Fifth Infantry Expanded History

The Fifth Iowa Regimental Site is grateful to Jeff Daniels for the history below, to which he retains the copyright. Jeff is the great great grandson of Corporal Sherman Thomas Kirk, a veteran of both the Fifth Iowa Infantry and the Fifth Iowa Cavalry. Jeff is a civilian analyst at the Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He served on active duty with the United States Navy and the Army National Guard of the United States, retiring in 2001 as a Lieutenant Colonel. He enjoys reading military history, literature, and science fiction–and riding his 1973 BMW motorcycle.


by Jeff Daniels

April 12th, 1861, the guns of secessionist South Carolina fired on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. With those shots, the Civil War began. As this news was telegraphed across the nation, it inflamed the state of Iowa with patriotic fervor. In a zeal that is difficult to imagine today, citizens flocked to town halls and courthouses, clamoring to the call to arms. To marshal forces against the rebellion, President Lincoln issued a proclamation to the states asking for 75,000 men.

By April 17, Governor Kirkwood of Iowa called for one regiment of volunteer infantry. In the excitement and enthusiasm following the call, the regiment quickly filled; to the point additional volunteers were turned away. However, it was soon apparent the “100 days men” of the first call up could not meet war needs. On May third, Lincoln called for 42,034 volunteers for three years service as infantry and cavalry. In this call up, Iowa provided seventeen infantry and nine cavalry regiments (Hansen 48, Palmer 1044).

This paper will review the history of one of those regiments, the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. It will examine the character of its personnel, the political and emotional effects that motivated it, and its contributions in the western campaigns of the Civil War.

The 5th is typical of units formed in Iowa and the western states, by background and composition of its personnel, but unique in its war record. “It was, in fact, one of the few regiments that absolutely fought themselves out of existence. It was mustered in a thousand strong; it lost seven hundred and seventy-seven men by death, wounds, and disease. The fragment that was left over was transferred to a cavalry command (Note 1) (Byers, Preface).

What brought these men from Iowa, Minnesota, and the Nebraska Territory to enlist in the 5th was the breaking of an emotional wave that crested with the fall of Sumter. “War actually seemed to be welcomed, as if a tension which had grown completely unendurable had at last been broken . . . Grim knowledge of the reality of war would come quickly enough, but right at first an unsophisticated people surged out under waving flags with glad cries and with laughter, as if the thing that happened called for rejoicing (Catton 22).”

The issues in the conflict, of slavery and states rights, affected all regions and Iowa on the frontier was no exception. Neighboring Missouri, the last slave state admitted to the union, fermented violence and exported it. In “bloody Kansas”, border ruffians skirmished with abolitionist and free-state men, trying to tip the political scales to the side of slavery. These Iowa Union men knew the irreconcilable differences between North and South could now only be ended by war.

The passion these young men felt is expressed in the sentiment of twenty-two-year-old S.H.M. Byers of Newton, Iowa. “I went up to the platform and stood by the big drum. The American flag, the flag that had been fired on by the South, was hanging above my head . . . I was burning with excitement, with patriotism, enthusiasm, (and) pride . . .

The year before I had been for many months on a plantation in Mississippi, and there with my own eyes had seen the horrors of slavery. Now in my excitement I pictured it all. ‘And the war, they tell us,’ I cried, ‘is to perpetuate this curse!’ In ten minutes after my stormy words one hundred youths and men, myself the first, had stepped up to the paper lying on the big drum and had put down our names for the war . . . No foreboding came to me, the enthusiastic youth about to be a soldier, of the ‘dangers by flood and field,’ the adventures, the thrilling scenes, the battles . . . that were awaiting me (Byers 13).”

