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History of Iowa

Volume II

Chapter V


Pictures included in this chapter are General N. B. Baker,

General Samuel R. Curtis,

Stockade at Estherville, and Captain W. H. Ingham




            Governor Kirkwood had, at the beginning of the war, no experience in military affairs and most of his aides were necessarily civilians. His first aides-de-Camp, John Edwards, Rush Clark, Wm. B. Allison, A. H. Sanders, D. B. Hillis, and Cyrus Bussey were men of excellent judgment, but were without military training. He was most fortunate in the selection of an Adjutant-General. Jesse Bowen, who held the position when the war began, resigned in June, and the Governor appointed as his successor, ex-Governor Nathaniel B. Baker, then a Democrat member of the Legislature from Clinton County. At the extra session in May, called to put Iowa on a war footing, Governor Baker led the war wing of his party in support of all of the important message. He had served as Speaker of the House of Representatives and Governor of New Hampshire, and possessed rare executive ability. He was eloquent and outspoken in urging vigorous prosecution of the war for the suppression of rebellion. Ignoring partisan considerations and grateful for the patriotic support of the “War Democrats” in the Legislature and in recognition of the hundreds who were offering their services a soldiers, Governor Kirkwood tendered the position of Adjutant-general to Governor Baker. He promptly accepted and at once entered upon the arduous duties of that office. He speedily developed a remarkable talent for organization and throughout the year was a tower of strength to Governor Kirkwood’s administration. His energy was unbounded and his office soon became a model of system and efficiency. Hiram Price was appointed Paymaster-General.

            The act of the extra session of the Legislature providing for the issue of State bonds to the amount of $800,000, drawing seven per cent. interest, also provided for a Board of commissioners, consisting of the Governor, Charles Mason, William Smyth, James Baker and C. W. Slagle, to determine from time to time how many bonds should be issued. Various newspapers of the State, which were unfriendly to the administration and to the prosecution of the war, published articles claiming that the law authorizing the issue of bonds was unconstitutional. This attack upon the legality of the bonds discredited them in the eastern cities where they were offered for sale and capitalists declined to buy them except at great discount. Finally sales were made in Iowa at ninety-four cents on the dollar. $300,000 worth were sold at that price, which amount provided all of the money required for war purposes, and the remaining $500,000 worth were eventually destroyed.

            Additional calls for troops came in rapid succession as the eastern armies met with disastrous defeats and the war assumed an unexpected magnitude. The vast amount of labor devolving upon the State administration called for additional help. Governor Kirkwood appointed N. H. Brainerd Military Secretary, and J. C. Culbertson was commissioned Assistant Adjutant-General.


     On the 31st of July, 1861, the Republican State Convention assembled at Des Moines and nominated Governor Kirkwood for reelection by the following vote: Samuel J. Kirkwood, three hundred and ten votes; Samuel F. Miller, three and Fitz Henry Warren, twenty-nine. John R. Needham was nominated for lieutenant-Governor and Ralph P. Lowe was nominated for reelection as Supreme Judge. The resolutions indorsed the National and State Administrations, and a vigorous prosecution of the war, and invited the cooperation of the loyal men of all parties in support of the Government.


            On the 24th of July, the Democratic State Convention met at Des Moines, and nominated Charles Mason for Governor, Maturin L. Fisher for Lieutenant-Governor, and James M. Elwood for Supreme Judge. One of the resolutions declared “that our Union was formed in peace and can never be perpetuated by force of arms, and that a republican government held together by the sword becomes a military despotism.” Another resolution declared that a convention of all the States should be called for the purpose of securing to the States by legislation equal rights, an the removal of the agitation of the question of slavery from Congress, and the States of the Union. The convention also declared opposition to all paper money banking and to a protective tariff. Judge Mason accepted the nomination in a long letter, but later in the campaign he withdrew from the head of the ticket and Colonel Wm. H. Merritt was nominated to fill the vacancy.


