The motto of Company A, 49th Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment
The 49th’s Navy
The 49th’s Navy Launching exercises for the U.S.S. Zenti 8 November, 2014
To facilitate what has, at times, seemed to be an almost overwhelming response to this unit’s Military Flag Disposal ceremonies, we commissioned Color Sergeant Louie Zenti (who operates a metal fabrication business in his “civilian” life) to build for the unit a larger burner/disposal unit than the one that he had previously fabricated for us. That initial burner has been in use for these ceremonial committals for the past year or so, but the supply of unserviceable flags being turned in to us for dignified disposal through the Des Moines Cemeteries and Parks and Recreation Board, has far outstripped the capacity of that smaller unit and resulted in a surplus of flags awaiting disposal according to Federal law and military protocol.
In naval terms, if you think of our old unit as a row-boat….the new unit (which saw its first use in today) is at least a Destroyer Escort!
It seems appropriate, therefore, to christen this new burn unit as the U.S.S. Zenti, and it will be given the hull classification of DE-2. Weighing in at just in excess of five-hundred pounds, and constructed entirely of sheet steel, the newly commissioned Zenti will be more or less permanently moored at Des Moines’ Glendale Municipal Cemetery, and future consignment ceremonies will take place there instead of at Woodland.
Today, the Zenti easily accommodated over 1,000 flags for disposal in a matter of just over two hours start to finish. Five of today’s unserviceable flags were Garrison sized 18 by 24 feet. These flags are far too large for the old burner to handle, but this one found them to be no problem whatsoever, even with the brisk northerly breeze that was blowing at the 1100 starting time for the disposal ceremonies.
The seven guardsmen who participated in today’s detail came away not altogether uncertain that we could not have incinerated a Mini-Cooper in this unit if the need arose….but at any rate, she proved herself to be a vast improvement over our smaller disposal unit and will play a significant role in our continuing flag disposal activities for years to come. It some point in time, the unit may consider allowing other civic groups to use the disposal unit for their own flag retirement exercises as well.
May the Zenti know only fair winds and following seas!
In October of 1864 a group of armed men claiming to be “Confederate partisans” dressed partially in Union Army uniforms crossed into Southern Iowa from Missouri along the border of Van Buren County near the small village of Upton, before turning west to travel through the southern edge of rural Davis County just a few miles above the Missouri Border. They came to rob, commit mayhem…and murder.
It has long been speculated that local “Copperheads” in that part of Iowa who were generally opposed to the Civil War, and sympathetic toward the Confederate “cause” had provided information to the group either directly or indirectly related to potential targets for robbery and possible targets for violence.
Just a few weeks before the “raid” several local farmers had sold horses to be used as cavalry mounts to stock buyers from the Union Army, and it was widely known that the troopers from the Federal Commissary Corps had paid cash for the purchased horses. It was also known that several soldiers were either home on leave at the time, or had recently been discharged from active service in the Union armies. Both groups may have been “targeted” by the guerrillas.
By the time the ten or twelve “raiders” returned across the border into Missouri, they had robbed several citizens that they came upon of several hundreds of dollars, stolen guns, watches, horses, and practically anything else of value and left behind three dead men. To the clothing of two of their victims they had pinned hand-written notes claiming that they had been “Killed in retaliation for David Plunket, who was murdered by Federal soldiers near Glasgow, Mo. By order of James Jackson, Lieutenant Commanding, Oct. 12, 1864.”
Research by many historians over the course of the past one-hundred and fifty years has not revealed any known incidence of a Confederate soldier named David Plunket; nor has anyone turned up information related to an incident where someone of that name was “murdered by Federal Soldiers near Glasgow, MO.”
This weekend marked the one-hundred-and fiftieth anniversary of the actual events of the raid and as such, the Department of Iowa, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War assisted local historical societies in observing the event by having our National Order declare it a Sesquicentennial Signature Event. Four members of the Honor Guard of the Forty-ninth Iowa manned an informational table and display of period weaponry of the Civil War near the Sutlers tents, and the nearby campsites of the re-enactors who had come to participate in the various activities related to the event throughout the weekend. Musical entertainment was provided by the 33rd Illinois Regimental Band playing music of the war years on Period instruments.
Few words in the English language are better known than those simple four words lifted from the text of President Lincoln’s speech delivered upon the occasion of the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg on the afternoon of November 19th, 1863. Simple and timeless in their expression of the awesome costs that were being paid by tens of thousands to secure the nation’s future, as a free society among the races of men. They speak as eloquently today from across the void of the interceding one-hundred and fifty one years as they did on that cloudy afternoon on a Pennsylvania hillside; and, they should remind us all that when this nation has been in peril, young men (joined now by our sisters) have always stepped forward to pay the price extracted from each generation it seems for the liberties we enjoy.
It has been said that when a soldier dons the uniform and picks up a rifle he or she is signing his/her name to a blank check with the amount payable being any price needed up to and including that of his or her life. For most of us who have worn the uniforms of our nation in times of war or peace, we managed to fill in some lesser amount. But for some, the most terrible price imaginable was extracted. Such was the case of the six brothers of the Littleton family of tiny Toolesboro, Iowa during the American Civil War.
This is a story of noble sacrifice in the cause of freedom that has gone untold, and unremembered it seems, for the better part of the past one and one-half centuries, and is yet unfolding. What is known is that the loss of these six brothers from one family represents what is believed to be the largest single sacrifice to be laid upon the alter of freedom by any single family in the history of this nation. And now, that sacrifice is finally coming to be known and will ultimately be commemorated. The story is yet incomplete, and may never be completely known…but what is known is astounding.
James Littleton was a man of “mixed” racial heritage. A “mulatto” in the parlance of the nineteenth century to refer to someone whose ancestry was the blending of the black and white races. Little to nothing is known of who James Littleton’s parents were and under what circumstances they came together to bring a child into a world that was not enormously accepting of “persons of color” in the early half of the nineteenth century. It is know that James married a Caucasian woman named Martha (maiden name and nativity as yet unknown) in Maryland and they began a family. George H., John W., and Thomas S. would be born between 1828 and 1836; and, it was likely soon after the birth of Thomas that the family left Maryland for Ohio. (One bit of family oral tradition holds that James’ lineage was in-part Native American instead of African American).
