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Civil War
History, John Brown, Sherman's March


The census of 1860 shows that Keokuk county, at that time had a population of 13,271. During the war of the rebellion the county sent about 1000 to the field of her bravest and strongest sons.

At the outbreak of this war Keokuk county was in the full tide of activity and prosperity. Her material resources were being rapidly developed and all the various branches of business and the learned professions were keeping pace in the front ranks of progress. The people were just recovering from the financial crisis of 1857 and those who had toiled in the land during those times which tried men's souls had begun to see the dawning of better days. Immediately surrounded by the noise of industry and the continuous hum of business they heard little and believed less of the rumored plots and plans of those who lived to grow rich from the toil sweat of others and whose leading branch of trade was the traffic in souls and bodies of men. But still the war was upon them, and the thundering of cannon at the very gates of the national capital soon broke the spell of busy peace and they soon passed from a serious contemplation of the possibility of war to the realization of its actual presence and the duties which the issues of the day made incumbent upon them as loyal citizens of the Union.

Fort Sumpter was fired upon April 12, 1861, and on the 15th of the same month the president issued the following proclamation:

"Whereas, The laws of the United States have been and are now opposed in several States by combinations too powerful to be suppressed in an ordinary way, I therefore call upon the militia of the several States of the Union, to aggregate number of 75,000 to suppress the said combination and execute the laws. I appeal to all loyal citizens for State aid in this effort to maintain the laws, integrity, National Union, perpetuity of popular government, and redress wrongs long enough endured."

"The first service of forces will probably be to repossess forts, place and property which have been seized from the Union. The utmost care should be taken, consistent with our object, to avoid devastation, destruction and interference with property of peaceable citizens in any part of the country, and I hereby command persons commanding the aforesaid combinations to disperse within twenty days from date."

"I hereby convene both Houses of Congress for the 4th day of July next, to determine upon measures for the public safety, as its interest may demand."

" By W. H. Seward,
Secretary of State "
"Abraham Lincoln,
President of the United States "

Of this call for volunteers, only one regiment was required to fill the quota of Iowa. The proclamation of Governor Kirkwood calling for this regiment was issued at Iowa City, April 17th. The men of Iowa sprang to arms as one man, and hundreds of volunteers were offered whom the State did not need.

Company F, of the Fifth Regiment, Captain Sampson, was the first on ready in Keokuk County. E. S. Sampson and N. H. Keith who subsequently were appointed captain and lieutenant of the company, were chiefly instrumental in recruiting this company, although many other citizens of the county aided, and the company was ready for duty in a little over a week from the time the call was made. Captain Sampson immediately made application for a place in the First Regiment, but too late, a regiment was already full.

When the call was made for more men the company was reorganized and went in camp a few days later at Sigourney. It will be remembered that the government experienced great difficulty at first to equip the men as rapidly as they volunteered, and in order to facilitate matter, Captain Sampson, while his men were encamped at Sigourney, borrowed money of S. A. Alexander, paying interest therefore at the rate of thirty six percent, with to buy cloth for uniforms: the cloth having been procured, the ladies of Sigourney laid aside all other work, including all the care of their households and gave their whole attention to the work of making up the cloth into uniforms. The company then departed to the State rendezvous, and was incorporated in the Fifth Regiment. E. S. Sampson was appointed captain; W. H. Keith first lieutenant; H. S. Dawson second lieutenant. Captain Sampson afterward became lieutenant colonel of the regiment, and at the expiration of the term of enlistment, there not being enough re-enlistment's from the regiment to maintain its name and organization, those which did re-enlist became a part of the Fifth Cavalry. Company F went into camp at Sigourney, July 3rd, and after remaining there some two weeks went to Burlington, where it went into service as a part of the Fifth Regiment, on July 15th 1861.

The first call of the president for three hundred thousand men, and each succeeding call, received a prompt and liberal response from the people of Keokuk County. From the plow, the workshop, the counting room, and from all the learned professions, the men from every rank of life, of all ages, gray beard, and smooth faced, those who proved themselves to be the bravest of the brave, came forth and enlisted themselves among those who were ready and anxious to endure hardship, meet peril, and if need be, die in defense of the flag. Company F, of the Eight Regiment, was recruited by Captain Andrews and Dr. Yerger, and went into camp at Davenport, shortly after Captain Sampson took his company to Burlington.

