The motto of Company A, 49th Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Volunteer Group of the Year
Volunteer Group of the Year 49th Regiment Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry
Company "A", 49th Regiment Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry/SVR "The Governor's Own Iowa Rifles,” has, for many years, been outstanding in their service and support of the City of Des Moines’ cemeteries. The Governor’s Own has served as the military honor guard and presented the colors at various City historic events and also conducted memorial events and marked military graves with flags in City cemeteries in conjunction with Veterans Day and Memorial Day holidays. As part of the nation’s commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, in 2012, they conducted a historic walking tour of Woodland’s Cemetery’s Civil War gravesites and are likewise planning another event, a candle-lit walk to those same graves, in April this year to mark the end of that all-important American war. The past two years, the unit has taken on the role of providing proper Military Disposal of “unserviceable” National Flags for the City of Des Moines Park and Recreation Department in ceremonies at Des Moines’ Woodland and Glendale Municipal Cemeteries. Over 2,000 flags from the City’s parks and cemeteries as well as those from surrounding metro communities have been committed by fire, as is required by long-standing military tradition and Federal law. The Governor’s Own saw the need and response was so great that they created a larger burner/disposal unit and christened it the U.S.S. Zenti. The new unit weighs over five hundred pounds and is constructed entirely of sheet steel; it will be permanently located at Glendale Municipal Cemetery, where the “the 49th” plans to conduct several “burns” each year to accommodate the metro’s need. The Governor’s Own was able to commit five 18' X 24' unserviceable flags as well as several hundred smaller flags in the new unit with no problem at the most recent ceremony in November. Des Moines Parks and Recreation honors The Governor’s Own for their service to our forefathers, our veterans, our nation and our community, as they carry out long-standing and historic military traditions in the City’s cemeteries.
(The first photo is the presentation. Those in the second photo are: Corp. Frank Hanna, Sgt. Ron Rittel, Mayor Frank Cownie, Cemetery Board Chair Marlene Anderson, Corp. Paul Stigers, and Corp. Jeff Rasmussen. Both photos by Dan Rittel.)
The Governor’s Own continues our march toward the closing days of the Sesquicentennial Observances of the Civil War with renewed pride in past achievements, and unflagging dedication to our mission of honoring our ancestors and their sacrifices to save the Union.
The unit was made aware today that the Park and Recreation Department of the City of Des Moines has chosen to honor Company “A”, 49th Regiment, Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry as Volunteer Group of the Year for 2014.
Citing our long commitment to supporting historic activities of all sorts related to the municipal government of Iowa’s Capitol City; and, our on-going efforts in connection with Des Moines’ cemeteries through our Military Flag Retirements, marking of graves with flags at Memorial Day and Veterans Day events each year, replacing broken gravestones, and other activities, Director Ben Page released the formal announcement to the news media today, January 7th, 2015.
The 49th Iowa will join four individual awardees, and three other civic groups in receiving formal honors and recognition at an event to be held at the January Parks and Recreation Board Meeting, Des Moines City Hall, at 5:00pm on Tuesday, January 27th, 2015. The event will be televised live on the City of Des Moines’ dedicated Cable Channel 7 DMTV, and carried by other local media as well. Uniformed Guardsmen of the regiment will be in attendance to receive the honors.
Mrs. Marlene Anderson, Des Moines Parks and Recreations, was the driving force behind these honors, and is deserving of our most sincere thanks for her efforts in causing this accolade to be put forward on our behalf. It is noted with pride that our own Regimental Color Sergeant Michael J. Rowley was an individual recipient of the City’s Volunteer of the Year Award two years ago.
1/Lt. David M. Lamb Inf., Commanding The Governor’s Own
On December 30th, 2014, The Governor’s Own Iowa Rifles issued its year-end honors to five outstanding Iowans, and others for their significant contributions to this unit in its on-going mission to honor our Civil War ancestors; and/or who have made significant contributions in aiding us to preserve our historical heritage.
Governor Terry E. Branstad
Major General Timothy Orr (Adjutant General of Iowa)
Col. Robert King (Executive Director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs)
Mr. Patrick Palmersheim (Past Exec. Director of IDVA, and Iowa Coordinator of the “Wreaths across America Project”)
Each of these gentlemen have served the citizens of the State of Iowa and our nation as members of our Armed Forces; and, as elected and appointed public officials. Each have contributed enormously to the goals of this unit from its earliest days and continue to do so.
