Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Category: Uncategorized

The Grinch who Stole Civil Liberties

Spending Christmas behind bars isn’t anybody’s idea of fun.  That’s what happened to former U.S. Senator George Wallace Jones in late December 1861, after the federal government seized a personal letter to Jefferson Davis.

George Wallace Jones was a pro-slavery Iowa Democrat who was a lifelong friend of Jefferson Davis.  Senator Jones made stump speeches around Iowa.  For example, he said, if civil war broke out, he and his three sons would “be found in the ranks of the Southern Army, and that, altho’ we might be few in number, we would be victorious as our cause would be just.”  Perhaps this was a politician’s bravado, but it was out of step with many Iowa constituents in the 1850s.[i]

George Wallace Jones (Library of Congress)

Compassionate care

Jones served in the U.S. Senate alongside William H. Seward of New York.  They were “brother Senators,” and both were friends of Senator Jefferson Davis.  In early 1857, Jefferson Davis’s “left eye became intensely inflamed.” Wracked with pain, Davis was confined to a darkened room.  Seward visited Davis an hour every day, telling Davis of congressional news and trying to lift his spirits. Davis’s wife, Varina, appreciated Seward’s “earnest, tender interest” in her husband.[ii]

William H. Seward
(Library of Congress)

When he lost his Senate seat, President James Buchanan came to the rescue, appointing him minister, or ambassador, to Bogota, New Grenada (present-day Columbia).  Ambassador Jones was in South America as the United States descended into civil war.

It took weeks for letters to come by ship to New Grenada, and then even longer to be delivered to Ambassador Jones.  Consequently, Jones didn’t know that Confederates had fired upon Fort Sumter when he wrote a fateful personal letter to Jefferson Davis on May 7, 1861.  He also didn’t know that Seward had been intercepting his correspondence since Lincoln was inaugurated.

Absolute power …

Historian Mark E. Neely Jr. notes that “Secretary of State William H. Seward was given control of military arrests of civilians” after Fort Sumter until the War Department assumed control of them in early 1862.  Seward organized a secret service for this purpose.

There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, that tells of Seward’s power.  He allegedly told Lord Lyon, the British minister in Washington:

“My Lord, I can touch a bell on my right hand, and order the arrest of a citizen in Ohio.  I can touch the bell again, and order the arrest of a citizen in New York.  Can the Queen of England, in her dominions, do as much?”[iii]

A visit with Abraham Lincoln

About this time, the Lincoln administration recalled Ambassador Jones to replace him with a Republican.  When Ambassador Jones returned to Washington in December 1861, his boss, Seward, honored him with a diplomatic dinner.  Seward also introduced Jones to Abraham Lincoln as “my old friend.”  Lincoln invited Jones to visit his home.

Abraham Lincoln
(Library of Congress)

The next night, Jones came to the White House and saw Lincoln with his leg thrown over the side of a chair.  Lincoln said he had met Jones years earlier, when Lincoln was a state representative.  Jones had asked the Illinois State Legislature for permission to operate a ferry from Dubuque to the shore of Illinois.

Lincoln said to Jones, “You were brought to my house one night by our old friend, Judge Pope, of the United States District Court for Illinois, the father of this ‘lying Gen. John Pope’ now of our army.”

Jones said, “Yes, Mr. President, I got that John Pope into West Point Military Academy in 1838 …”

Lincoln said, “Judge Pope said to me, ‘Lincoln, I want you to pass George’s bill granting him a ferry privilege at Dubuque.  I’ll be damned, if you don’t pass his bill tomorrow morning, you shall never come to the Legislature again.”

Lincoln then told some funny stories and suggested that Jones get reacquainted with Mary Lincoln, whom he knew from his college days.

On Jones’s last day in Washington, Seward pulled a bottle out from under his desk and said, “Let’s take a farewell drink.”

