpless. It will probably disable me three or four weeks. It is from a rifle or musket ball, fired by the enemy not two rods in front of me.

“Now that the excitement of battle was over and the men could see the effects of it, it seemed miraculous that a man escaped the storm of bullets whose marks were everywhere, as thick as the autumnal leaves that strew the vales of Vallambrosa. Every tree and every sapling bore marks of the terrible combat.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866 pg. 106)

Lieutenant Neil continues: “After attending to the wounded the night after the fight at Iuka, all members of the battery were ordered to a rendezvous. They were all assembled by 5 A.M. and, after reverently burying our dead, the men turned their attention to securing the guns and equipment scattered over the field. The drivers cried softly as they removed the harness from their faithful mounts. In one mass lay 18 dead horses. These three teams, instead of trying to escape, had swung together and died together. Early in the morning after the battle, Rosecrans ordered me to refit the battery as rapidly as possible. After the guns’ spikes were removed, the pieces were found to be in serviceable order and work on the splintered carriages was begun.” (Neil, Henry Moore & John Benjamin Sanborn. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion, October 6, 1909. Columbus, OH: The Champlin Press, 1909, pgs. 14-15)

Sears: General Grant with his force did not make his appearance until about 8 o’clock the next morning when the enemy had to skedaddle. I have no definite idea of the number killed and wounded on either side, but it was comparatively large on both. Next to the battery, the 5th Iowa suffered most severely. So far as I can learn, the action of the battery was not only satisfactory to all whose opinions are of consequence but has elicited the highest praise. Colonel Lathrop, chief of artillery, told me on the morning after the fight that he did not believe there was a case on record where a battery had been so badly used up or where the men and officers exhibited more bravery during the engagement.
The balance of the army under Grant and Rosecrans have gone in pursuit of the enemy while what is left of the battery is here to be repaired, recruited, and equipped as soon as possible. You will perceive that the 11th Ohio Battery has experienced the novelty of a fight and though I trust they will exhibit the same bravery if called upon under similar circumstances to do so, I don’t think many of us are really anxious to repeat the action of the 19th. The men not disabled buried the 16 killed together under a shady tree on the battlefield on the morning of the 20th. The wounded are quartered in houses turned into hospitals and having as good care taken of them as circumstances will permit.
11th Ohio Battery graves at Iuka. "The men not disabled buried the 16 killed together under a shady tree on the battlefield on the morning of the 20th," Lieutenant Sears remembered. 

A year after the battle, a captain from the 5th Iowa returned to the battlefield and recorded his description as follows: “I found evidence enough of the fierce and terrible conflict which took place there on the 19th of September 1862. Scarce a tree on all that ground but shows its wounds; the little grove of saplings is literally cut down with balls; but few trees are still living. Where the 11th Ohio Battery stood, the ground is covered with the bleached bones of horses which rattled beneath the feet of our own.” (Ingersoll, Lurton, Iowa in the Rebellion, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1866, pg. 106) 

Lieutenant Sears would be awarded the Medal of Honor his actions at Iuka and would later serve as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 49th U.S. Colored Troops. The medal was awarded to him on December 31, 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison who, like Sears, was a veteran of the Army of the Tennessee. The citation reads: “The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Field Artillery) Cyrus Sears, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism on 19 September 1862, while serving with Battery 11, Ohio Light Artillery, in action at Iuka, Mississippi. Although severely wounded, First Lieutenant Sears fought his battery until the cannoneers and horses were nearly all killed or wounded.”

Sears read the letter cited in this post at a battery reunion held at Cincinnati on September 7, 1898 “to revive and refresh the memories of his comrades concerning the 11th Battery’s part in that famous battle and to better acquaint them with the official records that are preserved to posterity.” (Ryan, Daniel J. The Civil War Literature of Ohio, Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers Company, 1911, pg. 377)

For further reading on the Iuka and Corinth campaigns, I recommend Peter Cozzens’ masterful Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth which is available through Amazon or on the secondary book market.

