Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Category: Family

Fortune favors the bold: From Iowa to Arizona, one man’s tale

Winchester Miller and his wife, Melinda Young, started married life as farmers in Van Buren County, southeast Iowa, in 1857.  Melinda bore two sons, and Winchester eyed the lingering California Gold Rush.

The North-South conflict heated up, and voters elected Lincoln president.  Winchester and Melinda said goodbye to both sets of their parents and left for California.

Heading South

The Millers took the southern route through Texas.  When Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, authorities didn’t let the young family proceed further.

Winchester and Melinda settled in Texas.  A daughter was born in 1862.  Later that year, 27-year-old Winchester enlisted as a private in the 17th Texas Infantry.

Winchester Miller, a well-armed man (Tempe Daily News)

He moved through the ranks, rising to 3rd Lieutenant and then 2nd Jr. Lieutenant.  In 1864, Melinda became pregnant again.  Nine months later, she died in childbirth, leaving three young children.

Kayaks to Iowa

The war ended, and Winchester returned home.  He couldn’t care for his children alone.

Winchester saddled up a horse and a mule for a 700+ mile journey to Iowa.  He rode the horse with his small daughter in his arms.  His young sons rode in “kayaks” — tough rawhide boxes draped over both sides of a mule.

Once they arrived in Iowa, he divided up the children between his in-laws and his parents.  Winchester then headed to California, again through Texas.

“Nerve of Iron”

Discovering that the Gold Rush was over, Winchester moved to Arizona.  He became Maricopa County Sheriff.

(Tempe Historical Society)

Winchester later told a friend that “it was necessary” for him to hang two American Indians.  Some 250 fellow tribe members wanted to avenge their death, so they came looking for Sheriff Miller.

Winchester’s friend shared the following tale with an Arizona historian:

One day not long after he had given the two Indians their quietus, as Miller was standing in the yard near his house, his quick eye noted rising in the distance a great cloud of dust rapidly approaching … Stepping into his house … [he] took his rifle from its peg, buckled on two cartridge belts, stuck in a couple of six shooters and a knife, and returned to the yard.

Winchester claimed to have single-handedly held off the warriors for two days. Reportedly, “Ever afterwards, both Indians and Mexicans held Winchester Miller in great respect.”[1]

End of days

Winchester married a local woman, farmed, and had more children.  One of his Iowa sons, at age 15, rejoined his father in Arizona.

Winchester was active in Democratic Party politics.  He also helped found Tempe, where he died on November 29, 1893.

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I want to thank Jared Smith, curator at the Tempe History Museum, for generously sharing photos and information about Winchester Miller.




[1] Thomas Edwin Farish, History of Arizona, Vol. VI (Phoenix:  1918). 104-108.

A chart is worth a thousand words: Data about Confederates from Iowa

I’ve documented 74 males who left Iowa and served the C.S.A.  Research is ongoing.  I’ve received interesting questions about their pre-war Iowa residences, their  birthplaces, and their parents’ birthplaces.

The following charts summarize my data.

IA 22 counties PRE WAR RESIDENCES.jpg


Top five prewar Iowa counties of residence


Birthplaces of Confederates from Iowa literal title


Birthplaces of parents of Confederates from Iowa 2

Family members in uniform

To my surprise, about one-third of Confederates from Iowa had at least one family member in the Confederate or Union forces.  Only rarely did family members enlist in the same unit.

Sets of family members serving CSA and or USA 7

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.  Happy New Year!




Think like Dr. Phil: The River of Love, part 2

In the last post, I invited readers to advise the engaged couple, Annie and Charles.  Talmadge Wilson wrote, “Too many cultural differences.  End the affair and move on!”

Heather wrote:  “Since we’re being “Dr. Phil” I agree with Talmadge Wilson. However, when you’re young and in love taking the hard road is normal. Plus, if you’re committed to each other…stranger things have happened. Can’t wait to find out what happened to them.”

What happened to Annie and Charles?