The Grinch emerges

The next morning, Ambassador Jones rode a train to New York.  When he arrived, a detective arrested Jones, without formal charges, at the order of his “old friend,” William H. Seward.[iv]

Later that day, Seward told the press that Jones was in Fort Lafayette prison.  Seward publicized one of the Ambassador’s letters to Jefferson Davis, highlighting passages that made him appear disloyal.  Jones had written Davis:

My prayers are regularly offered up for the reunion of the States, and for the peace, concord and happiness of my country.  But let what may come to pass, you may rely upon it, as you say that neither I or mine, ‘will ever be found in the ranks of our (your) enemies.’

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.[v]

A Christmas Eve request to the Grinch

Dubuque Attorney Ben M. Samuels asked Seward’s office for details about George Wallace Jones’s arrest and imprisonment.  Samuels wrote on Christmas Eve:

Dear Sir:

The General’s family is in the very depths of distress.  The suspense in regard to the charges against him increases their anguish of spirit.  Certainty will bring to them some measure of relief … Mrs. Jones informs me that she is acquainted with Sec. Seward and has always regarded him as entirely friendly with the General and the family.


A different perspective

Iowa Republicans excoriated Jones and his traitorous sons.  Ambassador Jones had written another letter on the same day, in which he states the cry of his heart.  Unfortunately for him, the second letter slipped past the State Department.  Jones had told a fellow Iowa Democrat:

I tell [Jefferson Davis] he judges me & my friends rightly in supposing that we will not make war against … our own beloved people who are driven from the Union for no other reason than because they were unwilling to submit to insult, injury & a palpable violation of our Constitution.

No, I will not do battle against them & rather than do so I will leave my own beloved home & go South to join Davis … & the true hearted & chivalrous Southerners.

Great God, has it come to this that I am to be impressed into a northern Army, at the bidding of Kirkwood … or other Abolition coward[s], to go down south with a rifle on my shoulder, do battle against the only brother whom I have living … or turn my back upon the State which has honored me so highly?[vi]

Release from prison

Ambassador Jones spent about two months in prison.  After he was released, the New York Times called Jones a minister to “Bogota [Colombia] and Fort Lafayette [Prison].”[vii]

Jones write a letter, defending himself, that was printed in the Burlington Hawk-eye on July 12, 1862.  He said he had intended to fight only abolitionists, through the political process, but not to “break up the Union.”  But he was never allowed to defend himself in court.[viii]

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[i] George Wallace Jones to Jefferson Davis, 11/30/1858, DIY History, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.

[ii] William J. Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American (New York: 2000), 288.

[iii] Mark Neely Jr., The Fate of Liberty:  Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties (New York:  1991), 19-21

[iv] Carl Parish, “My Meeting with Abraham Lincoln,” George Wallace Jones, (Iowa City:  1912), 235-243.

[v] George Wallace Jones to Jefferson Davis, 5/17,1861, holographic copy, George W. Jones Vertical File, Center for Dubuque History, Loras College, Dubuque.

[vi] George Wallace Jones to Laurel Summers, 5/17/1861, Laurel Summers Papers, Correspondence, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines.

[vii] “From our Special Correspondent,” 2/7/1862, New York Times Archive Online.

[viii] George Wallace Jones to the Dubuque Herald, printed as “A Rich Document,” Burlington Weekly Hawk-eye and Telegraph, 7/12/1862.

Happy 4th of July

During the Civil War, both sides looked to our Patriot Forefathers — their sacrifice and devotion — for inspiration.  Happy 4th of July.

Much-maligned Democratic “Dirty dogs”: A review of Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement

“Iowa nice” was in short supply during the Civil War.  Local politics reached new lows as Iowa Republicans demonized Peace Democrats (also known as Copperheads).

A colleague asked historian Hubert H. Wubben, “What can you say about Copperheads that Frank Klement hasn’t already said?”  (Klement had written the authoritative The Copperheads in the Midwest in 1960.)