Also, I'd recommend checking out Phil Spaugy's blog posts about the 11th Ohio Battery at:

Monday, October 29, 2018

Buckeyes Among Hawkeyes: Ohioans at Fort Donelson with the 2nd Iowa

The famous charge of the 2nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry upon the works of the strategic Confederate bastion of Fort Donelson, Tennessee on the afternoon of February 15, 1862 has been cited as one of the most poignant charges of the Civil War, and was the decisive event that convinced the Confederate commanders at Donelson to surrender their forces the following day to General Ulysses S. Grant, earning Grant the sobriquet of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.  An eyewitness of the charge wrote that “if fighting is grand, or bravery worthy of praise, then the Iowa 2nd has merited a name that history should extol.” (Letter from Captain Ensign Conklin, Co. C, Birge’s Sharpshooters {later 66th Illinois Infantry}; The Evening Argus (Rock Island, Illinois), February 25, 1862, pg. 2)
The charge of the 2nd Iowa Infantry upon the Confederate works at Fort Donelson, Tennessee on February 15, 1862. 
A number of Ohioans were serving with the 2nd Iowa at the time.
(Kurz & Allison)
    Reprinted below are three accounts of that charge that were written by native Ohioans then serving with the 2nd Iowa Infantry. The first is by Second Lieutenant Alfred Bing of Company C which was written to his parents in Rutland, Meigs Co., Ohio. They shared the letter with the Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph which printed it in their March 14, 1862 issue. The second account was written by Private James W. Morrison who was also serving in Co. C; Morrison had moved to Iowa from Gallipolis, Ohio a few years before the Civil War. He wrote this letter to his father John Morrison in Davenport, Iowa and the elder Morrison shared the letter with the Davenport Gazette; the Gallipolis Dispatch in Ohio picked up the letter and ran it in their March 5, 1862 issue. The third letter was also written by a private but one serving in Company A: this letter from William Douglas was written to his sister then living near St. Clairsville, Belmont Co., Ohio and published in the March 13, 1862 issue of the St. Clairsville Gazette. Last week's post featuring the account of Private George M. Bradley of the 4th Illinois Cavalry who joined the 2nd Iowa in this charge can be viewed here:

          Each account offers a slightly different perspective of the battle and reinforces the value of consulting multiple accounts from the same unit where possible in describing Civil War combat. Douglas’ account goes into more detail concerning the regiment’s travels to Fort Donelson while both Bing’s and Morrison’s letters provide rich and detailed battle content. I’ve also interspersed some quotes from Surgeon John H. Brinton and from historian Lurton Ingersoll; Ingersoll wrote a lengthy work in 1866 describing the service of Iowa’s regiments in the Civil War. He dedicated the book to his only brother Joseph who was killed at the Battle of Iuka while serving in the 11th Ohio Battery; so there is yet another Ohio connection to these accounts.

Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph, March 14, 1862, pg. 1
Fort Donelson, Tennessee 
February 21, 1862

Dear Parents:
          Our regiment left St. Louis on Monday the 10th inst., on the steamer T.S. McGill and on Wednesday morning arrived at Cairo where we lay until 4 o'clock P.M. We then started up the Ohio and at 5 o'clock the next morning passed Smithland at the mouth of the Cumberland River. In the afternoon of that day we overtook a fleet of transports loaded with troops. We lay to a short time until orders were issued to the various commanders and then proceeded up the river. Just before sundown, we were provided with two days' rations and forty rounds of ammunition. During the night, the weather which had been fine turned intensely cold and on Friday morning we left the transports which had landed below the fort, just beyond the range of the guns, and after a fatiguing march of three hours, arrived at the lines of our army on the west of the Fort.
    Fort Donelson is a combination of field works of great extent and strength. Just below the works, a creek puts into the river, which being swollen, the backwater covered the entire bottom rendering it impassable. The point formed by the junction of the two streams consists of a high bluff, which until recently, was ever covered by a dense growth of timber. These bluffs had been strongly fortified and, taken in connection with the natural strength of the position, it is the most formidable fortress I ever saw.
Map of Fort Donelson during the siege in February 1862.
(Iowa and the Rebellion)

Our lines extended from the river to the head of the backwater in the creek and were about three miles in extent- completely investing the place. A battle had taken place on Thursday without any result. When we arrived, sharp skirmishing was going on between Birge's sharpshooters   and the Rebels. In the afternoon the gunboats opened a heavy fire on the batteries which continued about two hours. In the evening, our regiment was posted on the extreme left and we passed a very disagreeable night without covering or blankets. 

