Pvt. Isaac Dennis MILLER,
24th Iowa Volunteer Regiment
Isaac Dennis MILLER served as a private for three years in the Union Army. Through his enlistment he saw battle in the Mississippi River Valley and Shenandoah Valley theaters under generals GRANT, MCCLERNAND, and SHERMAN. In both of the two main battles he fought, Isaac was wounded in the legs, and finally crippled in the second battle.
This narrative is based on first-hand reports by Isaac's regimental commanders in the "Adjutant General's Report". I have combined these reports with an overview of the war so that we can see both a blow-by-blow account as Isaac saw it and the bigger picture.
Vicksburg, "Gibraltar of the West"
During the summer following Isaac's eighteenth birthday, the war had already been raging for a full year. The Union had lost several battles in Virginia and President LINCOLN was still trying to find an effective general-in-chief. This situation lead to a sense of apathy, especially in the Mid West where the war seemed far off and the flow of young volunteers was reduced to a trickle.
In March 1862, a very ambitious Democrat from Illinois, John A. MCCLERNAND, was appointed as a volunteer Major General. After serving with Major General Ulysses S. GRANT in Tennessee, he began planning an expedition down the Mississippi River in order to regain control of the river and effectively cut the Confederacy in half.
On April 26, Vice Admiral David Glasgow FARRAGUT captured New Orleans but failed to reach his secondary objective of Vicksburg when he was forced to stop and repair his gunboats[1 May 1862]. This, unfortunately, gave the Confederate troops from New Orleans time to fall back and fortify the three hundred foot bluffs of Vicksburg.
In the northern reaches of the Mississippi, Union troops moved down river and captured Fort Pillow, Tennessee[4 Jun 1862]. The only thing preventing the Union from joining the two forces at Fort Pillow and New Orleans was the "horseshoe" bend at Vicksburg. Here, Union gunboats were unable to fire over the bluffs while defending Confederates could easily rain shells on the attackers. Vicksburg was also surrounded by bogs and bayous that would blunt any attempt to take the city by land.
To the Confederates, the Mississippi River gave them water and rail access to supplies from Arkansas, Texas, and Mexico. For the Union, the Mississippi River allowed shipment of goods from the Mid West.
MCCLERNAND submitted his plan of opening the Mississippi with a volunteer force to President LINCOLN who approved. The next step was a recruiting drive in his home state, Illinois, and in Indiana and Iowa. On August 19, Isaac MILLER went to Iowa City and enlisted for three years in the 24th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Company D. A week later[25 Aug 1862], General Order No. 89 was issued calling for members of the 24th and 35th Regiments to rendezvous at Camp Strong in Muscatine. All recruits were further ordered to bring their own blanket because of a Union shortage of supplies. A total of ten Iowa regiments was mustered into Federal service[18 Sep 1862], most of which were marked for MCCLERNAND's expeditionary force.
Isaac and the 24th Iowa remained at Camp Strong for a month until they packed up, marched to the levee at Muscatine, and boarded transports for St. Louis, Missouri and then Helena, Arkansas[28 Oct 1862]. In Helena, the 24th joined with the 11th Brigade from Indiana and began training under Major General William Tecumseh SHERMAN.
GRANT's First Vicksburg Campaign
While Isaac was training at Helena, GRANT's Army of the Tennessee moved across the Mississippi border to Corinth and Holly Springs en route to Vicksburg[2 Nov 1862]. The defending Confederate general at Vicksburg, Lieutenant General John C. PEMBERTON, moved some of his defenses north to the south of the Tallahatchie River in order to block GRANT's progress. Rather than attack the Confederate position, GRANT asked Brigadier General Cadwallader C. WASHBURN at Helena to send the 11th Brigade, including the 24th Iowa, to cross the river and threaten PEMBERTON's flank[17 Nov 1862].
WASHBURN sent the brigade with Brigadier General Alvin P. HOVEY to Coldwater, Mississippi. As GRANT had hoped, this action prompted PEMBERTON to pull back south of the Yalobusha River after responding to the brigade's advance with only a small cavalry raid.
