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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.



      Ambrose Fanning was the son of Timothy and Elizabeth Fanning. Timothy and his brother, James, had been early settlers of Dubuque County and by 1837, only three years after the county was founded, James was serving on the county board and Timothy was a Dubuque town trustee. The following year, the territorial legislature authorized Timothy to operate a horse ferry from Dubuque to Dunleith (now East Dubuque) and he purchased property and opened a tavern he called “Tim Fanning’s Log Tavern.” Its hotel portion, The Jefferson House, was the site of the city’s first St. Patrick’s Day celebration where “sixty gentlemen sat down to a festive dinner” and “thirteen toasts were raised to the occasion.” James would serve as Mayor in 1843 while Timothy served four terms as an Alderman. James died in 1857 and was buried in the city’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.

      Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter in 1861 and war followed. By the summer of 1862 significant casualties caused the President to ask for another 300,000 volunteers and on July 9th Iowa Governor Sam Kirkwood, the state’s fifth governor, received a telegram asking him to raise five regiments of about 1,000 men each. Convincing that many men, mostly farmers, to leave home with a fall harvest looming would not be easy, but Governor Kirkwood assured the President that Iowa’s quota would be met. “We have now scarcely men enough to save our crops,” he said, “but if need be our women can help.”

      On August 15, 1862, Ambrose Fanning was enrolled by Dubuque real estate agent Leonard Horr in what would be Company F of the 21st regiment of Iowa’s volunteer infantry. Ambrose’s Descriptive Book said he was 5' 10" tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion; occupation “artist.” His age was listed as 21, but Ambrose would later say he was only 17 when he enlisted. They were mustered into service at Dubuque’s Camp Franklin, the company on August 22nd with 100 men and the regiment on September 9th with a total of 985. On a rainy September 16th, they marched through town and, from the levee at the foot of Jones Street, boarded the Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside and started south. Due to low summertime water levels, they had to debark at Montrose and travel by rail to Keokuk where they boarded the Hawkeye State before continuing to St. Louis.

      From there they were taken by rail to Rolla where they would spend the first month of their service. They were still there on October 19th when the Dubuque Daily Times published a letter from a member of the regiment that said, “Brose Fanning is our regimental artist, who has been to St. Louis, and procured a complete lot of photographic stock with a new instrument, and is now making views of camp & etc.” By then the regiment was in Salem where, on October 31st, Ambrose was marked “present” on the first bimonthly muster roll. From Salem they went to Houston and then Hartville where Ambrose was “clerk of post commissary” but, a wagon train bringing supplies from the Rolla railhead having been attacked on November 24th, they soon returned to Houston. While there word was received that a Confederate column moving north from Arkansas was headed for the Union post in Springfield. Ambrose was one of twenty-five volunteers from his company who joined a hastily organized relief column that, on the way to Springfield, met the Confederates in a one-day battle at Hartville.

      They returned to Houston after the battle and moved to West Plains in January with Ambrose remaining behind, sick in a Houston hospital. He was still there on February 17th when his father died in Dubuque and while the regiment continued its service in Missouri, crossed the river to Mississippi and participated in the Vicksburg Campaign. Regimental records indicated Ambrose “deserted,” but he had actually been furloughed from the hospital and on June 30, 1863, was detailed to serve in Hurlbut’s Battery of Light Artillery (African Descent) at Memphis. On August 27th, Shubael Adams, the Provost Marshal in Dubuque, certified “that Ambrose Fanning has reported to me and that I have examined his papers and find them correct and in regular form. that he is on detached service with Hurlbut’s Battery” at Fort Pickering in Memphis. Ambrose continued with the battery until September 4, 1863, when he was “detailed on Special Duty” and ordered to serve as Sergeant Major of the 3rd Battalion of 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery (later designated Company L, 3rd Regiment, U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery) also in Memphis.

      On December 28, 1863, still a member of the 21st Iowa but on detached duty, Ambrose wrote to the commander of his regiment and asked that he be “dropped from the rolls of the co to which I formerly belonged” and hoped “that company ‘F’ of the old 21st with her young commander will fare well & that the 21st will also fare well. I now take my farewell from the 21st forever.” His service in Memphis continued without incident until the night of December 12, 1864, when he lied to a guard, said he had a pass, went into the city, became intoxicated with enlisted men and reentered Fort Pickering by giving a countersign he had obtained improperly. On the 13th, he wrote a letter to his captain admitting he had failed to secure a pass, but three days later was arrested and formal charges were preferred alleging “Absence without leave,” “Conduct prejudicial to good Order and military discipline” and “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a gentleman.”

      The nature of the discipline (if any) and whether he resigned or was discharged is not clear from government records that indicate, despite charges being preferred, there was “no evidence of a trial” ever being held. Instead, according to Ambrose, “I resigned from the Artillery regiment to fix up some property & in 8 days reenlisted in the 8th Regiment U.S. Vet Vols” and rolls for that regiment confirm that on February 4, 1865, he was enrolled as a private in Company K and served until being mustered out on February 20, 1866.

      Ambrose’s wife, Anna (Cowles) Fanning, died of cancer on May 25, 1888, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Farmington, Connecticut. Four years later, Ambrose applied for an invalid pension saying he had been honorably discharged from the military and was now suffering from kidney disease, impaired vision and partial deafness. He was ordered to appear for a medical examination in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, but the examination never took place. According to a letter dated February 12, 1893, from the Manhattan Dispensary (and Hospital), 131st Street & Amsterdam Avenue, Ambrose “came to this hospital on business Jan. 30. Said he was not feeling well our Physician examined him told him he was a sick man and ought not to go out,” but “he continued to fail and died on the 9th of Feby. The Press Club took charge of the remains and he was interred on their grounds” at Cypress Hill Cemetery, Brooklyn, with his occupation listed as “reporter.”

      On April 21, 1893, Ambrose’s mother, Elizabeth Fanning, was living in Toronto, Ohio, when she applied for a dependent mother’s pension. She said Ambrose and Anna had never had any children and she had been dependent on him for her support. To prove her claim, she had to provide evidence that she was Ambrose’s mother, he supported her financially, he had no surviving wife or children, he had been honorably discharged and he had died from a service-related illness. Numerous letters were written and affidavits filed supporting her claim, but her own word was not sufficient and acceptable third-party evidence was never received. The claim was apparently still pending and unproven when the file was closed in 1899. Elizabeth was elderly and it’s possible she had died and been buried in a local cemetery in Toronto.





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