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The Hartsville Fight.


January and February 1863

From The Missouri Democrat, Tuesday, February 3, 1863.


Honor to whom Honor is Due.

ST. LOUIS, Jan. 31, 1863.

Editors Missouri Democrat:

Several letters have appeared in your paper, referring to the Hartsville fight. One to-day, signed by Lieut. Col. Dunlap, one on the 27th instant, signed “Staff,” and one previously, signed “Hartsville.” There seems so close and identity in language and scope between the two latter, as to induce suspicion of their emanating from the same source; while the explanatory letter from Lieut. Col. Dunlap, apart from facts well known and opinions current in the 21st Iowa, points very directly to that source. Why did not the Lieutenant-Colonel, in making his corrections, manfully repudiate the cowardly insinuations thrown out by “Hartsville” against the Colonel commanding, in regard to, first, “the order to retreat,” the necessity for which was well known to him; and, second, the point of time at which it was given, as expressed in the length of time the 21st is said to have remained on the field, after brigade had moved, 3½ hours, and the false and rediculous [sic] statement of desperate charges repulsed by the 21st as it occupied it solitary position? It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that he was willing these misstatements should remain unchallenged. The 21st Iowa won honor enough on the field, more than the country will ever give it credit for, but not an item more than the other regiments engaged. Let that regiment and its Lieutenant Colonel, who showed himself to be a brave and gallant officer, be satisfied with the honor they won. For immediately they call fiction to add to their achievements, and try to detract from the well-won honors of others, as gallant men as themselves, they excite resentment, tarnish their own laurels, and destroy credence in what they have accomplished.

Before the order to retreat was given, Lieut. Col. Parke, commanding the 99th Illinois, reported his last round of ammunition fired away, and his men falling back. An hour earlier, Lieut. Waldsmidt, commanding artillery, reported only enough ammunition to fall back on. There was strong ground to believe the enemy were intending a flank movement on the left. That was Major Duffield’s opinion; he commanded the cavalry on the left. To any one, knowing our relative strength and positions, the success of such an attempt, if resolutely made, does not need to be affirmed. The enemy was several times our number. We had only one line of retreat – the Lebanon road – that closed, all was lost. The enemy might close it almost at will; and it was a primarily objective to save our large train of forty-three wagons in our small force from capture or annihilation. These are the “reasons” for the order to retreat, and they need no comment.

The 99th Illinois remained without ammunition till they arrived at Lebanon, where fourteen rounds to the man of “buck and ball” cartridges were procured, comparatively valueless to their rifled muskets, but the best and all that could be got for them.

When the retreat was ordered, the sun was from fifteen to thirty minutes high. The 21st left before it was quite dark. Three hours and a quarter of twilight!

No charge whatever was made by the enemy after the brigade left. Parties of three and four, and one of ten, approached with the intention of finding our position, and were driven away. All the fighting consisted of occasional shots from outlying parties on either side. The 21st Iowa, accidentally remaining on the field, was probably a fortunate thing for us, as it helped to deceive the enemy and to hide our retreat. That regiment nobly did its duty. Let it be satisfied with its fair share of the honor on the field, but not attempt to carry off honors that do not belong to it, or to wrest them from other parties. Especially, if anyone wishes to impugn the judgment of a commanding officer, let him at least first acquaint himself with the facts on which that officer acted, and if he wishes to reach the judgment of others, let him give the facts, that they may pass on them, as well as his opinions.

One word about “Hartsville’s” severe engagement at wood’s Fork. The two forces never came in sight of each other. A few shot and shell were thrown by each side, and a few random shots by scouts and skirmishers. Captain Bradway, in command of a scouting party, was ambushed and killed, and this was the whole. There was not even a serious skirmish with the enemy there. Moreover, it is a contradiction to say that we fought till ten o’clock, then marched ten miles, and commenced the fight at Hartsville by eleven o’clock the same day. There is no honor in pretence or falsehood, and such statements as the above dim the bright record made by Gen. Warren’s brigade on January 11, 1863.