Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Review - "Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3: The Longest Year, 1864-1865" by Kenneth Lyftogt

[Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3: The Longest Year, 1864-1865 by Kenneth L. Lyftogt (Camp Pope Publishing, 2022). Cloth, 22 maps, photos, illustrations, chapter notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xvi,513/556. ISBN:978-1-929919-94-9. $40]

Though often thought to be a sparsely populated rural state with only a limited, though earnest, capacity for contributing to the combined Union war effort, Iowa ranked as the 20th most populous state by the 1860 census (just ahead of New Jersey) and put nearly 80,000 men in blue uniform. Geographically confined almost entirely to field service in the western and Trans-Mississippi theaters, Iowa's military might contributed heavily to Union victory on countless battlefields. That role was further enhanced by the state's political rank among the stoutest of Republican strongholds. Both of those aspects of Iowa's Civil War and more are explored in the final installment of Iowa historian Kenneth Lyftogt's now completed magnum opus. His Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3: The Longest Year, 1864-1865 caps off a trilogy that started in 2018 with the publication of Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 1: Free Child of the Missouri Compromise 1850-1862. That well-received book, which was selected as the winner of the A.M. Pate Award, was followed two years later by Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River, 1862-1864.

Though Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 3 addresses the trilogy's shortest time interval (the war's final twelve months), at over 500 pages of narrative it is the thickest tome of the three. It is also arguably the series volume with the heaviest level of emphasis on Iowa's battlefield impact. Two celebrated Iowa infantry brigades fought with the Union's western armies, and a host of scattered regiments (infantry and cavalry) and artillery batteries fought with similar distinction on both sides of the Mississippi River. Their contributions to numerous major late-war campaigns are thoroughly documented in this volume. Iowa leaders and soldiers distinguished themselves in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, the 1864 Shenandoah Campaign, Price's Missouri raid of 1864, the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, and the 1865 Carolinas Campaign. They were present as well during the final stages of the war in the Gulf states (ex. at Mobile) and in the Trans-Mississippi. As Lyftogt demonstrates, the mounted forces of the western theater maintained a strong Iowa flavor throughout the war, and during the period covered in this book they were highly visible in opposing Nathan Bedford Forrest in North Mississippi, and they comprised similarly prominent elements of James Wilson's strike force during that general's celebrated 1865 raid into the Deep South that gutted the infrastructure of that region.

Ably synthesizing selections from published book and periodical sources, newspapers, and government documents, Lyftogt highlights the role of Iowa leaders and units in the campaigns referenced above. He achieves this by way of a comprehensive war narrative consistently reinforced through quoted passages drawn from firsthand writings of Iowa officers and men of all ranks. The set of maps provided by cartographer Hal Jesperson also frequently point out where on the battlefield Iowa units made their deepest impact.

One can quibble here and there with some of the background details behind the linked campaign summaries that underpin Lyftogt's larger narrative, but the book's collection of campaign, battle, and raid accounts always powerfully conveys the scale and breadth of Iowa's presence on the western battlefields (this is a strength of all three volumes). That presence was widely distributed among all ranks and branches of the service. For example, all three of Iowa's major generals, Grenville Dodge, Francis Herron, and Samuel Curtis, ranked among the West's most accomplished and respected generals. Grant-favorite Dodge in particular is followed very closely in this volume. A host of lesser-ranking Iowa generals and colonels also made a name for themselves in the infantry and cavalry service, among the latter Edward Winslow and Edward Hatch.

As mentioned before, Volume 3 is military-centric; however, due attention is paid to Iowa people, politics, and their roles and reactions to events off the battlefield. For example, the volume relates how the critical Fall 1864 election cycle reaffirmed the state's status as a Republican bastion and supporter of the more radical Union war aims. Nevertheless, party supremacy (all of Iowa's U.S. senators and representatives were Republicans) did not preclude factional strife, and Lyfogt also reveals how internal party differences that emerged during late-war appointments and elections had lasting consequences in Iowa state politics. The book also does a fine job of tying off civilian story threads started in previous volumes (ex. those of Annie Wittenmyer, Peter Melendy, Caroline Kasson, and others).

Kenneth Lyfogt's Iowa and the Civil War trilogy offers a lasting contribution that shines a rare spotlight on a state and citizenry all too often accorded few moments as the center of attention in the larger Civil War military, political, and social history narratives. Recommended.

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