Delaware County IAGenWeb

Military Biography

United We Stand

Delaware County, Iowa in the Civil War
Delaware county Civil War Soldiers
of the
Twenty-first Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Historical information, notes & comments, in some cases correcting the record
Soldier biographies written by Carl Ingwalson

Carl will do look-ups in his extensive records of the 21st Iowa and he is always willing to share what he has.


Benjamin F. Odell was born on January 26, 1832, in Cass County, Michigan. In 1834, Mary Grice was born in neighboring Berrien County and, on June 13, 1854, they were married by the Rev. John Martindale “near Poultney P.O. Delaware Co Iowa.” A girl, Alice O. Odell, was born on July 11, 1855, and a boy, Lawrence F. Odell, was born on March 29, 1858.

Benjamin was working as a teacher and did not enlist in the military during the war’s first year but, in June 1862, the President called for more volunteers, Governor Kirkwood assured the President that Iowa would fulfill its quota and, on July 28, 1862, Benjamin was one of the first to enlist in what would be Company B of the 21st Regiment of the state’s volunteer infantry. He was enrolled by Charles Heath at Strawberry Point and described as having brown eyes, black hair and a dark complexion. At 6' 3", Benjamin was one of the tallest men in a regiment in which the average height was 5' 8¾”.
The company was mustered in on August 18th and the regiment on September 9th, both at Camp Franklin in Dubuque. With only brief, largely ineffective, training in the ways of war, they boarded the Henry Clay and started downriver on September 16, 1862. After an overnight stay at Rock Island and a transfer to the Hawkeye State, they reached St. Louis on September 20th and Rolla by rail on the 22nd. For the next several months, Benjamin was present with the regiment as it moved from Rolla to Salem, Houston, Hartville, back to Houston, south to West Plains, and then northeast through Thomasville, Ironton and Iron Mountain until, on March 11th, they walked into the old French town of Ste. Genevieve. With a good camp on a ridge north of town, most rested and tried to recover their health, but nine of their comrades died and another nine were discharged due to a variety of ailments (tuberculosis, lung fever, a spinal problem, chronic diarrhea).

From Ste. Genevieve, detachments started downstream on different steamers in early April. By April 6th, they were united at Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was assembling a large army. On the 8th the regiment was inspected, on the 9th it participated in a “grand review” and on the 10th Benjamin Odell was detached to serve with an ambulance corps. The regiment left “the Bend” in a corps led by General John McClernand on April 12th and moved slowly south along roads, through swamps and across bayous west of the river. On April 30th, they crossed to the Bruinsburg landing on the east bank.

On May 1st, men able for duty participated in the Battle of Port Gibson, also known as the Battle of Magnolia Hills. Soon thereafter, four of the regiment’s ambulance drivers were captured but Benjamin was not among them. The regiment was held in reserve during the Battle of Champion’s Hill on the 16th, participated in an assault at the Big Black River on the 17th, and participated in an assault at Vicksburg on May 22d. The siege of Vicksburg ended with its surrender on July 4, 1863. By then, the regiment had 736 men still on the rolls but some were on furloughs, some were on detached duty and many were sick or wounded. On July 5th, those still able for duty left in pursuit of Confederate General Joe Johnston to the city of Jackson. After returning to Vicksburg, they were transported south where they camped at Carrollton, Louisiana.

Benjamin was still with the ambulance corps, but present in Carrollton when company rolls were taken on August 31, 1863. From there, they moved into southwestern Louisiana - Bayou Boeuf, Brashear City and Berwick - where, on October 2nd, Benjamin was returned to regular duty. For the next several days they walked from one place to another until camping along Bayou Vermilion on October10th to wait for supplies and, while waiting, gather sweet potatoes, listen to Chaplain Hill’s sermons and administer oaths of allegiance to willing Southerners. Before long they were on the move again and, on November 22nd, arrived by train in Algiers where they were immediately ordered to Texas.

Their departure was delayed slightly when Lieutenant Colonel Van Anda, then in field command, was found to be intoxicated. With Major Crooke ordered to take charge, they were soon underway (some on the Corinthian and some on the St. Mary’s) and a few days later were put ashore along the Gulf Coast. Benjamin was present and on duty as they spent the next seven months guarding the coast near Matagorda and Indianola. The salt water, seashells and beaches were interesting, but soldiers eventually became bored since, in the words of Colonel Merrill, they were nothing more than "guardians of the sacred drifting sands of Texas." In June, they returned to New Orleans and then traveled by rail from Algiers to Terrebonne Station. Two weeks later, with the government seemingly not knowing what to do with them, they were moved back to Algiers, then north on the Mississippi to Morganza, and then up the White River of Arkansas.

On October 20, 1864, after several weeks at St. Charles, the regiment left for De Vall’s Bluff, but this time Benjamin did not go with it. Suffering from scurvy and dropsy (swelling) of the feet and legs, he was sent to the Washington U.S.A. General Hospital in Memphis where he was admitted on October 23rd. On April 28, 1865, with the end of the war in sight, the War Department issued General Orders No. 77 in an effort to start reducing military expenditures. It provided, in part, “that all soldiers in the hospitals, who require no further medical treatment, be honorably discharged from service, with immediate payment.” Benjamin Odell was still in the hospital but well enough to be assisting as a nurse when the order was made.

On May 11th, he was transferred to the Gayoso U.S.A. General Hospital overlooking the Mississippi and, on June 2, 1865, he was discharged from the military. His Descriptive Book noted that he had “performed his duty with honor to himself & credit to the service” whether with the ambulance corps or on regular duty with the regiment. He returned to Iowa where another child, Bertha Odell was born on February 7, 1867. In 1872, Alice, the oldest of the children, was in a class of eighteen students when she graduated from the “normal” course at the state university in Iowa City and, six years later, Mary Odell, the last of the couple’s children, was born on December 29, 1878.

It’s not clear how long the family stayed in Iowa, but Benjamin was working as a farmer in Orchard, Nebraska when, on June 3, 1879, he applied for an invalid pension and referenced his wartime medical problems (“lost my teeth”). The Adjutant General confirmed his service, the Surgeon General confirmed his hospitalizations, a board of surgeons confirmed he had scorbutic spots indicative of scurvy, in-laws said he was “entirely temperate” and others attested to his pre-war good health. On January 29, 1885, five and one-half years after he applied, a certificate was mailed providing for $4.00 monthly.

By 1890, Benjamin was living in Flagler, Colorado where he secured a land patent, was a friend of William Lavington, founder of the town, and became involved in politics of the day. Benjamin was described as a “rabid populist” and reportedly published “four letter-sheet ‘simultaneous’ dailies” all of which carried the pending proposal for women’s suffrage, but he was described by an opposition newspaper as being “well past middle life, had a stooping form and cat-like eyes, and he used to excite some comment as he went about dressed in a style very much in vogue shortly after the landing of the ark.”

William sought an increase in his pension and surgeons confirmed “he is able to wear an upper plate but lower ridge is so flat and irregular that false teeth cannot be worn.” The pension was gradually increased to the $12.00 monthly that he was receiving when he died in January 1907. One of William’s daughters, Bertha (Odell) Pearson, is buried in Flagler Cemetery, but William’s burial and those of his wife and other three children have not been located.
~ Compiled & submitted by Carl Ingwalson <>