|Muscatine County, Iowa|
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
31 May 1940
Section 6 - Page 7-8, Submitted by Shirley Plumb, May 29, 2012
Muscatine Has Only Two Veterans Living
Photos of August Eichoff and J. H. Miller
Civil war veterans formed a substantial and progressive portion of Muscatine’s citizenship in 1883 when the Shelby Norman Post, No. 231, Grand Army of the Republic, was organized here, but today only two men survive to represent these courageous men who sprang to the defense of the union.
They are August “Gus” Eichoff, 210 East Fulliam Avenue, and J. H. Miller, 310 East Fifth Street. Both are well over ninety years old.
The Shelby Norman Post was organized Aug. 29, 1883, with only 48 charter members. In taking this name it honored Shelby Norman, a youth less than 20 years old who was one of the first to enlist in the Civil war from this county, and the first to lose his life in battle. The first officers of the post were: Post commander, Dr. S. W. Robertson; senior vice commander, Lyman Banks; junior vice commander, Ben E. Lilly; adjutant, John H. Munroe; quartermaster, Galbraith Bitzer; surgeon, Dr. H. M. Dean; chaplain, R. W. McCampbell; officer of the day, Fred Welker; officer of the guard, J. E. Coe; sergeant major, J. E. Stevens; quartermaster sergeant, W. W. Woodward.
When the court house was finished in 1909, a room in the basement was allotted as a permanent meeting place. The post in 1911 had more than 150 members on its roles.
Mr. Eichoff and Mr. Miller survive three other Civil war veterans who succumbed here during the past year. They were Fred Giesler, who died July 7, 1939; J. N. Platt, who passed away Feb. 14, 1940; and J. C. Corbin, whose death occurred, Feb. 16, 1940.
Mr. Miller was a member of Company A of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry. He enlisted on April 11, 1864, and served until the close of the war in September of 1865. His regiment was at Macon, Ga., when news came of Lee’s surrender at Appamottox.
Mr. Eichoff, who has passed his 92d birthday, served in Company D of the 35th Iowa. He enlisted on Jan. 18, 1864, and saw service in the fierce fighting in which the company engaged.
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Muscatine Was Site of Camp Strong During Civil War Days
Scarcely had America’s Civil War been declared before the Journal editor began calling attention to Muscatine’s unsurpassed requisites for a “rendezvous” for volunteers being enlisted all over the northern states. But it was 16 months later, almost to a day, before Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood, Iowa’s war governor, and army officials were persuaded the location was a suitable one.
The result was establishment of Camp Strong on Muscatine Island, described at the time as “between the fair grounds and the railroad.” The location is at the Junction of Sampson Street and U. S. Highway No. 61, south of the city. Possibilities of Muscatine having a concentration camp were first discussed in the Journal on April 2, 1861:
“Now that the news of military organizations forming in all parts of the state is continually arriving,” it stated, “it behooves Gov. Kirkwood to choose some point for a general rendezvous of the Iowa militia. It is unnecessary to point out the particular advantages presented by Muscatine for that purpose. Her central location, ease of access by both land and water, telegraphic communication with the east, and numerous other advantages render our city the best point in the state at which to gather the different companies of Iowa’s quota.”
The matter of land transportation facilities and telegraphic communication was not one to be sneezed at in those days. The Iowa railroad system was little more than five years old then and lines, reaching Muscatine, crossing the Mississippi River at Davenport had been laid not much further than Iowa City. Davenport had rail communications as did Burlington and Clinton among Iowa’s river cities, but most of the volunteer companies were transported by Mississippi River steamboat wherever possible.
Telegraphic facilities were also something unusual. Towns as near Muscatine as Iowa City, did not have as complete ones did Muscatine.
Nothing, however, was done about establishing a concentration camp in Muscatine at that time. All Iowa soldiers were at first concentrated at Keokuk. Later Davenport had its Camp McClelland, Iowa City its Camp Pope, Burlington was the locale of a “rendezvous” but Muscatine had evidently been forgotten.
His Efforts Renewed.
