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James Hill was born in or near Chedder, Somerset County, England, on December 6, 1823. In his youth he worked as an apprentice to a draper and in the general store business. As he got older, he worked as an assistant in a mercantile company. In 1848, James married Sylvia Brown and the following year they immigrated to Dubuque. From there they moved to Cascade, “purchased and began improving a quarter-section of land” and “laid out a large addition to the village.” The following year they built a brick house on a “commanding eminence,” a residence they called “Evergreen Villa.” James was a Baptist minister and “through his efforts, the Baptist Churches at Epworth and Worthington were gathered, organized and supplied with places of worship; he was also a liberal contributor to Cascade churches.”
Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Most in the North expected an early end to the war that followed but, as it continued into its second year, both sides realized more men were needed. On July 9, 1862, Governor Kirkwood received a telegram asking him to raise five regiments as part of the President’s call for 300,000 three-year men. If the state’s quota wasn’t raised by August 15th, it "would be made up by draft," something most viewed as a potential embarrassment. James Hill, 5' 7" tall with brown hair, blue eyes and a light complexion, became an active recruiter in the Cascade area. On August 9th he was appointed 1st Lieutenant in Company I of what would be the state’s 21st infantry, a company with fellow Englishman David Greaves as Captain.
On August 9th, Rev. Hill enrolled Sam Bates and Curtis Dean, on the 10th he enrolled John Goodrich, on the 13th Martin Heitchew, on the 15th Ted Dare and Jasper Delong and on the 19th Joe Rogers. One article says he was credited with enrolling 72 of the 101 men who were mustered into the company on August 23d. On the 28th, during training at Dubuque’s Camp Franklin, they were visited by citizens from Cascade who presented their pastor with a sword and the enlisted men with copies of the scriptures. On September 9th the regiment was mustered into service and on the 16th they left for war.
A wagon train was attacked on November 24th, but the regiment’s first battle was at Hartville, Missouri, on January 11, 1863, when 250 volunteers, an officer from each company, Lieutenant Colonel Dunlap and Colonel Sam Merrill participated. Leading the men from Company I that day was James Hill. After the battle they returned to their base in Houston and, on January 27th, started a four-day march to West Plains. On February 8th, they started a march of 200 miles that took them through Thomasville, Eminence, Ironton and Iron Mountain. On March 16th they walked the final sixteen miles into Ste. Genevieve where they camped on a ridge north of town. While there, on March 22d, James Hill was appointed Acting Brigade Quartermaster.
On April 1st they boarded the Ocean Wave and left for Milliken’s Bend where General Grant was organizing an army to capture Vicksburg. James Hill was named Acting Regimental Quartermaster for the campaign and, on a rainy April 12th, they started south. After walking and wading along roads and across bayous west of the river, they crossed to the east bank at Bruinsburg and, on May 1st, participated in the one day Battle of Port Gibson. Due, most likely, to his quartermaster obligations, James Hill did not participate. On May 16th, they were present but held in reserve during the Battle of Champion’s Hill. After the battle, two companies engaged in light skirmishing with the withdrawing rebels while others guarded prisoners. That evening they camped near the rail line at Edward’s Station. James Hill would later write that:
By then, James Hill’s health was also suffering. His resignation was accepted and, on August 1st, Lieutenant Colonel Van Anda wrote a letter to Governor Kirkwood and "enclosed copies of resignations of 1st lieut. James Hill, Comp. I, Chaplain Lorenzo Bolles.” On August 4th, with Chaplain Bolles having resigned, nine company officers wrote to Governor Kirkwood to “request the appointment of James Hill of Cascade Dubuque County Iowa as Chaplain of our Rgt.” The appointment was made and Hill headed back to the regiment, this time as Chaplain.
On November 23, 1863, they left New Orleans for the Gulf Coast of Texas where they would serve for more than six months and Chaplain Hill’s sermons had a receptive audience. He is “much beloved and respected,” said James Russell. “[W]e have got a first rate little chaplain,” wrote Jim Bethard.
After returning to New Orleans in June, 1864, they served at various locations in southwest Louisiana and were stationed in Morganza for a month and a half. While there, on the afternoon of August 28th, said Flavius Patterson, “I witnessed the Babtism of our Major Wm. R. Crook, with 3 other men by our Chaplain, the Rev. James Hill.” The regiment saw subsequent service in Arkansas and Alabama where they were initially stationed on Dauphin Island at the head of Mobile Bay. While there they were visited by Pearl P. Ingalls, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church who had previously served as Chaplain of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry. Now he was Secretary of the state’s Soldiers’ Orphans Home and, on February 23, 1865, spoke eloquently and solicited funds for children “around whom,” said Elisha Boardman, “the tenderest heart strings of the soldier are fastened.” A Committee on Resolutions, including James Hill, was formed and $7,234.42 was appropriated for the benefit of the home.
Five months later, on July 15, 1865, they were mustered out of service at Baton Rouge and, the next day, started north on the Lady Gay. On July 24th they were discharged at Clinton and Rev. Hill was free to resume his ministry.
In 1862 he had enrolled John Goodrich, in 1863, he had written of John’s death and in 1866 he officiated at the wedding of John’s widow to David Ames. The following year a new church was erected in Worthington with James Hill as pastor and, from 1872 to 1877, he served as pastor of the church in Cascade. Sylvia died on March 12, 1874, and later that year, on September 2d, James married Susan (McCune) Potter whose husband had died eight years earlier.
In the 1870s, Pastor Hill was also involved efforts to bring the railroad to Cascade and he served terms as a Director and as President of the Chicago, Bellevue & Cascade Railroad. He was also active with other veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic, joined the Cascade Post, served as its Commander, and attended a regimental reunion in Dubuque. In 1889 he was appointed Aide-de-Camp on the Department Commander’s staff and said would do all he could “to advance the interest of the G.A.R.”
On March 15, 1893, James Hill, who “by skillful and brave management captured three of the enemy’s pickets” almost thirty years earlier, was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the only member of the regiment to receive the honor. Like most other veterans, he applied for and received an invalid pension, a pension he was still receiving when he died on September 24, 1899. He was buried next to Sylvia in the Cascade Community Cemetery where the date of his death is erroneously given as September 22d.
His second wife, Susan, sold their Cascade home for $4,500 and some lots in west Cascade for $300 and moved to Dubuque where she lived at 57 Alpine Street. Susan died on October 10, 1925.