Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Stand of the 32nd Iowa Infantry

Today is the anniversary of the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, but it is also the 150th anniversary of the battle of Pleasant Hill. Fought just a few miles away from the Mansfield battlefield, Pleasant Hill was one of the largest, possibly even the largest battle fought west of the Mississippi during the Civil War. Like Mansfield, accounts of Pleasant Hill usually take a Confederate perspective, but there are some compelling stories on the Union side such as the story of the stubborn stand of the 32nd Iowa Infantry.

Organized in the fall of 1862, the 32nd Iowa had campaigned actively in Missouri and Arkansas before the Red River campaign, but had seen no heavy combat. On April 7, 1864, the men of the 32nd Iowa marched steadily from Grand Ecore, Louisiana, until they “encountered the headquarters train of Major-General Banks, entirely blocking the way and hindering our progress.” Colonel John Scott went on to wryly report “The wagons were overloaded, and were said to contain articles ranging in weight from paper collars to iron bedsteads.” The next day the regiment reached Pleasant Hill where the soldiers heard “the wildest stories of disaster and loss” about the battle at Mansfield. Colonel Scott perceptively observed, “These were the moral surroundings as my command was moved to the extreme front…” Attacked by elements of Walker’s Texas division, the regiment found itself isolated during the battle and facing in three directions. Eventually the regiment “was completely enveloped, without orders, and virtually in the hands of the enemy, had he dared to close in and overwhelm us with his masses now around us. This was my position until after sunset, by which time the enemy had left my front…” Regimental losses were reported as 35 killed, 115 wounded, and 60 missing, but many wounded were abandoned the next morning when the Union army retreated. Colonel Scott confessed, “I fear the number of fatal casualties will exceed the number stated, and that of those marked ‘missing’ many are killed and wounded.” He turned out to be correct for the regiment suffered 86 men killed at the battle which ranks as one of the highest losses for any Union infantry regiment during the war. If you would like to learn more about the 32nd Iowa check out Colonel John Scott’s Story Of The Thirty-Second Iowa Infantry Volunteers (1896) that is available on the Internet Archive.

Note: Quotes are from the Official Records, vol. 34, pt. 1, pages 365-367.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"by far the most desperate [engagement] I ever witnessed"

Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Mansfield that is also known as Sabine Cross-Roads. This contest marked the first of a series of battles fought during the Red River campaign that resulted in Confederate troops forcing their Union opponents to retreat.

An earlier posting highlighted some of the better books about the campaign, but an interesting feature of works about the campaign is that they are often written from a Confederate perspective. In that regard, the historiography of the campaign reminds me of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. I have contributed in a small way to this emphasis thanks to my history of the 28th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) that served in Walker’s Texas division during the Red River campaign. Mouton’s Louisiana soldiers, Polignac’s Texans, and Walker’s Texans have received most of the attention, but what about their Union opposition?

The Fourth Division of the 13th Army Corps bore the brunt of the Confederate assault at Mansfield and suffered most of the casualties. The Fourth Division regiments were not “green.” All of the units had seen service during the Vicksburg campaign, and the 48th Ohio first experienced combat at Shiloh. William J. Landram, the division commander, wrote the words that make up the title of this blog posting; he was a Mexican War veteran and, like his men, saw duty during the Vicksburg campaign. His division totaled 2,413 infantry at the start of the battle and had an effective strength of 1,474 the next day. Here are the losses of his regiments:

Col. Frank Emerson’s 1st Brigade:
77th Illinois: 6 killed, 29 wounded, 136 captured or missing: 171
67th Indiana: 4 killed, 20 wounded, 18 captured or missing: 42
19th Kentucky: 2 killed, 18 wounded, 231 captured or missing: 251
23rd Wisconsin: 7 killed, 16 wounded, 41 captured or missing: 64

Col. Joseph Vance’s 2nd Brigade:
130th Illinois: 2 killed, 23 wounded, 232 captured or missing: 257
48th Ohio: 5 wounded, 174 captured or missing: 179
83rd Ohio: 1 killed, 8 wounded, 22 captured or missing: 31
96th Ohio: 4 killed, 23 wounded, 30 captured or missing: 57

On April 12th, special field returns showed the severe impact of the battle on several of these regiments. The 19th Kentucky had 142 present for duty; the 48th Ohio totaled 98 present for duty; the 130th Illinois numbered only 68 men. Often I read of “shattered” regiments. The battle of Mansfield truly wrecked several regiments on each side.

