During the Civil War, both sides looked to our Patriot Forefathers — their sacrifice and devotion — for inspiration. Happy 4th of July.
“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.
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.”
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.
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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Thank you for reading my blog. Please leave any comments and questions below.
 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).
 Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North (Oxford: 2006), xi.
 Hubert H. Wubben, Civil War Iowa and the Copperhead Movement (Ames: 1980), xi.
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 http://ryansinterp.blogspot.com/2016/05/me-in-maserati-going-places-with-story.html
The president of the Confederacy had a long history with Dubuque. This is a story of trust, service, and gratitude.
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.
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.
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).
The Jones family lived across the Mississippi River at Sinsinawa Mound. Two of Jones’s slaves waited on Davis and served him cornbread.
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.
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.
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.
“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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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]
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]
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]
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]
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, http://www.cityofdubuque.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2977.
[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),” http://www.iowacourts.gov/For_the_Public/Court_Structure/Iowa_Courts_History/In_the_Matter_of_Ralph/
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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.”
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 …”
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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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).
I’ve updated the original post. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!
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.
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.
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.
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.