Mt. Pleasant's Gen. George Stone was a prominent figure in the Civil War
Editor’s note: As part of the nation’s 150-year anniversary of the Civil War, the Henry County Civil War Sesquicentennial Task Force will be publishing a monthly column, written by Henry County historians. The research for the articles comes from Henry County newspapers published between 1861-1865, as well as diaries, journals and letters written by Henry County Civil War soldiers and their families.
By Lynn Ellsworth
George Augustus Stone was a prominent figure among Henry County soldiers of the Civil War. Born in New York State in 1833, Stone moved with his family first to Washington County as a youngster and then to Mt. Pleasant. After completing his studies in the Mt. Pleasant schools, he started work as a cashier at the Saunders Bank, located at the northwest corner of Main and Monroe. As a young man, Stone lived at the Brazelton House Hotel just across the street from the bank, a convenient walk to work.
Before the start of the Civil War, Stone was a member of the Mt. Pleasant Grays, the local Home Guard, and in the spring of 1861, he assisted with recruitment for Company F, 1st Iowa Infantry and was elected its first lieutenant. The 1st Iowa served in Missouri during its three-month term. They took part in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Mo., on Aug. 10, 1861. After the death of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon (the first Union general to die in battle), the Union forces retreated to Springfield, and the battle was considered a victory for the Confederates.
Stone’s term of service with the 1st Iowa completed, he re-enlisted with the 4th Iowa Cavalry where he was commissioned as a major. The 4th Iowa trained at Camp Harlan, just west of Mt. Pleasant. Stone served this regiment until August of 1862 when he was promoted to colonel of the 25th Iowa infantry, which also trained at Camp Harlan.
Capt. Addison A. Stuart describes Col. Stone in Iowa Colonels and Regiments:
“An excellent young officer—prompt, precise, and sprightly. He is a middle-sized man, with black hair, and merry, brown eyes. In appearance, he is quite youthful . . .The colonel is proud and ambitious, and is happily free from that self-importance — a sort of pseudo-dignity — which seems to afflict army officers conversely in proportion to their merit.”
The 25th Iowa Infantry fought at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Atlanta campaign, Sherman’s March and took Columbia, S.C. As Columbia was the state capitol where the secession movement began, Sherman’s generals considered it to be a richer prize and more important to capture than any city in the South.
Here is an excerpt from George Stone’s diary account of the capture of Columbia:
“We had arrived within about a mile of the city, when a carriage displaying a flag of truce approached containing Mr. Goodwin, mayor of Columbia, and the city aldermen, who came to offer terms of capitulation. I refused anything but an unconditional surrender, which, after a few words, he consented to and unconditionally surrendered the city of Columbia. I joined the party in the carriage . . . When near the suburbs of the city I noticed a battalion of rebel cavalry, I at once called a corporal and three men, who happened to be near me, and put the mayor and aldermen in the corporal’s charge, and with Major Anderson took about 40 of my flankers and advanced on the cavalry. The corporal was instructed that in case one man was killed or wounded he should at once shoot the mayor and his party. Joining the retreating skirmishers with the 40 flankers we speedily dispersed the rebel cavalry, having no more trouble in gaining the city. I proceeded to the state house with Captain Pratt and planted the first U.S. flag on that building.”
Stone writes that after placing the flag, he rejoined his brigade to find much drunkenness which he claims is due to the men being greeted upon their arrival in the city by “hundreds of negroes” who “gave them all kinds of liquors.” Stone says, “The men had slept none the night before, and but little the night before that, and many of them had no supper the night before, and none of them breakfast that morning” and attributes their swift drunken state on these factors. He immediately ordered the liquor destroyed.
That night many fires were set throughout the city. Stone maintains adamantly that “our escaped prisoners and citizens” of Columbia started the fires. Even after being relieved of duty for the evening, Stone remained in the city assisting to extinguish the fire.
At the war’s conclusion, George Stone returned to Mt. Pleasant and his work at the bank. He married and had a daughter. He is buried at Forest Home Cemetery near others who served in the 25th Iowa Infantry and just across the way from Senator James Harlan.
Editor’s note: Lynn Ellsworth is the archivist and director of the Harlan-Lincoln House on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College.