To answer that question, Wubben borrowed from the scholarship of Leland Sage, the powerful arguments of Frank L. Klement, and the documentation of David L. Lendt.  Wubben also did original research.  The result was Wubben’s magisterial book, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement.[1]

This book tells the history of Iowa during the Civil War, from the perspective of the Democratic Party (and its various factions).  Starting in the 1850s, the author contrasts the divided Iowa Democratic Party with the vigorous and bold state Republican Party.

More recent scholarship by Mark E. Neely (The Fate of Liberty:  Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties) and William A. Blair (With Malice Toward Some:  Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era) serve to illuminate Wubben’s work.

An exception is Jennifer L. Weber’s Copperheads:  The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North.  She disagrees with Klement’s view that the Copperhead “fire in the rear” was mostly “a fairy tale,” a “figment of Republican imagination” comprised of “lies, conjecture, and political malignancy.”[2]

Weber’s argument could be stronger.  She seems to accept claims of the type that Klement had previously debunked.

Wubben has influenced nearly everything I’ve written and thought about Iowa Democrats in wartime, and about Iowa residents who left the state and served the Confederacy.  He notes:

Much of the story has already been told.  But not all of it by any means … Iowa’s history during the Civil War years will long remain fertile ground.[3]

I have documented 76 Iowa residents who left that state and served the Confederacy.  The stories of some Confederates from Iowa intersect with – and illuminate – Wubben’s work.

Historian Wubben combines extensive documentation, analysis, and persuasive reasoning.  I highly recommend his book.

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[1] Leland Sage, A History of Iowa (Ames:  1974); Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (Chicago:  1960); David L. Lendt, Demise of the Democracy:  The Copperhead Press in Iowa (Ames:  1963).

[2] Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads:  The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North (Oxford:  2006), xi.

[3] Hubert H. Wubben, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement (Ames:  1980), xi.

Me in a Maserati? Going places with story (my guest blog post)

I’ve written a guest blog post for my colleague Ryan O’Connell.  He writes about historical interpretation at Ryan’s Interpretations.  I invite you to read my post at


From gunpoint to graciousness: Jefferson Davis and Dubuque, Iowa

The president of the Confederacy had a long history with Dubuque.  This is a story of trust, service, and gratitude.

Mine scene 1844 MINING dot JAMISON dot MUSEUM


In the winter of 1831-1832, lead mines were booming in Galena, Illinois.  Squatters sneaked across the Mississippi River to Julien Dubuque’s mines and began excavating lead.  Native Americans complained, and the Federal Government sent in U.S. Army troops.  The soldiers were to use bayonets if necessary.  That portion of Iowa Territory hadn’t yet passed into the hands of the U.S. government.

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

Lt. Jefferson Davis and about 50 soldiers crossed the Mississippi River to force the squatters back to Illinois.  The miners thought they were entitled to the land.  About a dozen grim miners, bristling with weapons, met Davis.

He convinced the miners that the land and their mining claims would be theirs if they were patient.  They listened in silence.

Tension builds

A few weeks later, Davis returned.  The mood had soured.  Twenty five miners waited in a “drinking booth.”  Davis’s orderly said, “If you go in, they’ll kill you.”

Davis walked inside and said, “My friends, I am sure you have thought over my proposition and are going to drink to my success.  So I will treat you all.”  They cheered, drank up, and Davis walked out unscathed.

The miners evacuated Dubuque.  They returned after the treaties were signed.  As promised, they regained their land and claims.

An old friend

Lt. Davis visited his old college classmate, George Wallace Jones.  Both men owned slaves (Davis in Mississippi and Jones in Wisconsin Territory).

George Wallace Jones

The Jones family lived across the Mississippi River at Sinsinawa Mound.  Two of Jones’s slaves waited on Davis and served him cornbread.

Friendship defined

Jones became one of Iowa’s first U.S. Senators.  His political motto was simple:   Friendship equals personal and political loyalty.  Jones’s friends did favors for each other.

