It’s merely a coincidence, but a meaningful one, that the meetings taking place for the planning and gathering of local history for next year’s Vinton 150th celebration is taking place in the Governor Sherman Building.
But before he became the 11th man to serve as Iowa’s governor, Sherman was a war hero, although almost nobody in the 1860s used that term because so many other soldiers from Vinton and the rest of Iowa were serving throughout the Civil War.
Like thousands of Iowa soldiers, Sherman saw his first action in one of the earliest, bloodiest, most significant battles of the Civil War: Shiloh.
Located about 620 miles southeast of Vinton, near Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., Shiloh represented the Confederate Army’s first big attempt to invade northern states.
The Aug. 3, 1864 issue of the Vinton Eagle lists the names of several county soldiers who had been killed or injured, and described the nature of their wounds. The Battle of Atlanta had taken place July 22, as Sherman marched toward the sea.
The newspaper had this explanation of the role and sacrifice of Iowa soldiers in this battle: “The Iowa Brigade, it is called,composed of the 11th. 13th, 15th and 16th regiments,took one of the most prominent parts in the battle, so much so in fact that it was cut all to pieces and nearly exterminated by the rebels. One of the regiments—the 16th—by way of a finale, had all of its men (save 20) captured, as did also another regiment of Iowa troops, the 3d. Some faint idea of the terrible and terrific nature of the fight may be gathered from the fact that in front of the of the 15th, 16th, and 17th Corps, our men buried 3,221 rebel dead. We captured 1,000 prisoners and 1,100 seriously wounded, and 11 stand of colors. The total loss of the rebels is estimated at 12,000. Our loss, including killed, wounded and missing, foots up 3,120.”
The newspaper noted that “The 13th Regiment seems to have suffered a heavier loss than any other regiment of the Brigade, and Company G of the 13th – the company of soldiers who had come from Benton County – was “particularly unfortunate in this respect, having in killed, wounded and missing, 33 of its members, or something over fifty percent of its whole number.”
The following is the list of KIA members of Company G, as stated in a letter written by Newell C. Keyes, on the day after the battle, addressed to Mr. J.A. Bills:
Major William A. Walker, shot through the head;
Robert Durand, 1st Sergeant, shot through the head;
Hiram Halleck, 2nd Sergeant, unknown;
Julius Jackson, head blown off by shell;
Benton Hoover, shot in the breast;
Joseph A. Roberts and James Green died the same way.
David D. Merchant was shot through the bowels.
The article continued to list several men who were injured: John Ridge, James E. White, E.P. Forsyth, H.N. Palmer, William Amburn, C.C. La Rue, A.H. Brown, L. A. Marine, G. W. Sells, W.W. Buck, John Ritchey, Jerome Hall, James Wallace and Ozro Small.
And the missing included: R. Worthen, Thomas Brown, Thomas Day, T. Amburn, William Merchant, M. Utley, Lewis Lord, David Robertson, John Cuer, John Gipe, William Fawcett and Thomas Smock.
See that article here:The Vinton Eagle, Page3, 1864-08-03
Major Walker and the rest of the men who were wounded, KIA or MIA in the Battle of Atlanta made the difference in a situation that was historically severe and desperate even though it is likely that they were not even fully aware that dilemma even existed.
Along with the strategic importance of taking Atlanta was a dire political struggle that threatened the Lincoln presidency.
Most modern Americans think of Abraham Lincoln as one of our best, most-loved Presidents.
But that was not always the case.
In the summer of 1864, after three torturous years of a war that would claim nearly 1 million American lives, even the people of the north were tired of war.
While in some areas (Iowa among them), the pro-Lincoln, pro-war sentiment remained strong throughout the war, there were several places where powerful people wanted him out of the White House.
Like New York City.
“Lincoln is already beaten,” wrote Horace Greeley, the influential (although fickle) editor of the New York Tribune. Greeley recalled painfully, just a year earlier, and a week after the Union victory at Gettysburg, the New York draft riots, in which 1,000 people, including many police officers and blacks, were killed. He knew that pro-Union sentiment was not nearly as strong in parts of the country as it seemed to be in our state.
Greeley and several other newspaper editors and political leaders had begun organizing a convention to call for the removal of Lincoln from the Republican ticket – less than two months before the election.
“The people regard Mr. Lincoln’s candidacy as a misfortune. His apparent strength when nominated was fictitious, and now the fiction has disappeared, and instead of confidence there is distrust. I do not know a Lincoln man…” wrote Richard Smith of the Cincinnati Gazette.
The local soldiers named above were among thousands who died in the battle for Atlanta, when William Sherman besieged the city for several weeks, and took that city after a long-grinding campaign that claimed thousands of men on both sides.
The sacrifice of many Union soldiers, including those area natives mentioned above, led to victory.
Sherman moved into Atlanta. Two days later, he sent a telegram to Washington, saying “Atlanta is fairly won.”
The Union victory in Atlanta was a major milestone, both in terms of military strategy and national morale. Taking that city virtually sealed the deal; when Atlanta fell, the demise of the Confederacy was seen clearly for the first time. Northern voters could see the end of the war; southern leaders realized that they could no longer hold out and hope for a new President who would make peace on Southern terms.
