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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 132-136

The Twenty-seventh Iowa volunteers had nearly as varied an experience, in the matter of climate, as the distinguished explorer after the remains of Sir John Franklin, who received his orders to the polar regions whilst bathing in the gulf of Mexico. The Twenty-seventh performed its first active service in northern Minnesota, in about the latitude of Quebec; and before it closed its career of usefulness and honor, its hardy troops had made a voyage on the gulf, from Balize to Mobile bay. They had seen the Mississippi river where it looked like an insignificant stream; and again where, having received the waters of a continent, it swept by many channels into "the far-resounding sea."

The regiment was recruited in the northern part of Iowa, from the seven counties comprising the Third congressional district. The different companies went into camp of instruction at the Dubuque rendezvous in the latter part of August, where, in Camp Franklin, near that city, they were engaged in taking the usual lessons in the military art, until the third of October, when they were mustered into the service of the United States as the Twenty-Seventh Iowa volunteer infantry. The rolls at that date bore the names of nine hundred and fifty-two enlisted men and forty officers.

The command, thus fully organized and in the service immediately commenced battallion drill; and thorough discipline, the result in part of the high character of the men comprising the companies, was at once inaugurated, though the time for preliminary training did not long continue. Within a week after entering the service, the regiment was ordered to report to Major General Pope, commanding the department of the northwest, to take part in the campaign against the hostile tribes of Indians who were, at that time, threatening the frontier generally, and were especially waging their savage warfare, indiscriminately murdering men, women and children, in Minnesota. The Twenty-seventh regiment hastened to the assistance of General Pope, moving by transports to St. Paul, and going into quarters at Fort Snelling, near that capital. Shortly afterward Colonel Gilbert was ordered to Mille Lacs, a village on the lake of that name, a hundred and twenty-five miles north of St. Paul, there to superintend a payment of annuity to certain Indians. Taking six companies of his regiment, Colonel Gilbert marched rapidly northward, over roads cut through a wilderness and made almost impassable by the autumn rains, performed the duties assigned him, and returned to St. Paul on the fourth of November.

In the meantime, Colonel (soon after brigadier general) Sibley had defeated the Indians in a severe encounter, and they were - reported so far subdued that only Minnesota troops would be required in that department. While Colonel Gilbert was absent on the march to Mille Lacs, Major Howard, commanding the four companies stationed at Fort Snelling, received orders to report with his detachment at Cairo, Illinois. Upon his return, Colonel Gilbert received similar orders, and immediately proceeded to Cairo, going to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, by river, and thence by cars, by way of Chicago. The united command remained but a few days at Cairo. Embarking on transports, it proceeded down the river to Memphis, where it reported to General Sherman, and, on the twenty-second of November, went into camp near the city.

A few days later, the regiment was assigned its place in General Sherman's force, about to move as the right wing of General Grant's army, on the expedition into central Mississippi, to take the stronghold of Vicksburgh by that way. Before the regiment started on this march, the men complained loudly of the quality of their arms, which were old Prussian muskets, poor at best, and many of the pieces absolutely unserviceable. They had been promised better arms, and, as they were about entering upon a campaign which they had a right to suppose would be both active and dangerous, they thought it high time that the promises should be fulfilled. Colonel Gilbert had the tact and nerve satisfactorily to silence all complaints, so that when the march began, every man and officer able to go was in his place. In this campaign, the regiment marched to the Tallahatchee river, and was assigned the duty of guarding the Mississippi Central railway between that stream and the town of Waterford.

When news of the capture of Holly Springs by the rebels was received, six companies of the regiment (including a portion of the Buchanan county men), with other forces, marched on that place. But the rebels having left the place immediately after the destruction of the cotton and government stores, they returned almost immediately to the vicinity of the Tallahatchee, and soon after joined the army in its march back to Tennessee.