While living there (Ohio) two more children, William M. (b.1837) and Mary (b. 1839) would be born before the family again continued their westward odyssey.
The Littleton’s arrived in 1840 in what would become Louisa County when the territory became the 29th state in 1846. They purchased 200 acres of land near where the Iowa River empties into the Mississippi and began to clear land for what would become the family farm near the site of the ancient Hopewell Mounds from a far older culture that had inhabited these forested bluffs above the Father of Rivers centuries earlier.
With settlement into their new homestead, came the births of Rebecca (1841), twins Permilla and Kendall (1843), Noah (1845), and Sarah (whose year of birth is yet unknown).
Martha Littleton died in 1853. James Littleton (doubtlessly needing help with his young family) would marry twice more following Martha’s death, but he himself would die in 1860 before the first cannon shots rang out across Charleston Harbor. Both would be buried in Louisa County’s “Potters Timber Cemetery”.
First of the brothers to enlist was Thomas Littleton into Company “C”, 5th Iowa Infantry on July 16th, 1861. Mustered in Burlington, Iowa, the regiment would move to Keokuk, thence to St. Louis to become part of Fremont’s Army of the West, then form part of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division of the Army of the Mississippi. It would be transferred to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, which constituted the Left Wing of the 13th Army Corps (Old) Army of the Tennessee.
Thomas would have taken part in “smaller” engagements at New Madrid, Island #10 and Fort Pillow before being part of the siege of Corinth, battles of Iuka and Champions Hill before the investiture of the siege lines around Vicksburg. He moved on with his regiment toward Chattanooga and Tunnell Hill in September and October of 1863. Thomas was taken prisoner in late November of 1863 at Mission Ridge and died of chronic diarrhea at Andersonville Prison on June 16, 1864. He is buried in Grave # 2045 at the National Cemetery there.
William Merrill Littleton followed Thomas into the growing Federal armies when he enlisted in Company “K” of the 8th Iowa Infantry on September 11, 1861. Like many Iowa boys, William would experience his baptism of fire in the crucible of Shiloh where he was wounded while defending the fabled “Hornet’s Nest” on April 6th, 1862. He would be withdrawn before that line was overrun, and would be sufficiently recovered to continue with his regiment to Corinth where he began the siege with his comrades at the end of April. Promoted to the rank of Corporal on March 2, 1863, William is known to have accompanied the advancing remnants of his already torn and tattered regiment into the bayou country of Mississippi up until mid-October when he fell ill. He was transported back up river to the Hospital at Jefferson Barracks just outside St. Louis, where he too would succumb to “chronic diarrhea on December 12th, 1863. Corporal William Merrill Littleton is buried in Grave #101, Section 31 of the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks.
First-born of the children in 1828 George Handy Littleton was thirty-four years of age, working (as a “cooper”) and residing in New Boston, Illinois when the war began. He enlisted in Company “B” 65th Illinois Infantry on March 26th, 1862. It is believed that he saw limited actual fighting up until being captured at Harpers Ferry, Virginia during one of the several engagements that saw that pivotal supply and ordnance depot on the banks of the Potomac where it meets the Shenandoah change hands. Scant records indicate that George was “paroled” by his Confederate captors to Camp Sherman, Chicago, Illinois, due to disease and disability. He died of disease (perhaps contracted while serving) on December 8th, 1862. His burial place is unknown, but may be in the cemetery at “Potter’s Timber” near where his parents are at rest.
Kendall Littleton was nineteen when he enlisted in Company “F” of the 19th Iowa Infantry on July 21st, 1862. He was the first “Iowa born” Littleton boy to enlist (and die) in the war. Organized in Keokuk, the regiment was ordered to St Louis and assigned to the District of Southwest Missouri. The regiment then moved first to Rolla, and then Springfield in the fall of 1862. They would see their first “major” fight at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7th, 1862. The 19th Iowa under the command of Brigadier General Francis J. Herron would occupy the center of the beleaguered Federal line as it bore the brunt of the Confederate assault. Kendall Littleton would perish during the fighting. His brothers, John and Noah who were members of the same company of the 19th may have seen him fall. It is unknown (for certain) whether his remains were consigned to one of the trench burials of mass casualties upon the battlefield; or whether they may have eventually been exhumed and re-interred elsewhere. The first scenario is most likely, but in either case his whereabouts are known but to his Creator.
John Shelby Littleton enlisted into Company “F” of the 19th Iowa on August 21st, 1862 (exactly one month to the day after Kendall). While we have no written records of their thoughts on that day we know that John was a widower at age 31, having lost both his 18 year old wife and 18 month old daughter before entering the army. He is the only known brother to have married and fathered a child. John also fought at Prairie Grove beside his brothers Kendall and Noah. He too was severely wounded in the fighting of December 7th and survived to be taken to a field hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas where he lingered until December 18th, 1862. John Littleton is buried in an unmarked grave at the National Cemetery in Fayetteville.
Noah Littleton enlisted into Company “F”, 19th Iowa, on the same day as his brother, John. At only seventeen years of age, Noah may well have envisioned the brothers’ entry into the war as a jaunt to “see the elephant” as so many of their peers would express as motivation for entering the service of their nation. Noah would see his brother’s fall on the field at Prairie Grove, and must have been devastated by their loss. Is spite of the cruel sting of those losses, young Noah would soldier on with his regiments until a fate caught up with him on March 1, 1863 when a large forage train that he was a part of embarked on a small ferry to cross the White River near Forsythe, Missouri from an expedition to Yellville, Arkansas. In the middle of the cold and rapidly boiling waters, something went drastically wrong with the guy ropes causing one of them to break and the ferry boat to pitch wildly to one side and break apart. Noah and six other soldiers and several pack mules would drown in the icy waters of the White. Noah’s body was recovered and buried at the Springfield, Missouri National Cemetery in Grave #873, Site 16.
