Surgeons’ Manuscript Order and Letter Book of the 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, including details of Surgeon Dr. William L. Nicholson’s Capture by Confederate Troops at the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry and the Subsequent Massacre of Wounded African American Prisoners by the Confederates, 1862-1865

Folio, [95], 121-147 pp., original half calf, marbled paper covered boards, manuscript written in ink on lined pages, plus several pages (28) in the rear of penmanship exercises presumably written after the War; binding worn, spine partly eroded, text block nearly detached, gilt-stamped label reading: “U.S.A. Medical Department” on the front cover; first leaf is a manuscript title page, “Order and Letter Book of Surgeon 29th Iowa Infty. W.S. Grimes,” with “W.L. Nicholson” added later; bottom half of title page torn off; occasional leaves torn, or missing, but most are intact, generally clean and very good; first section of volume contains 85 pages (including title page) and is not numbered; second section has stamped numbered pages 121-147; first section begins on 22 December 1862 and ends on 3 September 1864, with the second section beginning on 5 September 1864 and ending on 15 July 1865.

This volume appears to have been kept by several surgeons of the 29th Iowa Infantry, usually Dr. William S. Grimes, and his assistant Dr. Wm. L. Nicholson. Grimes retired in July of 1864, and Dr. Nicholson, who did not muster out of service until August of 1865, it is likely their subordinates may have also written entries in it for them. 

This volume is of particular interest for its entries on the evacuation of Camden, Arkansas by the Union Army, hospital property was largely burned and destroyed, to keep it from Confederate hands including: medicine, books, etc. This volume survived. One of the compilers of this volume, Dr. Wm. L. Nicholson, was at Camden and was part of this evacuation. After Union major general Frederick Steele abandoned Camden and led his army back to Little Rock, Confederate cavalry forces pursued the Federals as Confederate infantry units struggled to cross the Ouachita River. This action at Princeton (Dallas County) was a prelude to the Engagement at Jenkins’ Ferry on April 29–30, 1864, which Dr. Nicholson writes about in this volume, and in the published excerpts of his diary (see below).

       Dr. William Stuart Grimes (1835-1889)

Dr. William S. Grimes was born in Wheeling, West Virginia; his grandfather Isaac Grimes was George Washington’s blacksmith during the Revolutionary War. Grimes’ parents died when he was young and he was raised by an aunt in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He attended Woodward College in Cincinnati and graduated in 1854.  He attended the Miami Medical College at Cincinnati where he graduated in 1857 and moved to Iowa to begin his medical practice at Council Bluffs which he pursued until the Civil War broke out.

Grimes served three years in the Union Army, joining the 4th Iowa Infantry as assistant surgeon in 1861, serving under Col. Dodge for one year. After the Battle of Pea Ridge, and while with the 4th Regiment, Dr. Grimes spent six months in the hospital at Cassville, Missouri, taking care of the sick and wounded. He was at home a short time when the 29th Iowa was raised and aided in the work. He was later promoted to surgeon of the 29th Iowa Regiment under Col. T.H. Benton remaining in this position until he retired from the army in July of 1864 due to an affliction of his eyes.

After retiring from military service, he settled in Des Moines, Iowa, and served as its leading surgeon for more than a dozen years, with extensive practice as an aurist and oculist as well.

       Dr. William L. Nicholson (1832-1890)

Dr. William L. Nicholson was born in County Tipperary, Ireland on 25 September 1832 and graduated from Trinity College and the University of Glasgow. He moved to Canada in 1853, and two years later to Fort Dodge, Iowa. He enlisted as a private in Company E, 32nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry on 16 August 1862; was appointed Assistant Surgeon of the 29th Iowa Infantry Regiment under Dr. William Grimes; and promoted to Chief Surgeon with the rank of Major after Grimes’ retirement. He mustered out of military service on 10 August 1865 in New Orleans, Louisiana. After the war he returned to Fort Dodge as a physician and surgeon as well as a pension examiner. Dr. Nicholson died in Fort Dodge on 11 November 1890. He was 58 years old.

Excerpts from a personal diary kept by Dr. Nicholson in 1864 were published in the Annals of Iowa, Vol. XI. No 7 (Des Moines:, Oct 1914) as “The Engagement at Jenkin’s Ferry,” edited by Samuel Storrs Howe, et al. (pp. 505-519).

