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Iowa and the Civil War

Iowa 3rd Infantry Summer Encampment 1891

Photo courtesy of: http://www.iowanationalguard.com/History/History/Pages/Post-Civil-War.aspx


By: Madison Wirth - Iowa History Center Scholar

 October 24, 2016


When you think about the American Civil War, what comes to mind?  The North and South?  Slavery? President Lincoln? Gettysburg? Grant and Lee?  Mass casualties? These were of course important aspects of the war, but what people do not commonly think about is the state of Iowa during the Civil War.

Iowa is often overshadowed by the more populous states in the east that sent troops and supplies to aid the Union. The population of Iowa in 1860 was 674,913 and out of this number 76,242 men served in the military. These numbers may seem small but, Iowa’s male population ages 15 to 40 served in the military at a higher rate than any other state in the Union or Confederacy. Iowa suffered 13,001 killed (two-thirds from disease), 8,500 wounded, almost 5,000 captured, and 132 listed as missing. Also, take into consideration that not everyone in Iowa was necessarily pro-Union. Many people were anti-Lincoln, pro-slavery, and Confederate sympathizers. I think this makes it all the more impressive that Iowa had so many men volunteer and serve for the Union.

No major battles took place in Iowa, but the state’s shared border with the slave state of Missouri meant that Confederate partisans and bushwhackers sporadically raided in Iowa. If people do think about Iowa’s contributions during the war, they most likely believe that Iowa was far removed from any fighting. While this is mostly true, Iowa was not completely unaffected. In one instance, on October 12, 1864, raiders dressed as Union soldiers and looted residences and kidnapped and murdered three Iowans near Bloomfield. Missouri was a highly contested state. The south wanted it as a slave state and the north as a free state. With Iowa being on the cusp of such violence, many Iowans could not just simply carry on with their lives as usual. The agitation and conflict of the war was right at its doorstep.

Iowans also contributed not just men but large supplies of food to the Union armies. Those who did not enlist did their part to support the war effort through farming. Most of the state, especially the southern half, was mobilized to contribute on behalf of the Union. Iowans did not just sit idly by while the Civil War played out around them. Remarkably, for having only been a state for fifteen years at the outbreak of the war, Iowa came together and rallied behind the Union with gusto.
Today Iowa is mostly known for its agriculture and role in presidential races. What people often fail to remember or recognize is that Iowa also has a rich past. Not enough people give Iowa due credit for its contributions to American history as a whole, but there is also merit in studying Iowa’s history for its own sake. Every state has a colorful history that should be explored, and Iowa during the Civil War is just a snapshot of this state’s past.