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The Iowa Journal of History and Politics


January 1918



 Uniforms of the Iowa Troops


            Equipment was even more conspicuously lacking than arms in Iowa in 1861, and the difficulty of securing necessary supplies during the first years of the war was correspondingly greater. For, while effective arms were not an absolute necessity until the battle-field was reached, blankets and clothing were indispensable in rendezvous camps and on the way to the scene of conflict. And while it may be true, as Napoleon suggested, that n army travels on its stomach, nevertheless, stout shoes keep the feet from dragging. Equipment must be furnished the troops immediately after enlistment. It is true that the independent militia companies which were the first to volunteer had uniforms; and the Governor’s Greys of Dubuque offered their services to the Governor, January 15, 1861, as a “fully equipped volunteer company”.59 But such uniforms! They were designed for the delight of the ladies when the company was on parade, rather than for service at the front. Handsome enough were the brave lads in white, red, grey, green, blue, and every other hue of the rainbow on Fourth of July dress parades; but their uniforms would not have been as fitting had they been exposed to the rain and mud and cold which the men were later obliged to endure.

            The Davenport Sarsfield Guards, although organized during the money panic of 1858, “equipped themselves with a handsome uniform”.60 The other companies of the State acted along similar lines. Indeed, these ante-bellum military organization were, in the main, social organizations. Parades and balls were their chief activities and the various communities seemed to vie with one anther in making their own unit most gorgeous. This tendency was evidenced later by the various uniforms from home town patriots. Equipment, like arms, was to be furnished by the general government before the troops left the State. But on their way to and during their stay in the camps of rendezvous, the soldiers were to be cared for by the State.

            This was a work which the State might well be expected to perform, and one to which the people of Iowa responded generously. The State government was handicapped by a lack of funds. The war loan bonds were practically unsalable. In part the situation was relieved by voluntary donations from patriotic citizens, but the strain on the State finances was great. Among the first to come to the Governor’s aid were two citizens of Dubuque. “The very morning after Sumter was fired on, J. K. Graves & R. E. Graves, his brother, telegraphed the Governor, saying they would claim it an honor and privilege to honor his drafts to the extent of thirty thousand dollars; leaving repayment to the pleasure of the state, if it could help equip and send the boys to the front.” W. T. Smith, of Oskaloosa, together with other war Democrats, offered aid to the Governor. “Private citizens in every town vied with one another in personal sacrifice to aid in the good cause.” Solomon Sturges, a Chicago millionaire, offered to loan Governor Kirkwood $100,000. 61 Town funds were made up. “At Brighton, $1,250 cash, was raised in a few minutes from Republicans and Democrats alike, and as much more promised, to help feed and clothe the boys who volunteered.”62 Hiram Price and Ezekiel Clark were active in raising funds with which to equip the troops. The banks of the State, namely the State Bank and its branches, rallied to the support of the Governor. Kirkwood himself “gave his own personal bonds, pledging all his own property and earnings, many times over, that the first soldiers of the sate might have shoes to war, blankets to sleep on, and bread to eat.”63

            Many of the towns fitted out their own troops with uniforms. At a meeting of the citizens of Fort Madison it was voted to instruct the town authorities to appropriate $2,000 for the purpose of equipping the Fort Madison Rifles. “All over the state, companies were kept together drilling, their subsistence furnished by boards of supervisors or by patriotic citizens, some of whom not only helped subsist the would-be soldiers, but furnished them uniforms at their own expense.” The Decorah Guards were outfitted by the citizens of Winneshiek County. Shirts, pants, and caps were given to the Pioneer Greys by the townspeople of Cedar Falls.64

