Sunday, January 10, 2010

They shall not have my gun: Hiram Hale

On to some of Hiram's war stories.

[Me>Dad>LaVonne>Harry Van De Riet>Sarah Elmyra Hale>Hiram Hale]

I actually have a copy of a chapter from some Civil War reference book (sorry, can't find the title at the moment) with a chapter "Historical Sketch, thirty-sixth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry". The last few pages has the roster of the different companies. Company E lists the four Hale brothers: Greenville, Henry, Hiram, and John. They all enlisted in the Ottumwa area of Iowa, January 4, 1864, about a year and a half before the war ended. Greenville was the eldest at age 43, with 8 children already. Hiram was 38 with 6 children, including my gggrandma Sarah. Henry was 28 and didn't come home. He was married but I haven't researched if he had any children. John was 26 and also married.  We also know that Hiram's brother James "Riley" served in Illinois, where he lived near his wife's family.  Riley did come home safely.  In all, that makes FIVE brothers serving.

The Historical Sketch over the time period when Hiram served was actually written in a series of reports by his commander, Lieutenant Colonel F.M. Drake. Drake is also a family name, but I don't think this one is a close relation. Anyway, he writes that the new recruits of 1864 came immediately to the encampment at Little Rock Arkansas to join their "expedition". He writes,  
"The expedition was, as you are aware, a very hard one and, in many respects, disastrous. During this expedition the regiment participated in the battles of Elkin's Ford, Prairie D'Ane, Camden, Mark's Mills, and Jenkins' Ferry, acquitting itself with honor in every battle, and at Elkin's Ford and Mark's Mills with glory."
Lots of military maneuvering occurs, and then comes the fateful battle of Mark's Mills.
 "On the morning of the 25th of April, the train was attacked while crossing Moro Swamp, by a rebel force under General Fagan, eight thousand strong, and a terrible and bloody battle ensued, at the junction of the Warren and Camden roads, near Mark's Mills. The battle lasted until noon, the rebel force outnumbering us about six to one. We were not whipped, but finally overpowered and captured, myself being severely wounded and a large proportion of my command either killed or wounded. The Thirty-sixth Iowa went into the fight with about five hundred men, and lost, in killed and wounded, nearly two hundred men. The remainder are now in prison at Tyler, Texas."
The math on these numbers doesn't quite work out, but the book says that in the official report of the battle, Lieutenant Colonel Drake gives the number of his command as closely approximating fifteen hundred, and estimates that of the enemy at not less than six thousand. He states that only one hundred fifty of his command escaped, the rest--including the wounded--being made prisoners. He also commends the men for
 "their good conduct, and the bravery and fortitude which they displayed in the face of the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, continuing to fight until their ammunition was exhausted, and then conducting a hand to hand fight until borne down by sheer weight of numbers and compelled to surrender. No greater gallantry was shown upon any battlefield of the war."
I know that was long, but thank me for sifting through for the good stuff. If you haven't figured it out yet, three of the four brothers were taken prisoner (John escaped capture). They were held in a horrible prison camp at Tyler, Texas. There is a little bit of confusion on this point because Aunt Min Van De Riet wrote a little commemorative poem about her Grandpa being in the Libby prison, which is actually in Virginia, nowhere close to this entire regiment. The camp at Tyler is called Camp Ford. I'm confident this is the right prison because of the official record and also because Hiram's brother Henry who died there is buried in the nearby National Cemetery in Alexandria, Lousiana, and I'm sure the brothers were together. Maybe they also called Camp Ford the Libby Camp for some reason??? I guess I need to call the History Detectives on PBS.

To fill in this story a little, I have a letter to "Dear Niece LaVonne" (my grandma), yellowed, torn and missing the last page so I don't know who it is actually from, (one of her Dad's siblings) but it is dated 24 Feb 1960. It seems to be a response to a letter Grandma wrote asking for information about her ancestors. Here is what this Hale relative writes.
"Grandpa Hale didn't die in the prison camp his brother did.[Henry died of disease after four months.] But they were treated like hogs in prison. They would open the window and drive up with a load of corn and shovel it in. That is what they got to eat. Grandpa had a $5 bill hid in his boot and he gave it to someone for a crust of bread. They could only have a drink of water at a certain time if they went oftener, the soldiers were there ready to shoot them. Mother said some would go there just to get shot. They suffered so much. Grandma said that is what caused Grandpa to shake so much. In a picture of them Grandpa's hands are blurred caused from shaking."
A few years ago I had some correspondence with a distant Hale cousin, Kathy Leeson, and she had the following information for me.
 "Hiram, John, Henry & Greenville Hale served in the Civil War. All except John were captured at the Battle of Marks Hill, & served in the Rebel Prison in Tyler, Texas for 10 months. Hiram was quoted saying, 'The Rebels shall not have my gun' and stuck it in the crack of an old log hut and broke it before being captured."
 Yeah, that's the kind of sheer stubborness I am proud flows through my veins.

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