Each of these gentlemen have been presented with copies of National Historian Robert J. Wolz’ monumental work, “Grand Army Men the GAR and its male organizations” along with a certificate of appreciation for their efforts.
The Regiment wishes to formally thank author (and “Brother”) Wolz for personalizing each of these presentation volumes and for the expeditious manner in which he shipped them to us to ensure that they were received in time for presentation at the end of this year’s cycle of awards.
Mr. Terry W. McGee or Urbandale, Iowa, is the sole recipient of the Loyal Legion of Abraham Lincoln Award” for 2014 for his exceptional talents in constructing the custom-built frames for the original charter documents of the Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge Camp # 75; and, the Department of Iowa. Both documents, dating from the closing days of the nineteenth century, have undergone cleaning and conservation treatments that included being re-matted and mounted using acid-free materials, and encasement under ultra-violet neutral Plexiglas that called for the design and creation of custom made wood frames in which to permanently house these priceless artifacts of our Order. Mr. McGee donated all materials and labor to the accomplishment of these treatments and has earned the undying thanks and admiration of the entire membership of the Department of Iowa for his efforts.
Col. Robert Petrovic, Chief of Staff, Sons of Veterans Reserve, is to be awarded as an honoraria of the Military Order of the Inner Sanctum, a Gold Commemorative Badge and Certificate of the Order. The Tomb Guard badge is worn by active duty members of the 49th Iowa who have shared in the honor of having stood watch at the Tomb of President Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. Col. Petrovic has been the organizing Sons of Veterans Reserve officer for this event for several years running; and was instrumental in gaining permission from the overseers of the President’s Tomb, that bestowed upon us the honor of allowing us to stand the annual post during the SVR/MOLLUS sponsored event in April of each year. No other unit, SVR or otherwise, has ever been afforded this extreme honor and privilege, and it is through “Col. Bob’s” efforts that this has come to pass. The Regiment shall be forever indebted to him for making this honor possible. And, last, but by no means least, “The Governor’s Own” 49th Iowa wishes to acknowledge and honor our brothers from the 49th California’s “Sutter Rifles” (Sixth Military District) who are striving to begin a tradition like our own of paying true homage to the memory of our ancestors in disciplined, dignified, and militarily appropriate ways.
Our “sister” unit, though only recently formed (and established upon the framework of our own) has already participated in its first public event as it took part in the local Wreaths across America Project at a cemetery in Sacramento, California, on the same date and time as did we at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter.
As a token of our esteem and sincere wishes for success in all of their coming endeavors, and to properly commemorate the momentous occasion of their first successfully completed “mission”, the 49th Iowa has taken the liberty of ordering the first streamer to be made for the new unit’s Regimental Colors. The Kelley Green and Scarlet streamer mirrors that borne on our own Regimental Colors for this re-currant national event, and is being custom-made for them by Glendale Parade Stores of Northvale, New Jersey, who have supplied this Regiment with many of our parade and ceremonial needs since 2009.
This custom-made streamer will be sent to the 49th California as soon as it is received from the vendor.
Well done, gentlemen!
The Governor’s Own 49th Iowa most heartily extends its congratulations to all of these gentlemen and wishes them all a happy, healthy, prosperous and productive New Year on behalf of the Regiment, and the membership of the Department of Iowa.
1/Lt. David M. Lamb Inf., Commanding “The Governor’s Own” Forty-Ninth Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Robert J. Wolz National Historian, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
More than fifteen years in the making, this monumental work by noted GAR and SUVCW/SVR Historian Wolz was definitely worth the wait! It is the result of countless thousands of hours of research into the history of the veteran organization that was comprised of the soldiers, sailors, marines, and revenue cutter services men who comprised the Federal forces of the American Civil War (1861-1865); and, the various off-shoot organizations that evolved therefrom. Embodied within this historical work too, are the personal recollections of many “real sons” that the author knew from his early days in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and other of the Allied Orders.
In a recent, personal, correspondence Brother Bob shared with me that,
“As you may have noticed I referenced that I was the lone dark haired boy in a sea of gray haired older men when I joined. My SVR unit in 1962-63 brought a whole wave of under 40 into a camp held together by 5 real Sons”. He adds, “Many things told to me were by members who joined in 1900 so I somehow became the link between the Old Order and the new. Thus the need for the book.”