            On the 28th of August, another convention convened at Des Moines, and organized a “Union Party,” nominating the following ticket: Governor, General N. B. Baker; Lieutenant-Governor, Lauren Dewey; Supreme Judge, Ruben Noble. Baker and Noble promptly declined the nominations and warmly supported Governor Kirkwood for reelection. Absorbed in the arduous duties of his position in this darkest year of the Rebellion, the Governor had little time or disposition to engage in a political campaign. The disastrous defeats of the Army of the Potomac, from which so much had been expected, compelled the President to make call after call upon the loyal States for volunteers to fill the depleted ranks. Every energy of the Governor and Adjutant-General was required to raise and organize the new regiments which our State was called upon to furnish. Every neighborhood in Iowa was contributing young men to reinforce the Union armies, and their friends and relatives were not in a frame of mind to attend political rallies.


            At the urgent solicitation of his friends, the governor consented to make one speech at Des Moines on the 4th of September, at which Judge Mason, the Democratic candidate, was invited to be present and divide the time with the Governor in a joint discussion of the issues involved in the approaching election. Mason declined, however, and Governor Kirkwood in an elaborate speech ably presented his views on the situation. He also reviewed the acts of his administration and in a spirit of candor replied to the criticism of his political opponents. He made but one other speech before the election and that was delivered at Davenport in October. General N. B. Baker, who had recently declined a nomination for Governor, tendered him by the so-called “Union Party,” was at this meeting and spoke ably defending the administration of Governor Kirkwood and strongly urging his reelection.


     On the 10th of September, the Governor issued a proclamation in which he stated that eight Iowa regiments were already in the field, that four more were in camp nearly ready to leave for the seat of war. The State was now called upon for four more regiments, which were speedily raised. The election in October resulted in the success of the Republican candidates by a plurality of more than 20,000. In the First Congressional District, Samuel R. Curtis had resigned his seat in the House of Representatives and entered the military service. In the election to fill the vacancy James F. Wilson, Republican, was chosen.


     Before the close of the year 1861, Iowa had raised and sent into the service sixteen regiments of infantry, four regiments of infantry, four regiments of cavalry and three batteries of light artillery, making an aggregate of 19,105 men.


     During the first fractional year of the war, Iowa regiments had participated in the battles of Wilson’s Creek, Blue Mills and Belmont, where their courage and gallant conduct won the warm commendation of the commanding officers and reflected honor upon the State they represented.


    The Ninth General Assembly convened at Des Moines on the 13th of January, 1862. Lieutenant-Governor John R. Needham presided over the Senate. Rush Clark was chosesn Speaker of the House. Governor Kirkwood, in his message called special attention to the financial condition of the State. He stated that the unpaid taxes due up to November 4th amounted to $400,000, a sum more than sufficient, if collected to pay the entire expenses of the State Government for one year. He urge such a revision of the revenue laws as would secure a prompt collection of the annual taxes, as well as the large amount now delinquent. In view of the suspension of specie payment by the General Government and the banks of the country, the Governor recommended such changes in our laws as would permit the payment of taxes in United States currency and bills of the State Banks of Iowa. He mad a report of the general work of the executive and Adjutant-General in providing for the defense of border counties, and stated that all calls by the War Department upon Iowa for troops had been promptly filled.


          The most important acts of the General Assembly were the following: assumption of the collection of the direct annual Federal taxes for war purposes; an act for the relief of sick and wounded soldiers of the Iowa volunteers; an act to provide for the payment of taxes and the principal and interest of the school fund in United States Treasury notes and bills on the State Banks of Iowa; an act to authorize the reception of Auditor’s warrants on the War and Defense Fund in payment of taxes; an act to exempt the property of Iowa soldiers from levy and sale while in the military service, and an act to apportion the State in six Congressional Districts.


            It was during this session of the Legislature that an episode occurred which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it. For more than nine months the Civil War had been desolating the country. After the first crushing defeat of the Union Army at Bull Run the people suddenly realized that a war of long duration and of great magnitude was upon the country. Call after call had been made for volunteers until hundreds of thousands of soldiers were in the field. No great victories had been won and many humiliating defeats had been encountered. The Army of the Potomac, 200,000 strong, from which so much was expected, was resting quietly in the immediate vicinity of Washington, under General McClellan, with no prospect of making a speedy movement against the enemy so audaciously blockading the Potomac River a few miles from the National Capital.


