Herman C. Hemenway Letter - April 20, 1864
27th Iowa Top Banner

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

page 204-205


MESSRS. EDITORS: - The first number of the Conservative was received by me at this place; for which favor, thanks. It will afford me pleasure to send you an occasional letter, informing your readers of the doings of the Twenty-seventh Iowa; but, beyond a mere mention of facts, I will not promise much. The scope of thought with the soldier is almost necessarily limited to consideration of personal matters, and speculations as to the intent and result of military operations. . . That the past year has seen a wonderful change in the general estimate of the capability of the negro for military service, there is no doubt. The fact has been incontestably shown, that he will not only do for a soldier, but that he makes a good soldier. He endures fatigue and privation without complaint, and he fights bravely. The chivalrous rebel has allowed himself to be excelled in humanity by the freedmen soldiers of the Republic; and the patriotic soldier of the North can well learn of them how to practice that patient endurance of duty and quiet subordination, which must always characterize the true soldier. I am not alone in wishing that we had two hundred thousand more of them in the field, to save our brethren of the North from the toils and dangers of a soldier's life in a climate so deadly to most of them - but my pen has run away with me.

Assuming that your readers are already acquainted with our part in the Sherman expedition, I will commence with the setting out of the Red river expedition. On the tenth of March it left Vicksburgh, consisting of about twenty transports loaded with troops, and supplies of every kind, for thirty days; Brigadier General A. J. Smith in command. A heavy convoy of gunboats joined us at the mouth of Red river, and all started up the stream on the twelfth, Sailed down Atchafalaya bayou to Simmsport. Thence the land forces marched across a fine country to Fort De Russey, near Marysville, which was taken, with small loss, on the fourteenth.

The Twenty-seventh here manifested good intentions, but were unable to achieve great glory, being left at Marysville until the fight was commenced. They were under artillery fire for some time, and came up to the charge at the moment of the surrender. The fort was incomplete and but feebly garrisoned, but still there was a formidable defence. The spoils were eleven pieces of artillery - mostly heavy guns captured on the Indianola and Queen of the West - nearly four hundred prisoners, and a considerable quantity of amunition and commissary stores. The works were destroyed, and the last of the expedition reached Alexandria on the thirteenth, which was occupied without resistance.

A portion of our force under Brigadier General Mown, made a raid and captured a fine battery, and about three hundred prisoners, on the twenty-first. We remained here awaiting the arrival of General Banks' force, and for a rise in the river to enable our boats to go over the falls, just above Alexandria, until the twenty-sixth, when our troops marched to Cotila bayou, some twenty-five miles. The transports joined them on the twenty-eighth, and here we waited till April 2nd for transports to replace the boats of Ellett's Marine brigade, ordered back. On the seventh General Banks' troops, consisting of detatchments of the Thirteenth and Nineteenth corps, having reached Smith's command, formed the rear of the army on the march. Company C, of our regiment, was detailed for guard duty on headquarter transport, Clara Belle, before leaving Vicksburgh, and has remained on board during the whole time. The transports, with suitable convoy of gunboats, proceeded as fast as the nature of the navigation would allow; and, on the afternoon of the eleventh, reached Leggy bayou. Here we found an abandoned rebel steamer lying entirely across the river. While making arrangements for its removal, a dispatch arrived, informing us that a severe battle had been fought; that our troops were retreating, and ordering the boats to return. The boats at once dropped down the river. We were fired on occasionally, as when ascending the stream; but met with no determined attack until Tuesday, when the enemy appeared at numerous points, and opened sharp musketry fire. In the afternoon, while a transport was aground, and several others were rendering assistance, the enemy came down on us with a battery and several hundred cavalry. A considerable force of infantry was also at hand to support the battery. They maintained the fight with great bravery, for an hour or more, when they retired, leaving their battery. The boats most exposed to their attacks had but very few troops aboard, and these managed to keep in shelter. The gun-boats, Lexington and Monitour, engaged the battery, and dealt havoc generally.  Some pieces of field artillery on the Clara Bell, and two other transports near by, prevented the enemy from approaching, in any force, within range of musketry. Our loss was probably twelve wounded, some very dangerously.Henry Romig accidentally shot himself through the hand. Our men who went on shore immediately after the fight, say the rebel loss was one hundred and sixty killed, lying near the bank ; and a rebel deserter states it at two hundred and twenty. The next day we came on to another battery, on the north side of the river, which was so well out of range of our gun-boats that its fire could not be silenced. One transport and several gun-boats had passed it in the forenoon ; and, in the afternoon, the Clara Bell was ordered to pass down, lashed to another transport which was disabled. Just before night we did so, the enemy presenting his compliments of shot and shell lively enough to satisfy the bravest of our crew. Five shot passed through the cabin, some of them exploding on our decks. Luckly enough, being on the main deck none of us were injured. The rebels were unable to depress their guns sufficiently to reach the machinery of the boat.

The Diadem, with the sick of the Twenty-seventh, was to follow us but, luckily, the enemy saw fit to leave in order to avoid capture by a strong detachment of troops then marching from this place to protect the boats. That evening we met the regiment at Campter, and learned the full extent of the loss. I do not now recollect the names of those from our county. The loss of our brigade, which does not include the missing, is as follows: Twenty-seventh Iowa; killed, two; wounded, seventy-six. Fourteenth Iowa ; killed, eighteen; wounded, sixty-two. Thirty-second Iowa; killed, twenty-nine; wounded, a hundred and thirty-two. Twenty-fourth Missouri ; killed, nine; wounded eighty-six. Third Indiana battery; three wounded. The loss of the remainder of our division was twenty killed, one hundred and sixty-eight wounded.

The whole permanent loss to the Twenty-seventh, will, I hope, not exceed twenty-five or thirty. Many wounds are very slight. Some of the most severely wounded were left in the hands of the enemy. The losses of our whole force are probably nearly three thousand, and the enemy's loss about the same. Our loss was greater in prisoners, the enemy's in killed. The troops all fought well, and the Twenty-seventh was not outdone by any. I will write you again from Alexandria.