I could not agree more.
As a museum person and volunteer conservator myself who has spent hundreds of hours working with and around the artifacts of the Civil War, and the thousands upon thousands of physical badges, ornaments, and decorations of the Grand Army of the Republic and the subsequent organizations that Wolz so painstakingly documents in this seminal work, I can say from experience that there is not a serious student of the history of this Order, nor a museum curator in the nation, that could not benefit enormously by this outstanding work.
And, as an added benefit, helping the author diminish his now considerable stock of copies on-hand will greatly aid him in his on-going work toward completion of a companion volume on the Grand Army Women!
Please visit Brother Wolz’ website at; http://GrandArmyMen.com to order your copies for Christmas giving. You can also purchase this excellent work through the Quartermaster of the SUVCW at http://suvcw.org or find the work available through Amazon.com.
For this year’s Salvation Army “Red Kettle Campaign”, Sergeant Ron Rittel has crafted his own version of Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus and can be seen most evenings at various venues around Des Moines doing his bit to help that noble organization’s annual funds raising campaign. On most of these excursions, Sgt. Rittel-Claus is joined by his own resident helper-elf, Sister Marilyn, but today I got to play second fiddle to the Jolly Old Elf.
Ron’s Santa suit is based on the January 1863 illustration from the cover of Harper’s Weekly magazine showing St. Nick, perched on a sleigh, drawn by reindeer, and delivering packages and letters to Union soldiers. It is believed to be one of the earliest illustrations of the classic Santa Claus shown in such a conveyance.
This is the sixth year running that guardsmen of the Forty-Ninth Iowa have signed up to support the Salvation Army’s Christmas time funds raising efforts, and we are often told by the local organization that they can pretty much tell when and where our presences are by the increased donations being dropped into the kettles. It is a great way of meeting the public, and providing a meaningful service to our community. And, we get to tell the story of how Nast’s illustrations helped create the image of the iconic Santa Claus that we know today as an outgrowth of the American Civil War. Also, there is an occasional fresh cookie from one of the pastry counters involved, so it just doesn’t get a whole lot better than that!
Today’s photos were taken at the Dahl’s Grocery Store on 86th Street in Johnston, Iowa by Nick McCarty, one of the store managers. Sgt. Ron and Mrs. Rittel-Claus have another bell ringing gig tonight at a competing grocer just up the road.
Wreaths Across America 2014 End-of-Year Honors for The Governor’s Own
In 1862, as the nation entered into its second summer of the terrible carnage of the American Civil War, the Congress of the United States passed legislation authorizing President Lincoln to purchase lands to be used as cemeteries for the growing number of Union Army dead. By the following summer, fourteen parcels of land had been designated as National Cemeteries like the one at the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland where 4,476 Union soldiers were laid to rest from a single days fighting at the Battle of Antietam. By 1870, more than three-hundred thousand Union dead would lay buried in these set-aside plots of ground. More than one-half of these would be interred as “Unknowns” mostly on pieces of ground near the battlefields where they fell in the defense of freedom.
Iowa would become home to one of these National Cemeteries, during the Civil War, when some six hundred Union and eight Confederate soldiers who had died of wounds and disease at the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Hospital in Keokuk would be laid to rest near the banks of the Mississippi.
In 2004 efforts began here in Iowa to raise monies to construct a state-run Veterans Cemetery. After receipt of the generous gift of over 100 acres of land from local citizens near the town of Van Meter, construction of the current cemetery facilities began in 2007 and by the summer of 2008 the formal dedication of the facility would take place. This cemetery would become a part of more than 140 others, occupying more than 17,000 acres across the length and breadth of our nation, that are now the final resting places of over 3 million men and women who have served our nation in times of war and peace from the earliest days of the American Revolution through the current conflicts of the Global War on Terrorism.
Since the founding of this unit in 2009, the second Saturday in December has meant only one thing…Wreaths Across America at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery at Van Meter, Iowa. We have had a presence at every “Wreaths” event since. This year the frigid North winds that sometimes sweep up the rolling hillsides of this beautiful piece of hallowed ground stayed away, and the assembled guardsmen and citizens who came to honor the more than fifteen hundred veterans who are at rest here enjoyed unusual temperatures that hovered near the fifty degree mark for the course of the ceremonies.
