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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.



      Alfred, born July 25, 1842, was one of ten children born to Naugle and Susan Kephart. Their first six children were born in Pennsylvania but, in 1838, the family took a three-week river trip to Iowa where they settled on a farm near Cottage Hill. It was there that Alfred and three other children were born.

      Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. For more than a year battles were fought, campaigns were waged and thousands died. With the initial ranks depleted, a call was made for another 300,000 men and, on July 9, 1862, Iowa’s Governor, Sam Kirkwood, received a telegram asking him to raise five new regiments. If they weren’t raised, a draft was likely. Despite the approaching harvest season, the Governor was confident the state would meet its quota. At Cottage Hill on August 22d, Alfred was enrolled by Manchester’s Salue Van Anda in what would be Company H of the 21st regiment of Iowa’s volunteer infantry. Also enlisting in the regiment were three of his cousins (Caleb Kephart and brothers Conrad and Jacob Kephart). Joining them was their uncle, John D. Kephart. Company H was mustered in at Dubuque’s Camp Franklin on August 23rd and, on September 9th, ten companies were mustered in with a total of 985 men, officers and enlisted. Soldiers had to be physically fit, but medical examinations were cursory at best. John Ridler, one of Alfred’s comrades, said “we were both stripped together and examined by the Doctor and we were tent mates” and Alfred, he said, “was a sound and ablebodied man.”

      On a rainy September 16th, after only brief and largely ineffective training, they walked through town and crowded on board the 181-foot sidewheel steamer Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside. After one night on Rock Island, they resumed their trip, debarked at Montrose due to low water levels, traveled by train to Keokuk, boarded the Hawkeye State and continued to St. Louis where they arrived on the 20th and went into quarters at Camp Benton. On the 21st they were inspected by Brigadier General John Wynn Davidson and that night boarded cars of the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad and rode through the night to Rolla. From there they moved to Salem, Houston and Hartville. After a wagon train bringing supplies from the railhead in Rolla was attacked on November 24th, Colonel Sam Merrill, a postwar Governor of Iowa, moved the regiment back to the more secure confines of Houston. On January 9, 1863, word was received that a Confederate force was moving north from Arkansas to attack a Union base in Springfield. A relief force including 262 volunteers from the 21st Infantry left quickly and, on the night of the 10th, camped along Wood’s Fork of the Gasconade River unaware that two Confederate columns had united and were camped nearby. The next morning each became aware of the other and, after brief skirmishing, they fought a day-long battle at Hartville. Alfred Kephart was one of twenty-five from Company H who had volunteered and participated in the battle.

      After returning to Houston and joining their comrades who had not been in the battle, those able for duty walked south to West Plains and then northeast to Ironton, Iron Mountain and, on March 11th, arrived in St. Genevieve. From there they were transported to Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was organizing an army to capture Vicksburg. Alfred was present during the entire campaign, fought at Port Gibson on May 1st, was present on May 16th when the regiment was held in reserve during the Battle of Champion’s Hill, participated in a May 17th assault at the Big Black River and participated in a May 22nd assault at Vicksburg. He continued on duty throughout the ensuing siege that ended with General Pemberton’s surrender of the city on July 4th. The next day Alfred left with others in pursuit of Confederate General Joe Johnston from the rear of Vicksburg and east to and through the capital at Jackson. They then returned to Vicksburg.

      Alfred continued to be marked “present” on bimonthly company muster rolls at Vicksburg, at Carrollton in Louisiana, during more than six months when they were stationed on the Gulf coast of Texas, at Morganza in Louisiana, along the White River of Arkansas and at Memphis, Tennessee. Their final campaign, a campaign to capture the city of Mobile, was in the spring of 1865. Leaving from New Orleans, they boarded the transport steamer George Peabody and traveled east across the Gulf and went ashore on Dauphin Island at the entrance to Mobile Bay on the night of February 7, 1865. On March 16th they crossed the bay’s entrance and began a slow movement north along the east side of the bay. On April 12th, after the capitulation of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely, they entered the city. On April 13th they camped near the Jesuit College of St. Joseph at Spring Hill and on April 14th President Lincoln was assassinated. With little to do, soldiers toured the college and its museum and, anticipating an end to the war, wrote letters to friends and relatives. Company B’s Jim Bethard wrote to his wife on the 15th, Linus McKinnie wrote to the North Iowa Times on the 18th, Alfred Kephart wrote to his mother on the 19th indicating “we have cpplended water  we are doing picket duty,” and on the 21st Epworth’s Marion Griffin wrote to his brother that “this evening brings sad intelligence to us (Soldiers) that is the murdering of President Lincoln.”

      They boarded the Mustang on May 26th, returned to New Orleans, saw service along the Red River of Louisiana, and were mustered out at Baton Rouge on July 15th. On the 16th, on board the Lady Gay, they started north and on the 24th were discharged from the military at Clinton. Military records indicate Alfred had been present on all company muster rolls throughout the war, he had participated in every assault and battle, and there is nothing to indicate he had ever been sick. He had survived the war, but two of his cousins had not.

      In Dubuque County on Christmas Day 1867, Alfred and Mary Meyers were married by William Glew, a Justice of the Peace in Cottage Hill, and during the next twenty-six years Mary would give birth to eleven children: Bertha (1869), Lottie (1871), William (1873), Levi (1876), Mable (1878), Roscoe (1881), George W. (1883), Mary (1886), George E. (1888), Verlie (1891) and Alfred Jr. (1893). Initially the family lived in Dubuque County where Alfred engaged in farming, but they later moved to Jackson County in Minnesota.

      In the postwar years many, if not most, of his comrades applied for invalid pensions based on an illness or wound received during the war, but Alfred had no wartime health issues and did not apply. In 1890, a new pension act was adopted by Congress. To qualify, applicants had to prove at least ninety days’ service, an honorable discharge and ratable health issues not due to “vicious habits.” This time, the health problem did not have to be service-related and on June 24, 1892, Alfred applied. At forty-nine years of age, he said he was no longer able to earn a support by manual labor “by reason of weak eyes and rheumatism, heart disease, and general debility.” It took several years, affidavits by people who knew him, an examination by a board of pension surgeons and a review of his military records by the War Department but finally, on December 5, 1894, a Certificate was issued entitling him to a pension of $6.00 monthly payable quarterly through the local pension agent. In 1905 he received an increase to $10.00.

      In 1921 he suffered a stroke and, said Mary, was “confined to his bed entirely, except when we set him up in a reclining wheel chair for short periods.” On December 21st of that year Alfred died at their home in Lakefield. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Jackson, Minnesota.

      In January, Mary applied for a widow’s pension and later that year her application was approved at a rate of $30.00 monthly, an amount she was receiving when she died on August 26, 1936. Like Alfred, she is buried in Riverside Cemetery.


~ Compiled & submitted by Carl Ingwalson <cingwalson@cfilaw.com>

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