John G. Towne was born in Jefferson County, New York, but was living in Worth County, Iowa,
on February 12, 1862, when he enlisted as a Private in the Union army thinking he would be serving
in the 18th Iowa Infantry. Instead, when that regiment was over-subscribed, he was one of many who
were transferred to what would be the 21st Iowa Infantry where they would comprise the majority
of Company A and on June 11th he was mustered into service at Dubuque. His Muster-In Roll
describes John as ·being a twenty-two-year-old farmer and 6' 3" tall in a regiment that averaged 5'
8 ~" .
The following month, on July 9th, Governor Kirkwood received a telegram asking him to raise
five regiments as part of the President's call for 300,000 volunteers to supplement those already in
the service. Governor Kirkwood assured the President, "the State oflowa in the future as in the past,
will be prompt and ready to do her duty to the country in the time of sore trial. Our harvest is just
upon us, and we have now scarcely men enough to save our crops, but if need be our women can
help." The volunteers came, staff appointments were made, officers were commissioned and the
regiment was mustered into service on September 9, 1862, with Samuel Merrill, a future Iowa
Governor, as Colonel.
On a rainy September 16th they walked through town, from the levee at the foot of Jones Street
boarded the four-year-old sidewheel steamer Henry Clay and two barges tied alongside, and started
downstream. After spending one night on Rock Island, they continued south, debarked at Montrose
due to low water, traveled by train to Keokuk, boarded the Hawkeye State, reached St. Louis on the
20th, were inspected on the 21st and that night boarded rail cars for Rolla. After a month in Rolla,
they walked to Salem, Houston, Hartville and back to Houston. On January 27, 1863, with John
designated as a company cook, they started for West Plains. From there they walked northeast to
Ste. Genevieve from where they were transported downstream to Milliken's Bend where General
Grant was assembling a 30,000 man, three-corps, army to capture Vicksburg.
Leaving on April 12th, they walked slowly south along the west side of the Mississippi River,
across bayous and through swamps, until April 30th when they crossed from the Disharoon
Plantation to Bruins burg, Mississippi. With the 21st Iowa Infantry as the point regiment, they started
inland and about midnight drew fire from Confederate pickets near the Abram Shaifer house. After
resting in place for several hours, John participated with his comrades in the May 1st Battle of Port
Gibson. Each company had eight ranks of corporal and, on May 2d, John was promoted seven ranks
from Private to 2nd Corporal. On May 16th he was present at the Battle of Champion Hill when his
regiment was held out of action by General McClernand but the next day he participated in an assault
at the Big Black River in which the regiment suffered seven killed during the assault, eighteen others
who received wounds that would prove fatal and forty who had non-fatal wounds. Among them was
Colonel Merrill who fell with a serious hip wound while leading the charge and after the assault was
carried from the field by the Thompson brothers.
John continued with the regiment during the siege of Vicksburg that ended on July 4th but there
is a note in his Descriptive Book that on July 25th he was "reduced to ranks for mi sconduct." Despite
that reference, bimonthly company rolls continued to show him as a Corporal although an excerpt
from "Returns" dated June 1865 refers to him as "Pvt." He continued to be marked "present" on the
rolls during service in Louisiana, along the Texas coast and in Tennessee. On March 1, 1865, they
were on Dauphin Island at the entrance to Mobile Bay when John wrote to "Sister Clarrie" in reply
to a letter she had send to him on February 3rd. He was in good health and said more troops were
arriving almost daily in preparation for a movement to occupy the city of Mobile at the head of the
bay. He had a good visit with others she knew and "talked over old times & our adventures since."
His sister had attended a ball and he hoped to be home by "the first of July to go to some Ball or
other amusement." He had sent $70 to his father and hoped it had been received. John ended his
letter by saying, "I send my compliments to all friends my love to Clarissa."
On March 17th the regiment marched down to the dock and at 1 :00 p.m. boarded the N. G.
Brown. A half hour later they "landed at Navy Cove; marched one mile and a half up the peninsula
and encamped" on the east side of the bay. From there it was a difficult movement northwards
towards Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely both of which fell to the Federals although John's regiment,
while involved in the campaign, was not directly involved at the capture of either one. On April 12th,
Dabney Maury's Confederates abandoned Mobile and the Union army moved in. The regiment then
camped at Spring Hill for more than a month before boarding the Mustang and returning to
Louisiana. On June 10, 1865, John Towne was one of thirty-seven of the early enlistees who were
still on the rolls when they were mustered out at Natchitoches. Others who had been with the
regiment when it was mustered into service were not discharged until July 15th while recruits who
had enlisted while the regiment was already in service would have to wait until August 3rd.
Only a month after his discharge in Louisiana, John was in Nunda, Minnesota, when he married
Harriet E. White at the residence of William White. William, John E. Towne and several others were
present to witness the wedding. A son, Albert J. Towne, was born on May 24, 1866, but less than
a month later, on June 10th, John Towne, who had survived military engagements in the south and
three years of war, died of consumption in Worth County.
On December 7, 1868, Harriet and William H. Towne were married by Judge Perry in
Northwood, Iowa.They moved to Minnesota and were living in Albert Lea when Letters of
Guardianship were issued to William on April 30, 1874. Two years later William, as guardian,
applied for a minor's pension for Albert. The application was approved by the federal pension office
and on September 21 , 1878, a certificate was issued at a rate of $8.00 monthly, with an additional
$2.00 for Albert, retroactive to December 8, 1868, the day after Harriet and William were married.
The minor's pension would continue until Albert's sixteenth birthday.
Source: Biography written and donated by Carl Ingwalson, San Diego.