Company D, of the Thirteenth Regiment, and a portion of company I, of the same regiment, were recruited in Keokuk county. Company D was recruited by Dr. Price in less than one week. In company with Mr. Clark, the Dr. started out on Monday morning and visited South English, Springfield, Talleyrand, Lancaster, and Richland, holding public meetings at all these places. The enthusiasm was unbounded and by Thursday he returned to Sigourney with sixty recruits. The following evening a public meeting was held in Sigourney, at the close of which his recruits numbered one hundred and one. The next day the company started for the place of rendezvous, and by Saturday evening was in camp at Davenport. There are few counties in this of other States which can show better in recruiting than this. The material, also was of the very best; in this company Mr. Pope enlisted as a private, and came back as the Major of the regiment. The company was conveyed by farmers, in wagons, where cars were waiting to convey it to Davenport. Before leaving Sigourney a large concourse of people from the surrounding county assembled in the court house to formally take leave of their friends. The ladies of Sigourney made a beautiful flag which was presented to the company, Miss Carter, on behalf the ladies, made a brief address on presenting the flag, which was replied to by Dr. Price. This flag was zealously guarded through marches and sieges in camp and in battle, and was brought back to Sigourney whole, but badly faded, by Dr. Price at the close of his term of enlistment.

Company I, of the same regiment was recruited partly in Keokuk and partly in Washington County. Captain Elrod, a Methodist minister, and lieutenant Lynch, were principally instrumental in recruiting this company.

There were two companies raised in Keokuk county for the thirty-third Regiment Company B, recruited by Dr. Yerger and J. H. Shawhan, and Company H recruited by Colonel Mackey, Captain Dillon and Gore. The company which became Company H of the Thirty-Third, was commenced in July, but recruiting went on very slowly until August, when an extra call for troops aroused the people to such a state of enthusiasm that it was immediately filled up. Company B was recruited under the following circumstances: Dr. Yerger and Mr. Shawhan were sitting in a room conversing and the subject of war finally coming up, Mr. Shawhan said he believed he would enlist. Dr. Yerger was of the same mind. Thereupon, they stepped over to the office of the clerk of the district Court and by him were sworn, each taking an oath in the presence of the other, to enlist and go to the war. That same evening they began to recruit company B and in four days a company of 101 men was formed. This company likewise received a flag at the hands of the ladies of Sigourney. A large meeting was held in the Courthouse Square before departure of the company, and the flag was presented. Dr. Yerger on behalf of the company, made a brief address, accepting the flag and promising to defend and honor it, all of which the company did until the unfortunate Yazoo expedition, when the flag was lost with all the other baggage of the regiment. Both of these companies, H and B were taken to Oskaloosa, the place of rendezvous, in farmer's wagons, where they were mustered in to the United States service and became a part of the Thirty-third regiment, C. H. Mackey, who was chiefly instrumental in recruiting Company H, becoming lieutenant-colonel. This regiment became renowned during in subsequent career, and Keokuk County has ever had reason to feel proud of its record. At the time of Lee's surrender the regiment was sent up the Tombigbee river to capture a fleet of rebel boats which had been conveyed thither on the capture of Mobile. Afterward it returned to Mobile and was there at the time of the great explosion which occurred at the latter place in April, 1865. Colonel Mackey, who witnesses this terrific catastrophe, and who but a short time previous had been officer of the day, describes this explosion as the most terribly grand and magnificent horrible event of the war.

In addition to the companies already mentioned, there were some five or six other companies, wholly or in part recruited from Keokuk County: A company in the Eighteenth regiment, a company in the Fortieth, a company in the First cavalry, company in the one hundred days' service and quite a number in the Gray Beard regiment.

