Henry County’s Newspaperman, Statesman & Civil War Hero.

Allow me to introduce you to a Civil War hero from my hometown of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa…

Samuel McFarland was born on August 18, 1824 in Washington County, Pennsylvania. He went to grade school in a neighborhood school, attended an academy (high school) in his hometown, and became a lawyer before moving to Mt. Pleasant in 1854 (age 30). He married Mary Augusta Woolson (1838-1929), the daughter of his fellow law partner, on April 27, 1858, and had one son (1859-1908), Silas C., who became part owner/editor of the Marshalltown Times-Republican, and one daughter (1861-1957), Marion I. Walker, who went on to become the dean of women at Iowa State Teachers College (University of Northern Iowa).

I stumbled upon the story of Samuel McFarland when I came across this 1857 postal cover (below) addressed to him – postmarked in Iowa City in 1857 and mailed by John Hursch – Proprietor of The Clark House.

(C-0036) Postmarked in Iowa City on August 3, 1857 This postal cover from The Clark House in Iowa City is addressed to Samuel McFarland, Esq. in Mt. Pleasant (Henry County), Iowa.

During the 20-year period when Iowa City was the Territorial and State Capital of Iowa (1838-1857), there were many boarding houses that sprung up around the city – catering to both the out-of-town legislators and the general public who visited our fair community when the Iowa State Legislature was in session.

Not to be confused with well-known Clark House – built in 1874 – which is associated with Governor Kirkwood’s Plum Grove mansion, the Clark House of our 1857 postal cover was most likely a boarding home located on Clark Street – in today’s Longfellow Historic District of Iowa City (see map above). In the mid-to-late 1800’s, this neighborhood had several large homes, one of which is the Oakes House (1858), which was later owned by artist Grant Wood, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1854, Samuel McFarland was elected to represent Henry County as a state representative to the General Assembly – meeting at the state capitol building in Iowa City – a post he held through two sessions, from December 4, 1854 through January 10, 1858. Our 1857 postal cover from the Clark House most likely indicates that McFarland stayed there during his time of service in Iowa City.

State Representative to the General Assembly from Henry County, 1854-1858, becoming Speaker of the House during the second session.

In a volume entitled, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa by Edward Stiles (1916), we find this about Samuel McFarland…

Capitol Square in Iowa City

Samuel McFarland was one of the early and able lawyers of Henry County, and represented it in the Fifth and Sixth General Assemblies. In the Sixth General Assembly, which was the last one that met in Iowa City, and which convened there on the first day of December, 1856, McFarland was chosen Speaker of the House. He did not make much noise as a rhetorician, but was much respected for his ability. He was a lawyer of standing and attainments. His name will be found in connection with the early reports and the list attached to the Nineteenth Iowa Report.

As this written account shows, the Sixth General Assembly was the last group to meet in the Old Stone Capitol in Iowa City, and as Speaker of the House, McFarland was charged with overseeing the rather contentious sessions as state representatives continued to argue over the relocation of the state capital to Des Moines and the 1847 agreement approving Iowa City as the lone site for the State University of Iowa.

During the summer of 1856 work upon the three-story structure known as the Old Brick Capitol (in Des Moines), located on lots eleven and twelve in block six of Scott’s Addition where the Soldiers’ Monument now stands, was pushed with energy, the masonry work being finished by October. It was impossible, however, to have the building ready for the use of the Sixth General Assembly during the winter of 1856‑1857. Following the location of the capital, trade and speculation had been rampant in Des Moines, but in the fall there came hard times; and the capitol and other large buildings were only partially completed. An Iowa City newspaper, still clinging to the idea that the removal of the capital was premature, thought it would be “the part of wisdom to keep the Capital where it is, until permanent buildings are erected; in view of the accessibility of Iowa City and the unquestioned fact that it is the centre of the more populous part of the State.”

