Tuesday, March 29, 2011

16th Iowa Infantry Regiment

The reason I'm going on about Iuka is because I have an ancestor that fought and died there. His name was Private George Bedford and he was my great x3 grandmother's brother... whatever that means. He wrote his sister a letter and posted it a month before Iuka. This letter has survived down through the family, but who Bedford was an what he did in the war had not. This is why I'm making this such a big thing,... I want to know more about Bedford and his comrades. His story ends with Iuka, but I have been able to peice together some of it leading up to the battle. I'll try and post up bits of his letter as I go along, but for today's installment I thought I'd give a real quick background covering from the time of his enlistment to just before writing his letter.

Forming the 16th Iowa Infantry Regiment
Bedford joined the 16th Iowa Infantry Regiment early in 1862. The regiment was slow to form as the small young state of Iowa had already raised fourteen infantry and five cavalry regiments. Unlike the other regiments, the 16th Iowa consisted of older recruits, mostly married men. They had heard of the Northern failures in the east, and felt that their help would be needed after all to preserve the Union.

The regiment was formed over the course of six months and included recruits from all across the state. However, the majority of the volunteers came from the southeastern portion of Iowa, the same region as Bedford. George was mustered into to Company F of the 16th Iowa Regiment in January 1862.

By March the regiment was ready to be deployed, however they lacked a critical component: they had no chaplain. Eager to get into combat, the regiment made do without, claiming that it was a moral regiment and that having a chaplain would be redundant. Furthermore, they claimed, there was only one deck of cards for the entire regiment so they couldn’t get up to much mischief!

The Battle of Shiloh
With virtually no training at all, Bedford and his regiment were rushed to the Battle of Shiloh on 6 April, 1862. When they arrived on the banks of the Tennessee River they given their first batch of live ammuntion. However, they had no time to familiarize themselves with firing muskets. Broken Union soldiers were running and retreating as fast as their legs could take them. The booming cannon and the crack of Confederate muskets greeted the fresh 16th Iowa Volunteers. To their credit, the Iowans kept formation and pressed on to meet Johnny Reb amid the havoc around them without having the faintest clue what to expect in combat.

An aid-de-camp of General McClernand erroneously ordered the 16th into a position badly exposed to Confederate fire. Still, they formed their battle line just as the Confederates approached. They stood firm and delivered a deadly volley. The unit fought hard and despite having to withdraw back to the river, they kept order and discipline, a true testament to a unit with absoultely no prior shooting practice let alone combat experience.

The next day they helped push the Confederates back, earning a hard won victory for the unit’s first battle. The 16th had survived its first test, but casualties were high. Colonel Alexander Chambers, the 16th Iowa’s commander, was wounded along with 17 dead and over 100 dead. Bedford’s Company F fared well, all things considered, with only 17 wounded (including the Captain Edward Frazer) and no deaths.    

Incidentally, my great x3 grandmother's husband (my great x3 grandfather) Edward Bentley was in the 14th Iowa Volunteer Regiment. Bentley missed Shiloh by a year, but the 14th earned fame defending the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh. Bentley will be the focus of my next family Civil War project, along with my dad's side of the family from West Virginia.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Price was Wrong! (Iuka, Part Whatever)

Reb cavalry with silly uniforms
General Price moved up to Iuka and quickly overran the feeble Federal garrison there. I say feeble because the brigade sent to garrison the town had orders to defend Iuka and then, only if it seemed that Price was coming on in force, to set fire to the stores and make an orderly retreat. Colonel Murphy, the brigade's commander skipped right to the last bit the second Price's cavalry patrols came into view and pulled out of Iuka. Fortunately he was quickly sacked and replaced with a much more competent colonel.

Major General Edward Ord (USA)
Price moved into town unopposed and sent his cavalry further afield to find Grant's army. However, Grant had anticipated Price's move and was already taking the offensive. He split his command in two and sent the first army north under the command of General Edward Ord and then march on Price directly. He then sent his second army under General Rosecrans to approach the town from the south west and cut off Price's only route of retreat. With a little luck the two forces would converge on Iuka simultaneously.

Major General William Rosecrans (USA)
Price only had enough cavalry to run some recon missions in one direction, and since he gambled that Grant's force was entirely north of his position, he made a decision to commit them to that sector. He reasoned that Rosecrans would be kept in Corinth to protect the railroad junction there, so he'd only be dealing with Ord and Grant.The reb cavalry stumbled into Ord's picket line and fell back to report to Price. The general had anticipated this and readied his men to attack Ord. Grant's plan was working flawlessly,... except Rosencrans was badly behind schedule...

Covered bridge, Iuka MS
Turns out northeastern Mississippi is rather swampy and the roads there were narrow and crossed by small rivers. Furthermore the local scouts that Rosecrans relied upon for information were about as untrustworthy as a politician in an election year. The scouts frequently sent his lead regiments down wrong roads, causing no end of logistical trouble.

