Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and
an unexpected war quickly escalated. The North suffered heavy
losses and, in the fall of 1862, President Lincoln called for
more volunteers. On August 2nd, Governor Kirkwood assured
Secretary of State Stanton that Iowa would meet its quota.
Born in Rockford, Illinois, on October 5, 1842, Henry Potter
was working as an Iowa farmer when he answered the call. On
August 7th he was enrolled at Strawberry Point by Charles
Heath. Heath was a local dentist who enrolled at least three
others that day and another four the following day.
On the 16th, they were ordered into quarters at Camp Franklin
in Dubuque and, on the 18th, ninety-nine men were mustered in
as Company B. On September 9, 1862, ten companies were
mustered in as the 21st regiment of Iowa’s volunteer Infantry
with McGregor’s Sam Merrill as colonel. On the Muster-in Roll,
Henry was described as being twenty years old (which he almost
was), 5' 9˝” tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a dark
complexion. Like others, he was paid $25.00 of the $100.00
enlistment bounty and a $2.00 premium.
They left Dubuque on the 16th, went down the Mississippi,
reached St. Louis on the 20th and the next night left by rail
for Rolla. Their initial service would continue in Missouri
with Henry marked “present’ on the company’s bimonthly muster
rolls on October 31st at Salem, December 31st at Houston
(where Jim Bethard was scheduled for guard duty, but “changed
off with Henry Potter and I am to answer to his name when he
is detailed for guard”) and February 28th at Iron Mountain.
From there they marched to Ste. Genevieve and were transported
downstream to Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was
organizing a 30,000 man three-corps army to capture Vicksburg.
They walked south along the west side of the river and crossed
to the east bank at Bruinsburg on April 30th. On May 1st,
Henry participated with his regiment in the one-day Battle of
Port Gibson. After being in the advance on the 30th and 1st,
they were moved to the rear as the army headed east. On the
15th, they reversed direction and camped not far from Raymond.
They were held in reserve during the Battle of Champion’s Hill
on the 16th, but Company A and Henry’s Company B engaged in
some light skirmishing and guarded prisoners before moving to
Edward’s Station for the night.
Having not participated in the battle on the 16th, they were
rotated to the front and, on May 17, 1863, Henry Potter was
with his regiment when it, and the 23rd Iowa, led an assault
on entrenched Confederates at the Big Black River. The assault
was successful, the Confederates were routed and many were
captured, but the 21st Iowa had seven killed during the
assault, eighteen who suffered wounds that would soon prove
fatal, and at least forty with non-fatal wounds but many of
which necessitated a discharge from the military. Among the
most seriously wounded was Colonel Merrill who had given the
order to charge and been wounded early in the assault when
shot in the hip.
Henry was not wounded and was with the regiment at Vicksburg
on May 22nd when they again participated in an assault on the
enemy. This time twenty-three were killed in action, twelve
had fatal wounds and at least forty-eight had non-fatal
wounds, some serious, some not. The assault was followed by a
siege that ended with the city’s surrender on July 4th. The
next morning they joined in a pursuit of General Joe Johnston,
driving him east to Jackson, a city that was occupied by the
Federals after a brief siege. Henry had been present
continuously since his enlistment and was with the regiment
when it returned to Vicksburg and then went downstream to
From there they were transported across the gulf to Texas
where they would serve on Matagorda Island and in the
Indianola area until mid-June, 1864. After returning to New
Orleans, they engaged in activities in southwestern Louisiana
and Arkansas before moving to Memphis and then participating
in their final campaign of the war, a successful campaign to
occupy the city of Mobile. Transported on the George
Peabody, they were put ashore on Dauphin Island where
Henry was treated one day for diarrhea, his first reported
illness of the war. After moving up the west side of Mobile
Bay, the regiment entered the city on April 12, 1865, and
camped at Spring Hill.
They were later transported back to Louisiana where, for three
days in June, Henry was treated for an undisclosed illness.
