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~ Military Biography ~

Dubuque county Civil War Soldiers
 of the
Twenty-first Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Historical information, notes & comments, in some cases correcting the record
Soldier biographies written by Carl Ingwalson

Carl will do look-ups in his extensive records of the 21st Iowa and he is always willing to share what he has.



      On July, 19, 1839, Jacob Kephart, son of Conrad and Rebecca Kephart, was born near the town of Bellefonte in Centre County, Pennsylvania, where many of his ancestors and extended family were among the county’s pioneer families. By the time of the Civil War he was living in Cottage Hill, Dubuque County.

      On July 9, 1862, Iowa’s governor, Samuel Kirkwood, received a telegram asking him to raise five three-year regiments to augment those already in the field. If not raised by August 15th, the difference would be made up by a draft. Soldiers already in the field were to receive a $100 enlistment bounty on completion of their service but, to spur enlistments, Congress, at the urging of Secretary of State Seward, agreed that $25.00 would now be paid in advance and the balance on honorable discharge.     

      On August 13, 1862, Jacob, his brother Conrad and John, their forty-three-year-old uncle, were in Cottage Hill when they enlisted in what would be Company C of the 21st regiment of Iowa’s volunteer infantry. Two cousins served in the same company, two other cousins served in the 5th Iowa Cavalry, another cousin joined the 8th Iowa Cavalry, another joined the regulars in the 13th U.S. infantry and an uncle served with the 38th Iowa Infantry.

      Company C was mustered into service at Dubuque’s Camp Franklin on August 20th and the regiment was mustered into federal service on September 9, 1862, with each of the volunteers receiving his $25.00 advance bounty and a $2.00 premium. With only brief training in the ways of war, they left with their Enfield muskets, backpacks, haversacks and other accessories on September 16th and started down the Mississippi on board the Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside. They spent one night on Rock Island before continuing their trip, off-loading at Montrose, taking a train to Keokuk, boarding the Hawkeye State and reaching St. Louis on the 20th. From there they traveled by train to the railhead in Rolla where they would spend another month. On the bi-monthly muster rolls Jacob was then marked “present” on October 31st at Salem, December 31st at Houston and February 28th at Iron Mountain.     

      On March 11, 1863, they arrived in the old French town of Ste. Genevieve and camped on a ridge above the Mississippi River. On the 16th, Jacob deserted and he was still absent when the regiment left on transports for Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was assembling a large army to capture Vicksburg. In a corps commanded by General John McClernand, they walked south along the west side of the river and were bivouacked on Francis Surget’s “Cholula” plantation about two miles north of New Carthage when Jacob rejoined them on April 17th. With no justifiable excuse for his absence he was fined one month’s pay ($13.00) and returned to duty.

      On April 30, 1863, they crossed the river from Disharoon’s Plantation in Louisiana to Bruinsburg, Mississippi, and started a march inland. On May 1st the regiment participated in the Battle of Port Gibson, on May 16th it was held out of action by General McClernand during the Battle of Champion’s Hill, on May 17th (with the 23rd Iowa) it led an assault on Confederates entrenched near the railroad bridge over the Big Black River, and on May 22nd it participated in an assault at Vicksburg. The assault was unsuccessful but, after the ensuing siege, General Pemberton surrendered the city on July 4, 1863. Jacob had participated in all of his regiment’s engagements during the campaign and was uninjured although sixty-five of his comrades were killed in action or mortally wounded and many more suffered wounds that were less serious.

      In September and October, 1863, he was among many in a Convalescent Camp at Carrollton, Louisiana, but he rejoined the regiment at Berwick on November 10th and was with it during its six months of service along the gulf coast of Texas. After returning to Louisiana in June, 1864, he was with the regiment for a month before being admitted on July 9, 1864, to a general hospital in New Orleans where he was treated for intermittent fever. In September he was granted a furlough from the hospital and went north to recuperate, but overstayed the time allotted. On November 17th, he reported voluntarily to the Provost Marshal in Dubuque and was arrested as a straggler but with a note that “his certificate shows that he was unable to report at the expiration of his furlough.”  On December 28, 1864, on the recommendation of his commanding officer, Jacob was “restored to duty without loss of pay or allowances” at Memphis.

      He continued with the regiment during the balance of its service including a successful campaign in the spring of 1865 to occupy the city of Mobile. From there they returned to Louisiana where, on July 15, 1865, they were mustered out at Baton Rouge. The next day they boarded the newly built steamship Lady Gay and started north. At Clinton, on July 24th, they were discharged and free to return to their homes.

      In Farley on January 20, 1869, Jacob and Francis L. Thayer were married. They had two children, Charles “Charley” Kephart and Dora Kephart. In a 1907 affidavit, Jacob said he moved to Fonda in 1870 and had lived there “ever since.”

      For many years after the war, the pension system required proof that a soldier had served at least ninety days, been honorably discharged (by death, disability or completion of service) and had a service-related disability not caused by “vicious habits.” Although Jacob was treated for intermittent fever during the war, he had apparently recovered his health and it was not until 1896, when disabilities no longer had to be service-related, that he applied and said he was suffering from diarrhea and impaired hearing.  A pension of $8.00 monthly, payable quarterly, was approved. 1901, under a new law, he applied again but failed to appear for examination by a board of pension surgeons. An age-based law was adopted on February 6, 1907, and the next month, at age sixty-seven, Jacob applied. Still living in Fonda at seventy years of age he applied again in 1910.

      The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Pensions sent form questionnaires to veteran pensioners seeking information about their families, information that could be useful if there were a subsequent claim by a widow or minor children. On March 29, 1915, Jacob answered a questionnaire, gave the date and place of his birth and of his marriage to Francis, and the birth dates of his two children. As to his marriage, there “never has bin eny divorc nor deths,” he said, but “there has bin a separaion.” The monthly pension had been increased to $50.00 by March 4, 1921, when Frank A. Fairburn, an attorney in Fonda, wrote to the Bureau. Eighty-one-year-old Jacob, he said:
“was on the 28th day of February, 1921 found dead in his house in Calhoun Co., Iowa.  He lived alone in a shack on some Government land in Calhoun County, Iowa, and had nothing but a dog, two cats and a few silver dollars in his pocket when he died. He was buried in Cedar Cemetery, Fonda, Iowa by the local G.A.R. Post, which is now composed of only four or five veterans. The Post is not financially able, nor are its members, to pay for the cemetery lot and funeral expenses of their comrade. Some of these expenses are being met by public subscription but all will not be met in this manner.  The local Post has asked that I write you this information for the purpose of securing the pension due this old soldier to pay for his burial and funeral expenses.”
 There is no indication of a response to the letter and no more information is known about Francis or their two children, although they may have moved to Sioux City in Woodbury County.


~ Compiled & submitted by Carl Ingwalson <cingwalson@cfilaw.com>

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