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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 biography 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.


George Fengler was born on April 9, 1841 in Breslau, a town founded by German immigrants and now located in Poland. His family immigrated to the United States in 1849 and moved to Iowa in 1850. It was there that he met Alice M. Curtis. Alice was born on January 13, 1845, in Bellevue, Iowa, and on August 21, 1861, they were married in Dubuque “on application of said Fengler and satisfactory proof by the written consent of the mother of Alice.” A daughter, Melvina, was born the following year.

Confederate cannon had fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, war followed, and thousands of men, both North and South died. On July 9, 1862, Governor Sam Kirkwood received a telegram asking him to raise five regiments as part of the President’s call for another 300,000 three-year men. If the state’s quota wasn’t raised by August 15th, it "would be made up by draft" but a draft was never needed.

George Fengler was a twenty-one-year-old farmer when he enlisted on August 21st and the next day, at Camp Franklin on Eagle Point in Dubuque, he was mustered into Company A. On September 9th, when all ten companies were of sufficient strength, they were mustered in as the 21st Regiment of Iowa’s Volunteer Infantry. On the 16th, crowded on board the sidewheel steamer Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside, they started down the Mississippi. They spent the night of the 17th on Rock Island, resumed their trip about noon on the 18th, debarked at Montrose due to low water levels, traveled by train to Montrose, boarded the Hawkeye State and reached St. Louis on the 20th. After a morning inspection on the 21st, they traveled by train to Rolla where they engaged in training until the 18th of October when they started the first of their many long marches.

Bimonthly company muster rolls were taken on the last day of the period and George was marked “present” on rolls taken on October 31st at Salem and December 31st at Houston after being detailed on November 22d to a Pioneer Corps. In corps usually composed of soldiers temporarily released from regular duty, pioneers cleared roads, erected bridges, loaded and unloaded boats and supply wagons, built breastworks and dug trenches and other structures, sometimes working alone and sometimes with civilians, mostly negroes, who were hired or impressed for similar work. George continued “present” on February 28, 1863, at Iron Mountain, Missouri, and was with the regiment in April when they were transported downstream from Ste. Genevieve to Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, where General Grant was assembling a large three-corps army to capture Vicksburg. In a corps led by General John McClernand, they moved slowly south along muddy roads, across bayous and through swamps west of the river.

Grant hoped to cross the river to Grand Gulf but, when it proved to be too well defended, he took the advice of a former slave who said there was a good crossing not much farther downstream. On April 30, 1863, they crossed from Disharoon’s Plantation to the Bruinsburg Landing in Mississippi where the 21st Infantry was designated as the point regiment for the entire 30,000-man army. Starting inland in late afternoon, they continued in darkness until fired on by Confederate pickets about midnight. A brief exchange of gunfire followed before men rested and the next day George participated with his regiment in the Battle of Port Gibson. With three men having received fatal wounds and another fourteen having wounds that were less serious, men were allowed to rest, bury the dead and care for the wounded while other regiments took the lead and engaged in battle at Raymond. On the 16th they were present during the Battle of Champion Hill when they were held out of action by General McClernand and forced to listen as men in other regiments were being killed. In a postwar address, George Crooke recalled that “those who stood there that day will surely never forget the bands of humiliation and shame which bound them to the spot, while listening to the awful crashes of musketry and thunders of cannon close by.”

Having been held out of action on the 16th, they were rotated to the front on the 17th and, with the 23rd Iowa, led a successful assault on Confederates entrenched near the railroad bridge over the Big Black River. In this three-minute assault they had seven killed in action, eighteen who would soon die from mortal wounds and another forty with less severe wounds. Among them was Colonel Sam Merrill who was severely wounded and fell on the field while leading his men who praised their leader as having “true grit.” From the Big Black they moved to Vicksburg where George continued with the regiment during an assault on May 22nd and for the duration of the ensuing siege that ended with the city’s surrender on the Fourth of July, 1863.

