CAREER OF John M. Corse
One of the Great Soldiers of Iowa and His Services for His Country.
THE DEFENSE OF ALLATOONA
from the "Sioux City Journal" - July 12, 1896
Submitted by Kat Lowrie
The part played by Gen. Corse in that famous Engagement - His rapid rise in military circles -
Address delivered on the unveiling of the Corse Statue.
A bronze equestrian statue of General Corse
which stands in Crapo Park in Burlington, Iowa
On the fourth of July there was unveiled in a park in the city of Burlington a handsome equestian statue of Gen. John M. Corse, the same being a duplicate of the statue which is to appear on the Iowa soldiers' monument in Des Moines. Gov. Drake and staff were present and the general made an address. There were also addresses by George T. Tracy, P.M. Crapo and others. Congressman S.M. Clark, of Keokuk, also spoke at length. The chief address of the unveiling was by Rev. William Salter, who told of Gen. Corse and his military career, as follows:
The Fourth of July, a century and a score of years ago, witnessed upon the banks of the Delaware river and upon the Atlantic slope the birth of a nation that now covers the continent to where rolls the Oregon and the Pacific wave.
Today we are assembled upon soil that then belonged to the King of Spain, and upon the western bank of the central river of the continent, to honor the memory and perpetuate the fame of a brave soldier in that datk and angry hour of the republic, a generation ago, when the national life was threatened with dismemberment and disunion. The alternative was then instant, either to bid farewell to the work of Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and their compeers, and allow the disintegration and fall of the republic, or to rally the strength and prowess of the people to defend and maintain that form of government which our ancestors by their representatives in congress assembled in independence hall in 1776, and by their representatives in convention assembled in the same hall in 1787, denomminated "the United States of America."
The life of the nation, the federation of a great people, the hope and promise of a brighter future for mankind, were all at stake. The sacred cause, as a great orator expressed it, of "Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable," was put to the arbitrament of arms.
In the dread crisis eighty thousand men from the state of Iowa, more than one thousand of them from the city of Burlington, and the county of Des Moines, rallied around the flag and offered their lives for the salvation of the republic. The people of Iowa knew their indebtedness to the national union, that their soil was a part of the Louisiana purchase, which the United States had made, that their title to every foot of the soil was derived from the United States, that the worth of their possessions, that their honor and advantage in life came from belonging to the United States. In the national capital they had proclaimed in a monumental inscription upon the tallest shaft in the world, the Washington Monument, that "the affections of the people of Iowa, like the rivers of her borders, flow to an inseparable union."
At the outbreak of the rebellion in 1861, the people of Burlington and of Des Moines county, in common with those of the whole state, were inflamed with patriotic devotion. In the front with the resolute and the intrepid was a young man who had had the training of the United States military academy for two years, and who in the peril of the country heard the call of duty to go to its defense. He was 26 years of age, had just been admitted to the bar of Des Moines county, and was living in a happy home of his own which he had made for himself in his 22nd year. He had cherished some political ambition, and been a candidate for a state office on the Douglas ticket in 1860.
He promptly offered his services to the war department, and was authorized to organize a "mounted battery for service during the war," which became the nucleus of the First Iowa battery. While thus employed, Gov. Kirkwood appointed him major of the Sixth Iowa infantry, and he served with that regiment in Missouri, and was with Gen. Fremont in his rapid march to Springfield in October 1861. A Dubuque newspaper correspondent(F.B. Wilkie) who met him about that time described him as "going home on sick leave so worn and racked that it was scarcely probable he would live to reach home." He was afterwards appointed on the staff of Maj. Gen. Pope, as inspector general, and that officer in his report of his operations at Commerce and New Madrid and Island No. Ten makes honorable mention of him as "prompt and efficient" in duty. He had charge of the more than six thousand prisoners who were captured at Island No. Ten. In May, 1862, at the request of Gen. Sherman, he was relieved of staff duty, and given command of his regiment. In that capacity he served for more than a year in the various movements that resulted in the capture of Vicksburg.
At Jackson, Mississippi, his personal gallantry and the valor of his regiment won the hearty acknowledgements of the general commanding the division of the Sixteenth corps to which he was attached.>
In August, 1863, Col. Corse was made brigadier general, and given command of the Fourth brigade, Fourth division, Fifteenth corps, and on the 1st of September was placed in temporary command of that division. Brig. Gen. Hugh Ewing absent on leave, until October 19. During this period the fortunes of war had gone against us at Chickamauga, leaving Gen. Thomas in a critical position at Chattanooga, and Gen. Sherman was ordered to go to his relief. Then followed the tedious transportation up the river in crowded steamers amid treacherous sandbars to Memphis, and the long and weary land march to Chattanooga, where Gen. Corse, with 920 effective men, went into position in front of the rebel works on Tunnel Hill, on the 24th of November, 1863. Preparatory to an assault to be made on the next day, he went with is regimental commanders as close to the rebel fortifications as was practicable, to look over teh field, and see the hazardous work before them.
