|37th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry|
in the WAR of the REBELLION
"The GREYBEARD REGIMENT"
The Thirty-seventh Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry occupies a distinct and unique position in the history of the great War of the Rebellion. It was composed exclusively of men who were exempt from the obligations of military duty. From the date of its organization, it came to be generally known and designated as the "Graybeard Regiment." Special authority was obtained from the Secretary of War to organize one regiment, composed of men who were over forty-five years of age, but who were in good physical condition, and therefore able to perform the duty of soldiers. It was understood, however, that the regiment was to be assigned to guard and garrison duty, and was not to be put upon active service in the field, except in the event of an emergency that would justify its being ordered to perform such service.¹ It was a natural presumption that the patriotic men who were thus willing to ignore their legal right of exemption would-should the emergency arise-be found ready and willing to also ignore their exemption from the performance of the more arduous and dangerous duties of the soldier than those stipulated in the order. During the history of the regiment it was, as will be seen, called upon to occupy the post of danger, and was exposed to the fire of the enemy. Its greatest loss and suffering, however, was from disease-that most insidious foe of the soldier, both in camp and field. Reference to its original roster reveals the fact that a great many of the men were beyond the age of sixty years. quite a number were between seventy and eighty, and one had reached the advanced age of eighty years.
The ten companies of which the regiment was composed were ordered into quarters at Camp Strong, near Muscatine, Iowa, on October 10, 1862, and were there mustered into the service of the United States, by Captain H. B. Hendershott, of the Regular Army, on the 15th day of December, 1862. At the completion of its muster, the rolls showed the aggregate strength of the regiment was nine hundred fourteen, rank and file.² During the interval, from the time the companies had assembled at the redezvous and the departure of the regiment from the State the officers and men had acquired a fair knowledge of their duties as soldiers. They were a vigorous and sturdy body of old men, and were as ready and anxious for the work before them as the younger men, of the regiments which had preceded them, had been.
¹ Report of Adjutant General of Iowa, 1863, Vol. 2, page 756 Extract from General Order No. 89: "The Thirty-seventh Regiment will rendezvous at a place to be thereafter named. G. W. Kincaid, of Muscatine, has been authorized to raise this regiment. It will be composed of active and vigorous men, over the age of forty-five years, and will be assigned to garrison duty."
² Report of Adjutant General of Iowa, 1863, Vol. 1, pages x and xiv: also 1863, Vol. 2, pages 198 to 226 inclusive. Original Roster of the regiment.
The regiment was ordered to proceed to St. Louis, where it arrived on January 1, 1863, and attracted marked attention by its soldierly bearing, as it marched through the streets of the city to Benton Barracks, where it remained until January 5th, when it was assigned to the duty of guarding the rebel prisoners confined in the two military prisons, with headquarters of the regiment and quarters for the officers and men located in Schofield Barracks. In addition to the duty of guarding the prisoners, the regiment had one company on provost guard duty in the city. These duties were discharged with great fidelity and to the satisfaction of the General commanding the Department of Missouri, whose headquarters were in the city. In the month of April, 1863, the rebel Generals, Price and Van Dorn, having invaded the State of Missouri with a large force, were threatening to march upon St. Louis, and six companies of the Thirty-seventh Iowa were placed on duty at the Arsenal, where an immense quantity of ordnance stores had been accumulated. When the rebel forces had been met and repulsed by the Union forces sent against them, and were being driven out of the State, the six companies were relieved from duty at the Arsenal, and the entire regiment was ordered to go upon guard duty along the line of the Pacific Railroad, west of St. Louis. The headquarters of the regiment were established at Franklin, Mo., and detachments were stationed at different points along the line of the road, from St. Louis to Jefferson City. The regiment entered upon this important duty on the 1st day of May, and was thus engaged until July 29, 1863, when it was relieved by other troops, and ordered to proceed to Alton, Ill., where it relieved the Seventy-seventh Ohio Infantry and took charge of the military prison at that place. It remained on duty at Alton until January 17, 1864, on which date it was ordered to proceed to Rock Island, Ill., where another military prison -the largest in the West- was located, and where ten thousand rebel prisoners were confined. The regiment remained on duty at Rock Island until June 5, 1864, when it was ordered South, and was conveyed to Memphis, Tenn. There, instead of performing garrison duty, the regiment was called upon to furnish the guard every other day for the provision train from Memphis east to LaGrange, Tenn., and from there south to Holly Springs, Miss. The country was infested with roving bands of the enemy, making the duty of guarding the trains both dangerous and difficult. It was while in the performance of this duty that the Thirty-seventh Iowa came into conflict with the enemy, and sustained a loss of several men, killed and wounded. During this period of their service, the officers and men suffered greatly from sickness, both on account of the change of climate and the exposure to frequent rain storms, to which they were subjected. They were not provided with adequate camp equipage, and the exposure and hardships which they encountered resulted in many deaths, and rendered many more unfit for the further performance of military duty. This accounts for the great number of discharges for disability shown in the subjoined roster.
