There is no period of her history in which Benton county takes greater pride than that covering the Civil war. During that time her population increased only about 3,000, in 1865 being 11,245. Notwithstanding this comparatively small population on which to draw, nearly 1,000 men were sent into the field. Benton county was represented most extensively in the Fifth, Eighth, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Eighteenth, Twenty-eighth and Fortieth infantry regiments and in the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth cavalry. She also contributed quite a quota of troops to the Second, Third, Sixteenth and Thirty-second infantry and the Second and Third cavalry, and not a few of her citizens were distributed among other commands.
FIRST GRAND UNION RALLY
The first grand rally of the people of Benton county, after the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln's proclamation for 75,000 men, was held at the court house at Vinton, April 19, 1861. John Shane was chairman of the meeting and W. W. Hanford secretary, and while the committee on resolutions were preparing their reports stirring speeches were made by the chairman, Russell Jones, Col. G. W. Sells, W. F. Pickerell and J. S. Hunt. In these days it does not appear that there was anything particularly striking in the resolutions adopted by the meeting, but the last of them indicated more particularly the practical and earnest spirit of those who participated. This was to the effect "That as citizens of Vinton, we hereby pledge ourselves to defray the expenses necessary in procuring uniforms and an outfit for a volunteer company to be raised in Benton county, to protect the Government of the United States, the Constitution and enforce the laws."
[See newpaper story about the rally]
FIRST TO ENLIST IN THE COUNTY
W. C. Connell announced that he would head the list of this first company and he, with J. S. Hunt and W. A. Walker, were appointed a committee to recruit it. On Saturday, April 20th, an office was opened for that purpose at Connell and Vanatta's law office and a number enlisted. If any three men were to be selected as fairly representing the local enthusiasm and patriotism at this time, no better could he named than Messrs. Connell. Vanatta and J. W. Traer. On the following Tuesday after the recruiting office was opened, another enthasiastic meeting was held in the court house, at which the citizens of the county pledged themselves to maintain the families of all those who volunteered their service for the Civil war. This eventually had the effect of easing the minds of would-be volunteers, and several Bentonites enlisted very soon after the resolution was passed.
It is known that the first man to enlist in this pioneer company was W. C. Connell, who was closely followed by J. S. Hunt, W. S. Pickerell, M. Thompson, W. A. Walker, John Dempsey and Edwin Jenks. Several young men from Vinton who wished to be at the front at the earliest possible date, went to Cedar Rapids to enlist, believing that a larger city would be able sooner to complete its quota of troops. Among these were P. Murdock and George Reifenstahl, who enlisted in the First Iowa infantry. A few days after the court house meeting, the board of supervisors, in special session, pledged themselves to appropriate five hundred dollars to aid in the equipment of any company of volunteers which the county might raise, and on the last of the month, about two weeks after Lincoln's first call for troops, the ladies of Vinton organized for the purpose of preparing lint and bandages for the use of any volunteers who should require them.
OFFICERS OF PIONEER COMPANY
On May 4th the company which had been raised met in the court house, and after taking an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, elected the following officers: Captain, Jacob S. Hunt; first lieutenant, William C. Connell; second lieutenant, William F. Pickerell; third lieutenant, William A. Walker, and ensign, Jacob Metz. The non-commissioned officers afterward appointed were: J. A. McClure, orderly sergeant; Nathan Rice, second sergeant; David Barbett, third sergeant; John K. Raser, first corporal; R. H. Kirkpatrick, G. B. Mills, Samuel Oberlander, corporals; Arke Jenks, fifer; J. R. Boyd, drummer; James E. White, bass drummer. It is but just to add that Mr. Connell, who had been elected first lieutenant of the company, was prevented from going to the front by the serious illness of his wife.
In response to President Lincoln's second call for troops to the number of 85,000, Benton county held another grand union rally at the court house on the 1st of May. The preamble to the resolutions adopted indicates that the second company was being formed at Vinton and that its citizens were unanimously in favor of the state appropriation of $500,000 to carry out the provisions of the proposed military law which would require available men between eighteen and forty-five to enroll themselves in the state of Iowa.
PARKER'S GROVE AND HICKORY GROVE
Outside of Vinton at this early period, Parker's Grove and Hickory Grove were especially active. At the former place a company of Home Guards was promptly raised and at Hickory Grove the ladies made one of the first flags turned out by the patriots of the county. On May 5th it was raised, amid an enthusiastic gathering, and Isaiah Morris read an original poem which he had written for the occasion. A few days afterwards the citizens of Harrison formed a company of riflemen called the Harrison Rangers, whose special object was to repel any invasion of the soil of Iowa, and a similar company was also organized in Eden township.
"Boys in Blue" HAD TO BE UNIFORMED
Before the "boys in blue" from Benton county could really start for tbe front, considerable work was still required on the part of the ladies as they did not intend to see their representatives enter the field only half clad. On the 16th of May the cloth for the uniforms of the Benton county volunteers arrived, and three days afterward the ladies met at Rev. N. C. Robinson's church and made arrangements to manufacture the raw material into appropriate garments. The uniforms having been completed for the Benton county volunteers on the evening of July 8th, the people gathered at the Presbyterian church for the purpose of bidding them farewell and Godspeed. Not only were the Union boys given the support of enthusiastic and affectionate speeches, but each was presented with a New Testament to take with him wherever fate should lead. On the following morning the streets were alive with men, women and children who were assembled to take a last look at those who were to start for the front. At about eleven o'clock the volunteers were drawn up in front of the Shields House and B. R. Sherman, in behalf of the ladies, presented the company with the Stars and Stripes. Lieutenant Pickerell fittingly responded to the president's speech in behalf of this company. Having been equipped with clothing, New Testaments and the Union flag, another necessary presentation remained to be made. This was done by Messrs. Douglas and Sells in the form of impressive revolvers, which were received with thanks by Capt. Hunt, Lieutenants Pickerell and Overlander. Judge Douglas further donated sixty-four pairs of shoes, following which the captain called the roll of the company. The several persons who failed to report were then and there branded as cowards. The ceremonies concluded, the Benton county volunteers, escorted by the Vinton brass band, took up their line of march for the opposite side of the river, where wagons waited to convey them to Independence, whence they were to be taken by train to Dubuque and thence by boat to Burlington, where they were mustered into service as Company G, Fifth Iowa Volunteers.