The surviving Littleton sisters, for reasons not entirely known, apparently did not widely proclaim their loss to their neighbors, friends or families, and the story of the Littleton Brothers was nearly lost to us until just a few short years ago when local historians from Louisa County began to become aware of the uniqueness of this chapter of Iowa and regional history.
What information that has been learned is largely through the efforts of Tom Woodruff and Ed Baine of the Louisa County Historical Society, who began researching all of this after viewing an obscure newspaper clipping from a 1907 article in the Columbus (Iowa) Gazette that was found in an old scrapbook donated to the society by a lady in far-off North Carolina. This provided the spark that would ignite a fire in both Woodruff and Baine and lead them on a voyage of discovery that is yet on-going.
Many others would join in as the idea of creating a fitting memorial to the service and sacrifice of this family, but here too, Woodruff and Baine have been the driving forces that have carried the project forward to the point where monies are now being raised to finance the project.
For further information, please see the September/October issue of “Iowa History Journal” article entitled ”Last Full Measure of Devotion”; Civil War Claimed All Six Littleton Brothers, by author John Busbee (on newsstands now).
On September 25th the Louisa County Historical Society and various historic, veterans, and civic groups held a kick-off funds-raising event in Wapello to begin their formal campaign to raise $250,000.00 to build a fitting monument to the service and sacrifice of this exceptional family. Plans call for a nine-foot high stela of black “Mesabi” granite from quarries in Wisconsin designed by Will Thomson of Iowa City. It will rest atop a two-foot base of gray Barre granite that will bear the family name of “LITTLETON” across its face. The black granite stela will be cut off in a rough-cut fashion at the top to symbolize the six lives left uncompleted by the cruel acts of war. Symbolic artwork will adorn the front face of the stela that will depict six infantrymen moving forward into the smoke and confusion of battle, and the names and unit identifiers of each of the brothers will adorn one side while the reverse will tell the story of their heroic sacrifice.
The monument will sit on property that was given by the county government to the project and will include a paved plaza, walkways, and six planted Oak trees that will provide living memorials to each of the Littleton brothers. It will be located adjacent to the Hopewell Mounds mentioned earlier in this article, and near where the Littleton family farmstead was located.
The monument will be titled “Their Last Full Measure of Devotion”, a reference excerpted from President Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address.”
Another irony of this story is that designer/artist Will Thomson traces his own family lineage back to a great-grandfather who served as an infantry captain in the armies of the Confederacy. His ancestor fought at many of the major engagements in the Eastern Theater of the war and was present at the surrender of Lee’s army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox in April, 1865. Thomson’s great-grandfather received his parole upon swearing to not bear arms against the Federal government or engage in further violence in that cause before walking home to North Carolina to resume his life as a farmer.
If you are interested in donating to this worthy undertaking, please contact the Louisa County Historical Society and send donations to:
Watch this website for further information on the progress of the funds-raising, related news and events; and ultimately the formal dedication ceremonies that will take place once the monument is built and ready to be opened to the public (projected for 2016).
Samuel Clemens, the quintessential commentator on the human condition in the latter half of the nineteenth century once opined that;
”The two most important days in a person’s life are the day he was born, and the day that he learns why.” Mark Twain.
For our own newly minted Corporal Jeff Rasmussen, that may well have been so that he could take his place in the line next to his brothers-in-arms of The Governor’s Own as the newest shooter to put toe to the line at the Fifth Annual Rifle Qualifier known as the “Shootout at Tombstone Creek.”
Every fall, the riflemen of the 49th Iowa exercise one of our founding patents of assuring that every man is a rifleman first, and actually shoots in the live-fire event for qualification with the shoulder weapons of the American Civil War.
Corporal Rasmussen had never fired a muzzle-loading rifle before the event held under the warm September skies of the rolling hills of SE Iowa before yesterday. But some things are apparently just in the genes, it seems. Under the expert tutelage of Chief Range Officer and Gunnery Sergeant Jake Grim, the young rifleman more than earned his stripes when he shot high aggregate for the day on the fifty and one-hundred yard lines to walk away with this years “Gold Medal” for marksmanship.
Corporal Ricky Stewart followed on as a close second to take the Silver Medal; and, Sergeant Ronald (“Spider Bit”) Rittel will proudly sport the Bronze Medal for the coming year. All other shooters will wear their Marksman medals with pride…and tip their caps to our three “Top Guns” over the coming year.
2014 marks the fifth annual rifle qualifier that began as a means of educating our unit members on the awesome firepower that was brought to bear upon our ancestors who were engaged in the terrible ground combat of the American Civil War.
Since one of this unit’s founding principles was, and remains, the education of the public on the real history of that conflict, it was felt by all that gaining a genuine first-hand knowledge by firing the weaponry of the period in a live-fire situation would prove extremely beneficial. It also serves the dual purpose of providing an excellent training experience for our riflemen; and, the esprit d’ corps that it engenders among our “Band of Brothers” is priceless.
Under highly controlled circumstances each man is schooled on the shoulder weapon that he carries for ceremonial and educational exercises and every weapon is inspected and certified to be safe before they are allowed on the range. Each man attends a weapons and range safety training and is given expert individual instruction during familiarization firing in the morning of each shoot. They then fire for record and qualification in the early afternoon following what is invariably an outstanding luncheon in the field that is graciously provided by the wives of the riflemen.
Once each shooter has been scored and signed off of the “Q-Course” another couple of hours of destroying pumpkins and hanging water-jug targets make for a complete “day on the range” experience before heading home to nurse fond memories and sore shoulders.
This year, the rifleman also got to do a familiarization firing of a modern weapons platform when they shouldered the Colt AR-15M4 that is the “civilian version” of the standard field service weapon of the modern military of this and many other nations. Doing so made us all ruminate on what the outcome of any infantry engagement of the Civil War might have been had a squad sized force of these weapons been available to either side.
Congratulations to Corporal Rasmussen on a job “well done”…his Iron Brigade ancestors must be smiling broadly.
