Monday, April 23, 2018

Author Q&A - Kenneth Lyftogt on "Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1"

Last week, I mentioned (here) the recent publication of Kenneth L. Lyftogt's Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862 (for more information, go to Camp Pope Publishing). The author of three other Iowa-related Civil War books, Lyftogt recently retired from the University of Northern Iowa (where he lectured in history), and he's agreed to answer a few questions about his latest project.


DW: Your publisher mentioned that a single volume was originally envisioned for your work but the project since expanded to a planned trilogy. Can you discuss your intentions regarding the breadth and scope of Iowa and the Civil War?

KL: The breadth and scope of the trilogy involves two totally intertwined subjects, politics and the military. I attempt to explain that Civil War officers were also politicians, local community leaders who raised companies and regiments. They were ambitious men who knew that their military ranks would stay with them for the rest of their careers, and each sought recognition and promotion. Many were active politicians who wanted military bona fides that would advance their political careers. The story of every officer is the story of his battlefield performance linked to his political support. Each had political drum beaters in both the state and national governments that were critical to their careers.

The books detail almost every major battle and campaign in which Iowa troops were engaged. The battles are examined on the regimental level. For example, by April 1862 and the Battle of Shiloh Iowa had fifteen regiments in the field. Eleven of them fought at Shiloh, and the battle is explained by following each of the Iowa regiments. The regimental focus is used for every battle.


DW: Achieving statehood in 1846, Iowa was a relative newcomer to the national scene when sectional conflict reached a crisis point. How would you describe the state’s political situation/party alignment on the eve of the 1860 election?

KL: By 1860 Iowa had completed its transition from a Democratic, Southern-leaning state to a Republican stronghold. The process by which this happened is a major focus of Volume 1.


DW: Actively employed in the relative isolation of the Trans-Mississippi West, Iowa’s Samuel Kirkwood is probably not among the most well-known and celebrated Union war governors. How effective was he in rallying the populace to the colors and managing the huge task of mobilizing the resources of the state for war?

KL: Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood was a fine war governor. He successfully mobilized Iowa's Republicans in support of the war while doing quite well in working with Iowa's War Democrats and cowing Iowa's Peace Democrats. His successor war governor, Colonel William M. Stone, elected in 1863, continued Kirkwood's policies until the war's end.


DW: During the Civil War period, Iowa was a vibrant force with nascent ambitions but still very much a frontier state. While one might consider fighting Confederates an all-consuming affair, Iowans undoubtedly had other growth and security concerns that manifested during the war years. Could you discuss some of the most important ones?

KL: Iowa's other great security concerns were Indian troubles on the Western border (the New Ulm massacres in Minnesota in 1862, for example) and Rebel raids from Missouri. Governors Kirkwood and Stone raised regiments to guard both borders. The other great security concern was internal rebellion in support of the South. Governor Kirkwood personally took charge of the suppression of the so-called Tally War of August 1863. When Governor Stone became convinced that Missouri Rebels working with Iowans presented a danger he mobilized local militias to defend southern Iowa.


DW: A previous publication of yours might give away your answer, but I’ll ask anyway. Do you have a favorite Iowa Civil War general (and why)?

KL: My favorite Civil War general is, obviously, Matthew Mark Trumbull, Iowa's only English-born general. Trumbull represents a unique part of Iowa's Republican constituency, immigrants who deeply resented old Europe's system of royal, aristocratic rule. These immigrants looked at the Southern Confederacy as merely a transplanted form of European feudalism that was totally at odds with America's democratic promise.

Of course favorite generals are not confined to either the blue or the gray. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Wizard of the Saddle, is the great Southern general. In my three volumes the reader watches Forrest from his beginnings as a cavalry colonel to becoming a major adversary. Iowa troops did battle with Forrest till the end of the war.


DW: What about non-military Civil War Iowa figure?

KL: Iowa's women became the great civilian figures in the war. The best known is Keokuk's Annie T. Wittenmyer, who founded local aid societies and traveled extensively to get needed supplies to Iowa soldiers. My favorite is Caroline Kasson, wife of John Kasson of Des Moines, who was President Lincoln's Assistant Postmaster General and later an Iowa congressman. Caroline Kasson spent the war in Washington D.C. and wrote letters home to the Des Moines Daily Register through the war years that gave Iowans a unique perspective on what was happening in far off Washington. Her letters, under the pen name of "Miriam," give all three of these volumes a wonderful female voice that addresses the great issues of the war.


DW: Volume 1 covers the early war period through Shiloh. Do you believe that Iowa’s military contributions in Missouri during 1861-62 get the credit they deserve for helping secure that state for the Union (a vital first step before any general advance into the Confederate heartland could proceed)?

KL: Does Iowa get the credit it deserves for securing Missouri? Probably not. Missouri was the terrible backwater of the war and is too often ignored or at least not well represented in Civil War studies. Two-thirds of non-Missouri Unionists who fought there were from Iowa, with Iowa generals Samuel Curtis and Grenville Dodge as key figures.


DW: Iowa regiments forged an enviable combat reputation in the West and in the Trans-Mississippi. Did the Hornet’s Nest surrender at Shiloh, which caught up a great many Iowans in its net, adversely affect how the state’s troops were viewed by others for a time (grossly unfair as that would have been)?

KL: Did the surrender of Iowa troops from the Shiloh Hornet's Nest adversely affect how Iowa troops were viewed by others? I've never seen any evidence of this. Most recognized that the Hornet's Nest fighters stopped the Confederate advance long enough to prevent a Rebel victory. Iowa's James M. Tuttle commanded the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division at the Hornet's Nest, and rose to command the 2nd Division when General W. H. L. Wallace was killed. I've never seen anything that suggested that he did not deserve the command or the promotion.


DW: Thank you for your time. I look forward to reading Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862 and the volumes that will follow.

1 comment:

  1. I got my BA in History and about half of an MA at U of Northern Iowa before going to law school. I met Professor Lyftogt after I graduated and went back to visit some of my other professors. Glad to see he is still publishing.

    Professor--you likely don't recall meeting me (why would you?) but congrats on your continued work. Loved UNI back in the day.

    Theodore P. Savas
    Savas Beatie LLC

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