Altogether, twelve guardsmen were present and accounted for at the 9:45am muster this morning. We were honored to have been joined today by Private Bill McAlpin of Company “B” 10th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity of having such a large contingent of our number in one place at the same time, I chose today to be the presentation date for the newly minted Gold Commemorative Badges for those who have joined the “Military Order of the Inner Sanctum” by standing Guard Duty inside the Tomb of President Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois. From today onward, guardsmen of the Forty Ninth Iowa who have performed this ritual duty in honor of our 16th President will wear the likeness of President Lincoln’ marble catafalque upon the right breast of their uniform frocks superior to all other awards and decorations that they might earn during their service to the unit. Once earned, the badge of the MOIS is a guardsman’s for life.
The unit’s next Tour of Duty at the Tomb will take place on April 11th, 2015, and it is anticipated that more members of the guard will earn their badges at that time.
Proudly receiving their Tomb Guard Badges (shown here) today were 1/Lt. David M. Lamb, 1/Sgt. James A. Braden, RCS Michael J. Rowley, CS Richard D. Grim, CS Henry Krecklow, Sgt. Ronald F. Rittel, 1/Cpl. Courtney S. Stahr, 2/Cpl. Andrew J. Braden, Cpl. Frank Hanna, Cpl. Paul Stigers, Cpl. David A. Sample (absent), Cpl. Asher Beermann (absent), Cpl. Aevon R. Hohenshell (absent).
In both our annual honoraria at the Tomb of President Lincoln; and, in the execution of our undertaken duties today, may we ever strive to live up to the motto of the Order, “Accedimus ad Honorum”, (We Come to Honor).
Col. Robert King (IANG- Ret’d), the Executive Director of Veterans Affairs for Iowa, took time from his busy schedule on the day to address the men of the 49th Iowa Honor Guard at our morning formation. The Director thanked us personally for agreeing to once again provide the official Color Guard for the day and execute the posting and retiring of the National and Iowa colors at the ceremonies, and recounted for us that the interments of veterans at the cemetery is well on its war to exceeding five hundred in 2014, with some days seeing as many as five funerals.
Patrick Palmersheim, (Former Executive Director of the Iowa Division of Veteran’s Affairs; and, current Director of the Wreaths Across America Project also welcomed us to the days ceremonies.
After posting the colors at the Committal Center, vocalist (and military veteran) KC Collins Hummel led the several hundred persons present in a magnificently done version of our National Anthem before all present recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lt. Col. Gary Selof, Chaplain, Iowa National Guard invoked the Divine blessing upon the days endeavors before opening welcome and remarks by Director Palmersheim.
BG Douglas Pierce, USAF (Ret’d) spoke eloquently of the need for our nation to honor all who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces, and to care for their families during times of both war and peace.
Military veteran Leslie Marquardt led the assemblage in singing “God Bless America” before family members and friends of a member of each branch of our nation’s military services came forward to accept the honor of placing specific wreaths on the graves of one member of each branch of our military.
Following the Benediction given by Lt/Col. Selof, bugler Gloria Doyle played “Taps” at the central flagpole outside of the Committal Center. At the completion of which, the 49th Iowa retired the colors, bringing the formal ceremonies to a close.
Guardsmen of the regiment then assisted the families and volunteers in the placement of over 1,800 wreaths at the headstones, monuments, memorials and columbaria of the cemetery.
As in the preceding years of the unit’s history, this event will mark the last time of the season that the majority of us will be in the same space at the same time. From now until the end of the year, individual guardsmen and small groups of us will be participating in the Salvation Army’s “Red-Kettle Campaign” as bell-ringers; and, actively participating in the United States Marine Corps Reserve’s annual “Toys for Tots” drive across the state of Iowa.
On behalf of the regiment, it is my singular honor to wish all who read these pages a Joyous Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy, and Peaceful New Year!
1/Lt. David M. Lamb Commanding
(Two previous fresh snow photos taken by Commander Lamb, 01.05.2015)
As we have done now for several years running, guardsmen of the Governor’s Own have travelled to the South-Central Iowa town of Albia to join in the local celebration that has come to be known as the Victorian Christmas Stroll, held in the evening of the first Saturday in the month of December.