The regiment went into camp at Jackson, and, on the last day of the year, being a part of the brigade under command of Colonel Lawler, marched in great haste eastward to reenforce General Sullivan, then fighting the rebel Forrest beyond Lexington. The reenforcement marched rapidly through the cold and mud until midnight, and then bivouacked without shelter of any kind or protection from the bitter weather. On the morning of the new year, the command was aroused by an early reveille, and, without even a hasty plate of soup for breakfast, started on the chase after the rebel troopers, who had been whipped the day before by Sullivan, and were now beating a retreat in the direction of Clifton, a town on the Tennessee river about twenty-five miles south of west from Lexington. To that point the Union troops were moved in hot pursuit, but arrived too late to prevent the passage of the rebels. They then returned to Jackson by Bethel. The roads over which our regiment marched were horrible; the men were entirely without tents, and many of them without blankets, and the weather was most inclement. The command was without rations, except such as Quartermaster Sherburn procured by buying corn of the inhabitants and grinding it into meal at the mills near the line of march. Thus the men were enabled to get a meal of "corn-dodgers" a day, faring almost as miserably, notwithstanding the efforts of the staff in their behalf, as our prisoners at Libby, in Richmond. The consequences of this march of only about one hundred miles were suffering, sickness and death. The regiment remained, during the rest of the winter and till beyond the middle of April, 1863, at Jackson. Until spring fairly opened, the camp was a scene of constant suffering and almost daily death. The surgeon's call was attended much of the time by more men than that for dress-parade. Every company lost men by the score, and several officers were compelled to resign in order to save their lives. In fine, the consequences of the march to Clifton and return may truthfully be said to have been a greater loss to the regiment than the loss it sustained in all its engagements with the enemy -not excepting the bloody field of Pleasant Hill, where the command was among those "immortal few" regiments which formed the shield for the army under Banks, and saved it from inglorious defeat and destruction.

About the eighteenth of April the command moved from Jackson to Corinth, held that post during the temporary absence of General Dodge's forces, till the close of the month, and returned to Jackson. The campaign against Vicksburgh, under General Grant, was now fully inaugurated, and whilst many Iowa regiments were acquiring renown in the active operations of that campaign, others were performing less brilliant but not less valuable services, in guarding our lines of communications, and in preventing a rebel incursion across the frontier into territory which had been wrenched from rebel authority by the victories of 1862. Among the latter was the Twenty-seventh. The regiment was posted in detachments at various places on the railway, not far from Jackson, Colonel Gilbert being in command of that post. The colonel here won the high commendation of General Oglesby, commanding the left wing of the Sixteenth corps, for his wise and energetic administration, which was distinguished for the unrelenting system whereby rich rebel inhabitants were compelled to contribute to the support of indigent Union people who had been driven from their homes and sought protection within our lines.

On the fourth of June the regiment moved by cars to La Grange, and thence by march to Moscow, where, and in its vicinity, it spent two months in the performance of duties similar to those it had performed at Jackson. The monotony of camp life was frequently interrupted by the attacks of guerilla men, but upon the whole, the period was one of general and uninteresting quiet. Officers and men chafed under the enforced inaction, and earnestly wished to be taken directly against the enemy.

Marching orders were received on the twentieth of August, and their wishes seemed in a fair way to be gratified. Joyfully the regiment broke camp and marched to Memphis to join Colonel True's detached brigade, which went to the support of General Steele, then moving on Little Rock, Arkansas. The command went by transports from Memphis to Helena, whence it marched by Clarendon to Duvall's Bluff. There it joined the army under General Steele, and with it took part in the campaign which resulted in the capture of Little Rock, on the tenth of September. This campaign, though highly creditable to General Steele and the troops under his command, being sandwiched between that against Vicksburgh and that which sent the rebels whirling out of Tennessee, it did not receive the eclat which otherwise it would have received. The regiment remained opposite Little Rock about two months, on guard and picket duty, Colonel Gilbert, the most of the time being in command of the brigade. On the fifteenth of November he moved his command by rail to Duvall's Bluff, and, going thence by steamers down the White and up the Mississippi river, reported to General Hurlbut, commanding the Sixteenth corps, at Memphis, near which city our regiment went into quarters and there remained until near the close of January, 1864.

Though the regiment did not actively take part in any battle during the year 1863, its losses were considerable, the great majority taking place during that period of suffering already described. By death, discharge, and transfer to the Invalid corps, since called Veteran Reserve corps, the command lost one hundred and eighty-eight men during the year. Before it left its quarters in Memphis, which was before its term of service was half expired, it had ceased to bear upon its rolls the names of two hundred officers and men, which were on them at the organization of the regiment. Of these sixty-four had died during the year 1863; one hundred and eight had been discharged for disability, and sixteen had been transferred to the Invalid corps.

