The census of 1860 shows that Keokuk county, at that time had a population of 13,271. During the war of the rebellion the county sent about 1000 to the field of her bravest and strongest sons.
At the outbreak of this war Keokuk county was in the full tide of activity and prosperity. Her material resources were being rapidly developed and all the various branches of business and the learned professions were keeping pace in the front ranks of progress. The people were just recovering from the financial crisis of 1857 and those who had toiled in the land during those times which tried men's souls had begun to see the dawning of better days. Immediately surrounded by the noise of industry and the continuous hum of business they heard little and believed less of the rumored plots and plans of those who lived to grow rich from the toil sweat of others and whose leading branch of trade was the traffic in souls and bodies of men. But still the war was upon them, and the thundering of cannon at the very gates of the national capital soon broke the spell of busy peace and they soon passed from a serious contemplation of the possibility of war to the realization of its actual presence and the duties which the issues of the day made incumbent upon them as loyal citizens of the Union.
Fort Sumpter was fired upon April 12, 1861, and on the 15th of the same month the president issued the following proclamation:
"Whereas, The laws of the United States have been and are now opposed in several States by combinations too powerful to be suppressed in an ordinary way, I therefore call upon the militia of the several States of the Union, to aggregate number of 75,000 to suppress the said combination and execute the laws. I appeal to all loyal citizens for State aid in this effort to maintain the laws, integrity, National Union, perpetuity of popular government, and redress wrongs long enough endured."
"The first service of forces will probably be to repossess forts, place and property which have been seized from the Union. The utmost care should be taken, consistent with our object, to avoid devastation, destruction and interference with property of peaceable citizens in any part of the country, and I hereby command persons commanding the aforesaid combinations to disperse within twenty days from date."
"I hereby convene both Houses of Congress for the 4th day of July next, to determine upon measures for the public safety, as its interest may demand."
" By W. H. Seward, |
Secretary of State "
President of the United States "
Of this call for volunteers, only one regiment was required to fill the quota of Iowa. The proclamation of Governor Kirkwood calling for this regiment was issued at Iowa City, April 17th. The men of Iowa sprang to arms as one man, and hundreds of volunteers were offered whom the State did not need.
Company F, of the Fifth Regiment, Captain Sampson, was the first on ready in Keokuk County. E. S. Sampson and N. H. Keith who subsequently were appointed captain and lieutenant of the company, were chiefly instrumental in recruiting this company, although many other citizens of the county aided, and the company was ready for duty in a little over a week from the time the call was made. Captain Sampson immediately made application for a place in the First Regiment, but too late, a regiment was already full.
When the call was made for more men the company was reorganized and went in camp a few days later at Sigourney. It will be remembered that the government experienced great difficulty at first to equip the men as rapidly as they volunteered, and in order to facilitate matter, Captain Sampson, while his men were encamped at Sigourney, borrowed money of S. A. Alexander, paying interest therefore at the rate of thirty six percent, with to buy cloth for uniforms: the cloth having been procured, the ladies of Sigourney laid aside all other work, including all the care of their households and gave their whole attention to the work of making up the cloth into uniforms. The company then departed to the State rendezvous, and was incorporated in the Fifth Regiment. E. S. Sampson was appointed captain; W. H. Keith first lieutenant; H. S. Dawson second lieutenant. Captain Sampson afterward became lieutenant colonel of the regiment, and at the expiration of the term of enlistment, there not being enough re-enlistment's from the regiment to maintain its name and organization, those which did re-enlist became a part of the Fifth Cavalry. Company F went into camp at Sigourney, July 3rd, and after remaining there some two weeks went to Burlington, where it went into service as a part of the Fifth Regiment, on July 15th 1861.
The first call of the president for three hundred thousand men, and each succeeding call, received a prompt and liberal response from the people of Keokuk County. From the plow, the workshop, the counting room, and from all the learned professions, the men from every rank of life, of all ages, gray beard, and smooth faced, those who proved themselves to be the bravest of the brave, came forth and enlisted themselves among those who were ready and anxious to endure hardship, meet peril, and if need be, die in defense of the flag. Company F, of the Eight Regiment, was recruited by Captain Andrews and Dr. Yerger, and went into camp at Davenport, shortly after Captain Sampson took his company to Burlington.