On August 27, 1864, the regiment was ordered to proceed to Indianapolis, Ind., where it arrived August 31st. From there five companies, under command of Colonel Kincaid, were sent to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they were placed on duty as guards to rebel prisoners, at the military prison in that city. The other five companies remained at Indianapolis, as guards at Camp Morton, where nine thousand rebel prisoners were confined. Three of these companies were subsequently sent to Columbus, Ohio, under command of Lieutenant Colonel West, and the remaining two companies, under command of Major Allen, were sent to Gallipolis, Ohio. Both of these detachments were engaged in guarding rebel prisoners at the places named. During the stay of the three companies at Columbus, they assisted in guarding the sixteen thousand rebel prisoners confined at Camp Chase, near the city, and Captain Lamb was, for a part of the time, in charge of a detail on provost guard duty in the city. Lieutenant Shelladay was also on detached duty in the city of Cincinnati, and rendered important service to General Willich, the officer in command of the post. Captain Lamb and Lieutenants Havens and Belknap were later detailed on the special service of conducting recruits from the draft rendezvous at Columbus to the regiments in the field, and continued in the performance of that duty until they were ordered to rejoin the regiment at Cincinnati, in May. A number of the officers of the regiment who were stationed at Cincinnati were also detailed on special duty, and all acquitted themselves to the entire satisfaction of the General commanding. Many plots to escape were formed among the rebel prisoners, and it required the utmost vigilance on the part of the officers and men on guard to prevent the successful carrying out of such plots. The prisoners were well cared for and humanely treated, but they were closely guarded, and but very few succeeded in escaping. The Thirty-seventh Iowa established an excellent reputation for the faithful manner in which its officers and men complied with their instructions, and on all occasions had the cordial approval and commendation of the commanding officers under whom they served.
About the middle of the month of May, 1865, the regiment was reunited at Cincinnati, Ohio. The war was virtually ended, and the officers and men of the regiment were longing to return to their homes. There seemed to be no necessity for their further detention in the service, and they respectfully requested the Post Commander to make application to the War Department in Washington for the muster out of the regiment. In compliance with their request, the General forwarded a communication to the Adjutant General of the Army, of which the following is a copy.
May 13, 1865
Headquarters, Cincinnati, Ohio
Brigadier General L. Thomas,Adjutant General U.S. Army.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit for your consideration the following statement:
The Thirty-seventh Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry, called the "Graybeards," on duty at this post, consists exclusively of old men-none under forty-five, many over sixty years of age. After the men of this regiment had devoted their sons and grandsons, numbering thirteen hundred men, to the service of their country, their patriotism induced them to enlist themselves for garrison duty, thus enabling the government to send the young men to the front. Officers and men would cheerfully remain in the service as long as they are wanted, though they are very much needed at home to save the next harvest, most of them being farmers. I most respectfully submit to you whether there is any necessity now to hold these old men under such heavy sacrifices. They have received the commendations of their former post commanders. At this post they have performed very heavy duties, which to perform would even have been difficult for an equal number of young men. The high patriotism displayed by these men in devoting a few years of their old age to their country's service is unparalleled in history, and commands the respect of every patriotic citizen of the United States. I therefore most respectfully recommend that the Thirty-seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry may be mustered out of the service immediately, with the honors and acknowledgments of their services, due to the noble spirit with which they gave so glorious an example to the youths of their country.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, J. Willich,Brigadier General Commanding. ³
³ Ingersoll's "Iowa and the Rebellion." page 568. and Major Byers' "Iowa in War Times," page 559.
The request was promptly complied with and, on May 20th, the regiment left Cincinnati and was conveyed to Davenport, Iowa, at which place it was mustered out of the service of the United States, on the 24th day of May. It was then formally disbanded, and the survivors departed for their respective homes, there to resume their various avocations, and to perform their duty as citizens with the same fidelity that had distinguished their conduct as soldiers.
In concluding this brief sketch of the service of one of the most notable of the long line of Iowa regiments, whose histories it has been his privilege and pleasure to compile, the writer is reminded of the fact that, at this time (April 27, 1910.) there can be but few of the old heroes -whose beards were gray in 1862- remaining upon earth. It is now forty-five years since the Thirty-seventh Iowa was mustered out of the service, and therefore any of those who once belonged to it, who may yet be living, must have passed the age of ninety years. The compiler was one of those Iowa soldiers who, in the vigor and strength of their young manhood, responded to the first call of President Lincoln, in the early spring of 1861. He and his comrades -who are living at the time this sketch is written- are now old men, having passed the age of three score and ten years. While we fought in many of the greatest battles of the war, and many of us endured the hardships and sufferings inevitably connected with a service of over four years, yet the greatest honor which any of us could claim would be kinship with those splendid old men of the Graybeard Regiment of Iowa, who gave their sons, grandsons and themselves, to the service of their country in her hour of greatest peril. So long as patriotism survives in minds and hearts of the sons and daughters of the great Commonwealth of Iowa, the memory of those grand old men will be cherished and revered. If another war, involving the very existence of our republican institutions, should occur, and the patriotism of our people again be appealed to, may the young and the old men of Iowa be inspired by the example of her volunteer soldiers in their desperate conflict with treason and rebellion, from 1861 to 1865.
SUMMARY OF CASUALTIES Total Enrollment....................................1041 Killed..............................................3 Wounded.............................................- Died of wounds......................................- Died of disease.....................................145 Discharged for wounds, disease or other causes......364 Buried in National Cemeteries.......................91 Captured............................................0 Transferred.........................................2
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