Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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The Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Thursday, April 13, 2000
by Deb Nicklay

Genealogical sleuth aims to solve Civil War mystery

NORTHWOOD - Sharlene STODDARD has an avid interest in history and a love of mysteries. These qualities are helpful in genealogy research, STODDARD said. And while she has developed a network of sources that has helped her solve family "mysteries," STODDARD continues to work on a puzzle that has no relation to her own family.

The mystery centers on the Civil War involvement of three black men who settled in the Worth-Mitchell county areas in the 1860s and 1870s. And one of the men is said to have been a slave of Confederate President Jefferson DAVIS.

Research completed to date will be displayed at the Military History Day on Saturday, April 22, in St. Ansgar. STODDARD is a cousin to Phil FLEISCHER, who is also working on information about St. Ansgar Civil War veterans.

The black men - Wallace McKINNEY, William WRIGHT and J. Solomon STRATTON - may have appeared out of place in the largely Scandinavian settlements of St. Ansgar, Manly and Northwood. And yet, all were well-established farmers and described as "highly respected" in the community, STODDARD said.

Documenting their military service, however, is what intrigues STOODARD.

Her search began with McKINNEY several years ago. Fellow history buff and friend Lois HOGAN, also of Northwood, inadvertently came across his obituary in the Manly Signal while researching another item.

"She knew that Phil was looking for information," STODDARD said.

The 1927 obituary referred to McKINNEY as a black veteran of the Civil War who was "born on the DAVIS plantation in Mississippi along the river" in about 1848.

"Being a slave of Jefferson DAVIS, a Confederate leader, efforts were made to force him to join the Confederate army," the obituary said. "This he refused to do, and he was sentenced to be shot, when some white woman aided him to make his way to the Union army . . . he was with General (Nathaniel) BANKS when he made his victorious clean-up in the Red River Country." The obituary refers to McKINNEY as a "water boy" for the Union Army.

The obituary also referred to McKINNEY as arriving in Iowa through the efforts of Capt. Seymour McKINNEY of St. Ansgar. McKINNEY later farmed. He was a "highly respected . . . gentleman," whose funeral drew many of the area. He is buried in Kensett Cemetery.

William WRIGHT is the only one known - by records - to have officially served in the Union Army. WRIGHT, a former slave born in 1837, was a member, of the 14th Regiment [Company H] of the Kentucky Volunteers, STODDARD said. His history is detailed in the Manly centennial historical information.

WRIGHT came to Cerro Gordo County in 1872, eventually settling in Rock Falls Township near Plymouth. A farmer, he was the father of 10 children. He is buried in Newburg Cemetery in Carpenter [Mitchell County, Iowa].

NOTE: The 1883 History of Franklin and Cerro Gordo Counties states that "William WRIGHT settled on the northeast quarter of section 36 [Geneseo Township], where he lived two years and moved to Franklin County."

John Solomon STRATTON was born in Virginia, most likely the son of a free man. He grew up in a hand-to-mouth existence, STODDARD said. Records show he became Union General Charles VERBECk'S assistant, STODDARD said. Records say he took care of VERBECK'S white horse.

VERBECK owned land in Worth County, and brought STRATTON with him, probably in 1869. When he arrived here, VERBECK sold STRATTON 80 acres at $2 an acre, according to property transfer records.

There is a connection between WRIGHT and STRATTON, STODDARD said.

STRATTON married WRIGHT'S oldest daughter, Anna Marie. A depot agent told STRATTON of the WRIGHT family; when STRATTON and Anna Marie decided to get married, the depot agent accompanied them to get the marriage license. STRATTON died in 1917 and is buried in a Manly cemetery, according to STODDARD.

What is most intriguing is trying to place both STRATTON and McKINNEY in some sort of documented Union role, verified by records. STODDARD has also learned that while WRIGHT is black, it's not clear that his Union service was with a black troop.

"That's what keeps you looking," STODDARD said. "And you never know when information will pop up."


ST. ANSGAR - Vietnam veteran Phil FLEISCHER has been researching the past and is trying to bring a bit to life during Military History Day from noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 22, in St. Ansgar.

FLEISCHER, has gathered a multitude of people, displays and military genealogy.

Civil War re-enactors will set up camp by the St. Ansgar American Legion and Air Force officials will display a T-38 miniature jet fighter modeled after the Thunderbirds. Residents from around the state will display war artifacts, some from the Civil War, FLEISCHER said.

Also featured will be William MORRIS of Des Moines, who has researched the history of African-Americans who served in the Civil War. Deborah GAGE of Osage will re-enact the role of Civil War physician Dr. Mary WALKER and Sue HERROD of Des Moines, an expert on textile preservation and who also works for the Governor's Flag Preservation Committee, will be at the event.

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, May of 2011


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