      In the meantime an obscure Illinois General, U.S. Grant, had gathered an army of western troops in Kentucky and , with the cooperation of Commodore Foote, with a fleet of seven gun boats, proceeded against Forts Henry and Donelson, which commanded the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Fort Henry was soon captured, the Tennessee River opened and the fleet proceeded up the Cumberland River to aid in the reduction of Fort Donelson. This was a strong fort, mounting heavy guns, standing on a steep bluff rising at a height of one hundred feet above the river and defended at the base by formidable water batteries. It was garrisoned by an army of 18,000 well drilled Confederate soldiers under the command of Generals Pillow, Floyd and Buckner. Investing the fort and its army, Grant made his plans to capture, not only the strong position, but to cut off the retreat and compel the surrender of the entire Confederate Army. Desperate fighting ensued; Generals Pillow and Floyd, with a few regiments escaped in the night, but on the 16th of February, General Buckner surrendered the fort, his army of 15,000 men, sixty cannon, with the small arms and supplies to General Grant. The glorious news was flashed through the country. It reached Des Moines at 11 a.m., the following day, in a dispatch to the State Register. F. W. Palmer, the editor, hastened to the Capitol, where the Legislature was in session and handed the dispatch to the Speaker of the House. Rush Clark sprang to his feet in the midst of a roll-call and shouted “General Grant has captured Fort Donelson.” Then followed a scene which defies description. Members sprang to their feet with the wildest cheers. The Senators hearing the great shout, came rushing into the House and catching the contagion, all joined in the most extravagant expressions of delight. For ten minutes pandemonium reigned and no one thought of legislative dignity. When order was finally restored the two houses adjourned. In the afternoon, by a common impulse, State officers, members of the Legislature and citizens gathered at the old Des Moines House and joined in celebration of the great victory. Those of the present generation can scarcely realize the intense anxiety that pervaded the entire North at this period of the war. The depression of repeated defeats and doubts as to the final result, which had long oppressed the hearts of the loyal were suddenly lifted; hope and confidence were again inspired. Governor Kirkwood and others were called out for speeches and the rejoicings were kept up to a late hour of the night.


            A general had at last been found who, without display, could not only fight brilliant battles, but could strike powerful blows at the Rebellion by capturing a large army with all of its equipments. Grant had proved more than a match in this campaign for the confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was regarded by the South as the equal of General Lee. Johnston was in command of this department with headquarters at Nashville, while Halleck, from St. Louis, directed the Union armies of the West. Grant, with a subordinate command, early realized that Forts Henry and Donelson blocked the river route to the heart of the Confederacy. In January, he asked permission of Halleck to capture these forts and open the river to Nashville. His request was at first refused, but seeing so clearly the great results to be obtained, a month later he again urged the importance of the project and obtained Halleck’s consent.


            His brilliant success electrified the country and Halleck, in a dispatch to the War Department at Washington, declared it to be “the turning point in the war.” It caused the whole Confederate line in the west, from Nashville to Columbus, to fall back more than a hundred miles. So great was the consternation of General A. S. Johnston, that he telegraphed to Jefferson Davis, “the situation left me no alternative but to evacuate Nashville.” More important than all else, it gave hope to the administration and the country, that there was a western general who could not only plan a brilliant campaign, but who had the skill and courage to promptly execute his plans. The jealousy of Halleck and the slanders of envious rivals for a time threatened to deprive the country of Grant’s superb military, but fortunately the President and Secretary of War recognized the merits of this new commander, who quietly took positions assigned him and without continually importuning for reinforcements, proceeded to strike the enemy stunning blows with such forces as he had.


     Four Iowa regiments participated in this great battle, and were among the bravest of the brave. Our State felt a just pride in their brilliant achievements and mourned the loss of the heroic dead. The Legislature passed joint resolutions expressing for the people of the entire States, thanks to the Iowa troops for their bravery and devotion to the country, for their heroic deeds on the battle-fields of Wilson’s Creek, Blue Mills, Belmont and Fort Donelson, and sympathy for the bereaved friends of those who perished from disease and on the battle-fields.


