24th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment - History


Soon after the receipt of the President’s Proclamation of July 2d, 1862, calling for three hundred thousand volunteers, Governor Kirkwood issued a commission to Eber C. Byam, of Linn County, authorizing him to raise a regiment to be called "The Iowa Temperance Regiment." Circulars were accordingly distributed by Byam through Linn and the adjoining counties. In a very short time more than double the requisite number of companies were organized and ready to march to the appointed rendezvous. They were composed of men of temperance principles and temperance habits—that is to say, of men who touched not, taste not, handle not spirituous or malt liquor, wine or cider. If the men have since adopted other principles or other habits, it has only been at such times as they were under the overruling power of military necessity. Out of the companies reported as ready to join the regiment, choice was made as follows: three from Linn County, F,G, and H, under Captains Dimmitt, Vinson, and Carbee; two from Cedar, B and C, Captains Rathburn and Johnson; two from Jackson, A and I, Captains Henderson and Martin; Company D from Johnson, Captain Casbeer; Company E from Tama, Captain Clark; and Company K from Jones, Captain Williams. E.C. Byam was duly commissioned colonel; John Q. Wilds, lieutenant-colonel; and Ed Wright, major.

The rendezvous of the companies was at Camp Strong, near the city of Muscatine, where the Thirty-fifth was also rendezvousing at the same time. After medical inspection of the Twenty-fourth, some of the companies were more than full. Those making the excess were transferred to the Thirty-fifth. On the 18th of September the regiment was mustered into the service of the United States, and was henceforward officially known as the Twenty-fourth Iowa Infantry, though it was long called by the public and by the newspaper correspondents the Temperance Regiment. The command remained at Camp Strong more than a month after the muster in, having a great deal of fun, drill, parade, and bad water, and a good deal of measles in camp. Marching orders came on October 19, and on the next day the regiment embarked for St. Louis. On reaching that city, orders were received commanding the regiment to proceed forthwith to Helena. It reached that place on the 28th, disembarked, and went into camp about one mile south of town on the bank of the Mississippi River. In this its first encampment on the theatre of war the Twenty-fourth numbered nine hundred and fifty, officers and men, who at the time of landing were nearly all in apparent good health. In a short time, however, on account of exposure during the late voyage, the steamers having been much crowded, and of the unhealthy locality, more than an hundred were on sick-list.

During the winter the regiment remained at Helena, except during three or four short periods in which it marched with certain expeditions, one or two of which had a military purpose in view, the others having no purpose whatever that has ever yet been discovered. This was the era when so many general officers had "expedition on the brain." On the 17th of November, Brigadier-General A.P. Hovey took some transports, and made an expedition. He took his command to the mouth of the White River, and then back again, without having disembarked or seen an enemy. The Twenty-fourth was with him. The regiment, on the 28th, marched under the same general, in the direction of Cold Water, Mississippi. The command now had its first experience in marching, and found no difficulty in keeping up with veteran troops. Arrived at Cold Water, the brigade in which was our regiment halted, while another with a small force of cavalry, advanced to Oakland, some twenty miles further. On the afternoon of December 1, artillery firing was heard in the direction of Oakland—the first sound of actual battle that had yet reached the ears of the Twenty-fourth. The brigade at Cold Water was at once formed, and soon moved to the front on the double-quick. Having thus marched several miles, they heard the retreat of the enemy, and themselves about-faced, and returned to Cold Water. They reached Helena again on the 7th of December. On the morning of January 11, 1863, our regiment embarked with the troops who endured so much suffering during General Gorman’s White River Expedition, of which I shall relate many particulars in my account of the Twenty-eighth regiment. Suffice it here, that the sufferings of all the regiments which went on this unfortunate and unprofitable expedition were well nigh unendurable, and left marks in each organization which have never been effaced.