With a firm belief in the goal of restoring the union, the new recruits of the 5th Iowa mustered in to Federal service at a rendezvous of their companies at Burlington, Iowa, July 15, 1861. The soldiers were barely mustered in when they were called to defend their state against marauding pro-slavery men from Missouri

The Fifth and Sixth Regiments received orders from newly promoted Brigadier General of Volunteers, John Pope, to proceed to Keokuk, Iowa. There they were to prepare themselves to repel an invasion by a force of rebels. Estimates put the raiding party at 1,500 to 2,000 men, representing a significant threat to the state. They hastily emptied Iowa’s armory of its arms to equip the force, and they marched into Missouri to meet the enemy. No clash resulted as upon seeing the Union forces, the rebels fled, and the Iowa men were unable to catch the mounted guerrillas.

This ended their first war experience under arms, and they were ordered to return to Keokuk, and on August 11, 1861, embarked on steamboats and conveyed to St. Louis (English 675).


General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s plan to defeat the South required time to raise, equip, and train an army. It included blockading the seacoast, sealing the inland borders, and driving down the Mississippi River. Ultimately it planned to send an army of invasion to break up and destroy the Confederate nation.

Key to success in the western theater was control of the Mississippi River. Cities like Cairo, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio, became major ports of embarkation for Federal troops and supply bases. Turmoil in the state of Missouri threatened this strategic line of communication. To protect this line, Iowa soldiers’ first duty in the war was suppression of marauding bands of guerrillas and Confederate forces in Missouri.

The month before the 5th arrived in St. Louis, Lincoln promoted John C. Fremont to the rank of brigadier in the regular army, and gave him command of the Department of the West. On his arrival in Missouri July 25th, he found Confederate flags flying from houses and recruiting offices and the state “in active rebellion (Hansen 96).” Missouri did not secede when the war started, but by law was still a slave state.

The pro-South governor maintained a camp of state troops on the edge of St. Louis. These rebels did not concern General Harney, the Union commander in the region. Others in Washington expressed concern, replacing Harney with Captain Nathaniel S. Lyon, and propelling him to the rank of brigadier. He took charge and his Federal soldiers disarmed the Missouri state troops. BG Lyon then took his force “into southwest Missouri in an effort to rid the state of all armed Confederates (Catton 31-33).”

On August 10th, Lyon and his forces attacked Missouri and Arkansas rebels under Generals Sterling Price, N.B. Pearce, and Ben McCulloch, who were camped on a ridge above Wilson’s Creek, south of Springfield, MO.

In the ensuing battle, the first major clash west of the Mississippi, BG Lyon was killed and the attack collapsed. The Federals withdrew to Springfield and then Rolla (Boatner 669). The Confederates were able to hold this region, and “the unhappy state was plagued for the rest of the war by the most virulent sort of partisan warfare (Catton 33).”

Men of the 5th joined in the counter insurgency efforts after being outfitted at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis. Unlike many of Fremont’s forces, the 5th was well armed with Whitney rifles of the Mississippi pattern and with bayonets (Note 2). Through the fall and winter of ’61-62 those arms were well used during the Regiment’s postings at Jefferson City, Columbia, Booneville, Springfield, and Syracuse. They marched and counter marched across Missouri after the elusive foe, including the infamous Quantrells and the James brothers. Until the Federals came, these small bands of ruthless guerrillas roamed freely, murdering, burning homes, and destroying farms.

S.H.M. Byers recounts, “The first dead men I saw while in the army were eight Missouri farmers murdered by guerrillas and left lying in the hot sun and dust at the roadside. The sight moved me as no great battle ever did afterward (Byers 22).”

This feeling was shared by the regiment and expressed in their official record, “(The Regiment’s) surviving members will bear testimony to the fact, that while its subsequent service involved great hardship, heavy loss in battle, and the exercise of all the fortitude and bravery of which they were capable, yet they preferred that kind of service to that of keeping down the rebellion in the State of Missouri (English 675).”

When the regiment received marching orders to Cairo, Illinois, and transfer to the South, the real war, it came as glad news.


