Cyrus Boyd was only 24 when he volunteered for the 15th Iowa Infantry in 1861. He "escaped the uncertain fates of War" and was mustered out of the service in 1864. Some time after the war, Boyd used the daily notes he'd kept to write about his wartime experience, in the form of a journal. Though he never published it, Boyd sent a copy of his journal to an old friend, whose family passed it down through several generations. In 1951, 90 years after Boyd's enlistment, his journal was presented to the Iowa State Historical Society.
Boyd first saw action at Shiloh, and recalled the battle vividly:
At ten o'clock we are ordered ashore with all our equipments including forty rounds of ammunition. With our knapsacks, haversacks, canteen (and almost everyone had an extra suit of clothes) and our overcoats -- haversacks filled to the top with hard tack and last but not least each of us had a big high hat with a large brass "eagle" on the side. If we were not a choice looking lot of fighting cocks as we stood in line that morning then I am no guesser. We formed in line on the Bluff overlooking the river. We were in great confusion as Col. Reid and Dewey galloped back and forth without seeming to know exactly what they were doing. Col. Dewey did a considerable amount of hardswearing and I had time to notice him wheel his horse around and take someconsolation through the neck of a pint bottle. This seemed to give him a stronger flow of swear language than before. When we had got into something like a line we were presented with several boxes of ammunition and each man ordered to fill up to the extent of a hundred rounds...
The wounded men were by this time coming in freely and were being carried right through our ranks. And we could see hundreds of soldiers running through the woods. Col. Reid got us started. Who gave the order I know not. Who our guide was I knew not. We started on the double quick in the direction of the heavy firing, which was mostly of musketry... Thus we kept on for at least three miles meeting hundreds -- yes thousands of men on the retreat who had thrown away their arms and were rushing toward the Landing -- most of these were hatless and had nothing on them except their clothes. Some of them were wounded and covered with blood from head to foot. Some of the wounded were being carried on stretchers. The woods were full of Infantry, cavalry, Artillery and all arms of the service were flying toward the river in countless numbers. Men yelled as they passed us: "Don't go out there!" "You'll catch hell!" "We are all cut to pieces!" "We are whipped!" Some declared they were the only ones left out of a whole Regiment or a Battery as the case may be...
Here we were a new Regiment which had never until this morning heard an enemy's gun fire thrown into this hell of battle -- without warning... The enemy opened on us with artillery at close range using grape, canister and shell and all manner of deadly missiles. Above the roar of the guns could be heard the cheers of our men as they gained new ground. At last we could see the enemy and they were advancing around our left flank and the woods seemed alive with gray coats and their victorious cheer and unearthly yellsand the concentrated fire which they had upon us caused somebody to give the order for retreat. The word was passed along -- and we went off that bloody ground in great confusion and had to fall back over the same open ground by which we came.
As we started down the Ravine a wounded rebel caught me by the leg as I was passing and looking up at me said, "My friend for God's sake give me adrink of water." He had been shot about the head and was covered with blood to his feet. I at once thought of that command "If thine enemy thirst give him drink" and I halted and tried to get my canteen from under my accouterments -- but I could not and pulled away from him and said "I have not time to help you..."
We were massed upon the surrounding bluffs about the [Pittsburg] Landing. General Grant and General Buell rode along the line and urged every man to stand firm as we should have thousands of reenforcements in a short time and pointed to the opposite side of the river where we could see a long line of blue coats as far as the eye could reach -- and that was Buell's army. This sight was all that saved Grant's Army. No promises or words could have inspired men on this desperate occasion. Every man who stood in that crumbling wall felt the great responsibility. To give way then would bedestruction to the whole Army...
At last! At last!... the glad news came that the enemy was retreating. No shipwrecked sailors on a desert island, famished and ready to die, ever hailed a passing vessel with more delight and joy than every one on the Union side hailed that glad news. Men mortally wounded jumped upon their feet and shouted for Victory! Every coward who had slunk under the river bank was out of his hole. There had not been so many men wanting to go to the front since the battle began....
Two or three of us took a little ramble out on the field... We took a look at the ghastly sights.... I saw five dead Confederates all killed by one six pound solid shot -- no doubt from one of our cannon. They had been behind a log and all in a row. The ball had raked them as they crouched behind the log (no doubt firing at our men). One of them had his head taken off. One had been struck at the right shoulder and his chest lay open. One had been cut in two at the bowels and nothing held the carcass together but the spine. One had been hit at the thighs and the legs were torn from the body. The fifth and last one was piled up into a mass of skull, arms, some toes and the remains of a butternut suit....
Ambulances and men are hurrying over the field and gathering up the wounded. The surgeons are cutting off the arms and legs. Burying parties and details are out burying the dead this evening... The terrible rain of last night has filled the ground with water... The trees are just bursting into leaf and the little flowers are covering the ground -- but their fragrance is lost in the pall of death which has settled down on this bloody field.
"This is the valley and the shadow of death."
Excerpt from Throne, Mildred, ed. The Civil War Diary of Cyrus F. Boyd. Fifteenth Iowa Infantry, 1861-1863. The State Historical Society of Iowa, 1976. Reprint, Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint Co., 1977.
The African American jazz composer and bandleader performed regularly at Harlem's Cotton Club, leaving a legacy in music.
A great playwright's turbulent story, from childhood through the years of his Nobel Prize-winning career to his lonely, painful death.
Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader from Jamaica, had great successes and failures before being jailed and deported from the US in 1927.
Football coach Knute Rockne of Notre Dame was a pivotal figure in the sudden rise of sports to a position of power in American culture.
This 11-hour series analyzes the costs and consequences of the war that changed a generation and continues to color American thinking today.
A courageous band of civil rights activists called Freedom Riders who in 1961 challenged segregation in the American South.
Richard Nixon faced impeachment but also ended the Vietnam War. Part of the award-winning Presidents collection.
John Philip Sousa was America's favorite bandmaster.