“The Old Soldiers Make Good Citizens:” A Union Veteran Settles in Vicksburg

On November 15, 1906, the Iowa Monument was dedicated in honor of the men from the Hawkeye State that fought in the siege  of Vicksburg. In honor of the occasion, a local newspaper  had local citizen William H. Bleything write an article about his Civil War service, which they published in that day’s edition. (Vicksburg Evening Post, November 15, 1906). The Post had a very good reason for choosing Bleything to write about his civil war experiences; he was, as they asserted, “the only citizen here who served in the rank and file of an Iowa regiment during the war.” Bleything was a good writer, and he gives a very detailed account of his regiment’s participation in the siege of Vicksburg. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Iowa_1
The Iowa State Memorial in Vicksburg National Military Park (National Park Service)

Reminiscences of Iowa Soldier Now a Citizen of Vicksburg

W.H. Bleything

Company F, 30th Iowa Infantry

Mr. W.H. Bleything, who has been a citizen of Vicksburg for many years, and highly respected by the community, is we believe the only citizen here who served in the rank and file of an Iowa regiment during the war. At the request of The Post, Mr. Bleything has given us a brief sketch of his war experiences, which we are sure will be read with great interest by his army comrades as well as by the people of the city.

Bleything 1
The copy of Bleything’s photo in the November 15, 1906, edition of The Vicksburg Evening Post was very dark and hard to see. Fortunately they used it again in the paper for his obituary, and this copy is much better. It is in the March 21, 1911, edition of the Post.

The picture above is copied from one that was taken when Mr. Bleything was a young man and wearing his blue uniform. The following is the substance of what Mr. Bleything gave us in regard to his services and experiences in the Union army.

I enlisted in Troy, Davis County, Iowa, on August 13, 1862. Our company was organized at

15th A.C. 1st Div. Badge
Civil War Badge of the 15th Army Corps, 1st Division (Worthpoint.com)

Bloomfield, Iowa, where we were mustered into the U.S. service by Major Ball, U.S. Army, as Co. F, 30th Iowa Infantry. The regiment was ordered to St. Louis in November; thence to Helena, Arkansas, where we were assigned to the 1st division, 15th Army Corps, Gen. Fred. Steele, commanding the division and Gen. W.T. Sherman the corps. Our entire service was in the 1st Division, 15th Corps.

We took part in the unsuccessful Chickasaw Bayou expedition; re-embarked on the boats and went up the Mississippi to mouth of the Arkansas River, and up that stream to Arkansas Post, the 30th Iowa regiment being engaged and taking an active part in the capture of the fort and garrison on January 11, 1863.

We again took boat, came down the river to Young’s Point, marched across the peninsula

Grant's Canal
Union Soldiers working on the Canal Opposite Vicksburg (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 28, 1863 – Library of Congress)

and camped on the O’Brien place just below the mouth of the canal. We lay there a short while in the mud and water, digging the canal. We were then ordered down the river to Biggs plantation where we were camped when Commander Farragut with his fleet came up from below and Grant ran by Vicksburg with his gun boats and transports. While at this point, the dummy gun boat was floated by the Vicksburg batteries, and caused the Confederates to blow up the fine iron clad Indianola, which they had captured from us in Davis Bend.

In April our camp was moved up to the Crane plantation above Young’s Point. On May 2nd we broke camp, and marched by way of Milliken’s Bend and Richmond to Hard Times Landing, Louisiana, where we took boat and were ferried across the river and landed at Grand Gulf, Miss., on May 6th. We marched by way of Raymond to Jackson, Miss., reaching there on May 14th. We lay at Jackson the 15th, tearing up the railroad. We left Jackson on the morning of the 16th; got to Messenger’s Ferry on Big Black River on the evening of the 17th. Company F was detailed to help wagon train across the pontoon bridge and we were up all night.

Big Black River
Union Pontoon Bridge Over the Big Black River (www.erdc.usace.army.mil)

On the morning of May 18th we took the march for Vicksburg, coming in on the Graveyard Road, and came in touch of the enemy in the afternoon at what is now Will Kleinman’s place. We took position on the 19th, on north side of Mint Springs Bayou, and lost 7 men wounded. On the night of the 19th we crossed over to the south side of the Bayou and made lodgement under the hills below the Confederate main line. This position we held until the surrender, digging up a little closer every night so that when the place was surrendered July 4th, we had approached within a few yards of their works.

