Frederick S. Washburn of the 9th Iowa and Pea Ridge

The Late Capt. F.S. Washburn”
Setting these words in type may have been the most difficult task ever performed by George Washburn, editor of the Elyria Independent Democrat in Elyria, Ohio. George no doubt shed tears as he set these words into type; he deeply admired his older brother Frederick S. Washburn and regularly shared his letters through the pages of his newspaper. Fred had gone west several years before and earned a fine reputation as an officer in the 9th Iowa Infantry.

Fred “possessed a constitution remarkable for physical endurance and seldom allowed himself to be surpassed in any form of manual labor or exercise. Captain Washburn was wounded on the memorable 22nd of May during the storming of the works at Vicksburg. He was in command of the regiment and while leading his columns against the works, he received a ball from above which grazed his cheek, entered his neck, and passed out of his back just beneath the shoulder blade. Of his entire regiment, only four officers and 54 enlisted men escaped being wounded. Captain Washburn was compelled to feign death by lying motionless on his face for hours, as after the regiment fell back, the Rebel sharpshooters made targets of any of our wounded who exhibited any signs of life. He was finally removed from the battlefield and taken to the hospital at Memphis where his wound was doing well and gave promise of recovery.”  Captain Washburn was sent by steamer up the Mississippi River and arrived at home in Waterloo, Iowa on the evening of June 15, 1863, only to die the next morning.

The Orange, New Hampshire native was born June 21, 1823 and moved to Camden, Ohio in 1835 with his family and made his living as a lumberjack, cutting down the abundant forests in the Western Reserve to open the land for farming. In 1855, Fred decided to move west and settled with his family in Waterloo, Iowa. There the outbreak of the Civil War prompted him to enlist, and he was elected captain of Co. G of the 9th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. “I have volunteered for the war without limit, and shall strive to do my full duty to my country,” Fred wrote his brother. “If I fall on the battlefield, you and my friends can have the satisfaction of thinking that my blood was shed in a glorious cause, and that I died with my face to the enemy, battling for freedom and the rights of mankind.” [1] The regiment had been organized by Congressman William Vandever in the fall of 1861 and was one of the few regiments armed with the .58 caliber Dresden rifle, a first class imported firearm.
Colonel William Vandever
9th Iowa Infantry
          The 9th Iowa left the state in January 1862 and as part of General Samuel Curtis’ army, it contested for the control of the state of Arkansas and was engaged at the Battle of Pea Ridge. During the battle, the 9th Iowa formed part of Colonel William Vandever’s Second Brigade of Colonel Eugene Carr’s Fourth Division. Captain Washburn was cited for gallantry in action at Pea Ridge and he provided this brief account to his brother which was published in the April 2, 1862 issue of the Elyria Independent Democrat.

Pea Ridge, Arkansas
March 10, 1862 [2]
          I send you a hasty line to let you know of our whereabouts after the great battle which has been fought at this place. We were attacked on the 6th instant by the combined forces of Price, McCulloch, Rains, McIntosh, McBride, and Van Dorn, and after three days of the most terrible fighting on record, the enemy broke and fled in the greatest consternation. Ben McCulloch was killed the first day and James McIntosh the second. Price was wounded in the arm but made his escape. The victory is complete, but has been purchased with the blood of many of our men. Our regiment lost 43 on the field and about 200 wounded [Official losses were 38 killed, 176 wounded, and 4 missing]. My company lost eight killed and 13 wounded, two mortally.

The enemy had taken a position in our rear to prevent our retreat, being confident of their ability to capture the whole army. After the second day’s fight, he told his men to be of good cheer, they should eat their dinner in our camp the next day, but alas for human hopes and expectations, they are often frustrated. At the moment we expect their realization. We lay on our arms all night and the next morning when he expected to see us send in the white flag, we sent in its place a shell that killed young [Benjamin] McCulloch and three other officers. After a few rounds, they replied and till noon there was the most terrible cannonading kept up on both sides. The battle was fought by them in the woods and brush and the last day we were in the open field. The trees are completely cut down for acres in a place. Our 24-lb rifled guns would cut a tree two feet in diameter completely off. The enemy had 39,000 men and 63 cannon while we had 12,000 men and about 40 cannon, which makes the victory more complete. [Van Dorn had about 16,500 engaged at this battle, not 39,000.]
Federal position near Elkhorn Tavern from Lurton Ingersoll's Iowa in the Civil War
Our loss is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 killed and wounded and the enemy’s loss can be counted by the thousands; their dead are strewn over the battlefield and will be left to bleach for all coming time on the bleak hills of Sugar Creek and Pea Ridge. One of their surgeons told me that there were over 300 of their men killed on one acre of ground. They attempted to cover up their loss the second night by burning their dead in the woods, but had not time to complete the task and were compelled to leave the ground with the bodies of their dead half consumed.

They had four regiments of Indians from the Sacs and Foxes to fight with them and scalp the dead that fell into their hands. One of my men was wounded and fell into the Rebels hands; they set him against a tree and shot him through the bowels and left him for dead. After they fell back, he crawled nearly a mile to one of our own batteries and is still alive, but mortally wounded. This was done by Price’s own men. Our lieutenant colonel [Francis C. Herron] was wounded and taken at the same time but they did not shoot him as they did my man. Perhaps Co. G will take some men alive, but I think most of the men are of the opinion that they will not let a man escape who is found within reach after the above barbarous act.

[1] “The Late Capt. F.S. Washburn,” Elyria Independent Democrat (Ohio), July 1, 1863, pg. 2
[2] “The War in Arkansas,” Elyria Independent Democrat (Ohio), April 2, 1862, pg. 2


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