RINGGOLD COUNTY, THE WAR YEARS
THE CIVIL WAR
When the Civil War erupted, Mount Ayr was a village with only 250 residents. Editor George BURTON and publisher P. O. JAMES
had established the newspaper, The Mount Ayr Republican however the paper ceased publication when both men enlisted in the
Union Army and did not return to Mount Ayr.
Time seemed to have stopped for Ringgold County during the Civil War. Ringgold County
volunteers joined companies which were formed in neighboring counties. By June of 1861, Ringgold County's enlistment quota had been
set with a fair number of men enlisting and called into quarters on July 4, 1861 at Mount Ayr.
Patriotic fervor was high durng
Ringgold County's first first Independence Day celebration, July 4, 1861. For the occasion, Mrs. G. M. LESAN, assisted by her sister
Sybil and Aunt Maggie, made a flag of 13 stars from blue delcino, white muslim, and red calico. As the flag was raised in the city park,
Jowett BASTOW sang a new song, "The Star Spangled Banner." A picnic lunch followed. Mrs. LESAN's flag was given to the city of Mount
Ayr sixty-five years later in 1927.
The men from Ringgold County had barely marched off to War before "loyalists" from Missouri poured
across the state line, pushed by threats from their "sucessionists" neighbors. The newly established Home Guards rushed to their aid. THree
times during the Civil War the Home Guards went into Missouri. During one occasion the Home Guards fell back to an area near Allendale,
Missouri, where they threw up breastworks. Reinforcements of 2,000 men from the Iowa border counties helped them push Conderate troops
back as far as St.Joseph, Missouri.
In 1862, the State of Iowa commissioned the Home Guards as the Southern Border Brigade. The men from
Middle Fork Township formed Company C of the 3rd Battalion. Once the Confederates had retired to St. Joseph, ten men from this Brigade
guarded the Ringgold County boundary each night. Every ten days, they were relieved of their post. When the danger had passed, the patrol
was discontinued about three months later.
In 1862, the citizens of Mount Ayr received word that 50 guerilla raiders were on their way
through the Merritt settlement to burn down the town. The boys and old men who were left behind, took up old blunderbusses and rifles that had
been deemed unfit for warfare. Thus armed, they set out. While they were waiting in ambush, the sound of galloping hooves started them around
11 p.m. Believing that a wild cavalry charge was headed their way, they stood their ground with the exception of little Charlie DUNNING. Frightened,
the young boy broke rank and started to run back home. After a minute or two, young Charlie realized that the oncoming charge was from 50 of his
father's mules who had gotten out and were stampeding his way in a race for home ground. Mount Ayr's defenders, realizing that the stampeding mules
didn't pose any threat to their lives and limbs, resumed their posts. The men pledged one another that they would keep the "charge" in deep secrecy.
Years later the men told the tale on themselves with great gusto to anyone who would listen.
Before the close of the Civil War, a family of slaves
and a single male slave arrived in Ringgold County. They came from Albany, Missouri, having been freed by Mrs. MURPHY. Keeping their end of the bargain,
they piled into an old wagon drawn by a team of elderly horses courtesy of Mrs. MURPHY, and left the State of Missouri. Sam, the family's head, his wife Sarah
and two of their children, Tom and Martha, lived in a log cabin near the Lesan school. George, the other freed man who accompanied them, resided with the
family. The children attended school while the adults worked for families in the neighborhood. After Sam and George's deaths, Sarah and the children were
afraid to spend the night in their cabin. They waited until nightfall, then slipped into David LESAN's barn where they slept in the haymow. Upon discovering
the situation, David gave them permission to live in a cabin near his home. Eventually Sarah and her children moved to Mount Ayr.
The veterans from
Ringgold County were mustered out of service in August of 1865. They returned home, rejoined their families, and resumed their life's professions.
