Friday, February 28, 2014

An Unfortunate Soldier of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry

One of my favorite regimental histories by a veteran is William Forse Scott’s The Story of a Cavalry Regiment: The Career Of The Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers, From Kansas To Georgia, 1861-1865 (1893). Scott’s book is mostly a serious recounting of his regiment’s many campaigns, but some amusing soldier stories are included as well.

On October 11, 1862, about fifty men detached from companies A, G, and H were attacked by the 21st Texas Cavalry just a few miles from Helena, Arkansas. Routed by the Texans, the detachment lost four killed, six wounded, and fifteen captured. Scott dutifully narrates the skirmish but then wrote, “Some amusing incidents are told of the rout…” (p. 53).

One of the soldiers who escaped capture “was a short, stout man, his form presenting several great projections. When he lost his horse he went lumbering down the lane afoot, while the rebels were engaged with the others behind him, till he came to a gutter or culvert across the road. It was covered by a couple of planks, laid the length of the gutter and supported by short cross-pieces under the ends, so that by the weight of horses or wagons they were bent down in the middle. The frightened fugitive no sooner saw the hole under the planks than he thought it a good place for hiding, and crawled in. But the space was shallow for a man of his thickness, and while his front was on the ground his rear was against the planks. Hardly had he got into position when the rebels came galloping down the lane in pursuit. They rode over the little bridge with a clatter that must have seemed to him endless, and every horse struck the planks with a thump upon the protuberant portions of his body. There was no turning around, there was no getting out, unless to be killed or captured. Each thump was worse than the one before, but at last, when he thought he was nearly dead, the riding ceased, and he tried to recover his breath. But then, driven by Parsons’ charge, many of the rebels rode back again, and pounded more trouble into the unhappy fellow. His torture seemed endless, but the time did come when the fighting was all over….Night came at last, to the relief of his mind, if not of his body, and the jellied trooper crawled out and lay in the weeds, in a field near by, until morning….The sufferer found each inch of his flesh more tender than any other, and when he was discovered and helped to camp, it appeared to his rescuers, as well as to himself, that he had borne the brunt of the battle” (pp. 54-55).

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