Letter of Sergeant George W. Tallman of Company E, 20th IA Infantry, to his friends at home, from Van Buren, AR. Tallman describes marching during the Prairie Grove Campaign, and how Brigadier General James G. Blunt planned an expedition against the Confederate troops under General Hindman on the Arkansas River. Tallman writes about the trek across the Boston Mountains and into the river valley, made difficult by bad weather, but gives an elegant description of the scenery in the moonlight. He also writes about an engagement with some Confederate cavalry on the other side of the mountains, and how the 1st Iowa Cavalry had previously driven back the enemy forces.
Vanburen Ark, (in the valley
of the Ark. river ) Dec. 29th 1862
Dear friends at Home,
I am happy to be again able to write you, and equally happy to report not “all quiet on the Potomac”, but that still the ball rolls & the work goes on in the far south west. the army of the frontier “is marching on.” While we (the 2d & 3d Divisions) recruited our strength after the enervating fatigues of our last hard march, in our pleasant camp on Prairie Grove Battlefield, Gen. Blunt, an officer of great energy, & of first rate fighting powers was planning another expedition against the miserable, faithless hords of rebels, who were known to be in arms here on the Ark. The Gen is like a fast hound who out running his companions, trees the game, but often needs more teeth than his own to finally conquer. This time howver, he did not get far the start of us. The expedition was to be very secret, as secrecy was essential to its success Therefore we knew nothing of our intended movements until we were under way, tho, I surmises of it, and then we could not tell whether we were to go N.S.E. or west. As I expected however, we took a southern direction across the Boston Mountains and into the valley of the ark. A little before light on the morning of the 27th inst we took up the line of march, leaving our tesnts &c, the sick, & some cowards, with a strong guard, behind. Taking with us more than twenty thousand picked men with six days rations, three in our haversacks & the rest on wagons & our
over coats & blankets. The boys were in fine spirits, & we started off with high glee with music &c, After two or three miles marching to the west, we suddenly found ourselves on the wrong road, and had to turn back. We then took a road leading south & “went on our way rejoicing.” The recent rains had made the mud deep in places rendering it difficult for those having shoes to get along, but thanks to my friends at home I was not of that number. The artillery horses, for we had a full supply of cannons, also found it hard to force their large loads through the mire. After six or eight miles muddy marching, we came to the mountains & now commenced the assent & descent of steep declines on rocky & almost impassible roads. You know I once wrote that these mountains did not merit such a title, but I had not then see all, so that I now cheerfully take back what I then said, and willing admit that Boston mountains is mountains & no mistake. Onward we journeyed, & our feet grew sore as they repeatedly pressed the sharp rocks up & down the steep hills. Across deep mountain streams on temporary bridges or slippery logs, or fo
arding swift running brooks our way led onward toward the higher summit, which we reached a little before midnight. For two hours before dark we lay in a deep valley resting & preparing supper which was very simple, consisting of coffee & crackers in my case. When we again moved darkness had spread her sable mantle over the hills, & silence rested on every lip. The half
filled moon gave forth sufficient light to make the road plain, but the deep gorges along which we passed embraced the deep mountain shade & slept on in darkness. Peak beyond peak appeared in the moonlight each seeming higher than its predecessor. Heavy grew our limbs & our feet more & more lame & sore as we toiled on. Sometimes we would rest for a moment, but not sufficiently long to satisfy our desires or add much to our comfort. The roads up the mountain’s sides were often a series of steps made by wearing off the edges of the strata of rock rendering the roads almost impassable to wagons & artillery. Midnight as I have said, found us at the summit. Then came the painful descent, worse on our sore feet than the assent had been. Slowly, tenderly we felt our way down. Some places abrupt pitches or perpendicular falls of a foot or more gave the sore feet particular “titilations” & brought the canon carriages up standing. It took perhaps an hour to make the principal descent. We wound along the hill side first one way then another, going toward every point of the compas except the north. After getting down the mountain we suddenly turned aside into the woods & encamped until morning. Some gathered wood & made fires, but feeling quite tired & not hungry I laid down upon a bed of leaves, spread my blanket, which I carried about my shoulders over me & slept soundly for some time, but on getting quite cold I awoke, & warmed myself at a neighboring fire. The wagons having overcoats & blankets aboard did not come up until late, so that some slept without covering a la secesh.
Awoke before light sore & tired, cooked crackers & coffee and while the white frost (the first we have had for three weeks) was still on the leaves [???…] again underway. Close by was a swift stream which we must first cross which we did by placing the wagons across the current. We were now in a deep valley about half or three quarters of a mile wide & several miles long
[lines illegible, pencil faded]
We hardly had time to note passing scenes. When light, we departed from this place we saw the first evidence of a fight, a horse recently shot. Some skirmishing first commenced; the Rebels shot into our advanced guard at this point. Further on fences were thrown down, and other evidence of a cavalry charge appeared. Near here the rebels had a considerable force, which the 1st Iowa cavalry charged on, & drove in great disorder, pell mell, into this place, capturing quite a number of prisoners. Most of the rebels had crossed the river (Ark) and were drawn up in line of battle on the other side
[End, letter incomplete]
George W. Tallman, of Hickory Grove, IA, enlisted in Company E of the 20th Iowa Infantry on August 7, 1862 as 4th sergeant. He was 24 years old. He was promoted to 3rd sergeant September 10, 1862, and 2nd sergeant December 25, 1862. On December 4, 1863 he was discharged to accept a promotion as a 1st lieutenant in Company I, 73rd U.S. Colored Troops. He served with this unit in Louisiana during the remainder of the war.