This done, GRANT's next step was to have SHERMAN prepare for a landing at Memphis and invade Vicksburg from the north while GRANT kept PEMBERTON occupied. This plan fell through, however, when two Confederate raids cut GRANT's communications and supply lines forcing GRANT to abandon the operation and fall back to Grand Junction, Tennessee. SHERMAN, meanwhile, picked up the troops from Helena at Friar's Point, joined Commodore PERRY's gunboats at the mouth of the Yazoo River, and unsuccessfully attempted the landing at Chickasaw Bayou.
After the feint at Coldwater, the brigade set out on a second White River expedition, this time under General Willis A. GORMAN and again without encountering any sizable enemy resistance. The regiment, however, did not go unscathed and suffered terribly from illnesses brought on by the harsh, wet winter weather. Isaac, along with many fellow soldiers, was hospitalized at General Hospital North for nearly three months.
GRANT's Second Vicksburg Campaign
During Private MILLER's hospitalization he missed participating in an expedition of the Yazoo River after which the regiment was moved to Milliken's Bend, north of Vicksburg, in preparation for another attack on Vicksburg[15 Feb 1863].
GRANT was now placed in control of the Vicksburg expedition and disbanded MCCLERNAND's "Army of the Mississippi." Instead, he formed four corps under his control: the XIII Corps under MCCLERNAND, the XV Corps under SHERMAN, the XVII Corps under Major General James B. MCPHERSON, and another corps which did not participate in the Vicksburg campaign.
GRANT chose not to be as direct in his approach on Vicksburg as he was before. Rather, he decided to make his landing south of Vicksburg at Grand Gulf. Since most of his forces were in the north the landing would be unsupported and could easily end in disaster if he met any sizable opposition. To prevent this, GRANT devised a series of diversions to suggest that the attack would be from the north rather than from the south. SHERMAN's XV Corps and troops from Helena moved to Milliken's Bend as part of a diversionary build up. Furthermore, SHERMAN attracted attention by maneuvering from Greensville to Young's Point while MCPHERSON's XVII Corps crossed the river from Lake Providence, Louisiana.
With the enemy's attention now focused on a northern attack, Rear Admiral David Dixon PORTER began running his gunboats past the Vicksburg defense to the south[11 Apr 1863]. To the sides of these gunboats were lashed boats laden with supplies for the southern landing. The exposed side of the gunboats would fire upon the Vicksburg defenses while the transports lay protected on the other side. To further cause confusion in the Confederate tents, a cavalry raid of 1,700 men from La Grange, Tennessee under the command of Colonel Benjamin H. GRIERSON swept down across Mississippi to destroy communication lines, supplies, railroad tracks, and any opportune targets they happened upon. This diversion alone forced PEMBERTON to commit 20,000 troops to unsuccessfully search out GRIERSON's cavalry.
PEMBERTON was now completely confused. Troops were sent north to block an attack. Some were sent south to scout out GRANT, and more were scattered across the state looking for GRIERSON[16 Apr 1863]. GRANT then had PORTER run another load of supplies past Vicksburg and set SHERMAN's diversion into action: a series of mock landings at Chickasaw Bluffs. SHERMAN landed his troops, marched them into a wooded area and then back up river to be reloaded and relanded. To the observing rebel scout, this landing was of a monstrous scale. The scout immediately sent the news to PEMBERTON, who responded by pulling his forces north to repel the invasion.
GRANT now felt free to make his 33,000-man, unsupported landing, but unexpectedly ran into heavy artillery fire from a small force under Brigadier General John S. BOWEN[29 Apr 1863]. BOWEN had been moving north in answer to PEMBERTON's call and happened upon GRANT's party. The landing was held off for a few hours before GRANT decided to back off and find a new landing spot. On the west bank he captured a local slave whom he questioned concerning the location of a dry spot suitable for the landing. The slave suggested Bruinsburg which was eight miles to the south. The next day[30 Apr 1863], GRANT landed there unopposed and sent MCCLERNAND north to intercept BOWEN at Port Gibson.
The 24th Iowa went along with MCCLERNAND, and was reassigned to the 12th Division's 2nd Brigade, which was made up of the 47th Indiana, the 56th Ohio, and the 28th Iowa[1 May 1863].
MCCLERNAND engaged BOWEN just outside of Port Gibson, and slowly pushed them back into town. During this time, the men of the 24th finally saw their first battle, but were used as reserves. Disappointed, the regiment was then moved to the rear left of Major General John A. LOGAN's division where they finally saw a little action and lost one dead and five wounded. The enemy, after delaying MCCLERNAND for as long as possible, abandoned Port Gibson and retreated north.
