Lemuel Burns in the American Civil War

The War Begins

Lemuel Burns was 25 years old when Lincoln was elected president. (1) The Democratic Party had been badly splintered; its nominee, Stephen A. Douglas, had alienated southern Democrats. (2) A Southern Democratic party nominated John C. Brekinridge for president; the Constitutional Union party also fielded a candidate. Lincoln thus captured the presidency with a majority of the electoral votes, 180 vs. 123 for his combined opponents, although he received only 1,866,452 popular votes vs. his opponents’ combined 2,815,617 votes. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, quickly followed by six other states. (3) By February 18, 1861, the seceeded states had met and selected Jefferson Davis as provisional president. Meanwhile, President Buchanan did nothing to prevent secession. (4) Lincoln had to sneak into Washington for his inauguration due to riots and threats of assassination. (5) Just over a month later, on April 12, 1861, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumpter, plunging the country into the Civil War. (6)


Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers, for 75,000 men, on April 15. By the time the Sixteenth regiment was organized on September 17, 1861 (7) for three-year enlistments, Iowa had already raised about 20,000 of the 76,242 men (8) it would provide for the Union cause. The rendezvous for the Sixteenth was Camp McClellan, Davenport, Iowa, (9) where Lemuel Burns was mustered into Company H on March 18, 1862. (10) He was one of 22 NCOs in Company H, all of whose last names began with the letter ‘B’. His residence was given as Osage, and place of birth as Ohio. He enlisted Dec. 6, 1861 as a Fifth Sergeant. Company records show he was wounded April 6, 1862 at Shiloh, Tennessee. He re-enlisted and was re-mustered March 11, 1864. He was promoted to Fourth Sergeant, then to Third Sergeant September 1, 1864. He was mustered out July 19, 1865 in Louisville, Kentucky. By then, he was 30 years old.

The Sixteenth Regiment was under the command of Colonel Alexander Chambers. (11) Colonel Chambers had been acting as mustering officer for Iowa troops since the start of the war. (12) He was captain of the Eighteenth Regiment of the Regular Army at the time of his appointment as CO of the Sixteenth Iowa Regiment by Governor Kirkwood. Colonel Chambers was 29. (13) Field and staff for the Sixteenth numbered 12; non-commissioned staff numbered six. There were ten companies in the Sixteenth Regiment, "A" through "I" and "K". Officers of Company "H" were Captain Edwin M. Newcomb, 1st Lieutenant Frank N. Doyle, and 2nd Lieutenant John F. Conyngham.

The Battle of Shiloh / Pittsburgh Landing

The regiment left Davenport on March 20, 1862, going by steamer to St. Louis, and then marched from there to Benton Barracks. (14) On April 1, Colonel Chambers was ordered to proceed to Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee and report to General Grant. The following account of their arrival is from "Historical Sketch: Sixteenth Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry", from Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion Together With Historical Sketches of Volunteer Organizations 1861-1866, p. 1060:

On the morning of April 6, 1862, the regiment arrived at Pittsburgh Landing. The great battle of Shiloh had begun, and the roar of the conflict at the front was heard as the regiment was leaving the boat. Here the men loaded their guns for the first time. Wounded men and some panic-stricken stragglers began to arrive from the firing line, with tales of disaster to the Union troops, indicating that the rebel forces were superior in numbers and were victorious in every part of the field. This was a hard experience for these men who had, but a few days before, left their homes in Iowa, and was a severe test to their courage and discipline, even before they were ordered forward to meet the enemy. The order soon came, and the regiment marched promptly to the front under the leadership of their gallant Colonel, to the aid of the troops that were being hard pressed by the enemy.
General Grant had just gained a victory at Fort Donelson and was pushing along the Tennessee River to join General Buell and his force of 20,000 to threaten the Confederates at Corinth, Mississippi. (15) As Grant’s men were encamped at Pittsburgh Landing, General Albert Sidney Johnston surprised them with an attack. Johnston was killed during the afternoon, and Gen. Beuregard continued the push of the Union forces to the Tennessee River. Buell arrived during the night and allowed the Union forces the victory. Union forces of 42,000 faced Confederates numbering 40,000; there were 13,000 Union casualties and more than 10,000 Confederate, making Shiloh one of the bloodiest battles of the war. In the Sixteenth Iowa Infantry, Colonel Chambers was wounded in the hip. (16) First Lieutenant Doyle of Company "H" was killed, and Lemuel Burns was one of nine officers and 94 non-commissioned officers and privates who were wounded.

Crocker's Brigade

On April 27th, 1862, a brigade was organized from the Iowa Infantry's Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Regiments. Colonel M. M. Crocker of the Thirteenth Iowa was put in command. This organization was maintained throughout the war and became known as "Crocker's Iowa Brigade". This remained true even though after Crocker's promotion to Brigadier General it had many different commanders. (17) After the end of the war, the surviving members formed an organization named "Crocker's Iowa Brigade" and met biennially.