On the twenty-sixth of January, 1864, the regiment went aboard of transports and moved down the river to Vicksburgh; and, as a component of the Second brigade, Third division, Sixteenth corps (Colonel W. T. Shaw, Fourteenth Iowa, commanding brigade), it took a part in General Sherman's grand raid across the State of Mississippi to Meridian, often skirmishing with the enemy, but never having the opportunity fairly to fight him, and returned to Vicksburgh on the fourth of March.

Halting a few days at Vicksburgh, it next moved by transport with General A. J. Smith's detachment of the Sixteenth corps, to take part in the Red River expedition under Major General Banks. In many of the skirmishes and general engagements of this unfortunate campaign, our regiment took part. In the battle of Pleasant Hill, in particular, where a brigade, composed almost exclusively of Iowa troops, rolled back the tide of disaster which might otherwise have engulfed the whole army, the regiment was long and heavily engaged. "In looking at that battle from the standpoint of actual observation," says a correspondent, "it would seem as if General Banks, alarmed at the disaster of the preceding day, had concluded that some portion of the army must be sacrificed for the preservation of the remainder; and as if the grim old Shaw and his Iowa brigade (for it was composed of Iowa troops, except the Twenty-fourth Missouri, which was partly made up of Iowa men) were selected as the victims. The old hero, with a command of less than one-tenth of the force in the field, met with fully one-half the entire loss of the day, losing nearly one-third of his entire command in killed and wounded, but saved the army, and covered its retreat that night and next day to Grand Ecore. Colonel Gilbert was wounded in the hand during the afternoon, but remained on the field throughout the engagement. Lieutenants Frank A. Brush and S. O. Smith were severely wounded and taken prisoners. Lieutenant Granger was also wounded. Captain J. M. Holbrook, though twice severely wounded, led his men with great gallantry. He lost an arm from one of his wounds, but will never lose the admiration of his men and fellow officers, who fought with him on that day of carnage."

On the retreat from Grand Ecore to Alexandria, the Twenty-seventh Iowa, as a part of the forces under General Smith covered the retreat of Banks all the way, during which time it had several brisk engagements with the enemy. On the last of April it moved to the rear of Alexandria, near Governor Moore's plantation, and was there engaged in continuous skirmishing with the enemy for some ten days. Alexandria was burned and evacuated on the thirteenth of May. The enemy constantly annoyed the retreating column, and at Marksville a sharp engagement, lasting two or three hours, took place, in which the Twenty-seventh was under fire, but suffered no loss. The battle of Bayou de Glaize, or Yellow Bayou, as it is more commonly called, was fought on the eighteenth of May. The engagement, which the rebels admitted resulted in the severest defeat, for the number engaged, which had befallen them west of the Mississippi, continued nearly five hours, during the whole of which our regiment was actively engaged, and suffered a loss of four killed and thirteen wounded.

With the day after this combat closed a campaign which was as remarkable for its ill success as any of the war, but which exhibited the courage and indomitable obstinacy of our troops - fighting by detachments, "on their own hook," without a general capable of manoeuvring the whole army - in the highest possible degree. On this day the regiment fired its farewell volley at a few rebels hovering near the scene of the previous day's fight, and crossing the Atchafalaya, moved to the mouth of the Red River. The command here embarked on steamers, went up the river to Vicksburgh, and there went into camp for a few days' rest.

On the fourth of June it again left Vicksburgh as a part of the forces under General A. J. Smith, to dislodge the rebel Marmaduke, who, taking advantage of a bend in the river similar to that at Vicksburgh, was blockading the river at two points, close to each other by land, but many times as far apart by water. By means of batteries posted at Point Chicot, Greenville, about half way between Vicksburgh and Memphis, he was doing much damage. He could attack a fleet passing up or down the river twice from nearly the same line, fronting in different directions. General Smith, disembarking his forces at Sunnyside Landing, on the Arkansas shore, on the sixth, marched through a drenching rain and attacked Marmaduke, delivering his attack so suddenly and energetically that the noted trooper was soon routed, and the blockade of the river raised. In this spirited affair, in which the losses were about one hundred and twenty-five on each side, Colonel Gilbert commanded the brigade. His regiment, being on the left of the line, where there was but little firing, met with no loss.