While these recruits were at the front, their families at home were not forgotten. Aid societies were formed which assisted the needy and the board of supervisors granted aid from the county fund. During the latter years of the war a regular tax levy was made for this purpose, and it is estimated some fifteen to twenty thousand dollars were contributed in voluntary donations and in taxes for the relief of soldier's families. While there were so many who were ever ready to relieve the wants of the needy it would be unjust to discriminate; there was one, however, who was peculiarly zealous and active in the matter, Mr. William Jackson, who in may ways comforted the sorrowing and aided the needy. He it was who was chiefly instrumental in securing aid from the county fund, and into his hands flowed the voluntary contributions, which he disbursed most faithfully. To him, also, the soldiers sent their spare wages, to be distributed among their families. At one time he had over five thousand dollars of this money in his care, which, in default of a better place of security, he deposited under the floor of a stable.

Transcribed by John Davis.

John Brown's Soul and Bleeding Kansas

Americans are familiar with the contest which preceded the admission of Kansas into the Union. The facts of that contest have become matters of record and as such are familiar to all students of history. Not only so; every school boy in conning over his history lesson becomes familiar with such terms as "Squatter Sovereignty," "Border Ruffian," and such names as "John Brown" and "Jim Lane."

There are, however, attending facts connected with that unhappy strife which have not passed into history, and some of them of local interest, properly belonging to the history of Keokuk county.

It is not generally known that the line of communication between Kansas and the free States of the East lay through Keokuk county; that men living in this county were members of the Free Kansas Emigrant Aid Society; that one of the leading citizens of the county organized branch societies or committees all along the line; and that it was Sigourney where John Brown and Gen. Jim Lane first met.

Prefatory to the narration of these facts it will be proper, for the purpose of better understanding the matter, to give a brief synopsis of the Kansas difficulties.

By the "Missouri Compromise Bill," passed in 1820, slavery was prohibited in all the territory bought of France north of the southern boundary of Missouri—Missouri excepted. By the "Kansas Nebraska Bill," which congress passed in 1854, this prohibition was repealed and the territories of Kansas and Nebraska were organized.

As soon as this bill was passed emigrants from all parts of the Union began to pour into Kansas, those from the North determined to make it a free State and those from the South determined to make it a slave State. Emigrant societies were formed in the North to colonize Kansas with anti-slavery inhabitants. The South sent its representatives also, and from the neighboring State of Missouri armed bands crossed the border, hence the name "border ruffians." Owing to the fact that the States bordering on Kansas from the east and south were slave States and the people intensely hostile to anti-slavery colonization it was necessary for the emigrant societies of the North to send their emigrants north-west through Iowa into Nebraska and from thence south into Kansas. To facilitate the passage of emigrants through Iowa an emigrant society was formed at Iowa City on June 10, 1856, at which time George Woodin, Wm. Sanders and S. N. Hartwell were appointed to make a tour of this tier of counties and also the tier of counties north, in order to enlist certain leading men at each important point in the work of furthering "emigrants" on their way. This term "emigrant" must be taken in a qualified sense. It is true that many of the people at this time going to Kansas were genuine emigrants and consisted of families in search of homes; but the larger portion of these "emigrants"consisted of well-armed and well-disciplined companies of men who were on their way for Kansas to fight rather than to farm.

The meeting held at Iowa City on June 10, 1856, was a public meeting at which several spirited speeches were made but after the public meeting of a general character adjourned a private meeting for special purposes met. It was at this private meeting that the following address or commission was drawn up and placed in the hands of Mr. Woodin, who seems to have been chiefly instrumental in opening up a line of communication:

"To the friends of the Kansas Free State 'cause in Iowa:

"The undersigned have been appointed a committee to act in connection with similar committees appointed in Chicago, and in other States, and with committees of like character to be appointed in the various counties of this State, and especially in those counties lying west and south-west of us.

"The plan of operations is the establishment of a direct route and speedy communication for emigrants into Kansas. The committee have appointed Messrs. Geo. D. Woodin, Esq., William Sanders and Capt. S. N. Hartwell to visit your place for the purpose of having a committee appointed there to facilitate the general plan of operation and carry out the details. They will explain to you the minutiae of this plan at greater length than we are able to do in this communication.

"Capt. Hartwell is a member of the State legislature in Kansas and is recently from the scene of the ruffian atrocities which have been committed in that embryo State.

"We have here pledged ‘our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honors' to make Kansas a free State and we shall expect our friends from this place westward will give us their hearty co-operation.