When the regiment reached Helena on its return, the old encampment had to be abandoned on account of the rising waters. A new camp was made on the first range of hills in rear of the town and about a mile distant. Helena was soon inundated. It became a miserable burlesque of Venice. The citizens could go from house to house only in canoes or skiffs, which were constantly plying from place to place. All the streets and alleys were navigable. The government transports bringing supplies could with the greatest difficulty find places where the stores could be landed. Water, water everywhere. When the floods subsided, deep unfathomable mud took the place of the waters. Sign-boards were everywhere stuck on poles, telling the unlucky teamsters of "No Bottom." It is impossible there can be a place in the world so uninteresting, in the very air of which there are so many blue devils, as Helena in Arkansas. During this rainy winter the troops there quartered were unspeakably miserable. It was the darkest period of the war for them all. There could be no drills, no dress parades. The troops who were well enough to sit up at all sat in their cheerless quarters, ruminating on their own unhappiness, barely noting the drum-beat for the dead, beating evermore. General Fisk, commanding brigade, was so good a man and officer, so thoroughly appreciative of the situation, that he accomplished what mortal could accomplish toward driving off the clouds of despondency settling on the army. The expedition under General Washburne, which left Helena on February 15, to open the Yazoo Pass to navigation aroused the army from its lethargy. It gave the troops who performed that heavy labor, change, which they greatly needed, and it gave all, hopes of active movements in the field. Of this expedition, General Fisk’s brigade formed a part. From its return till the commencement of the campaign against Vicksburg, our regiment had daily drill, and almost daily dress parade. The command under the skillful and experienced instructions of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilds rapidly improved, and by the time the operations under General Grant commenced, was distinguished for its efficiency and discipline.

When the army was reorganized for the active operations of spring, the Twenty-fourth was attached to the Thirteenth Corps. It was known to all that the taking of Vicksburg was to be the object of the campaign, and all looked forward to the hour of departure with joy. Nevertheless, when the troops moved, their hearts were filled with deep and solemn feelings. Not one but had a brother or a favorite comrade sleeping the last sleep on the bluffs above or in the vale by the river’s bank below. The Twenty-fourth had, I suppose, suffered neither less nor more than the other regiments. During the first three months of the year fifty of its members were buried near Helena. More were sent to the hospitals of Memphis, Cairo, and St. Louis. When the fleet was ready to sail on the 11th of April, the regiment could muster but little more than six hundred, rank and file.

The world knows how active was the grand campaign actually begun by the disembarking of the army at Milliken’s Bend on the 14th of April, till after the assault of the 22d of May, and how hard were the duties of the investing army till the campaign was crowned with complete success on the 4th of July. The march, in Louisiana, from the point of debarking to a place named Perkins’ Landing, was made difficult and laborious by reason of the high waters. Bridges had to be built, corduroy roads made for the passage of trains. Here the army embarked on transports and barges, and proceeded on its way down the river to a point about four miles above Grand Gulf, and which is well named Hard Times, it having the appearance of being able to maintain a very poor family in a very poor way during a favorable season. Here the army, without disembarking, witnessed the cannonading between the gun-boats and the rebel batteries at Grand Gulf. The batteries could not all be silenced. The army accordingly disembarked, marched across the levee below Grand Gulf, where the transports reached them, having run the batteries successfully. The Battle of Port Gibson, or Thompson’s Hill as it is sometimes called, and with more geographical accuracy, was fought and won very soon after the Thirteenth Corps landed at Bruinsburg. In this engagement, the Twenty-fourth was almost all the time supporting artillery. Its loss was slight—six wounded, one mortally.

From this time until the Battle of Champion Hills, our regiment did much marching, skirmishing, and foraging, but was not engaged at Raymond or at Jackson. On the 2d of May, the column marched into the beautiful town of Port Gibson, and bivouacked in the streets. The beauty and fashion of this place had made great preparations for a grand ball in honor of the victory over our fleet at Grand Gulf. The Battle of Port Gibson had altogether changed the programme. Many of our troops partook of the viands which had been prepared for guests of another sort. Here the column halted three days. The country roundabout Port Gibson is one of the richest cotton-growing regions of Mississippi. The white inhabitants were wealthy, cultivated after the Southern fashion, and aristocratic according to Southern notions. The war had hitherto not been carried into their door-yards. Their dwellings were magnificent mansions. They had fine carriages and blooded horses. Many of them had blooded negroes, too, for coachmen. They fared sumptuously every day. Thus were they living till our troops landed, when the most of the wealthy planters suddenly decamped. Our foraging parties met with all the embarrassment of riches. They would return, loaded down with supplies—beef, bacon, pork, poultry, vegetables. One might see gorgeous family carriages coming into Port Gibson from all directions, filled with geese, ducks, and chickens, or coming from the mills, laden with great bags of meal. Yet no man’s property was destroyed, or even taken for the use of the army, without there being first obtained evidence of his disloyalty to the Union, which evidence very often consisted of the fact that he had run away from the Union army. No houses were burned, no cotton was destroyed. The Union troops simply did what the planters had done before them. They fared sumptuously every day. Having remained here long enough to get together a large quantity of supplies, the column moved on the 6th to Rocky Springs. On the next day, it moved to Big Sandy Creek, and was there reviewed by General Grant. On the 10th it moved still farther northward, halting near Cayuga. Here the grand army first came together, and marched forward in an unbroken line of several miles extent, making a grand sight. McClernand’s Corps was on the left. On the morning of the 12th, his advance Division, being that of General Hovey, to which the Twenty-fourth belonged, moved to Fourteen Mile Creek, in the direction of Edwards’ Depot. Here he had a sharp skirmish with the enemy, and deployed his men in line of battle. The main rebel army from Vicksburg, twenty-five thousand strong, as reported, was drawn up two or three miles in advance. Meantime, while Hovey was here amusing the enemy, McPherson whipped the rebel force at Raymond. Hovey then withdrew, and taking a new road just made by his pioneers, passed through Raymond on the day after the battle, and reached Clinton on the 14th. On the next morning the Thirteenth Corps turned about, and marching westward, reached Bolton Depot in the evening.