       29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry

The 29th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry was a Union infantry regiment, which served during the American Civil War. The 29th Iowa Infantry was organized at Council Bluffs, Iowa and mustered in for three years of Federal service on December 1, 1862, then as follows: March to St. Joseph, Mo., December 5-9; thence to Benton Barracks, Mo., December 19-20. Attached to District of St. Louis, Mo., Dept. of Missouri, to January, 1862. 2nd Brigade, 13th Division, 13th Army Corps, Dept. of Tennessee, to July, 1863. 2nd Brigade, 13th Division, 16th Army Corps, to August, 1863. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, Arkansas Expedition, to January, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 7th Army Corps, Dept. of Arkansas, to March, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 7th Corps, to May, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 7th Army Corps, to November, 1864. 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 7th Corps, to February, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, Reserve Corps, Military Division West Mississippi, to February, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 13th Army Corps, Military Division West Mississippi, to July, 1865. Dept. of Texas to August, 1865.

The regiment saw service at: Guard Prison at Benton Barracks, Mo., until December 25, 1862. Moved to Columbus, Ky., en route to Helena, Ark., December 25-29. Duty there until January 8, 1863. Moved to Helena, Ark., January 8, and duty there until March. Gorman’s Expedition up White River January 11-26. Yazoo Pass Expedition and operations against Fort Pemberton and Greenwood March 13-April 5. Duty at Helena until August. Repulse of Holmes’ attack on Helena July 4. Steele’s Expedition to Little Rock August 1-September 10. Bayou LaFourche and capture of Little Rock September 10. Duty at Little Rock until March, 1864. Steele’s Expedition to Camden March 23 to May 3. Antoine or Terre Noir Creek April 2. Elkin’s Ferry, Little Missouri River, April 3-4 Prairie D’Ann April 9-12. Liberty Post-office April 15-16. Jenkins Ferry, Saline River, April 30. Duty at Little Rock until July, and at Lewisburg until September. At Little Rock until February, 1865. Moved to New Orleans, La., February 9-16. Campaign against Mobile and its Defenses March 17-April 12. Siege of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely March 26-April 9. Occupation of Mobile April 12. Whistler’s or Eight-Mile Bridge April 13. March to Mt. Vernon and duty at Mt. Vernon Arsenal until June. Moved to Brazos Santiago, Texas, and duty there until July. Moved to New Orleans, La.; thence home and mustered out August 10, 1865.

The regiment was mustered out on August 10, 1865. A total of 1485 men served in the 29th Iowa at one time or another during its existence. It suffered 1 officer and 42 enlisted men who were killed in action or who died of their wounds and 1 officer and 266 enlisted men who died of disease, for a total of 310 fatalities.

       Examples from the Surgeon’s Book

The Surgeon’s book is a compilation of the various transactions, orders, and circulars, of the medical staff of 29th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. It records the various requisitions made by the regiment’s surgeon, or assistant surgeon, and mentions the correspondence they had with the Medical Store Keeper. The volume also has mentions of reports sent to his medical superiors in the Division, or various commands made upon them by these superiors, such as reporting to them every morning the number of the sick, wounded, etc., in the hospital, lists of those on light duty who could replace others who are assigned to the hospital.  There are also requests that are received for an inventory of medical supplies, medicines, dressings, stretchers, litters, ambulances, and accounts of the medical officers on the staff, and if there are any vacancies, and if so, for what reasons. There are also letter copies that were sent to 29th Ohio surgeon by other medical personal of the brigade, or division, seeking information, or relating orders, circulars, etc., as well as instructions on how to prepare a hospital before an engagement (battle), and who it is to be staffed. The volume begins as follows:


“Copies of Transactions &c.



22nd 1862 St. Louis, Mo.


Rec’d of medical Storekeeper Robt. H. Creamer 3 months medical supplies in compliance with requisition. Signed the receipt and a returned it without delay to M.S.K.O.

Dec 24th 1862


Sent a note to Med. S. Keeper, stating that no Register, Case Book, or Diet Book, was furnished. Rec’d from him a note stating that no Case Book, or Diet Book, is allowed for field service, and that we had made no requisition for either. And he sent the Register. And told us to use a Blank Book for Case Book.


Made a requisition for 350lbs Straw made necessary by no straw having been furnished for bedding for sick in Hospital of 29th Iowa Vol. Infty at Schofield Barracks.


This was made upon Capt. E. D. Chapman, A.Q. M. U.S.A.


