Iowa Civil War History



Iowa became the 29th state by entering the Union as a “free state” on December 28, 1846. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the State of Iowa contributed food, supplies, and troops for the Union Army, though its contributions were overshadowed by larger and more populated Union states. Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland." The state was a part of the French colony of New France. After the Louisiana Purchase, settlers laid the foundation for an agriculture-based economy in the heart of the Corn Belt. Iowa is often known as the "Food Capital of the World".

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Iowa in the Civil War


According to the 1860 US census, Iowa, a free state, had a population of 674,913.


Iowa had become the 29th state of the Union on December 28, 1846, and the state continued to attract many settlers, both native and foreign-born. Only the extreme northwestern part of the state remained a frontier area. With the development in the 1850s of the Illinois Central and the Chicago and North Western Railway, Iowa's fertile fields were linked with Eastern supply depots as the Civil War began. Manufacturing companies in the eastern part of the state, as well as farmers, could readily transport their products to the Union Army.


As the Civil War commenced, Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood (1860-1864) led efforts to raise and equip volunteer troops for the Federal service. The 1st Iowa Infantry was raised for three-months duty from May until August 1861. It helped secure the strategic Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad in northern Missouri, then endured a series of forced marches across the state, finally fighting with distinction in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, a task rewarded by the official Thanks of Congress, and two Iowans would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for their efforts in the fighting. During the conflict, more than fifty Medals of Honor were awarded to valorous Iowans. Iowa had several brigadier generals and four major generals—Grenville Mellen Dodge, Samuel R. Curtis, Francis J. Herron, and Frederick Steele—and witnessed many of its generals achieve state and national prominence following the war.



When Sherman started upon his famous march to the sea, it was the 9th lA. that cut the railroad connecting the army with the North and changed the "base of supplies" to the enemy's country. This regiment traveled more than 4,000 miles and was in every Confederate state except Florida and Texas. It was the 10th lA. that turned the tide of battle at Champion's hill, winning words of commendation from the commanding general, though half the regiment was reported among the killed, wounded and missing after the engagement. While other regiments very properly had emblazoned upon their battle-flags the names of engagements in which they had participated, that of the 10th bore only the legend, "Tenth Iowa Veteran Volunteers;" but its deeds of valor are recorded in history and in the hearts of a grateful people.


At Columbia, S.C, in Feb., 1865, the flag of the 13th lA. was the first to float from the old state-house, and at Savannah it was the 16th that struck the first blow at the enemy's works. Seventeen Iowa regiments marched with Sherman from Atlanta to the sea. They were all present at the fall of Savannah and afterward followed their victorious commander through the Carolinas to Richmond and Washington. More than half of Iowa's troops were at the fall of Vicksburg, and in one assault upon the Confederate works Sgt. Griffith and 11 men of the 22nd were the only ones to gain the parapet. Of these only the sergeant and one man returned. Four colonels of Iowa regiments, Samuel R. Curtis of the 2nd; Frederick Steele of the 8th; Frank J. Herron of the 9th and Grenville M. Dodge of the 4th, rose to the rank of major-general. Eighteen others were commissioned to wear the stars of the brigadier. From Wilson's creek to Appomattox, scarcely a field can be mentioned where Iowa troops were not present to render a good account to themselves.


Iowa Gov. William Stone's (1864-1868) noted services to the state and nation in the early part of 1864 was his earnestness in urging on the government the 100 days volunteers. With two or three other governors of northwestern states, he believed that in the great campaigns about to be inaugurated for that summer, the hands of our generals could be strengthened by the use of several thousand men enlisted for short terms. These men, he maintained, could garrison posts, hold interior lines, guard railroads, care for the thousands of prisoners in our hands, and so release for duty at the front a whole army of veteran soldiers. It was a splendid conception, but the plan was not so readily adopted as would have been expected. It met, indeed, with extreme opposition at its very inception.