In the Iowa Journal of History & Politics, Vol. 14 No. 1 (Jan. 1916), we find this interesting account of all McFarland had to oversee as Speaker of the House during the 1856-57 legislative session…

There was indeed some agitation in the Sixth General Assembly (1856‑1857) for the repeal of the act of 1855 locating the capital at Des Moines. A petition to that effect was presented in the House of Representatives, while a public meeting at Washington, Iowa, sent to the State Senate the following resolution:

Whereas, a proposition is now submitted, or is about to be submitted to the present General Assembly of the State of Iowa, to repeal the law passed by the 5th General Assembly, entitled ‘an act to relocate the seat of Government,’ therefore, Resolved That our Senator and Representatives in the present General Assembly be instructed to vote for, and favor in every legitimate way, a law having that object in view.”

Such an act was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 12, 1857, but it was tabled on the following day. The whole agitation for repeal seems to have arisen from a mis­understanding of conditions in regard to the land and buildings at Des Moines, many people becoming greatly excited when they learned that the temporary capitol building was being erected by private funds on private ground and was not to be owned by the State. For a time it was thought that the repeal would carry, but the building committee explained that a lease had been executed whereby the State would have free use of the building for any number of years. This explanation seemed to satisfy the critics.

Records show that the Sixth Assembly ended their contentious session in the early spring of 1857, but called yet another short second session that summer – from July 2nd through the 16th. This might explain our letter from the Clark House, dated August 3, 1857. Very likely, Samuel McFarland stayed here during his 4-year stint in Iowa City, and this communication in August, 1857, may have had to do with his final stay there in July. By the winter session – December 1857 – the state government was located in Des Moines.

And so, with the close of the 1856-57 session, the move of the state capital to Des Moines began in earnest in October, prompting one Iowa City newspaper reporter to quip, “Let Des Moines have the politicians, we’ll take the professors!” Read more here.

In Mt.Pleasant, Samuel McFarland practiced law, and worked with The Mt. Pleasant Observer (1856) writing editorials and earning a good reputation as a newspaper journalist. He also became a trustee for the City of Mt. Pleasant, and served as Secretary of the Board for the Iowa State Mental Hospital located in Henry County.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, McFarland quickly volunteered – October 15, 1861 – for the Union army, serving as a Captain, gathering men from Henry County to help form the 11th Iowa Infantry. On August 2, 1862, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 19th Iowa Infantry. Here, from Wikipedia, is his Civil War account:

The 19th Iowa Infantry was organized at Keokuk, Iowa and mustered in for three years of Federal service on August 25, 1862. It was the second Iowa regiment to fully muster for active service. The 19th Iowa was assigned to Orme’s Brigade, Herron’s Division, Army of the Frontier (Arkansas). After completing a rigorous 35 mile march on December 6th, 1862, the regiment prepared for battle. By this time, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel McFarland had taken command of the regiment. The next day, December 7, 1862, was the Battle of Prairie Grove. Herron’s Division deployed on the left side of the Union line, on a slight ridge facing south. In front of them was positioned a Confederate battery. General Herron ordered the 20th Wisconsin infantry Regiment and the 19th Iowa Infantry forward to capture the guns.

The two regiments gallantly charged, and captured the confederate battery. However, General Herron had vastly underestimated the amount of Confederates in the area. The two regiments, numbering some 500 men each, fought back numerous counter-charges from half a dozen Confederate regiments. Eventually, overpowered and running low on supplies, the two regiments withdrew back to Union lines. The rebels then rallied and mounted their own assault, however they were beaten back savagely by the skilled gunnery of the 1st Missouri Battery E and the 1st Missouri Battery L. The regiment lost a total of 45 killed, 143 wounded, and 2 captured, for a total of 200 casualties, nearly a 40% casualty rate. Among the dead was Lt. Colonel Samuel McFarland, killed leading the assault on the confederate battery.

Click here to read more about Iowa and the Civil War.

Samuel McFarland – August 18, 1824 – December 7,1862 – age 38 – buried at Forest Home Cemetery, Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa.

A piece of personal interest with our Samuel McFarland story...

My dad, George Boller, was a newspaper man, as well, from Mt. Pleasant. Dad worked for The Mt. Pleasant News (1957-1965), which grew out of the merger of The Mt. Pleasant Observer and The Home Journal in 1857. Read more here.


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

The Clark House – Iowa City, Wikipedia

The Beginnings of Printing in Iowa, Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Annals of Iowa – Volume 19 – Number 1 – Summer 1933, p. 21

Samuel McFarland, Find-A-Grave


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