Major General Henry W. Halleck replaced Fremont as the commander of the Department of Missouri in December 1861 with a headquarters in St. Louis. Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell commanded the adjacent Department of the Ohio from Louisville, KY. Beginning in February, each commander began independent campaigns through Kentucky and into Tennessee and on into Mississippi and Alabama. Included in these campaigns were battles at Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg. The 5th Iowa served in each of these battles.

Before Fremont was replaced, he gave Grant command of Southeast Missouri, which included southern Illinois. Grant proceeded to Cairo making it his headquarters on September 4, 1862. From there he first struck at Paducah, Kentucky, situated in a key location at the mouth of the Tennessee River. This site provided access to the interior of the Confederacy, blocked only by Forts Henry and Donelson on Tennessee and Cumberland rivers

Grant successfully combined a fleet of river gunboats Fremont had begun building with his ground forces in jointly attacking the forts. He used these vessels for rapid movement of his army and for naval gunfire support. With the application of these combined forces, Donelson fell on February 16. As one of few early Union successes the victory was greeted with rejoicing in the North. Grant became famous for his note to the Confederate commander when he stated, “No terms except immediate and unconditional surrender can be accepted (Hansen 116).”

Command of Confederate forces in the west lay with General Albert S. Johnson, trying in vain to hold the Cumberland Line. But even before the fall of Donelson, he was forced to evacuate his defensive line in the face of the Federal advance. He saw his front collapsing. There was nothing he could do then but continue to retreat.

After the fall of Henry and Donelson, forces under Pope moved down the Mississippi forming the right wing of the southern penetration. The 5th Iowa joined General Pope’s army in attacking New Madrid, Missouri, where they played a minor part in the siege. One brigade commander of the 5th earned the disdain of his troops in his attempt to assault a rebel gunboat. He rashly led his men through a cornfield to where the gunboat lay in a creek. For their trouble, the rebels peppered them with grape shot and scalded them with a hot water hose (Byers 24-25). However, other Union forces fared better and New Madrid fell, earning Pope his second star.

The 5th, as a part of Pope’s army, continued to press south along the Mississippi River. From New Madrid they supported operations around Island No. 10, Tiptonville, KY, and then back to New Madrid. They next embarked on river steamers, operating near Ft. Pillow and Hamburg Landing, TN, and then marched to Corinth, MS (Dyer Vol 1. 1161-1162, Palmer 1045).

The Confederate forces that continually withdrew in the face of the Union advance now gathered in Corinth under General Johnson. On April 6th, they struck Grant’s army in camp near a small country meetinghouse known as Shiloh Church. Although surprised, Grant regained control and after a two-day battle, took a near victory away from the Confederates.

The 5th, sent as reinforcements arrived after the battle of Shiloh, and became part of Halleck’s massive army laying siege to Corinth. Although they engaged in very little fighting here, one significant incident occurred. A Union picket accidentally shot and killed their regimental commander Colonel Worthington on May 22nd.

The sentinel stated rebels were slipping up and shooting at him when he called out, “Who goes there?” so he fired without hailing the approaching colonel and his adjutant. The sentry was arrested, tried, and acquitted (Byers 26-27).

S.H.M. Byers states ” . . . there were many of us who believed that the colonel had been intentionally murdered. He was one of the most competent colonels in the army, but among his soldiers he was fearfully unpopular (27).” Byers also called Worthington “a military martinet from some soldier school in Kentucky (14).”

His men believed his sympathies lay with his native south and why he led a Union regiment was a mystery. The Iowa volunteers apparently did not want or appreciate the discipline he demanded. In spite of this, the 5th stood out among the western regiments for their discipline and soldierly performance (Stuart 134). COL Worthington was remembered officially as a distinguished soldier. His men remembered a petty tyrant, not even totally loyal, who denied their promotions.

After his death, they found warrants and commissions from the governor in his papers. The men never received their promotions, and now they knew why. Succeeding him was Colonel Charles L. Matthias, described in Byer’s words as “one of the bravest, best and most loved commanders of our army (Byers 28) (Note 3).”