"Come, see the ground where you must shortly lie," was his language. And so it proved. Many laid down their lives the next day on that ground. Gen. Corse was struck by a ball and fell senseless, and was carried from the field, and first came to consciousness the next morning in the hospital. He came home the following winter for rest and recuperation, wan and wasted, but soon regained his strength, and with the first signs of opening spring returned to duty. Gen. Sherman immediately entrusted to him a confidential mission to Gen. Banks, then employed in the disastrous Red rive expedition, and at the opening of the Atlanta campaign appointed him upon his staff as inspector general, April 28, 1864. In this capacity he took part in all the operations from Chattanooga to Atlanta, pushing things in every direction, now reconnoitering in front, now building pontoon bridges, now commanding detachments or a division, now supervising the forwarding of supplies, going back and forth between different commanders with explanations and instructions, enjoying in every situation the unlimitied confidence of his chief.
The death of Gen. McPherson, on the 22nd of July, necessitated changes in many commands, and Gen. Corse was immediately assigned to the command of a division in the Sixteenth corps. In the siege of Atlanta, and in the battle of Jonesboro, which resulted in the evacuation of Atlanta by the confederate forces, Gen. Corse and his command won eminent distinction for arduous and unmurmuring service and for gallantry in action. They were subsequently placed at Rome, Ga., for the protection of Gen. Sherman's line of communication north. Meanwhile by rapid marches the impetuous Hood assailed that line of communication, cut the telegraph wires and broke up the railroad at many places, and sent a large force to capture the garrison that held Allatoona pass, and seize the supplies which were there stored for Sherman's army. The hour was critical. Sherman's forces were widely scattered. He advised the various commands to "work night and day in perfecting entrenchments, and to economize provisions."
On the 4th of October, from the signal station on the hill above Vinings (this side of Atlanta and this side of the Chattanooga river) Sherman signaled the world famous order to the commanding officer at Allatoona, "Hold fort! We are coming." The commanding officer at this time was Col. Tourtelotte, of the Fourth Minnesota. The order was signaled over the heads of the advancing confederate army, first to the signal officer on Kennesaw mountain and thence in the same way to the signal station at Allatoona, and at the same time and in the same way a message was sent to Corse, which was wired from Allatoona to Rome (the wire between these points having not yet been cut), ordering him to proceed at once to the defense of Allatoona. At 8 p.m. of that day Gen. Corse started with a portion of one brigade, being so many of his troops as the cars at his command would carry, about 1,000 men, and reached Allatoona, a distance of thirty-five miles, at midnight, when the train was sent back for another load of troops, which, however, did not arrive until after the battle, the train having met with an accident. At the same time, in the same hours of the night, Gen. French's division of Stuart's corps of Hood's army was approaching in full strength in an opposite direction to attack the post. With the morning light the issue was joined. Gen. Corse had barely time to survey the ground and dispose of his men.
The first works at Allatoona had been erected by the confederates to guard the pass upon the approach of Sherman's army in the early summer. Gen. Sherman said at the time that "the success of his movement depended upon his having Allatoona Pass". The confederates, however, had abandoned the position without a contest. It was subsequently occupied and strengthened by the union forces.
There is here a deep railroad cut of 60 or 70 feet through the Allatoona hills. The union forces occupied position on both sides of the cut. There were three forts, so called, which were but small stockades, and they were skillfully placed to command the whole immediate ground, and assist each other in case of assault; and they were girded with rifle pits. Col. Tourtelotte had nearly the same number of troops garrisoning the post as Gen. Corse brought to its defense, making in all about 2,000 men. The confederate attacking force is variously reported as between 3,600 and 5,000 men. There were Ector's Texas troops, Sears' Mississippi brigade, Cockerill's First Missouri brigade, Myrick's twelve pieces of artillery and other batteries. The assault was made with a tremendous onset and with relentless fury. Undaunted by the fierce resistance with which they were met, again and again they renewed the assault, and drove our men in hand-to-hand conflicts from many important positions. Had not our men fought with equal or even greater desperation, and been as stubborn in resistance as was the assault, the confederates had carried the day. I have read much of the literature of the war and many reports of battles, but Gen. Corse's official report of the battle of Allatoona, written shortly afterwards, vies in thrilling interest and in graphic detail with anything in the annals of modern warfare. He was himself struck on the left side of his face, and the top of his ear cut by a rifle ball, and was knocked insensible for thirty or forty minutes, but soon rallied to stimulate his men to renewed exertion, until the enemy fled in confusion leaving their dead and wounded upon the ground.