After helping with surrenders and doing garrison duty, they
were mustered out on July 15, 1865, and discharged at Clinton
on the 24th. It’s not clear what Henry did for the next
fifteen years, but he said he had lived in Iowa (Delaware
County), Kansas (Clark County) and Nebraska (Lancaster
County). On December 25, 1880, in Edgewood, Iowa, he married
Francis “Fannie” Orr. Fannie’s death certificate and an
affidavit signed by Henry indicate her parents were Sarah Ann
(McFall) and Frank McVay (although an online resource gave her
father’s name as Nelson Ives). Her first husband, James Orr,
had died near Dubuque in 1875 or 1876.
Henry and Fannie made their home in Greeley where three
children were born - George P. on July 12, 1882, Whitney H.
(also shown as Henry) in 1883 or 1884, and Julia H. on
February 16, 1886.
On January 4, 1887, forty-six-year-old Henry applied for an
invalid pension. He said he had contracted chronic diarrhea
when they were stationed in Rolla, but the Adjutant General’s
records showed only the four days he had been treated near the
end of his service. On September 15th and 16th, 1887, while
Henry’s claim was being processed, he traveled to Manchester
to attend a regimental reunion. Veterans reminisced, business
was conducted and a resolution was adopted condemning an
account that had appeared in the Manchester Press about the
assault at the Big Black River, an erroneous account that was
repeated in the published History of Delaware County.
On September 25, 1887, in Greeley, another son, Clark M.
Potter, was born to Henry and Fannie, but Henry’s pension
claim languished. In August, 1892, two neighbors, G. H. Odell
and John Malven, signed an affidavit saying Henry was “in
feeble health and wholly unable to perform labor.” He was,
they said, “in destitute circumstances” and “dependent on
charity for his support.” No action having been taken, Henry
applied again. Still living in Greeley, on March 6, 1894, he
said he was suffering from a general breakdown of his health,
liver problems, kidney problems and rheumatism. Finally, eight
years after applying, a pension of $6.00 monthly was approved
in October 1895, for general debility and rheumatism.
Seven years later, giving Manchester as his post office
address, Henry applied for an increase and again it was
approved. In addition to his previous ailments, he was having
heart, lung and kidney problems and was granted a pension of
$8.00 retroactive to June 17, 1903. In 1907 he applied from
Elk Township and his pension was raised to $12.00.
On August 27, 1909, he was admitted to the National Home for
Disabled Veterans in Los Angeles, but on September 19th and
20th, 1911, Henry was back in Iowa where he was one of
sixty-two veterans who attended the regiment’s reunion in
Central City. They had a good time, enjoyed a local band and
remembered twenty-nine comrades who were known to have died in
the past two years.
In 1912, Henry gave his address as Greeley when he applied for
another increase, but five months later said he was living in
Oakland, California when he applied again and was granted an
increase to $18.00.
On September 16, 1915, he was admitted to the Iowa Soldier’s
Home in Marshalltown, but his stay was brief and, by 1917, he
said he was living in Frederic, Wisconsin. He was still there
in 1923, but his health was failing and Henry and Fannie moved
to Carterville, Missouri. In February 1925, he moved in with
his niece, Elva (Burr) Woodford, daughter of his sister, Ella
Lucille “Celia” (Potter) Burr in Joplin. By then, his hearing
was bad, his eyesight was bad and he needed assistance when
leaving his room.
During the next several years, he lived in Webb City and
Joplin in Missouri, the soldier’s home in Marshalltown, Iowa,
and finally Reeds, Missouri, where he died on November 28,
1932, at ninety years of age. With a burial flag from the
Veterans Administration, Henry was buried in Reeds Cemetery.
His estate totaled $45.00. On January 13, 1933, Fannie applied
for a widow’s pension, a pension that was granted at $40.00
monthly. Fannie died on December 28, 1833, and was buried next
to Henry in Reeds Cemetery.
Clark, their youngest son, committed suicide on January 19,
1923, and is buried in the State Hospital Cemetery,
Independence, Iowa. Their daughter, Julia, married Frederick
Malven in 1910, died on March 3, 1974, and is buried in
Sarcoxie Cemetery, Sarcoxie, Missouri. The other two sons of
Henry and Fannie have not been located.