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Roster and Record
Iowa Soldiers
Vol. 6 - Miscellaneous


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Historical Sketch

Early Military History of Iowa

This early military history of the State is condensed from the elaborate work of the late Harvey Reid, which was prepared for the use of the Iowa Soldiers' Roster Board.  In order to conform, as nearly as possible, with the general plan of the work adopted by the board, it became necessary to use only such portions of Mr. Reid's excellent compilation as would enable the completion of the entire work to be embraced within the limitation of space finally determined upon.  The compiler, in entering upon the difficult and delicate task of condensing within the required limit the work of his friend and comrade, will be guided by an earnest desire to include---as far as may be possible---the main points of interest, leaving to the student of history the perusal of Mr. Reid's work in its entirety, when it shall have been published.

Iowa in the Mexican War

(The following Sketch is quoted verbatim from Mr. Reid's Early
Military History of the State.)

"The great province of Texas had been left as an unpeopled waste by the Spanish conquerors of Mexico, in accordance with a definite policy to preserve it as a buffer, or neutrality zone, against the American settlements of Louisiana.  Mexico achieved her independence of Spain in 1821, and the new republic at once adopted a new policy for the development of the neglected province, by inviting its colonization from the United States.  This was done by giving a large land-grant to Moses Austin of Connecticut, on condition that he would establish a colony of three hundred American families within the limits of his Texas domain.  This grant was confirmed to his son, Stephen Austin, with the enlarged privilege of establishing five hundred families of emigrants.  Thus, by the year 1823, a nucleus of American settlements was formed in Texas, which gradually grew strong enough to overshadow the meager Mexican colonization.

"Spanish and Spanish-American civilization has never been congenial to the Anglo-Saxon spirit, and the Mexican laws and their administration proved to be saturated with all the vices which have characterized the Spanish peoples in their attempted establishment of free institutions.  The American Texans, mostly immigrants from the southern states of the Union, of which Tennessee had furnished the largest contingent, soon achieved a condition of semi-independence, which, in 1835, grew into armed revolt against the parent state of Mexico.  Sam Houston, ex-congressman and ex-governor of Tennessee, was the principal commander of the insurgent forces.  The Mexicans soon destroyed all possibilities of conciliation, and forfeited the respect of mankind, by the vile massacre, at San Antonio, of the remnant of a little band of Americans, who had surrendered, after a heroic defense of the Alamo fort against eight thousand Mexicans, commanded by General Santa Anna, president of the republic.  The eccentric and daring Colonel Davy Crockett, of Tennessee, was among the slain, and the resulting watch-word "Remember the Alamo!" spread fires of resentment that reached throughout the borders of the Union itself, and aroused a prejudice against Mexican manhood that can scarcely yet be said to have lost its force.

"The massacre of the Alamo occurred on the 6th of March, 1836, and it was amply avenged the following month, when General Houston's small army at San Jacinto defeated and nearly annihilated an army of Mexicans under Santa Anna, of more than double their numbers, and captured that leader himself.  Peace followed per force;  the Republic of Texas was formed with Houston as President, and the independence of the new state was promptly acknowledged by the United States, by Great Britain, and by France, and Mexico was obliged to yield like recognition.

"The ruling Texans, all Americans, at once sought annexation to the United States.  President Van Buren, unwilling to precipitate the inevitable war with Mexico, declined the proposal.  Texas, meanwhile, became the goal of a flood of emigration from the States, that, by 1844, had increased its population to about two hundred thousand souls.  And, in this, the last year of President Tyler's administration, the question of annexation became involved in national politics.  The convention that nominated James K. Polk declared in favor of annexation, while the Whigs, who supported Henry Clay, opposed it.  Polk won, and the Congress which met immediately preceding his inauguration, took up the question in December, 1844, and, after debating the question all winter, passed a bill of annexation March 1, 1845.  President Tyler at once gave his assent, and the Lone Star took its place in the American constellation.  The union was fully consummated on the 4th of July, 1845, when the Texas Congress formally approved the act.

"It was not unknown to American statesmen, however, that, in this vast acquisition of territory, Uncle Sam had also annexed a boundary dispute.  The original Mexican State of Texas, as its boundaries were rearranged in 1821, consisted of the former Spanish territories of Coahuila and Texas.  Mexico had conceded, ten years previous to the annexation, that Texas had won her independence, but contended that the original State of Texas, only had done so, and that the State of Coahuila remained Mexican territory .  The southern part of this disputed tract lay between the rivers Rio Grande del Norte and Nueces, the Mexican contention being that the Nueces formed her eastern boundary.

