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.

by Major S.H.M. Byers

Our camp fires shone bright on the mountains
That frowned on the river below,
While we stood by our guns in the morning
And eagerly watched for the foe--
When a rider came out from the darkness
That hung over mountain and tree;
And shouted, "Boys, up and be ready,
For Sherman will march to the sea."

Then cheer upon cheer for bold Sherman
Went up from each valley and glen;
And the bugles re-echoed the music
That came from the lips of the men.
For we knew that the stars in our banner
More bright in their splendor would be,
And that blessings from Northland would greet us
When Sherman marched down to the sea.

Then forward, boys, forward to battle,
We marched on our wearisome way;
And we stormed the wild hills of Resaca,--
God bless those who fell on that day--
Then Kenesaw, dark in its glory,
Frowned down on the flag of the free,
But the East and the West bore our standards,
And Sherman marched on to the sea.

Still onward we pressed, till our banners
Swept out from Atlanta's grim walls,
And the blood of the patriot dampened
The soil where the traitor flag falls;
But we paused not to weep for the fallen,
We slept by each river and tree;
Yet we twined them a wreath of the laurel
As Sherman marched down to the sea.

O, proud was our army that morning
That stood where the pine darkly towers,
When Sherman said: "Boys, you are weary,
This day fair Savannah is ours."
Then sang we a song for our chieftain
That echoed over river and lea,
And the stars in our banner shown brighter
When Sherman marched down to the sea.

Thank you, once again, to Keith Young, for providing this information about the Fifth Iowa Infantry's poet laureate.

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