The Redfield boys joined the Union Army

My father’s maternal grandmother, Helena (Hattie) Redfield Parke, had six siblings. Two of her brothers, James Alfred Redfield and Leonard Lee Redfield, volunteered as Union soldiers in the Civil War. Leonard Redfield was either 15 or 16 when he enlisted in August of 1862 and James Redfield was 17 when he enlisted in December of 1863. They both served in Company C of the 32nd Iowa Volunteer Infantry. Official records say that they both enlisted at the age of 18, but that doesn’t square with their birth years being different and neither of them could have been 18 if the birth years that I have are accurate. I realize that census data can be faulty, but their ages are consistent from the U.S. Census of 1850 to the U.S. Census in 1860.  James was born in 1846 and Leonard was born in 1847. I figure they did what I’m sure thousands of boys did at the time: they lied about their age so they could join the fight!

The 32nd Iowa Volunteers began training at Camp Franklin near Dubuque, Iowa in the summer of 1862. In November 1862 they moved to the St. Louis area, half of them assigned to New Madrid, Missouri and the other half to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The regiment began moving south in January 1864, arriving in Vicksburg, Mississippi in February under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. They conducted raids in the area for the next month and continued on to Alexandria, Louisiana where they participated in the Battle of Pleasant Hill in March 1864. The regiment’s succeeding movements were erratic, according to official accounts. They journeyed from Louisiana to Arkansas to Tennessee then back to Mississippi. They participated in the Battle of Nashville against General John Bell Hood in December 1864.

In 1865, the regiment departed Nashville for New Orleans and then on to Alabama. When hostilities ceased in April 1865 they found themselves back in Vicksburg and remained there until they returned to Iowa and mustered out in August.

Leonard Redfield was involved in all of these events. His brother, James, however, was not. James was a year later than his brother in enlisting and barely six months after  mustering in in late 1863, he found himself in a hospital in New Orleans suffering from disease. The more I read about the war, the more I learn that disease was every bit the killer that enemy fire was. Sometime in the spring of 1864, he wrote to his family that he was well enough to come home on leave, but he never arrived. His family met every train stopping in Fayette, Iowa for the next year with no satisfaction. Their boy never got off the train.

According to family lore, one day in 1865 after the war ended, a Red Cross worker arrived in town and offered to use the auspices of the Red Cross to find out what happened to James. He learned that James had planned on taking a steamboat north in May, 1864 due to his improved condition, but on the day of departure he had forgotten something  in his room. He went back to fetch it and in the meantime, the steamship had left port. There wouldn’t be another opportunity to leave New Orleans for a month. James returned to his room in New Orleans and his health began to deteriorate once more. On June 9, 1864, James Alfred Redfield died in the hospital. He is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans.

Leonard Lee Redfield mustered out of the Union Army on August 24, 1865 in Clinton, Iowa. I have found no indication that he was able to communicate with his brother after they were separated in the spring of 1864. It’s possible that he didn’t know that James was dead until the war ended and he returned to Iowa a year later.

Leonard L. Redfield, Civil War veteran
Leonard Lee Redfield is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery in Canton, South Dakota.


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