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27th Iowa Top Banner

History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne

Pages 198-199

LETTER NO. CXXXIX.

HEADQUARTERS TWENTY-SEVENTH IOWA INFANTRY
GRAND ECORE, April 19, 1864.

FRIEND RICH: - The period which has elapsed since I wrote to you, has been to us the most eventful of the war. On the morning of the seventh, the forces of the Thirteenth army corps, General Ransom commanding; the Sixteenth and Seventeenth army corps, General Smith commanding; the Eighteenth army corps, General Franklin commanding, and all under command of Major General N. P. Banks, left Grand Ecore for an advance towards Shreveport. The Thirteenth corps was is the advance followed by the, Nineteenth, and General Smith's command in the rear. The weather was fine, the roads good, and the march met with little or no opposition, until Pleasant Hill was reached. At Mansfield, ten or twelve miles in advance of that place, the enemy had taken position and determined to give us battle. When the Thirteenth corps had reached within striking distance of the enemy, a consultation was held, and General Ransom was permitted by General Banks, against the wish of General Franklin, to move up and provoke a fight. Our army of twenty-five thousand was scattered through the woods of Louisiana for twenty-five miles. A large cavalry train, together with numerous ambulances, had been pushed to the front. Everything connected with the whole force was wholly managed for a general engagement. The Nineteenth corps had gone into camp, seven miles in the rear of the Thirteenth. In this unprotected and irregular condition, the fight was commenced between Ransom and the rebel Taylor. Some sixteen hundred of the Thirteenth were sent out to contest the field with ten thousand rebels. Of course they were hastily beaten back with tremendous slaughter. A small force was thrown out a second time and gobbled.

By this time the enemy knew his power and our weakness, and pushed forward boldly, capturing men, horses, mules, wagons, ambulances, artillery, and whatever they passed which had been shoved into their hands. The thirteenth corps fought well for an hour, and retreated two miles, when the nineteenth was met and, after a desperate fight, checked the further pursuit of the foe. Night came on and spread her sad and sable mantle over the scene. One hundred and thirty wagons loaded with cavalry equipage, amunition and rations, twenty-two pieces of artillery, thirteen hundred men of the Thirteenth corps, and five hundred more of the Nineteenth corps, with all their guns - all were gone. General Banks thought he was whipped, and a retreat was ordered. By this time, the evening of the eighth, General A. J. Smith's forces had reached Pleasant Hill. We had received no news from the front, and all lay down as quietly as at our peaceful homes. At 2 o'clock A. M. reveille was ordered. A few moments elapsed, and Colonel Gilbert was sent for by the brigade commander. Soon it was understood that Banks had been whipped, and that there had been a fearful slaughter of troops. Our fires were extinguished, our men ordered under arms, and all looked with dark forebodings for coming events.

Soon the retreating train appeared. Hour after hour the heavily ladened train moved rapidly back. What an immense train! There is a probability that many wagons could yet be spared profitably by this army. Wagons loaded with flooring for tents, with goats and bird cages, are of little service to the Government; and generals who allow their trains to be thus encumbered, are of less use. All could see that a retreat had been ordered. Brigadier General Smith, it is said, expressed much dissatisfaction, and desired to remain and fight alone; but all he was allowed to do was simply to cover the retreat to Grand Ecore.

I send the official report of Colonel Gilbert, which will speak for itself. Company C is still on detached service, as guard at Brigadier General Smith's headquarters, on the transport Clara Bell.

HEADQUARTERS TWENTY-SEVENTH REGIMENT, IOWA VOLUNTEER INFANTRY, GRAND ECORE, April 11, 1864.

CAPTAIN: - I have the honor to report the following list of casualties in the Twenty-seventh regiment, Iowa volunteers, at the battle of Pleasant Hill, April 9, 1864:

About 10 A. M. we were ordered into line and moved one and a-half miles on the road to Shreveport, and took position of left centre of brigade, in advance line, relieving the Fifteenth Maine volunteer infantry. Our line was established in the edge of a thick wood, and the men commanded to lie down. An open field lay to our front. Company B was immediately thrown out as skirmishers. Firing was quite brisk until half-past 3 in the afternoon; the enemy's skirmishers appearing at times, then falling back. At that time the enemy advanced in force. Our skirmishers fought well, until overpowered and driven in, Immediately they resumed their place in the regiment, the enemy steadily approaching in strong columns.

