Iowa History
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Iowa History

The Middle Years of the Civil War

Historian Kenneth Lyftogt is writing a trilogy about Iowa and the Civil War. The first volume, published in 2018, received a Shambaugh Award Certificate of Merit, with which the State Historical Society of Iowa honors superior historical scholarship that Iowans who love history will enjoy. The second book in Lyftogt’s trilogy is both.

Iowa and the Civil War, Volume 2: From Iuka to the Red River” (Camp Pope Publishing, 2020) picks up where the first one left off. It chronicles the siege and fall of Vicksburg, Iowa’s role in splitting the Confederacy and the failed Red River invasion of Louisiana. The controversies and the desperate battles of 1862 to 1864 offer examples of the best and worst of those involved.

This volume also details the hardship, courage and disappointments Iowans faced during the war. For instance, to cut off the retreating Confederate forces, General Matthew Mark Trumbull and the 3rd Iowa Infantry held a bridge over the Hatchie River in Mississippi. Later, the general faced a hostile crowd in southeast Iowa, where Governor Samuel Kirkwood fearlessly told the crowd there would be no “fire in the rear rebellion” in Iowa and that those who did not disperse would be shot.

General Grenville Dodge, however, was frustrated. Although he was an extraordinary master of logistics, who built and maintained railways through hostile territory and ran an extensive Southern spy network, other commanders, like generals William Sherman and Ulysses Grant were the ones who repeatedly received promotions.

Lyftogt also highlights several inspired and tireless women who filled the logistical gaps required to occupy the Confederacy. Keokuk’s Annie Turner Wittenmyer and Ann Harlan (who was married to Sen. James Harlan) led aid societies that collected and distributed food, clothing and medical supplies. Wittenmyer also created a system of kitchens and dietary nurses to provide healthy, palatable food to the sick and wounded.

The Confederate’s “no quarter” — or “no mercy” — practice for the Union’s African American regiments reoccurs throughout the book. The 60th U.S. Colored Infantry (formerly the 1st Iowa Infantry, African Descent) was ambushed and surrounded by a larger enemy force, and endured a difficult 18-mile fighting withdrawal. Eleven men died and two wounded were carried to safety. There were no prisoners.

My great, great grandfather namesake fought with General Sherman, and his brother died at Vicksburg, which gave this book more personal interest for me.

If you, too, are interested in history and the Civil War, this is a must-read book. The author’s impressive knowledge of Iowa and Civil War history and his entertaining narrative writing style could make the eventual three volumes the definitive history of Iowa in the Civil War.

This book is one of three finalists for the Shambaugh Award, which honors the year’s best new book about Iowa history and is named for a former superintendent of the State Historical Society of Iowa. The 2021 winner will be announced in late May.

— Reviewer John Brown of Johnston has served on the State Historical Society of Iowa Board of Trustees since 2009.

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