Following the siege of Corinth, General Beauregard’s forces slipped away from Halleck’s cumbersome movements avoiding direct battle. All that summer, the 5th marched throughout Mississippi chasing the rebel army (Palmer 1045-1046). Eventually, they closed with the enemy in the Battle of Iuka, one of the regiment’s most fierce actions of the war (English 678).

In this campaign the regiment served under General William S. Rosecrans, and camped in a woods near Jacinto, MS. By this time deaths in battle, wounds, and disease had attrited the regiment to 482 effectives (Note 4).

About two o’clock, September 19th, the 5th along with three other small regiments and an artillery battery ran into the bulk of General Price’s army on the road close to Iuka. Although a great force under Generals Grant and Ord were only ten miles away, they were unaware of the battle.

In this encounter, neither side had breastworks, or cover. The 5th’s task was protecting a battery of the 11th Ohio Artillery. During the day the battery was lost and retaken three times. For hours, the blue and gray stood face-to-face, as little as 40 yards apart, pounding each other with musket fire. The battle decimated the cannon battery, leaving all but one or two gunners dead and all its horses were killed. By sundown, the two sides intermingled, fighting in hand-to-hand combat. Ultimately the Confederates broke away, leaving hundreds of their dead and wounded on the field.

By lantern light, the Union survivors gathered up the wounded, leaving the dead until the morning. Of the 482 the 5th began with that morning, they lost 217 dead or wounded. Another Union regiment that stood with the 5th lost 608 out of 782. Enemy losses were just as great, leaving 1,000 dead behind to be buried by the Federals (Byers 30-32, Hansen 326-329).

Contemporary accounts include the allegation that General Rosecrans had precipitated the battle on the 19th to advance his career. He knew Grant intended to fight the battle on the morning of the 20th. He hoped moving against Price early would bring battle, winning him glory, and knowing all the while he was disobeying orders. It is also possible General Price’s intelligence gathering efforts alerted him to Grant’s plan and he hurried out to conduct a spoiling attack.

Either way, it resulted in Price hurling his entire army against Rosecrans, attempting to overwhelm him before General Ord could bring up his forces. It’s acknowledged that Rosecrans was ambitious and alleged he had desires to supersede Grant. That he was not relieved and put under arrest was attributed to Grant’s magnanimous character (Stuart 133).

After the battle of Iuka, the regiment returned to their old camp near Jacinto until October 1st when it marched back to Corinth. The policy in that command was to put units that fought well, or were cut to pieces, right back in the next hard fight (Byers 33). Within two weeks of Iuka, the 5th found itself entrenched in works outside Corinth waiting to receive another strong assault.

Generals Van Dorn and Price attacked the Union positions with an army of 40,000 pushing Rosecrans back to the redoubts started under Halleck. In severe fighting the Confederates suffered the worst, with 1,423 killed, thousands wounded, and 2,265 taken prisoner. Union forces lost 315 killed, and 1,812 wounded (Hansen 329). Although holding important positions, the 5th was not in the brunt of the fighting and received few casualties.

The remainder of the year, the 5th served in Grant’s Central Mississippi Expedition, in operations at Davis Mills, and Moscow, TN, and Lumpkin’s Mills, Oxford, and Yacona Creek, MS. By the end of December 1862, they moved to Memphis, in preparation to complete the opening of the Mississippi River (Dyer Vol 1. 1161-1162).


In the first four months of the opening campaign in the West, the victories at Donelson and Shiloh cleared the Mississippi from Cairo to Memphis. Vicksburg remained the only obstacle to free use of this line of communication. As 1862 closed, the President notified General Grant he wanted a movement against Vicksburg. General Halleck further authorized Grant to name the commander of the expedition. Actions directed by Grant against Vicksburg began in December 1862, concluding in July 1863. The 5th participated in this major action as well as battles for Chattanooga and Missionary Ridge.