Civil War Trust Map
The 30th Iowa Infantry was in Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s brigade during the siege of Vicksburg, stationed on the northern end of the Union line. (Civil War Trust)

On the morning of May 20th my company had a brisk skirmish beginning about daylight. Early in the afternoon our ammunition gave out. Lieut. Ph. Bence called for volunteers to go back to the rear to get a new supply of ammunition; no one seemed anxious for the job, and I volunteered to go and get a supply. I immediately started and of course was a mark for the Confederate sharpshooters for some distance until I reached a point of safety inside our lines. Securing a supply of 1000 rounds, two young soldiers volunteered to return with me a part of the distance, but it was left for me to carry the box to the front when we reached the point where we came under fire. On May 21st I had a similar experience, again volunteering, and going after and bringing back a supply of ammunition, and was the target for many Confederate rifles.

[Editor’s Note: Philip H. Bence was first lieutenant of Company F, 30th Iowa

P.H. Bence
Philip H. Bence was murdered by Confederate Guerrilla Jim Jackson in October 1864 (Ames Daily Tribune, February 18, 1935)

Infantry, during the siege of Vicksburg. He was later promoted to captain and commanded Company F until he was wounded during the Atlanta Campaign. While home on leave in Iowa he was killed by guerrillas, October 12, 1864 – Findagrave.com listing for Philip H. Bence]

On the 22nd of May our whole regiment was on the firing line, and several other regiments were ordered to our support. After McClernand’s assault on the R.R. redoubt, he urged Gen. Grant to order an assault on other portions of the line. In the afternoon several of the regiments along our portion of the line were ordered to assault, which they did with great gallantry but suffered a bloody repulse. Then my regiment, the 30th Iowa, and others were ordered to charge. Just at this moment, our Colonel, Abbott, arose to give orders for the advance, when he was shot through the head and instantly killed, then the Lieutenant-Colonel being absent, the command of the 30th regiment devolved on the Major, J.P. Milliken. He had proceeded only a few steps when he was shot through the body and mortally wounded, dying the next day. There being no field officers the several companies advanced to the charge, and got very near the Confederate works, but were unable to go over them. The assault was repulsed; our regiment suffering a loss according to official records, of 15 killed, 34 wounded, and 1 missing. The missing man was never definitely accounted for.

Charles H. Abbott grave
Grave of Colonel Charles H. Abbott – he commanded the 30th Iowa Infantry until his death at Vicksburg on May 22, 1863 (findagrave.com)

Our command was withdrawn during the night; and Grant’s army settled down to regular siege operations. The charge was made on Friday, May 22nd. We were unable to get our dead away from the places where they had fallen in front of the Confederate breastworks, and their bodies began to putrify. On the following Sunday afternoon May 24th under a flag of truce details from the various commands were sent to remove our dead. I was in the detail for this sorrowful and disagreeable work. Among the bodies we found was that of Ambrose Brumby, which was laying against the Confederate works; and I have thought that he was the man who was reported missing, and who should have been reported among the killed. We brought the dead bodies, which were in bad state of decomposition, to a point within our lines under a hill on Mint Spring Bayou, where a trench was dug, the bodies hastily thrown in, and covered over with earth.

mint-spring-waterfall-DSC_5604_1
Modern Photo of Mint Springs Bayou in Vicksburg (National Park Service)

Our command continued siege operations, and dug a sap approach running in zig-zag shape so that Confederate bullets could not reach us. At the time of the surrender, we had approached within a few yards of the Confederate breastworks; the supposition being that the Union army would make a general assault on the 4th of July; a number of other Federal commands having made similar approaches. 

After the assault on the 22d of May our command also dug a tunnel through the hill back of

thayer's-approach-tunnel1_1
Tunnel dug by General Thayer’s men so that they could move to the rear without exposing themselves to Confederate fire (National Park Service)

our position on the firing line, so that our soldiers could go to our camp in the rear and return without danger. But for the tunnel we would have been exposed to fire. That tunnel caved in after the war, but has been restored to its wartime shape, by the National Park Commission.

From the 22d of May until the surrender, our command was on duty on the firing line every other day. On the night of the 4th of July our command was ordered towards the Big Black River to meet Gen. Joe Johnston’s army which was expected to make an attack on Grant’s forces with the intention of relieving Pemberton, and not believing that Pemberton would surrender. Our command followed Johnston to Jackson and Brandon; then returned to Camp Sherman near Bovina where we remained until September. Then we were ordered to the relief of Rosecrans at Chattanooga and passed through Vicksburg, Memphis, Corinth, etc., and finally reached Chattanooga where we were temporarily assigned to Hooker’s Corps. 

We participated in the battle of Lookout Mountain (termed the battle above the clouds); and also Missionary Ridge; and afterwards at Ringgold, Georgia, which was a very hot fight. The following year, I took part in the battles of Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain (another severe fight), and the battle of Atlanta on July 22d; Ezra Chapel on July 28th; Jonesboro, Lovejoy, etc.