After the battle of Shiloh, the regiment marched to Corinth, where the rebel army had retreated to a strongly fortified position. (18) Grant had the army advance cautiously, building earthworks at regular intervals along its front. This guarded against possible attack and prepared for a seige at Corinth. On the night of May 30, 1862, the Confederates evacuated Corinth, just as Grant was preparing to assault the fortifications. The regiment camped at Corinth until July 28th, when it marched with the brigade to Bolivar, Tennessee. It camped there until it became obvious that enemy activity was intended to draw it away from Corinth with the hopes of recapturing it. The regiment was ordered back to Corinth; when it arrived there, it was ordered to march to Iuka and watch the movements of the enemy.


The brigade was close to the enemy on September 19th, 1862, near Iuka, Mississippi. (19) The Sixteenth Regiment was ordered forward that evening, with other regiments in the brigade being held in reserve. As soon as they were placed into position at 5:30 PM and formed into a line, fire commenced and a battery from the Confederates cut down six or seven men, including an officer. The men were ordered to lie down, where none were injured while the fire continued for a half an hour. The Confederates then made a charge of infantry on the battery. In the battle that ensued, the Confederates eventually beat back the Union forces with superior numbers in fierce fighting. Colonel Chambers was wounded severely by gunshot in the shoulder and neck toward the close of the action. He was taken prisoner after he was wounded and then left in the hospital in Iuka. Fourteen were killed, 48 wounded, and 14 were missing of the Sixteenth Iowa Infantry. Colonel Sanborn assumed command after Colonel Chambers was wounded. The Union won the battle of Iuka, although outnumbered.


The Sixteenth Iowa returned with its brigade to Corinth and participated in battles there on October 4th and 5th, 1862. (20) During the battle, the regiment was posted, along with the Iowa Fifteenth, on a hill. As the regiments covered the movement of batteries of Eleventh and Thirteenth Iowa, the Confederates charged furiously up the hill. Quoting from the Roster and Record from the report filed by Major William Purcell, "This charge was repulsed, and after holding the enemy in check and severely punishing him, were ordered to fall back on the new line. The movements of the batteries and the rest of the brigade having been effected, the Sixteenth was ordered, in the company of the Fifteenth, to retire, which they did slowly and in good order, rejoining the rest of the brigade, remaining there until ordered to retire with the rest of the batteries to the inner fortifications. * * * During the fight this day Lieutenant Colonel Sanders was severely wounded in the thigh and had his horse shot in several places, but retained command until the regiment was ordered to the inner line of fortifications, when he retired to have his wounds dressed, and the command devolved upon me." (21)

The Sixteenth had been in three battles in six months and had commanders wounded in each of the three. Losses totaled 250. A large number had died from disease or had been discharged for disability.

Winter of 1862 - 1863

After a month in camp, on November 2nd the Sixteenth was ordered to march to Grand Junction. (22) When they arrived there on November 5th, they joined the army against Vicksburg. They began marching to the south on November 28th, Crocker's Brigade being in the advance. This winter campagn proved to be a failure when the Confedrate cavalry got to the rear of Grant's army and captured an immense depot of supplies stored at Holly Springs, Mississippi. The expedition was abandoned and the army retreated. The troops suffered from cold and lack of food during the retreat.

The regiment reached Memphis in early January 1863, and on the 18th started out again for Vicksburg, taking transports down the Mississippi, encamping at Millican's Bend. On the 20th, Crocker's Brigade, including the Sixteenth Iowa, were assigned to the Seventeenth Army Corps, Major General James B. McPherson in command. On February 18th the brigade was conveyed to Lake Providence where they began the backbreaking task of cutting a canal connecting the lake with the Mississippi river. The canal was completed March 16th.


On April 21, 1863, the brigade left Lake Providence. From then until the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4th, they were involved in activities in support of that campaign. When the surrender came, the regiment was skirmishing with the enemy on Black River at the rear of Vicksburg.