The path to opening the Mississippi held many difficulties both military and political. Although not directly informed, Grant learned of an initiative by Major General John A. McClernand to lead an expedition to Vicksburg. McClernand was a former Illinois state representative and was one of few in the Democratic Party to support Lincoln’s war effort, which earned him a favored position. Secretary of War Stanton gave McClernand authority to establish a headquarters in Springfield, IL, and recruit troops specifically to capture Vicksburg. Grant doubted McClernand’s fitness and he quickly named GEN William T. Sherman to the post. By his quick action, Grant temporarily forestalled McClernand’s ambitions.

Grant ordered Sherman to take one division to Memphis, and organize the troops gathered there into brigades and divisions. To move his 30,000-man force, Admiral Porter’s fleet joined him, and additionally he received authority to draw on resources from St. Louis. His mission was to land above Vicksburg on the Yazoo River if possible. From there he was to cut the two main roads out of Vicksburg. These were the Mississippi Central road and the road crossing the Black River. With Sherman pressuring Pemberton from the river approach, Grant brought his army down the line of the railroad. The two-pronged advance put Pemberton in the middle, and he could not meet both threats at once.

Van Dorn’s cavalry raid behind Grant’s army at the Federal supply base at Holly Springs thwarted this attempt in December. With Grant stopped, Pemberton gave all his attention to Sherman. Pemberton repulsed the Federal force and they pulled back to regroup.

In March the 5th embarked on a river borne probe called the Yazoo Pass expedition. For the soldiers it appeared to be a great fiasco and they felt it accomplished little. But they had great fun going on a boat ride, encountering little danger, and resting from their hard campaigning (Byers 49-53).

This respite was short lived. By April the 5th returned as part of the forces in Grant’s campaign around Vicksburg. Sherman failed in trying to approach the city from above, and now Grant attempted to land below and swing into the enemy rear. The guns of Vicksburg’s batteries presented the main problem to running past this approach. Using wooden steamboats protected by layers of cotton bales, they attempted to slip by at night.

The boat captains, unwilling to risk their own crews, asked for volunteers among the soldiers. One hundred fifty men came forward, more than were needed, so the volunteers drew lots. Many soldiers from the 5th made the dangerous crossing that night.

The boats weighed anchor and allowed the current to carry them down the river. In spite of the darkness the enemy pickets soon spotted them and fired signal rockets alerting the gun batteries. As the guns opened up in a tremendous rain of fire, the boats put on all steam. To help their gunners the rebels lit bonfires and set fire to houses along the river, illuminating the entire scene. Through good fortune, just one boat and a few barges were lost and only a few of the soldiers were injured. Down below Vicksburg, these boats met Grant’s army and ferried them across the Mississippi.

The 5th landed at Bruinsburg and once on shore marched on to Port Gibson forming part of the reserve in the fight for the town. The regiment then conducted a series of rapid marches to fight at Raymond May 12th, Jackson May 14th, Champion Hills May 16th, and finally the assault on Vicksburg itself (English 680). They had a sharp fight at Jackson in the middle of a thunderstorm. The terrible shelling mixed with claps of thunder and the troops could not tell one crash from the other. The Federals won but suffered many casualties.

The 5th marched hard and late through the afternoon of May 15th before finally halting for a rest. Long before daylight the next morning, they cooked soggy bread dough on their ramrods for breakfast then resumed their march. Their officers hurried them toward Champion Hill, and by 10 a.m. they heard cannon fire from the battle already well under way. Fixing bayonets, they moved up past defeated men from other divisions who “held up their bleeding and mangled hands to show . . . they had not been cowards (Byers 76).

The 5th stood in the thick of the battle. Gunpowder filled their mouths from biting the ends off their cartridges and blackened their faces from the rifle smoke. The men expended all the ammunition they carried and scavenged from the cartridge boxes of the dead. Ultimately, they too, were thrown back with the enemy hot on their heels (Byers 77-80). Reinforcements stopped the rebel assault and turned the tide to win the battle. The combined cost for the two armies was nearly 6,000 dead or wounded. As a result, Grant soon moved in position to compel the surrender of Vicksburg.

