This is my opportunity to tell the story of the men of the 38th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, because their history was never written. When he was a young lad my grandpa Charlie spent many evenings with his grandpa Charles Whitman Sawyer. I know in my heart that Charles would have shared his wartime experiences with his grandson, Charlie, as surely as I remember my father, uncles and cousins sharing their war experiences with me.
I imagine Charles telling of the first time the regiment formed into line of battle in enemy territory. Of how humorous it would seem, to think back at how scared they were only to find out that it was just a few of the boys shooting at hogs and chickens. He would have told amazing stories of patrols in the Missouri woods and of the ever lurking rebels who never attacked.
He must have told his grandson about the terrible bombardment they endured during the Vicksburg siege and, perhaps, still with sadness in his voice, about the two men killed there by rebel fire.
There would come a point in the story telling when Charles would, probably, grow quiet not quite able to tell of the deadly summer of '63. In that summer there were days when only 8 or 10 men were well enough to report for duty. Men died by the dozens from typhoid, malaria, and cholera because of their exposure to filth and bad water during the 19 days they spent in the trenches at Vicksburg. Those would have been terrible mournful days still to painful to talk about and better kept in the deeper part of the memory.
He would grow excited again thinking of his one moment of glory. The survivors of the sickness would be consolidated with the 34th Iowa and on the day Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Charles would participate in the last major battle of the war, in far off Alabama.
After years of hardship, disease, and boredom Charles would find himself at the center of the union line in a shallow trench awaiting the order to charge Fort Blakeley. When the order is given he rises with hundreds of other men and steps forward. As the men rise the booming of cannon and the rattle of muskets greets them. Logs and brush lay in a cleared field between the soldiers and the Fort to hinder their advance. their goal is a gap between two earthen redoubts several hundred yards away. they move forward as rapidly as they are able, their formation breaks against the brush and felled trees, men fall, men yell and curse as they advance. Land mines explode and shells scream and crash around them, on they run toward the gap in the fortress wall. Dust and smoke are thick as they advance. suddenly to the left a great cheer goes up as Gerrard's men reach the parapet. Faintly to his right through the noise of the battle he can hear "Remember Fort Pillow" as the black soldiers reach their goal. Charles reaches the gap to find rebel soldiers throwing down their rifles and surrendering. In less than an hour the battle is over.
These stories, if they were ever told, died with my grandfather. So I take it as my duty to find these stories again, and pass them on to future generations to honor 2nd Sergeant Charles Whitman Sawyer Company I, and the rest of the boys of the 38th Iowa Volunteers.