Again the regiment went into camp at Memphis, whence it moved, with the rest of the command, toward the last of the month, on the Tupelo campaign, throughout which Colonel Gilbert commanded a brigade, and his regiment bore its full share of the labors, skirmishes, battles, and hard marches of the expedition. In the battle of Tupelo, fought from 6 o'clock in the morning till about noon of July 14th - a contest remarkable among the battles of the war for the disparity of losses to the contending forces, the Unionists suffering comparatively little, whilst inflicting immense loss upon the enemy - the Twenty-seventh was heavily engaged, as it was also at the battle of Old Town Creek, the next day. The loss of the regiment in both engagements, was one killed and twenty-five wounded.

Returning from this successful expedition to Memphis, where a rest of nearly a fortnight was enjoyed, the regiment next joined in the Oxford expedition under the same commander; and, after considerable marching and some skirmishing with the enemy, but no battle, it returned to Memphis near the end of August.

Early in the following month the command moved with General Smith's army to Cairo, and, after a short stay, to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The twenty-fifth regiment was ordered to Mineral Point, to meet the rebels under Price. Thence, after a slight skirmish, it was ordered to De Soto, toward St. Louis, and soon afterwards to Jefferson Barracks. Thence it marched with other forces in pursuit of Price, starting October 2nd. Major General Curtis, of Iowa, had the honor of again defeating and demolishing his old enemy, Price; and the Twenty-seventh, with the rest of the command, returned to St. Louis, arriving on the eighteenth of November, having marched nearly seven hundred miles in forty-seven days. It was a campaign of forced marches.

On the twenty-fifth the regiment moved again with General Smith's forces, by transports to Cairo, and thence to Nashville, Tennessee, where the command disembarked on the first of December, and was ordered to the front, three miles from the city, to oppose the rebels under Hood, defiantly moving against the capital. General Smith held the right of Thomas' forces, and the Twenty-seventh was on the extreme left of General Smith. On the fifteenth, Thomas moved from behind his works, and attacked the enemy in his chosen, fortified position, bringing on the battle of Nashville, which, continuing two days, was one of the most remarkable and glorious victories that ever crowned the American arms. In this engagement the Twenty-seventh, Lieutenant Colonel Jed. Lake commanding (Colonel Gilbert being in command of a brigade), took a prominent part, entering the rebel works as soon as any troops on their part of the line, capturing guns and prisoners, and doing its whole duty with a bravery and efficiency unsurpassed. The regiment was the pivot of General Smith's army, which, making a grand left wheel, swung round the enemy's left flank, fighting splendidly all the way, capturing every fortification in its front, several lines of works, and large numbers of prisoners. Colonel Gilbert and his brigade won great eclat and, not long afterwards, the colonel was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

The regiment joined in the pursuit of Hood and marched southward as far as Pulaski. From thence it proceeded to Clifton, on the Tennessee, arriving on the second day of January, 1865. During the year just closed there had been many changes in the regiment. A number of officers had resigned, whilst the command had lost by death, discharge, and transfer, more than eighty of its members. It had also received quite a large number of recruits, so that it had on its rolls the names of about eight hundred officers and men.

After a short stay at Clifton, the Twenty-seventh embarked on steamer and moved up the river to Eastport, where it went into encampment. Nothing noteworthy occurred during their stay here, save a reconnaissance to Iuka and return. The ninth of February the tents were again struck and the troops embarked for New Orleans. Moving down the Tennessee, the Ohio, and the Mississippi, the command disembarked at Chalmette, a short distance below the Crescent city, on the twenty-first. Having remained in camp a fortnight, it again embarked and sailed down the river and across a part of the gulf of Mexico to Dauphin Island, Alabama, on the sands of which it went into encampment March 8th, to await the concentration of troops for the campaign against Mobile, under Major General Canby.