    Soon after the beginning of the Civil War the Sioux Indians, on the Minnesota reservations, began to make hostile demonstrations in the northwestern counties of Iowa. Horses and cattle were stolen, and, on the 9th of July, two members of the Frontier Guards, Hobert Thomas and Henry Cordna, were killed within three miles of Sioux City. Several parties of Sioux Indians were seen in the Little Sioux Valley. The settlers became alarmed and companies of “Home Guards” were organized in several of the northwestern counties. Under the authority of Judge A. W. Hubbard a military company of the Sioux City Cavalry, under command of Captain A. J. Millard, was ordered into State service for protection of the frontier. 


       There were at this time about 8,000 Sioux Indians on the reservations along the Minnesota River, at a distance of from sixty to one hundred miles from the north line of the State. These Indians, aware that thousands of the natural defenders of the frontier were absent in the armies, entered into a conspiracy to march upon the settlers and exterminate them before aid could reach them. So well had the plans of the savages been concealed, that no intimation of the impending doom had reached frontier settlements. On the 17th of August, 1862, the massacre began near the upper agency. On the 21st, while the men were gathered at a public meeting, on the upper Des Moines River, near Jackson, to devise means for common defense, the Indians suddenly fell upon the settlement, murdering the defenseless families, plundering their homes and killing the live stock. When the news of the massacre reached the settlements at Spirit Lade and Estherville, parties of armed men were hastily organized who marched to the aid of their neighbors. At Jackson they received reinforcements and all marched up the river to the scene of the massacre; finding that the Indians had disappeared, they buried the bodies of fifteen of the victims and returned to their homes. The settlers in northwestern Iowa escaped the fate of their Minnesota neighbors. When the news of the massacres reached them, all the frontier settlements were abandoned except those at Spirit Lake and Estherville. At these places the sturdy pioneers erected strong stockades into which their families were gathered, preparations being made for a vigorous defense. Scouts were sent out and every precaution taken to guard against surprise. Efforts were at once made to secure State protection. A detachment of Sioux City cavalry was immediately sent to the lakes and the Dickinson County courthouse was fortified. Here the families were gathered under the protection of the soldiers, while men worked on the defenses. A saw mill was kept running, cutting logs into plank four inches in thickness. A trench, three feet deep, was dug around the court-house, about thirty feet from its walls and into this the palisades were firmly planted, making a defense against any weapons in possession of the Indians. Here the settlers remained in security while the terrible massacre was desolating western Minnesota. Thousands of the Sioux were on the war path and troops were hurried to the frontier. The chiefs had planned to sweep swiftly down the Des Moines valley and the Little Sioux by way of the lakes of Dickinson County, thus exterminating all of the settlements in northwestern Iowa above Fort Dodge and Sioux City. They soon met with vigorous resistance, however; in Kossuth and Palo Alto counties preparations were at once made by the settlers to defend their homes.


            The Minnesota authorities were soon thoroughly aroused, as they came to realize that they were assailed by the greatest Indian uprising of the century. The settlers seized such arms as they could find and hurried to the aid of their frontier neighbors. Such troops as were within reach were hastily called to their assistance but before the savages could be checked, more than 1,000 men, women and children had been slaughtered and 5,000 driven from their homes.