          Saturday morning early the ball opened on our right by a heavy body of the enemy making a vigorous attack in that quarter. Their object was, evidently, to force back our lines and escape, but in this, they were disappointed. The battle raged furiously, with varying success, until about 1 o'clock P.M. when they appeared to be a temporary lull in the engagement. After an hour, Gen. (Charles Ferguson) Smith appeared and after we had hastily formed, told us that we were to storm the enemy's entrenchments in our front. He told us that we must, on no account, fire a shot until we had carried the works, for if we stopped to fire we were surely lost. He promised to support us promptly with the whole brigade if necessary.
Brigadier General Charles F. Smith: the crusty Regular encouraged his volunteers by exclaiming "Come on you volunteers, come on! This is your chance! You volunteered to be killed for love of country, now you can be!" He would be dead within two months from injuries sustained while getting into a boat at Pittsburg Landing. 
Surgeon John Brinton remembers General Smith’s injunction to the Iowa volunteers somewhat differently: “You ought to have heard old C.F. Smith cursing as he led on his storming regiments. “Damn you, gentlemen, I see skulkers, I'll have none here. Come on you volunteers, come on! This is your chance! You volunteered to be killed for love of country, now you can be!” And so the old man led them with a mixture of oaths and entreaties over the breastwork. The loss was heavy, but he never flinched, but sat straight on his horse, his long white mustache, his stature, and commanding presence making him a conspicuous mark.” (Brinton, John H. Personal Memoirs of John H. Brinton, Major and Surgeon, U.S.V. 1861-65. New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1914, pg. 121)

Without stopping to load our pieces, we filed out of the timber, left in front, and the left wing marched steadily in line of battle toward the entrenchments, immediately followed by the right wing. The works we were approaching were situated on the brow of a high hill. The timber which had formerly been thick and heavy had been recently felled, with the tops toward the base of the hill, forming an obstacle to our advance of the most formidable character. The enemy, posted behind the parapet, were armed with revolving Enfield rifles, firing seven balls without reloading.  We marched steadily until we were within one hundred yards, when we were met by the most terrific storm of balls. Remembering our orders, we pushed steadily on, stepping over the dead and wounded until we reached the works, which we mounted and leaped into the midst of our foes. The two wings of our regiment then united and advanced some two hundred yards to the brow of the next hill, where we took our position, which we maintained for an hour and a half, when we were ordered to fall back and form in the rear of the entrenchments, which we were to hold until the next morning. We did so, suffering much from the cold. Next morning the enemy sounded a parley and displayed a flag of truce. The result was an unconditional surrender.
The 2nd Iowa assaulted the Confederate right late on the afternoon of February 15th and succeeded in carrying the outer line of works and then halted for the night. The regiment would be the first to march into the fort the following day.
(Iowa and the Rebellion)

          Captain Slaymaker, of our company, fell when near the entrenchments. He was the nephew of Gen. Persifor F. Smith.  He died heroically, cheering on his men with his last breath. Raising himself on his left elbow, he brandished his sword in the air, and with the words “Charge! Charge! Charge!” struck furiously toward the enemy, then fell forward on his face and expired. 

Some more details from Colonel Jacob Lauman on the death of Captain Slaymaker: “Poor Jack Slaymaker lost his life in one of the most brilliant charges on record. He had, with his regiment, reached the breastworks and passed in, when a ball shot him in the thigh and severed the main artery. He bled to death in five minutes. He was as gallant a soldier as ever carried a sword. After he was wounded, he raised himself on his side, waved his sword and called on his men to go forward, then sank down and died.” ('Obituary of Captain Jonathan S. Slaymaker of Davenport, Iowa, who fell at Fort Donelson February 15, 1862 in the Famous Charge of the Second Iowa Infantry', The Annals of Iowa, 1864, pgs. 283-285)
Colonel Jacob G. Lauman was the 2nd Iowa's brigade commander at Fort Donelson and described the regiment's action as "one of the most brilliant charges on record."
          Immediately after the surrender, Gen. Smith appeared again on the left wing and met us as we were taking up a position, preparatory to commencing anew the battle. He asked, “What regiment is this,” and was answered, “Iowa Second.” “Iowa boys,” he rejoined, “every man of you is brave.”  He directed the column to be halted and said, as our charge had decided the fate of the day, our colors should be the first to wave over the captured fortress. We marched into the fort and our flag, although badly riddled with balls, was planted upon the parapet amid deafening cheers and friend and foes. 

