Thursday, January 28, 2016

"I was left for dead...": Captain Michael Ackerman at the Battle of Pleasant Hill

Heavily engaged at Pleasant Hill, the 32nd Iowa Infantry’s regimental history has many eyewitness accounts of the fighting there. In 2015, I promised to occasionally feature these, and today excerpts are presented from a commissioned officer’s testimony:

“Captain Michael Ackerman, of Company A, now Clerk of Courts at Howard, South Dakota, and who was left on the field, terribly wounded, and without other notice for more than twenty-eight hours than that of the rebels who robbed the dead and wounded says:--

‘Late in the evening of April 8, in the camp among the old graves, some of us were discussing the defeat of our troops in the advance, and their demoralized condition as they came into our lines. In this party were Lieutenant Col. Mix, Captains Miller and Peebles, Lieutenant Howard, myself and others. Colonel Mix, looking up, said: ‘There I see the moon over my right shoulder. It is a good omen for me. I need not fret.’ Within twenty-four hours Colonel Mix lay dead on the field of the hard-fought battle; Miller, Peebles, and Howard, were mortally wounded; and I was left for dead, with my left knee and right hip crushed by the bullets that fell among us like hail upon the house top. My Company went into line of battle with thirty-four men, only five of whom answered the next roll-call; and half the Regiment was wiped out!

I fell near the close of the engagement, and soon after the Regiment left the field it had so gallantly and desperately held. I was stripped of my outer clothing. One of these vultures thrust his hand into my pocket, but drew it out covered with my blood, and with an oath left $85.00 there, which no doubt subsequently saved my life.

I rolled into a ditch near me to escape the still fast falling bullets, and about mid-night was helped out by a rebel chaplain, who was trying to care for the wounded. I crawled to a fire, was soon asleep, and did not wake until the sun was high in the heavens. Some one had thrown a dog-tent over me to shield me from the sun….the ground was all strewn with dead and wounded that it seemed that one could step from one to another as far as I could see, without touching the ground. Here and there a group of wounded were gathered about little fires that had been kindled by those able to partly help themselves….

About 9 o’clock that evening Captain Miller and myself were taken in an ambulance to a log house, and placed on the floor with a single blanket under us. Robert Mack, of my company, and eight or ten others were with us. We were in this house four days before we were discovered by the Surgeons who had been left to care for us,--they having two hospitals that required their continuous attention, and we were over-looked…. [After removing to a hospital] the wife of a rebel officer who lived in the neighborhood, a Mrs. Cole…came every week with such supplies as her home afforded, the tears running down her cheeks as she looked upon the starving men she could not feed!... [He was thankful for] the two army wagons loaded with sanitary stores, that came under a flag of truce, and for which the women at home have our blessings as long as we may live. And of things which my bloody money bought at the rate of one dollar for a chicken, one dollar per dozen for eggs, and four dollars per pound for tobacco. And of our parole, about June 17th, and a trip of seventeen miles in carts and jolting wagons to the boat on Red River, and of the opium and Louisiana rum the doctor gave me on the road, and how the entire fifty-two who started from Pleasant Hill that June morning, all reached New Orleans!”

Quote from: John Scott, Story of the Thirty Second Iowa Infantry Volunteers (1896), pages 149-153.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thomas W. Knox: War Correspondent

Several weeks ago, while visiting the Dickson Street Bookshop I noticed an older book bound in green. Attracted by it, I pulled it off the shelf and noticed that it was written by Thomas W. Knox and published in 1894. The novel is about Harry and Jack who enlist in the First Iowa Infantry and go on to have adventures aplenty at Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and as prisoners. I’m not really sure how well the book works as a novel. The most interesting aspect to me concerns the author. Thomas W. Knox worked as a war correspondent for the New York Herald and in that capacity covered the Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge campaigns. Following that, his professional career took him to Shiloh and then the Vicksburg campaign. Knox was a controversial figure that ended up angering William T. Sherman so much that he was court-martialed and then expelled. Knox’s most famous book is Camp-fire and Cotton-field: Southern Adventure In Time of War (1865) that documents many incidents including his management of a confiscated plantation in Louisiana. The Internet Archive has a digitized copy of Camp-fire and Cotton-field, and it’s apparent that Knox made use of it when writing The Lost Army for his juvenile audience.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Update

Filled out Louisiana State University’s Author Questionnaire earlier this month which means that in only a few more months my book will be published! The title has been changed to make it more descriptive so it is now Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Notable Books About the Trans-Mississippi

It can be difficult to return to a project after a long absence, but continuing this blog is one of my goals. Unfortunately, events in 2015 left me with little time to read, so I’m woefully behind on the stack of books by my reading chair. Several months ago, though, I did read Kyle S. Sinisi’s, The Last Hurrah: Sterling Price’s Missouri Expedition of 1864. Drew
Wagenhoffer gave it an honorable mention in the “Best Civil War Books of 2015” article in The Civil War Monitor’s winter issue. I agree with his assessment that the book is “a first rate operational history. The author persuasively rejects or revises a large number of traditional campaign interpretations while advancing fresh ones of his own.” If you haven’t seen it yet, do check out Drew’s September 28, 2015 interview with Kyle Sinisi.