With the onset of the Civil War, there had not been a 4th of July celebration in Mount Ayr for several years. The citizens and veterans decided to
hold a Grand Rally of the Veterans of the Civil War on July 4, 1878. Soliders from most of the townships met with D. B. MARSHALL on July 3rd to finalize
the plans. The Mount Ayr band, at the time considered one of the best in the state, prepared their instruments for the rally. The day started with the
revilee at sunrise. Sick call was held at 8 o'clock, the grand mount at 9, followed by company drill at 9:30. Battalion drill was held at 11:30; skrimish
drill at 2 p.m.; and dress parade at 3 p.m. Even though the skies were cloudy with the threat of rain, more than 5,000 people
joined the festivities. Edward B. HEATON, well-known to the residents of Ringgold County where he had been a farmer, preacher, school teacher, writer,
song master, and solider, was the keynote speaker of the day. The following week, the veterans met again with the purpose of forming a permanent organization.
On November 3, 1880, eighteen veterans founded the Ellis G. MILLER Post, Grand Army of the Republic. The post was named in honor of Lieutenant MILLER of Company G
of the 4th Iowa Infantry. Lt. MILLER, the first commissioned officer from Mount Ayr who died in service, was killed at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou at
Vicksburg, Mississippi on December 29, 1862. By July 1926, the GAR post had a membership of 246.
With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War between the United States and Cuba, a sense of patriotism in Ringgold County was on display with
many window displays and flags flying throughout the town of Mount Ayr. Local interest became keener when several of Ringgold County's young men
enlisted with a battalion which was organized at Simpson College at Indianola in Warren County, Iowa. The soldiers returned home, arriving at Mount Ayr on
November 10, 1899. As the train pulled into the station, men at the roller mill blew the whistle to announce the soldiers' arrival back home.
in response, all of the town's church bells were rang in unison. The soldiers were greeted at the station by throngs of people waving flags and the bands
playing lively patriotic marches. Then, a parade formed with school children, lodges, riders on horseback, citizens on foot, and the band escorting the
soldiers to the courthouse lawn. After an afternoon full of singing and speeches, the soldiers were honored with a banquet. Meanwhile, Kellerton gave her
returning soldiers a royal welcome and celebration that evening.
WORLD WAR I
With the United States entering into World War I, 1,054 men from Ringgold County registered for service by June 5, 1917. By the time Ringgold County's
quota for the first draft had been established, 18 men had already enlisted for service. The local draft board was busy draing 248 names which was
double the amount of the county's quota to compensate for those who could not pass their physical examinations.
The world war rekindled the thoughts
of the county citizens with regard to the Civil War. A monument erected on the courthouse lawn in memory of the Civil War soldiers was dedicated on July
4th of 1918. J. W. WILKERSON, well-known to Ringgold County residents during his long term as the principal of Mount Ayr schools and subsequent service
as the county school superintendant, gave the dedication speech. Members of the local Ellis C. MILLER G.A.R. post assisted with the dedication ceremony.
Esta POOR and Erma HOLDEN tugged on the cords and unveiled the monument - a Civil War soldier standing at parade rest. The base of the monument was white
Ringgold County joined the entire nation in celebration on November 11, 1918 when World War I ended. The entire town of Mount Ayr
was decked out as though it was preparing for a 4th of July celebration. All paraded through the streets, with more than 2,000 people meeting on the courthouse
lawn to hear the reading of President Woodrow Wilson's message. F. F. FULLER delivered a speech eulogizing the boys "over there." This was followed by rejoicing, with
all the town's whistles, bells, and sirens being sounded once again. Several huge bonfires were lighted in the streets and the Kaiser was burned in effigy.
WORLD WAR II
In the fall of 1940, the Selective Service draft was completed for Ringgold County with 21 young men holding the first numbers drawn.
1,038 men from Ringgold County were eligible for the draft that fall. 52 additional men who maintained their residence in
the county were added to the list by the county draft board which consisted of R. R. BUCK, James MAHAN, and Hollie H. EMLEY.
When the young men who were chosen during the draft of 1940 left Ringgold County for a year's training in the Spring of 1941,
many of them sincerely believed that they would remain in uniform until the end of the war. Many of them did and a few didn't come home.
Visit Ringgold County's Wall of Honor.
Ringgold County History, Complied and written by the Iowa Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa, Sponsored
by Ringgold County Superintendent of Schools, Mount Ayr, Iowa. 1942.
Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2008