This year’s gala seemed particularly appropriate, falling as it did on the celebration of Saint Nicholas’s Day. In this country, as so-called Christmas traditions have evolved, children typically anticipate the receiving of gifts from Saint Nick on the eve (Dec. 24th) the celebration of the Christian Advent on the following day. In parts of Europe, where many of our modern-day concepts of the “traditions” of Christmas arose, many children receive their presents of December 6th.
This year, as we celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the final Christmas season when our nation was engaged in the bloody struggles of the American Civil War, one of our devoted Brother Rifleman, Sgt. Ronald Rittel, added a bit of an interesting twist of his own when he designed and built his own interpretation of a Civil War Santa inspired by the works of the war-time artist, illustrator, Thomas Nast.
Nast, born in Germany in 1840,
grew to fame in this country as a serious illustrator-caricaturist and editorial cartoonist before, during, and after the Civil War; and, as a chronicler of the corruption of the nefarious political quagmire of “Boss Tweed” and Tammany Hall. He is credited also with the commonly conceived images of both “Uncle Sam” and “Santa Claus” as we know them today.
Sgt. Rittel nicely melded both into his own version of “Sam-ta Claus” by combining the red and white stripped trousers of the former, with the star-studded (one-time military) sack coat of the latter….much to the delight of all who encountered him during our rounds of the courthouse green and streets of Albia last evening.
Seen here seated in a sleigh on the grounds of the Appanoose County Courthouse, Sgt. Rittel was bidding his heartiest “Ho-Ho-Ho” to the delighted crowds, when snapped by Sister Deb Grim.
Colors Sergeant Jake Grim, Corporal David Sample, and myself acted as flank-men for the erstwhile Santa on his rounds to make merry all who encountered him over the course of the evening.
But, I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!
Clement Clark Moore, 1823, in “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (aka The Night Before Christmas).
The 49th’s Navy Launching exercises for the U.S.S. Zenti 8 November, 2014
To facilitate what has, at times, seemed to be an almost overwhelming response to this unit’s Military Flag Disposal ceremonies, we commissioned Color Sergeant Louie Zenti (who operates a metal fabrication business in his “civilian” life) to build for the unit a larger burner/disposal unit than the one that he had previously fabricated for us. That initial burner has been in use for these ceremonial committals for the past year or so, but the supply of unserviceable flags being turned in to us for dignified disposal through the Des Moines Cemeteries and Parks and Recreation Board, has far outstripped the capacity of that smaller unit and resulted in a surplus of flags awaiting disposal according to Federal law and military protocol.
In naval terms, if you think of our old unit as a row-boat….the new unit (which saw its first use in today) is at least a Destroyer Escort!
It seems appropriate, therefore, to christen this new burn unit as the U.S.S. Zenti, and it will be given the hull classification of DE-2. Weighing in at just in excess of five-hundred pounds, and constructed entirely of sheet steel, the newly commissioned Zenti will be more or less permanently moored at Des Moines’ Glendale Municipal Cemetery, and future consignment ceremonies will take place there instead of at Woodland.
Today, the Zenti easily accommodated over 1,000 flags for disposal in a matter of just over two hours start to finish. Five of today’s unserviceable flags were Garrison sized 18 by 24 feet. These flags are far too large for the old burner to handle, but this one found them to be no problem whatsoever, even with the brisk northerly breeze that was blowing at the 1100 starting time for the disposal ceremonies.
The seven guardsmen who participated in today’s detail came away not altogether uncertain that we could not have incinerated a Mini-Cooper in this unit if the need arose….but at any rate, she proved herself to be a vast improvement over our smaller disposal unit and will play a significant role in our continuing flag disposal activities for years to come. It some point in time, the unit may consider allowing other civic groups to use the disposal unit for their own flag retirement exercises as well.
May the Zenti know only fair winds and following seas!
1/Lt. David M. Lamb First Officer U.S.S. Zenti
If we cannot work together to honor and save the memories of our past veterans, the shadow of memories, respect, and love will fade; and, so will the nation they defended.
In October of 1864 a group of armed men claiming to be “Confederate partisans” dressed partially in Union Army uniforms crossed into Southern Iowa from Missouri along the border of Van Buren County near the small village of Upton, before turning west to travel through the southern edge of rural Davis County just a few miles above the Missouri Border. They came to rob, commit mayhem…and murder.