The union troops at Allatoona were all of them from the four coterminous states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. None of them were from the original thirteen. They are all the children of a later birth, and boast a common inheritance in the priceless blessings that have flown from the Fourth of July, 1776, and from the national constitution. By costly sacrifices these states have ratified their allegiance to our common country, the United States of America. All honor to the memories of the heroic dead who fell at Allatoona, to those from our sister states, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and here in Iowa, let the names of Redfield, Blodgett and Ayers, of the Thirty-ninth Iowa, and of the brave men under their command who fell with them, be cherished in immortal memory! When night closed down upon Allatoona hills on that 5th of October, 1864, the moans of the wounded and the dying reverberated in the evening air as the surviving soldiers went over the bloody field and gathered here and there in some sheltering nook, or in a tent, the bodies of the suffering, or composed the bodies of the dead in their last sleep. Gen. Corse and Col. Tourtelotte, both wounded, and who had not seen each other during the fight, each having his station on opposite sides of the "cut," found the repose of the night in a common tent. Soldiers kindled little campfires. They thought of their fallen comrades, and wondered as they considered the triumph of their arms, and the victory won for the union cause against such fearful odds. In the flickering light of a camp fire, Sergt. Maj. Flint, of the Seventh Illinois, felt the weird inspiration of the midnight hour, and of the tragedy of the day, and composed the following monody!Winds that sweep the southern mountains
And the leafy river's shore,
Bear ye not a prouder burden
That ye ever learned before?
And the hot blood fills
The heart, until it thrills
At the story of the terror and the glory
of the battle
Of the Allatoona hills.
Echoes from the purple mountains
To the dull surrounding shore!
"Tis as sad and proud a burden
As ye ever learned before;
How they fell like grass
When the mowers pass,
And the dying, when the foe is flying,
swelled the cheering
Of the heroes of the Pass.
Sweep it o'er the hills of Georgia
To the mountains of the north;
Teach the coward and the doubter
What the blood of man is worth.
Hail the Flag you pass!
Let its stained and tattered mass
Tell the story of the terror and the glory
of the battle
Of the Allatoona Pass.
The field of Allatoona remains, I read from a recent letter of a soldier of the battle who visited the ground in September last: "No change whatever has occurred there, but what nature has wrought. The crest is crowned with a growth of trees, the storms have beaten down the breastwork, and partly filled the rifle pits, but it is Allatoona still. I remained there three days, walked straight to the place where I was wounded. Within the 'fort' have grown up five large pine trees, and the floor of the 'fort,' once literally covered with dead and wounded, is now carpeted with a layer of perhaps four inches in depth of pine leaves and cones. My memory of it all has been correct. I brought back with me numbers of bullets, Henry rifle cartridge shells and gun caps raked out of the earth just where I lay and fired for hours, and where I was when shot."
The battle has passed into history and is recognized on the historic page as one of the factors that put an end to the rebellion and saved the union. Iowa and Burlington and Crapo park today do their part, and you, my fellow citizens, to perpetuare the history and the fame of our peculiar hero, and with this statue and with these words of praise and prayer, of oration and song, we add a new support to the glorious edifice of a common country, with common laws under a common constitution and a common liberty and union.
After the singing of "Hold the Fort" by the Arion quartet, Hon. S.H.M. Byers, whom Chairman McArthur introduced as the "poet of laureate of Iowa," recited a poem of his own composition entitled "With Corse at Allatoona." It was a thrilling poem and recited with much vigor and expression. Maj. Byers' contract with his publishers, who will shortly issue it in book form, forbids it republication, otherwise it would have been given space in these columns.
Following the Civil War, Corse served in a variety of posts. He refused the offer of a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army and instead mustered out of the volunteer army in April 1866. He soon returned to Iowa, where he built railroads and bridges. With the political patronage system of the period, he was named the regional Collector of Internal Revenue, with his office in Chicago. Corse later moved to Massachusetts and was chairman of the state's Democratic committee. He was then appointed Postmaster of Boston. He was married to the grand-niece of former U.S. President Franklin Pierce.
Corse died on his 58th birthday in Winchester, Massachusetts. His body was transported to Burlington, Iowa, and interred in Aspen Grove Cemetery.
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