Two of his Dubuque friends, Warner Lewis Sr. and Patrick Quigley, also became friends of Jefferson Davis.  As Senator, Jefferson Davis helped Lewis retain his job as Surveyor General.

Riverfront change

Davis became Secretary of War two decades after he helped the miners.  Davis helped his friend, Senator George Wallace Jones, by authorizing a change in the survey of Waples’ Cut on Dubuque’s riverfront.

Dubuque Ice Harbor Encyclopedia of Dubuque)

Dubuque Ice Harbor Encyclopedia of Dubuque)

This area was evolving into a winter and spring harbor, to protect ships from crushing ice floes.  Congress then designated Dubuque a “port of entry.”  Today, this area includes Dubuque’s Ice Harbor and the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

Price to be paid

In 1859, Jones was appointed minister (ambassador) to New Grenada, South America.  A month after Ft. Sumter, Jones wrote a letter to Davis, the new Confederate President.  The letter seemed to be disloyal to the United States.

Jones paid dearly for his loyalty toward Davis, for his vocal antagonism toward abolitionists, and for having two sons in Confederate gray.

Jones was imprisoned for two months.  Republicans demonized him as a traitor.

Jefferson Davis, 1875 (Library of Congress)

Jefferson Davis, 1875 (Library of Congress)

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot”

In 1875, ten years after the Civil War had ended, most Iowans still considered Jones and Jefferson Davis to be traitors.  Many early miners were now the upper crust of Dubuque society.  They organized a grand celebration and expected thousands.

A Republican asked Jones to invite Jefferson Davis as guest of honor.  Citing ill health, Davis declined.

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Slavery in Dubuque, Iowa

Slaves might be the last people you’d expect in Iowa.  Confederates might be a close second.

After all, Iowa has always been free.  However, 17 slaves appear on the 1840 Federal Census for Dubuque County.  They lived in 11 households.[i]

1840 Federal Census, Iowa Territory, Dubuque County, pg. 60, showing 1 male slave age 10-24, and 1 female slave age 10-24.

1840 Federal Census, Iowa Territory, Dubuque County, pg. 60, showing 1 male slave age 10-24, and 1 female slave age 10-24.

Sketch of the population in 1840

Dubuque County had 3,056 residents.  There were at least five African-American families, all freedmen.  Four of the slave-owning families had whites, slaves, and free blacks at the same residence.  (The other seven slave-owning families had whites and slaves.) [ii]

"Mammy & Child" (Library of Congress)

(unidentified) “Mammy & Child” (Library of Congress)

The slaves seemingly labored in agriculture, commerce, or manufacturing and trade, or they worked as house servants.  There is no evidence that they worked in the local lead mines.  (See postscript below.)

Early Dubuque Society

Historian Timothy R. Mahoney analyzes how Dubuque was transformed from lead-mining camps into an urban society.  He documents “a downtown business culture” that “more or less ran Dubuque’s city government in the 1840s and early 1850s.” [iii]

JonesGeorgeWallace cropped LOC

George Wallace Jones

Two future mayors owned slaves

Slave owners included early Dubuque mayors Francis K. O’Ferrall and Peter A. Lorimier, prominent businessman and land receiver Thomas McKnight, and early Iowa U.S. Senator George Wallace Jones.  A third mayor, Warner Lewis, didn’t own slaves, but he grew up in a slave-holding family.[iv]

Future Senator Jones held the most slaves (three).  He had owned even more slaves when he lived in Sinsinawa Mound, Wisconsin Territory.[v]

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

McKnight and future Confederate President Jefferson Davis sometimes visited Jones in Sinsinawa Mound.  They enjoyed eating cornbread served by two slaves (who Jones later brought to Dubuque).  Jones reportedly freed his slaves in Dubuque by 1842 or 1843.[vi]

The early business environment of Dubuque was surely pro-slavery.  It’s unclear whether this environment influenced the 12 Dubuque residents who later served the Confederacy.