It has long been speculated that local “Copperheads” in that part of Iowa who were generally opposed to the Civil War, and sympathetic toward the Confederate “cause” had provided information to the group either directly or indirectly related to potential targets for robbery and possible targets for violence.
Just a few weeks before the “raid” several local farmers had sold horses to be used as cavalry mounts to stock buyers from the Union Army, and it was widely known that the troopers from the Federal Commissary Corps had paid cash for the purchased horses. It was also known that several soldiers were either home on leave at the time, or had recently been discharged from active service in the Union armies. Both groups may have been “targeted” by the guerrillas.
By the time the ten or twelve “raiders” returned across the border into Missouri, they had robbed several citizens that they came upon of several hundreds of dollars, stolen guns, watches, horses, and practically anything else of value and left behind three dead men. To the clothing of two of their victims they had pinned hand-written notes claiming that they had been “Killed in retaliation for David Plunket, who was murdered by Federal soldiers near Glasgow, Mo. By order of James Jackson, Lieutenant Commanding, Oct. 12, 1864.”
Research by many historians over the course of the past one-hundred and fifty years has not revealed any known incidence of a Confederate soldier named David Plunket; nor has anyone turned up information related to an incident where someone of that name was “murdered by Federal Soldiers near Glasgow, MO.”
This weekend marked the one-hundred-and fiftieth anniversary of the actual events of the raid and as such, the Department of Iowa, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War assisted local historical societies in observing the event by having our National Order declare it a Sesquicentennial Signature Event. Four members of the Honor Guard of the Forty-ninth Iowa manned an informational table and display of period weaponry of the Civil War near the Sutlers tents, and the nearby campsites of the re-enactors who had come to participate in the various activities related to the event throughout the weekend. Musical entertainment was provided by the 33rd Illinois Regimental Band playing music of the war years on Period instruments.
Few words in the English language are better known than those simple four words lifted from the text of President Lincoln’s speech delivered upon the occasion of the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery at Gettysburg on the afternoon of November 19th, 1863. Simple and timeless in their expression of the awesome costs that were being paid by tens of thousands to secure the nation’s future, as a free society among the races of men. They speak as eloquently today from across the void of the interceding one-hundred and fifty one years as they did on that cloudy afternoon on a Pennsylvania hillside; and, they should remind us all that when this nation has been in peril, young men (joined now by our sisters) have always stepped forward to pay the price extracted from each generation it seems for the liberties we enjoy.
It has been said that when a soldier dons the uniform and picks up a rifle he or she is signing his/her name to a blank check with the amount payable being any price needed up to and including that of his or her life. For most of us who have worn the uniforms of our nation in times of war or peace, we managed to fill in some lesser amount. But for some, the most terrible price imaginable was extracted. Such was the case of the six brothers of the Littleton family of tiny Toolesboro, Iowa during the American Civil War.
This is a story of noble sacrifice in the cause of freedom that has gone untold, and unremembered it seems, for the better part of the past one and one-half centuries, and is yet unfolding. What is known is that the loss of these six brothers from one family represents what is believed to be the largest single sacrifice to be laid upon the alter of freedom by any single family in the history of this nation. And now, that sacrifice is finally coming to be known and will ultimately be commemorated. The story is yet incomplete, and may never be completely known…but what is known is astounding.
James Littleton was a man of “mixed” racial heritage. A “mulatto” in the parlance of the nineteenth century to refer to someone whose ancestry was the blending of the black and white races. Little to nothing is known of who James Littleton’s parents were and under what circumstances they came together to bring a child into a world that was not enormously accepting of “persons of color” in the early half of the nineteenth century. It is know that James married a Caucasian woman named Martha (maiden name and nativity as yet unknown) in Maryland and they began a family. George H., John W., and Thomas S. would be born between 1828 and 1836; and, it was likely soon after the birth of Thomas that the family left Maryland for Ohio. (One bit of family oral tradition holds that James’ lineage was in-part Native American instead of African American).
While living there (Ohio) two more children, William M. (b.1837) and Mary (b. 1839) would be born before the family again continued their westward odyssey.
The Littleton’s arrived in 1840 in what would become Louisa County when the territory became the 29th state in 1846. They purchased 200 acres of land near where the Iowa River empties into the Mississippi and began to clear land for what would become the family farm near the site of the ancient Hopewell Mounds from a far older culture that had inhabited these forested bluffs above the Father of Rivers centuries earlier.