They were sent back together with three (3) blank requisitions for same and a note stating ‘Enclosed I return you Special Requisition for Straw and send forms with receipts annexed – Please Sign the requisition in triplicate with corresponding receipts and obtain Col. Patterson’s signature to the order for issuing.


Rec’d Col. Patterson’s signature and signed as desired and returned to Med. S.K.O.”


“February 1863

2nd 1863


Rec’d an order from W. H. Smith, Med. Direct 2nd Brig. Fisk’s Divis., stating ‘You will report to me the number of men of your regiment under treatment, every mo0rning by eight o’clock.”

Also, ‘The Sergeant for the 29th Iowa Reg of Vol. will please report to me immediately the number of sick in Hospital.



Rec’d from W.H. Smith, Act Surg. 2nd Brig, Fisk’s Division ‘You can prepare twenty Measles AND Twenty other sick men for the Post Hospital if you wish and send me their papers as soon as convenient. The sick were sent and their papers also.”


“Office Surgeon 29th Iowa Infty

Helena Ark. Feb 19th 1863



Today I rec’d an order from Medical Director Horace Coleman of 13th Division, stating that ‘when the Regiments composing the 13th Division move on an expedition all sick will be left in their Regimental hospitals, under the care of an Asst Surgeon, selected by the Regimental Surgeon, who will immediately on being detailed report his name to this office. The Asst. Surgeon left in charge of camp and hospital sick will make all reports required of the regimental surgeons and retain a copy of the morning sick report to be forwarded to the Medical Director of the Division when called for.’


Therefore, I detail you at this time, as Asst. Surgeon of the Regiment, ‘to take charge of the camp and hospital sick’ when said movement takes place and to obey the orders above stated and you will immediately report at Head Quarters 13th Division, to Horace Coleman, Med. Director at his office, Helena, Ark. The above is Special Order No. 1 of which the above is an exact copy. Signed W.S. Grimes, Surgeon 29th Iowa Infty.


To. W.L. Nicholson, Asst. Surg. 29th Iowa Infty”


“Rec’d from ‘Head Quarters 2nd Brig, 2nd Division

Helena, Ark Feb 21st 1863’




I am notified by Surgeon Coleman, Medical Director, to instruct you not to take an ambulance with you in the contemplated expedition as directed in the order issued by him. You will therefore leave all of your ambulances and take with you all your Hand Litters & stretchers.


By order of Brig. Gen’l Ross

M. Cousins

Med. Director, 2nd Brigade, 13th Division


[to] Dr. W.S. Grimes, Surg. 29th Iowa Infty”



“Head Quarters 13th Division 13th Army Crops

Medical Directors Office

Coldwater, Miss. March 4th, 1863


The Surgeons or Asst. Surgeons I charge of regiments accompanying this expedition will adopt and enforce a daily system of police whereby the Boats conveying their respective regiments shall be kept freed from the filth that may accumulate from the horses, men or otherwise. In as much as there are not a sufficient number of privies to accommodate all the men it is recommended that seats be constructed at suitable places in such a way that the excrement will not lodge upon the boat.


By order of Brig. Gen’l Ross

[J.D.] Dicken, Medical Direct. 13th Divis.

     To Surg. Grimes, 29th Iowa Infty”

“Head Quarters 13th Division

Medical Directors Office

Tallahatchie River March 24th 1863




The Hospital Boat ‘Goody Friends’ will leave the fleet tomorrow morning at 6 A.M. for the purpose of conveying a portion of the sick of the 13th Division to Helena, Ark.


The 41st, 46th & 43rd Regt Ind. Infty will be allowed to send six from each Regiment. The 28th, Wis. Inf., 33rd & 35th Mo. Infty, 29th & 36th Iowa Inf will be allowed to send seven from each regiment.


The above number allotted to each regiment will include those already on the Hospital Boat.


The Descriptive Roll of those sent will be furnished to the Surgeon in charge of the Hospital Boat. The Surgeon in charge will see that each one sent from his regiment has with him his blankets, plate, cap, spoon, knife, & fork.

Horace Coleman

Medical Director, 13th Division


To Surgeon Grimes, 29th Iowa Infantry”


“Special Order No. 6


Head Quarters 13th Division D.E.A.

