County troops march through GeorgiaThe 25th Iowa Infantry joins Union forces at the Battle of Resaca
Editor’s note: As part of the nation’s 150-year anniversary of the Civil War, the Henry County Civil War Sesquicentennial Task Force will be publishing a monthly column, written by Henry County historians. The research for the articles comes from Henry County newspapers published between 1861-1865, as well as diaries, journals and letters written by Henry County Civil War soldiers and their families.
By Joy Lynn Conwell
It had been almost three years since the men of 25th Iowa Infantry said good bye to family and friends in Iowa. And now they were finally marching into Georgia. It was May of 1864. Little did they realize that the war’s end was in sight.
Under a proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, the 25th Iowa Infantry was organized on July 2, 1862, and was “ordered into quarters” at Camp McKean, later named Camp Harlan, at Mt. Pleasant in August of that year. The 25th Iowa Infantry was comprised of 10 companies eventually totaling 1,136 men, including officers and staff. The regiment was commanded by Col. George C. Stone.
The men came from Henry, Washington, Louisa, Lee, Marion, and Des Moines counties. Among the roster were names such as Nugen from New London; Allis of Wayland; Browning, Crissinger and Spangler of Winfield, and Scarff of Trenton. The Edger family of New London sent two sons, John and Joseph, with the 25th Infantry. Familiar Mt. Pleasant family names reflected in the roster were Ketcham, Newbold, Ritner, Yount and Manning.
In early May 1864, the 25th Iowa Infantry was part of the military division of the Mississippi under the command of Maj.-Gen. William T. Sherman. On May 4, Sherman began his Atlanta Campaign to be followed by his March to the Sea. Arriving from Chattanooga, Sherman’s troops entered the state of Georgia at the northeast corner. The troops, including the 25th Iowa, came face-to-face with the Army of Tennessee under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
Gen. Johnston’s reputation was well-known. A graduate of West Point, he was a civil engineer at the U.S. Military Academy. He had served in Florida, Texas, and Kansas. Recognized for his service in the Mexican-American War, Johnston had achieved the rank of brigadier general and was serving as the quartermaster general of the U.S. Army when the war began in 1860. A Virginian by birth, when his state seceded from the Union, Johnston became the highest-ranking U. S. Army officer to join the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee was only a lieutenant colonel when he joined the Confederacy.
The first battle the 25th Iowa participated in on Georgia soil was the Battle of Resaca. The battle encompassed parts of both Gordon and Whitfield counties. Gen. Johnston’s Confederate soldiers, totaling 55,000, put up breastworks and dug trenches around the town of Resaca. While Sherman’s men totaling 110,000 marched toward the defensive fortifications. For 48 hours, the war raged without either side gaining an advantage.
Finally, on May 15 Sherman sent part of his troops to out flank the Confederate line and cut off the Confederate Army from the rail line at Resaca, stopping them from receiving supplies or reinforcements. Recognizing that his troops stood in peril, Johnston ordered his troops to slip away unseen during the cover of night across the Oostanaula River.
The 25th Iowa had seen fierce fighting at the Battle of Chickamauga before coming into Georgia. But more soldiers, both North and South, were engaged at Resaca than at Chickamauga. Come morning on May 16, what lay before Sherman’s troops were 6,000 known casualties.
A summary of the official report records that on May 16th, the 25th Iowa as appointed to serve as the provost guard for the village of Resaca.
The resistance by the Confederate Army at Resaca is remembered as the fight which changed the nature of battle during a war. The effectiveness of the trenches used as a defense technique at Resaca would become part of the U.S. Army’s battle plan but would not be fully understood or implemented by the rest of the world until 50 years later in Europe, when the success of American trench warfare led to a major change in the method of battle.
The 25th Iowa continued that summer fighting their way to Atlanta, following Sherman as he “marched to the sea”. The unit would continue marching until they reached Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. for the grand review at the end of the war in the spring of 1865. The unit was mustered out on June 6, 1865 in Davenport, Iowa and the Henry County boys returned home. Amazingly, the 25th Iowa only lost 65 men to battle wounds, while 209 died of disease during their 3 years of service representing a loss of 24 percent of “our” boys.
In 2008, the state of Georgia recognized Resaca as a Battlefield State Historic Site which includes 500 acres of the original battlefield. On May 16-18 this year, the site hosted a reenactment of the battle marking its 150th anniversary and the 13th annual Battle of Resaca Civil War Reenactment.
According to their website, “The Battle of Resaca Reenactment is hosted each year by the volunteers of the Georgia Division Reenactors Association, one of the nation’s oldest and most respected Civil War reenacting organizations.”