|JOHNSON COUNTY IAGenWeb Project|
By Bob Hibbs
Civil War significant sites in Iowa City include Metropolitan Hall (left, north face), the stile or steps over a fence
at the southeast corner of Pentacrest (center) which served as a speaking platform, and the Johnson County
Court House of that era. Another was the east steps of Old Capitol. Images from the author’s database.
Civil War arrived in Iowa City four days after hostilities were triggered at
Fort Sumter, S.C.; but, when word came, its impact was immediate and
Gov. Samuel Kirkwood hailed from Iowa City where he was a successful miller,
merchant and lawyer, the University of Iowa would lose a major portion of its
older male students and some faculty members to volunteer war service, and
debate was stirred by the presence of a few “Copperheads,” as pro-South
persons were called.
speakers’ stand formed by a fence stile at the southeast corner of
Pentacrest made the Clinton-Washington streets intersection a lively spot with
awareness that the nation was at war. An image that includes the stile was
recorded about 1865 by pioneer photographer Isaac Wetherby.
the nearest telegraph point being Davenport, it was April 18, 1861, before
word arrived of the April 14 Fort Sumter attack.
alum of 1866 Mrs. Ellen Rich provided a first-hand account of local activity
published in the January 1899 issue of the Iowa Historical Record of the State
records that a few southern sympathizers initially found it difficult to
suppress their feelings despite a faculty rule forbidding badges of any
nature. “Copperhead pins” and confederate flags were seen in the North
Hall chapel and in classrooms, she reports, and five students were suspended.
Pres. Silas Totten left Iowa City in fear for his family after a local mob
from the beer halls numbering some 200 men showed up at his home after rumor
spread that eldest son, Richard, had spoken favorably of the southern cause
and reportedly was expelled by UI’s Zetagathian debating society. Totten
resigned Aug. 23, 1862.
he was a native New Yorker; but, as a liberal-minded educator would hear all
sides of any issue.
overwhelmingly, both the university and surrounding community supported the
the Thursday evening that word of Fort Sumter reached Iowa City, a gathering
of locals and students headed by Mayor George Clark gathered at the Johnson
County Court House to hear speeches and a call by Gov. Kirkwood for
enlistments and money for needy families of those who served.
volunteered and $3,000 was pledged for support. Thirty UI cadets in a unit
calling itself the Washington Guards brought the initial list of volunteers
within five of the 78 needed for a full company.
Saturday afternoon Gov. Kirkwood joined Mayor Clark and others on the east
steps of Old Capitol to generate further recruits and funds.
same evening brought calls for another company during a meeting at
Metropolitan Hall, a three-story business building capped by a large
third-floor hall on what is now the Jefferson Building site downtown.
Clark arrived back on the Chicago train the next day with cloth for uniforms.
After worship services women gathered in Metropolitan Hall to begin the task
of sewing. Apparently to avoid embarrassment of working on Sunday, newspapers
reported the work began on Monday.
drills at the fair grounds filled time of volunteers. After a farewell banquet
at Metropolitan Hall, Company B of the First Iowa Volunteer Regiment, under
the command of UI’s Capt. Bradley Mahana left by train for Davenport, and
then traveled by steamboat to Clinton for rendezvous with other regimental
local volunteers served in several regiments, particularly the highly regarded
960-man 22nd Iowa, with seven of 10 companies filled by Johnson County men.
enrollment climbed from 172 in 1861 to 668 in 1866, although Mrs. Rich reports
that seven male classmates during 1865-66 had but one arm.
Civil War exacted a high toll in lives and treasure, both locally and
nationally, but preserved the American union. Who could ask more of any
Saturday: Airmail at Iowa City.
Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and other historic ephemera and researches history related to them.