Finally, Rosecrans bumbled into the outskirts of Iuka at 4:30pm (he was supposed to be there at 2pm). The 3rd Michigan Cavalry were already skirmishing with dismounted Reb cavalry at Moore's Branch, a small whitewashed house owned by the widow Moore. Leading the infantry column of General Charles Hamilton's 3rd Division was Colonel John Sanborn's 1st Brigade, which included:
Colonel (later Brigadier General)
John B. Sanborn (USA)
  • 48th Indiana Regiment
  • 5th Iowa Regiment
  • 16th Iowa Regiment
  • 4th Minnesota Regiment
  • 26th Missouri Regiment
  • Ohio Light Artillery, 11th Battery
 The 5th Iowa was first into the fight and rushed the widow's house pushing the Reb cavalry back to Price's main battle line. During the battle the commander of General Hamilton's personal guard was shot dead off his horse by a confederate sniper. In a strange fit of rage, Hamilton ordered the widow's house burnt to the ground, an order that was reluctantly obeyed.
Major General Charles Hamilton, USA

Obviously, Hamilton was a bit of a jerk and he really didn't get along with his men, his peers, and especially his superiors. Unfortunately, as often the case for jerks that manage to keep their job against all logic, Hamilton was connected politically, and therefore hung around like a bad stench.

Price now realized his mistake and quickly redeployed his troops to meet Rosecrans, leaving a small rearguard to face Ord. The battle for Iuka was about to kick off in a big way.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I thought it would be helpful to give a real quick run down of the pre-story leading up to the Battle of Iuka. So I'll nutshell the living crap out of the first 16 months of the Civil War in the west. 

First off, something on the western campaign. A lot of people, including many historians, inexplicably ignore the western campaign. A majority of attention is focused on the eastern campaign, which includes famous battles such as Manassas, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredricksburg, Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Appomattox Courthouse. The western battles, while still noteworthy are usually relegated to second place as some sort of "side show". 

Personally I call this a Confederate conspiracy, since the western campaign was as embarrassing for the CSA as the eastern one was to the USA. Since the Civil War is one situation where the losers and their ancestors seem to have to written the majority of the history books and documentaries, it is therefore not surprising that they have focused on the east where all of the major confederate victories are congregated. I believe is that the fate of the Civil War is rooted deep in the western campaign, which isn't to detract from the eastern battlefields and the sacrifices made there. That's just my opinion, but its a pretty damn good one.

Anyway, now that that axe is out for the grind, lets get to the general history.

The war in the west focused on the Mississippi river system. The Mississippi divided the CSA in half and whoever controlled it controlled the entire supply network of the Confederacy. Early in the war neither the North or South were prepared for major campaigns. It was the Union that made the first major move by launching a series of attacks against Confederate forts Belmont, Henry, and Donelson. During these battles one name rose above the rest: Ulysses S Grant. Due to his victories, Grant was promoted up from a colonel in 1861 to Major General by 1862.

In April, Grant was moving south toward Mississippi and the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston rushed to stop him. The two forces clashed at Shiloh in early April 1862. The Union luckily snatched victory from the rebels, and Johnston was mortally wounded leading a charge. The loss of Johnston would be a terrible blow to Confederate morale and some believe he was the south's only chance in the west. Still if the guy is dumb enough to lead a charge, get shot in the knee and bleed out refusing medical attention that could have saved his life, I'd say he probably wasn't all that. The thing to take away from the Battle of Shiloh is that it was the Union's first big win and it filled the western armies with confidence, just as Manassas had done with the Rebs the previous year.

Shortly after Shiloh the war in the west kicked off in a big way when the Union navy under the command of Admiral David Farragut forced its way through the Confederate fortresses surrounding New Orleans, then the largest city in the Confederacy. General Butler's Union troops captured the town at the end of April, sealing the Confederate port for good. The fight would now begin for the remainder of the Mississippi.

The Confederates needed to take the initiative in the west, but things were proving difficult. After Shiloh Grant moved south and captured the important rail hub of Corinth, Mississippi. Five major railroads converged on Corinth making it vitally important to the CSA. However it was now in Union hands, and Johnston's shattered army was in no shape to recapture it. General Braxton Bragg assumed command of all Confederate forces in the west and hatched a plan to draw out Grant's and Union General Buell's armies and destroy them before they could come together.

General Sterling Price, CSA
Bragg marched against Buell and sent his subordinate General Sterling Price to attack Grant. However in-fighting in the Confederate camp prevented Price from accumulating the necessary forces to take the offensive against Corinth. Critical to success in Corinth was Confederate General Earl Van Dorn's army. Price implored Van Dorn to join him, but Van Dorn was obsessed with recapturing New Orleans, sending  a portion of his force peicemeal into Louisiana only to be defeated. 

Price was forced to leave Van Dorn to his devices and took up an active defense while he waited for Bragg to compel Van Dorn to move north. Part of this active defense involved sending his cavalry brigade north to cut Grant's line of communications, cause general chaos, and gather intelligence. Unfortunately for Price his cavalry was not up to any of these tasks, having never reached Grant's line of communication, being defeated in a battle with the 16th Iowa in Bolivar, Tennessee (more on this later), and reporting Grants force at well below 50% of its actual size.