Medical Directors Office

Before Greenwood, Miss

March 27th, 1863


In compliance with circular No. 13 issued by the Medical Director of the Department for the disposition and guidance of the Medical Staff during and after an engagement the following assignments are made for the 13th Division, 13th Army Corps


II. Previous to an engagement the Medical Director of the Division will select a suitable Hospital or Depot for the reception of the wounded.

III. Asst. Surg. Scot 33rd Iowa is appointed Surgeon in charge of Division Hospital and Asst. Surg. Smyth 43rd Ind as his Assistant.

III. Surgeon J.L. Dicken 47thg Ind., W.S. Grimes 29th Iowa, and M. Cousins 36th Iowa, are appointed as operating staff of hospital.

IV. Surgeons W.H. Smith 28th Wis, J.B. Lamb 35th Mo. Infty and A. Parks 33rd Iowa are appointed as assistants and consulting surgeons to the operating staff.

V. Asst. surgeon J. B. Washburne 46th Ind., D.P. Culbertson 43rd Ind., D. McMiller 28th Wis., M. Kyle 33rd Mo., H. Schoeneick 35th Mo., W.L. Nicholson 29th Iowa, J.Y. Hopkins 33rd Iowa, and C.G. Strong 36th Iowa, will accompany their regiments during an engagement and give the required temporary assistance to the wounded, after which they will send them to the rear or Division Hospital.

VI. Should an engagement occur or be threatened, all surgeons or asst. surgeons in charge of Regts. Will see that all instruments, dressings, and stimulants and all Hospital and Sanitary goods in their possession are conveyed with all possible dispatch to the Division Hospital.

VII. Should this Division be ordered to the field or become involved in an engagement, all surgeons and asst. surgeons will promptly enter on the discharge of the duties assigned them without further notice, it being presumed they are acquainted with the provisions of the circular referred to.


By order of Brig. Gen. Ross

Horace Coleman, Med. Director, 13th Division D.E.A.

To Surg. W.S. Grimes, & Asst. Surg. W.L. Nicholson, 29th Iowa”

“To Dr. Grimes, Surgeon 29th Iowa

Med Dir Office D.E.A.

Helena, Ark May 22nd 1863


The attention of Medical Director of Div is called to Gen’l Order No. 22 H’d Q. Dept. Town, Paragraph NO. 2 places the control of the Ambulance Corps under the Division Medical Director. Par 3 confines the use of Ambulances to conveying sick and wounded, conveying provisions for Hospitals when necessary and other purposes connected with the relief of the sick.


It has been a very common thing to see from four to eight ambulances a day being used for other purposes than the above. Medical Officers use them for their convenience and they are used on many kinds of duty. This must be stopped or the ambulances will be parked and only sent out on the written order of the Surgeon of a regiment stating for what it is to be used and approved by the Division Medical Director.


Medical Officers are mounted officers and are allowed forage for their horses and they will in future be expected to be mounted and not to use the ambulances sent to their regiments for the benefit of their sick nor to allow others to use them for their private convenience.

Geo. Hammond, Surg. U.S. Army, Med. Dir. D.E.A.


A. Parks, Surg. 33 Iowa Inf, Med. Dir. 13th Div (True Copy)”


“Surgeons Office 29th Iowa Infty

Little Rock, Ark. Nov 20th 1863





Learning that Private J.W. Wheelock Co. K 29th Iowa officiates in your department as Hospital Steward having represented that he occupies that position here, I would state that he was selected for the office in the 1st organization of the Regt but being neither trustworthy, competent, or temperate, was reduced to the ranks July 1st, 1863. Some time previously he was sent up the river on acct of disability which did not seem very serious. And if his health will permit, the Col. Is very anxious that he should be sent to rejoin his regiment and perform some of the duty he has so long evaded.


“Head Quarters 29th Iowa Infty

Little Rock, Ark July 6th 1864


Surgeon Jos. R. Smith

Med. Direct. Dept of the Arks



I have the honor to report that I have returned to duty with my Regt from the Confederate lines, having been taken prisoner at the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry April 30th, 1864, and respectfully exhibit a synopsis of occurrences while in the hands of the enemy:


During the Battle my duties were very much increased by the disappearance of nearly all the Medical offices of the Division consequently at the termination of the fight a large number of wounded from other regiments yet remained on the field and while endeavoring to place them under shelter and relieve the suffering of those in the temporary hospitals – who seemed abandoned without any arrangements for treatments, or subsistence, I was taken prisoner by the advance of the Rebel Cavalry who appeared soon after the ground was vacated by our troops.

