OUR SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL
When the Civil War started Iowa was a young
and new state. What could such a state be expected to do to
help win the war? Iowa, at that time, did not even have an
organized militia and the state treasury was practically
empty. The story of her soldiers tells us what she did.
Before the war was over, Iowa alone had furnished more
soldiers for the Northern cause than George Washington had
under his command at any time during the Revolutionary War.
The attack on Fort Sumter, which began on
April 12, 1861, was the opening of the Civil War. Two days
later President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers.
Simon Cameron, Secretary of War, telegraphed Governor
Kirkwood, "Call made on you by tonight's mail for one regiment
of militia for immediate service."
There was no telegraph line in Iowa beyond
Davenport at the time when Lincoln issued his call. Governor
Kirkwood was at his home on his farm near Iowa City. The
message was carried to the governor by Congressman Vandever of
Davenport. It is said that the governor was "doing chores" on
his farm when the message was handed to him. As he read the
message the governor said to the congressman, "Why, the
President wants a whole regiment of men. Do you suppose I can
raise so many as that, Mr. Vandever?"
On April 17, the governor issued a
proclamation calling for volunteers and asked that they be
ready not later than May 20. A week later he issued a call
for a special meeting of the legislature. Within a few days
after his call for soldiers, ten regiments of young men had
offered their services. The first regiment was formed and
ready for the march two weeks before the time asked by the
Government. It was ordered into camp at Keokuk. Ten
companies of 78 men each made up this first regiment. Two
companies came from each of the three cities, Burlington,
Muscatine, and Dubuque. The counties of Linn, Johnson, Henry,
and Scott, each furnished one company.
Although Iowa had no militia, many volunteer
companies had been organized. They had gaudy uniforms and
fancy names. Some of them were drilled by men trained in the
armies of Europe. They were organized more for show than for
work but they soon became real soldiers. So many companies
insisted on service that the governor on his own accord
organized the Second and Third Iowa regiments at Keokuk and
the Fourth at Council Bluffs.
NO MONEY OR ARMS
Although the governor had plenty of men who
were willing to serve, his problem was not so easily solved.
What could the men do if they had no guns or ammunition? And
how could the governor get arms for the soldiers if he had no
money and the national Government could not help him? The
first soldiers drilled with sticks for guns.
Governor Kirkwood and private citizens placed
their own personal fortunes and credit to the benefit of the
state. The special legislature voted that bonds or stocks of
the state up to $800,000 should be sold. Because the credit
of the state was not considered to be good, and also because
"Copperheads," as Southern sympathizers were called, opposed
the sale, the state obtained only about $300,000. In October,
1861, the national Government paid $80,000 into the sate
FIGHTING IN MISSOURI
It was August, 1861, before any Iowa troops
took part in an actual battle. For weeks before this, Union
troops, many of whom were from Iowa, had been in service in
Missouri. They ran down small bands of rebels and tried to
bring the main Southern army there to a real battle. Missouri
was a battleground at the start because the people were
divided into Northern and Southern parties.
Two large groups of Southern soldiers had
united to make a force of 10,000. A Union army of 5,400 men,
under General Lyon, met this large army at Wilson's Creek near
Springfield, Missouri. A desperate battle was fought on
August 10. The First Iowa Regiment was in the center of the
fighting and had heavy losses. The Union army lost 1,235 men
and the Southern army about 1,300. The battle lasted all day
without a real victory for either side. The Southern
commander said: "Probably no two forces ever fought with
greater desperation." President Lincoln ordered a special
proclamation of thanks for the heroism of the men at Wilson's
Creek, to be read before every regiment in the service.
The men of the First Iowa Regiment had
enlisted for but three months. Soon after the battle at
Wilson's Creek their time was up and they marched home. Many
of them enlisted again in new companies and became officers.
The First Regiment, as such, was never reorganized.
The war in Missouri, in which Iowa soldiers
played an important part, became largely a task of chasing
down bands of Southerners. There were few battles. Many
small groups of men from the Southern side would band
themselves together, make an attack, break up their band and
go back home. It was difficult for the Union soldiers to
locate such bands. Fighting such as that is sometimes called
Two minor battles were fought, both of which
were lost by the Union force. At Blue Mills the Third Iowa
Regiment marched into an ambush; that is, Southern soldiers
who were in hiding. Four thousand Southern soldiers fired
into the Union troops from both sides and made them retreat in
disorder. At Belmont, on the Mississippi, General Grant led
an attack which at first was successful. The inexperienced
Union troops were overjoyed at their victory. But the
defeated Southerners were joined by fresh troops and came back
to battle. The Northern forces were now outnumbered and being
taken by surprise, were defeated.
In January, 1862, General Grant captured Fort
Henry and moved to attack Fort Donelson, both in Kentucky.
Several Iowa regiments took an important part in General
Grant's attack. Major General H. W. Halleck, who was in
charge of all the Union forces in the West, on Feb. 18, 1862,
sent the following telegram to Iowa's Adjutant-General Baker:
"The Second Iowa infantry proved themselves the bravest of
the brave. They had the honor of leading the column which
entered Fort Donelson." The capture of Fort Donelson is
sometimes called the turning point of the war.
The bloodiest battle west of the Mississippi
River was fought at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Iowa's own general,
S. R. Curtis, was in charge of the Union forces. Nearly all
of the Iowa troops that were not with Grant at Fort Donelson
were with General Curtis at Pea Ridge. The Southern forces
were under General Van Horn and outnumbered the Northern army
by many thousands. The battle lasted three days, March 6, 7,
and 8, 1862. The first two days of the battle were very much
against the Union forces. They were driven back and nearly
surrounded. On the third day, however, they were victorious
and drove the Southern army into the Ozark Mountains.
Another Iowa general, F. J. Herron, was in
command of the last important battle fought west of the
Mississippi. Outnumbered in this battle, too, the Union
forces fought and won a brilliant victory at Prairie Grove,
Arkansas, Dec. 7, 1862. It is said that artillery was used to
better advantage by General Herron, and played a more
important part there, than in any other battle of the war.
Thirty regiments from Iowa took part in the
siege of Vicksburg. By this time all had become seasoned
soldiers. The siege lasted for forty-tow days and nights,
during which time there was continuous fighting. Finally, on
July 4, 1863, Vicksburg was captured. The power of the
Southern Confederacy was broken.
Besides the battles that have been mentioned,
Iowans were in the Chattanooga campaign and in Banks' Red
River expedition. Fifteen Iowa regiments took part in the
siege of Atlanta; seventeen regiments were in Sherman's march
to the sea; and three regiments fought under Sheridan in the
Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1864. Twelve regiments took
part in the fighting at Mobile Bay in April, 1865. Thus Iowa
was well represented throughout the war and her soldiers won
fame for their bravery. Four Iowans, Samuel R. Curtis,
Frederick Steele, Grenville M. Dodge, and Francis J. Herron,
won the rank of major-general.