In 1839, the year before the census, the Supreme Court of the Territory of Iowa decided “In the Matter of Ralph.”  Ralph was a slave from Missouri who in 1834 signed a written agreement with his master to buy his freedom.

His master authorized Ralph to work in Dubuque in the lead mines until he earned $550.  A few years later, Ralph still hadn’t paid off his debt, so slave hunters tried to capture him.

A Dubuque resident took Ralph to see Judge Thomas Wilson, a political rival of George Wallace Jones.  The court ruled that Ralph was a free man.[vii]

To learn more about conditions in early Dubuque, I’d highly recommend  Bright Radical Star: Black Freedom and White Supremacy on the Hawkeye Frontier by Robert R. Dykstra.


[i] 1840 United States Census, Dubuque County, Territory of Iowa.

[ii] Chandler C. Childs, ed. Robert T. Klein, Dubuque:  Frontier River City (Dubuque, 1984), 51, quoting Census Bureau, The Census Returns of the Different Counties of the State of Iowa for 1859 (Des Moines, 1859), Table facing p. 3.

[iii]History of Dubuque County, Iowa (Chicago, 1880), 495, 828-830; Timothy R. Mahoney, “The Rise and Fall of the Booster Ethos in Dubuque 1850 to 1861,” Annals of Iowa, (Iowa City, Fall 2002), 372-373, 385.

[iv] “Mayors of the City of Dubuque, Iowa,” City of Dubuque,

[v] George Wallace Jones to Jefferson Davis, 5/17/1861, holograph, George Wallace Jones Vertical File, Center for Dubuque History, Loras College.

[vi] John Carl Parish, George Wallace Jones (Iowa City, 1912), 10;  John Nelson Davidson, “Negro Slavery in Wisconsin” (address delivered December 8, 1892 at 40th annual meeting of State Historical Society of WI), Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Issues 39-41(Madison, 1892), 83-84.

[vii] Iowa Judicial Branch, “In the Matter of Ralph, 1 Morris 1 (1839),”

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Be careful what you write: Agonies of a double-talking Democrat

Herman H. Heath made a huge political U-turn after Ft. Sumter.  Like many others, he became a Republican.

But Heath, an Episcopalian, had a secret.  He might’ve forgotten the words of Jesus:  “Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light.”

Political beginnings

Heath started a Southern-rights newspaper in Washington, D.C., before coming to Dubuque.  He then befriended Iowa U.S. Senator George Wallace Jones.

Senator Jones led a Democratic political machine.  He helped Heath become Dubuque postmaster.

The Jones machine supported the spread of slavery into the Territories.  Most Iowa Democrats disagreed, and Jones lost his senate seat.  Heath lost his political patron and his postal job.

Heath contacts Jefferson Davis

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president, southern states began seceding.  Heath offered President Jefferson Davis his services in the Confederate military or government.  Davis never responded.

A passionate letter

Five days before Ft. Sumter, Heath wrote to a Confederate official:

“Although a Northern Man by birth, [I] have never been anything but Southern in my feelings …

Had I the means to support myself and wife for one year South, I would not remain out of the Southern Confederacy one day longer …

There are tens of thousands of loyal hearts at the North … they will never pull a trigger against the South …

Before I would march against my brothers of the South, I would suffer myself to be hanged on the first tree before the eyes of my own wife. “

A complete reversal

Five days later, the war began.  A month later, in May 1861, Heath enlisted in the 1st Iowa Cavalry and organized a company.  Senator Jones’s eldest son, Charles S.D. Jones, wrote his father:

“Your pusillanimous friend Heath has turned Black Republican and gone to the war as 1st Lieut. of Fitz Kenny Warren’s Iowa Cavalry … I loathe & detest and despise a man who has hitherto pretended to be a democrat …”

Herman H. Heath

Herman H. Heath

Meteoric rise

Lt. Heath became colonel and brevet general.  After the war, he became Secretary of New Mexico Territory.