            Governor Kirkwood, recognizing the instant and imperative need of clothing, at his own risk, sent Ezekiel Clark to Chicago to buy cloth of fifteen hundred uniforms. “Let the material be strong and durable”, he wrote. But unfortunately the only cloth which could be obtained was “some very poor, sleazy satinette, half cotton and half wool, only fit for summer war”.65 This material was thought to be stout enough for uniforms for the men in the First Regiment, whose term of enlistment war for the summer months; but “the boys, before the march to Springfield in Missouri, had got their thin clothes badly worn out, especially behind, and many of them took flour sacks and made themselves aprons and wore them there instead of in front. When Gen. Lyon saw the first one of these on a soldier, he ordered him to remove it at once, but when he found its removal left the whole fighting force of that soldier without a ‘rear guard’ and exposed to the jibes and jokes of friend and foe, he ordered it quickly replaced.”66

            The loyal women of the State responded nobly to the task of outfitting the first Iowa regiments. They formed “Soldiers’ Aid Societies” and undertook to cut the cloth purchased and make it up into uniforms. Especially active were the ladies of Dubuque, which city was represented by two companies in the First Regiment. The Dubuque tailors also lent their aid. Indeed, two hundred and forty-eight people helped make uniforms for the two Dubuque companies and nine days were consumed in the work. No wonder, with so many “fingers in the pie”, that the product was “somewhat lacking in the trim, artistic finish of the “Tailor shop.’”67 The amount of clothing thus made and that otherwise furnished to the First Regiment was reported to the House of Representatives by Governor Kirkwood to be as follows:

            Capt. Herron’s Company, Dubuque; each man, hat, frock coat, pants, two flannel shirts, two pairs of socks and one pair of shoes.

            Capt. Gottschalk’s Company, Dubuque; blouse instead of coat, and other articles same as Capt. Herron’s.

            Capt. Cook’s Company, Cedar Rapids; hat, two flannel shirts, pants, socks, and shoes, no jacket or coat.

            Capt. Mahanna’s Company, Iowa City; hat, jacket, pants, two flannel shirts, socks and shoes.

            Capt. Wentz’s Company, Davenport; hat, blouse, pants, two flannel shirts, socks and shoes.

            Capt. Cummins’ Company, Muscatine; same as Capt. Cummins.

            Capt. Mason’s Company, Burlington; hat, blouse, pants, two flannel shirts, socks and shoes.

            Capt. Streaper’s Company, Mt. Pleasant; same as Capt. Matthies.


            I am not sure that all the Companies were furnished with all the socks, shoes and shirts. Some of the shoes, I have reason to believe, were not of good quality, costing only from $1.25 to #1.50 per pair, others I know were good, costing from $2.00 to $2.50 per pair. One thousand extra shirts were sent to Keokuk to supply any deficiency that may have existed in that particular. Most of the material for pants was satinet and not of good quality, costing, as far as the same came under my observation, from 40 to 60 cents per yard by the quantity. The entire amount expended for Clothing, so far as I can give it from the data in my possession, is about $12,000 or $13,000, including the one thousand shirts above mentioned. If is be desirable in your judgment to have the companies of this Regiment uniformed alike, it will be necessary to furnish all with coats of the same make, as also with pants, and to furnish an additional number of hats or caps. Hats were procured for all, but some preferred the cap and procured it, and the cost has been provided for. I cannot think that all the Companies need new shoes, as some of the shoes furnished were of excellent quality, and have not yet been worn more than two or three weeks.

            I am satisfied it is requisite for the comfort of these troops, that many of them be furnished with pantaloons and shoes, and some of them with socks. As the Second and Third Regiments will be clothed throughout alike, it would, no doubt, be very gratifying to the First Regiment to be placed in the same position, and it will afford me much pleasure to carry out whatever may be your wishes in that regard.68

            In response to this suggestion, the General Assembly by joint resolution authorized Governor Kirkwood to outfit the First Regiment in the same manner as the Second and Third Regiment were clothed. He telegraphed to Merrill, who was in Boston: “Furnish one thousand more, Pants, Coats, and Shoes, same as contracted for, at same prices”. These outfits cost about fifteen dollars per man.69

            The following picturesque account is given of the Governor’s Greys when they donned their first uniforms:

            They are admirable fits, all of them, except say eighty or a hundred… A majority of the boys are able to get their pantaloons from the floor by buttoning the waistbands around their necks—others accomplish this desirable result by bringing the waistbands tight up under the arms and rolling them up six or eight inches at the bottom. To be sure this is a little inconvenient in some respects—a fellow has to take off his belts, then his coat, and then ascend one story before he can reach his pockets, and after reaching them they are so deep that one has to take the pants off entirely before he can reach the bottom. Each pocket will hold a shirt, a blanket and even the wearer himself if at any time he finds such a retreat necessary.

