Private, Co. A, 29th Ill. Inf., Aug. 13, 1861 - Aug. 27, 1864
Private John A. Palmer (b. November 23, 1839 in Hardin Co., Illinois) was the oldest son of Phineas Cox Palmer (b. 1817) and Eliza Jackson Palmer (b. 1826) and the older brother of Charlotte Maria Palmer (b. 1844 - d. 1914). He was therefore the brother-in-law of Matthew Ledbetter (b. 1846 - d. 1919) and uncle of his daughter, Dora Ellen Ledbetter (b. 1878 - d. 1951).
John Palmer, of Hardin Co.. Illinois, enlisted as a Private in Co. A, 29th Illinois Infantry on August 13, 1861 in Elizabethtown, Illinois for a period of 3 years. Muster-in documents describe him as being 21 years old, 6' 1" tall, having light hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, single, and employed as a farmer. He was enlisted by then Captain Charles M. Ferrell and mustered into active service at Camp Butler, near Sprinsfield, Illinois on Aug. 19, 1861 by a Captain Pitcher.
After organization at Camp Butler, Pvt. Palmer and the 29th Ill. Inf. were sent to Cairo, Illinois on Sept. 4, 1861 and were based there up to February of 1862. The 29th Ill. took part in the expedition to Bloomfield, Missouri (Oct. 22-24, 1861) and in operations against Confederate General Thompson's forces (Nov. 313, 1861) in Missouri; the 29th Ill. Inf. also took part in the reconnaisance to Columbus, Kentucky (Jan. 16-22, 1862). At this time, the 29th Ill. Inf. was under the overall command of General John McClernand, just before the campaign against Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Tennessee directed by General Ulysses S. Grant.
Pvt. John Palmer and the 29th Ill. Inf. occupied Fort Henry after it had just surrendered to Federal gunboats on Feb. 6, 1862. The 29th Ill. then saw action during the siege and capture of Fort Donelson (Feb. 12-16, 1862) . On Feb. 15, 1862, General U.S. Grant's 1st Division (commanded by General McClernand) , which contained the 29th Ill. Inf., was overrun by Confederate forces attempting to break the Federal siege of Fort Donelson. This attack started before dawn and took McClernand's Division totally by surprise - by 1:00 p.m. the Illinois troops in it ceased to exist as an organized fighting force. Pvt. John Palmer and his 29th Ill. comrades fled to the protection of Bufford Hollow until the Confederate advance was checked by counterattacks personally directed by General U.S. Grant.
After Fort Donelson surrendered on Feb. 16, 1862 and some 12,000 Confederates were sent to Federal POW camps throughout the Midwest, Pvt. Palmer and the 29th Ill . Inf. were transported upstream on the Tennessee River to a place named Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee on March 25, 1862. Here the 29th Ill. was encamped and unknowingly awaited their next trial - the battle of Shiloh, Tennessee (April 6-7, 1862).
At Shiloh, the 29th Ill. Inf. was under the immediate command of now Lt.-Colonel Charles M. Ferrell and was part of the 3rd Brigade, commanded by Colonel Julius Raith, which also included the 17th, 43rd, and 49th Illinois Infantries. The 3rd Brigade (Raith's Brigade) was within the 1st Division of the Union Army of the Tennessee, once again commanded by now Major General John A. McClernand and under the overall command of Major General U.S. Grant. At Shiloh, Pvt. John Palmer and his 29th Ill. comrades were camped along the Hamburg-Purdy Road, northeast of Shiloh Church when the Federal troops were literally caught napping by the massive Confederate assault that began around 5:00 a.m. on April 6, 1862. Approximately 44,000 Confederates swept through the drowsy Federals and drove them reeling backwards for several miles.
By 9:00 a.m. McClernand's Division had abandoned their camps to the surging Rebel hordes and were regrouping back towards the Purdy-Corinth Road. Colonel Raith's Brigade was the object of 8,000 Confederates sent by General Bragg in an attempt to break the defensive line now formed by the divisions of General McClernand and General William Tecumseh Sherman. One wonders what personal effects were lost by Pvt. John Palmer to the Confederates that overran the camp of the 29th Ill. Inf. Pvt. Palmer was undoubtedly too busy at this point to care.
McClernand and Sherman reformed their retreating divisions along the Purdy-Corinth Road about 10:30 a.m. - Raith's Brigade was located just west of Water Oaks Pond and just east of Sherman's troops. Colonel Raith rallied his fleeing troops next to 3 cannons belonging to Schwartz's Battery - here Lt.-Colonel Ferrell placed Pvt. John Palmer and his 29th 111. Inf. comrades on the right (west) side of Raith' s Brigade, next to Sherman' s shattered regiments. The combined effort of Raith's Brigade and Schwartz's Battery next to Water Oaks Pond bought time for the entire Federal army, probably saving the entire right flank from complete destruction. EventuaIly, Raith's Brigade was degraded by the determined, howling Confederates - the 29th Ill. Inf. had fallen back with General Sherman's infantry towards the direction of Tilghman Creek around 2:00 p.m.
