Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Wartime politics and bayonet-point arrests: Civil liberties take a hit in Iowa

HoxieHubertM Fairfield IA Hisy Rory and Rena GoffThe head of the State Republican Central Committee was named U.S. Marshal for Iowa after Lincoln’s election.  When Lincoln restricted civil liberties, Marshal H.M. Hoxie began arresting Democrats.  This unfortunate story combines national and state politics, accusations, and misery.

Early in the war, Iowa Democrats divided over how to restore the Union.  Some agreed with Republicans and favored war; others favored negotiations and compromise.

What is Treason?

Historian Hubert H. Wubben explains that after Fort Sumter, Iowa politicians tried to define loyal and disloyal (traitorous) behavior.  The editor of the State Democratic Press wrote:

“For God’s sake, let not every vagabond in this community be permitted to make a definition of treason to suit himself, and then constitute himself accuser, jury, judge and hangman, and proceed to wreak his vengeance and indulge his spite upon any personal enemies …”

Lincoln suspends habeas corpus

Those fears became reality six months after Fort Sumter (December 1861).  Lincoln suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus in the Department of the Missouri, including Iowa.  The result:  Anyone could be arrested without formal charges, and be imprisoned indefinitely, without a trial.

Senator George Wallace Jones

Senator George Wallace Jones

An early test case was former Iowa U.S. Senator George Wallace Jones.  He opposed the war since he thought abolitionists were behind it.  The State Department seized his correspondence, including two letters to his old college friend, Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  Fifty-seven-year-old Sen. Jones wrote that he and his sons would serve in the Southern Army if war should come.

On December 20, 1861, Sen. Jones was arrested (without formal charges) and incarcerated at Fort Lafayette Prison.  Republican newspapers crowed that Sen. Jones was a traitor.  Released two months later, Sen. Jones never had a trial.

The following summer, the Union Army needed more troops.  In July 1862, Lincoln signed a Militia Act (a first step toward a draft).

Ominous orders

Edwin M. Stanton

Edwin M. Stanton

Three weeks later, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton suspended the writ of habeas corpus across the U.S.  Stanton ordered law enforcement personnel nationwide to “arrest and imprison” anyone “seeking to discourage volunteering, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or, through writing, speech, or act, engaging in any disloyal practice.”

Anyone could be accused of “seeking to discourage” enlistment or of “giving comfort” to a distant enemy.  No one defined the word “disloyal.”  Iowa Democrats were easy targets.

Hoxie’s arrival means trouble for Democrats

H.M. Hoxie, U.S. Marshal for Iowa, carried out Stanton’s orders.  The Republican Hoxie arrested some 36 Democrats, including Dr. Gideon S. Bailey.  Dr. Bailey was a former Iowa State Representative from Van Buren County.  Someone accused him of saying that married men shouldn’t have to serve in the army.

Tensions rise in Madison County

Over in Madison County, the pot started to simmer.  Many residents had already left to enlist in the Union Army.  A large portion of remaining residents had Southern roots, and most were Democrats.  Some Democrats referred to soldiers as “Lincoln’s hirelings.”  This insulted resident Caroline Murray.

Years later, Murray described “the hatred we then felt for our foes and the Southern sympathizers living in our midst, whom we spoke of as Butternuts, Copperheads, and Rebels.”  She described them as “undesirable citizens” and “a constant annoyance in all that pertained to the war.”

Murray wrote:

“We really felt more bitter toward them than we did toward the southern rebels.  They were constantly stirring up strife and insulting our patriotism.”

 Exaggerated report brings Hoxie to Madison County

Some local anti-war Democrats met privately and vented their feelings.  George Rose, a shady resident (and former gun-smuggler), spied on them for Marshal Hoxie.

Rose made the men sound subversive.  Hoxie now had the opening he desired.  In September 1862, he led rifle-bearing troops to Madison County.  They arrested Democrats.  Hoxie ordered the soldiers to shoot anyone who tried to escape.

The Marshal took the following seven men to prison at Camp McClellan, near Davenport:

  • William Evans. His father was wounded by a soldier’s bayonet when he opened the door.  Reportedly, an officer fired a shot into their house.
  • Joseph K. Evans, former county treasurer, recorder, and sheriff. Soldiers forced him out of his house at bayonet-point.  They reportedly stole $400.
  • David McCarty, former Madison County Justice of the Peace.
  • W. Gideon, farmer.
  • Valentine M. Gideon, brother of J.W. Gideon.
  • James Keith.
  • John H. Porter. Although illiterate, soldiers reportedly searched his house for documents about the Knights of the Golden Circle.

Violations of Civil Liberties

Never officially charged, the prisoners never received a trial.  Hoxie had violated the following civil liberties:

  1. Freedom of speech;
  2. Freedom from criminal punishment except upon indictment and trial;
  3. The right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury;
  4. The right to be informed of the nature of an accusation; and
  5. The right to confront contrary witnesses.

The prisoners were released in December 1862.  Some two hundred Winterset residents gave them a joyous welcome.  Voters later elected David McCarty chairman of the county board of supervisors.

Muscatine Courier editor Edward Thayer spoke for local Democrats when he wrote:

“We plead for the old order of things – for freedom of speech – freedom of the press – the preservation of individual rights – the re-establishment of civil power – and the overthrow of military tyrants.”

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Next week, I plan to tell how Madison County became a headache for Iowa’s governor.

Thanks for reading my blog!  I’d be glad to read your comments.


  1. Ron Nurmi

    looking forward to part 2

  2. I am glad to learn this history, which is new to me, David. I am interested in Madison County because my mother’s people lived at St. Charles. The GAR post there was named for John Miller, older brother of my great-grandmother Annie (Miller) Anderson. He was killed at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge (Mississippi). He was a 1st sergeant in Co. H, 23rd Iowa Infantry. The Millers and Andersons were antislavery United Presbyterians.

    • Hi, Iowa Peace Chief. I didn’t know about this history, either, when I started my research. Thanks for sharing a bit about your interesting family line. And thanks for reading my blog!

      • Thanks again for your stories, David. After reading Part 2—and THEN after attending the three-day Iowa Preservation Summit at Winterset last week—I am keen to learn even more about the social climate of Madison County before, during, and after the Civil War. I checked the record about my great-granduncle John Miller and found: “Enlisted in Company H, Iowa 23rd Infantry Regiment on 29 Aug 1862. Promoted to Full 1st Sergeant on 27 Jan 1863.” It’s very interesting to read the regimental history in light of your report of the folks at home. It appears Miller enlisted just days before those arrests by Hoxie. I can easily imagine my ancestors among those you’ve described as fearful, offended, and overreacting! (Iowapeacechief = Dan Clark)

  3. Another fascinating post, David. Too many pieces written about the war rehash the same material rather than providing “almost lost” information and insights.

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