          Our brigade is now quartered in the main fort, but tomorrow we move toward Nashville. On the evening after the surrender, I found brother Ernest, whose regiment had arrived that morning. I forgot to state, in the proper place, that out of the 61 men of my company who entered that battle, 29 were killed and wounded. My captain was killed, and First Lieutenant severely wounded. I was knocked down and considerably bruised by a spent ball early in the engagement but kept the field until after the surrender.
Affectionately, your son,
Alfred Bing

Gallipolis Dispatch, March 5, 1862, pg. 2
Cairo, Illinois
February 18, 1862

Dear Father:
          The battle is over and the victory is ours, and thank God I am still alive to tell the tale. I escaped with a slight wound in my foot which will not lay me up more than two or three weeks. I will begin at the beginning and tell you all I can. We started from St. Louis on Monday the 9th instant and met the fleet down at Cairo. There were 12 boats loaded with troops and nine gunboats. We arrived at the fort on Thursday, laid out in the snow all that night, ate hard crackers and raw meat, and had no blankets so we had to keep awake all night. Next day we were sent out skirmishing and the day after we made the attack on Fort Donelson at a charge bayonet. Just imagine a hill about as steep as Brady Street with tree tops felled all over the ground and you will have a picture of what we had to climb over, and on the double quick at that. I fell down three times over the dead bodies of my fellow soldiers before I got over the breastworks. I tell you it makes a fellow feel kind of ticklish to hear the bullets whizzing around him like hailstones with his companions falling around him every minute, but it didn’t last long. After the first two or three volleys, he gets perfectly reckless or what you might call insane at any other time.
Another view of the 2nd Iowa charge at Fort Donelson. 
Ingersoll provided the following description of this charge: “The Rebel works were 500 yards in advance and the line of march was up a considerable hill obstructed by abatis. Officers drew their swords, the men grasped their muskets firmly, and moved on the Rebel works. No man spoke, and not a gun was fired from our ranks. Silent as the grave and inexorable as death, the 2nd Iowa pushed its way up the hill through a storm of grape, shell, and ball. Many dropped dead. Reaching the works, the men bounded over with wonderful agility and for the first time, Colonel Tuttle gave command. ‘Now give them hell!’ shouted Tuttle. The enemy resisted with great stubbornness but the whole regiment forming in line inside the Rebel works drove the enemy to the interior line of rifle pits.” (Ingersoll, Lurton Dunham. Iowa and the Rebellion. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1866, pg. 37)

          {First} Lieutenant {William F.} Holmes was struck in the leg while scaling the breastworks. I think he will have to have it taken off. Our brave old Colonel Tuttle was in the front of the battle all the time until he got struck with a spent ball and then left the command to Colonel Baker while he went to see that his wounded boys were taken care of. He was one of the first over the breastworks. As soon as he got over, he sang out, “Bully boys, go in!” And we did go in. We held their whole brigade at bay for as much as ten minutes before we were reinforced. We lost our brave Captain Slaymaker in the engagement; he jumped out in front and cried “Come on boys and give it to them” and had hardly got the words out of his mouth when he was shot dead. Lieutenant Bing then took charge and led us on until he was struck by a spent ball.
Colonel James M. Tuttle, 2nd Iowa Infantry
Tuttle was born in Ohio in 1823. 