NOTE: The Landram quote and the statistics are all from the Official Records, vol. 34, pt. 1, pages 259, 264, 266, 292, 295.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Old Marshall Cemetery

Earlier this week I returned from a Spring Break trip to Louisiana. On the way there, I stopped off at the Old Marshall (Texas) Cemetery to visit the final resting place of Horace Randal. In the spring of 1862, Randal raised and then commanded the 28th Texas Cavalry, a regiment raised in East Texas. Although the soldiers initially complained about their young commander and the discipline that he imposed, they eventually came to respect him. Randal was an 1854 graduate of the United States Military Academy and served for a few months in the Army of Northern Virginia before returning to Texas. In the fall of 1862, Randal started commanding a brigade in a division that became known as Walker’s Texas Division. Randal and his soldiers saw limited combat before the Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864. In April 1864, though, his brigade fought at Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Jenkins’ Ferry. The thirty-one year old soldier fell mortally wounded at Jenkins’ Ferry, and he was buried at Tulip, Arkansas. Later, his body was exhumed and buried in Marshall, Texas. The photographs show both the old grave marker and a modern one. For more information about the 28th Texas Cavalry see my book, Peculiar Honor: A History of the 28th Texas Cavalry, 1862-1865

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Digital Jewels

Regimental histories are one of my favorite genres, but until the advent of the digital age, it was difficult to locate veteran written histories. When I was in graduate school most of these had to be obtained via interlibrary loan, but many of them have been digitized and are available online. The Internet Archive has a variety of materials available for free including a wide range of veteran penned regimental histories. A quick search yielded the following histories of units that served in the trans-Mississippi:

Barney, Chester. Recollections Of Field Service With The Twentieth Iowa Infantry Volunteers (1865)

Beecher, Harris H. Record Of The 114th Regiment, N. Y. S. V. (1866)

Ewer, James K. The Third Massachusetts Cavalry In The War For The Union (1903)

Lathrop, David. History Of The Fifty-Ninth Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry (1865)

Scott, John. Story Of The Thirty-Second Iowa Infantry Volunteers (1896)

Sprague, Homer B. History Of The 13th Infantry Regiment Of Connecticut Volunteers (1867)

By no means did I conduct a thorough search, so other regimentals, published diaries, memoirs, etc. await the curious. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bancroft Prize Winner Announced

Columbia University announced this week that Ari Kelman’s A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over The Memory of Sand Creek is a winner of the 2014 Bancroft Prize. The award is one of the most prestigious prizes for historical works, and it is exciting indeed that a work about the trans-Mississippi has been selected.

The Bancroft Prize website states that “A Misplaced Massacre grapples with the politics of historical memory and memorializing in Sand Creek, Colorado, the site of an 1864 massacre of Cheyennes and Arapahos.  Kelman deals evenhandedly with the fraught politics of inconclusive and contradictory archival records, the goals of National Park memorialists, the claims of property owners, and Native American efforts to have a historic injustice marked and recalled without perpetrating further violation of the spirits of murdered ancestors.” Yesterday, I downloaded the book onto my iPad, and it is a fascinating look at how history intersects with the present.

Dr. Ari Kelman is a Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, and is currently working on a book titled Liberty and Empire: How the Civil War Bled Into The Indian Wars. Scholars increasingly are recognizing the connections between the Civil War and the Indian Wars; as Kelman states in his preface, “...for Native people gazing east from the banks of Sand Creek, the Civil War, looked like a war of empire, a contest to control the expansion into the West, rather than a war of liberation.”