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Military: Civil War



The Civil War Journey of

the 21st Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry

New Century


The first half of the nineteenth century saw prosperity and rapid growth for the United States. Strong values, religious convictions, dedication to hard work and commitment to education, especially from the New England states, were carried west and men who would be leaders of the upcoming war were just being born. Robert E. Lee was born in Virginia in 1807, Jefferson Davis a year later in Kentucky and Abraham Lincoln eight months later, also in Kentucky. In 1820 a compromise was reached to admit Maine as a free state and Missouri as a slave state and William Tecumsah Sherman was born in Lancaster, Ohio. 1  Hiram Ulysses Grant, later known as Ulysses S., was born in Ohio in1822.

More and more settlers moved west, plowing and fencing the prairie and establishing homesteads, as Indian populations moved, or were moved, even farther west. Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois and neighboring states grew rapidly and large game disappeared. Robert E. Lee was a Lieutenant in the United States Army when he married Mary Custis at Arlington House in 1831. In 1834 Abe Lincoln joined Illinois' House of Representatives and Richard Henry Dana Jr. left Boston at the start of an odyssey that would lead to his famous memoir, “Two Years Before The Mast.” Two years later Samuel Colt patented his first revolver, Sam Houston's Texans defeated Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at San Jacinto and Texas became a free territory although Mexico vowed to fight again if it ever tried to join the United States.

In 1838 young men entering the thirty-six year old military academy at West Point included future Union Generals William (“Old Rosey”) Rosecrans, Abner Doubleday, John Pope and George Sykes and Confederate Generals Earl Van Dorn, D. H. Hill, James Longstreet and A. P. Stewart. Ohio native Rosecrans would become the first western born graduate to win a prestigious appointment to the Army's Corps of Engineers while other graduates included Robert E. Lee, Andrew Jackson "Whiskey" Smith, Edward Ortho Cresap Ord, Frederick Steele, Edmund Kirby Smith, George McClellan, John Sappington Marmaduke, John Bowen and Nathaniel Lyon. Hundreds of academy graduates would serve in the upcoming war.

In 1845 Jefferson Davis, whose first wife had died shortly after marriage, was remarried to Varina Howell in Mississippi and elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he was joined by Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slavery and war with Mexico.2 Longfellow published Evangeline and Henry Clay laid the cornerstone for a new Customs House in New Orleans. Designed on a massive scale costing millions of dollars, it would be a "vast, unfinished, roofless structure" when the war began and would not be completed for thirty-four years.

In 1848 the Whigs nominated Zachary Taylor for President, Ulysses Grant, a regimental quartermaster who served with Taylor in Mexico, married Julia Dent in St. Louis, a young Scotsman named Andrew Carnegie set sail for America, James Marshall found gold near John Sutter's California sawmill, and Marx and Engles wrote a Communist Manifesto. The Mexican War ended on February 2d with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which, in part, confirmed American title to Texas as far as the Rio Grande. Many who fought in the war would soon be known throughout the country - Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. Jackson, Joseph Johnston, Pierre “The Great Creole” Beauregard, James Longstreet, George Pickett, Braxton Bragg and others who would join the Confederacy and Ulysses S. Grant, George Custer, George McClellan, Joseph Hooker, George Meade and George Thomas who would stay with the Union. In July, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, a Philadelphia “Quakeress, with her gray dress, her white kerchief covering her shoulders, and her poke-bonnet,” led a Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and passed a Woman's Declaration of Independence demanding the right to vote and, on the 4th, the cornerstone was laid in Washington for a monument to honor the country's first President, although its completion would be delayed by controversy, war and a shortage of funds. Attending the ceremony were freshman Congressman Abe Lincoln and President James "54 40' or fight" Polk.

Social upheavels in Europe, a potato famine in Ireland, economic problems and unrest in Germany "unleashed a tide of immigrants" that altered the face of America and played no small role in the issues that would shape the country and its upcoming war.3 Politically, the nation was divided between anti-slavery, pro-business Whigs, the Democrats who were generally pro-slavery and less supportive of business and banking interests, and a small but vocal Abolition Party, while so-called Nativists rallied against the tide of immigrants. The Secret Order of the Star Spangled Banner, later the Order of United Americans, spread west from New York with membership limited to "native-born male citizens of the Protestant faith, born of Protestant parents, reared under Protestant influence and not united in marriage with a Roman Catholic." Highly secretive, anti-slavery and champions of temperance, they campaigned as the American Party and were lampooned by their opponents as Know-Nothings.

An 1854 recession led to fears of disaster, there was rampant crime and inflation, railroads and cotton mills altered the economy, the Whigs had been badly beaten two years earlier and would soon cease to exist, and the Democratic majority was badly divided.4 Unskilled Irish laborers, hard-working farmers who had fled their country's famine, drove wages down and took jobs from others, even from free Negroes in the North, and the Know-Nothings, who were opposed to immigration and the "good for nothing drunkards" from Ireland, were able to elect more than 100 Congressmen, eight Governors and thousands of local officials. As reactionary as they seemed, they managed to pass legislation protecting workers, giving married women the right to sue, abolishing debtor prisons and opening public schools to children of all races, colors and religions. By 1856 their strength was gone forever while Republicans nominated John C. Fremont as their first Presidential candidate and Democrat James Buchanan, a “Northern man with Southern principles,”5 became President.

1 Named Tecumseh by his father who admired the Shawnee Chief, "William" was added by foster parents, Thomas and Maria Ewing, after the death of his father. He would later marry the Ewings' daughter, Ellen.

2 While slavery was still legal in many states, importation of slaves was prohibited by an act of Congress passed March 2, 1807. 2 Story’s Laws U.S. 1050. Persons of color brought to the United States in violation of the act were to be delivered to the President so they could be returned to Africa. Also see The United States v. Isaac T. Preston, Attorney General of Louisiana, U.S. Supreme Court (January term, 1830), regarding the Spanish brig Josef Segunda that was seized in the Mississippi by federal officers. The slaves on board were sold for $68,000 by the Sheriff of the parish of New Orleans.

3 “Political upheaval” in “1830 and the years immediately following and that of 1848 and 1849,” the “Forty-Eighters,” caused wide scale emigration to the United States. After Louis Philippe was driven from power in 1848 France, Germans, Austrians, Bavarians and others cried for unity, liberty and freedom, made demands on their political leaders, and change swept Europe. The subsequent “reaction” of established governments and the military caused many to seek freedom elsewhere.

4 The Whigs divided into anti-slavery “Woolly Heads” and pro-slavery “Silver Grays” while the Democrats split between “Free Soilers” who sought to restrict slavery and the “Hunkers” who were pro-slavery. Lathrop, Life and Times of Samuel J. Kirkwood, (self-published, 1893), pages 41-42.

5 Henry Ketcham, The Life of Abraham Lincoln.


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