Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Category: Oath of Allegiance

“Against my consent”: Confessions of a discouraged Irish-American

Finding a job was a common worry in Iowa as the Financial Panic of 1857 lingered.   Many Iowans headed to the South where jobs were a-plenty.

For example, engineer William O’Day left Iowa and got a railroad job in Mississippi.  After the firing upon Fort Sumter, some Iowans in the South joined military units to keep earning a living.


A month-and-a-half after the war began, Irish native O’Day enlisted in Company B, 17th Mississippi Infantry.  His unit was near Richmond, Virginia, in summer 1862.  After being hospitalized for illness, he rejoined his unit and was captured on November 6, 1862, in Hampshire, Virginia.

(Click to enlarge.)

O’Day gave the following statement to Union authorities:

I was born in Ireland.  I am 26 years old.  I enlisted with Captain John McGirk of the 17th Mississippi Infantry Co. B and remained with him for the period of 17 months.

My reason for enlisting was because I was out of employment.  I belong to Iowa and my Father lives near West Union, Brama [Bremer] County, Iowa.  I had to leave home to obtain a living.

I served 17 months in the Confederate Army against my consent.  When I left them, they were stationed between Winchester and Front Royal.  Colonel Holder now commands the 17th Mississippi Infantry, numbering about 700.

Union officials moved O’Day to three different prisons:  Atheneum (in Wheeling, Virginia, present-day West Virginia); Camp Chase, Ohio; and Cairo, Illinois.

He was slated to be exchanged – and returned to his Confederate unit – but it never happened.  O’Day presumably convinced Union officials to let him take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. government.  His Confederate company roll call listed him as a deserter.

After his release from prison, the trail runs cold.  Some fifty years later, on August 11, 1910, William O’Day died and was buried in Bremer County.

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You can’t outrun the long arm of the law

Governments on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line had an insatiable desire for military recruits.  Pennsylvania native Samuel H. Bulger found this out during the Civil War.

Samuel had moved to Clinton, Iowa, when he was 12.  At age 18, in 1857, he and his family moved to Texas, where Samuel worked as a laborer, and his father raised stock.

Texas seceded in 1861.  A year later, 22-year-old Samuel enlisted as a private in Company E, 6th Texas Infantry.

The infantry was an unpopular choice.  A Confederate recruiter wrote:

[I] find it hard to get Texans to go into infantry companies.  They say they will go mounted, but no other way.  That is, a majority say so.


Years later, Samuel said he had been “pressed into the rebel service.”  He wasn’t drafted, but he may have felt pressured to enlist by his Texas peers, his neighbors, or his employer.

His younger brother, Philip, enlisted in the same company a few months later.

Samuel’s troubles began to mount.  For starters, he received no pay for eight months.

Their regiment was sent to Fort Hindman, also called Arkansas Post, on the Arkansas River. Union commanders considered Fort Hindman a stepping-stone to Vicksburg.


In early January 1863, Union troops and gunboats moved in, outnumbering Confederate troops 6 to 1.  Admiral David D. Porter’s gunboats began shelling the Confederate positions.

(Currier and Ives)

Battle of Fort Hindman (Currier and Ives)

The Confederate infantrymen retreated to rifle pits outside of Fort Hindman.   Intense shelling lasted for a day, and the Confederates surrendered on January 11.

They were hustled on to steamboats.  Soaking wet from rain and snow, Sam, his brother, and other POWs suffered terribly, heading up the Mississippi.

The Bulger brothers and their fellow POWs went to Camp Butler in Springfield, Illinois.  After a month-and-a-half of captivity, in March 1863, Sam took the oath of allegiance to the U.S.  Dozens of his comrades did, too, including his brother, Philip.

Historian James M. McCaffrey notes:

Other prisoners referred to this oath taking as ‘swallowing the puppy,’ and called those who took the oath ‘razorbacks’.

Samuel returned to Clinton, but he couldn’t escape the war.  He was enumerated for the draft that summer.

Conflicting information creeps into the story.  Samuel claimed to have served the Union Army for three months, which would have made him a 100 Day Man.  However, I haven’t found any record of this.

His brother, Philip, was a different story.  Philip was a 100 Day Man.

Samuel claimed to have been drafted the following year, in 1864, so he scraped up enough money to hire a substitute to take his place.  He also married Alice D. Stockwell.  They later had four children and moved to Appanoose County, Iowa.

In 1890, Samuel and his wife moved to Guadalupe County, Texas.  Samuel died on August 28, 1893.

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