William Penn Clarke – Iowa City’s Abolitionist. In the 1840’s, a passionate abolitionist arrived in Iowa City, and immediately went to work spreading the word of freedom, writing many editorials for The Iowa Standard newspaper. A leader of the Free Soil Party in Iowa, W. P. Clarke became a personal supporter of John Brown, hosting the bold abolitionist on his many trips through Iowa (1854-1859). Active with The Underground Railroad across Iowa, this “Wide-Awake” lawyer was instrumental in transitioning the Whig Party into the Republican Party that nominated Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860.
George D. Woodin & The Lane Trail. In the 1850’s the anti-slavery movement was gaining momentum, and Iowa was strategically located to be right in the midst of the battle. When Kansas Territory opened up, John Brown and many others needed the help of compassionate Iowans to help organize The Underground Railroad. George D. Woodin, from Iowa City, working alongside W.P. Clarke, was one of those Iowans.
The Wide Awake Abolitionist & Keeper Of The Fair. Did you know that in the late 1850’s, Republicans were the “awakened” party, with thousands of young voters joining “Wide-Awake” chapters in nearly every county of every Northern “Free” state? It’s this awakened generation that played a huge part in electing a relatively-unknown senator from Illinois, named Abraham Lincoln, to be the 16th President of the U.S. Here in Iowa, brave abolitionists like Dr. J.M. Shaffer of Fairfield helped set the pace for such radical change, and by the way – Dr. Shaffer was also the key leader that helped pull together Iowa’s very first State Fair!
Samuel J. Kirkwood – Iowa’s Civil War Governor. After the Lincoln-Douglass debates changed American politics, gubernatorial candidates Samuel Kirkwood and Augustus Dodge crisscrossed Iowa debating the pros and cons of slavery. In 1860, Iowans chose rightly, sending Kirkwood to Des Moines, opening the door for a humble miller from Coralville to become Iowa’s famous Civil War Governor.
Iowa & The Underground Railroad. From the moment Iowa was first proposed to become the 29th State in the Union, the pressure was on the good people of The Hawkeye State to decide if we would be a northern state, siding with those against slavery, or join with our neighbors to the south, Missouri, which was a slave state. Iowa overwhelming supported freedom for all, thus becoming an important stop in The Underground Railroad.
Iowa & The Civil War – 1861-1865. As a ‘free state’ Iowans played a major role in the Civil War. Under the leadership of Iowa’s Civil War Governor – Samuel Kirkwood – Iowa offered 48 infantry regiments, 9 cavalry regiments and 4 batteries of artillery to the Union troops. The Hawkeye State also furnished one black regiment and one thousand replacement troops for the war effort between 1861 and 1865.
1862 – Seeking Iowa Civil War Promotions. Between 1861 and 1865, Iowa – with a total population of 674,913 in 1860 – provided 76,534 men to fight with the Union Army. In fact, Iowa contributed more troops per capita to the Union Army than any other state. Here’s the 1862 story of four brave Iowa soldiers who gave their all for the war effort, and in the end, were rewarded with promotions that led to major leadership roles later in life.
1863 – A Proclamation Of Thanksgiving Across America. On October 20, 1863 – in the midst of the great Civil War – President Abraham Lincoln issued a powerful statement from the White House – calling all Americans to stop on the last Thursday in November, be thankful, and remember the great abundance of “gracious gifts of the Most High God.” A good reminder for all of us, yet today.
Meet Four Iowa City Civil War Veterans. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, a unique group of four young Iowa Citians enlisted for the Union Army: two Pritchard brothers – James E. & John N., and two good friends of the Pritchards – John C. Rutan and William W. Kirkwood. Fortunately, we have three of their postal covers and two personal letters written during the war years – letters that offer us amazing insight into both their personal lives and turbulent times in which they lived.
Mattie & Me – Iowa City’s A.B. Cree. When it comes to Civil War letters, there’s no one like Iowa City’s Alfred B. Cree and his collection of letters to “the one I love best” – Mrs. A.B. Cree – or Mattie – for short. From 1862-1865, Captain Cree faithfully wrote back home as his regiment trekked across the south from Texas to New Orleans, from Tennessee to North Carolina and Virginia, finally mustering out in Savannah, Georgia in July 1865.
The Great American Postage Stamp Exchange Of 1861. After the Civil War broke out in April 1861, the U.S. Postal Service was concerned that rebels in the Confederate States would sell their U.S. postage stamps back to northerners – thus providing funding for the South. By mid-year, a whole new set of U.S. stamps was issued with strict instructions for postmasters in the North to make the transition from old to new within a six-day window. Obviously, with communication and transportation issues slowing things down, this Great American Postage Stamp Exchange of 1861 had a few hiccups along the way!
Iowa City’s Civil War Postmaster – J.R. Hartsock. During the Civil War, moving mail quickly across the nation was a high priority. Here in Iowa City, we had a dedicated postmaster who took this job seriously, and in the process, won over the hearts of Iowa Citians. Upon his retirement in 1872, the new building/hotel on the southeast corner of Clinton Street & Iowa Avenue was named after him.
Major Ira J. Alder – The Hundred-Day Civil War Veteran. In 1864, the North desperately needed more man-power. President Lincoln approved a recruitment idea that added over 80,000 men to the war effort, asking each man for a 100-day commitment. SUI student, Ira Alder was one of those young men who served his country and then returned to Iowa City, being called The Major until his death in 1922.
Henry County’s Newspaperman, Statesman & Civil War Hero. Here’s a salute to Samuel McFarland, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa’s Civil War hero who also played a big part in the history of Iowa City as it transitioned from State Capitol to Home of the University of Iowa.