            Houses were pillaged and burned, stock killed or driven off, fields devastated and more than two hundred and fifty women and children taken into captivity. In magnitude it exceeded any massacre ever perpetrated in North America, and in atrocities it has never been surpassed in any country. Desperate battles were fought at New Ulm, Fort Riley and Birch Coulie, with heavy losses on both sides; and it was nearly a month before the Indians were thoroughly beaten by General Sibley’s command at the Battle of Wood Lake. Here he captured a large number of prisoners and liberated two hundred and fifty captive women and children. Of the Indian warriors captured, four hundred and twenty-five were tried by a military commission, of which three hundred and twenty-one were proved to have been engaged in the massacres of the settlers; three hundred and three were sentenced to death, thirty-nine only were executed. A great outcry was raised in some parts of the East against the execution of the death penalty on the perpetrators of the brutal massacres; influence was brought to bear upon President Lincoln to withhold his approval of the sentence of the military commission and all but thirty-nine were, after a short imprisonment at Davenport, Iowa, sent up the Missouri River and set at liberty. The Government afterward paid a fearful price for this leniency in the long wars waged by the Sioux Indians instigated by these liberated murderers. The campaigns against them by General Sully’s army cost millions of dollars, and the Custer massacre of 1876 was planned by some of these surviving Sioux, who assisted in that bloody drama.


     On the 29th of August, Governor Kirkwood sent Colonel S. R. Ingham, of Des Moines, to northwestern Iowa to take such measures for the defense of that section against the against the Indians as the situation demanded. Colonel Ingham visited the most exposed settlements, and conferred with the citizens, after which he authorized a military company to be raised in the counties of Palo Alto, Kossuth and Emmet. Before Colonel Ingham’s report was made, Governor Kirkwood and called an extra session of the Legislature.


     The summer and autumn of 1862 were the darkest days of the war. The Army of the Potomac, which had been organized and drilled for nine months under General McClellan in vicinity of Washington, numbering more than 150,00 men, had, at last, when the patience of the Administration and the country was exhausted, started by the longest possible route for Richmond. Moving, about the first of April, by way of the Potomac and Fortress Monroe, McClellan laid siege to Yorktown, and by the 24th of may Reached the Chickahominy, within striking distance of the Confederate Army, 50,000 strong, under General J. E. Johnson, guarding the roads to Richmond. McClellan’s army now numbered about 110,000 effective men. Two corps were sent across the river, taking positions at Seven Pines and Fair Oaks, from “Seven Days’ Battles,” in which McClellan lost nearly 20,000 men in killed, wounded and prisoners, and retreated to the protection of our gun boats on the James River. This ended the most disastrous campaign of the war. Another large army was hastily gathered in Virginia to interpose between General Lee, now commanding the Confederate forces, and Washington. General Pope was called from the West and placed in command of the Union Army. After fighting several battles, he was defeated with heavy loss and his army driven into the entrenchments on the south bank of the Potomac, which defended Washington. His losses during the campaign were more than 15,000 men. Three great armies, equipped with all of the bet modern appliances of war, had within little more than a year, under the distinguished commanders, attempted to crush the Rebel armies of Virginia, and capture Richmond. All had been disastrously defeated and General Lee was preparing to cross he Potomac and invade the North. More than half a million men had left their northern homes and entered the Union armies to crush the Rebellion; nearly 100,000 of them had perished in battle and  of disease, or were disabled by wounds or sickness, or languished in loathsome prisons. NO progress had been made against the great central armies of the Confederacy in Virginia, or the defiant Government at Richmond. Serious doubts now arose in the minds of loyal people of the North, whether the Rebellion could be subdued by any military power that our Government could command. A general feeling of gloom and despondency pervaded the country. The only rays of hope at this time came from the brilliant victories which had been won in the West. If Rebel armies in the West could be beaten and captured, surely some general could be found who would overthrow the Confederate armies in other sections of the country. Could the Union armies be again reinforced by volunteers in numbers sufficient to conquer the Rebellion? If not, would the country peaceably submit to drafts to fill the depleted ranks and to raise new armies? These were some of the problems which now confronted the northern people, the President and his Cabinet. There was no time for hesitation. On the 4th of August the War Department ordered a draft for 300,000 additional men. On the 16th Governor Kirkwood issued general orders appointing commissioners in the various counties of the State to make the enrollment for a draft.