"The administration at Washington agreed with the Texan authorities in holding that the merging of Texas and Coahuila into a single political entity was a fact accomplished at the time of the revolution of 1836, and that the River Rio Grande formed such a great natural boundary between nations that its significance could not be ignored.  The situation became so acute when Almonte, the Mexican minister at Washington, demanded his passports, and indignantly left the country as soon as the resolution for annexation passed Congress, that military occupation of the disputed territory became a vital necessity.

"The commander of the Southern Division of the Western Department of the armies of the United States at this time was Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Zachary Taylor, a pioneer Kentuckian, who had won his high rank by brave and skillful management of the war with the Seminole Indians in Florida.  A considerable part of the military career of General Taylor had been closely connected with the early history of Iowa Territory.  In 1814, as Captain in the Seventh Infantry, and Brevet Major, he had commanded a boat expedition sent from St. Louis to retake Prairie du Chien from the British, but had been turned back from Rock Island by a superior force of British and Indians.  In 1821, as Lieutenant Colonel of the First Infantry, he had been assigned to the command of Fort Snelling, on the upper Mississippi.  In 1832, he was promoted to Colonel, and given command at Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien, where he gave aid to General Atkinson at the battle of Bad Axe, where Black Hawk's forces were annihilated.  He remained at Fort Crawford until he was ordered to Florida, in 1836, and it was from that post that occurred the runaway match of his daughter, with his Adjutant, Lieutenant Jefferson Davis.

"A proposition of the United States government, to submit the boundary claims of the two nations to arbitration, having been scornfully rejected by the Mexicans, so evident a distrust of the rightfulness of their own position by that nation strengthened President Tyler and his advisers in their determination to uphold the rights of the new American State, and, in response to a petition from Texan authorities, General Taylor was ordered to advance from his headquarters at Fort Jessup, in western Louisiana, and guard the disputed district.  Under these orders, the American forces were moved forward to Corpus Christi, on the by of the same name, at the mouth of the Nueces River, where a camp was established, and where, before the close of the year 1845, General Taylor gathered a little army of four thousand five hundred men.

"With the opening of the next year it was learned that the Mexican General Arista was gathering an army in the northern part of the republic, for a counter-invasion of Texas, and General Taylor was ordered forward to the Rio Grande.  In the 8th of March, 1846, he advanced from Corpus Christi to Point Isabel, on the Gulf of Mexico, established a depot of supplies there, and continued his march to the river.  Fort Brown was built opposite the Mexican town of Matamoras, there General Arista assembled an army which threatened Taylor's communications, and, on the 26th of April, captured Captain Thornton's company of dragoons on the American side of the Rio Grande.  Taylor, leaving a garrison in Fort Brown, fell back to Point Isabel, to strengthen the defense of the depot, and again advanced to meet Arista's superior force, which had invested Major Brown's little band of three hundred in the new, improvised fortress.  The battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma followed on the 8th and 9th of May, where the blood of forty-eight dead and one hundred thirty wounded Americans was shed in defense of their country's honor, but the Mexican army which inflicted that loss was simply put out of existence.  Our army commanders had relearned the lesson, first taught at San Jacinto, and confirmed in every subsequent action of the war, that no disparity of numbers in favor of the Mexicans could avail against the dash, bravery, endurance and intelligence of the sons of the United States.

"The news of the doings on the Rio Grande carried wild excitement to all parts of the Union.  Party dissensions were forgotten;  the war spirit flamed everywhere;  Whigs and Democrats alike proffered aid to fill the ranks of the army.  The President sent a message to Congress, which was then in session, pointing out that the conflict came from the lawless acts of the Mexican soldiery, who had, without sufficient provocation, shed American blood on American soil.  Congress promptly responded, and, on the 11th of May, 1846, declared that 'war already existed by the act of the Mexican government.'  Ten millions of dollars were promptly placed at the disposal of the government, and the President was authorized to accept the services of fifty thousand volunteers.  Then, again, was displayed the innate enthusiasm that the martial spirit inherited from American pioneers always develops.  War meetings were held in the oldest States and the newest territories, and, in a short time, not fifty thousand alone, but nearly three hundred thousand offered themselves for service."

