Major Samuel Hawkins Marshall Byers
Fifth Iowa Volunteer Infantry
Samuel Hawkins Marshall Byers is the Fifth Iowa Infantry's literary star. "Marsh" Byers was born in Pennsylvania, but moved to Burlington, Iowa in 1851. He read law and was admitted to the bar on June 16, 1861, but scarcely eight days later at Newton, Iowa, he enlisted in the Fifth Iowa Infantry as the First Corporal in Company B. Marsh was promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant in July 1862 and became the regimental adjutant in April 1863.
Byers was taken prisoner at the battle of Chattanooga with 80 other members of the regiment during the fighting at the railroad tunnel. He spent the next sixteen months in five different Confederate prison camps and escaped three times (although only the final escape was fully successful). While confined in Columbia, South Carolina, in December 1864, he heard of General Sherman's bold move to cut his supply lines and march across Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Learning of this move, Byers was inspired to write the poem "Sherman's March to the Sea."
Although the poem was set to music in the prison and sung by the prisoner's glee club, it had to be smuggled out of the prison in the wooden leg of exchanged prisoner, Lieutenant David Tower of the Seventeenth Iowa Infantry. By the war's end, the song had been published and was popular throughout the North. General Sherman later maintained that Byers' song had given his campaign its picturesque name. The Fifth Iowa Infantry domain is pleased to host copies of some of Byers' correspondence written while he was a resident of Libby Prison.
Byers, sheltered in the home of a slave, joined Sherman's column as they entered Columbia. As the Fifth Iowa Infantry had been mustered out of service in July, 1864 and the remnant of the regiment transferred to the Fifth Iowa Cavalry, Byers temporarily attached himself to the 10th Iowa Infantry. However General Sherman soon invited Byers to join his staff where he served for the remainder of the war.
Governor Stone of Iowa presented Byers with a Brevet Major's commission, which title he proudly used thereafter. After the war Byers served as the United States Consul to Zurich, Switzerland. He also wrote many popular articles as well as the book Iowa in War Times, and the official Iowa state song. Byers wrote With Fire and Sword, which described his service with the Fifth Iowa Infantry.
Marsh Byers died in 1933 at age 95. He was the last surviving member of the Fifth Iowa Infantry and of General Sherman's staff.
SHERMAN'S MARCH TO THE SEAThank you, once again, to Keith Young, for providing this information about the Fifth Iowa Infantry's poet laureate.