            On the 17th he issued a proclamation appealing to the people to fill the quota required of Iowa volunteers. He stated that he would immediately call a special session of the Legislature and urge it to provide for the payment of a liberal bounty to all who should enlist in the old regiments before the 1st of September. He stated that the quota, for Iowa, of volunteers called for by the President on the 2d of July was 10,570 men and that there were more than 15,000 volunteers now organized into companies waiting to be assigned to new regiments. The War Department had, however, refused to give our State credit for the surplus over 10,570, due under the call of July 2d, until 8,000 should have been furnished to fill the old regiments. If these men were not supplied by volunteering by the 1st of September, the deficiency would be made up by a special draft, in addition to the draft to supply 10,570 required to fill the quota under the order for a draft of 300,000 issued on the 4th of August. Such was the situation at this critical period of the war. To meet the exigencies confronting the State and the Nation with promptness, the Governor issued a call for a special session of the General Assembly. It convened at the Capitol on the 3d of September, 1862, and, in the message, the Governor gave his reasons for calling the General Assembly together. He said:


            “When you closed your regular session the belief prevailed very generally that the strength of the Rebellion against the General Government had been broken, and your legislation upon some questions of great public interest was controlled by that belief. The lapse of time has shown that belief to be erroneous and a change of legislation on those questions has therefore become necessary.”


            He continued:

            “Owing to the largely increased number of soldiers that will soon be in the field and the great length of time they will be exposed to the danger of disease and the casualties of battle, it is rendered absolutely necessary that a large increase of the fund be provided for their care and comfort. The magnitude of the war has greatly increased the work of the Executive and the Adjutant-General, and additional funds and assistance are required.”


            He recommended camps of instruction for the drilling of men who volunteered to fill the ranks of the old regiments. He strongly urged the enactment of a law providing for elections outside of the State, at which all Iowa soldiers absent from home in military service at the time of any general election, might have their votes received and canvassed. He urged the immediate action in the acceptance of the Agricultural College land grant recently made by Congress, amounting to 240,000 acres for Iowa, so that these lands might be secured within the limits of our own State. He called attention to the alarming reports of Indian massacres in Minnesota, and the danger threatening our people on the northwestern frontier.


The Legislature was in session but eight days and passed thirty-nine bills. The most important were the following: an act providing for the protection of the northwestern frontier; amendments to the militia law of 1861; appropriations for the extraordinary expense of the Executive Department of the State; a provision for the relief of the sick and wounded Iowa soldiers in the service of the United States; an act for better protection of the southern border; a change in the name of Buncombe County to Lyon, in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, who was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek; acceptance of the Agricultural College land grant, and provision for the selection of the lands; an act enabling soldiers in service outside of the State to vote at the general elections; authority was given to boards of supervisors to levy taxes for the support of families of persons in the military service, and for the payment of bounties for enlistments; an act for the organization and discipline of the General Assembly, approved by the Governor within five days. On the 12th of September, he issued orders for the raising of five companies under the supervision of Colonel Ingham, in the frontier counties. They were promptly organized as follows: Company A, Algona, raised in the counties of Emmet, Palo Alto, Humboldt and Kossuth, Captain W. H. Ingham of Algona, Company B, in Webster county, Captain Wm. Williams of Fort Dodge; Company C, in Hamilton County, Captain H. W. Crupper of Webster City; company D, in Crawford County, Captain J. M. Butler of Denison; and Company E, in Woodbury County, Captain J. N. White of Sioux City. Lieutenant-Colonels James A. Sawyer was given command and Lewis H. Smith was made quartermaster. These troops were stationed in companies and parts at Chain Lake, Estherville, Ocheyedan, Peterson, Cherokee, Ida, Sac City, Correctionville, Little Sioux and Melbourne, while Captain Millard’s Company was at Spirit Lake, thus forming a line of communication from Chain Lake to Sioux City. This prompt action of the authorities effectually protected the settlements of northwestern Iowa from attacks by the Sioux warriors, who were desolating western Minnesota.


            All preparations for a draft were made by the State authorities, as few were sanguine in the belief that 20,000 more volunteers could be furnished by Iowa in time to avert it. But the liberal provisions made by the Legislature to authorize the counties by taxation to provide for the support of the families of persons in the military service, and also to pay liberal bounties for enlistments, enabled the State to furnish its quota under the calls recently made without resort to a draft.


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