Charles hoped his father, Ambassador Jones, would return from South America and bring a wedding gift of cash.  But his father didn’t arrive in time.

Charles, the devout Catholic, and Annie were married in her parents’ house in Ashland, Kentucky, by a Presbyterian minister.  They returned to Dubuque, Iowa, to live.

Annie Miller Jones

Annie Miller Jones

Snooping on the Joneses

The Lincoln Administration recalled Ambassador Jones to Washington and replaced him with a Republican.  Secretary of State William H. Seward ordered Ambassador Jones arrested and thrown into Fort Lafayette Prison.  Seward never announced formal charges, and the ambassador never received a trial, but Seward had been intercepting the ambassador’s correspondence with his family.  One letter from Ambassador Jones to Jefferson Davis stated:

“May God Almighty avert civil war, but if unhappily it shall come, you may, I think without doubt, count on me and mine and hosts of other friends standing shoulder to shoulder in the ranks with you and our other southern friends and relatives whose rights, like my own, have been disregarded by the abolitionists.”

Unfortunately for Ambassador Jones, he had said much the same thing in stump speeches in Iowa.  The Muscatine Journal called Ambassador Jones “a traitor of the deepest dye.”

Going South

Charles was recovering from a bout of Chagres Fever when his father returned home from prison in February 1862.  Charles and Annie went to Richmond, Virginia, “to escape the abolition draft” and “despotism.”  Annie might have been carrying their first child.  They traveled by way of Annie’s home in Kentucky.

Approaching Jefferson Davis with confidence

Charles headed to President Jefferson Davis’s office, confident that his father’s friend would help him.  Sure enough, Charles got a job in the Confederate Civil Service.

Annie delivered their first child, Annie Stribling Jones, who died the same year.  Charles changed to a job in the Confederate Treasury, with help from Jefferson Davis.

Charles passionately wanted to enter the Confederate Army.  It’s unclear what Annie thought about this.

Charles petitioned Jefferson Davis for a spot on General Bushrod R. Johnson’s staff.  Before this happened, Charles had another bout of Chagres Fever, leaving him feeling weak and nervous.  He recovered and joined Johnson’s staff in fall 1863.

On May 16, 1864, Capt. Charles S.D. Jones was stationed outside of Drewry’s Bluff, Virginia.  Rising early, Charles rode his horse into dense, dark fog, straight into the Union line.

Life as a POW

He languished in Fort Delaware prison, wracked with Chagres Fever, while Annie gave birth to another daughter, Josephine, near Richmond.

Annie’s Republican father told Charles to “take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. Govt.”  But Charles said “he would rather rot in prison than give up his principles or allegiance to the South.”

Annie’s father traveled to Washington and helped Charles gain a parole before New Year’s Day 1865.  Charles was exchanged for a Union officer of same rank, about a month before Appomattox.  Charles needed a job to support Annie and an infant, so he asked Jefferson Davis to appoint him to an army post.  Before this could happen, the war ended.

Quest for a pardon

Charles wanted a presidential pardon.  His father-in-law interceded for Annie’s sake, saying that Charles had been “Seduced into the Rebel Army.   He has returned a penitent man … and deeply sorry.”

Charles received a pardon.  Thereafter, he sold insurance in St. Joseph, Missouri, managed his father’s property in Sioux City, and practiced law in Dubuque.

The family disintegrates

Charles had periodic bouts of Chagres Fever for the rest of his life.  His personality changed for the worst, and Annie divorced him.  Charles chalked this up, largely, to Protestant bigotry.  Annie took most of their children to Sioux City, Iowa.

Charles stayed in Dubuque, struggled as a lawyer, and was incarcerated four or five times in the Iowa Hospital for the Insane.   His doctor said Charles had a false sense of grandeur, liked to write, and was “one of the happiest patients you have got.”

No longer able to practice law, Charles dug a mine shaft 25 feet deep beside his parents’ house in Dubuque County.  His parents grieved for their gifted, sensitive son.

