Mattie & Me – Iowa City’s A.B. Cree.

Iowa City’s Alfred B. Cree served in the Union Army from August 1862 right through to the Civil War’s end (1865). During that time, he wrote dozens and dozens of letters to the love of his life – Mrs. A. B. Cree – Box 66 – Iowa City, Iowa. A.D.’s wife – Martha A. Smith – was better known to her friends as Mattie. Here, we’ll share two of A.B.’s letters to Mattie taken from the postal cover collection of my good buddy, Jim Petersen.

Born on February 22, 1831 to John & Annie Cree in Perry County, Pennsylvania, Alfred B. Cree was a cabinet-maker by trade.

According to family records, A.B. arrived in Muscatine, Iowa in 1854, and, at age 25, moved westward into Iowa City (1856). Apparently, it didn’t take too long for A.B. to meet a sweet young lady, named Martha A. Smith – who went by the nickname of Mattie. The Smith family – James Madison Smith, and his wife, Rebecca Griffith, and their three children – arrived in Iowa City from Ohio around the same time as Cree (1855), opening a mercantile business here. A.B. & Mattie fell in love and were married in Iowa City on September 5, 1860.

As we have discussed in other posts, Iowa City was – in the mid-to-late 1850’s – growing very quickly, and with the larger population gathering here in the state capital, it often meant that most public gatherings were focused on the hot topic of politics. Read more here.

According to an article written for The Iowa City Press-Citizen in 1934, A.B. Cree was right there on the day the new Republican party was born – and a simple businessman known to the locals as Dusty Miller (a.k.a. Samuel J. Kirkwood) took the speaker’s stand for the first time…

By 1860, as the new Republican candidate for U.S. President – Abraham Lincoln – was elected, the nation was about to experience four years of a costly Civil War. In Iowa City, A.B. Cree had found his footing in his new hometown and opened a furniture store (see 1862 ad from The Iowa City Republican above left). As we discuss in Our Boller Family story, it was very customary in the 19th century and early 20th century for the two professions of furniture dealer and mortician to go together. Read more here.

Historical records indicate that Cree’s wood-working skills were put to good use when the State University of Iowa (SUI) built its first campus building on, what is today, the Pentacrest. Apparently, the doors and many of the inside furnishings of the new South Hall – opened in 1861 – came from the talented hands of Alfred B. Cree!

The 22nd Iowa Infantry traveled extensively during the Civil War – 1862-1865.

On August 7, 1862, A.B. Cree, age 31, enlisted, and three days later (August 10), he was commissioned as a Captain in the 22nd Iowa Infantry – Company F. The 22nd was known as the “Johnson County Regiment” and was mustered in for three years of service, leaving Iowa City’s Camp Pope on September 9, 1862.

Click here to read more about Camp Pope in Iowa City.

After garrison duty in St. Louis, the regiment served throughout Missouri until March of 1863, at which point they were assigned to Tennessee. In May, the 22nd was part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg, Mississippi campaign, and was the only Union unit to breach the Confederate defenses there. In late 1863 and early 1864, the regiment moved once again, participating, this time, in operations on the Texas Gulf Coast and in Louisiana.

The 22nd Iowa charges Fort Beauregard at Vicksburg — May 22, 1863

Later in 1864, the 22nd was sent to Virginia and was one of only three regiments from Iowa to serve there, including Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, the Third Battle of Winchester, and the Battle of Cedar Creek. After several months of occupation duty (1865) in Georgia and North Carolina, the regiment was finally mustered out in Savannah, Georgia, on July 25, 1865.

Click here to read about four other brave Iowa Citians who served in the war.

Over the nearly three years of service, the 22nd lost six officers and one-hundred-and eight enlisted men in battle, and one officer and one-hundred-and-thirty-five enlisted men by disease. While his life was spared, A.B. Cree didn’t escape the dangers of war. He was first wounded at Vicksburg (May 1863), wounded again – in the right shoulder – on September 19, 1864, at Winchester, Virginia, and severely wounded in the right leg one month later – on October 19, at Cedar Creek, Virginia. Fortunately, unlike so many others, Captain Cree survived it all, returning home to Iowa City in the late summer of 1865.

