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~ Military Biography ~

Dubuque 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.



Nicholas and Catharine Dawson were married in County Down, Ireland, on September 29, 1831. After immigrating to the United States, they settled in Iowa and made their home on a 120-acre farm about four miles from Dubuque. Their children included Daniel, James, Peter, Catherine and at least one other daughter whose name is not known. Nicholas’ wife died in November1854 and was buried in the city’s Resurrection Catholic Cemetery where a monument says she died on the 11th although Nicholas said she died on the14th. Several years after her death, Nicholas purchased a ten-acre parcel adjacent to his existing property so his farm would have direct access to a public highway.

On April 12, 1861, Confederate cannon fired on Fort Sumter, war followed and tens of thousands of men died. In 1862 President Lincoln called for another 300,000 volunteers and Iowa was asked to provide five regiments in addition to those already engaged. On August 15, 1862, James Dawson was enrolled by forty-nine-year-old Jesse Harrison in what would be Company C of the 21st Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry. James was described as being twenty years old and, at 5' 8½”, of average height. At Dubuque’s Camp Franklin, the company was mustered in on August 20th and the regiment on September 9th.

It was a miserable rainy morning, September 16, 1862, when the regiment left Camp Franklin at 10:00 a.m. and marched south through town while families, friends and local residents watched. Women sent cakes and cheese and others tossed apples. From the levee at the foot of Jones Street men boarded the overly crowded sidewheel steamer Henry Clay and two open barges tied alongside, "packing ourselves like sardines in a box," said John Merry, and started downstream. They spent their first night on Rock Island before continuing the next morning, debarking at Montrose due to low water, traveling by train to Keokuk, boarding the Hawkeye State and arriving in St. Louis on the 20th. About midnight on the 21st the regiment left St. Louis and men huddled under blankets as they sped along the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad to Rolla, a town of about 600 residents. From Rolla they moved to Salem, Houston, Hartville and (after a wagon train bringing supplies from the Rolla railhead was attacked on November 24th) back to Houston.

They were still there on January 8, 1863, when word was received that a Confederate column was advancing on Springfield. A hastily organized relief force including twenty-five volunteers and an officer from each company, a similar number from an Illinois regiment, two howitzers under Lieutenant William Waldschmidt (Missouri Light Artillery) and assorted wagons, mules and teamsters under Quartermaster Benton was organized for the march. On the 10th they camped along Wood’s Fork of the Gasconade River unaware the Confederates had already attacked Springfield and were camped nearby. The next morning bugles alerted each to the other before they engaged in a daylong battle at Hartville. James Dawson was with his regiment as they withdrew north to Lebanon after the battle but their mid-winter return from there to Houston was difficult as they had to walk through snow and ice and mud and cross frigid streams that caused many to become ill.

Most arrived in small groups on the 15th but the following week they were ordered to march south to West Plains. James Dawson had a bad cold and was unable to join his comrades who left on January 27th, but four days later James and fifty-seven others were assigned as guards for a supply train and soon joined those already in West Plains. From there, instead of continuing into Arkansas as most expected, they were ordered to move to the northeast and were in Pilot Knob when James wrote a long letter indicating he had received a letter from his father “the morning we left Houston and as we have been on the march ever sceinc I have not had an oportunity to write.” They had been paid on February 16th and, after deducting previously advanced pay, he was able to send $34.90 “to draw in Dubuque for which I have inclosed an order on the Branch of the State Bank.”

They reached the Mississippi River at St. Genevieve on March 11th and from there were transported downstream to Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was organizing an army to capture Vicksburg. Serving in a corps under General John McClernand they started south along the west side of the river and on April 20th James wrote from Ashwood Landing that “dureing this march we had no tents for the greater part of the time and some times no provishions, the roads ware in sush a poor condishoon that teams could not get more than three or four miles a Day.” On April 30th they crossed from Disharoon’s Plantation to Bruinsburg, Mississippi, and started a march inland as the point regiment for the entire Union army. About midnight they drew brief fire from Confederate pickets before resting and then engaging in the Battle of Port Gibson on May 1st. On the 16th they were present at the Battle of Champion Hill where they held out of action by General McClernand, but the next day were rotated to the front and, with the 23d Iowa, led a successful assault on Confederates entrenched along the Big Black River.

While others moved on to establish a line around the rear of Vicksburg, Lawler's Brigade, which had conducted the day's assault, was permitted to go "back to timber" and spent the rest of the 17th and 18th gathering arms and accouterments, guarding prisoners, burying the dead and caring for the wounded. They moved on to Vicksburg on the 19th, the same day Union troops assaulted the city, but the assault was unsuccessful and Grant planned a second assault for the 22nd. By then the 21st Iowa was in position opposite the railroad redoubt and Fort Beauregard. When the order was given, Union soldiers, except for those held back as sharpshooters, moved forward, "the earth was black with their close columns" and, said Confederate General Stephen Lee, “there seemed to spring almost from the bowels of the earth dense masses of Federal troops, in numerous columns of attack, and with loud cheers and huzzahs, they rushed forward at a run with bayonets fixed, not firing a shot, headed for every salient along the Confederate lines." They were allowed by Lee "to approach unmolested to within good musket range, when every available gun was opened upon them with grape and canister, and the men, rising in the trenches, poured into their ranks volley after volley." The Northern soldiers were forced to fall back and their casualties were heavy.

James Dawson had participated in all of the regiment’s engagements and he participated in this assault in which the regiment suffered twenty-three killed in action, twelve who sustained fatal wounds, forty-three with non-fatal wounds and four who were captured. Among the wounded was Cyrus Dean who was one of very few who had been able to enter the Confederate lines. Suffering from a chest wound, he was taken prisoner and treated in a Confederate hospital but soon died. Also breaching the Confederate defenses was James Dawson. With a severe wound to his right arm, he was captured, treated and on June 2d released to Federal troops opposite the city. From there he was taken to Memphis where he was hospitalized but in late June died from his wounds. The place of his burial is unknown.

On July 8, 1873, Nicholas applied for a dependent father’s pension saying James left no widow or children and Nicholas had been “dependent upon said son for support.” He had given forty-four acres to his oldest son, Daniel and forty-three acres to Peter before selling the remaining acreage to Peter. Several supportive affidavits were filed but, in a “private” note to the pension office, Dr. William Watson said, while Nicholas was an “honest candid man,” Dr. Watson thought Nicholas had been “induced to make this claim by Arch. N. Stuart who is constantly urging such persons to allow him to forward claims on their behalf.” An investigation followed, eleven witnesses were deposed by a special examiner, several withdrew statements attributed to them in earlier affidavits and even Nicholas testified “that he has never been dependent on any of his boys for support.” Nicholas’s claim was denied. He died on January 19, 1878, and was buried next to his wife in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery where Daniel and Peter are also buried.





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