Siege of Vicksburg had a traumatic impact on the county
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 Joy Lynn Conwell
Iowa has over the years lived in the shadows of Civil War history. The war did not begin here or end here. No battles were fought here….raids, yes, but no battles. Yet, Iowa would end up providing the most men per capita of any state, union or confederate.
The state sent 48 regiments of state infantry, one regiment of black infantry (the 1st Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment of African Descent, nine regiments of cavalry and four artillery batteries totaling 76,534 men between the ages of 15 and 40 and its infamous “Greybeard Regiment,” almost 13% of the state’s male population. Of these valiant men, 13,169 would die of wounds or disease far from their homes. The largest concentration is at Vicksburg National Cemetery followed by confederate prisons, with the majority being interred at Andersonville
And as the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, looms on the horizon; lost in its shadow is the story of Vicksburg and the Iowa boys. The battle of Gettysburg was very important. It stopped General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army’s advancement in the north and brought to an end Lee’s hope for an early end to the war. Gettysburg was also tragedy. D. Scott Hartwig, Gettysburg National Military Park historian states, “While Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the war, that is not a badge of honor; it’s an American tragedy.”
But Iowa was not at Gettysburg. Iowa was at Vicksburg. Lost in the eastern media coverage of Gettysburg were the final days of the Siege of Vicksburg. After holding out for 40 days, the confederate garrison surrendered to Union Maj. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee on July 4th, 1863. The Confederate surrender following the siege at Vicksburg, combined with Gen Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, are remembered as the turning point of the war.
With the surrender of Vicksburg finalized on Independence Day 1863, a day Lt. General John C. Pemberton, commander of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi, hoped “would bring more sympathetic terms from the United States;” it was not to be. The Mississippi River was now fully in Union hands and the Confederacy was split in two parts.
Union causalities at the Siege of Vicksburg counted 4,835 while Confederate causalities accounted for 9,091 men and boys. Of the 4,835 causalities, nearly 1,800 were our Iowa boys. The 22nd Iowa Volunteers lost nearly nine out of every 10 soldiers in its ranks on the first charge into Vicksburg. The 22nd Iowa Infantry was organized at Iowa City and was the only Union unit to “breach the defenses” at Vicksburg. Before the end of the war, those who survived Vicksburg would become a core unit of one of only three regiments from Iowa to serve in Virginia.
On that July 4th in Vicksburg, my own third great-grandfather, Conrad Spangler, was with the 25th Iowa Infantry comprised of many other Henry County fathers, husbands and sons. They left behind many of their comrades in the gardens of stone which dot the Vicksburg battlefield. Among the 25th Iowa Infantry soldiers buried at Vicksburg are: Pvt. Samuel Adair (age 21); Enoch F. Baine (age 37); Pvt. Jerome Beach (age 21); Pvt. Benjamin Franklin Bonner (age 24); Pvt. Charles Godrick (age unknown); Pvt. Joseph Edgar (age 20); Corp. Sylvanus Gamble (age 23); Pvt. John W. Headding (age 23); Pvt. Thomas Jeffers (age 20); Pvt. Charles O. Johnson (age 19); Pvt. William Johnston (age 36); Sgt. John P. Kennett (age 25); Pvt. Warren I. Neal (age 24); Pvt. Lucius Newcomb (age 26); Pvt. Robert A. Nickell (age 19); Pvt. James M. Patterson (age 19); Pvt. Alexander Pelein (age 37); Pvt. Samuel S. Robertson (age 19); Pvt. William H. Shields (age 21); Sgt. Reuben Shiffert (age 26); Pvt. James P. Steele (age 20); Pvt. Richard M. Swinford (age 19); Pvt. George Thompson (age 44); Sgt. Jacob V. Whippo (age 24); and Sgt. Robert B. White (age24).
Great-great-great grandpa Spangler and the Iowa regiments would leave Vicksburg and follow General William Tecumseh Sherman on his March to the Sea. It would be another two years before they would muster out in 1865 in Washington, D.C. He lived a long life, served as the postal delivery person for Winfield, and would be laid to rest in the Winfield-Scott Township Cemetery. His gravestone records his service for his country.
The battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg will be remembered this year in two different ways. Gettysburg will remember its epic battle. The recreated battles will feature 15,000 re-enactors. Many of the re-enactors will be descendants of their ancestors who were on that field in 1863. Television and movie crews will be flashing film around the world. But in the shadows of evening on July 3, Vicksburg will place 20,000 luminaries in memory of the casualties who died upon their battlefield.
President Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy stated, “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” President Abraham Lincoln stated, “Vicksburg is the key.” Gettysburg is known by all school children, but it was Vicksburg that foreshadowed the future of the war. The Confederacy was split and could not stand. It was now just a matter of time.
Note: The Siege at Vicksburg was so traumatic to the local community that official Fourth of July celebrations would cease to be held until a new century arrived. The first large post-Civil War Fourth of July celebration was held in 1907.