With settlement into their new homestead, came the births of Rebecca (1841), twins Permilla and Kendall (1843), Noah (1845), and Sarah (whose year of birth is yet unknown).
Martha Littleton died in 1853. James Littleton (doubtlessly needing help with his young family) would marry twice more following Martha’s death, but he himself would die in 1860 before the first cannon shots rang out across Charleston Harbor. Both would be buried in Louisa County’s “Potters Timber Cemetery”.
First of the brothers to enlist was Thomas Littleton into Company “C”, 5th Iowa Infantry on July 16th, 1861. Mustered in Burlington, Iowa, the regiment would move to Keokuk, thence to St. Louis to become part of Fremont’s Army of the West, then form part of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division of the Army of the Mississippi. It would be transferred to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, which constituted the Left Wing of the 13th Army Corps (Old) Army of the Tennessee.
Thomas would have taken part in “smaller” engagements at New Madrid, Island #10 and Fort Pillow before being part of the siege of Corinth, battles of Iuka and Champions Hill before the investiture of the siege lines around Vicksburg. He moved on with his regiment toward Chattanooga and Tunnell Hill in September and October of 1863. Thomas was taken prisoner in late November of 1863 at Mission Ridge and died of chronic diarrhea at Andersonville Prison on June 16, 1864. He is buried in Grave # 2045 at the National Cemetery there.
William Merrill Littleton followed Thomas into the growing Federal armies when he enlisted in Company “K” of the 8th Iowa Infantry on September 11, 1861. Like many Iowa boys, William would experience his baptism of fire in the crucible of Shiloh where he was wounded while defending the fabled “Hornet’s Nest” on April 6th, 1862. He would be withdrawn before that line was overrun, and would be sufficiently recovered to continue with his regiment to Corinth where he began the siege with his comrades at the end of April. Promoted to the rank of Corporal on March 2, 1863, William is known to have accompanied the advancing remnants of his already torn and tattered regiment into the bayou country of Mississippi up until mid-October when he fell ill. He was transported back up river to the Hospital at Jefferson Barracks just outside St. Louis, where he too would succumb to “chronic diarrhea on December 12th, 1863. Corporal William Merrill Littleton is buried in Grave #101, Section 31 of the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks.
First-born of the children in 1828 George Handy Littleton was thirty-four years of age, working (as a “cooper”) and residing in New Boston, Illinois when the war began. He enlisted in Company “B” 65th Illinois Infantry on March 26th, 1862. It is believed that he saw limited actual fighting up until being captured at Harpers Ferry, Virginia during one of the several engagements that saw that pivotal supply and ordnance depot on the banks of the Potomac where it meets the Shenandoah change hands. Scant records indicate that George was “paroled” by his Confederate captors to Camp Sherman, Chicago, Illinois, due to disease and disability. He died of disease (perhaps contracted while serving) on December 8th, 1862. His burial place is unknown, but may be in the cemetery at “Potter’s Timber” near where his parents are at rest.
Kendall Littleton was nineteen when he enlisted in Company “F” of the 19th Iowa Infantry on July 21st, 1862. He was the first “Iowa born” Littleton boy to enlist (and die) in the war. Organized in Keokuk, the regiment was ordered to St Louis and assigned to the District of Southwest Missouri. The regiment then moved first to Rolla, and then Springfield in the fall of 1862. They would see their first “major” fight at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7th, 1862. The 19th Iowa under the command of Brigadier General Francis J. Herron would occupy the center of the beleaguered Federal line as it bore the brunt of the Confederate assault. Kendall Littleton would perish during the fighting. His brothers, John and Noah who were members of the same company of the 19th may have seen him fall. It is unknown (for certain) whether his remains were consigned to one of the trench burials of mass casualties upon the battlefield; or whether they may have eventually been exhumed and re-interred elsewhere. The first scenario is most likely, but in either case his whereabouts are known but to his Creator.
