The Iowa Graybeards
From iagenweb.org and an unnamed 1910 source
The 37th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry in the WAR of the REBELLION
"The GREYBEARD REGIMENT"
37th HISTORICAL SKETCH
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. 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. 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.
(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.")
(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.
(From 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
Died of wounds: -
Died of disease: 145
Discharged for wounds, disease or other causes: 364
Buried in National Cemeteries: 91
What follows is a hilarious article about the 37th and its totally unimpressive commander. It's not every day that one reads of snot and 19th C. waterboarding in Civil War literature! - Jonah
George W. Kincaid and the 37th Iowa Infantry in America's Civil War
by Benton McAdams; originally published in the February 1998 Civil War Times Magazine
The idea was a bold one: a regiment of old men in Union blue, risen from their comfortable parlors and front-porch rockers to rally 'round the flag. The sight of these ancient soldiers marching off to war would make young men blush with shame and send them running to the nearest recruiter. That was the idea, but the reality of the 37th Iowa Infantry was another story altogether.
The brainchild of a flamboyant, 50-year-old Iowa farmer named George W. Kincaid, the 37th Iowa Infantry seemed to be an answer to Iowa's military leaders' most pressing concerns. Early in 1862, Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood and Adjutant General Nathaniel B. Baker fretted as Iowa's once overwhelming recruitment numbers began to dwindle. Far to the east, the Civil War was entering its second year and showing every sign of becoming a long, costly fight. Kirkwood and Baker wanted the young men of Iowa to do their share and more to bring about victory for the Union. Even though the state was meeting its federal quota of volunteers, both men wanted higher enlistment figures. They favored conscription, but knowing that drafts-always unpopular-could have negative political consequences, they hoped for a better solution. Kincaid's proposal for a regiment composed of men aged 45 years and up seemed to have promise, and Union Secretary of War Edwin Stanton applauded the notion.
So it was that in the fall of 1862, Kirkwood named Kincaid colonel of the new regiment, the 37th Iowa-soon to be known as the 'Greybeards' or the 'Silver Greys.' Baker had every confidence the regiment would succeed in raising enlistments and in providing some level of service for the war effort. Like the eccentric Kincaid, Baker likened the soldiers of the 37th to children-their ages notwithstanding-and the colonel as their proud father. Baker wrote Kirkwood that Kincaid was 'large as life, happy as a clam, and proud as a peacock.' Kincaid had reason to be proud; he had risen almost overnight from being a complete unknown, far removed from the action and glory of war, to holding a commissioned position of power in the Federal military. In his estimation, he was now half a step below God, and beholden to no one.
One of Kincaid's first acts as an officer was to defy his commanders. As he began organizing his regiment, he ignored the age minimum, and allowed his officers to recruit any man willing to join. When the 37th was mustered into service in December, 86 underage soldiers took the oath, one of them only 15 years old. Citing the official age limits authorized for the unit, the mustering officer took exception, but in the end Kincaid kept the youngsters. This apparent victory did nothing to lessen his ego.
Recruitment began briskly for Kincaid. Every county in the eastern half of Iowa contributed men, as did a number of Illinois towns across the Mississippi River. Elderly would-be soldiers called the new regiment 'a wonderful expression of loyalty and patriotism,' and despite a random sprinkling of youngsters, it was old men who made up the bulk of the unconventional unit. Many of the soldiers had served in the military before, some as far back as the War of 1812. Nearly 600 of the 914 officers and enlisted men in the 37th were more than 50 years old, 48 of them were 60 or older, and 9 of them, 70 or older. The oldest was Curtis King, age 80. (Perhaps he was considered hearty enough for duty because he had five children under 16 years old.) For many of the troops, however, age would be a hindrance; neither King nor any of the 70-year-olds would complete their three-year enlistments. Nearly 350 Greybeards would eventually accept disability discharges. But at the outset, they had the fighting spirit of youngsters. Sixty-four-year-old Allen Summer spoke for them all when he boasted he 'would kill a rebel with as clear a conscience as ever I killed a wolf.'
Apart from the rare tailor or shoemaker, the 37th was a regiment of farmers. As a result, the men shared the same ideals: they were volunteers, citizen soldiers, and every man had the right to speak his mind. Military protocol and chain of command meant little-Kincaid's 'children' often bypassed the colonel and flooded Baker's office with grievances. Some of their complaints concerned Kincaid. One letter accused the colonel of interfering with company elections. In the spirit of democracy, however, the aging soldiers also complained about each other. Company F wrote a group letter to Baker detailing the flaws of their fellow soldiers. One, they wrote, was 'nothing more nor less than a walking bottle of morphene unfit for anything but eating, at which he cannot be beat.'