Around this time, Confederate cavalry under the command of then Captain John Hunt Morgen encountered the entire 29th Ill. Inf., now under the direct personal command of their Division commander, General McClernand. Pvt. John Palmer and his 29th Ill. Inf. comrades were formed in firing line and "...delivered one stunning volley..." in the words of one of the Confederate cavalrymen - Morgen's horsemen scattered in disorder to the rear. By 4:30 p.m., General McClernand and General Sherman had formed their still retreating troops along what is today known as "Grant's Last Line" - a combination of infantry and artillery along the north ridge of Dill Branch . Here Pvt . PaImer and the other survivors of the 29th Ill. Inf. helped repel the now slowing Confederates. The Brigade commander of the 29th Ill. Inf., Colonel Raith, had been mortally wounded during his stand near Water Oaks Pond earlier in the day.
That night, Federal reinforcements arrived by steamboats on the Tennessee River and the Union army prepared for its counterattack the next morning. The remnants of McClernand's Division, including Pvt. John Palmer and others in the 29th Ill. Inf., took part in the Federal counterattack on the morning of April 7, 1862. McClernand's and Sherman's Divisions both crossed Tilghman Branch to the west around 6:30 a.m. and then surged south along with fresh troops commanded by General Lew Wallace. McClernand's battered Illinoisans encountered fierce resistance from Confederates under Brigadier General Patrick Cleburne around 11:00 a.m., but were saved by units commanded by Federal General Rousseau, who attacked from the east.
Casualties for McClernand's Division for the 2 days of Shiloh were 1,742 killed / wounded / missing out of 6,941 effectives; total Federal casualties were 13,047 killed / wounded / missing out of 66,812; total Confederate: 10,699 killed / wounded / missing out of 44,699. Pvt. John Palmer survived surprise Confederate attacks at both Fort Donelson and at Shiloh - he may have wondered if this was standard operating procedure for Federal armies.
The 29th Ill. Inf. and Pvt. Palmer then participated in the siege of Corinth, Mississippi (April 29 - May 30, 1862); movement to Jackson, Tennessee (June 5-8, 1862); expeditions to Bolivar and Brownsville, Tennessee (July 27 Aug. 13, 1862); relief of Corinth. Mississippi (Oct. 3-4, 1862) ; pursuit to the Hatchie River, Mississippi (Oct. 5-12, 1862); skirmishes at Chewalla and Big Hills, Tennessee (Oct. 5, 1862); and in Grant's Central Mississippi Campaign (Oct. 31, 1862 - Jan. 31, 1863).
On Dec. 20, 1862, Pvt. Palmer and the 29th Ill. Inf. were stationed at Holly Springs, Mississippi guarding supplies essential for General U.S. Grant's campaign in Mississippi. Confederate cavalry under the command of General Earl Van Dorn attacked before dawn and captured all troops, including the 29th Ill. Inf., commanded by Colonel Murphy. General Grant thus lost a major supply depot for his campaign and had to retreat back to established Federal lines. Pvt. John Palmer escaped capture and is listed on service records as being sent "on detached service" to Jackson, Tennessee With Companies D and K of the 29th Ill. Inf.
His name also appears on a "Special Muster Roll" for April 10, 1863 which states Pvt. John Palmer, Co. A, 29th Ill. Inf. is "Absent" and "In the field - Not Paroled - this suggests that he was not captured at Holly Springs with the rest of Co. A.
Pvt. Palmer seems to have been with Co's D and K of the 29th Ill. Inf. while they were stationed on board the Federal gunboats U.S.S. Tuscumbia, Tyler, and Petrel during February of 1863. On April 29, 1863, Pvt. John Palmer also appears to have been aboard the U.S.S. Tuscumbia with Co.s D and K when the gunboat ran the Confederate batteries guarding Grand Gulf, Mississippi. He rejoined Co. A during the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi after Co.s A, B, E, F, G, H, and I returned from Benton Barracks, Missouri in July of 1863 - these companies (captured at Hell Springs) had been stationed there after being paroled by their Confederate captors. The 29th Ill. Inf. was at Vicksburg until December of 1863.
The 29th Ill. Inf. and Pvt. John Palmer moved to Natchez, Mississippi on Dec. 1, 1863; here they were involved in operations against Confederate mounted infantry units in and around Natchez (Dec. 2-10, 1863) and an expedition to Black Bayou, Mississippi (Aug. 4-6, 1864). Pvt. John A. Palmer, Co. A, 29th Ill. Inf. was originally mustered-out at Natchez, Mississippi on Aug. 27, 1864 by "reason of expiration of term of service " his 3 years of enlistment were up.
However, according to his Union Army service records, John Palmer apparently volunteered for "extra duty" as part of the XIII Corps under Federal Major-General Granger. In this capacity he apparently participated in the Federal assault upon Mobile, Alabama and the occupation of Texas after the end of the Civil War. His "volunteer for extra service" document indicates that Pvt. John A. Palmer was finally mustered out at Hempstead, Texas on November 6, 1865.
The 29th Ill. Inf. lost 75 men during combat and 225 more due to disease for a total of 300 deaths during its Civil War service. A listing of Federal Civil War veterans who attended a 1906 reunion by Peters Creek, in Hardin County, Illinois recorded the following: "John A. Palmer, 66 years, 29th Ill., Co. A" At Fort Donelson and Shiloh , Pvt . John Palmer had first "seen the elephant " ; his experiences were no doubt shared with other Hardin County veterans, friends, and relatives. John A. Palmer died January 11, 1918 in Elizabethtown, Hardin Co. Illinois and is buried in the Peters Creek Cemetery there in Hardin County.
by Kenneth Elburn Byrd - Indianapolis, Indiana
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