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.

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