General Samuel Rice was one of three generals killed at Jenkins’ Ferry. The others, Confederate Generals William Scurry and Horace Randal died the old fashioned way –severe gunshot wounds they were destined to die from the moment they were struck (Randal was struck in the chest and Scurry in the abdomen of which there was no treatment).
But Rice died more by a poor decision than anything else.
General Rice, who prior to the war had served as the Attorney General of the state of Iowa, commanded a the 1st Brigade at Jenkins’ Ferry, consisting of the 9th Wisconsin, 29th Iowa, 33rd Iowa and 50th Indiana Infantries. More importantly, he was charged with commanding the Federal’s rear guard that day at Jenkins’ Ferry – a wall of 5,000 battle-tested troops. It was this line that saved the Federal army that day, repulsing repeated wave of Confederate attacks.
Throughout the morning, Rice rode up and down the line cheering his men and filling holes in the lines as the battle raged. It was while riding along the southern portion of the line when he was struck in the right foot by a Confederate minie ball, forcing him off his horse, where he was tended to by his command staff and eventually transported from the field. In the days following the battle, he was transported back to his native Iowa where he lingered before dying of his wounds on July 6, 1864.
But what of the poor decision I spoke of earlier?
The minie ball that struck his right foot had initially struck his spur, pushing a portion into the side of his foot. Surgeons believed this was the extent of his injuries. However (and it took a week to figure this out), they later discovered that the buckle that attaches the leather to the boot had been driven completely inside his foot where it had laid unnoticed. The leather and buckle caused poisoning and gangrene to developed. Even after the foot was amputated, it was too late. Rice would die a painful death.
A member of Rice’s command staff, Major John Lacey, would later recall that it was only a fluke accident that the buckle was where it was when Rice was shot.
Lacey recalled Rice was accustomed to wearing his spurs with the buckle on the inside of his foot next to the flank of his horse.
On April 29, 1864 – the day before the battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Rice noticed his staff officers were all wearing their buckles on the opposite side of the horse’s flank. Lacey recalled:
“[General Rice] spoke of it and said he believed he had worn his spurs wrong, and sat down on a log and changed them.”
The following day, that same buckle would be the instrument of his death.
Twenty-two years after the battle, members of Rice’s staff would return to Jenkins’ Ferry, again walking the ground that had caused so much horror. They located the site of the General’s wounding, carving an “R” upon a large tree to commemorate the site.
Years later, someone thought better of the tree than that noble purpose and chopped it down.
So much for preserving history.