Under the Act of Congress, approved May 13, 1846, which authorized the raising of fifty thousand volunteers, President Polk made requisition on the States and Territories for eighty-six and a half regiments---the half regiment to be raised in the District of Columbia.  Iowa's quota under the requisition was one regiment of Infantry, as shown by the following proclamation of the governor:

"The President of the United States, under a law enacted at the present session of Congress, authorizing him to accept the services of fifty thousand volunteers, to serve in the war now existing between Mexico and the United States, having made a requisition upon me, as Executive of the Territory, for the enrollment of one regiment of Infantry, to be mustered into the service at such time as may be required, I hereby proclaim the fact to the citizen soldiery of Iowa, not doubting that they will respond to the call with the utmost alacrity and promptness.  It is due to the character of our Territory and its inhabitants that the requisition be at once met by voluntary enlistment, and that it will be so met I have entire confidence.  To insure this result, I recommend that active, efficient, and immediate steps be taken in the several counties of the Territory to procure the enrollment, in good faith, of all who may be disposed to tender their services to their country, a report of the result to be transmitted to me at the earliest possible day. The aid of all good citizens---all lovers of their country---in invoked and calculated on; and it is especially enjoined on all officers holding military commissions that they be active and vigilant in their efforts to assist in raising the force called for by the President.

"The regiment to be organized is to consist of ten companies, each company to have one Captain, one First and one Second Lieutenant, four Sergeants, four Corporals, two Musicians and sixty-four Privates.  The officers, under the act of Congress of the 13th of Ma last, are to be appointed and commissioned in accordance with the laws of this Territory.  The enlistment is to be for 'twelve months after they shall have arrived at the place of rendezvous, or to the end of the war, unless sooner discharged, according to the time for which they shall have been mustered into service';  and no man under the rank of commissioned officer, who is in years apparently over forty-five, or under eighteen, or who is not in physical strength or vigor,will be received.

"As soon as the War Department is apprised that the enrollment is full, an officer of the army will be detailed to muster the volunteers into the service of the United States, after which, in all things but clothing and pay, they will take the organization of the Regular Army.  'In lieu of clothing, every non-commissioned office and private in any company who may thus offer himself shall be entitled when called into actual service to receive in money a sum equal to the cost of clothing of a non-commissioned officer or private (as the case may be) in the regular troops of the United States.'

"The President, in thus offering us an opportunity of participating in the danger and glory of inflicting merited chastisement upon the invaders of our soil, has, I am confident, but anticipated the wishes of the great body of our people.  It remains for us to prove by our acts, that he has not formed too high an estimate of our devotion to country, and that the flame of patriotism burns not less brightly in Iowa than elsewhere.

(Signed) James Clarke.

By the Governor:

Jesse Williams, Secretary of the Territory

Executive Office, Burlington, Iowa, June 1, 1846."

It will be noted that Iowa was still a Territory when the foregoing proclamation was issued, but the terms of service of all the troops enlisting for service in the was against Mexico extended beyond the date when the State was admitted into the Union---December 28, 1846.  Their history is, therefore, fully identified with that of the State of Iowa.

On June 26, 1846, the ten companies, which were to compose the regiment from Iowa, had been organized and were ready for service.  In fact, two more than the requisite number had been organized, in the following order:  Des Moines County, two companies;  Lee County, two companies;  Van Buren County, two companies;  Muscatine County, one company;  Louisa County, one company;  Washington County, one company;  Dubuque County, one company;  Johnson and Linn Counties, one company and Jefferson County, one company.

The presumption was that the companies were received and accepted in the order in which they were reported to the Governor, until the requisite number was complete.  Records were subsequently found showing the organization of a company in Henry County, and of another in Jackson County, while newspaper items and allusions indicate that two or three companies were organized in Dubuque County, instead of the one which was reported to the Governor.  It will thus be seen that the militant spirit was dominant among those hardy pioneers of Iowa, and that a much larger number of men offered their services than could be accepted by the President.  Indeed, as the was was of comparatively short duration, and the distance to the field of hostilities so great, only one company of Iowa soldiers was given the opportunity to meet the enemy in actual conflict on the field of battle.  A larger number, however, participated in one of the most remarkable marches ever undertaken, as will be shown in the subsequent pages of this history.  Others were assigned to and faithfully performed post and garrison duty, while anxiously awaiting the order---which never came---to be sent to the front.  Rosters of all the companies which have been mentioned are contained in Mr. Reid's history, but the compiler will include only those which performed actual service---either directly or indirectly---in connection with the Mexican War.  Where biographical sketches of officers and enlisted men---often occupying many pages---have been found, they have been reduced to the usual paragraph opposite the names in the Roster, thus conforming to the general plan of this work.



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