We drove them back inside their fort and then retreated to the outer entrenchments where we laid on our arms until morning. I was not there at that time. I was carried off the field as I was getting weak from loss of blood. I have no doubt we have all seen misery in this world but a man don’t know what it is until he sees a battlefield after the fight is over. The saying is true: that a man feels more like running after the battle is over than he does when it commences. The wounded were all taken down to Mound City. I came on to Cairo and am now staying with Mr. Sears who treats me very kindly but I guess I will go to the hospital tomorrow. I expect I can get a furlough if I can only raise money enough to get home. Our regiment was badly cut up: I don’t believe we can muster 200 sound men, but what is left have the proud satisfaction of having done their duty in fighting for their country.
James W. Morrison

St. Clairsville Gazette, March 13, 1862, pg. 2
Fort Donelson, Tennessee
February 24, 1862

Dear Sister:
          Under the guidance of Heaven I am permitted to write to you again and I thank God that it is still my privilege for while many of my comrades lie cold it death or are laid on beds of suffering from wounds received in battle, yet I am spared in both life and health. You have long ere this learned of the success of the Federal arms in capturing this fort. You will also notice that the 2nd Iowa took a distinguished part in the fight. It will, perhaps, not be uninteresting to you if I give you a few items concerning our trip from St. Louis and of the part played by our regiment in storming this place. We left St. Louis Monday evening February 10th in disgrace; being compelled to march through the city with colors furled and without music; this was on account of some few in the regiment who destroyed some of the property in the museum connected with McDowell’s College.

Ingersoll provides further context about McDowell’s College and the regiment’s disgrace as alluded to in the Douglas account: “The regiment remained at St. Louis recuperating and on guard duty during the winter. In the city there was a certain institution called McDowell College at this time used as a sort of prison for Rebels captured with arms in their hands or treason in their hearts. The regiment was assigned the duty of guarding this college or prison. Now whether correctly or not it was generally regarded as a ‘secession concern.’ That fact is probably enough to account for its conversion into a prison for Rebels and malcontents.  But though it was converted in the main, it seems that certain attributes of collegiate sanctity still clung to it. The ‘museum’ remained intact and was filled with specimens such as ‘dead rabbits’ and stuffed beasts of all kinds and this was ordered to be sacredly guarded from vandalism and pillage. Some vandal crept into the museum and carried away some of the dead rabbits and beasts aforesaid. All things considered, it was, perhaps, a venial offense. But the learned Buffons and gossips of St. Louis took it in high dudgeon and raised a terrible clatter about the ears of the military authorities. General Halleck, now in command of the department, sympathized with the students of Buffon and of the dead rabbits. General Schuyler Hamilton, then commanding the post sympathized with the commanding general and the regiment, not knowing who had committed the offense or, if knowing, not having a man in the command mean enough to tell, was publicly disgraced by general order! This happened just as the regiment was about to march to the levee to embark for Fort Donelson.” (Ingersoll, Lurton Dunham. Iowa and the Rebellion. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1866, pg. 37)
Major General Henry Wager Halleck
The picture of a calculating and humorless commanding officer,"Old Brains" would render better service to the Union cause within the political morass of Washington, D.C. than as a field commander where his penchant for ruthlessness and duplicity endeared him to few of subordinates.  
          Tuesday February 11th was a beautiful day and passed very pleasant as we slowly wended our way down the father of waters. Wednesday morning, I was awoken from slumber by hearing our gallant boat breaking its way through a field of ice which had lodged in the Mississippi in consequence of the Ohio bring very high. As we neared Cairo, Bird’s Point could be seen on the right almost inundated. Cairo was almost flooded. We made but a short stay there and about 3 P.M. got underway and steamed up the Ohio.