The soldiers of the 37th rendezvoused in October 1862 at Camp Strong, on a windswept island near Muscatine, Iowa, a few miles down the Mississippi from Davenport. They spent most of their time outdoors despite the weather, which grew more and more blustery as winter approached. It was an unkempt crew, and the island soon showed it. Private John Wagner wrote that the entire place was 'covered in the greatest effusions of Snot that human eyes have ever beheld.'
While the troops underwent rudimentary training-which included both battalion drilling and corn husking-their proud colonel busied himself with what he considered more important matters. He arranged for more comfortable quarters for his officers and then dunned Kirkwood for the cost. Next, Kincaid appointed his 19-year-old son Charles quartermaster sergeant. Stanton refused to accept the boy, but Kincaid kept him anyway, at least long enough to land him a commission in a black regiment.
Finally, on December 15, the Greybeards mustered into Federal service. Given Kincaid's ambition and his enlistment of youngsters, the colonel undoubtedly harbored visions of leading his rickety legion against the enemy. The troops even heard rumors that the 37th was bound for Washington, D.C., perhaps to face off against General Robert E. Lee himself. Such grandiose rumors proved untrue; Stanton and Kirkwood expected the men to do nothing more glamorous than guard duty.
In January 1863, the Greybeards left Camp Strong for St. Louis, Missouri, where they guarded arsenals, trains, and the Gratiot Street Prison. The bitter winter took its toll on the aging soldiers; desertions, discharges, and sicknesses mounted. By February, the effective strength of the regiment had plummeted from 900 to 700.
The Confederates imprisoned at Gratiot Street described the Greybeards as 'old gentlemen-kind and fatherly.' Their colonel, however, enjoyed no such favor, and with good reason. Kincaid strode into the prison one day and announced to a group of Confederate officers that all Southern women, including their wives, 'were prostitutes of the very lowest class.' Griffin Frost, one of the prisoners, wrote that Kincaid was a 'disgrace to the military service' and that 'nothing was too low, mean or insulting' for the colonel to say.
Kincaid did not confine his insults to prisoners. His 'children,' who apparently failed to meet their 'father's' expectations, got more of his attention than they could bear. Desertion rates climbed, and a number of non-commissioned officers were demoted for drunkenness and disobedience. One lost his rank for singing while marching; others, disenchanted with their growing responsibilities, requested their own demotions.
Such chaos could not be tolerated, so Kincaid ruled harshly. According to one member of the 37th, Kincaid had a favorite remedy for malcontents. He would order the accused 'to be placed... under a hydren and the water from same be let upon his face, eyes, and mouth until he was perfectly suffocated and apparently dead.' This unique brand of discipline was imposed on 13 men 'for trivial offenses... [and] without trial.' Several members of one company later tried, unsuccessfully, to bring charges against Kincaid for such maltreatment.
Finally, in May, the troubled 37th was sent to guard the military prison at Alton, Illinois. There, the Greybeards refined their incompetence into an art. During a single month, the Greybeards allowed 23 Confederates to slip past them and escape to the South. Nevertheless, Federal inspectors beheld the Greybeards with the same reverence as did the prisoners at Gratiot Street.
Kincaid had no time for his 'hydrant drills' at Alton Prison. By this time, something had to be done about his son, Charles. Kincaid managed to secure him a commission in the 3d Arkansas Infantry (African Descent), later the 56th U.S. Colored Infantry. Perhaps he should not have bothered; Charles eventually would collect three dishonorable discharges, and it would require a postwar act of Congress to get him a pension.
It was at Alton that the ambitious Kincaid found a way to exploit guard duty for financial gain. Newly arriving Confederate prisoners turned in their money, expecting to have it returned to them upon their release from prison. When they handed in gold, Kincaid repaid them in greenbacks. Meanwhile, the gold, along with any increase in its value, went into Kincaid's prison fund. Colonel William Hoffman, the commissary general of prisoners, ordered Kincaid's financial speculation to cease, and the Iowan, for a change, meekly obeyed the order.
As December arrived, Baker asked the War Department to send the Greybeards to the military prison at Rock Island, Illinois. The island sat in the middle of the Mississippi, only a few miles north of Camp Strong. Rock Island Prison also sat just across the river from Davenport, where Baker's office was. Major General John M. Schofield, commander of the Federal Department of the Missouri, obliged Baker's request and ordered the 37th to Rock Island. This way, Baker reasoned, he could keep a closer eye on the Greybeards.