On Sept. 13, 1861 the Journal printed an item that “Gov. Kirkwood in company with his wife, was at Eichelberger’s Hotel last evening. He starts for Council Bluffs this morning.” In the same issue were these two items:
“Senator Harlan was among the arrivals at Eichelberger Hotel last evening—He is on his way to his home in Mt. Pleasant via Washington,” and “Capt. John H. Wallace—We learn that this gentleman has offered his services to Gov. Kirkwood to enter and take charge of a camp of instruction as soon as the state fair is over. Mr. Wallace has long been known throughout the state as one of the best artillery men of Iowa.”
With these distinguished visitors in the city and Captain Wallace’s generous offer, the Journal editor evidently decided the time was ripe for another “plug” for Muscatine a concentration camp. Accordingly he inserted the following in the same paper:
“Muscatine As a Rendezvous for One of the New Regiments—We think it no more than justice that Muscatine should be selected as the rendezvous for one of the new regiments to be organized in this state. This city has better railroad and telegraphic communication with all parts of the state than any other point. It has always been our opinion that the troops should be rendezvoused somewhere on the border, but if any other point is selected for the new regiments we hope that the advantages and claims of Muscatine will not be overlooked. Our people certainly deserve some recognition of their patriotic zeal. We believe it is a fact that Muscatine county has furnished more men for the war than any other county in the state.”
Then, After a Year.
The matter appears to have laid dormant for almost a year but on August 16, 1862 burst forth again. “A committee of citizens consisting of Messers Cloud, Green and Lofland,” said the Journal of that date, “started for Iowa City this morning to see the governor to procure an order for the rendezvous at this place of the companies raised in this county. Four are already full and two more will be full in a few days.”
Definite news of the camp’s selection came on August 18, 1862 announced as follows:
“By a gentleman just arrived from Iowa City we learn that the companies now full and filling in this county are to go into camp here, and that barracks are to be commenced immediately. We presume the boys will be placed in one regiment.”
The next day:
“Acting Quartermaster Joseph A. Green has received authority ...
(Continued on Page 8)
... to erect 20 barracks in Camp Strong, at this place. He will proceed at once to put up ten of them.”
Muscatine within a short time took on the appearance of a military camp. Two full regiments, the Twenty-Fourth and the Thirty-Fifth, were stationed here at one time, arriving shortly after the camp was established. In fact, the first company arrived the day after it was definitely known a camp would be here, and was ‘quartered at Mrs. Hess’ boarding house,” until they could be taken care of at the camp.
From Nearby Counties
Many of the men stationed at Camp Strong were from Muscatine and Cedar counties. Others were from Jackson County and the vicinity of Clinton. The camp itself saw almost every phase of army life. There were deaths there, from disease; one company was given a dog as a mascot by a Muscatine resident; ladies of the companies’ home townships visited them and sumptuous dinners were served and according to a news story of March 11, 18871, a young girl, attired in male apparel, enlisted there in the 24th Iowa Infantry, from where she passed through all the campaigns of the regiment and received but one scratch.
It was also the place where Muscatine’s famous “Graybeard” regiment saw its first military duty, as guards and in 1896 it was the scene of a reunion of the Thirty-Fifth Iowa regiment. It was abandoned late that year when the last of the regiments quartered there, including the “Graybeards,” were transferred farther south.
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Aged Warriors Served Their Nation Ably
They Offered Their All in Time of Need
One of the visible results of Muscatine’s willingness, even eagerness to participate in the Civil war, was the organization of a company of men ordinarily too old for active service, dubbed the “Gray Beards,” which saw action in the War Between the States. Some of its members were 50 years of age.
Officially the regiment of which it was part was known as the Thirty-Seventh Iowa Infantry, but it is seldom referred to by that name. It was formed under special consent of Edward M. Stanton, the secretary of war. The Muscatine Company’s first assignment, after being mustered into the United States service in August, 1862, was as guards at Camp Strong, Muscatine’s concentration camp on the Island new U. S. highway No. 61.
Early in January of the following year they were in St. Louis where they served as guards at the military prisons until May when they were moved on to guard duty on the Pacific railway. They served in that capacity for two months, then the company went to Alton, Ill. once more to guard southern prisoners of war, until January, 1864.
