Company H, 39th Iowa Infantry Regiment
After the call for volunteers came from the White House, James Redfield of Wiscotta, Iowa, became lieutenant colonel of Company H, 39th Iowa Infantry Regiment, during the Civil War. (I’ve read that only single men were accepted as volunteers, but Redfield was a family man, as were others in this unit.)
Redfield was born in New York in 1824. Iowa still wasn’t a state when he graduated from Yale in 1845, and for a time, served in the office of Secretary of State in New York. He also lived in Indiana for a time, but moved to Iowa in 1855, where he married and started a family in the small Dallas County town of Wiscotta.
Redfield served in several county offices and was elected an Iowa State Senator from a district which, at that time, consisted of six counties. Because the Civil War intervened, Redfield served only one term in the Iowa Senate.
President Lincoln had called for 75,000 volunteers. Iowa’s quota was 950 men, or one regiment of soldiers. Three times that many volunteered on the first Iowa call.
Redfield raised a company of soldiers, most of whom were from Indiana, ex-Hoosiers like himself. He was elected captain and, upon the organization of the 39th Iowa Infantry Regiment, he was elected its lieutenant colonel.
A plaque and a flagpole in the city park of nearby Redfield, Iowa–yes, named for James Redfield–marks the spot where Company H of the 39th Infantry mustered for the Civil War in 1862.
When they marched for the south later that year, there were at least three Marshall men along–the brothers Collin and Miles C., and a nephew Clayton, all ex-Hoosiers.
Old Miles Marshall of Economy, Indiana, was always an abolitionist. He and a great many others had hoped that the Whig party would abolish slavery. Two of his sons (Collin and Miles C.–better known as Bob) served in the War Between the States, as well as three grandsons–Clayton, and two more in Indiana regiments.
Several of Miles Marshall’s children had already moved to Dallas County, Iowa, including one who platted the town of Dexter, and another who discovered and developed a mineral spring, which eventually became the popular Dexfield Amusement Park. Collin and Bob were the youngest brothers.
According to C. E. Charles, an Indiana historian who was fascinated by the great number of Wayne County, Indiana, families who relocated to Dallas County, Iowa, the Marshall brothers and their nephew were young farmers whose families would suffer from their absence.
Collin Marshall owned a farm west of what is now Dexter. Struggling to get started in cattle-feeding, he nevertheless talked over the war situation with his wife Sallie and decided to enlist.
A few months later, she wrote, “I thought I never could bear for Coll to go in the war, but he thought it was his duty.”
After training, the 39th was sent to Eastern Iowa where they boarded steamboats and headed south to join the fight.
Collin became second lieutenant of Company H. The spring of 1863, the Iowans were sent ranging far into northeast Alabama, destroying railroads and anything else useful to the Confederates.
“North Alabama is the finest country I have seen in the south, but houses, barns and fences are alike in ashes now. We let them know we were here.”
They gathered livestock, grain, and other supplies, believing that nothing less than complete defeat of the Confederates would end the war and get them home. While such measures hampered the military, they aroused the civilians who struck back, harassing them anyway they could.
July 4, 1863
July 4, 1863, a small force from Company H were camped near Iuka Springs, Mississippi, guarding a corral of cattle destined for the army, when news came of Vicksburg’s surrender.
When Collin’s sister Minerva got the bad news, she wrote to relatives in Indiana what happened that Fourth of July: “I must first tell of the death of Coll. He was shot in the afternoon of the 4th. . . while riding out about a mile from camp, by a company of Guerillas, some eight or ten in number, who lay hid, then halloed to surrender and fired a volley at the same time, two balls passing through the breast and one through the neck. His horse was wounded also. He raised his hand for them not to shoot, but they only wanted his life.”
A coffin was procured from Memphis, according to Minerva. Lieutenant Collin Marshall’s body was embalmed and started home two days later accompanied by his younger brother Bob.
Ten days later, Bob arrived in Redfield without the coffin of his 37-year-old brother. He got as far as Eddyville, Iowa, eighty miles from home, but there was no freight service from there. Apparently, according to Mr. Charles, steamers couldn’t navigate the Des Moines River north beyond that point in July. Bob had his brother buried there temporarily, then came on alone.
Their older brother, Pete Marshall, drove a team of horses and a wagon to Eddyville, returning home seven days later with Collin’s casket. He was buried “in Masonic style” on a hill at Wiscotta. A military burial might have been more fitting, but there were not enough soldiers left around Redfield to accomplish that.
Two of old Miles Marshall’s grandsons, Swain and Alonzo, also served with Indiana Units. Alonzo was wounded by a minie ball but finished the war working at a military hospital. Swain also survived the war, part of the victory parade in Washington, DC.
Their sister, Rhoda Marshall, had married a Tennessee man. When the war broke out, John Neal joined a Tennessee Confederate Cavalry unit. But by then, they were living in her home state of Indiana and his own brother had joined the Union. John deserted the Confederates and joined up with an Indiana Cavalry unit. After the war, they too moved to Dallas County, Iowa.
The Civil War and other letters of the Marshall family are now owned by the Indiana Historical Society at Indianapolis.
The loss of their lieutenant Collin Marshall was only the beginning of trouble for Company H. On the morning of July 7, their corral was surrounded by 500 rebels, who captured 28 men–including nephew Clayton Marshall–and all the livestock. Redfield men were marched over the mountains, some barefoot and poorly clothed because of the early morning surprise. They were shipped to the notorious prison at Belle Island but were later exchanged.
Col. James Redfield was wounded twice. First he was shot in the foot, then later in the leg, but he refused to leave his post. His life ended soon after when he was shot through the heart during the battle of Allatoona Pass, Georgia in October, 1864. He was 40 years old.
Redfield’s body was returned to Dallas County, where he is also buried in the Wiscotta Cemetery. A Civil War Monument marks his grave. “Founder of yonder town,” is carved on one side of the monument. You can see the town of Redfield from the hill where he’s buried.
Lieutenant Collin Marshall’s grave is just to the southeast of the monument.
After the war, local reunion groups of the GAR, or Grand Army of the Republic, built meeting halls. The GAR post in Redfield, Iowa, is named for Collin Marshall, who was killed in the War Between the States on Independence Day, 1863.
Our American Stories, September 2021 – a 10-minute story.