It was a good thing Baker was nearby; the move to Rock Island prompted an all-out war of wills between Kincaid and Colonel Adolphus J. Johnson, the prison's fiery commandant. Before the Greybeards even reached the prison, Johnson refused to acknowledge Schofield's order. Kincaid's military misfits were not welcome at Rock Island, Johnson asserted, and he would not waste supplies meant for his men on the 37th Iowa.
Kincaid, meanwhile, obeyed Schofield's order. Denied admission to the Rock Island compound, the Greybeards spent two bitter winter days sitting in their railroad cars. Finally, the post quartermaster disobeyed Johnson and offered rations and shelter-all outside the military post-to the tired, hungry old men. It took a letter from Baker to Stanton to force Johnson to accept the regiment. Even then, Johnson quartered the 37th in a section of the prisoners' barracks.
Strangely, although they were quite practiced in complaining, not a single Greybeard wrote to Baker about being forced to share quarters with the Rebels. Perhaps they took the opportunity to complain in person-after all, Baker's office was only a mile away. If they did visit the adjutant general, they no doubt also mentioned that the tyrant Johnson refused to let them keep pigs, as they had done on previous assignments.
If the Greybeards' failure at Alton had shown a chink in their armor, the entire suit rusted away at Rock Island. According to a report by surgeon August Clark, the 37th was 'a regiment of decrepit old men and the most unpromising subjects for soldiers I ever saw.' What is more, wrote Clark, they had no idea of the value of discipline. One night, for instance, a drunken Greybeard, thinking he was being assaulted, shot a recently discharged veteran who merely wanted to embrace his comrade.
Kincaid, now the highest ranking officer at Rock Island, may have entertained thoughts of command there. A local newspaper editor suggested he would. But, like his dream of combat, command of a major prison would elude him. The same inspectors who approved his troops despite their many flaws called Kincaid 'altogether too slow and easy... Under no circumstances [should he] be placed in command.'
Kincaid himself came to agree. As 1864 wore on, he realized his men were old, sick, boisterous, and not battle-tested. The desire to command had gone out of him. His disenchantment apparently had begun even before he reached Rock Island. He had taken long leaves of absence while his troops were in St. Louis and Alton-20 days in April 1863, 25 in August, and another 20 in September. And while he remained with the regiment for most of its stay at Rock Island, he was no longer the hydrant-pumping fiend of a year before. He did nothing more outrageous than pester the quartermaster for horses for him and his field officers.
If Kincaid had grown soft, however, his officers had grown harsher. Two officers-identified in reports only as Captain Hogendoble and Lieutenant Graham-were especially noxious to the prisoners. Hogendoble, struck by a foul ball from a prisoners' baseball game, approached the batter, drew his pistol, and threatened to 'blow the d--d rebel's brains out.' Graham used his side arm more profitably. He often played cards with the prisoners, and if he lost he would draw his pistol, accuse them of cheating, and keep the money anyway.
After several months at the prison, the 37th left Rock Island for an assignment in Tennessee. Johnson received a 100-day regiment of half-trained boys as replacement guards. Even these youths, he believed, would be an improvement over the Greybeards. A prisoner put it more succinctly in his diary: 'The Greybeards are ordered to Memphis. What for?'
What for, of course, was more guard duty, this time on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. And on July 5, 1864, a few of the Greybeards found what their colonel had been dreaming of since 1862: combat. While atop a train bound for La Grange, Tennessee, a detachment of Greybeards received and returned the fire of a gang of bushwhackers. Four of the Iowans were wounded, two mortally. Kincaid insisted that his men did the enemy at least equal damage, although he neglected to report how he determined this from the top of a moving train.
This was the only engagement the 37th would ever see. In August the regiment was sent east to Camp Morton in Indianapolis. There, the 37th was broken into two detachments; five companies stayed put while the other five continued east to Ohio, where they were parceled out among several garrisons-notably Camps Chase, Gallipolis, and Cincinnati.
Kincaid ended up in Cincinnati. Now he commanded not even a regiment of old men, but just a few companies. He passed the remainder of the war quietly, his ego deflated and the fire and defiance wrung completely out of him. Even though the establishment of the 37th had indeed prompted an increase in enlistments in Iowa, Kincaid considered his 'children' nothing but a disappointment. When the 'decrepit old men' were gathered in May 1865 and sent back to Rock Island to be mustered out, Kincaid could not bear to watch. As these 'unpromising subjects' stood in the ranks as soldiers for the final time, Colonel Kincaid was not with them-he was once again on leave.