"Yours in the cause of Freedom,
"W. P. CLARK, Ch'n.
"C. W. HOBART, Sec'y.
"H. D. DOWNEY,. Treas.
"IOWA CITY, June 10, 1856."

As before remarked Mr. Woodin in particular was active and diligent in transacting the business delegated to him. He made a complete tour of the counties lying in the proposed route of the "emigrants"and established committees. He succeeded in enlisting in this enterprise the most active and reliable men in the various towns which he visited who were in sympathy with the movement. Most of these men are still living and many of them have since achieved a national reputation. The following are the names of the individuals composing the committees at the various points along the route:

Wasonville—Isaac Farley, Myron Frisbee, N. G. Field.
Sigourney—N. H. Keath, A. T. Page, T. S. Byers, A. C. Price.
Oskaloosa—William H. Seevers, A. M. Cassiday, James A. Young, Louis Reinhart, S. A. Rice.
Knoxville—J. M. Bayley, James Matthews, Hiram W. Curtis, William M. Stone, James Sample, Joseph Brobst.
Indianola—B. S. Noble, Geo. W. Jones, Lewis Todhunter, J. T. Lacy, G. W. Clark, H. W. Maxwell.
Osceola—J. D. Howard, G. W. Thompson, A. F. Sprague, John Butcher, J. G. Miller, G. L. Christie.
Quincy—R. B. Lockwood, T. W. Stanley, H. B. Clark, E. G. Bengen, D. Ritchey.
Winterset—H. J. B. Cummings, W. L. McPherson, D. F. Arnold, W. W. McKnight, J. J. Hutchings.
Des Moines—A. J. Stevens, T. H. Sypherd, W. W. Williamson, R. S. Chrystal.
Newton—H. Welker, William Skiff, William Springer, E. Hammer, H. J. Skiff.

It was necessary to observe great caution and secresy, as the administration was at that time in sympathy with the pro-slavery party and United States marshals were on the lookout for armed bands on their way to Kansas from the north. The underground railroad having been put into good running order, Superintendent Woodin and his station-agents did quite a business in forwarding "emigrants"during the fall, winter and following spring and summer.

One incident connected with the workings of the underground railroad especially deserves mention, it was the first meeting of Gen. Jim Lane and John Brown.

Late in the summer of 1856 the people of Sigourney were considerably interested in an unusually large number of emigrants who came through the town late in the afternoon and encamped for the night near by. Persons who had no connection with the "Emigration Society" noticed that Dr. Price and other members of the committee soon became very intimate with the leading men among the "emigrants."In fact so intimate were Price and his conferees with the chief emigrants that they held a conference in a back parlor of the Clinton House, then the leading hotel of Sigourney. After the conference had lasted some time the emigrants returned to their camp to look after some business while the committee remained in the room at the hotel awaiting their return. In the meantime there was a knock on the door, which being opened admitted a healthy, robust man dressed in the garb of a frontiersman, who announced himself as Captain Moore from Kansas, and desiring to see one Jim Lane whom he expected to find at that place. He was informed by the committee that Jim Lane, for such one of the "emigrants" proved to be, had just retired but would return shortly. Upon the invitation of the committee, the stranger took a seat, but upon being questioned by the committee with regard to Kansas affairs, manifested considerable reticence, not caring, apparently, to discuss those matters. Presently Lane returned, and upon being introduced, the stranger looking him steadfastly in the face, and taking as it were an estimate of the man from head to foot, said: "You are Jim Lane, are you? Well, I am John Brown. I guess we have heard of one another before."John Brown now satisfied that he was in the company of friends, and that his cause in Kansas would not suffer by a narration of events then transpiring in that Territory, threw off his former reserve and talked freely and passionately. It is said by persons who were in the room that they never heard such eloquent and impassioned words fall from the tongue of living man as those uttered by Brown when speaking of the Kansas troubles. He first spoke of the country; of its beautiful prairies, its rich soil and its beautiful rivers, and while doing so his countenance lit up with an almost superhuman light and cheerfulness; pausing for a moment he seemed to be deeply moved, his countenance underwent an entire change, and from being an angel, Brown now resembled a fiend. At length he broke forth in the most vehement language; he spoke of the blighting curse of slavery and of the overbearing conduct of the pro-slavery men in their efforts to extend the accursed system; of the atrocities of the border ruffians from Missouri. When at length he contemplated the possibility of this fair land becoming blasted by the curse of slavery, its beautiful prairies turned into slave plantations, its fertile soil pressed by the foot of bondmen, its beautiful streams flowing past slave-pens, he was unable to control himself; he strode through the room, he stamped on the floor and tore his hair with his sunburnt hands. Jim Lane became inspired by the words of his new-made acquaintance and it was arranged that he should make a speech that night in Sigourney. The speech was made from a dry goods box in front of Page's stone block which stood where now is McCauley's hardware store.