            And the coats fit beautifully—almost in fact as well as the pants. To be sure half of them are two feet too large around the waist, and almost as much too small around the chest—but then these two drawbacks admirably offset each other. In the cases of fifteen or twenty of them the top collar is but a trifle above the small of the wearer’s back, and in the cases of about as many more the same article is a few inches above the head of their owners. The same collar also in some cases terminates beneath each ear, and in many others it sweeps away around in a magnificent curve, forming a vast basin whose rim is yards distant from the neck of its possessor. And the sleeves, too, have here and there a fault—some are so tight under the arms that they lift one up as if he were swinging upon a couple of ropes that pass underneath his armpits—others strike boldly out and do not terminate their voluminous course till at distance of several inches beyond the tips of his fingers, while others conclude their journey after marching an inch or so below the elbows.70


Nevertheless, the work of the women was appreciated. The Governor’s Greys adopted the following resolution:


            Head-Quarters, G. Greys, Co. I, 1st Reg. I. S. M.,

            Verandah Hall, Keokuk, May 15, 1861


            At a meeting of the company the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:

            Whereas, The matrons and maidens of Dubuque, fired with the same noble patriotism and enthusiasm as inspired those of ’76, and emulating their noble example, have left their daily avocations of business or pleasure, to unite in aiding us to go forth properly accoutred to meet the enemies of our country; therefore

            Resolved, That we appreciate with the liveliest emotions of gratitude that self-sacrificing patriotism which flowers indigenous in the breast of woman, and has prompted them to this act of kindness toward us.

            Resolved, That the consciousness that we shall daily carry with us the smiles and the prayers, the hopes and the fears of so many lovely faces and warms hearts, will strengthen our rougher bosoms to endure with patience the hardships, and courage to meet boldly the dangers that may oppose us, while fighting the battles of our country.

            Resolved, That these uniforms, into which so fair hands have woven so many and so kind wishes, will be an impenetrable webb to the entrance of traitors or cowardly thoughts and a sacred remembrancer of those for whose protection we are fighting.

            Resolved, That the coats shall be our coats of arms, that they shall never be turn coats, that they will always remind us of the petti-coats, and that while we wear the pants we shall always pant for honor, and hope to make the ladies partici-pants of that hour.

            Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded to the he President of the Ladies’ Volunteer Aid Association and to the daily papers of Dubuque.


F. J. Herron, Capt. Co. I


Charles N. Clark, Clerk of Co. I.


            Governor Kirkwood also appreciated he services of the women of the State, for he wrote the following letter to Dubuque:

            Mrs. A. Gillespie, Sec’y, &c., Dubuque, Iowa:

            Dear Madam:--Through the attention of D. N. Cooley, Esq., I am informed of the voluntary services rendered by yourself and other ladies of Dubuque, in fitting out the two companies of volunteers from your city.

            I can not allow the occasion to pass without expressing my sincere thanks for this practical display of the patriotism of the ladies of Dubuque.

            You have set a noble example in thus coming forward in the time of our need, and have shown us by this patriotic offering to the welfare of our gallant soldiers, that it needs, but the occasion to reproduce the heroines of ’76. With the request that you will convey to each and every one of the ladies connected with you in this good work, my assurance, that your general assistance will be fully appreciated by the people of the State, I beg to subscribe myself, most respectfully,