For the first five months of that year they performed similar duties at Rock Island and on June 5 went to Memphis, Tenn., for guard and picket duty. On July 5, a detail of 50, guarding a supply train, were attacked by guerrillas resulting in the death of Corp. Charles Young and Private Samuel Colburn and the slight wounding of two others.
From Memphis this company went to Indianapolis, Ind., then to Columbus and Gallipolis, Ohio. Members were mustered out at Davenport the latter part of May, 1863.
Where the name, “Gray Bears” originated is difficult to determine. It first appeared in the Muscatine Journal of Sept. 1, 1862, heading the following:
“Mr. J. G. Wells is raising a company of old men for Col. Kincaid’s regiment. His headquarters are two doors east of Eichelberger’s hotel. The indications are that this regiment will soon fill up. It will probably rendezvous here.”
The Muscatine company of 78 men was filled by Sept. 15, 1863.
Early in the hostilities between the north and south, the elderly men who wished to take part were given their own designation. On April 9, 1861, at a union meeting, the first in Muscatine after the beginning of the Civil war, G. W. Kincaid favored a “Gray Headed” company to protect Muscatine homes. John B. Merit addressed the assemblage in favor of such an organization and “wanted to see the papers.” Papers for the formation were immediately procured and about 50 men, too old for active service, signed them.
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About two weeks later, on May 6, The Journal printed: “Drill of the Home Guards—the old saw that ‘it is hard to learn old dogs new tricks’ was never so completely upset as Saturday afternoon (May 4) at the drill of the Greyheaded Company or Home Guards. This company is composed of those whose age prevents them from volunteering. We are satisfied that if they ever met an invading army they will render a good account of themselves.”
Although the Civil war never got as far north as Muscatine, feeling in the county was high and the Home Guards were not without their influence. As an example The Journal printed, on Aug. 8, a letter urging the Home Guards be instructed to ‘call a halt’ on the alleged activities of southern sympathizers whom the writer said were active in the county. The letter was signed “A Gray Beard,” the first time that particular appellation appeared in print.
On Sept. 7, The Journal made further mention of the Home Guards.
“Accepted—the Home Guards of Muscatine have been notified by Gen. Fremont that they will be accepted as soon as they report the number ready to go into active service. This notice was given in response to a letter written by Col. H. Q. Jennison tendering the Guards for a winter’s campaign of three months. The response declined receiving them for a shorter period than other volunteers, but says no restriction will be made in consequence of age. This acceptance is rather unexpected, but still many are ready to go and doubtless a full company will be organized. The matter will come up for consideration at the meeting of the Guards today.” At the meeting it was announced 95 men had already signed for service with the company.
That the Gray Beards made a good showing farm from home was indicated by a letter from St. Louis on March 23, to The Journal. The 37th regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry is made up of men over 45 years old and is now quartered in Schofield barracks, in this city, doing provost duty. Two of its members are over 80 years old—hale, noble looking veterans, and good for hard service. About 600 of them are members of Christian churches; 28 are ministers of the Gospel; all the staff officers are religious men.
Most of these veterans left farms and comfortable houses, and have sons and grandsons in the service. One of these members, evidently hard on the seventieth milestone in life’s journey, and looking rather feeble, when I made a suggestion that he would need a discharge from the service, the old man straightened up, the fire of youth flashing from his eyes and said, ‘No Sir, I enlisted to fight rebels, and to crush rebellion and not to be discharged till the work is done. I quit playing baby 50 years ago when I was 21 years old.’ Adding, ‘I am in earnest God and my country.’
“On Sunday the writer was invited to hold divine service in their barracks. At the appointed hour the ‘Gray Bears’ in their neat and clean uniforms, truly soldier like, officers and privates, gathered around him and heard with fixed attention the words of eternal life. This remarkable regiment is an honor to the State of Iowa, to their own manhood, and the glorious cause for which they are willing to live, suffer and die. God bless the brave veterans of Iowa. Why should not our own loved Ohio have a regiment of Gray Bears to march side by side with the 37th Iowa, to smite and destroy the armed treason assailing our national life. B. W. C.”
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