In the battle of Champion Hills, fought on the 16th, and which was the most severe engagement of the campaign except the assault of Vicksburg itself, Hovey’s Division bore the brunt of the contest for hours, fighting with a valor and obstinacy which conferred eternal honor upon the troops. The Twenty-fourth Iowa was second to no regiment in the splendid fighting on this bloody field. Not an officer or a man engaged but did his duty meritoriously, yes with special gallantry. At one time in the fight the regiment advanced, unsupported, to charge a battery of five guns whose grape and canister were rapidly thinning the Union ranks. The Twenty-fourth rushed to the charge with the greatest enthusiasm, trampled down the gunners, and by their own momentum the men pressed far beyond the battery, driving the infantry supports away in wild confusion. But they were in turn attacked by overwhelming numbers, and compelled to give way. It was in this daring charge that Major Wright was severely wounded. Here were slain Captains Silas D. Johnson and William Carbee, and Lieutenant Chauncey Lawrence-gallant officers as ever lived of died in the cause of American nationality and of man. The loss of the regiment was severe. Forty-three officers and men were slain, forty more were borne with mortal wounds from the field to the grave, nearly thirty were maimed for life, and the whole loss, killed, wounded and captured, out of the four hundred and seventeen who entered the fight as one hundred and ninety-five. Such was the great sacrifice of the Temperance Regiment on the glorious field of Champion Hills. 3

The Regiment, with the division to which it belonged, did not join in the rapid pursuit of the enemy which followed the great victory, and did not take part, consequently in the Battle of Black River Bridge, the next day, where the Twenty-first and Twenty-third Iowa regiments won the first honors and suffered the saddest losses. It joined the beleaguering army soon, however, and bore its full share in the siege of the rebel stronghold. When Vicksburg surrendered, there were few regiments in all the army which had accomplished more, or suffered more, in bringing about the great victory the Twenty-fourth.

But it was not yet to have rest, for at once joining General Sherman’s expeditionary army, it took part in the campaign of Jackson—a campaign of great labors and of great results, but without a general battle. having been driven far to the eastward, and central Mississippi laid waste, the army under Sherman Returned to the vicinity of Vicksburg, and most of the troops which had been instrumental in the reduction of that place were granted rest. But the thirteenth Corps, now commanded by General Ord, was transferred to the department of the Gulf, having had only about a fortnight’s repose after the Jackson campaign.

The history of the Twenty-fourth in this department until it joined the army on the Red River Expedition was devoid of memorable events. It took part, in the fall and early winter of 1863, in one or two expeditions, but though the troops marched much, labored much, and sometimes met the enemy in small forces, their marches, laborers, and skirmishes, were barren of results.

The first of the year 1864 found the regiment encamped at Algiers, weather very wet, the mud and water rendering the camp almost impassable to man or beast. Recollections of Helena came forcibly to the men’s minds, but the 14th of January, quarters were obtained in warehouses. The 21st, the command moved, and the next day encamped near the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, By Madisonville. This was the most pleasant camp the regiment ever had, after leaving Camp Strong, near Muscatine. It was evacuated on the evening of February 26. The regiment was reviewed by General McClernand at Algiers on the 3d of March, and received the special commendations of that officer.

From Algiers the Twenty-fourth moved by rail to Berwick Bay, and Thence on the 13th joined the Red River Expedition under General Banks. The 1st of April, the command reached Natchitoches, after a march of nearly three hundred miles from Berwick Bay. Here it remained in camp till the morning of the 6th, when the army resumed the march for Shreveport. Encamped near Pleasant Hill on the evening of the 7th. On the next day was fought

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