The letter comes to light

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Heath to be Marshal of New Mexico Territory.  The Senate released Heath’s pro—Confederate letter.  Admitting his Democratic past, Heath defended himself:

“The sin [of that letter] has certainly been wiped out by my blood, shed upon the field of battle, in the Union army, [and] the sacrifice of my only child, who was killed in the Union service, and an untarnished Republican record.”

The Senate rejected this explanation.  President Grant withdrew the nomination, and Heath faded from public life.

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Correction to “A chart is worth a thousand words”

Sometimes it pays to recheck data.  I discovered that seven Confederates from Iowa (not three, as originally shown) had at least one brother in the Union Army.  Ten percent of  Confederates from Iowa had divided families (including the father whose son served the Union).

Sets of family members serving CSA and or USA 7

I’ve updated the original post.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Think like Dr. Phil, Round 1: The River of Love can be a bumpy ride

Let’s have some fun.  A couple got engaged after Fort Sumter, and they faced big challenges in their relationship.  (The man was an Iowan who considered the Confederate service.).  If you could sit down with them before they got married, what advice would you give?  What do you predict happened in the rest of their lives?

Introducing the couple

Charles S.D. Jones was a 29-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer.  He was idealistic, courtly, and Catholic.  He was recovering from Chagres Fever, a debilitating kind of cerebral malaria. Chagres Fever had dreadful long-term effects.

JonesCharles SD Annie Miller photo courtesy of Stephanie LEFT CROPPED

Miss Annie Miller

Annie Miller was a 19-year-old Kentucky belle.  She was captivating, popular, and Presbyterian.  She had turned down sparkling suitors before she met Charles, including a millionaire, a lawyer, and a few military officers.

Their political fathers

Charles’s father was a pro-slavery Democrat.  He had been a powerful Iowa U.S. Senator.  When he lost his Senate seat, he went to South America as an ambassador.  He waited for the Lincoln administration to replace him.  Charles’s father was a close, life-long friend of Jefferson Davis, president of the new Confederacy.

Annie’s father was a Republican postmaster, thanks to his personal and political friend, President Abraham Lincoln.

Long-distance relationship

Annie and Charles met in late March 1861 when he visited Washington, D.C.  He claimed, “It was love at first sight with both of us.”  Charles returned to Dubuque and courted Annie through letters.  Ten days later, Charles wrote his father:

“The last news is that old Abe will commence a war on the South.  God protect us if he does.  I feel a conviction that I will fight for the South.”

Three days after that, South Carolina troops fired upon Fort Sumter.

As Charles and Annie corresponded, they became serious.  Charles asked Annie’s father for her hand in marriage, and he consented.   Charles went to Kentucky to marry her.  (They had known each other six months.)  They planned to return to Dubuque as newlyweds.

Intentions, intentions

After Charles arrived (but before the wedding), he and Annie discussed the war (then in its fifth month).  Someone asked:  What would happen if fighting broke out in the North?  In that case, Charles said, he would serve the Confederacy.  Annie cried, and Charles backed down.  He promised “not to go to war or do anything unless she gave her consent.”

Charles wrote his father:

“There’s no telling what a silly man will not do on account of a woman’s tears.  If there is no other way to gain a livelihood but war, I’ve got myself into a miserable scrape.  However, I shall expect some good fortune – as Providence seems to ‘bear a hand’ in this business of marrying Annie Miller.”

Your turn:  Any advice?

What advice do you think Dr. Phil would give the couple?  What do you think happened in the rest of their lives?   I invite you to share your thoughts below.  In my next blog post (two weeks from now, on December 22), I’ll tell what happened to Charles and Annie.

Next Post will be Thurs., June 25

sunset-over-cornfield_21285287 FREEPIK dot COMHello, readers and guests.  I’m taking a week off.  The next post should be Thursday, June 25.  Thanks for reading my blog!

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