While MCCLERNAND had removed the threat, GRANT began preparing a supply line and readied a landing for SHERMAN who, while diverting attention away from the southern landing, remained in the north in the hope that Vicksburg might be left vulnerable[7 May 1863]. Once SHERMAN arrived, GRANT pulled all three corps for the advance. But GRANT was not through with his diversions. Rather than proceed immediately to Vicksburg and meet the waiting PEMBERTON, GRANT began marching eastward to take Jackson where part of General Joseph E. JOHNSTON's troops were.
GRANT divided his three corps for a march long the Big Black River with MCCLERNAND on the left flank and shielded by the river. MCPHERSON took up the right flank, and SHERMAN took the center rear where he would watch the rear and be ready to come to the aid of either flank. Since this advance would create a dangerously long supply line, the corps had to march rapidly and forage as much as possible from the land.
PEMBERTON read the westward advance as a flanking movement and called upon JOHNSTON for reinforcements. JOHNSTON, still in Tullahoma, Tennessee with the other part of his army, advised PEMBERTON to fight GRANT outside Vicksburg and then recapture it later if necessary. PEMBERTON, as well as the Confederate president, Jefferson DAVIS, did not care for this advice and JOHNSTON was ordered to rejoin his troops in Jackson and immediately proceed to Vicksburg[9 May 1863].
PEMBERTON did, however, lead a sizable force to Edward's Station on the Vicksburg-Jackson railroad expecting GRANT to wheel around for an attack from the east. Instead, GRANT marched by through Cayuga and Auburn but sent the XIII Corps toward Edward's Station to both block PEMBERTON from moving any closer and to further convince him that he was right in assuming GRANT's immediate target. In addition, MCCLERNAND, whom GRANT judged as a potential trouble maker, was removed from the attack on Jackson.
GRANT then sent MCPHERSON forward to Raymond to gather supplies but ran into a small enemy force[12 May 1863]. The Confederates miscalculated the size of the Federal corps and made a fierce attack assuming that the main force was moving against PEMBERTON. MCPHERSON, on the other hand, was surprised by the strong assault and miscalculated the Confederate force as being a much large one. After both sided realized their errors, MCPHERSON threw back the rebels and continued to Clinton to destroy the railroad[13 May 1863].
MCCLERNAND and SHERMAN then marched into Raymond while MCPHERSON completed his mission at Clinton. That done, MCPHERSON and SHERMAN continued toward Jackson and MCCLERNAND was left behind at Clinton to hold off PEMBERTON.
The following day[14 May 1863], SHERMAN and MCPHERSON reached Jackson and faced JOHNSTON's troops and those that survived the Raymond defeat. JOHNSTON chose not to attempt to defend Jackson and only resisted GRANT long enough to escape north to Clinton. That night, GRANT slept in the same room that JOHNSTON had the night before.
The next day[15 May 1863], GRANT reversed the line leading to Jackson: SHERMAN, who had been in the lead, was now left behind to destroy Jackson, while MCCLERNAND, who was still at Clinton, took up the lead. GRANT meanwhile managed to get a hold of JOHNSTON's and PEMBERTON's plans from a double agent courier. GRANT learned that PEMBERTON was awaiting an attack from Clinton and wanted JOHNSTON to strike Clinton while he would come behind GRANT. GRANT decided to engage PEMBERTON as planned and had SHERMAN keep JOHNSTON from making the rendezvous.
That night, the forward corps, MCCLERNAND's, camped at Bolton Station and prepared for the morning's attack. PEMBERTON also prepared by setting up his 23,000 men on top of Champion's Hill and to the south.
In the morning[16 May 1863], the 32,000 Federal soldiers advanced. MCCLERNAND arrived first, aligned his troops to the southeast of the hill and began the battle. MCPHERSON then swung around to the north side and charged up the hill. General HOVEY, commanding the 12th Division under MCCLERNAND, wheeled around along side MCPHERSON for the charge. He first sent skirmishers from the 47th Indiana, the 56th Ohio, and the 24th Iowa up the hill to open the battle. The 24th dove headlong into their first major battle and reached the top of the hill where they faced the enemy embattlements in a wooded area across an open field. The 24th threw the enemy back 200 yards where they reached a five-gun battery which they threw back another 50 yards at bayonet point. At this time, fresh Confederate troops arrived under the command of BOWEN who recaptured the battery from the 24th after a long struggle. The 24th slowly began to lose ground after two hours when they were replaced by reinforcements. At one point in the battle, Major Ed WRIGHT, commander of the 24th Iowa, was seriously wounded but managed to capture a rebel soldier whom he ordered to carry him off the battlefield.