When Jefferson Davis died in 1889, Ambassador Jones went to Mississippi for the funeral, where he served as a pallbearer.  Less than two months later, the ambassador buried his son Charles, on January 28, 1890.

Annie outlived Charles by 19 years.  She died at the Savoy Hotel in Washington, D.C, on March 22, 1909.

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Happy holidays to all!

Snapshot of a divided family

Rev. William Salter

Rev. William Salter

Rev. William Salter walked in to the crude Federal field hospital near Marietta, Georgia in July 1864.  Talking with pain-wracked Union troops drained Salter of energy and sympathy.  He was surprised to meet Green Ballinger, a wounded Confederate from Iowa.

Salter was a former conductor on the Iowa Underground Railroad.  He generally opposed war, but he supported the Union.  He was in Marietta on a mission of mercy with the Christian Commission.

Twenty-four-year-old Green was seriously wounded in thigh and shoulder.  He told Pastor Salter of his home in Keokuk and his father’s home in nearby Sandusky.  Green said he had been opposed to “the Rebellion” (Salter’s words), but the “force of circumstance” led him into the Confederate army.

Green’s family had roots in Kentucky and a kinship network throughout the South.  His father, James F. Ballinger, had been a clerk of court and a slave-owner.  Because of his father’s two marriages, Green had older siblings and half-siblings.

Looking for economic opportunity, Green’s father moved his family to Keokuk in 1854.   So did Green’s brother-in-law, Samuel F. Miller, a doctor turned lawyer.  Keokuk’s economy boomed soon after they arrived.

National events foreshadow a family split

Samuel Freeman Miller

Samuel Freeman Miller

Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in March 1854.  Samuel F. Miller was a Whig (unlike his Democratic in-laws).  He predicted that slavery would split the national Whig and Democratic parties.  Miller wrote Green’s half-brother in Texas, William P. Ballinger, of “a real danger that you and I shall live in different nations.”

The Panic of 1857 hit Keokuk hard

Three years later, Keokuk began a slow decline in the financial Panic of 1857.  By summer 1860, the economy was in bad shape.  Samuel F. Miller (now a rising member of the Iowa Republican Party), Green’s father, and Green’s older brother struggled to stay afloat in Keokuk.  The family sent 20-year-old Green to Texas (where the economy was better) to visit relatives.  They expected him to return.

William Pitt Ballinger

William Pitt Ballinger

In late July 1860, Green visited his half-brother William P. Ballinger and brother-in-law Benjamin A. Botts, both of whom owned slaves.

After Lincoln’s election, Texas seceded, and South Carolinians fired upon Ft. Sumter.  Green was still in Texas.

A former Confederate assistant surgeon wrote, “Nearly every northern man was suspected of not being truly southern if he had not enlisted in some sort of military company.”

Terry’s Texas Rangers

Brother-in-law Botts helped form Terry’s Texas Rangers, and Green joined, too.  Half-brother William P. Ballinger became a Confederate sequestration receiver.

It’s not clear why Green enlisted.  The “force of circumstance” could have been his Texas relatives’ expectations, and/or his need for a job.  Perhaps Green also got caught up in the local enthusiasm for war.

Divided family

BallingerGreen divided family 2Green’s father in Keokuk remained loyal to the Union, and his older brother enlisted in the Union Army.  President Lincoln nominated Green’s brother-in-law, Samuel F. Miller, to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Green’s mother, on the other hand, felt she couldn’t support “war against her own children.”  She sympathized with the Confederacy.

In July 1864, Green was badly wounded in the Atlanta Campaign.  Rev. Salter told Green he would contact his father in Iowa.  Green died a month later.

When the war finally ended, Green’s father and other family members wrote letters to their Confederate relatives.  The letters expressed a “proscriptive vindictive Unionism.”  Then Green’s family had a small reunion.  Looking his relatives in the eye, Green’s father allowed that his kin could have served the C.S.A. out of “patriotism and devotion to principle.”

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John Moretta’s excellent book, William Pitt Ballinger:  Texas Lawyer, Southern Statesman, 1825-1888, was very helpful in writing this post.

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