Afterwards, our command was with Gen. Sherman in his famous “march to the sea.” Then were were in the Carolina campaign, the 30th Iowa leading the advance into Columbia, S.C. Our last fight was at Bentonville, N.C. Soon afterwards Joe Johnston surrendered, and the war was over. [We] marched to Washington City via Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Mount Vernon.

On May 24, 1865, our command took part in the grand review of Union veterans at Washington, which was one of the most notable events [in] history. Shortly after we were mustered out; and our regiment was [sent] to Davenport, Iowa, where we [were] paid off, discharged and returned to our homes. 

Grand Review 2
Union soldiers marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., during the Grand Review (Library of Congress)

In the fall of 1870, I went to Madison Parish, La., and in 1872 located [to] Vicksburg. I was married in Vicksburg, in 1876 (captured by a Vicksburg lady) and have resided here [ever] since.

After moving to Vicksburg, William H. Bleything married Louisa Bohannon, and the former soldier made his living as a carpenter. In 1887 Bleything was involved with the construction of the S.P. Metzger residence at the corner of South and Adams street, and a local newspaper noted:

The interior of the building far surpasses the handsome exterior; for here was afforded the opportunity for Mr. Bleything’s display of skillful joiner work, and the architect’s taste in the use of varied woods. The hall floor is laid in alternating strips of walnut and ash, the wainscoting, door and window-frames are of hard wood finish, while the staircase is a marvel of skillful carpenter work…Curphey and Mundy had the contract for the house, and to them and their efficient foreman Mr. Bleything, and the other gentlemen we have mentioned, and to the liberality of the owner, the community is indebted for a structure which is so creditable to the city. (Vicksburg Evening Post, December 1, 1887).

The_Vicksburg_Herald_Thu__Sep_17__1908_
Advertisement for William H. Bleything’s Employer, the firm of Curphey & Mundy in Vicksburg (The Vicksburg Herald, September 17, 1908).

Although he lived in Vicksburg, Bleything kept in close contact with his relatives and former comrades-in-arms in Iowa. In 1892, the Vicksburg newspaper made note of a trip that Bleything took to Iowa:

Mr. W.H. Bleything, left this morning for Keokuk, Iowa, and will remain in that state, his old home, a month or more. During his stay in Iowa, Mr. Bleything will attend the reunion of his old regiment (the 30th Iowa) at Fairfield some time in August. He carried with him from this city, two gavels made from an oak tree which grew on the ridge near Vicksburg, one which the regiment charged on the 22d of May 1863, and which was afterward occupied by the Regiment. These reminders of a historical event, will no doubt be greatly appreciated by Mr. Bleything’s old comrades. 

Mr. Bleything has been a resident of Vicksburg for many years, and his home and fortunes are cast with our people. The old soldiers, Union or Confederate, make good citizens wherever they live, and we only wish the North would send us down a great many more veterans like Mr. Bleything. (Vicksburg Evening Post, July 20, 1892).

After returning to Vicksburg in September, the Post informed readers of what Mr. Bleything had done on his trip to Iowa:

Mr. Bleything attended a re-union of his old Regiment at Drakesville, Davis County, Iowa,

30th Iowa Flag
National Colors Carried by the 30th Iowa Infantry (State Historical Society of Iowa)

on the 14th and 15th days of this month, where he was warmly greeted by his old comrades. Sixteen of his company were present at the Re-union, and 108 members of the Regiment. Their old battle-flags were again unfurled to the breeze and the veterans lived over again the exciting times and scenes of over a quarter of a century ago. 

Mr. Bleything took with him a piece of oak that grew on the battle-fields near Vicksburg, had it made into a gavel, and presented it to the Regiment. It was used by the presiding officer during the Re-union. He also carried along a lot of bullets that were dug from the fortifications, and gave one of them to each member of the old regiment.

Mr. Bleything had a splendid time among his old friends, associates and comrades. He was greatly improved by his rest and recreation, and the invigorating atmosphere of the Northwest. He will now resume his old place with Curphey & Mundy, and assist in building more of the elegant houses in Vicksburg for which that firm is famous. (Vicksburg Evening Post, September 21, 1892).

In addition to building houses, William Bleything’s company also did work in the Vicksburg National Military Park; in 1905 a local paper noted:

The field work is still in progress with such men as W. H. Bleything, W.A. Claver and F.H.

Pennsylvania Monument
The Pennsylvania Monument at Vicksburg was dedicated on March 24, 1906 (National Park Service).

Foote in charge. Mr. Bleything has been doing concrete guttering all summer and is now ready to take his forces to the Pennsylvania site whenever it becomes time to lay the foundation for that state’s memorial. The stone is now on its way, with some on the ground now but it is not likely that the contractor will be on hand until frost is pretty well developed. (The Vicksburg Herald, September 30, 1905).

