The son of Henry G. and Margaret (Burdign) Kephart, Caleb
was born in Pennsylvania on March 4, 1844. From there the family
moved to Cottage Hill, Iowa, where Henry had a small blacksmith
shop. Caleb lived at home, worked with his father and contributed
his earnings to the family.
At Cottage Hill on August 22, 1862, eighteen-year-old Caleb
was enrolled by Manchester’s Joseph Watson in what would be
Company H of the 21st Iowa Volunteer Infantry, a company that had
been ordered into quarters at Dubuque’s Camp Franklin the previous
week. Formerly known as Camp Union, the camp was located "on a
sandy plateau on the bank of the Mississippi" "at the upper end of
the bottom land adjoining Lake Peosta" just south of Eagle Point.
Its ten buildings were each twenty by sixty feet and "arranged to
accommodate one hundred men each" On the 23rd, the company was
mustered in with a total of ninety-three men and, on September
9th, ten companies were mustered as a regiment. Caleb was
described as being five feet eight inches tall with blue eyes,
dark hair and a fair complexion. As a private, he received $13.00
as one-month’s pay and, like other volunteers, a $25.00 advance on
the $100.00 enlistment bonus and a $2.00 premium.
On a rainy morning, September 16, 1862, the regiment left
camp 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 the soldiers boarded an overly crowded
Henry Clay and two open
barges tied alongside, "packing ourselves like sardines in a box."
On the second day of their trip, due to low water at Montrose,
they had to debark, travel by rail to Keokuk and board the
Hawkeye State that took
them to St. Louis. From there they traveled by rail to Rolla and
that’s where they were on October 14th when Caleb’s mother died.
She is buried in Cottage Hill Cemetery where her stone says she
36 Yrs. 1 Mo. & 2 days
when taken home above.
She was a kind and affectionate wife
and a friend to all.
From Rolla men able for duty walked south to Salem,
Houston, Hartville and then, after a wagon train was attacked on
November 24th, back to Houston. Many from the regiment
participated in a one day battle at Hartville on January 11, 1863,
but there’s no indication that Caleb was with them. After the
battle, they returned to Houston and rejoined their comrades who
had not been in the battle. Those able for duty walked south to
West Plains and then northeast to Thomasville, Ironton, Iron
Mountain and St. Genevieve. They were then transported down the
Mississippi to Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was organizing
a large army to capture Vicksburg.
After crossing the river from Disharoon’s Plantation to
Bruinsburg on April 30th, Caleb participated in the May 1st Battle
of Port Gibson, was present during the May 16th Battle of
Champion’s Hill when the regiment was held in reserve by General
McClernand, participated in a May 17th assault at the Big Black
River, participated in a May 22nd assault at Vicksburg, and
participated in the successful siege that ended on July 4th.
During the campaign the regiment had lost thirty-four men killed
in action and thirty-one others whose wounds later proved fatal.
Many others had non-fatal wounds.
Caleb continued with the regiment when it moved to
Louisiana in August, 1863, during six months it spent along the
Gulf coast of Texas, and on June 30, 1864, when they were
stationed at Terrebonne Station in Louisiana. On July 8th they
traveled by rail to Algiers where they camped not far from the
river. Matthew King, one of Caleb’s comrades in Company H, kept a
diary and, on July 13th noted that the day was “cloudy but
pleasant” and Caleb Kephart “is very sick in the hospital.” On the
19th it was raining and the regiment had “new guns and white
gloves,” but “Henry Paul, Caleb Kephart and Alfred Goldsmith are
sick in hospital.” Henry and Alfred recovered, but Caleb did not.
On July 28, 1864, Caleb died of “chronic dysentery” in New
Orleans’ University Hospital. His personal effects were
inventoried: “one Uniform coat, one Blouse, 2 pr. Trowsers, 2 pr.
Drawers, 2 Flannel Shirts, 2 pr. Socks.” He is buried in Chalmette
Caleb’s father, Henry Kephart, owned forty acres in Dubuque
County and another twenty acres of “poor brush land,” but was
severely handicapped after becoming ill with a “hip joint disease
when quite young.” His right leg was four inches shorter and half
the size of his left leg and he wore “a high iron heel to make him
walk level.” In 1879 he applied for a dependent father’s pension
with supportive affidavits from friends and neighbors.
After Caleb’s death, with the help of his other children,
Henry had worked the best he could in his blacksmith shop but in
1868 felt compelled to sell the forty acres. The brush land was
“sold for taxes” and Henry left Cottage Hill. Since then he had
been “living different places with my sons occasionally & going
around from place to place where I could get light jobs doing
black smith work to support myself until 1877 when I was unable to
work” and moved in with Taylor (one of his sons) in Clarksville.
David Edmiston testified to Henry’s marriage to Margaret at
Spruce Creek, Pennsylvania “Sept 2d 1840" and the birth of Caleb
“at Mill Creek Furnace on or about March 4 1844.” Henry said his
wife “died at Cottage Hill Iowa, on the 14th day of October, A.D.
1862" and he had not remarried. James Montgomery said he had his
blacksmithing done by Henry and Charles Platt had a wagon shop
next to Henry’s. The two men signed a joint affidavit saying that,
when Caleb died, “there were seven children all under sixteen
years of age dependent upon the aid of said son with the labor
which said father could do and he could not labor one half of a
mans work by reason of a lameness in the right leg.”
Henry said it was six, not seven, siblings who were living
when Caleb died and that Caleb, “in part, if not wholly,” had
supported them and his father. Thomas Greenley and John Ridler
(who had served with Caleb) had been “near neighbors” of Henry and
said his forty acres had been worth about $800 but had a $450
mortgage and, after it was sold, “his family got all scattered
around as he could not keep them together being unable to do
anything for them.”
The Pension Office sent an inquiry to the Adjutant
General’s Office which confirmed Caleb’s military service while
Dr. E. H. Dudley in Shell Rock examined Henry and agreed that he
was “wholly unfit to perform manual labor.” On April 22, 1882,
Henry’s claim was submitted by a Pension Examiner and on May 10th
it was approved by a Legal Reviewer. A certificate was mailed
entitling Henry to $8.00 monthly retroactive to July 29, 1864, the
day after Caleb’s death. The amount had been increased to $12.00
monthly by the time Henry died on April 20, 1904. He is buried in
Lynwood Cemetery, Clarksville.