1/Lt. David M. Lamb Commanding “The Governor’s Own”
On Saturday, 20th September, 2014, eleven guardsmen of “The Governor’s Own” journeyed to the Loess Hills of Western Iowa to render full military honors for Private Thomas Dorsett, Company “H”, 27th Indiana, who is at rest in the municipal cemetery in the town of Crescent. Dorsett served his nation from 1862 to 1865 before coming to the Council Bluffs area where he was engaged in the occupations of carpentry and farming. He died in 1926 and was buried in a family plot. It is believed that Private Dorsett may have served time in confinement at the Confederate Prisoner of War Camp at Andersonville, Georgia, but definitive proof of this internment has as yet not been located. The Regiment has agreed to attempt to assist the family in their further search.
No gravestone marked Private Dorsett’s final post until a family member learned of the possibility of obtaining a government issued stone and went through the process of doing so in the spring of this year.
Descendants of Private Dorsett from the area and as far afield as Arkansas, Arizona, and California attended the ceremonies.
Upon preparing to depart the cemetery following the rendering of honors, the Guardsmen were presented with “Goodie Bags” by the grateful family containing a variety of delicious home-baked cookies and a memento of the day’s event created by them to remember the occasion. The “Boys in Blue” of the Honor Guard were heartily thankful for these delicious road snacks and shall cherish the beautiful coasters that will serve as a continual reminder of our sworn duty to honor our ancestors who struggled to preserve our Union.
1/Lt. David M. Lamb Commanding “The Governor’s Own”
Photos by Tena Krecklow, Janet Stahr & Richard Hickman
Corporal Jeffrey P. Rasmussen, Rifle Detail, 49th Iowa Infantry Honor Guard donned the distinctive Plebian Purple shirt of the newest member of the Governor’s Own to attend his first organized unit event and orientation drill on Saturday, September 6th, 2014, and the first Fall Military Flag Disposal, held at Des Moines’ Woodland Cemetery.
Corporal Rasmussen will wear the distinctive garb of the “newbie” during the first few months of his term of service as he learns the ins and outs of “soldiering” in the 49th, while learning the unit’s history and traditions from his brother riflemen, before earning his honors cord and distinctive sleeve tab of The Governor's Own, as a full-fledged member of the Honor Guard.
During today’s exercises, Corporal Rasmussen got the chance to meet several of the more senior NCO’s of the regiment; attended a basic field weapons orientation to the modern day military infantry shoulder weapon that he will be trained on along with the muzzle-loading Springfield’s of the 1860’s at the ARQ event in Bloomfield.
He also visited the gravesite of Matron Sarah Palmer Young, 109th New York Volunteer Infantry, to learn of the role that this unit played in getting her recognized as a full-fledged military veteran during dedication ceremonies that were held in November of 2009, and of the honor bestowed upon us by Brigadier General Bogle, Deputy Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard for our efforts on that occasion.
The new Corporal then was placed in charge of initiating the conflagration of the first consigned flag; and, assisted his brother riflemen in the disposition of the remaining tattered and torn emblems of our nation over the course of the exercises.
During today’s Military Flag Disposal, Rasmussen and the rest of the detail performed the committal by fire ceremonies mandated by military tradition and Federal law for several hundred national flags that had been inspected and determined to be “unserviceable” and in need of dignified disposal. Another of these exercises will be held in November of this year at Glendale Cemetery on the West side of Des Moines, where the unit’s new, and considerable larger, disposal unit will be permanently housed.
Later this month Rasmussen will undergo his first field exercises with the rifle detail at a Full Military Honors Ceremony in the Western Iowa community of Crescent, and then attend further training and ceremonial events over the course of the unit’s seasonal calendar of activities before entering “winter quarters” in mid-December.
We welcome Corporal Rasmussen to the ranks of the Governor’s Own!
Pvt. Nicholas Ramey Musician, Co. E, 37th Iowa Vol. Infantry
One of the by-products of an enquiring mind can oft times be that you come across the most unlikely of stories, in the most improbable of places. Such appears to be the case for our erstwhile Department Historian, PDC Ron “The Sleuth” Rittel. In more or less constant pursuit of the untold stories of our long-gone ancestors of the Civil War, Ron has come up with some doozies in his time, but a recent discovery appears to thus far be “head and shoulders” above any that I have heard to date. And it is worth relating.
The story of the widely renowned 37th Iowa “Greybeards” is probably pretty well known to anyone with an interest in Iowa’s Civil War history. But for those who may not be completely familiar with their story, here are the basics:
The “Greybeards” were a regiment of “seasoned” gentlemen of a certain age who enlisted for three-year’s service when the unit first mustered at Muscatine, Iowa, in December of 1862. While the myth that one “had to be” over the age of 45 years is known to not hold water (as there were certainly men under the age of 40 on the rosters from time to time during the “life-span” of the regiment) it is factual that the “average” ages for the enlistee’s did predominately seem to hang in the late fifties and early sixties; and the oldest soldier known to have served (Curtis King) was, indeed, an octogenarian when he entered the service of the regiment. Many of these men were veterans of the War with Mexico, and at least one (as we shall see) had prior military experience that goes back much, much further.
In raising the regiment, special permission had to be sought from the Secretary of War to gather together a body of men who were to be in “good physical condition” but who would in all likelihood be used exclusively in the performance of guard and garrison duties that would facilitate the use of younger men to be assigned to combat roles. When that permission was received, General Order # 89 by the Adjutant General of the State of Iowa authorized the enlistment and mustering into Federal service of the 37th Iowa Infantry Regiment to be gathered at Camp Strong, Muscatine Iowa in the Fall of 1862. The initial rolls showing an aggregate strength of nine hundred and fourteen men were sworn into service on December 15th, 1862 by Captain H. B. Hendershott, United States Regulars.
Of the 1041 men who would pass through the muster rolls of this extraordinary group of gentlemen over the course of the regiment’s life-span, considerable research into the matter has not revealed a single man who claimed Iowa as his place of nativity. Not entirely surprising among a group of men of that age at that point in the history of the state, for Iowa had only been a state for a short fourteen years before the onset of the war, and few settlers of European extraction were known to have been within the land between two rivers before the mid 1830’s.
By the time the regiment was mustered out of service on May 24th, 1865, the summary of casualties* showed that of the 1041 who served in the 37th Iowa; 3 were killed; 145 died of disease; 364 were discharged for wounds, disease, or other causes; 91 were buried in National Cemeteries; and, 2 were transferred from the ranks to other units.
