Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Review - "Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864" by Kenneth Lyftogt

[Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864 by Kenneth L. Lyftogt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2020). Cloth, 16 maps, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiv,436/476. ISBN:978-1-929919-91-8. $40]

From Iuka to the Red River
Historian Kenneth Lyftogt is in the middle of writing a trilogy of books detailing Iowa's many contributions, both on and off the battlefield, to the Union war effort. The first volume, Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862, was published in 2018. The winner of the 2019 A.M. Pate Award, Volume 1 concluded with the Battle of Shiloh, where Iowa units featured prominently in the desperate fighting at the Hornet's Nest and other parts of the battlefield while suffering one-fifth of total Union casualties incurred during those two days. Lyftogt's Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864 picks up from there, following Iowa's soldiers through numerous battles and campaigns on both sides of the Mississippi before ending at the planning stages of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign (the momentous event that will kick off the final volume of the series).

Iowa earned the distinction of being the state that placed the highest proportion of its military-age men in the ranks of the Union Army. This outsized contribution meant that Iowa officers and men featured prominently in nearly every western campaign. In Volume 2, Lyftogt's chronological narrative of Iowa's battle history begins with a brief look at the Siege of Corinth before penetrating into more depth for the battles of Iuka, Corinth, and Davis Bridge. Across the Mississippi, Iowans also fought at Prairie Grove. During the long Vicksburg Campaign, where Iowa fielded thirty infantry and cavalry regiments along with two artillery batteries, its generals and soldiers were on the firing line at Chickasaw Bayou, Arkansas Post, Grierson's Raid, Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, Big Black River Bridge, the Vicksburg assaults, Milliken's Bend, and Helena. Later that year, Iowans assaulted Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and Tunnel Hill at Chattanooga. During the Red River Campaign of spring 1864, Iowans battled hard at Fort DeRussy, Mansfield, and Pleasant Hill in Louisiana and in every major battle of the associated Camden Expedition inside Arkansas. In covering all of these campaigns, battles, and more, the book's maps and text do a fine job of highlighting the direct impact of Iowa generals and Iowa infantry, cavalry, and artillery units. Though the number of typos, misspellings, geographical mistakes, and errors in background material are numerous enough to cause some concern, they don't detract from the primary theme of how frequently Iowa units occupied positions at the front and center of western battles, where they were instrumental in a multitude of Union victories both large and small.

The fact that both of Iowa's senators and all six representatives were Republicans meant that they could exert a strong influence in Washington. In the book, Lyftogt describes how Senators Grimes and Harlan were key agents in forcing changes upon Washington D.C.'s scandalous Blue Jug jail. The 1862 mid-term elections saw Democratic gains in many states, but Lyftogt reminds readers that this was not the case in Iowa, where the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation did little to erode public support for the war. Though electoral contests were marred by the arrest of Democratic leaders, all of the Republican candidates triumphed with the help of the soldier vote. Iowa's governor and U.S. senators also were early supporters of black enlistment, and the state's small free black population, augmented by an influx of escaped slaves, filled the ranks of the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) during the second half of 1863. During the debates over present and future reconstruction, both Iowa senators and all but one representative repudiated Lincoln's executive-level initiatives and voted for the Wade-Davis Bill that placed the process under congressional control and oversight.

While Volume 1 focused a great deal upon Governor Kirkwood's adroit handling of mobilizing the state for war, Volume 2 addresses at some length the mid-war transfer of gubernatorial power after Kirkwood declined to run for reelection. Both parties eventually settled upon Iowa war hero candidates (Republican Colonel William Stone and War Democrat General James Tuttle). According to Lyftogt, Tuttle's bid for the governor's seat was severely handicapped by the Peace Democrat influence on the party's election platform. This alone ensured his defeat in heavily Republican Iowa. Even the Democratic soldiers serving under Tuttle, and who previously idolized him, turned on the popular general in great numbers.

Nevertheless, opposition to the war remained. Though much of the existing wartime dissent literature focuses on the Midwestern "Copperhead" movements, this book examines in detail a fascinating episode in Iowa history known as the Tally (or Skunk River) War of 1863. Led by Baptist minister Cyphert Tally, armed dissenters in Keokuk County who opposed emancipation as a war aim and pledged resistance (even if it came to violence) against the draft assembled in SE Iowa in their hundreds. When gunfire that erupted in the town of South English during a clash between opposing rallies killed Tally and threatened to spark a wider armed conflict, state militia were quickly called in to tamp down the flames there and also at Sigourney. Though Tally supporters were enraged when no one was indicted for killing their leader, the uprising ended up furthering the Republican cause in the state by strengthening the perception of Democrats being the party of treason.

As was the case in every state, Iowa's women also supported the troops at the front in many different ways. As one example first mentioned in Volume I, Caroline Kasson, who penned newspaper columns under the pseudonym "Miriam," continued to provide both critical and informative news to eager Iowa readers from the nation's capital. However, the towering figure of Lyfogt's narrative is Keokuk’s Annie Turner Wittenmyer. Both Wittenmyer and Ann Harlan (the wife of Senator Harlan) were volunteer leaders of aid societies that collected massive donations of food, clothing, and other items soldiers needed and arranged for their delivery to the front. After so many shipments were waylaid in some manner, Wittenmyer and Harlan chose to personally accompany the cargo to Iowa camps all across the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters. In a perverse turf war, they had to do all of this while also fending off attacks from sanitation commissions led by men hostile to their efforts. As documented in the book, Wittenmyer, who personally witnessed the often dreadful food provided at military hospitals she visited, also was instrumental in creating a corps of dietary nurses who would cook and serve more healthy, palatable food to the suffering sick and wounded. Though civilian initiatives like this one were often at odds with the army's medical service, the results of the Wittenmyer-designed "diet-kitchens" were too positive to be ignored. The result was that Amanda Shelton (a Wittenmyer protege) and others had multiple facilities operating in General William T. Sherman's military department by early 1864.

Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2 continues in strong vein Kenneth Lyftogt's long reach into the state's military, political, and behind-the-lines support contributions to the Union war effort. Highlighting many obscure individuals, military units, and wartime events along the way, it's deserving of wide readership.


  1. Drew, how detailed are the maps on a battlefield scale? It would seem difficult to have too much detail on individual battles with the scope of the subject.

    Funny to think the third volume will shift east to cover Sheridan's Valley Campaign.

    Chris Van Blargan

    1. Hi Chris,
      They are the typical Hal Jesperson battle maps that you see in so many books these days. They have appropriate levels of small-unit detail and make an effort to highlight the positions of Iowa units on the various battlefields.

    2. Hello. Vol. III will have the chapters, "Roll On Shenandoah: Parts I & II.

  2. I am a history graduate of the University of Northern Iowa where the author teaches. He wasn't there then, but I went back and saw a couple former profs in 1999 and met Ken then. Seemed like a nice fellow. I have not read his work.

    1. Ted, I think this trilogy is his retirement project.


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