On the twentieth the regiment moved by transports across Mobile bay, and ascending a river flowing in from the east some twenty-five miles, disembarked, and on the twenty-fifth was marching northward, with the troops composing the Thirteenth and Sixteenth corps, moving against Mobile. The march was enlivened by skirmishes, and made laborious by what General Sherman would call villainous roads. Reaching Sibley's Mills, the regiment remained guarding the flank of our army investing Forts Alexis and Spanish, till the second of April, when it was sent out with the brigade, General Gilbert commanding, on a reconnaissance, with the object also of opening up communication with Major General Steele, about to invest the works at Blakely. It was on this march that General Gilbert narrowly escaped death from a torpedo, which was buried in the road, and which was exploded by his horse tramping over it. The incident is thus related by the correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette:

I had just crossed the brook when a loud explosion on the opposite eminence, and at the head of the column. attracted my attention. I supposed the enemy had opened on us with artillery, and that Captain Rice would soon have an opportunity to try the range of his guns. Pushing forward to the point where the explosion had taken place, I saw a group of excited officers and men collected around General Gilbert. Several members of his staff were there with faces scorched by heat and partially blackened with powder. Their hats and uniforms were covered with sand. One horse lay dead beside the road, his belly torn open and his bowels frightfully protruding; another, standing by, had one leg broken and mangled, and was quivering with agony; two or three other animals were more or less injured. Immediately in the road, close by a pine stump, was a large bole, from which had been scooped apparently a couple of bushels of sand. The cause of the noise I had heard was now evident. A torpedo had exploded in the very midst of the group composed of the general and his staff, just as they had commenced to move forward, after a temporary halt upon the brow of the hill. The general's own animal had exploded the infernal machine with his hind feet. A stunning report followed, and the whole party were at once shocked, confused, and enveloped in a cloud of dust. The horse upon which Lieutenant L. G. Stevenson, Fifty-eighth Illinois, was riding was almost instantly killed, and the lieutenant extricated himself with some difficulty from beneath the dying animal. Lieutenant Eisenhart, twenty-seventh Iowa, aide-de-camp to General Gilbert, had his horse's leg broken, and was himself hurt and disfigured by sand and powder driven into his face. The horse of Lieutenant George Childs, Thirty-second Iowa, A. A. Q. M., was badly injured. and himself scorched and stunned. Others were slightly hurt; and others still (among whom your correspondent was conspicuous, although at a considerable distance when the explosion took place) were badly scared. General Gilbert, I am glad to say, was entirely uninjured, although the sand was driven with such force against his horse as to start the blood all along his sides. You may be certain that, in our further movements that day, there was an air of caution and circumspection not frequently observed.

General Gilbert moved with General Garrard's division to the left of General Steele, now besieging Blakely. The regiment did excellent service during the siege - skirmishing by day, extending the parallels by night, all the while under the fire of the enemy. These operations lasted until April 19th, when, with one company on the skirmish line, the others in the main line of assault, the regiment, Major Howard commanding, joined in the charge, before whose impetuous onset the rebel works and garrison fell into our hands, and the great rebellion fell into irretrievable ruins. In this fine success General Gilbert's brigade captured eight pieces of artillery and six hundred prisoners, with a loss to itself of less than thirty men, killed and wounded. General Gilbert, for his gallant, skilful conduct of this brilliant operation, was again recommended for promotion, which, no doubt, he would at once have received, but for the cessation of hostilities. He was brevetted a major general soon afterward.

In a few days the brigade was released from the duty of garrisoning the fort, to which it had been assigned, and joined the Sixteenth corps, marching on Montgomery. This march, of two hundred miles, was rapidly performed, and the regiment went into camp at the old rebel capital on the twenty-seventh. Here the command remained, awaiting orders for muster out more, than two months. The twenty-third of June, General Gilbert issued an elegant farewell order to his troops, and departed for the north, bearing with him the benediction of all his old comrades in arms. The regiment, having mean-while transferred its recruits to the veteran Iowa Twelfth, departed on the sixteenth of July; and, moving by Selma, Meridian and Jackson, to Vicksburgh, there took steamer, homeward bound. It was disbanded at Clinton, Iowa, in the early part of August, Lieutenant Colonel Lake's farewell address being dated the eighth; and the members of the Twenty-seventh separated after journeys and marches of more than twelve thousand miles, guarding their ever unfurled colors through sun-shine, and storm, and battle, never once furling the honored emblem of our nationality, till the power of that nationality had been everywhere restored by means of the valor and endurance of the patriotic volunteers, such as composed this command.