*A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion; Vol. III, Regimental Histories, by Frederick H. Dyer, 1959 Sagamore Press edition.
This much, you probably already knew. What follows is an amazing story of one member of this venerable regiment that pretty much appears to be true…with a certain amount of “windage” very likely built in to account for the typical old soldier’s propensity for possible embellishment of an already good tale. Some of the dates do not seem to jive altogether, but some do, and at least portions of the “facts” seem to be borne out by what scant records we have been able to piece together so far…and the search continues.
So grab your salt shaker…as you will need a grain or two here and there, put your feet up, and read on:
Nicholas Ramey, Sr. Soldier of Fortune in France and America
This story was first published in the Diamond Jubilee Edition of the Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier dated August 4th, 1923 and was written by the Great-grandson, Fred B. Tucker of Ottumwa, Iowa., R.R. 3, formerly County Clerk of Wapello, County, Iowa.
Intermingled with the wars of Napoleon and America is the soldier life of Nicholas Ramey. This grizzled veteran in his final days related to the writer much of his life’s experiences. He spent more than twenty years of his life as a soldier; 7 years as a soldier under Napoleon I, and in America in the War of 1812; the Blackhawk, Mexican, and Civil Wars. In the Civil War he enlisted as a “graybeard” and served as a drummer. His life was full of adventure and tragedy as we shall see. His services were in France and America and practically all of it was in actual war.
Nicholas Joseph Parsonette Ramey was born in Lyons (Rhone-Alpes region) France March 29, 1789 and he was the son of Nicholas and Frances (Gillett) Ramey. His father was a wealthy glass manufacturer in Lyons and when the Napoleonic Wars were at their height, Nicholas aged 16, (in 1805) wanted to join Napoleon’s army.
He was receiving his education in a military school and his father, anxious that he continue his studies, did all that was possible to prevent the young man from entering the service. His father decided to send him abroad to continue his studies, but on the way Nicholas enlisted in Napoleon’s Cavalry under his mother’s name of Gillett, in 1810. He was soon promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and was known as Lieutenant Gillett. After a period of service in the line he was attached to Napoleon’s body guard and was present at the time when the formal divorce of Napoleon and Josephine was proclaimed (on 30 Nov 1809) He was present and participated in the battles of Wagren (sp. Wagram) July 5-6, 1809, Austerlitz Dec 2., 1805, Jena Oct 14, 1806 and the Spanish campaigns of 1807-8.
When the French army was invading an enemy city, orders were issued to kill all resisting inhabitants, burn and sack the place. Lieut. Ramey in charge of a squad of soldiers in complying with this order found an abundance of gold stored in the basement vault of a rich banker. After destroying the family he and three others of his squad sacked the gold, took it to the suburbs of the place and buried it. They carefully marked and platted the spot and agreed that after the war they would return and get this treasure. His three companions were later killed in battle.
He had fought in five duels and could corroborate this claim by more than twenty saber scars on his limbs and body all received on the field of honor. Being a cavalryman, three of these duels were fought on horseback, and twice he killed his adversaries. The occasion of one of these encounters arose at a dance, which he attended in the uniform of his rank.
In dancing he made some extra movements with his feet and his spur became entangled with the silk skirt of a lady ruining her dress. At the conclusion of the dance the gentleman attending the lady challenged Ramey to a duel. The challenge was accepted and the following morning they met at dawn and fought with swords. After an exchange of thrusts both were slightly wounded but their honor was satisfied and they shook hands and departed. It was not recorded what amends were made to the lady for her destroyed gown. Lieut. Ramey was captured by the British along with 484 fellow soldiers and all were consigned to a prison ship, a mere hulk of a vessel in the harbor of Gibraltar. Sixteen English guards were in charge of the prisoners and rations were brought daily from the shore. The prisoners began systematically to save from their rations with the idea of trying to escape. After a number of days on a stormy night at a preconcerted signal, the guards were seized and thrown overboard. Ramey, as the ranking officer on board, took command and they set sail with no destination in view, drifting out of the harbor to the open sea. With their improvised sails and having no mariner aboard, they did not know where they were and finally their food became exhausted. Many of them became so weak they were unable to manage the vessel and were at the mercy of the wind and waves. For nine days they sailed the unknown sea, with a signal of distress flying at the mast-head. On the 10th day, whey sighted a ship. Was it a friendly ship or did it carry the flag of Britain? If it proved to be a British ship they intended to fight to the death, their only weapons being the guns taken from the guards, and such other close quarter implements as they might improvise.
As the ship drew nearer, they found it was flying the Stars and Stripes and shouts of joy arose from the deck. The living were taken aboard the American ship and the prison vessel was left a derelict at sea. Many of those taken aboard died within the next few days from the effect of their starvation and privation, but about 250 survived and landed in America.
The War of 1812 was then in progress and as they hated the British, all of the survivors enlisted in the American army. Ramey enlisted as a private, July 20th, 1812. In enlisting, each took an assumed name for the purpose of preventing identification in the event they were made prisoners of war. So Ramey enlisted again under his mother’s maiden name of Frances Gillett, changing the e to I in Frances. He was mustered out of the U.S. Service on July 20, 1817, having served 5 years. Ramey was a born fighter. He served through five wars, his total service being over 20 years. Up to his death he drew a pension for his service in the War of 1812, and was listed on the pension rolls as Francis Gillett (true, Reg#56376-50). Some time after the Civil War he got the idea of returning to France and unearthing the bag of gold he had planted. Numerous friends supplied him with funds and he spent three months in France trying to locate the treasure. He found the city they had sacked and burned but it had been rebuilt and had grown to about three times its former size, the suburbs extending out past where the gold had been buried and all his land marks were gone. If the gold had not been found by someone else, it is still there. Ramey was made a Mason in New York State and was an enthusiastic Mason. At the time of his death, he was the oldest Master Mason in Iowa. He was admitted to Tri-Luminar Lodge No. 18, Oskaloosa, Mahaska Co., Iowa in 1856-7 having settled in Iowa in 1854.
