History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881"
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne
LETTER NO. CXV.
THE END OF RAILING
CAMP REED, JACKSON, TENNESSEE, March 31, 1863.
FRIEND RICH: - It seems that the anonymous letter published in the Guardian a few weeks since, regarding an order issued by Colonel C. L. Dunham, requiring the Twenty-seventh regiment to split rails to replace some that had been burned, caused considerable speculation at headquarters, and called forth a reply from our worthy friend, Lieutenant Donnan. Before answering the letter it would be well, perhaps to state the situation of the Twenty-seventh Iowa, at the time the rails were used; as there is no doubt they did use a part, though I doubt if they used all the one hundred and fifty rails as charged.
Our regiment came into camp at Camp Reed, the thirteenth of January last. Immediately after coming into camp, there came on a heavy snow storm, covering the ground to a depth of full six inches, which remained several days.
On our march from Memphis to the Tallahatchie river, the division quartermaster took nearly all the axes we had in the regiment to clear the road and build bridges, and we never saw them afterward. Company C had three or four axes that had not seen a grindstone for weeks and that had been used indiscriminately to cut wood, rails, frozen ground, and stones. Other companies were no better off. As Mr. Donnan says, "here was plenty of wood to be had for the cutting," but we were in a sorry plight to cut it, and when cut it was all green. Not a stick or twig of dry wood was to be had to kindle a fire with, except the aforesaid rails. Any of your readers who have ever made the attempt to kindle a fire from a match with nothing but green wood, know it is no easy matter. Add to this the fact that we were out of doors, in the midst of a severe snow storm, and you can readily imagine that it was of first importance that fires should be built at once, and that building them of green wood covered with snow, was not an agreeable task. It was under such circumstances that the rails were taken.
I am no advocate of indiscriminate plunder, though I do believe, fully and emphatically, that it is the duty of every Union general to subsist his army upon the enemy; and I doubt the loyalty of any leader who refuses to do so. I do not blame Colonel Dunham, after he had issued his order, for insisting that it should be obeyed; nor do I understand that the writer of the anonymous letter blames him for it.
Military discipline requires that every order must be obeyed. What I claim would have been a better course, would have been for Colonel Dunham to send the quartermaster to get the rails for the boys to kindle their fires with, and to receipt for them. Had this been done not a rail would have been taken by the Twenty-seventh. The colonel would have gained the good will of all, and the owner of the rails, if a Union man, could have had his pay for them. Up to the time of writing this letter, Lieutenant Donnan had been, most of his time, after his return on the fifteenth of February, on Colonel Dunham's staff, and had never been detailed to go foraging with the regiment. Those who did go say that there were plenty of hogs and cattle to be had, on a proper requisition from headquarters.
I have written these few lines because I thought justice to the Twenty-seventh demanded it. The men who compose it went out from you with honesty of purpose; they will return to you with their honor unsullied. They bear the "good old flag "- they are not marauders. They respect their officers and are submissive to military authority; and when the day comes the men of the Twenty-seventh believe their officers will lead them into the deadly fray with all the coolness of tried veterans, and the officers are confident that their men will follow them till the "red field is won," and the star spangled banner waves in triumph over sea and land.
E. P. BAKER.