Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday Aug 30, 2003 

Saturday Postcard 209: Civil War Impacts Iowa City, UI

Civil War-era Metropolitan Hall stands as the massive building on the left (west) Dubuque Street frontage in this image 
looking north from near College Street about 1906. Servicemen were feted in Metropolitan Hall going to and coming 
home from war duty. It burned in 1912, making way for Hotel Jefferson.


By Bob Hibbs

The 1861-1865 Civil War impacted Iowa City as strongly as it did most of America.


Nearly 200 Iowa City men died in the war. The University of Iowa lost many male students and some of its faculty. Its president fled Iowa City fearing for his family’s safety after being characterized as southern sympathizers.


The 22nd Iowa Regiment organized in Iowa City was among many highly praised Union units. Of 960 men in the regiment, more than 600 were from Iowa City and UI. The regiment lost 214 men, including its commander, Col. William Milo Stone of Iowa City. 


All totaled, about 125 UI students went off to war from enrollments below 300. Tuition fell from $4 to $2 per course to be affordable to more women. University enrollment went from half women in 1861 to 54 percent in 1862, to 65 percent in 1863.


The Iowa 22nd was organized on what now are Longfellow Elementary School grounds, then called Camp Pope, and departed Iowa City Sept. 14, 1862, for what proved to be three years. A community-wide send-off was organized around a banquet and dance at Metropolitan Hall, then considered the best hall in Iowa City, located on what is now the Jefferson Building site downtown.


After service in New Orleans and Texas, the regiment fought in major battles in Mississippi at Fort Gibson, Jackson and Vicksburg.  It also fought the battles of Winchester Court House and Cedar Creek in Virginia in 1864. The unit was mustered out of service at Savannah, Ga., on July 20, 1865, arriving back home on Aug. 3.


A three-day hero’s welcome again included banquets and dances at Metropolitan Hall.


The university had reopened for good in 1860 under new president Silas Totten, a New Yorker who had gained some distinction teaching in eastern schools, was ordained an Episcopalian minister, and elected president of Trinity College in Connecticut in 1837.


An ardent pacifist who opposed all wars to settle political ends, he had served 11 years at William & Mary College in Virginia, resigning after being passed over for its presidency due to his northern background. Ironically, his Virginia background caused his resignation from UI in 1862 with false claims he was a southern sympathizer.


Although he served less than two years, Totten had gotten UI reopened and had instituted an organizational plan which was building UI enrollment. After a liquored mob of perhaps 200 marched on his Iowa City home, he resigned and moved his family to Davenport. Rumors had accused son Richard of avoiding Union service.


Civil War impacts on Iowa City were many, varied and lasting.


P.S. The Ardenia column of last week marked the fourth anniversary of this effort. That 208th article gave this writer the pleasure of more response than any other recently. The varied comments were fun; we gained an image of a horse at Plum Grove named Larry Ginter which has a street named for it; and talked to former Ardenia tenants.


Richard Tyler, now a medical professor at UI, called to say he lived in Ardenia during the 1970s in one of five units (not three as we erroneously reported); that he adored the place even though it was “inexpensive.”  He recalled vegetable gardens, picnics on the vast grounds and camaraderie among residents with whom he still has contact. 


He also issued an invitation to see his current project, restoration and care of an octagonal barn in far eastern Johnson County near Downey. The barn was built in 1883 by prominent farm couple Esther and Joshua Secrest, who eventually retired to Summit Street in Iowa City. Although Secrest died in 1911, his barn still exists.


Local history produces few dull moments; comments and suggestions from the public are always welcome.


Next Saturday: Crandic Railway links Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.


Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and researches history related to them. 

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