This warrior of two continents died March 6, 1882 at the age of 92 years, 11 months and 7 days. He was buried with masonic honors in Kirkville Cemetery (now called “West View”) Wapello Co., Iowa.
As I alluded to earlier, this account at least second-hand and was information related by an elderly gentleman nearly four decades after the death of Nicholas Ramey. Some “facts” are bound to be inconsistent. The first of which is the date given as “1810” for his entry into the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. If the date is accurate, then he could not have been a participant in any of the battles that he outlined, nor could he have been present for the 1809 announcement of the annulment of the marriage of Napoleon and Josephine that he claimed to have witnessed from the close quarters of one of the Little Emperor’s personal guard (La Garde Impérial). Now, if one substitutes the initial date of 1805 that is referred to earlier on in the story as being when the Napoleonic Wars were at their height…it is all possible.
The author makes a further notation to the story that says;
The capture by the British took place during the fighting with the English in Portugal in 1808.
That statement is problematic….while it is abundantly true that there was lots of fighting going on in Portugal between the forces of Britain, Spain, Portugal and France in 1808; and, there were numbers of French prisoners being taken from several of those engagements, the account of being held on a prison ship, a mere hulk of vessel at the port of Gibraltar at that stage of the war seems unlikely on a couple of counts. Firstly, the British were transporting prisoners (especially officers) from Napoleon’s armies back to Britain (some were even being held in Scotland) aboard seaworthy vessels. The times just don’t match up, and they would have likely sailed from Lisbon, which was much closer. Later accounts uncovered would tend to render that 1808 date as questionable as well.
Secondly, if Ramey were indeed taken prisoner in 1808 in Portugal, he could literally have swam to Boston Harbor quicker than the amount of time that it appears to have taken him to get there.
Part of his War Service Record at the National Archives shows him to have arrived in Boston on May 19th, 1812 (another source gives 1813). If the 1808 date were accurate, that would be something near four-years after an alleged capture in 1808, and he would have missed many of the battles that he later related to others that he had taken part in.
What would appear to be more likely, would be for him to have been among the more than 1,400 French troops captured at the Battle of Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain in January of 1812, or perhaps another engagement in the spring of 1812. Prisoners from those battles are known to have indeed been held on British “hulks” (retired naval vessels, stripped of their armament, masts and rudders to make them un-seaworthy, rendering them solely useful as floating supply depots or prisoner holding vessels) or; taken aboard sea-worthy vessels to be transported to prison camps in Britain. Or, both.
After arriving in this country, by his own account, he enlisted in the 1st United States Artillery and saw action at La Colle Mill, Quebec, and the Battle of Plattsburg, where he may have been wounded. He states in a later account of his life that he served in the American Army for just over two-years, and then settled in Plattsburg where he spent several years before moving to Ohio.
We know that he was living in Licking County, Ohio during the period of the “Blackhawk Wars” (May to August, 1832), but the actual fighting in that short lived conflict appears to have been mostly limited to within the territorial boundaries of Illinois and Michigan. That being said, there was a major dust up that occurred at Detroit, Michigan and only ended after reinforcements of both Regulars and Ohio militia were brought to bear upon the enemy forces. So, while there is no record as yet found to substantiate Ramey’s attributed participation in the “Blackhawk War”, it is entirely possible.
As for the War with Mexico (1846-1848), there have been no records found as yet that confirm Ramey as being a veteran of that conflict.
We do know that while living in Licking County, Ohio, in 1851 he made application for the award of “bounty lands” as a result of his service in the War of 1812. We have not as yet located the award documents to show that his petition was successful, but it could well be that IF he was awarded lands for his service they might well have been in Iowa as this was one place (like Nebraska and Kansas) there the Federal government was giving land grants to veterans (the old “Forty acres and a Mule” grant as they were known. More investigation into this possibility is in the works.
In July of 1869, an author named J.L. Frost, from Hamlen Grove, Iowa (there was a “Hamlin Grove” located in Audubon County) writing in a publication called “Iowa Daily State Register” relates the stories of several veterans of the War of 1812; and, gives the following account of Nicholas “Ramy” (and alternative spelling that I have seen in other documents, but there can be no question that this is our man.) Given the extreme detail of the account, I can only surmise that the author had obviously heard the tale from Ramey, himself at some point in time.
A SOLDIER OF THE FIRST NAPOLEON, OF THE WAR OF 1812, AND OF THE IOWA GREYBEARDS
In writing the short sketches of the lives of the brave men who fought the battles of our country in 1812, we have found none half so eventful and checkered as that of Nicholas Ramy, now a resident of Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, where he is enjoying the sunset of life among his children.