At the end of the battle, the 24th Iowa had suffered the heaviest losses of their brigade: 35 killed, 120 wounded, including Isaac, and 34 missing. Sergeant Charles LONGLEY of the 24th Iowa described the madness of the battle: "...Every human instinct is kill, kill, KILL, seems to fill your heart and be written over the faces of all nature." General HOVEY wrote, "...It was, after the conflict, literally a hill of death; men, horses, cannon, and the debris of an army lay scattered in wild confusion..." He went on to say, "...Of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-eighth Iowa, in what words of praise shall I speak? Not more than six months in the service, their records will compare with the oldest and best tried regiments in the field. All honor is due to their gallant officers and men..."
Isaac suffered wounds in his right leg during the bloody battle, and was hospitalized for an indefinite time. During his recuperation, GRANT continued his pursuit of PEMBERTON to Vicksburg, and began a 47 day siege. MCCLERNAND, too, came under siege when he became overly ambitious and tried to accomplish more than he was authorized to, resulting in GRANT's firing him[18 Jun 1863].
On the 4th of July, PEMBERTON finally yielded to GRANT and opposition further south at Port Hudson also fell, which gave the Union complete control of the Mississippi River. The 24th Iowa stayed on at Vicksburg for a few months during which time Major General Nathaniel P. BANKS made his first failed attempt to move up the Red River to Shreveport, Louisiana for an expedition into Texas.
The Defense of New Orleans
In January 1864, the 24th Iowa was reassigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division, XIII Corps, which now served as part of the "District for the Defenses of New Orleans." The regiment was transferred to Algiers, Louisiana where the men suffered another cold and wet winter. Later that month, the regiment was shipped to Madisonville where they spent a night in the streets before beginning to build a new camp at Lake Port[21 Jan 1864]. According to the commander's report, the men enjoyed their new location and planted trees around the base.
After the regiment made one trip to Algiers and back[26 Feb 1864], it was sent to Berwick Bay to join Major General BANKS for his second attempt to clear the Red River, attack Shreveport, and enter Texas[5 Mar 1864]. The regiment sent all unnecessary baggage to New Orleans so they could make a rapid advance. Together with PORTER's gunboats and a detachment from SHERMAN, the expedition marched north through Franklin and Washington. SHERMAN's detachment steamed ahead to Fort de Russey and reached Alexandria with PORTER's gunboats following. Ten days later they began up the Cane River, but the heavy gunboats could only go as far as Grand Ecore because of unexpectedly low water levels. The expedition was forced to continue with only light boats, and arrived at Natchitoches, where they halted for a few days[31 Mar 1864]. On April 6th, the expedition resumed, and on the following day met an enemy cavalry attack at Pleasant Hill which withdrew before the Union infantry could arrive. The next day, the enemy made a stand at Sabine Crossroads and threw back the Federals to Pleasant Hill where, on the next day[8 Apr 1864], the Federals were able to win a small victory. During this skirmish, five companies from the 24th Iowa, including Isaac's Company "D," was on a detail guarding a train in the rear and did not participate in the battle.
After the Pleasant Hill victory, BANKS wanted to continue on to Shreveport, but because of the losses, many officers were losing confidence in BANKS' leadership and advised they return to their gunboats at Grand Ecore[11 Apr 1864]. The expedition returned to Grand Ecore for nearly two weeks, but had to move further down the river because the water level continued to drop[23 Apr 1864]. At the Cane River they ran into an enemy force that tried to prevent them from crossing. The troops outflanked the rebels and crossed unopposed a little ways up the river.
At Alexandria[23 Apr 1864], the expedition dug in for another two weeks where they fought several costly skirmishes before retreating again through Middle Bayou and Simmesport, crossed the Atchafalaya River and the mouth of the Red River, and finally reached Morganza Bend[13 May 1864] where the 24th Iowa fought a skirmish while on a reconnaissance patrol. There they stayed for a few weeks before continuing to Carrollton and Kennerville.
While at Kennerville there was a "big scare" at Thibodaux[26 May 1864] and the 24th Iowa was rushed there on the steamer Choteau to investigate. All was quiet at Thibodaux so the regiment stayed there through the 4th of July before returning to Algiers where the regiment got to trade in their old Enfield rifles for new Springfields.
The Army of the Shenandoah
On July 21, the 24th Iowa ended their tour along the Mississippi and boarded the Star of the South for a journey to Ft. Monroe, Virginia, and then on to Alexandria where the regiment reported to Brevet Major General EMORY.
Throughout the war, the Confederacy maintained a strong hold on the rich Shenandoah Valley by repulsing several Union attempts to oust them. The Confederate general, Jubal A. EARLY, set up his headquarters at Winchester, Virginia where he was able to make raids into Maryland and Pennsylvania. President LINCOLN feared that similar raids could easily enter the capitol and decided to clear out the valley. To accomplish this task, General Philip SHERIDAN was appointed to lead a new "Army of the Shenandoah" made up of the VI Corps, XIX Corps, and General CROOK's "Army of Western Virginia."
On August 1, the 24th Iowa arrived by train in Monocacy, Maryland where they were reassigned to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Division of XIX Corps which was lead by Brevet Major General EMORY. On the 4th there was a "big scare" at Harper's Ferry so the new army set out to investigate the threat but found nothing. The new force, 40,000-men strong, then began to search out General EARLY's 30,000 rebel troops near Halltown, but EARLY wouldn't commit to battle. The Union troops pursued EARLY as far as Cedar Creek, Virginia, but still without an engagement.
On the 18th, the regiment moved to Charles Town, West Virginia, and soon after marched to Bolivar Heights[21 Aug 1864] in another attempt to get EARLY to fight. After returning to Charles Town[28 Aug 1864], the "Army of the Shenandoah" began preparations to march into EARLY's headquarters at Winchester[3 Sep 1864].
On the evening of September 18, the army arrived at Berryville and went into bivouac. At 2:00 am the army began forming up for the march which began at 3:00 am. Just outside of Berryville, the XIX Corps paused at about sunrise to allow the VI Corps to pass and take the lead. At about 8:00, VI Corps was heard engaging the enemy whom they pushed back along the Berryville Pike. XIX Corps rapidly advance to come to the aid of VI Corps, but just before reaching the battle they turned right to cross Opequon Creek and headed for the Martinsburg Pike for an attack from the north. When VI Corps veered north it came upon a wooded area at about 9:00 am. There they formed into two lines with 1st and 2nd Brigades forming the first, and 3rd and 4th Brigades forming the second. The first line entered the woods with the second line following. By the time the second line emerged from the woods, the first line was half way across a field in pursuit of enemy skirmishers who were running for a wooded area at the opposite end of the field. The second line followed right past an enemy ambush that had outflanked them. When the enemy opened fire scores of the 4th Brigade, including Pvt MILLER, were cut down. In confusion, the line fell back to the woods. When the first line saw the second fold, it also fell back. The enemy the shelled the woods for two hours until reinforcements from General CROOK's "Army of Western Virginia" arrived and enabled them to push the enemy back and ultimately advanced on Winchester.
During the ambush, Isaac received three musket wounds in the right leg: one entering the inner thigh and exiting below the hip, a second through the knee, and a third into the shin and deflecting downward and out the second toe. He also received a shell fragment in the left ankle.
Once Winchester was captured, a depot field hospital was set up where the doctors wanted to amputate Pvt MILLER's right leg. But Isaac refused and spent nearly six months in Winchester before being transferred to USA General Hospital at Frederick, Maryland on March 5, 1865. After another four months stay at the hospital in Frederick, Isaac was finally discharged with a disability pension and returned home to Solon, Iowa[11 Jul 1865].
Days after Isaac was discharged, the 24th Iowa Volunteer Infantry was disbanded at Savannah, Georgia[17 Jul 1865]. Out of the 1,204 men who made up the regiment, 71 men were killed, 260 were wounded, another 256 died from wounds and disease, and 76 were captured.
On June 19, 1868, Isaac MILLER married Candace Mandana ANDREWS in Sarpy County, Nebraska, and lived a while there in Plattford Precinct.