At this point a bold cavalry charge was made by the enemy along the Shreveport road. Our men remained quiet until they had approached to within short range, when a full volley was poured into the rebel ranks. The effect was telling. Riders reeled and fell, horses were struck as dead as if a bolt of heaven had riven the air. The scene was an appalling one. Scarcely a man who made that charge, but met his death on the spot. The enemy had moved upon the left of our advance line in strong force. The line had already broken away to the left, and news came that the enemy were flanking us. Already the enemy were fighting in our rear. Several shots had taken effect in the ranks of companies B and G. The enemy advanced in our front in solid columns.  We met them with determined fire; volley after volley was poured into their ranks. For two hours the rattle of musketry was incessant and deafening. Several shells and a number of solid shot struck immediately by us, bursting and wounding a number of men. About half-past 5 P. M., the order was given to retreat, but was not received by me until after other regiments had retired, leaving both flanks of my regiment greatly exposed. We fell back in good order and in line, until the enemy was discovered to be flanking us, when the line was broken, and we escaped through narrow passages, the enemy pouring a sharp fire upon both flanks, and closing in rapidly on our rear. At this point in the struggle, a large part of those reported, were killed or wounded. We immediately formed line in the rear of supporting column, and awaited orders.

I would like to mention the names of some officers who distinguished themselves, but all conducted themselves so bravely and so well that I refrain from mentioning any save Captain J. M. Holbrook, company F, who, after having received a severe wound, led his men with distinguished gallantry, until a second severe wound was received, and the regiment reformed in rear of supporting column.

Aggregate of killed, missing, and wounded, eighty eight.

I have the honor to be, captain,
your most obedient servant,
JAMES I. GILBERT, colonel commanding.
To CHARLES T. GRANGER, captain and A. A. A. G., Second brigade, Third division,

The musketry firing was as sharp as that at any place during the war, if the testimony of the officers and men who were at Shiloh and Corinth can be credited. At dark the firing ceased, when the rebels beat a long retreat for eight miles. The enemy lost more in killed and wounded than we did. Their numbers engaged were far greater than ours. During the night of the ninth, General Price came down with fresh troops from Arkansas, and some came up from Texas, making in all, it is thought, a reenforcement of twenty-two regiments. They fought as bravely as ever men could fight, and they were in the best of spirits, for they had gained a large prize on the eighth.

It is a little provoking to read communications from lying correspondents, to the effect that the Thirteenth and Nineteenth corps did all the fighting at Pleasant Hill, when it is acknowledged by all that General Smith's forces, the Sixteenth and Seventeenth, saved the army and gained all that was gained. Far be it from me to detract from the credit due the Thirteenth and Nineteenth; they fought well and have as good soldiers as can be found in the United States service. But facts are facts; the Thirteenth corps commenced their retreat two hours before the battle of Pleasant Hill commenced. The Nineteenth was our support, and did good fighting after we fell back, which was just at sunset. We lay in line of battle all night. It was intensely cold, and many of the boys had lost their blankets during the fight, so that nothing could be obtained but a light blouse to keep them warm. The wounded are being brought up to the hospital as fast as they come within our lines. Although the rebels have retired, it is not safe to advance by night, and many of those with whom we have spent so many days of soldiering, are to-night outside our lines, shivering with cold and suffering from pain. This retreat is the hardest order since we have been soldiers. Our men, with whom we have associated for almost two years, whose friendship has been cemented by all the privations which a soldier meets on the weary march, in the lone camp, or on the stern field of battle, are left uncared for. Could we have lingered an hour or two to care for them, it would stay the grief; but no, we must go at once.

And back we came to Grand Ecore, sick at heart and discouraged, for the news of our sad repulse is confirmed. But we must submit. We found that our transports, which had been ordered up the river when we marched, had not arrived, and the roar of distant artillery tells too plainly that they are in trouble. We hastened to their relief and found them all safe, though perforated by rebel balls, and several cannon shots passed entirely through some of the boats. Company C have had a share in the fight, notwithstanding they are acting as guards for General Smith. None of them are wounded, however, and all are now- in the best of spirits. The fleet is safe, the water is low. When we shall move I would not pretend to say, and in what direction when we do move, I do not pretend even to surmise.

C. H. L.

The following are the casualties reported in company H: H. H. Love,corporal, wound not known, left on the field; E. E. Mulick, left hip, severe, left on the field; H. B. Booth, left hand, severe; A. Cordell, neck, slight; H. Harrigan, left hand, slight; J. C. Haskins, left hand, slight. Love, Booth, Cordell, and Haskins, were from Quasqueton, Mulick from Brandon, and Harrigan from Independence.

This is the last of the letters from Charles H. Lewis