Company D, of the Thirteenth Regiment, and a portion of company I, of the same regiment, were recruited in Keokuk county. Company D was recruited by Dr. Price in less than one week. In company with Mr. Clark, the Dr. started out on Monday morning and visited South English, Springfield, Talleyrand, Lancaster, and Richland, holding public meetings at all these places. The enthusiasm was unbounded and by Thursday he returned to Sigourney with sixty recruits. The following evening a public meeting was held in Sigourney, at the close of which his recruits numbered one hundred and one. The next day the company started for the place of rendezvous, and by Saturday evening was in camp at Davenport. There are few counties in this of other States which can show better in recruiting than this. The material, also was of the very best; in this company Mr. Pope enlisted as a private, and came back as the Major of the regiment. The company was conveyed by farmers, in wagons, where cars were waiting to convey it to Davenport. Before leaving Sigourney a large concourse of people from the surrounding county assembled in the court house to formally take leave of their friends. The ladies of Sigourney made a beautiful flag which was presented to the company, Miss Carter, on behalf the ladies, made a brief address on presenting the flag, which was replied to by Dr. Price. This flag was zealously guarded through marches and sieges in camp and in battle, and was brought back to Sigourney whole, but badly faded, by Dr. Price at the close of his term of enlistment.
Company I, of the same regiment was recruited partly in Keokuk and partly in Washington County. Captain Elrod, a Methodist minister, and lieutenant Lynch, were principally instrumental in recruiting this company.
There were two companies raised in Keokuk county for the thirty-third Regiment Company B, recruited by Dr. Yerger and J. H. Shawhan, and Company H recruited by Colonel Mackey, Captain Dillon and Gore. The company which became Company H of the Thirty-Third, was commenced in July, but recruiting went on very slowly until August, when an extra call for troops aroused the people to such a state of enthusiasm that it was immediately filled up. Company B was recruited under the following circumstances: Dr. Yerger and Mr. Shawhan were sitting in a room conversing and the subject of war finally coming up, Mr. Shawhan said he believed he would enlist. Dr. Yerger was of the same mind. Thereupon, they stepped over to the office of the clerk of the district Court and by him were sworn, each taking an oath in the presence of the other, to enlist and go to the war. That same evening they began to recruit company B and in four days a company of 101 men was formed. This company likewise received a flag at the hands of the ladies of Sigourney. A large meeting was held in the Courthouse Square before departure of the company, and the flag was presented. Dr. Yerger on behalf of the company, made a brief address, accepting the flag and promising to defend and honor it, all of which the company did until the unfortunate Yazoo expedition, when the flag was lost with all the other baggage of the regiment. Both of these companies, H and B were taken to Oskaloosa, the place of rendezvous, in farmer's wagons, where they were mustered in to the United States service and became a part of the Thirty-third regiment, C. H. Mackey, who was chiefly instrumental in recruiting Company H, becoming lieutenant-colonel. This regiment became renowned during in subsequent career, and Keokuk County has ever had reason to feel proud of its record. At the time of Lee's surrender the regiment was sent up the Tombigbee river to capture a fleet of rebel boats which had been conveyed thither on the capture of Mobile. Afterward it returned to Mobile and was there at the time of the great explosion which occurred at the latter place in April, 1865. Colonel Mackey, who witnesses this terrific catastrophe, and who but a short time previous had been officer of the day, describes this explosion as the most terribly grand and magnificent horrible event of the war.
In addition to the companies already mentioned, there were some five or six other companies, wholly or in part recruited from Keokuk County: A company in the Eighteenth regiment, a company in the Fortieth, a company in the First cavalry, company in the one hundred days' service and quite a number in the Gray Beard regiment.
While these recruits were at the front, their families at home were not forgotten. Aid societies were formed which assisted the needy and the board of supervisors granted aid from the county fund. During the latter years of the war a regular tax levy was made for this purpose, and it is estimated some fifteen to twenty thousand dollars were contributed in voluntary donations and in taxes for the relief of soldier's families. While there were so many who were ever ready to relieve the wants of the needy it would be unjust to discriminate; there was one, however, who was peculiarly zealous and active in the matter, Mr. William Jackson, who in may ways comforted the sorrowing and aided the needy. He it was who was chiefly instrumental in securing aid from the county fund, and into his hands flowed the voluntary contributions, which he disbursed most faithfully. To him, also, the soldiers sent their spare wages, to be distributed among their families. At one time he had over five thousand dollars of this money in his care, which, in default of a better place of security, he deposited under the floor of a stable.