Jackson to Atlanta

From the surrender at Vicksburg to the seige of Atlanta, the following report of Major J. F. Conyngham to the Adjutant General of Iowa summarizes the operations and movements of the regiment: (23)
Had a sharp engagement with the enemy July 4, 1863, part of the regiment having crossed the river and driven the enemy from his position on the opposite bank. July 12th was ordered to re-enforce General Sherman at Jackson and bring up an ammunition train. Johnston having evacuated Jackson, the army returned to Vicksburg July 28th; camped near Vicksburg till the 6th of August. The regiment was engaged in the march to Monroe, La. Returning to Vicksburg remained in camp till the 3d day of February, 1864; when we started on the Meridian campaign. After a march across the entire State of Mississippi, returned to Vicksburg, March 4, 1864. Left Vicksburg March 17th on veteran furlough. - The regiment again started from Davenport, Iowa, May 3d; arrived at Clifton, Tenn., about the middle of May; marched to Huntsville, Ala.; arrived at the latter place May 22d; marched to Decatur, Ala., thence across the mountains to Rome, Gal, where arrived on the 5th of June. Starting again the next morning, joined the main army under Sherman near Ackworth on the 10th; arrived in front of Kenesaw Mountain on the 11th; had a sharp engagement with the enemy June 15th; part of the regiment was engaged in the attack on Kenesaw Mountain June 27th, meeting with heavy loss. The regiment was under the enemy's fire from June 14th to July 2d; moved from left to right of our line, meeting the enemy again July 4th; had another sharp engagement, driving the enemy. On the 5th, we again had the advance, driving the enemy from his fortified position and across Nick-a-jack Creek; were under fire of the enemy until the 16th day of July, when the rebels were compelled to cross the Chattahoochee river, and pushed on to Atlanta. Was engaged in the battles of July 20th, 21st and 22d, meeting with heavy losses in killed, wounded and prisoners, reducing the regiment to less than 100 men present for duty; engaged in the battle of July 28th.

Capture at Altanta

Most of the Sixteenth Iowa Infantry, including Lemuel Burns, were captured and made prisoners-of-war in the battle of Atlanta in July 1864. Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Sanders, who commanded the regiment when it surrendered, made the following report for Adjutant General Baker after their release from Andersonville: (24)
Sir,--I have the honor to report the action of the Sixteenth Iowa Veteran Infantry in the battle before Atlanta, Ga., July 22, 1864, resulting in the capture of nearly all of said regiment and myself.

On the morning of July 21st, my regiment charged on the rebel batteries, and, after a desperate assault, lost sixty-five men. The regiment was complimented by General McPherson for its daring bravery. General McPherson's last words to me, the day he was killed, were: "The old Sixteenth shall be remembered." On the afternoon of the 21st, the old Iowa brigade was removed to the extreme left flank of Sherman's army, about two miles from Atlanta. The Sixteenth Iowa formed a line at right angles with the main line of the army. Immediately on the right of the Sixteenth's works, the Eleventh Iowa established themselves in rifle pits; on a road running between the Eleventh and Sixteenth Iowa's works were planted two Napoleon guns of the Second Illinois battery protected by heavy works. On the left of the Sixteenth, and a little to the rear, the Fifteenth Iowa had rifle pits. About a hundred yards to the rear of the Sixteenth, the Thirteenth Iowa had breastworks. During the night of the 21st, each regiment of the brigade built substantial rifle pits along the line that I have designated, and each cleared a space of fifty yards in front of its works. Still the heavy underbrush concealed the works of the different regiments from each other's view.

On the 22d were under arms at daylight, but no enemy appeared. The afternoon before, immediately on our arrival, I had thrown out two companies (B and G) several hundred yards in front, to act as pickets and skirmishers. About noon on the 22d I received an order from General Smith [Brig. Gen. Giles A. Smith], in person, to have my regiment ready to fall in at a minute's notice, and that he expected me to hold those works to the last, as the safety of the division might depend upon the delay we could occasion the enemy at that point. This was the last order I received that day from any commanding officer. About 1:30 o'clock P. M., our skirmishers in front commenced a brisk firing. I immediately formed the regiment in the intrenchments, and soon after the skirmishers were driven in upon us. I again sent them out, but a strong line of the enemy forced them back. Lieutenant Powers, commanding the battery, opened fire on the advancing enemy, but I requested it stopped until the enemy should get nearer. I ordered my men not to fire a gun until they received my command, no matter how close the enemy came. The rebel line advanced steadily to the charge, and I permitted them to approach to the open space of fifty yards in front of my works, when, cautioning the men to aim well and fire low, I ordered the rear rank to fire, and then the front rank. The response was a terrific and deadly volley from one rank, followed immediately by another, and then a continuous rapid firing, fast as eager and experienced soldiers could load and discharge their guns. The result of our fire was terrible; the enemy's line seemed to crumble to the earth, for even those not killed or wounded fell to the ground for protection. Lieutenant Powell's battery here did excellent execution. Another heavy line of the enemy advanced, and were repulsed in the same terrible manner. * * *

More splendid firing, or more effectual its results, was never witnessed in the army. The Second and Eighth Arkansas regiments, with two Texas companies, got into a position in our front, in which they could not advance, and dared not attempt to retire, but hugged the ground close, suffering a terrible fire. While thus lying down, they raised the white flag. I ordered the firing to cease, and these regiments threw down their guns and hurried over to our works as prisoners. We had at this time double the number of prisoners we had men in ranks. A part of these men were sent to the rear, but before the remainder could be secured the enemy had taken the Thirteenth's works immediately in our rear, and commenced a heavy firing into our ranks. * * *