Surgeon C.R. Stuckslager 12th Kansas Infty returned from the front about this time and immediately on his arrival at the Hospital was relieve of his horse and coat which together with canteens, blankets was subject to indiscriminate pillage. Having appealed to some offices, who shortly arrived, a guard was placed and further robbery prevented and the wounded federal prisoners, 46 in number, were permitted to remain as nurse, and Surg Stuckslager and myself were directed to assume the care of the wounded. Protection was promised but then three wounded Negroes were shot in the Hospital and all of the same kind who displayed any signs of life on the field were immediately dispatched. The patients, 146 in number, consisted of all who from severity of their wounds were unable to be marched across the river as the deep mud and impeded roads rendered the ambulance nearly useless.


The house with the outbuildings being completely filled, we were compelled to deposit many in the yard, exposed to the rain which had fallen without much intermission. Since the following evening. All the temporary dressings were exhausted in action and as all the Hospital appliances were sent to the front the night before, there was extensive suffering with little or no means of relief. Nor was any subsequently afforded although I was permitted to send a flag of truce to Gen’l Steele to report the condition.


A Confederate Surgeon was appointed to supervise the Hospital and furnish supplies, which however were not procured until the train arrived from Camden on the 3d day – the only subsistence for sick or well during this time was a small quantity of parched corn discovered on the premises. Instruments, chloroform and dressings were obtained on the 4th day. So long a period having elapsed since the wounds were rec’d inflammation rendered the time very unfavorable for amputation. But the entire absence of any means of treatment made it extremely improbably that any would survive sufficiently for a secondary operation.


In several cases already inflammation had so far advanced that prevalent effusion occupied the entire limb. Such cases as were not already hopeless were acted upon as expeditiously as possible. The Rebel Surgeons affording assistance. The result was much more favorable than the circumstances warranted for committed fractures of the thigh above middle third conservative treatment was substituted for amputation with good results.


A portion of the wounded were daily transported to Princeton and on May 9th had all arrived and were placed under charge of Surgeon Stuckslager in Churches and other appropriate buildings, Bed sacks, cotton, and bunks were furnished, a great luxury as the only bedding hitherto used were the men’s’ old clothes, stuffed with mud and blood.


Soon after reaching Princeton six Negroes who had escaped the previous massacre were shot through their heads by a Confederate soldier, who entered the hospital for that purpose. Being a violation of their own Hospital flag the Murderer was arrested by order of Gen’l Parsons and conveyed to Camden for trial. My evidence was afterward received in the case the sentence if any had not transpired when I left.


Asst. Surgeon C. Ottilie 9th Wis who was left North of the Saline River with 72 sick and wounded was moved with his men to Princeton and placed in charge of Surgeon Stuckslager. As fast as able the men were sent to Camden and there when entirely restored to the guard house to be transmitted to Tyler, Texas as prisoners of war. On or about June 1st Surgeon Stuckslager relinquished charger of the Princeton Hospital to Doctor Ottilie – it then contained 29 of the worst cases. We have not yet learned their fate, not being permitted to see them on returning. On July 2nd our services being dispensed with – three medical officers, Surgeons Stuckslager, Canfield, and myself, were sent to Little Rock by flag of truce in a conveyance.


I must say in justice to the Confederate Surgeons that they treated us with uniform kindness and courtesy, gave us free access to their limited stores, and made our unpleasant situation as pleasant as possible. Asst Surg Finlaw at Camden had evidently performed their duties with fidelity and success. The total number of patients was 218 deaths, 84 probably, 14 will die yet of those at Princeton. Want of medicines, stimulants and instruments increased the mortality double, the following is the result of operations:


Amputated Thigh – Died 6, Recovered 2, Total Operations 24

         Leg   - “       7,              2                           -

         Arm  -                         3      Recover                    11

Castration                             1


Immediately on our arrival here Surg Stuckslager although sick and worn out by the privations of the past two (2) months, volunteered to return with a supply of necessaries to the destitute Federals at places above named.


On coming back, he will report more fully any changes that have occurred. I forwarded sometime since a tabular statement of the wounded of my regiment which was presented by Surgeon Shaw.  A tabular list of all. I have placed in the hands of General Salomon who will furnish it to the Medical Department.


I am Sic, very Respectfully,

W.L. Nicholson, Asst Surg 29th Iowa Inft”