Samuel Allen Rice (1828–1864)

Samuel Allen Rice was a Union brigadier general who led troops at Helena (Phillips County) and in the campaign to capture Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1863 before suffering a wound during the Camden Expedition in 1864 that proved mortal.

Samuel Allen Rice was born on January 27, 1828, in Olean, New York, the sixth of eight children (his younger brother Elliot Warren Rice would also become a brigadier general during the Civil War). The family moved to western Pennsylvania when he was one year old and then to Pittsburgh in 1834. They finally moved to Martinsville, Ohio, in 1837.

Rice graduated from the State University of Ohio at Athens before receiving a law degree from Union College in New York in 1849. He moved to Fairfield, Iowa, in 1850, where he opened a law office and edited a political journal, and then to Oskaloosa, Iowa, two years later, establishing a lucrative practice. In 1854, he married Louisa Alexander; they would have four children.

Becoming active in the emerging Republican Party, Rice was elected Mahaska County attorney in 1853 and then Iowa attorney general in 1856, winning reelection to that post in 1858. After losing a bid for Congress in 1862, he organized the Thirty-third Iowa Infantry Regiment and was commissioned as its colonel on August 10, 1862.

The Thirty-third Iowa mustered into service on October 1, 1862, and served at St. Louis, Missouri; Columbus, Kentucky; and Union City, Tennessee, before moving to Helena on January 8, 1863. Rice led the regiment on several expeditions, including operations on the Yazoo River in Mississippi in the spring of 1863. He took command of a brigade at Helena in June.

Rice commanded troops on the Union right and center when Lieutenant General Theophilus Holmes attacked Helena on July 4, 1863, helping to repel the assaults on Batteries A and C as the Confederates were defeated after suffering heavy casualties. He was marching with Major General Frederick Steele in the campaign to capture Little Rock when he learned of his promotion to brigadier general on August 4. Federal forces occupied Little Rock on September 10, 1863.

The following spring, Rice led his brigade in the Camden Expedition as Federal troops from Little Rock and Fort Smith (Sebastian County) headed toward Shreveport, Louisiana, to join other Union troops and invade cotton-rich Texas. His troops fought on Terre Noire Creek in Clark County on April 2, 1864, and engaged with Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke’s Confederate cavalry at Elkins’ Ferry on the Little Missouri River on April 3 and 4. At Elkins’ Ferry, Rice suffered a head injury from shrapnel. He remained with his troops.

Steele diverted his army to Camden (Ouachita County). After losing bloody engagements at Poison Spring and Marks’ Mills, and also learning that the Federals in Louisiana were in retreat, Steele decided to fall back to Little Rock. Confederate infantry under Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith caught up with the Union troops at Jenkins’ Ferry on the swollen Saline River on April 30, 1864, and Rice led the rearguard defense as Steele’s army crossed on a pontoon bridge. He was hit with a Rebel bullet that broke his right ankle, carrying part of his spur and strap with it as it passed through his ankle.

Rice was hospitalized in Little Rock for several weeks before returning to Oskaloosa to recuperate, but his injury would not heal. He endured several episodes of erysipelas, or bacterial infection, in May, and on June 1, 1864, he suffered a serious episode of blood poisoning. Several pieces of bone were removed from his shattered ankle on June 15, but Rice finally succumbed to his wound on July 6.

After learning of the general’s death, Steele on July 21 ordered that flags at all bases in the Department of Arkansas be flown at half-staff and that the cannon at Fort Steele in Little Rock be fired at thirty-minute intervals throughout the day. The flags of the four regiments in Rice’s brigade were ordered to be draped in mourning for thirty days.

Rice is buried in Forest Cemetery in Oskaloosa.

For additional information:
“Death of Gen. Rice.” Muscatine [Iowa] Weekly Journal, July 15, 1864, p. 1.

Ingersoll, L. D. “Brigadier General Samuel A. Rice, of Iowa.” Annals of Iowa 9 (January 1865): 385–403.

Ross, Margaret. “General Samuel A. Rice Dies at Iowa Home.” Arkansas Gazette, July 9, 1964, p. 6C.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Generals. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.

Welsh, Jack D. Medical Histories of Union Generals. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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