At the time of our surrender we were entirely out of ammunition, the rebels having been so long in our rear that supplies were prevented from reaching us. Why we were left alone, an isolated regiment, surrounded and helpless, while the other regiments around us were ordered from their works, as I suppose they were, I cannot realize. If the sacrifice of this noble regiment was intended to give the army in our rear time to rally, then it was well, and the sacrifice was nobly made of a band of as brave and faithful men as any who fought upon the field that day. They could not be taken from the front, and only surrendered when further resistance would have been suicide.

The two flanking regiments of the Sixteenth were ordered to withdraw from their works, as described in the following report of General Giles A. Smith, commanding the Fourth Division: (25)

I ordered Colonel Hall to withdraw his two flank regiments which this movement enveloped, and to move them by the right flank around the front or east side of my main line of works, having already directed the men occupying that line to take the same position and drive back the enemy, now already pressing their rear. This movement was promptly executed, and successful except in the case of the Sixteenth Iowa, occupying the extreme left, which was completely surrounded, and over two hundred and thirty men captured.

The staff officer carrying the order to withdraw to Colonel Sanders found himself cut off by the enemy and was therefore unable to deliver it. (26)

Prisoner at Andersonville

After the Sixteenth was captured by the Confederates, Lemuel Burns and the rest of the regiment were made prisoners-of-war. Sergeant Major Oliver Anson related the following regarding the treatment of the officers and men: (27)

We were taken to Macon, and there the enlisted men were separated from the officers, and taken to Andersonville, six miles farther south. The enlisted men of the regiment captured numbered 225. * * * The men are suffered to lie out in the open air without any shelter whatever, and many of them are in a manner naked. They do not get enough to eat, and what they do eat is not fit to eat. It is killing the men faster than the army. When I went into the prison on the 28th of July, there were over 33,000 prisoners, and on the 7th of September, the issuing clerk told me they issued to 29,553, and since the 28th they had captured the Eighth Iowa Cavalry and some of the Fifth, and a large number from McCook and Stoneman, besides making captures from Sherman's army, and yet the number ran down in spite of them.

Repatriation to the end of the war

From the repatriation from Andersonville in September 1864 to the end of the war, the report of Major J. F. Conyngham to the Adjutant General of Iowa continues the summary of the operations and movements of the regiment: (28)

After engaging in the pursuit of the enemy towards Dalton and through Snake Creek Gap, thence to Gaylesville, Ala., returned to Atlanta. Our regiment being again increased to 450 men present for duty, by the exchange of prisoners in the month of September and the assignment of drafted men, we started from Atlanta, November 15th, marched to Savannah, before which place we arrived December 10th, after much hard marching and skirmishing, and drove the enemy behind his fortifications. At Savannah our regiment was the first to seize the Savannah and Charleston Railroad, and, under the direction of Brigadier General Belknap, commenced destroying the same. Was engaged in the siege till the evacuation of the city. Marched to the suburbs of the city and went into camp on the 21st, where we remained, getting ready for the next campaign.

After a review of the entire army by General Sherman, we were put in motion Jan. 6, 1865, for Beaufort, S. C. Marched against Pocotaligo Jan. 16th, our corps (the Seventeenth) driving the enemy out of his strongly fortified position. Remained near Pocotaligo until the 28th, when the new campaign commenced. Marching to Rivers Bridge, on the Salkehatchie, met the enemy strongly fortified. At this point the Salkehatchie forms an almost impenetrable swamp about two miles wide, which was waded by the Fourth Division, Seventeenth Army Corps (of which the Sixteenth formed a part) on the 3d day of February, 1865; and the enemy was driven from his position. Continuing the march, driving the enemy before us, capturing every place which he attempted to hold, and after encountering many hardships, privations and dangers, arrived at Goldsboro, N. C., on the 23d day of March, 1865. Remaining at Goldsboro until the 10th day of April, the regiment was again on the march in search of the enemy. Pushing forward, the command entered Raleigh on the 16th, and camped there until the 2d of May. The war being brought to a close, the command marched for Washington, where it took part in the grand review May 24th, left Washington June 7th and arrived at Louisville, June 12th.

Iowa Sixteenth Volunteer Infantry Summary of Casulties (29)
Total Enrollment 1441
Killed 62
Wounded 311
Died of Wounds 35
Died of Disease 220
Discharged for wounds, disease, or other cause 224
Captured 271
Transferred 29
Buried in National Cemeteries 141

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Last updated 7/13/96.