John Shelby Littleton enlisted into Company “F” of the 19th Iowa on August 21st, 1862 (exactly one month to the day after Kendall). While we have no written records of their thoughts on that day we know that John was a widower at age 31, having lost both his 18 year old wife and 18 month old daughter before entering the army. He is the only known brother to have married and fathered a child. John also fought at Prairie Grove beside his brothers Kendall and Noah. He too was severely wounded in the fighting of December 7th and survived to be taken to a field hospital in Fayetteville, Arkansas where he lingered until December 18th, 1862. John Littleton is buried in an unmarked grave at the National Cemetery in Fayetteville.
Noah Littleton enlisted into Company “F”, 19th Iowa, on the same day as his brother, John. At only seventeen years of age, Noah may well have envisioned the brothers’ entry into the war as a jaunt to “see the elephant” as so many of their peers would express as motivation for entering the service of their nation. Noah would see his brother’s fall on the field at Prairie Grove, and must have been devastated by their loss. Is spite of the cruel sting of those losses, young Noah would soldier on with his regiments until a fate caught up with him on March 1, 1863 when a large forage train that he was a part of embarked on a small ferry to cross the White River near Forsythe, Missouri from an expedition to Yellville, Arkansas. In the middle of the cold and rapidly boiling waters, something went drastically wrong with the guy ropes causing one of them to break and the ferry boat to pitch wildly to one side and break apart. Noah and six other soldiers and several pack mules would drown in the icy waters of the White. Noah’s body was recovered and buried at the Springfield, Missouri National Cemetery in Grave #873, Site 16.
The surviving Littleton sisters, for reasons not entirely known, apparently did not widely proclaim their loss to their neighbors, friends or families, and the story of the Littleton Brothers was nearly lost to us until just a few short years ago when local historians from Louisa County began to become aware of the uniqueness of this chapter of Iowa and regional history.
What information that has been learned is largely through the efforts of Tom Woodruff and Ed Baine of the Louisa County Historical Society, who began researching all of this after viewing an obscure newspaper clipping from a 1907 article in the Columbus (Iowa) Gazette that was found in an old scrapbook donated to the society by a lady in far-off North Carolina. This provided the spark that would ignite a fire in both Woodruff and Baine and lead them on a voyage of discovery that is yet on-going.
Many others would join in as the idea of creating a fitting memorial to the service and sacrifice of this family, but here too, Woodruff and Baine have been the driving forces that have carried the project forward to the point where monies are now being raised to finance the project.
For further information, please see the September/October issue of “Iowa History Journal” article entitled ”Last Full Measure of Devotion”; Civil War Claimed All Six Littleton Brothers, by author John Busbee (on newsstands now).
On September 25th the Louisa County Historical Society and various historic, veterans, and civic groups held a kick-off funds-raising event in Wapello to begin their formal campaign to raise $250,000.00 to build a fitting monument to the service and sacrifice of this exceptional family. Plans call for a nine-foot high stela of black “Mesabi” granite from quarries in Wisconsin designed by Will Thomson of Iowa City. It will rest atop a two-foot base of gray Barre granite that will bear the family name of “LITTLETON” across its face. The black granite stela will be cut off in a rough-cut fashion at the top to symbolize the six lives left uncompleted by the cruel acts of war. Symbolic artwork will adorn the front face of the stela that will depict six infantrymen moving forward into the smoke and confusion of battle, and the names and unit identifiers of each of the brothers will adorn one side while the reverse will tell the story of their heroic sacrifice.
The monument will sit on property that was given by the county government to the project and will include a paved plaza, walkways, and six planted Oak trees that will provide living memorials to each of the Littleton brothers. It will be located adjacent to the Hopewell Mounds mentioned earlier in this article, and near where the Littleton family farmstead was located.
The monument will be titled “Their Last Full Measure of Devotion”, a reference excerpted from President Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address.”
Another irony of this story is that designer/artist Will Thomson traces his own family lineage back to a great-grandfather who served as an infantry captain in the armies of the Confederacy. His ancestor fought at many of the major engagements in the Eastern Theater of the war and was present at the surrender of Lee’s army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox in April, 1865. Thomson’s great-grandfather received his parole upon swearing to not bear arms against the Federal government or engage in further violence in that cause before walking home to North Carolina to resume his life as a farmer.
If you are interested in donating to this worthy undertaking, please contact the Louisa County Historical Society and send donations to:
Watch this website for further information on the progress of the funds-raising, related news and events; and ultimately the formal dedication ceremonies that will take place once the monument is built and ready to be opened to the public (projected for 2016).