Sometime between 1905 and 1908, Bleything went from working in the National Park to working for the Vicksburg National Military Park. A brief article in a Vicksburg newspaper in 1908 noted:

By request of the chairman, Park Employees Frank H. Foote, W.H. Bleything, W.A. Claver and L.C. Swett have been appointed deputy sheriffs, authorized to keep the peace and to make arrests within the park lines. (The Vicksburg Herald, May 24, 1908).

It must have been a rewarding experience for Bleything, working on the battlefield where he had fought as a youth and helping to keep the memories alive of what he and his comrades had done there. He was especially keen to make sure the men of his regiment, the 30th Iowa, were properly remembered at Vicksburg. In 1909 Bleything made a trip to Iowa, and one of the goals of the trip was to garner support for building a monument at Vicksburg to Charles H. Abbott, the gallant colonel of the 30th Iowa. The Vicksburg paper said of this trip:

Mr. Bleything expects to be absent about two weeks, and while away will go to Keokuk, Iowa, where the widow and family of Col. Chas. H. Abbott are now living. Col. Abbott was killed here during the siege. Mr. Bleything is desirous that a statue of Colonel Abbott be placed in the National Military Park, and he will try and interest the Abbott family in the matter. Failing in this, Mr. Bleything will bring the matter before the Iowa veterans, and it is possible a popular subscription will be taken up to raise funds for the erection of the statue. (Vicksburg Evening Post, September 10, 1909).

Bleything must not have had much luck in his fundraising efforts, as a statue of Colonel Abbott was never built. He is not entirely forgotten however; the monument to Thayer’s brigade at Vicksburg does mention the gallant colonel’s sacrifice.

Iowa Brigade Monument Vicksburg
Monument to Thayer’s brigade in the Vicksburg National Military Park (iowacivilwarmonuments.com)

In the fall of 1909, the citizens of Vicksburg were thrilled to learn that the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, planned to visit their city and tour the National Military Park. Selected to be the president’s guide through the park was none other than William H. Bleything. A few weeks after the president’s visit, Bleything received a warm letter from Beryl F. Carroll, governor of Iowa, who had accompanied Taft on his trip. The Vicksburg paper reported the letter thus:

State of Iowa

Executive Department

Des Moines, Nov. 5, 1909

My Dear Bleything – I want to take this opportunity to express to you my very high appreciation of the courtesy shown me by you while at Vicksburg. You were able to show

Beryl_F._Carroll
Beryl F. Carroll was the 20th Governor of Iowa, serving from 1909 – 1913 (wikipedia)

me in the short time I was there more than I could have otherwise have seen in many hours.

The nation ought to be proud of its Vicksburg Park. It is one of the grandest places on the continent and very interesting indeed, as well as instructive. I hope that it will not be long until our monument there will be entirely completed. I heard it very  highly spoken of by many persons who were with us on our trip down the river. They seemed to regard it as one of the best monuments in the Park.

With personal regards, I remain,

Very truly yours,

B.F. Carroll

Governor of Iowa

(Vicksburg Evening Post, November 13, 1909)

Just two years after William H. Bleything guided the President of the United States through the Vicksburg National Military Park, the local newspaper announced with a bold headline the death of the Iowa veteran: “Brave Old Soldier Crosses Dark River.” The obituary went on to say of Bleything:

When a youth he had enlisted in Company F, the 30th Iowa Infantry, and served through

Bleything Grave
Grave of William H. Bleything in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Vicksburg, Mississippi (findagrave.com).

the war with signal honor. He participated in the siege of Vicksburg, and the war-time experiences were always a favorite topic with Mr. Bleything…Mr. Bleything, for several years past, has been in charge of a force of workmen engaged in improving the Vicksburg National Military Park. Capt. W.T. Rigby, President of the Commission, says, on behalf of the Commission, that Mr. Bleything was not only very efficient but he was as faithful as it was possible for any man to be, and that he was devoted to and took heartfelt interest in the Park and the work that devolved upon him.

(Vicksburg Evening Post, March 21, 1911)

I really admire William H. Bleything; he fought for a cause he believed in, and after the war was over, he settled among his former enemies and made a good life for himself. He literally helped to build the Vicksburg National Military Park, and guided everyone from governors to the President of the United States through it. The next time I am in Vicksburg, I plan to talk a walk through Cedar Hill Cemetery and put some flowers on the grave of William H. Bleything; he certainly deserves them.

One thought on ““The Old Soldiers Make Good Citizens:” A Union Veteran Settles in Vicksburg

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