What's New   Contact Us   
IAGenWeb, dedicated to providing free genealogy records.


 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




It takes more than soldiers and battles to win a war.  Women's work and suffering are too often forgotten in the glory of the victory.  In this story we learn of the wonderful work that was done "at home" while the soldiers were "at the front."

The four years of the Civil War were probably the most exciting ones that the people of Iowa have ever known.  People in the southern parr of the state were afraid that a rebel army would invade the state.  Settlers in northwest Iowa, remembering the Spirit Lake Massacre, were afraid of another Indian attack.  So many men had gone to war that the women had to do much of the field work on the farms.  Everybody was busy.


The women of Iowa played an important part in the winning of the war.  As rapidly as men were organized into regiments, so also the women organized themselves in every community into soldier aid societies.  These societies did whatever there was for them to do.  In the first days of the war they made hundreds of uniforms for the men because the state was too poor to furnish its soldiers with them.

Later the women did everything possible to make the life of the soldiers easier.  They made bandages and other things to be used in hospitals, and sent vegetables and other foods that the army kitchens could not furnish.  They also raised money for various purposes.  Most of the relief work was handled through the United States Sanitary Commission and the United States Christian Commission, both of which were organized in Iowa.

The Northern Iowa Sanitary Fair was held at Dubuque in 1864 to raise money.  Donations came from sixty-two counties in Iowa and from large cities in the East.  New York and Chicago each sent over $3,000.  A total of more than $50,000 was raised in cash besides large quantities of vegetables.  A fair at Muscatine brought in about $20,000 and one at Burlington nearly $25,000.


The most noted Iowa woman of Civil War times was Mrs. Annie Wittenmeyer.  General U. S. Grant said of her:  "No soldier on the firing line gave more heroic service than she rendered."  "President Lincoln asked her to come to the White House to talk over certain problems.

Mrs. Wittenmeyer came to Keokuk in 1850.  She helped organize the Keokuk Soldiers' Aid Society, one of the first of its kind in the state.  She was not satisfied with merely sending things to the soldiers but took the food and clothing that her society raised right to the camps and hospitals herself.  She found that bacon, beans, hardtack, and coffee were the food that was offered to soldiers in the hospitals.  Her sixteen-year-old brother was in a hospital and she found that he was refusing to eat the food that was offered to him; fat bacon, black coffee, and bread.  Sick and wounded men, she said, needed good food as much as they needed medicine.

Late in 1863 Mrs. Wittenmeyer thought of a plan of having "diet kitchens" for all large hospitals.  A few months later, in 1864, the United States Christian Commission took up her idea and by 1865 over one hundred diet kitchens were in operation.  Mrs. Wittenmeyer was at the head of all this new work.  She put two women in charge of a special kitchen at each large hospital.  These women served such food as toast, chicken, soup, milk, tea, gruel, and vegetables to the sick men.  Millions of rations were served from the kitchens in the last months of the war.

Mrs. Wittenmeyer was also one of the leaders in establishing Soldiers' Orphans' Homes in Iowa.  The aid societies raised the money for the homes.  The first one was started in Farmington in July, 1864.  A year later it was moved to Davenport.  Another one was started at Cedar Falls in September, 1864.  Both of the homes were turned over to the state in 1866, but the one at Cedar Falls was discontinued in 1876 and the building used for the new State Normal School.


When the war broke out, people in southern Iowa feared that Confederate sympathizers in Missouri, which was a slave state, would organize an army to come to Iowa.  Gov. Kirkwood ordered that companies of "home guards" should be organized in every county in southern Iowa.  These companies were most active in 1861 when they stopped an attack on the Des Moines River near Farmington and made several counter raids into Missouri.

A guerrilla band of about 20 Southern men entered Davis County during October, 1864.  They stole horses, killed a few citizens, fled back to Missouri, and broke up as a band before they could be caught.  This act caused great excitement and much feeling.


The national Government, when the war started, withdrew most of the soldiers from the forts in northwest Iowa that looked after the Indians.  The national Government, when the war started, withdrew most of the soldiers from the forts in northwest Iowa that looked after the Indians.  The Indians soon began to make trouble.  In 1861 they stole horses near Smithland and killed two farmers near Sioux City.  In Minnesota and Dakota they caused much more trouble.  Governor Kirkwood appealed to the Government at Washington for help, but it was too busy with the war to worry about Indians.

The next year, 1862, the Indians went on the warpath.  They massacred over 650 white people in southern Minnesota.  Settlers in northern Iowa fled from their homes in fear and the nation was shocked.  Governor Kirkwood again asked for help.  He said if the Government would furnish the guns he would furnish the men.  The War Department then told the governor to organize a company of cavalry for the defense of northwest Iowa.  The company was furnished guns from the government arsenal in New York and it became a part of the regular army.  It was stationed at Sioux City and Spirit Lake.

The state also organized companies of soldiers of its own for defense against the Indians.  They were called the Northern Iowa Border Brigade.  Blockhouses, that is wooden forts, were built at Correctionville, Cherokee, Estherville, Peterson, Spirit Lake, and Iowa Lake.  Soldiers were stationed at a few other points.  After that the Indians caused no more trouble.


back to History Index