That night the 5th marched to bivouac in the woods near Black River Bridge. The next day in the battle at the bridge, Grant received an order from Halleck to abandon the campaign. Instead Grant waited to see the outcome at Black River. They carried the battle, and Confederate forces were shredded by the hundreds as they tried to escape across the bridge. With its success, Grant resolved to continue the campaign.

The 5th moved up as part of Grant’s forces, helping in the siege from May 19th to June 22nd. At Vicksburg, they took their turn in the grinder and assaulted the rebel works. Near midnight of the 22nd, the regiment pulled back to the Black River Bridge to defend against a rumored rebel army in their rear. No great threat developed but they remained there until Vicksburg’s surrender on July 4th.

From July 24th till September 12th the regiment served as city guard in Vicksburg. The end of that month they embarked on steamers and returned to Memphis, in bivouac until October. From there, the 5th as part of General Sherman’s corps made a forced march to relieve Rosecrans’ army at Chattanooga.

At the battle of Chickamauga September 19-20, the losses were tremendous, with 18,000 Confederate and 16,000 Federal casualties. General Bragg won a costly victory for the South, made incomplete by the tenacity of MG George H. Thomas. Thomas held fast in the face of terrific pressure from the rebels who now gripped him in a state of siege. This battle had a great effect on the leadership of both North and South.

To deal with the crisis, Washington gave command of the new Military Division of the Mississippi to General Grant. His command included all the territory from the Mississippi River to the Alleghenies. Grant relieved Rosecrans and appointed General Thomas, ordering him to hold Chattanooga (Hansen 463-468).

The 5th left Memphis October 3rd by rail to Glendale, MS, then embarked on the long march. Their route led them through Burnsville and across their old battlefield at Iuka. From there they marched nearly 200 miles arriving in Chattanooga November 22nd (Palmer 1045-1046).

The 5th, under Sherman, were part of the corps forming the left of Grant’s forces. At 2 a.m. on the 24th, they crossed the Tennessee River in crude pontoon boats. An earlier patrol had crossed and taken out the rebel pickets on the enemy side. Upon crossing the river, they immediately began digging fighting positions. The next day they maneuvered under heavy cannon fire driving the enemy from hill to hill. With nightfall, the 5th formed the picket at the front, the men wet and cold and without sleep for nearly 100 hours. The morning of the 25th dawned cold and clear and with daylight the battle began again in earnest. In the fight the regiment was so close to the enemy that the rebels often threw rocks down on them.

At 2 p.m. the 5th’s division received orders to fix bayonets and join the assault on Missionary Ridge. General Matthies their former colonel led their brigade. The 5th charged across an open field nearly half a mile to reach the rebel position. All the while, both sides kept up tremendous cannon fire over their heads. After gaining the enemy position on Tunnel Hill, they fell under a storm of rifle fire. COL Matthies received a head wound and the Union line was flanked. As a result the brigade faltered, and the 5th’s position was overrun and the rebels captured many of their men.

Sherman’s nearly 25,000 men fought well but made little progress. However forces under Generals Thomas and Granger kept going and would not stop. The Confederate commanders tried in vain to rally their troops, but a panic had seized the officers and men. Nearly 4,000 rebels were captured and close to 3,000 killed or wounded. The Federals lost about 5,800 in all categories. But even more than the loss of men, the Confederates lost Chattanooga and the initiative in the war.

After pursuing the enemy for two days following the battle, the 5th returned to their old camp on the west bank of the Tennessee River. From there, they marched to Bridgeport, TN, and then on to Martinsville, AL, and finally to Huntsville. The regiment was stationed in Huntsville from January 9th until the end of March 1864.

On April 1st, the regiment started back to Iowa for a veterans’ furlough. They moved by rail to Memphis and then by steamboat to Davenport, IA, and were on furlough from April 8th until May 7th. They reversed their journey and arrived in Decatur, AL, on May 17th. The 5th was stationed at Decatur and Huntsville protecting the railroad between the two cities until the end of June (English 680-681, Palmer 1045-1046).