This now brings us to our two letters from A.B. Cree to his wife – Mattie – back home in Iowa City…

All of A.B. Cree’s Civil War letters – of which there are dozens – all pretty much look the same from the postal covers (see above). Our two letters come from March 21 and April 5, 1865 – just as the 22nd Iowa Infantry was re-locating from Savannah, Georgia into North Carolina. During this time – spring 1865 – Cree’s company moved extensively, following the Union Army’s supply lines for General Sherman.

Today, The University of Iowa Library has a large collection of letters Cree wrote home to Mattie during the Civil War.

(JP-039) The postal covers for our two letters to Mattie (below) are long lost, but we know from the content that they were sent while A.B. Cree’s Company F was stationed in Morehead City, North Carolina.

Morehead City, North Carolina March 21st 1865

Dear Mattie,

I don’t know what to do this afternoon better than write a letter to you, as you are the one that is uppermost in my mind and the one that I love the best. I don’t know what would become of us soldiers if it was not for love and hope. I think they were made expressly for the soldiers. If you received my last letter from New Bern, you will see that we have moved. We received orders on Sunday for this place. Here is where we landed when we come from Savannah. The meanest little hole you ever saw, but just at this time, a very important one as all the supplies for Sherman’s army now goes this way and that is not a little item. If the Rebels could just see the amount [of] clothing and other supplies that the North can turn out, and the men, I think they [would] say that there is no use in talking and give up the ghost.

I have no letters to answer this afternoon. Wish I had. It is so hard to write without something to write about. It is most a month since I had a letter. John King came from Savannah. Got here this morning. Says there is a mail for us on the way, as it come to S[avannah] about the time he left.

This place is something like Matagorda Island (Texas) for sand, but it is said to be very healthy—much more so than Beaufort (South Carolina) just across the bay. I don’t know what they are going to do with us, but I think for some time we will be kept on this line of communication—anyhow as long as Sherman is in this part of North Carolina. I hope Dr. [Jacob H.] Ealy (from Iowa City) has got home long ago. I saw an officer that belong[s] to his regiment—the 17th Iowa. He thinks the Dr. is about the right kind of a man.

In one of your letters you told me that if Walter should lose his red handkerchief or if I would lose mine, I should not take his. Well Mr. W. has lost his and wants me to give him mine, but I can’t see it. Col. (Harvey) Graham (from Iowa City) stayed in New Bern. Was all right when we left on Sunday. All the boys is well and send compliments. I must stop. Give my love to all and a kiss to May (four-year old daughter). I hope I may soon get a long letter and then you will get long ones in return.

Yours until death — A. B. C.

Meor Head (Morehead) City, N.C.  April 5th 1865

Dear Mattie

This afternoon finds me at the same place and at the same old business writing to the one I love the best. I just got off fatigue (duty) and found a good letter at my tent waiting to be read. I don’t know if I will ever be able to pay you for your kindness. I know I can’t do it here in the army and only ask the privilege of getting home to make good my word.

I had intended to write every day this week, but as I had to be on duty, you see I fell short, but suppose you will be glad of it as I have nothing that will interest you very highly and this is the poorest place for news that we have been in yet. The town don’t amount to anything but one street and that has been filanted since the Yankees came.

As an old chap told me the other day, but as I told you in my last letter, our stay is but short, for I think soon as (General) Sherman (above middle) moves, we will either go to the front or to some other base that he will open up. We have news of the moving of (General) Grant’s (above left) army and are looking for something big from that quarter and I think we should expect something big as the army has done nothing for the last. And another reason that we expect something big, he has old (General) Phil Sheridan (above right) with him to give him such advice as he needs. As all this trouble has got to be settled by fighting, the sooner it comes, the better for every body and the country at large.

But I must answer your good long letter, No 22 written on the 20th of last month. I am very sorry to hear of your illness. Hope you are well long before this.

