IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
IOWA IN THE CIVIL WAR
In the story about John Brown and the Underground Railroad you learned how the people of Iowa felt about slavery. After John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry the dispute between the northern states and the southern states over slavery grew more bitter. The election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States so displeased the people of the South that they decided to withdraw from the Union and to set up a new government of their own.
President Lincoln insisted that they had no right to do this. In April, 1861, southern troops captured Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. This meant war. President Lincoln at once asked for volunteers to save the Union.
Iowa at this time did not have an organized militia, but in many towns throughout the state young men belonged to volunteer companies. These groups had fancy names such as the Blues, Greys, Guards, Rifles, Dragoons, or Zouaves. They wore gaudy uniforms and gave exhibition drills on the Fourth of July or other holidays. These play soldiers were among the first to volunteer when President Lincoln called upon Iowa for troops.
The first call for troops from Iowa came to Davenport by telegraph four days after the firing upon Fort Sumter. As there was no telegraph line beyond Davenport, a special messenger took the message to Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood who lived at Iowa City. The messenger found Governor Kirkwood at work on his farm. When he read the telegram the governor said, "Why, the President wants a whole regiment of men!" He wondered if so many could be raised in Iowa.
Governor Kirkwood at once issued a call for a regiment of infantry. To his surprise in a few days enough men had volunteered to make not one but ten regiments. War meetings were held in every town and city throughout the state. Flags were run up, and the music of the fife and drum aroused the patriotism of Iowa men and women.
The governor was perplexed, for there were no arms, no ammunition, no uniforms, and no supplies to be had in Iowa for an army. Moreover, there was no money in the state treasury to purchase needed equipment. At this point many patriotic men offered money to the governor, and banks also promised loans. Governor Kirkwood himself pledged his property to borrow money for needed supplies.
Women, too, volunteered to help. They made uniforms for the soldiers, and prepared packages of needles, pins, button,s thread, and bandages. Some of the first uniforms were made of gray cloth, but when it was learned that the Confederate soldiers were wearing this color, the Iowa troops were supplied with uniforms of blue.
Early in May, 1861, the First Regiment of Iowa Infantry assembled at Keokuk. The Second and Third regiments were soon filled, and to satisfy the men in western Iowa who wanted to enlist, the Fourth Regiment was organized at Council Bluffs. As fast as the Iowa regiments were organized they were sent to the front by way of the Mississippi River, often with little or no training.
These were anxious times in Iowa, for not everyone in the state was patriotic. Some people sympathized with the South. Along the southern boundary of Iowa settlers were in constant fear of raids from Missouri, and along the northern boundary the settlers were alarmed over reports of Indian attacks.
To protect the settlers in southern Iowa, Home Guards were organized in each county along the border. Early in the war a guerrilla chief in northern Missouri planned an invasion of Iowa. He led his band toward Athens, a town on the Des Moines River, opposite the little town of Croton on the Iowa side. They boasted that they would take breakfast in Athens, dine in Farmington, and have supper in Keokuk. But Cyrus Bussey who commanded the Home Guards in southeastern Iowa learned of the proposed raid, and set up work to stop it. He rushed up a few companies of the Sixth Regiment then at Keokuk to help the Home Guards protect Athens. The guerrilla chief came up with his band and opened fire on Athens, but found the place too well defended for him to take it. A few cannon balls sped across the Des Moines River and fell near Croton.
This was as near as the Civil War ever came to Iowa, although another guerrilla leader later made a raid into Davis County, and Home Guard troops in southwestern Iowa crossed over the border three times in 1861 to prevent threatened invasions. In 1862 the Southern Border Brigade composed of one company form each county along the border was organized to protect the settlers.
At the same time people in northern Iowa were in constant fear of Indian raids. In the summer of 1862 the Sioux massacred a number of settlers across the border in Minnesota. Many settlers in northern and northwestern Iowa, fearing a similar attack, fled to towns farther south. They appealed to Governor Kirkwood for protection. With the consent of the General Assembly he raised five companies of soldiers to protect the frontier. Stockades, called forts, were built at Cherokee, Correctionville, Estherville, Peterson, and other points. The Northern Border Brigade, as the soldiers were called who occupied these posts, restored the confidence of the settlers, and they returned to their homes.
Those in Iowa who wanted the South to win the war were called Copperheads. Sometimes they wore suits of butternut jeans, and a badge of half a butternut, or a copper cent. The term Copperhead, it is said, referred to the deadly moccasin snake, and was used to indicate contempt for those who were against the Union.
On Saturday, August 1, 1863, a Copperhead meeting was held on English River in Keokuk County. Later in the day a clash between the loyal people of South English and the Copperheads took place. In this affair George C. Tally, a minister with southern sympathies, was shot. The Copperheads threatened revenge and began to collect their forces. The loyal citizens asked Governor Kirkwood to send troops to their aid. He not only did this but came himself to the scene of the trouble. This prompt action helped to stamp out disloyalty.
During the four years of the war Iowa furnished a total of forty-eight regiments of infantry, nine regiments of cavalry, and four batteries - nearly eighty thousand men. Iowa soldiers fought bravely in many of the important battles of the war. Four Iowans - Samuel R. Curtis, Frederick Steele, Grenville M. Dodge, and Francis J. Herron - obtained the rank of major general. Thirteen were made major generals by brevet, and six Iowans became brigadier generals. At the close of the war more than twelve thousand Iowa soldiers were dead and almost as many more were suffering from wounds.
While the men of Iowa were doing their part to win the war, the women and boys and girls at home did their share, too. Women not only made bandages and comfort kits for the soldiers, but many of them ran the farms and shops while their husbands were at the front. Boys helped to plant the fields and harvest the crops, while girls helped their mothers scrape lint for bandages. It was an Iowa woman, Annie Wittenmyer, who suggested the use of the diet kitchen in hospitals to furnish good food for sick and wounded soldiers. She was also largely responsible for the founding of a home for soldier's orphans in Iowa.
When the soldiers of Iowa came back from the Civil War they were given a rousing welcome. It took some time for all to settle down to work again. There were many empty homes and sad hearts, but time helped to heal the wounds. "When this war began," said Governor Kirkwood, "ours was a new state without a history," but "to-day her name stands on one of the proudest pages of our country's history - graven there by the bayonets of our brave soldiers." From Wilson's Creek to Mobile Bay, and from Lookout Mountain to the Carolinas the soldiers of Iowa did their part part to save the Union.
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