The Battle of Chattanooga was the 5th’s last great effort of the war. When it moved to its last assignment at Kingston, GA, the regiment was depleted below one third of its original enlistment. On July 30th, those soldiers remaining who did not reenlist as veterans mustered out of the army.

Two companies, G, and I were formed from the reenlisted veterans and transferred to the 5th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. These soldiers fought under Brigadier General James H. Wilson, in the Cavalry Corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi. Before assuming this post, Wilson headed the Cavalry Bureau in the effort to revitalize the arm. His efforts were instrumental in increasing their effectiveness through arming them with the Spencer carbine. The 5th Iowa cavalrymen undoubtedly appreciated this effort. They were one of the units armed by Fremont with the modified Hall’s carbines when originally outfitted in 1861.

The 5th’s veterans were with Wilson at Franklin, Nashville, Ebenezer Church, Selma, Montgomery, Columbus, and Macon. They served to the close of the war and mustered out of the service at Nashville, TN, August 11, 1865, and disbanded at Clinton, Iowa (English 681).


In researching the history of this Civil War regiment, it is readily apparent that these men were motivated by powerful ideas. The contemporary accounts and remembrances written by these soldiers, and presented in this paper give some notion of their character and convictions. They were men who lived and died for ideals in which they believed.

Many had strong moral beliefs supporting the abolition of slavery. Men in the 5th, like Byers, saw first hand the effects of slavery, and renounced its evil. Even those who had not seen it for themselves knew of the immediate and local effects of these issues. They knew of the depredations occurring in neighboring Missouri and Kansas, caused by the very issues that were dividing the entire nation.

The number of volunteers from Iowa who served the Union testifies to their staunch support through the length of the conflict. By 1864 Iowa fielded 4 artillery batteries, 9 cavalry, and 46 infantry regiments (averaging 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers per regiment).

In contrast to the outrage and fury they showed in fighting the secessionists, they exhibited no personal hatred of the men who were their “enemies”. Regardless of the intensity of the combat, even hand-to-hand struggles, when the battle ceased, so did their animosity. Enemy wounded were treated with great compassion, and prisoners handled fairly by the combat soldiers.

Because the men within the companies and regiments came from the same small towns and region, their units had a strong base for cohesion. The rigors of combat bonded these men even more and with good leadership they displayed tremendous esprit and courage. That CPL Sherman Kirk of Port Allen, named his sons Ellis, Bert, and Sherman Wilson after his commanders CPT Albert Ellis, and MG James Wilson, gives some indication of the esteem that they held for their leaders, and bonds they felt.

What comes through from their words and deeds of that war is not a feeling of separation from across the years. Instead it is one of kinship and understanding for the terror they endured, the pain they suffered, and the joy they felt when peace returned.

The final passage of the regimental history, written by one of its veterans provides a fitting conclusion to this paper. “Upon the whole its record stands in the very front rank of Iowa’s splendid regiments. The survivors of the regiment and their posterity may peruse with just pride the history of its service” (English 681).


Note 1.
The 5th Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. Originally known as the “Curtis Horse”, the regiment was organized at Benton Barracks, near St. Louis, MO. It was comprised of men from Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and the Nebraska Territory. It was reorganized and consolidated with the 5th Iowa Infantry August 8, 1964, as the 5th Veteran Cavalry Consolidated.

Note 2.
When the war started there was a scramble to obtain arms and equipment for the volunteers. This problem was especially acute in the west, and with characteristic individual determination, Fremont took direct action. He went to Europe in January 1861 to obtain supplies including muskets and cannon. Back in New York, speculators and agents of arms makers beset him making many offers, both good and bad. Simultaneously, he was being pressured by urgent telegrams from Generals Hurlbut and Pope back in St. Louis desperately pleading for arms and ammunition (Boatner 314). One of the purchases he made was Hall-North Model 1843 carbines, re-bored to .58 caliber. He paid $22.00 each for these just before this type was obsoleted by General Ripley and sold out of Governor’s Island for $3.50. Although this and other initiatives he took later discredited him, “He equipped his men with 5,000 new breech loading .58 caliber carbines when there were none to be had at any price (Edwards 133).”