Your obedient servant,


Samuel J. Kirkwood.71


            The women of Iowa rendered valuable service throughout the war in making havelocks, lint, bandages, towels, needle books, and various kinds of hospital stores for the soldiers. And, indeed, the uniforms made by the women fitted as well as many of the tailored uniforms. The suits furnished to the Twenty-second Regiment in September, 1862, “were most ridiculous misfits, some had to give their pants two or three rolls at the heels, others had shirts much too large which were, therefore, baggy, while others had to place paper in their hats so they would not slip down over their ears.” Our blouses are somewhat abbreviated,” was written of the clothing furnished to the hundred day men of 1864, “and our gunboats, as we call our shoes, make up the size which is lacking in our blouses—presenting a most comical appearance.”72




59 War of the Rebellion: Official Records, Ser. III, Vol. I, p. 56.


60 Annals of Iowa (First Series), Vol. I, pp. 161, 162.


61 Byers’s Iowa in War Times, pp. 42, 43; Kirkwood Military Letter Book, No. 1, p. 264.

            Later R. E. Graves offered to loan $10,000 to the State on behalf of the Dubuque Branch of the State Bank. He agreed to accept payment in State bonds at par.—Kirkwood Military Letter Book, No. 1, pp. 2, 259.

            William B. Allison donated fifty dollars to the Governor’s Greys, “to be spent by them as their pleasure might dictate.” James C. Patterson gave ten dollars to the Keokuk Union Guards.—The Dubuque Weekly Times, April 25, 1861; Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), April 22, 1861.


62 Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 43. Later, in 1862, the Amana Community sent $1,000 to Governor Kirkwood for similar purposes. “We take the liberty”, they wrote, “of sending you enclosed $1,000. Our elders or trustees are inclined to do something for our beloved Union, and as our conscience on religious principles, as  you know, prohibits us, like other citizens, from bearing weapons against any other men, we beg you to use the $1,000 for the relief of our sick and wounded soldiers; or, if you think our soldiers in the field are more suffering on account of cold weather, you may use it partly for their relief.”—Iowa City Republican, November 19, 1862.


63 Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. I, pp. 594, 595; Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), April 22, 1861; War of th eRebellion: Official Records, Ser. III, Vol. I, p. 87; Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 42.


64 Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), May 20, June 10, 1861; Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 47.


65 Byers’s Iowa in War Times, p. 45; Lathorp’s The Life and Times of Samuel J. Kirkwood, pp. 117, 137. The uniforms of the first three regiments from Iowa were gray. In the summer of 1861 General McClellan forbade the use of gray uniforms by Union Troops.—Des Moines Valley Whig (Keokuk), September 2, 1861.


66 Lathrop’s The Life and Times of Samuel J. Kirkwood, p. 117. “So ragged an appearance did the First Iowa present on its march to Springfield, that Gen. Lyon called them his tatterdemalion gypsies,’ and when afterward they outmarched all his other troops, he called them his ‘Iowa Greyhounds.’” Franc B. Wilkie wrote home that none of the First Iowa would “run from a lady or the enemy—for very shame’s sake they would not dare turn aught but their faces to either.” Clean shirts, he wrote, would be acceptable, “not… so much for the sake of cleanliness as… for that of appearances—clean shirts hanging out like banners in the rear, look much better than dirty ones.”—Wilkie’s The Iowa First: Letters from the War, p. 84.


67 The Dubuque Herald, May 9, 1861.


68 Shambaugh’s Messages and Proclamations of the Governors of Iowa, Vol. II, pp. 413, 415.


69 Laws of Iowa, 1861 (Extra Session), p. 35; Shambaugh’s Messages and Proclamations of the Governors of Iowa, Vol. II, p. 421; Kirkwood Military Letter Book, NO. 1, p. 254.


70 Wilkie’s The Iowa First: Letters from the War, pp. 21, 22.


71 The Dubuque Weekly Times, May 23, 1861; Wilkie’s The Iowa First: Letters from the War, p. 26; Kirkwood Military Letter Book, No. 1, p. 142.


72 Council Bluffs Nonpareil, August 24, 1861; The Dubuque Weekly Times, April 25, July 4, 1861; Burlington Daily Hawk-Eye, June 25, 1861; Jones’s Reminiscences of the Twenty-second Iowa Volunteer Infantry, pp. 8, 9; Dubuque Semi-Weekly Times, June 7, 1864.




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