Mr. Ramy is a native of France, having been born in the town of Elzas, province of Schonberg, March 29, 1791, making him nearly 80 years of age. At the age of 19, he was appointed a cadet and sent to the famous Polytechnic School in Paris, where he remained 18 months. France being engaged in war with Austria at that time, ordered the cadets into the field in command of the new levies of troops, but Ramy having passed a very creditable examination was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, and assigned to the Fourth Regiment of Hussars, under Command of Prince Murat, then a Colonel. The regiment was immediately ordered to Austria, and was engaged in the memorable battles of Wagram and Lodi, in May 1809. At Wagram, Lieut. Ramy was wounded twice, once in the neck and in the side. After the ratification of peace his command returned to Paris, where they remained three months, when they were ordered to Spain, Murat in command, and were engaged in operations against the Duke of Wellington. He was at the siege of Salamanca, Ciudad Rodrigo, Almeda (Alameda) Viaduola, Brigadosa, Bueno Vento, Barcelona, Lacramonia, Vallencia (Valencia), Rajona, Meliga (Malaga) and at the taking of Baragossa. At the hotly contested battle of Suguanchia, he was wounded in the knee and taken prisoner by the English and sent to Alcantara and from there to the Fortress of Gibraltar. From here in company with several hundred other prisoners, he was sent to Malta and confined for several months. Desiring to place them nearer England, the British took them to Dover, and confined them in an old man-of-war which had been dismantled and anchored out in the Channel. Lieutenant Ramy was the only officer on board, while near 500 privates were packed between the decks. He was given command of the prisoners as far as that went, and attended to their wants as best he was able. He was granted the liberty of the upper deck, and he used it for the purpose of the liberation of all the prisoners, in this wise. He chose a few of his own company, upon whom he could rely, and planned that when the guard should be put on at third watch, and after those relieved had laid down, he would blow a shrill whistle, when they were to seize the sleeping guard, while he and another of his men attended to those on duty by knocking them overboard. The others were given the privilege of going with the prisoners, or of “walking the plank”, and allowed one hour to make up their minds. At the end of that time, 11 out of the 12 remaining concluded to prove true to the colors of England, and accordingly were executed in that way. The cables were cut and the hulk floated out into the channel by using their blankets for sails. When in sight of Calis (Calais), in their own country, the wind suddenly shifted and took them out into the open sea. There was water and provisions enough on board for all for one day, and for five days without compass or rudder, they drifted about and suffered untold misery, not a few of the men becoming crazy and ended their trouble by jumping overboard. On the evening of the fifth day, they fell in with an American frigate and two brigs, who took them on board and cared for them, towing the ship along. On the 13th of May, 1813, they landed at Boston, where the captured ship was sold and the prize money divided among the escaped prisoners. Many of them enlisted in the United States Army immediately, Lieut. Ramy being among them, who joined the first Battery, Light Artillery, in which he served 26 months. He was engaged in the Battle of Plattsburg, and received a wound. After his discharge, he chose that place for his home and passed 21 years there, when he removed to Ohio and resided in several portions of that state for a number of years until 1852, when he again removed and chose Iowa for his home, stopping at Oskaloosa, where he not resides. When the 37th Iowa (the Greybeards) regiment was organized in 1863, he enlisted and served as a drummer for nine months, when he was discharged on account of a stroke of palsy. He bears the marks of no less than 11 wounds, 10 of which were received under the French tri-color and one under our own bunting. He is a Mason of Royal Arch degree, belongs to no church, and thinks that after all America is the happiest, freest, and best of all countries. We believe that he is the oldest (of the 1812 vets residing in Iowa at that time), is entitled to all the honor and respect due men who have dared and done deeds of valor on many bloody field.
The “Murat” that is referenced above is Joachim-Napoleon Murat,
(25 May, 1767 to 13 Oct, 1815), Marshal of France, 1st Prince Murat, Grand Duke of Berg, and King of Naples, who did, indeed, command the Cavalry (including the 4th Hussars) of Bonaparte through much of the Austrian and Spanish campaigns.
Murat would die in front of a firing squad after the final fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the final moment, he refused a chair, a blindfold and addressed the firing squad asking that they, “aim straight for the heart, but avoid the face” before giving the actual order for them to “Fire!” himself. He was the most popular cavalry commander of the wars with the men that he led.
We are attempting to further research these accounts through the offices of the British Admiralty in London; and, the possibly legal records of the “Prize Courts” that may have awarded a monetary settlement for the captured British ship that is claimed to have been, “towed” all the way across the Atlantic. (Although naval vessels claiming captured “prizes” and being paid for them by an Admiralty Court, was a common practice of the time, this may be one of the places where you might need that salt-shaker that was alluded to earlier.)
Two further intriguing bits of information have come to light in our enquiry so far. The first is an “Iowa Letter” bearing the date of March 10, 1882 and addressed to the Editor of the Newark, Ohio, Daily Advocate. It reads:
“Iowa Letter Oskaloosa, Iowa, March 10, 1882.
EDITOR ADVOCATE—On the 6th of this month, Nicholas Ramey, a former resident of your county, died at Kirkville, a small town fourteen miles south of here, at the age of 90 years. He was a native of France and a veteran of the wars. Mr. Ramey was a lieutenant in the Grand Army under Napoleon; was captured at Salamanca, Spain, and while he was being transported on a British vessel bound for London, assisted in a mutiny, which was successful, and made his escape to America. He became a soldier of the Republic in the war of 1812. He also served during the war of the late rebellion as a principal musician of the 37th Iowa (Graybeard) regiment. The pioneers of Licking will remember him as a great admirer of Napoleon. He organized a company at Newark, headed, I believe by Moody Smith and went with them to Gibraltar, to recover treasures hidden there by his great commander. When the writer was a small boy, Mr. Ramey lived close to Newark on the farm of S.D. King, on the road leading from there to Granville. He has children and grandchildren residing in your city and county. Mrs. Anderson, of Chatham, was one of his daughters. He was totally blind before he died. He was buried with Masonic honors on the 8th inst. J.”
No idea who “J’ might have been, but I am assuming it to be someone who would have felt there to have been people back in Ohio who would have wished to know of the passing of the old soldier.
Another article, dating from April 7th, 1936, appeared in The Newark Advocate (Newark, Ohio) and is transcribed as follows:
“Our County History Written by Ben Jones for the Historical Committee of the Licking County Archaeological and Historical Society.
A NAPOLEONIC SOLDIER
I find a record of Nicholas Ramey who was living in the county until 1857 when he went to Iowa and there died at the age of 90 years. He served in the European wars under Napoleon and was with the French armies in the Spanish campaign.
He was very enthusiastic in his talk when Napoleon was mentioned and before his departure for Iowa, he made a voyage to Gibraltar to see some of the scenes of the wars.
I do not know whether Nicholas and Elijah Ramey were related at all but Nicholas had many descendants scattered about the country.
He comes to my knowledge in an account given by Isaac Smucker in telling of the “gray headed regiment of Iowa,” which was organized from the older settlers of Iowa for the purpose of guarding the Confederate prisoners sent to that state for detention. Among these recruits were three men who had been citizens of this county and had gone to Iowa. They were Nicholas Ramey, John Colville, and Wayne Mc Caddon.”
Perhaps the John Colville named above might be the “J” from the previous excerpted writings. Interesting conjecture, but perhaps ultimately indiscernible, and potentially irrelevant.
Both of these later finds among the archives of the Ohio State Historical Society’s print collections do tend to lend gravitas to the previous writings and certainly add a couple of more pieces to the puzzle that is the intriguing story of the life of Nicholas Ramey.
