W. G. Donnan Letter dated Feb 27 1863
27th Iowa Top Banner

History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881, pages pages 185-186
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne



FRIEND RICH: Your most welcome Guardian of February 11th reached us last evening, and, in looking over its well-filled columns, my eye very naturally fell upon an article written as correspondence from our regiment, headed as follows:

JACKSON, TENNESSEE, February 7, 1863.

FRIEND RICH: There has just been received at these headquarters an order -

He quotes the order, which is in regard to splitting some rails, and then makes some astonishing remarks and assertions relative to Colo- C. L. Dunham commanding the brigade. Now I have not troubled you with a line since we left home; but there are a few statements in that article which ought not to remain before the minds of our home friends unreplied to and uncontradicted. The anonymous correspondent, after referring to the rain and snow storm of January 14th and 15th, (and I fully appreciated it, for with some fifty others I faced the very worst of it nearly two miles just after daylight, without either supper or breakfast) makes the following impudent and untruthful assertion:

"Nothing has been said by Colonel Cyrus Dunham, of the Fiftieth Indiana, who was in command of this brigade, until to-day, when we received the foregoing order." Now this brigade was organized January 11, 1863, and on the very day that the regiments moved to this camp, was issued general order number three, the first and fourth paragraphs of which are as follows:


"First, That the commandants of regiments see that the officers and men of their respective commands do not enter private dwellings or yards, or in any way interfere with private property of any kind, either while in camp or on the march.

Fourth, The commandants of regiments will be held strictly responsible for the enforcement of this order.

By command of
C. L. DUNHAM," etc.

Previous to any trouble on account of interference with private property, this order, dated January 12th was received at our headquarters, and every order is read on dress-parade, so all must have known that taking any private property without authority was expressly forbidden, and no permission in this case was asked. Besides, oak wood was then in abundance within five rods of our tents, and although green, was precisely the same kind which the commander then and ever since has burnt, though without "rails." Some of the field officers of the other regiments were sick, and kindly cared for at the house of this Parkman, and their horses were under the shelter of his barn at the time. He may be "secesh, "- I know not, nor care, for my present purpose. Only this I know: he has permits from Generals Sullivan and Grant to pass our lines, and has also a safeguard for his property from the commander of this post. It is thus that we disregarded positive orders, and were liable for disobedience. These are positive facts, and, must, so far as the orders are concerned, have been known to the writer of that article, who surely can be no officer who expects his own orders to be respected aud obeyed, or he would not thus purposely place before the men his own utter disregard for discipline and disrespect for his superior officers.

But it is doubted by this writer "what rule of warfare, or order, or reason authorizes such a course. Did he not know that general order number six from district headquarters forbid all taking of private property without proper written authority? that General Grant has issued the same in department general order number fifty-six? that the same is in order number one hundred and seven from the War Department, based upon the fifty-second article of war? that the colonel commanding was responsible for the enforcement of these orders? Must he not also have known that the brigade was but just organized, and if allowed to transgress orders with impunity it would greatly increase the difficulty of enforcing afterwards? We all know that discipline is the nerve of the army; without it, we have no power, no success. . . . Any one who knows me will readily concede that no living man can well go beyond me in a readiness to injure the rebels to the furthest possible extent, in any way authorized by military usage. I would take their horses, cattle and hogs, fat or lean, "rails" or "niggers," anything that would be of use to us for our comfort, advantage or protection, or to weaken the treasonable foe; but let it he properly taken and distributed.

But to cap the climax, the nameless writer presents our commanding officer to your readers (our old friends are interested to some extent in everything that interests us) as a person having no higher regard for his duty, manhood and honor, than to be capable of granting protection to "secesh" on account of a bribe received from a traitor! Probably no man, except the aforesaid writer, would sooner level a man who dared approach him in that way than this said Colonel Dunham. It will hardly do for the writer of that article, who has yet to be tried by war's stern discipline, and of necessity has but little military experience, to bring such implications and charges against one who, during eighteen months of hard service, in caring for his own and other regiments in camp, and before the hottest fire of the enemy, has earned and maintained among all who know him a character and a reputation as a commanding officer, and as a man, which we may all well strive to maintain. Surely these charges must have been made in a heated moment, and a sober second thought would have greatly changed the tenor of his communication. I have no special regard for Colonel Dunham, know him only slightly, and more, he is an old Democrat, and you know I never liked them very well. But, thank God, he is a fighting Democrat! Heaven forgive, if possible, the Copperhead: posterity and history never will.

The article will fall harmless here, and while I desire not to rasp the feelings of any living person, yet I am unwilling that our friends should be led to believe that we are commanded by a miserable, insignificant, truckling base tool, when we have, in fact, an acting general whom we are all proud to follow, and who is everywhere recognized as an excellent officer, a man, and a patriot.

Ever yours,