I did not think you had such a poor opinion of your choir. I don’t think I shall sing in it when I get back, if that is the way you think. I think Mr. Shell is rather sharp, but as the church has to have some one to play and drill the choir and he would play long enough, I don’t think his proposition is out of the way. That is if he plays all the time. You see you would not only have a player, but a teacher at the same time.

I am surprised that you have not heard that we have left the Savannah as Walter told me that he received an answer by a letter that he wrote from this place. I have not heard from Col. (Harvey) Graham (from Iowa City), but suppose he is all right.

I thought I would fill this sheet, but as I have got to attend to some business – can’t do it. Harry Warter sends compliments. Please give my respect to all friends. I will try and do better the next time. Love to all and a kiss to May (four year old daughter). Yours until death. Write often.

A.B. Cree

Iowa City as it appeared in the late 1860’s.

After the War, Alfred, Mattie, and their one daughter – May (born in 1861) – lived in Iowa City. At first, A.B. entered into business – furniture & undertaking – with a Mr. Nixon, and remained there until 1881, when he became a member of the larger firm – Hohenschub, Cree & Lee – furniture dealers and undertakers (see below left).

A.B. was elected as an Iowa City trustee of the First Ward in March, 1869; again, in March, 1875, and once again in March, 1877. He also served as the Chief of the Iowa City Fire Department for four years, and was elected vice-president of the State Firemen’s Association in 1880, and re-elected in 1881. Sometime in the early 1890’s, Cree branched out on his own – opening his undertaking business in the Opera Block (see map below) – near the Coldren Opera House – which stood on the southeast corner of Clinton & College Streets.

In the May 31, 1899 edition of The Daily Iowa State Press, A.B. Cree was selected amongst the top city leaders honored in this special edition.
Reunion Photo of the 22nd Iowa in Iowa City – May 22, 1886

Over the years, Cree was active in the 22nd Iowa’s Regimental Association, Johnson County’s Old Settlers Association, and the Kirkwood Post #8 – Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) chapter in Iowa City. Sadly, on April 2, 1901, the good Captain passed into glory. Below are several newspaper articles from 1901 that announced the news to his fellow Iowa Citians…

Alfred B. Cree, age 70, died on April 2, 1901, and his wife – Martha A. Smith, dearest Mattie – died on April 12, 1917, at age 78. Both are buried in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City.

So, there you have it. Kudos to our prolific letter-writer from Iowa City – one dedicated soldier with a passion to stay in touch with his dearest love back home! Gone, but not forgotten. Godspeed – A.B & Mattie Cree.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

A Party Is Born, A Fact A Day About Iowa City, Iowa City Press Citizen, August 8, 1934, p 8

A.B. Cree – Cabinet-Maker, Undertaker, Iowa City Republican, July 9, 1862, p 1

22nd Iowa Infantry Regiment, Wikipedia

22nd Regiment, Iowa Infantry, Battle Unit Details,

22nd Iowa Infantry, Company F, History of Johnson County, 1873, p 489

The Original 22nd Iowa,

Capt. Alfred B. Cree, History of Johnson County, 1873, p 805

Soldiers, A Fact A Day About Iowa City, Iowa City Press Citizen, July 15, 1952, p 6

Hohenschub, Cree Undertaking, Iowa City Republican, March 24, 1887, p 3

A.B. Cree – Undertaking, The Weekly Herald, January 12, 1891, p 3

Capt. A.B. Cree, May 31, 1899, Iowa State Press, p 7

Tribute Of Respect To The Memory Of Capt. A.B. Cree, Iowa State Press, April 6, 1901, p 4

Mattie Cree, Iowa City Press Citizen, April 14, 1937, p 4

Martha A. “Mattie” Smith Cree, Find-A-Grave

Capt. A.B. Cree Dead, Iowa City Republican, April 10, 1901, p 16

Capt. A.B. Cree Is Dead, The Iowa Citizen, April 5, 1901, p 3

Alfred B. Cree, Find-A-Grave

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