On my 2016 reading list is Jerry D. Thompson’s, A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers & Militia (University of New Mexico Press). This is a mammoth book totaling 935 pages! Dr. Thompson is an authority on the war in the southwest, and the initial 431 double-columned pages feature a discussion of the men and officers of the New Mexico regiments and the campaigns that they served in. The remaining few hundred pages consist of ten appendices with the lengthiest being a roster of the New Mexico soldiers. These regiments have long been a mystery to me, so I’m looking forward to learning more about them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A New Year's Resolution

2015 has been an extremely stressful and busy year for me which has resulted in fewer blog postings. 2016 looks like a more promising year for blog postings—let’s say that I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve got a backlog of ideas for new postings so look for the first batch next month!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Sad Plight of Civilians

Many civilians in the border region of the trans-Mississippi had the misfortune to be in the pathway of armies or guerrillas, and a number of soldiers on both sides commented on their fate. Earlier in the month, I featured a passage about a “toe-pick” from David Lathrop’s, The History of the Fifty-Ninth Regiment Illinois Volunteers (1865). His book also contains a poignant passage about the impact of armies on civilians. Occurring in February 1862, Lathrop described the passage of the Federal army from Keetsville, Missouri, to the Arkansas border:

“At Keetsville nearly all the inhabitants fled. From that point to Cross Hollows about two-thirds of the inhabitants on the road have deserted their dwellings. In several houses the tables were spread for breakfast, and in the hurry of flight was thus left. The washtub was seen filled with water on the back of the chair, indicating that the hegira occurred, as it actually did, on ‘wash-day.’ The doors were ajar, the clock on the mantelpiece had ceased ticking, feather beds were piled in the center of the floor, all sorts of furniture were scattered about, and not a sound was heard but the mewing of a cat. An air of lonesome, heart-sick desolation prevailed. One large dwelling was recently burned down, and the ruins were still smoking. Surely the leaders in this cursed civil war will have much to answer for” (page 78).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"This dance of death": The 32nd Iowa Infantry at Pleasant Hill

Colonel John Scott’s, Story of the Thirty Second Iowa Infantry Volunteers (1896), is one of the better trans-Mississippi unit histories. Dr. Ludwell H. Johnson deemed it as the most useful regimental history in his research on the Red River campaign. Mostly this is due to Scott’s inclusion of a number of eyewitness accounts of the battle of Pleasant Hill. The 32nd Iowa Infantry experienced heavy combat at Pleasant Hill and ended up losing 86 men killed or mortally wounded there. Scott’s book has been digitized and is available for reading on This is fortunate because Scott’s work has never been reprinted and copies can be expensive. Occasionally, I will feature some of the eyewitness accounts from the book and will start with:

“Corporal D. W. Robbins, Company D, now a retired merchant of Colorado Springs, at one time Mayor of that pleasant city, has taken pains to revisit the battle-ground of April 9th, 1864, and to collect and preserve many relics, and to record many incidents of the battle….Corporal Robbins found in 1891 the old field that lay in front of the line of the 32nd Iowa had changed to a forest of pines; many of the trees being from twelve to eighteen inches in diameter. Other parts of the battle-ground were equally changed. The village of Pleasant Hill has been abandoned; the smaller buildings having been removed, and the larger ones having fallen into ruins. A railroad now runs between Shreveport and New Orleans, passing about two miles south of the battlefield, the nearest station being named Sodus, but retaining Pleasant Hill as the name of the post office.

Corporal Robbins remained in that neighborhood several days, picking up things that had for him particular interest. He cut some bullets from a tree that stood in the rear of the position occupied by his company, cutting to a depth of six to eight inches for them; and also cut some sticks for canes. He found and secured possession of relics that had been picked up by others, and has them among his treasures at Colorado Springs.

In his reminiscences of the battle he speaks of the demoralized troops of Banks passing to the rear, ‘many of them bare-headed, and many having thrown away their guns,’ which were met by the 32nd Iowa when taking position to check the pursuing foe. He saw Lieut. Col. Mix fall and heard him say “I am killed!’ It also appears that when the right of the Regiment began to fall back, noting the withdrawal of the 27th Iowa, that the movement extended to Company D, and when checked by Colonel Scott, as being without orders, only a part of the men of that Company heard the order and resumed the former position; in which they remained till they were captured, failing to receive the order to move out by the left flank, at the close of the battle.

Robbins says it was reported among the rebels, and told to the prisoners, that of the bold riders who rushed upon our brigade at the opening of the battle, only twenty-six reported for duty the next morning.

After meeting the rebel battery that was rushing to this dance of death the prisoners met Gen. Kirby Smith, who inquired to what troops they belonged, and on being told he remarked that he knew very well that they were not the sort they had met the day before. As they passed to the rear they saw many of those killed in the battle of the 8th, lying where they fell, and so covered with the dust raised by the troops that they could hardly be recognized as human beings” (pages 162-165).