Thursday morning February 13th found us on the Cumberland River under a sunny sky; as the day advanced it became very warm and pleasant reminding us of a May day in the North. I could not help reflecting on the past and contrasting it with the present. Here is everything that is necessary for the happiness of man; one of the most beautiful countries of the world united with a mild and sunny climate. But slavery has set its blighting curse on the land and it is scarcely improved at all. And now all the horrors of war are being felt in this land of Eden. Friday morning February 14th is Valentine’s Day. We landed three miles below the enemy’s fort, taking nothing with us but our guns and two days’ provisions in our haversacks expecting to be marched directly into the field of battle, but we were ordered to be held as a reserve and did nothing that day but skirmish. I only fired twice. That night we almost froze as it snowed most of the night; sleep was hardly thought of.
The river battery at Fort Donelson looking over the Cumberland River
(Photo by Hal Jespersen,

           Saturday February 15th is a day that will be long remembered. Fighting commenced early in the morning and continued all day with great loss to both sides. The Rebels got the better of the day on the right wing where the fighting commenced in the morning. About 3 P.M., we were ordered to taken the field. Colonel Lauman of the 7th Iowa was acting brigadier and told us that our time had come. Without a word everyone found his place. The left wing of the regiment filed out of the woods and then advanced in line of battle followed by the right wing about 100 yards to the rear. When within 50 yards of the enemy, they opened fire on us, killing and wounding many of our best men. Yet on we went over logs and brush up the hill cheered on by our brave Colonel Tuttle; not a gun was fired by our men until they mounted the breastworks when the enemy fled, numbers of them falling dead and wounded on the field.
The national colors of the 2nd Iowa Infantry that were carried at Fort Donelson now are in possession of the State Historical Museum of Iowa. Of the four men that carried the flag during the assault, only one was still standing when the battle was over. Sergeant Harry B. Doolittle, the regimental color sergeant, was also an Ohio native. 
During this charge, three of the four color bearers were struck down in succession. Color Sergeant Harry B. Doolittle (Co. C) first carried the colors until he was struck by four bullets; Corporal S.G. Page (Co. B) took the colors from Doolittle but was soon killed; Corporal Henry Churchill (Co. I) then took the colors and was wounded upon the works; Corporal Voltaire P. Twombly (Co. G) then grasped the colors from Churchill and carried them through the rest of the engagement despite being struck by a spent ball. In all, five of the six members of the color guard were wounded or killed including Corporal G. W. Moorehouse of Co. E and Corporal E. Weaver of Co. H. (Ingersoll, Lurton Dunham. Iowa and the Rebellion. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1866, pg. 45-46)

Never do I wish to see such a sight again. I never expected to get off the field alive but thanks to God I came off unhurt. The bullets flew like hail around my head. Robert Hall (another Belmont County native) was shot in the shoulder by my side and I took him off the field while bullets and canister shot flew all around on every side. I would have written sooner but I was in the hospital nursing the wounded and could get no chance of writing. After the battle I went 70 hours without sleep. Sunday morning the fort surrendered with all it contained and some 15,000 prisoners were taken. Our regiment was the first inside the fort and marched at the head of the column going in after the surrender. The loss in killed in the regiment is 43, wounded 110. Troops are going up the Cumberland to Nashville every day and it is likely that we will go soon.
William Douglas

“As for the 2nd Iowa, it here won a reputation which can never fade from the minds of mankind so long as the victory of Fort Donelson shall be remembered,” wrote Lurton Ingersoll. “More, the admirable achievement of the regiment brought forth enthusiasm from the imperturbable Halleck, a thing well-nigh as wonderful as the miracle of Moses which brought forth living waters from the barren rock of the wilderness. He telegraphed as follows: “The Second Iowa Infantry proved themselves the bravest of the brave; they had the honor of leading the column which entered Fort Donelson.”

When the fort surrendered, the 2nd Iowa was given the honor of being the first Union regiment to enter the fort. The sole remaining uninjured member of the color guard, Corporal Voltaire P. Twombly, “planted the stars and stripes upon the captured fort amid the huzzahs of the victorious army and salvos of artillery firing joyful salutes.” The regiment had suffered heavily: it took into the fight 631 men and lost 41 killed and 157 wounded, nearly a third of its strength in the regiment’s first engagement.
Corporal Voltaire Twombly, Co. G, 2nd Iowa Infantry, Medal of Honor recipient for his courage at Fort Donelson
Voltaire Twombly would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Fort Donelson and serve for three years in the war rising to the rank of captain. The national colors carried by Twombly into the works at Fort Donelson were presented to the Iowa General Assembly in 1862 then turned over to the State Historical Society. They are property today of the State Historical Museum of Iowa and can be viewed here: