Telling the historic battle of the Fourth | Local News

On July 4, nearly 160 years ago, the nation was torn in two.

It was 1863, and America was entering the third summer of the bloodiest conflict in the country’s history – the famous American Civil War between the Union and the Confederacy over the issue of slavery.

In July 1863, war raged in Vicksburg, Mississippi, a Confederate stronghold that had been besieged by Union General Ulysses S. Grant since May. Vicksburg was a crucial battleground for both sides. Whoever controlled the fortress of Vicksburg controlled boat traffic on the Mississippi River, an important supply route and a way to connect east and west. In early July, a month and a half into the siege, the starving Confederates held out desperate hope that their army would soon send forces to free them.

Meanwhile, Iowa soldiers wearing Union blue and under the command of an Oskaloosa attorney were fighting their own battle hundreds of miles from a home they hadn’t seen for almost a year. This battle was taking place nearly 200 miles north of Vicksburg, deep in Confederate territory east of Arkansas in a town called Helena.

Call to Arms, 1862

Recruiting for the Union Army began in April 1861. In 1862, recruiters campaigned in Iowa for men willing to sacrifice their lives in the fight for freedom.

“At 1 pm [Aug. 9, 1862] a meeting of citizens of Pella and surrounding areas in the garden square,” described Sgt. John S. Morgan in his journal. Morgan was a citizen of Marion County who would serve as a volunteer soldier during the war. “The congregation was addressed by various men who spoke of the rebellion and the need for more men in the field… A good number enlisted.”

Pella was only a small part of the overall recruiting efforts in Iowa and the country at large. Oskaloosa and surrounding communities saw similar events unfold, and in early September the Southern Iowa Fairgrounds — still home to the Southern Iowa Fair today — was the meeting point. volunteer soldiers from Mahaska, Marion and Keokuk counties.

The soldiers christened their new home “Camp Tuttle” and spent nearly three months there under the command of Colonel Samuel A. Rice, an Oskaloosa lawyer and the regiment’s new leader, learning drills and preparing for war.

“The regiment’s first duty was to learn how to drill,” said Andrew F. Sperry, a Marion County resident who served under Rice and later wrote the regiment’s first history. “With no prior military experience, Colonel Rice applied himself to the study of rules and tactics with such intense and tireless attention that he quickly made himself an excellent instructor; and he always gave his personal care and effort to the instruction of the regiment. From four to eight hours a day were devoted to it; and it was not long before the result was apparent in the discipline and skill of the command.

On October 4, 1862, the regiment was officially integrated into the service of the United States.

“It was an awesome scene,” Sperry said of the event. “The day was clear and beautiful; and as the gentle rays of the sun approached the horizon, the men were lined up in long double lines in the camp.

The oath of enlistment has been taken. The regiment was now officially “the 33rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment” and, as Sperry put it, “part of the Grand Army of the United States.”

Leave the house

After being equipped with the necessary equipment and having received their training, the regiment, led by Colonel Rice, was called up for service on the battlefield.

“Thursday morning, November 20, we departed Camp Tuttle, under orders ‘for active field duty,'” Sperry wrote. “A large number of relatives and friends had gathered to say goodbye. Such separations only come once in a lifetime.

The men happily left Oskaloosa, eager to do their duty and fight for the Union. Their first destination was 10 miles south of Eddyville, where they boarded a train that took them to Keokuk, their last stop in Iowa until the soldiers who survived the war be released from their duties and free to return almost three years later.

After boarding a boat at Keokuk and traveling up the Mississippi River, the regiment arrived in St. Louis on the evening of November 21. A month after arriving in St. Louis, the regiment was ordered to sail south.

“The next morning hasty letters were written home, ‘before we left what seemed to us our last hold on civilization, and at 8 a.m. embarked on the steamer ‘Rowena.’ On the morning of the 24th, we landed in Columbus, Ky. An attack was expected here, and we had to help repel it,” Sperry recalled.

The attack, however, turned out to be a false alarm. The soldiers spent Christmas Day 1862 waiting for an assault that never came, and when they were ordered to go next to Union City, Tennessee, the same thing happened. The alarm sounded, but no attack occurred, and they were ordered to camp in a small town in Arkansas called Helena.

After two false alarms, the regiment’s journey south seemed fruitless, but it had accomplished one thing: the regiment was now near Vicksburg, Mississippi, a strategic Confederate stronghold that controlled traffic on the Mississippi River and served as a lifeline. rescue between the eastern and western halves of the Confederacy. In May, this would be the site of perhaps the most famous siege of the war.

Neither side could afford to lose.

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