Note 3.
COL Matthies was born in Bromberg, Prussia, in 1824, and led Union regiments until the battle of Chattanooga when he was wounded. This wound, combined with the hardship of previous campaigning, broke down his health and he reluctantly resigned. He was considered an excellent officer with a reputation for promptness and trustworthiness equaled by few of his division (Stuart 131-138). Matthies received a military education at the University at Halle, entering the Prussian army at age twenty and serving in the campaign against Polish insurrectionists in 1847. The next year he resigned the commission he earned during his service, and immigrated to America. He moved to Iowa settling in Burlington in 1849. When the Iowa regiments formed, Matthies volunteered, entering the service as a Captain in the 1st Iowa Infantry.

He left that regiment before their engagement at Wilson’s Creek to join the 5th with a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. After succeeding COL Worthington, he led the regiment until April of 1863 when he was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers. He served under General McPherson as commander of the 7th Division, 17th Corps. Subsequently, he served under General Sherman, commanding 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 15th Corps, during the Vicksburg campaign. The 5th followed him to his next command that included the 10th Iowa, 26th Missouri, and 93rd Illinois infantry regiments.

Note 4.
In the Civil War, regiments were raised and fielded, then as they were depleted, replaced by new regiments. The use of man-for-man replacements for battle losses was limited since there were more incentives for raising whole units. There was also a problem with the unmanageable size and unpredictable timing of reinforcement drafts, as well as recruiting and administration requirements (Griffith 94).


Boatner, Mark Mayo III. “The Civil War Dictionary.” (Revised Edition) David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1988: 315, 669-670, 708

Byers, MAJ S.H.M. “With Fire and Sword.” The Neale Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1911: 13, 14, 24-28, 30-33, 49-53, 76, 77, 80, 106, 107.

Catton, Bruce. “The Civil War.” American Heritage Publishing Co., New York, 1960, 1971: 22, 31-33.

Dyer, Frederick H. “A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion.” Vol. 1, Vol. 2 The National Historical Society, The Press of Morningside Bookshop, Dayton, OH, 1979: 697-724, 727-738,771-789, 790-815, 1161-1162.

Edwards, William B. “Civil War Guns.” Stackpole Books, Telegraph Press, Harrisburg, PA, 1962: 133-143

English, Emory H. “Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion.” Vol. 1, and Vol. 4, State Printer, Des Moines, IA, 1908: 675, 678, 680, 681, 863.

Griffith, Paddy. “Battle Tactics of The Civil War.” Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1987, 1989: 92-94.

Hansen, Harry “The Civil War.” The New American Library of World Literature, Inc, New York, NY, 1961: 48, 96, 116, 326, 329, 463-468.

Palmer, F.W. “Iowa Adjutant General’s Report 1864-1865, State of Iowa.” State Printer, Des Moines, IA, 1865: 1044-1046.

Stuart, Addison A. M.D. “Iowa Colonels and Regiments.” Mills and Company, Des Moines, IA, 1865: 131-138


Dinkel, Eloise. Genealogy of the Daniels family, and Civil War records of Sherman T. Kirk, 1991.

Lothrop, Charles H. “A History of the First Regiment Iowa Cavalry Volunteers.” Beers & Eaton Printers, Mirror Office, 1890: 36-85.

Swinton, William. “Decisive Battles of the Civil War.” Promontory Press, New York, NY, 1867, 1986: 56-80, 86-131, 262-307.

Symonds, Craig L. “A Battlefield Atlas of the Civil War”, The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co. of America, Annapolis, MD, 1983: Plates XXV 1, 2; XI 10; XI 1-7.

Offer a Comment or Insight

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.