A Damned Iowa Greyhound
The Civil War Letters of William Henry Harrison Clayton
Publication Year: 1998
William Henry Harrison Clayton was one of nearly 75,000 soldiers from Iowa to join the Union ranks during the Civil War. Possessing a high school education and superior penmanship, Clayton served as a company clerk in the 19th Infantry, witnessing battles in the Trans-Mississippi theater. His diary and his correspondence with his family in Van Buren County form a unique narrative of the day-to-day soldier life as well as an eyewitness account of critical battles and a prisoner-of-war camp.
Clayton participated in the siege of Vicksburg and took part in operations against Mobile, but his writings are unique for the descriptions he gives of lesser-known but pivotal battles of the Civil War in the West. Fighting in the Battle of Prairie Grove, the 19th Infantry sustained the highest casualties of any federal regiment on the field. Clayton survived that battle with only minor injuries, but he was later captured at the Battle of Stirling's Plantation and served a period of ten months in captivity at Camp Ford, Texas.
Clayton's writing reveals the complicated sympathies and prejudices prevalent among Union soldiers and civilians of that period in the country's history. He observes with great sadness the brutal effects of war on the South, sympathizing with the plight of refugees and lamenting the destruction of property. He excoriates draft evaders and Copperheads back home, conveying the intra-sectional acrimony wrought by civil war. Finally, his racist views toward blacks demonstrate a common but ironic attitude among Union soldiers whose efforts helped lead to the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Published by: University of Iowa Press
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During the course of the American Civil War, 76,242 males from the state of Iowa gave military service to the United States government. Extraordinary circumstances made a few of them, like General Grenville M. Dodge, well known to the northern public; the vast majority, however, remained virtually anonymous during the conflict. Indeed, these individuals might have all faded into total 'obscurity had it not been for relatives who preserved...
1. “We Were Mustered into the Service Yesterday”
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The year 1862, which started with such great promise for the Union cause in the Civil War, had taken a disastrous turn by the end ofJune. Major General George B. McClellan had abandoned his advance on Richmond, Virginia, up the James Peninsula, retreating to Malvern Hill instead. In his campaign, McClellan had suffered thousands of casualties and bombarded the War Department with demands for reinforcements. But the need to deploy a...
2. “We Are in the ‘Army of the Frontier’”
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Both sides had hoped to control Missouri at the start of the Civil War. The Union saw Missouri as an avenue of invasion into the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy) while Confederate domination of the state would provide them a welcome buffer against such an assault. The Confederates had scored a significant early victory at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861) but Union forces had succeeded by the summer of 1862 in driving the main Confederate army in Missouri out of the state. The contest...
3. “It Was a Perfect Slaughter Pen”
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After suffering setbacks at Wilson's Creek and Lexington in 1861, Union forces in Missouri had rebounded by early 1862, driving the organized Confederate armies out of the state. The victory by General Curtis at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, which lay just south of the Missouri border, in March ofthat year solidified Union control ofthe state. For nine months only irregular Confederate units operated in Missouri. But the Confederates still had hopes...
4. “Vicksburg Is Ours”
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In November 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander of the Department of the Tennessee, had embarked on a campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, the northernmost post still held by the Confederates on the Mississippi River. After a number of failures, Grant finally found a viable strategy in the spring of 1863. Marching his force down the west bank of the river to a point south of Vicksburg, he then had his troops ferried...
5. “We Held Them at Bay for Two Hours”
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After receiving the surrender of the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, General Banks envisioned using his troops in an operation against Mobile, Alabama. President Lincoln had other plans for this force, however, ordering Banks to make his objective Texas instead. Lincoln had two motives in desiring this offensive. First, he hoped to counter what he perceived to be a violation of the Monroe Doctrine committed by Emperor Napoleon...
6. “If the North Would Remain United”
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Ulysses S. Grant had given the United States two victories of supreme importance in 1863. First, in July he had forced the capitulation of Vicksburg, receiving the surrender of 31,000 Confederates. And second, he had opened the way for a drive on Atlanta by dislodging the Confederates from strong defensive positions around Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November. Congress had responded by promoting Grant to the rank oflieutenant general in February 1864, thus making every other Union general...
7. “We Will Be Apt to Wake Things Up in Alabama”
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While a Union force under General Granger had succeeded in capturing the forts guarding the entrance to Mobile Bay by the end of August 1864, it soon became apparent that Granger lacked sufficient numbers to move on the fortifications defending the city of Mobile itself. Therefore, his superior, General Canby, decided to build up his troop strength gradually to prepare for that stage of the campaign. A number�of possible strategies for such an undertaking presented themselves, and Canby carefully weighed his options. He finally selected a plan that would utilize two converging...
8. “I Long to Get upon Old Chequest Again”
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The combination of Lee's surrender and the loss of Mobile convinced virtually all the Confederates still active in the field that they had lost the war. Consequently, throughout April and May of 1865, the commanders ofthe various departments ofthe Confederacymade their peace with the Union. As a result, the victorious northern army began the process of demobilization. While some Union regiments would remain in federal service as...
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While Clayton's letters ended on July 9, 1865, his odyssey as a Union soldier had not yet quite ended. After their muster out of Federal service on July 10, the men of the 19th Iowa had to wait until July 12 to depart. They were informed that morning that they could board the steamer White Cloud No. 2 to begin their journey home. When they arrived at the wharf, they found that they would have to share the boat with the 77th and 91st Illinois, two regiments that had already gone on board. The Iowans squeezed their way on, only to be informed by the quartermaster of the post...
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Transforming a group of letters into a coherent whole requires a historian to consult a vast array of sources, both primary and secondary. I started, of course, with the Civil War letters and diary ofWilliam Henry Harrison Clayton, which can be found in the Manuscripts Collection of the Lincoln Shrine in Redlands, California. Christine Clayton Turner, in an incredible act of kindness, gave me the letters that Clayton wrote to her grandfather, George Washington Clayton, after William had moved away from...
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Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 1998