With this horribly inaccurate information, Price decided to make a move on Grant, and to do that he would have to hit the Union garrison in Iuka... 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Iowa in the Civil War (Iuka Part 1)

To start my Iuka journey, I thought it would begin with a brief history of the state of Iowa. Most people have a certain image of Iowa filled to the brim with cornfields and the occasional pig farm. I can say that hypothetically that isn't what Iowa looks like in its entirety. I say hypothetically because I spent a good portion of time living in Council Bluffs on the western border of the state and then again in Ceylon Minnesota which is literally eight miles north of the Iowa border and all I ever saw of the country side was in fact endless cornfields and the occasional pig farm. Still, I read thats not a universal Iowan landscape on Wikipedia, so it must be true. 

By the time the Civil War started in 1861, Iowa had only been settled by Americans for 28 years. The first settlers arrived in 1833 and the state was made a territory five years later in 1838 with a population of 23,242The territory became a state in 1846, merely 15 years before the southern states decided to get rowdyIn 1861 the state had grown in population to 675,000.

However, the story of my family is slightly different. According to the family traditions, the Bedford family was heavily involved in the American Revolution on the side of the British. The Patriarch (whose name eludes me at the moment) was a British Regular, or Redcoat. During or immediately following the war, he met and married his British American wife and following the British defeat, they opted to make their way to Canada rather than return to Britain

Without much training in navigation, the couple started off northeast from New York and finally settled a patch of wilderness they thought was part of Canada. They had actually settled in the Ohio River Valley. The family was pushed further west as the American settlers pushed into the area and by the 1810s the family found itself in Iowa along with a handful of other British subjects and local Native American tribes loyal to the crown. After several skirmishes between the British-backed Indians and the American settlers, the region finally fell into the hands of the United States and the Bedford family resigned itself to accepting American citizenship. Whatever ill-will there was in the family towards America quickly disappeared in the turmultous 1840s-60s when they firmly became anti-slavery and Lincolnite Republicans. The family farm was located near Boone, Iowa, on the eastern border of the state.

When the Rebs got shirty on 12 April 1861 (we are coming up on the 150th anniversary), and fired upon Fort Sumter, Iowa's ardent supporters of Lincoln answered the call to arms to preserve the Union, raising 14 infantry regiments and several cavalry and artillery units. Another batch of Iowa regiments would be raised in early 1862 when it became apparent that the war was not going to be easily won. In all, the state would contribute 116,000 men to the Union cause, the most proportional amount of any state in war, north or south. 75,000 Iowans would fight on the front lines, and over of a sixth of them were killed before the war was over. 

And there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about the Hawkeye State. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Iuka Don'tcha Know?

View Larger Map
In a little known crossroads in the extreme northeastern corner of the state of Mississippi, lies a quiet little town called Iuka. One hundred and forty nine years ago this spot was hardly the tranquil spot it is now. In fact it was here that my great-great-great uncle, George Bedford gave his life for the preservation of the Union.
I've been interested in the American Civil War for well over fifteen years. It all began when my grandmother showed me a pair of letters written by our family ancestors during the war. The first was from Edward Bentley who reportedly enlisted well underage and joined the 14th Iowa Regiment. His letter was very concise, but includes a lot of information concerning his involvement in the ill-fated Red River Campaign. Bentley survived the war and returned to Iowa, becoming my great-great-great grandfather.

The second letter was from Bedford, written to both his sister and family back in Clinton, Iowa. He wrote the letter while on campaign over the course of several weeks, giving us as readers a unique insight into the life with the regiment. He posted the letter in late August 1862. Two weeks later he was killed by a confederate bullet.

I write this because lately I have been finding myself absolutely fascinated by the war in a whole new light. Several new developments have transformed my previously casual interest into a full blown fixation. The first, and perhaps the most important was my formal training as a historian. With the skills and tools learned at university, I have been able to access far more information concerning the war than I had previously been able to before. This is largely thanks to the internet. Chief among the new information is the official state regimental histories. Thanks to Google Books, I was able to access and download the official history of Iowa in the Civil War, amounting to thousands of pages about the state's contribution to the war. These documents are organised by the individual Infantry and Cavalry regiments as well as the artillery batteries raised by the state. Each regiment's history is recorded in detail, including the names of each and every Iowan casualty.

Furthermore, the last time I was on an ACW (American Civil War) kick, I had absolutely nothing to do with wargaming. I was strictly interested in the general history of the war. Since then, wargamming has added a whole dimension to my obsession. Wargaming allows me to intereact with history in ways I couldn't have imagined in university. It compels me to explore the organisational and mechanical elements of the battle and ask questions and seek answers about how these things interacted.

Now, once again I find myself digging out Bedford's detailed letter and reading it with a new frame of mind. I wanted to see how his regiment functioned, how it fought, where it went, and most importantly, how Bedford died.

Using wargaming and research together, I intend to discover the answers to these questions, and I thought I'd use this blog to help keep me motivated. I will still keep working on my other projects, but this one has decisively cut its way into my life and demands my attention. Over the next few weeks I will be delving into the life and death of George Bedford, and I sincerely hope you will enjoy the ride.

Mike (Union Sympathizer)