The "emigrants" had in their train a queer-looking vehicle, which they said was a prairie plow; it was covered with a tarpaulin, and some of the curious citizens, after the "emigrants" had fallen asleep, were anxious to see what kind of an agricultural implement these tillers of the soil had, anyway; a slight investigation convinced these inquisitive ones that it would plow up the ground in spots if it once got to work on the soil of "bleeding Kansas," but that it would be too noisy and dangerous for the fallow ground of Iowa. That prairie plow proved to be an eight-pound cannon, and was heard from inside of thirty days thereafter. The emigrants, numbering some seventy-five, left the next morning, accompanied by John Brown and Jim Lane. Bleeding Kansas, after bleeding for some four years, boasting for part of the time in two rival territorial governments, was admitted into the Union as a free State in 1861. Jim Lane's pathetic end, falling a victim to his own vices and his own hands, and Brown's misguided, but noble and heroic campaign at Harper's Ferry, are subjects of fireside conversation in almost every household in the land, and it is hoped that the narration of the foregoing incidents, trifling in themselves, but momentous as forming circumstances attending great national events, will not arouse any slumbering animosities nor engender any new strifes.

Transcribed by Pat Wahl.

Sherman's March to the Sea

The following beautiful poem, which has won for its author a national reputation, and has been sung in the theaters of Europe, was written in a Southern prison, by Adjutant S. H. M. Byers, at present (1879), U. S. Consul, at Zurich, Switzerland.  In his little book, "What I saw in Dixie," on pages 73—4, he copies from his diary, December 25, 1865, as follows: "This is my second Christmas in prison. Lieutenant Tower, of Ottumwa, Iowa, who had lost a leg in the army, and who was afterward captured, is now to be exchanged and sent home.  He wears a hollow, artificial limb, in place of the one lost; this we packed full of letters, one of which contained 'Sherman's March to the Sea.’  The rebels little suspected our novel way of communication with our friends.  The Lieutenant went safely through, and the letters were all safely delivered":

Our camp fires shone bright on the mountains
That frowned on the river below,
While we stood by our guns in the morning
And eagerly watched for the foe—
When a rider came out from the darkness
That hung over mountain and sea,
And shouted "Boys up and be ready,
For Sherman will march to the sea."

Then cheer upon cheer for bold Sherman
Went up from each valley and glen,
And the bugles re-echoed the music
That came from the lips of the men.
For we knew that the stars in our banner
More bright in their splendor would be,
And that blessings from Northland would greet us
When Sherman marched down to the sea.

Then forward, boys, forward to battle,
We marched on our wearisome way,
And we stormed the wild hills of Resaca,
—God bless those who fell on that day—
Then Kenesaw, dark in its glory,
Frowned down on the flag of the free,
But the East and the West bore our standards,
And Sherman marched on to the sea.

Still onward we pressed, till our banners
Swept out from Atlanta's grim walls,
And the blood of the patriot dampened
The soil where the traitor flag falls;
But we paused not to weep for the fallen,
Who slept by each river and tree,
Yet we twined them a wreath of the laurel,
As Sherman marched down to the sea.

0, proud was our army that morning
That stood where the pine darkly towers,
When Sherman said, "Boys, you are weary.
This day fair Savannah is ours."
Then sang we a song for our chieftain
That echoed o'er river and lea,
And the stars in our banner shone brighter,
When Sherman marched down to the sea.

Transcribed by Steve McBride.