S. H. M. Byers, in his "Iowa in War Times," gives in substance the following account of the meeting at Washington when the matter was under consideration: Gov. Stone was on intimate terms with President Lincoln, and at an interview between the president and the governors who wished to offer the troops, appealed to the president in deep earnestness for their acceptance. Mr. Lincoln's whole cabinet was present. So, too, was Maj.-Gen. Halleck. "Let us have your opinion. Gen. Halleck," said Mr. Lincoln. "No faith in it at all! Volunteers won't earn their clothes in a hundred days," answered the general, emphatically. "But look at Wilson's creek," interrupted Gov. Stone; "Iowa's 100 days' men won that battle; look at Donelson, stormed by men who never fired a gun before." "You are right," cried the president, slapping his knee as he spoke. "Mr Chase, can you raise the money and how much will the venture cost?" turning to the finance secretary. "Yes," was the quick answer, "the money can be had. The proposition is excellent, and there are the figures." Sec. Stanton also favored the proposition, and before the meeting closed, the governors were authorized to raise the regiments.


Sporadically, Confederate partisans and bushwhackers raided Iowa. One such incursion in the fall of 1864 was designed to disrupt the reelection of Abraham Lincoln. Near the Missouri border, many Iowans were pro-slavery, anti-Lincoln Confederate sympathizers, and they provided a safe haven for guerrillas. On October 12, 1864, a dozen raiders disguised as Union soldiers terrorized Davis County, where they looted residences and kidnapped and murdered three Iowans near Bloomfield.


From what has been said in this sketch concerning the action of a "few so-called Democrats in Iowa during the troublous days of the war, it must not be inferred that the Democrats of Iowa were, as a body, disloyal to their country." That party furnished its full share of the gallant men who sprang into line at their country's call. The supporters of Douglas were as patriotic as the supporters of Lincoln. Exceptions were rare. Democrats and Republicans alike shed their blood in defense of the Union, for freedom and the flag. It was the united effort of the supporters of Lincoln and Douglas that saved the government and reconstructed it as the champion of good will among the nations of the earth.


There were no significant battles in Iowa, but the state sent large supplies of food to the Union Army and the Northern cities. 76,242 Iowa men (out of a total population of 674,913 in 1860) served in the military, many in combat units attached to the western armies. Iowa suffered 13,001 in killed (two-thirds by disease), 8,500 in wounded, nearly 5,000 in captured, and 132 were listed as "missing." Cemeteries throughout the South contain the remains of Iowa soldiers that fell during the war, with the largest concentration at Vicksburg National Cemetery. A number also died in Confederate prison camps, including Andersonville prison. Though the total number of Iowans who served in the military during the Civil War seems small compared to the more heavily populated Eastern and Southern states, perhaps no other state, North or South, had a higher percentage of its male population between the ages of 15 and 40 serve in the military during the course of the war.


Iowa contributed 48 regiments of infantry, 1 regiment of black infantry (the 1st Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment (African Descent)), 9 regiments of cavalry, and 4 artillery batteries. In addition to these federally mustered troops, the state also raised a number of home guard or militia units, including the Northern Border Brigade and Southern Border Brigade, primarily for defense of the borders. Other local units included the Sioux City Cavalry.


Iowans fought valiantly in numerous major battles and campaigns during the Civil War.


Most Iowans fought in the great campaigns in the Mississippi Valley and in the South. Iowa troops fought at Wilson's Creek in Missouri, Pea Ridge in Arkansas, Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and Rossville Gap as well as Vicksburg, Iuka, and Corinth. They served with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia and fought under Union General Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. They marched with General Nathaniel Banks' ill-starred expedition to the Red River.


At Fort Donelson the 2nd IA. occupied the post of honor, and its gallant colonel, Samuel R. Curtis, was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general for bravery and the skillful handling of his forces. Ten Iowa regiments were in the thick of the fight at Shiloh, the 8th and 12th being captured after 10 hours of hard fighting at the "Hornet's Nest." After some eight months in Confederate prisons the men were exchanged or paroled and afterward became part of the "Union Brigade," made up of those who never surrendered. Not long after the battle of Shiloh the 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th regiments were united in one brigade, and Marcellus M. Crocker, as ranking colonel, became the commander. On Nov. 29, 1862, he was commissioned brigadier-general, and his brigade was soon known all through the army as "Crocker's Iowa Brigade."





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