“Opposition to Lincoln within his party melted in the bonfires of celebration,” wrote historian William Harper.
Lincoln easily won re-election; the war ended five months later. However, opposition to Lincoln remained until his death; in NYC, voters preferred Lincoln’s Democratic opponent, George McClellan, by a margin of 73,716 to 36,687.
If the North had lost the Battle for Atlanta – or even if the South could have held on to that city until the 1864 election – enough other places could have had more similar results, and U.S. history could have turned out very, very differently.
When we say veterans “saved” America with their sacrifice, it’s not just a cliché. A century and a half ago, when the fate of the nation – both on the battlefield and at the ballot box – was in jeopardy, our ancestors — including countless guys from Vinton and Benton County — did their part to preserve the United States. And since then, millions more have served, thousands more have died and many made huge sacrifices, so we can be free.
The war continued. Members of the 13th and Company G — along with other Iowa regiments — continued fighting as the war turned in favor of the North.
From Shiloh, where they’d “seen the elephant,” to Atlanta where half of our local Company G had half of its members killed or wounded, the 13th — Buren Sherman’s regiment — continued marching and fighting, dying and winning.
This led to a unique triumph in Columbia, S.C. in the winter of 1865.
Columbia, the capital of the first state to secede from the Union, was of particular interest to Civil War soldiers.
“South Carolina was the original state to secede and General William Sherman said after leaving Savannah on his way north something to the effect that he was scared for South Carolina because the entire army wanted to wreak vengeance upon her,” says Vasquez, our local history teacher.
Using a modern expression Vasquez explains how many Union soldiers wanted a part in capturing and utterly destroying Columbia, S.C: “Every. Single. One.”
Iowa soldiers, and the Iowa 13th, figured prominently in the taking of Columbia.
The following story from Nothing but Victory; The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865, shares one of the triumphs of the Iowa 13th during the last few months of the war.
“Brig. General William W. Belknap, who commanded the Old Iowa Brigade in the Seventeenth Corps, dispatched a party of eighteen men of the 13th Iowa under Lt. Col. Justin C. Kennedy, accompanied by two staff officers, in a small flatboat that he and his men had spent most of the night modifying. They crossed the Congaree River much closer to Columbia, in more danger from the rapid and treacherous current than from Rebels. “We put our overcoats on the edge of the boat to keep the water from coming in,” recalled Iowan Thomas Oldham.
“Ashore on the other side, they drove off some Confederate skirmishers, then pushed inland until they encountered a horse and buggy, which they immediately commandeered. The three officers, two color-bearers and a couple of other soldiers piled in, and off they went to the statehouse. A couple of blocks from their goal, they exchanged shots with some horsemen, who promptly fled. Then Kennedy and his men hoisted the national colors over the old statehouse and their blue regimental flag over the new one. Kennedy’s men and their flags were visible to much of the Seventeenth Corps across the river and the men cheered heartily.”
An artist captured the moment; the sketch he drew of Lt. Col. Kennedy waving the Iowa 13th flag from the very top of the S.C. Capitol’s roof as Union soldiers cheered is now in the Library of Congress.
Vinton’s Sherman, Buren Sherman, who would become Governor, wasn’t in Atlanta, or Columbia. But in Shiloh, with other Iowans he became part of the countless crowd of local men who went to war to save the Union.
This column only mentions three of the conflicts the Iowa 13th fought; the regiment faced a few dozen battles, marches, assaults, and other hazards of war.
Among those hazards: Illness. I have not mentioned that the 13th lost more men to illness than to battle wounds. That was common for all units, both Union and Confederate.
And although Buren Sherman was just one of those soldiers — one who was fortunate to come home alive, although injured — his prominence and his status as one of Iowa’s Governors makes him an ideal representative of all of the local soldiers who have served their country, and sacrificed.
Along with all of the other unique things to celebrate about Vinton and its history, I hope as we mark our 150th year as an official city in 2019, we will remember all of our men and women who have put on a soldier or sailor or airman’s uniform and gone to war for us.
Several residents have been meeting there to help Vinton Unlimited Director Melissa Schwan and Sharon Happel of the Benton County Historical Society compile local history that will become part of the Sesquicentennial celebration in August 2019. The group’s next meeting will take place Tuesday, November 13th at 6:30 p.m. The Governor Sherman Building is located across the street from the courthouse at 303 First Avenue.
A bit of local memorabilia from Governor Sherman now resides at the Ray House. “Governor Sherman was also very active in Vinton Masonic Lodge #62. The chair he used in his office, after leaving the capitol, was given to the Lodge and was used at the Secretary’s desk. It was one of the things salvaged during the floods,” said Tom Boeckmann, a local member of the Masonic Lodge.
For more information about the Civil War topics mentioned above, see the below links:
Newspaper report of Iowa 13th/Company G taking the S.C. Capitol building in Columbia: The Vinton Eagle, Page1, 1865-04-26