We do know that he was living in the settlement of “Benton” in Keokuk County, Iowa with a family named “Hampton” according to the Federal census of 1856. Of the ten or so people in the household, all others share the name but for Nicholas Ramey. (Likely these are relatives, maybe the family of a grown daughter, but no definite relationship has yet to be established.)
The next incontrovertible evidence of Nicholas shows up in his enlistment documents into Company “E” of the 37th Iowa Volunteer Infantry (showing his home as being in Oskaloosa) on 26th September, 1862, as a “Drummer”. He was 72 years of age at the time…actually he would have been 73, but who’s counting?
His term of service was not long…being discharged for “disability” on 11 March, 1863 at St. Louis, Missouri.
Little else is known of what followed his final bout of military service, until his death is recorded as having taken place on March 6th, 1882, with burial in the little cemetery at Kirkville, Wapello County.
What is known is that it appears that his Soldier of Fortune may have lain in an unmarked grave from the time of his death and burial until an Application for Headstone or Marker (War Department, O.Q.M.G. Form No. 623) was filed by someone named Mrs. John Glass of Ottumwa, who filed a request for a standard government issued stone in May of 1948. This was sixty-six years after his death.
That stone was visited on July 26th by PDC Rittel and myself (see attached photograph) and its exact GPS coordinates were determined and uploaded via smartphone to Sister Marilyn back here in Des Moines who immediately put the final resting place of Nicholas Ramey onto Find-a-Grave. The wonders of modern technology. I think Nicholas would likely be pleased to know that his story (if, perhaps as yet, incomplete) is being told again and by an entirely new generation of seekers.
Both of these later finds among the archives of the Ohio State Historical Society’s print collections do tent to lend gravitas to the previous writings and certainly add a couple of more pieces to the puzzle that is the intriguing story of Nicholas Ramey.
More work is left to do to see what can be turned up to add to this magnificent tale. But we shall follow the trails we have and see where they take us. While we know that no “military honors” were rendered Nicholas at the time of his interment, that is a situation that the Honor Guard of the 49th Iowa has every intention of setting right. We are also exploring the possibility that the nation of France may also be interested in learning of the final resting place of one who saw so much of that nation’s history through the eyes of a soldier of Napoleon I. For the time being, we can only say,
Nicholas, repose en paix, mon frère!
1/Lt. David M. Lamb Commanding “The Governor’s Own”
Citations: Interactive ancestry.com American Civil War Research Database, Historical Data Systems, Inc. Duxbury, MA 02331 Fold3.com, National Archives and Records Administration Records of the Veteran’s Administration, Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs of the United States, Monuments Division, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. “Iowa Daily State Register”, Library of the Iowa Genealogical Society, Des Moines, Iowa Archives of the Library, Grand Lodge of Iowa AF&AM, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
One Hundred and Fifty-two years ago tomorrow, on the banks of Auxvasse Creek in North-east Missouri’ Callaway County, a force of approximately 400 Confederate soldiers led by Col. Joseph C. Porter attacked a numerically superior force of Federals under the command of Col. Odon Guitar near the site of a steam powered mill owned by a local resident named William P. Moore. For the remainder of that hot July day, the fortunes of the fight ebbed and flowed over the half-mile long crest of the hill and wood just to the Northeast of the creek as the roughly 400 Confederates and 730 Federal troops struggled to gain the upper hand. After several long hours of fierce fighting, Federal firepower in the form of field guns of the 3rd Indiana artillery caused damage to the Confederates that proved too great to endure and they were forced to quite the field. The badly mauled Federals were too exhausted to give pursuit and all that was left to do was to gather in the dead and the dying and await the arrival of the Union re-enforcements that were believed to be within ten miles.
When all was said and done, the canister of the Indiana gunners had done its deadly duty and left fifty-two Confederate dead and over one-hundred wounded, a loss approaching one-half of the original number committed in the opening stages of battle. Federal losses were set at thirteen dead and fifty-five wounded.
As happened all too frequently in that terrible war, many of the dead were gathered together and buried in a common grave site on the field of battle near where they fell. If any marker was erected to show the place at which perhaps as many as twenty-four or so of the dead were lain to rest, side by side, and comingled Union and Confederate alike, it did not long survive. Only a general notation that the site was so many paces to the North of the running Auxvasse Creek; and, so many paces to the East of the single track road that wound past on the Western edge of the field of battle, “near a small store”, appears to be have been recorded.
And so they remained, these former recent enemies, now united by the soil of the damp earth that enfolded them for the better part of a century and one-half until members of two unlikely fraternal brotherhoods forged by the survivors of that war came together with local historians, re-enactors, and academics to locate and mark the final resting place of these men who died for their respective beliefs.
The Elijah Camp # 570 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans spearheaded the effort to see to it that the grave site was located, verified, and that access to the site would be granted ad infinitum by the property owner. Joined in their efforts by the Tiger Camp #432 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War; these groups then set about raising the funds to see to it that a stone marker was professionally made and set at the site that had been independently verified by ground-penetrating radar as having “subterranean anomalies present that are indicative of a mass burial”. Once the extent of the site had been established, a permanent fence would be placed around the borders of the actual grave site itself. These efforts took well in excess of one year, and culminated with a memorial service and ceremonials honors that were performed at the site at 1:00pm on Sunday, July 27th, 2014.
Approximately twenty-five to thirty members of the Gates Camp were joined by members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Command Staff of the 4th Military District/SVR and PCinC Dr. Donald D. Palmer. Lt/Col.(Ret’d) Grothe and his wife, Maggie, joined the delegation that came to honor the fallen and recognize the efforts of all who contributed to this outstanding endeavor to see to it that these men’s final posts would be marked after one-hundred-and fifty-two years. Re-enactors from Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois would also turn out to participate in the ceremonies. A crowd of perhaps two-hundred local citizens from the “Kingdom of Callaway”, and beyond came to witness the event; and, both State and County political dignitaries issues congratulatory proclamations in appreciation of the efforts made in honoring these fallen warriors of so long ago.
Major David M. Lamb, Commanding Fourth Military District Sons of Veterans Reserve