The ground was “covered with the enemy’s dead… dead men and horses piled up… presenting a horrid scene of the cruelties of war.”
The Iowa State Register recounted the painful memories many of the soldiers from the Hornets’ Nest Brigade of the Civil War carried with them 25 years after the war. Men from all over Iowa had formed the 2nd, 7th, 8th, 12th and 14th Iowa Infantry units and fought with the Union in the war in 1861-65. They became known as the Hornets’ Nest Brigade. Some of them attended the first reunion of the group in October in Des Moines.
Iowa History, a weekly column, appears at IowaWatch on Saturdays.
Cheryl Mullenbach is a former history teacher, newspaper editor, and public television project manager. She is the author of four non-fiction books for young people. Double Victory was featured on C-SPAN’s “Book TV” and The Industrial Revolution for Kids was selected for “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” Her most recent book, Women in Blue traces the evolution of women in policing.
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Organizers of the reunion wanted to give the old vets the opportunity to come together and talk about their wartime experiences. And they wanted to compile information about the history of the brigade and its role in the Battle of Shiloh, including the numbers of men killed, wounded and captured by the enemy.
Weeks of planning went into the event. Boarding houses around the city were contacted to prepare for the arrival of hundreds of vets and their families. They were encouraged to keep their rates at no more than $1 per day for the two-day event. The railroads were asked to offer a discount to attendees. Residents and business owners along the parade route were asked to decorate their homes and stores with bunting and flags to welcome the men.
On October 12 and 13 over 400 veterans had gathered in the capital city. The Des Moines Register reported that many events were planned for the celebration of the men who had “saved the day at Shiloh.” Although in 1861 these same men were young and had never “loaded a musket before in their lives,” in 1887 they were elderly men with “gray heads and white locks.” And at the reunion the daring and heroic experiences of these men were recounted.
The Iowa State Register reported on the event where speakers described the valor shown by the Iowa boys at the Battle of Shiloh, “the most remarkable battle of the war.”
“They came so close we heard their voices,” one brave vet recalled his encounter with the Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. “We saw their men falling under the terrific fire.”
Officers spoke of the sacrifices the Iowa boys made. “The blood of Iowa’s brave and fearless boys flowed the ground in crimson,” one speaker described his memories of the battlefield. Although many Iowans fell at Shiloh, one speaker claimed the images of the dead only “fired the hearts” of the surviving soldiers “to continued valor.” They “fought desperately” and “won imperishable renown for the men and commanders” of the Hornets’ Nest Brigade.
The speeches touched on important topics of the day: “The Hope of the Nation in Peace—The Militia Should Be Well Drilled and the Children Thoroughly Educated” and “They Gave Their Strength to the Government When It Was Weak—The Government Should Now Provide for All Disabled Soldiers.” And the speaker of “Mothers, Wives, and Daughters—The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is the Hand That Rules the World” reminded the audience that the soldiers had received their “inspiration, virtues, patriotism, and their love for country” from their mothers. “No brave man ever had a cowardly mother,” the speaker proclaimed.
“Old Ike,” a 33-year-old horse who had served along the soldiers in the war and resided in Des Moines, led the parade. He had served in military service including at Shiloh where he “did a good loyal horse’s duty in defense of his country,” according to the Des Moines Register. Like the vets, he showed a few “marks of age” with his gray hairs. But, like the old soldiers, he still held his head proudly as “in ’61 and ’63.”
The 1887 reunion of Iowa’s Hornets’ Nest Brigade reminded Iowans of the brigade’s heroic sacrifices during the battle at Shiloh and of its fight “for eternal right against a monstrous wrong” as the Iowa State Register described it.
- “The Brigade Reunion,” Des Moines Register, Oct 14, 1887
- “A Day of Happy Reunion, Des Moines Register, October 13, 1887.
- “Happy Hornets,” Iowa State Register, Oct 13, 1887
- “Hornets From the Nest,” Des Moines Register, Oct. 14, 1887.
- “Hornet’s Nest,” Des Moines Register, Oct. 12, 1887.
- “The Hornets’ Nest Brigade,” Iowa State Register, Oct 11, 1887
- “Iowa Hornet’s Nest Brigade,” Iowa State Register, Sept 17, 1887.
- “Iowa Hornet’s Nest Brigade,” Des Moines Register, Oct. 8, 1887.
- “Iowa Soldiers at Shiloh,” Iowa State Register, Sept 25, 1887.