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).

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