During much of the siege Confederates led by General Joe Johnson had lurked behind the Union lines although causing few problems. As soon as Vicksburg surrendered, Grant ordered Sherman to lead a force against Johnston. George and others able for duty were with him as they left on the 5th and pursued Johnston all the way to Jackson. There, during a brief siege, George was wounded in the left wrist and on the 17th was sent to St. Louis where he was admitted to the New House of Refuge General Hospital.

By the end of October, he had returned and in November was with the regiment when they were transported across the Gulf for six months’ service along the coast of Texas with George being promoted from Private to 6th Corporal. After leaving Texas in April, 1864, George was present on June 30th at Terrebonne Station and August 31st at Morganza, both in Louisiana, on October 31st on the White River of Arkansas, and on December 31st at Memphis although for much of the month he, like many others, was treated for “bilious diarrhea,” an illness that caused the death of at least sixty-four of his comrades. In the spring of 1865, he was present during the campaign to capture the city of Mobile, Alabama, before returning to Louisiana. In June, those who had enlisted as recruits after the original organization of the regiment were transferred to a 34th/38th Consolidated regiment for further service, thirty-seven men in Company A who had enlisted early were discharged and others in the company, including George Fengler, were transferred to Company F. On July 15th, those still present were mustered out at Baton Rouge and on the 16th, on board the Lady Gay, they started north. They were discharged from the military on July 24th at Clinton.

George returned to Dubuque where he and Alice had ten more children - George Adolph known as “Richard” (1866), Edwin (1868), Olive (1869), George Albert (1874), Alice (1875), Oscar (1877), Octavia (1878), Leopold (1881), Randolph (1883) and Orrin (1889).

In 1862 George had been mustered into service on Eagle Point in Dubuque. After the war he established the Eagle Point Lime Works with kilns producing lime that was shipped east to Wisconsin, north to Minnesota, all over Iowa and as far west as the Dakotas. He joined the G.A.R., served as U.S. Surveyor of Customs, represented the Fifth Ward on the city council, and in 1872 attended the regiment’s first reunion, a two-day event that started on September 16th, ten years to the day from when they had left for war. In 1883 the city council granted a twenty-five-year license to George and several others to operate an Eagle Point Ferry to Wisconsin.

Business was good but George, like many other veterans, applied for an invalid pension with support from two of his comrades, Lovatus Fuller and Albert Curtis, both of Company A, who confirmed his wound. He was examined by Dr. William Watson whose affidavit said the wound “causes some inconvenience” but the physical disability was minor and no pension was granted. George applied again in 1874 with Archibald Stuart, a former member of Company G, as his attorney. A $2.00 monthly pension was granted and, in 1884, George applied for an increase saying he “cannot hold anything by his left hand as he has no control of the nerves, that he cannot milk his cows, or drive his horses, and that his team ran away with him by reason of the inability of his left arm.” The pension was increased, but his health was failing. By 1899 he was diagnosed with cancer and needed constant attention. On April 28, 1900, at fifty-nine years of age, he died at his home, 1059 Garfield Street.

George’s will left everything to his wife and soon after his death Alice applied for a widow’s pension and a pension for Orrin who was only eleven years old, but proving she needed support proved difficult. George had acquired a lot of property for his Eagle Point business, their home and elsewhere in the county. Affidavits were filed by George’s comrades and by the county’s Recorder and Treasurer. A Pension Bureau Special Examiner was appointed and depositions were taken of Alice and her son, Edwin, living at 854 Rhomberg Avenue and now running the Lime Works. Eventually the Bureau was convinced that, although Alice now owned many properties, they were heavily mortgaged and the $4,500 proceeds of George’s insurance policy had been used to pay debts. On July 9, 1901, a certificate was issued providing an $8.00 monthly pension for Alice and $2.00 for Orrin, an amount he would receive until his sixteenth birthday.

Alice was seventy-four years old when she died on November 30, 1919. She and George are buried in the city’s Linwood Cemetery.


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