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Roster and Record
Iowa Soldiers
Vol. 6 - Miscellaneous


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Historical Sketch

Northern Border Brigade

(State Militia)


Prior to the commencement of the great War of the Rebellion, troops belonging to the Regular Army of the United States had been located at the various military posts on the northern and western frontiers, for the purpose of restraining the Indians from committing depredations upon the pioneer settlers, whose homes were located upon those frontiers.  The sudden emergency -- with which the General Government found itself confronted -- rendered the withdrawal of the Federal troops from those military posts a matter of necessity.  The Regular Army establishment -- which then existed -- constituted only a nucleus for the great army of volunteers which was being hastily organized, and every trained officer and soldier was needed at the front in the South to resist the hosts of armed traitors who had taken the field, and were threatening to dissolve the Union.

The savage Indian tribes were quick to take advantage of the situation, and a series of depredations and massacres of whole families of the settlers ensued.   For a time it seemed that there was no safety for any of those hardy pioneers, and that they must all be either driven from their homes or share the fate of those who had already met death at the hands of the Indians.  A few of the settlers who lived nearest each other had the hardihood to remain in their homes and, by banding themselves together, and converting the largest cabin in their neighborhood into a temporary blockhouse, where they could meet for common defense when the danger signal was given, indulged the hope that they might be able to keep the Indians at bay until the troops -- which they had been told were on the way -- could come to their rescue.  Nearly all of those who thus remained were killed or taken captives by the Indians.  By far the greater number, however, adopted the wiser course of abandoning their homes, and seeking safety in the interior of the State until such time as the presence of troops would make it reasonably safe for them to return.  Most of the men -- after placing their families in safety -- enlisted and remained in the service of the State until peace was restored.

It will thus be seen that the war, inaugurated by the Southern States, imposed an unusually heavy burden upon those Northern States which, in addition to furnishing their full quota of troops for the regiments which were being sent to the South, were compelled to protect their own frontiers from the incursions of hostile Indians.  The Governors of Iowa and Minnesota earnestly co-operated in their efforts to give adequate protection to the helpless settlers on the borders of their respective States.  In response to their calls, militia companies were promptly raised and, as rapidly as they could be armed and equipped, were dispatched to the frontier.  There were no railroads, and the navigation of the Missouri River -- which was depended upon for forwarding supplies to Sioux City and points north of that place -- was rendered exceedingly dangerous by the bands of lurking savages along its banks.  relief was therefore necessarily slow in reaching the imperiled settlers.

The official records show that, prior to the organization of the Northern Border Brigade, the only regularly organized companies of Iowa troops which had been engaged in active service on the northern frontier were Captain Andrew J. Millard's Sioux City Cavalry Company, and Companies A, B and C, of the Fourteenth Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  The Sioux City Cavalry Company, having been raised nearest the scene of the Indian troubles, was the first to take the field.  It was composed of men inured to the hardships of frontier life, and generally acquainted with the Indian methods of warfare.  The officers and men of this company rendered long, arduous and heroic service on the northern border and in the Indian Territory, first as an independent company, and subsequently as a part of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, to which regiment, it was transferred.  (Note:  See historical sketches of the Sioux City Cavalry Company and Seventh Iowa Cavalry, in Vol. IV, of this work.)

Companies A, B and C of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry, were detached from the regiment very soon after it was mustered into the service of the United States, and were ordered to proceed to Fort Randall, Dacotah Territory, for the purpose of relieving the battalion of United States troops, which composed the garrison at that fort.   These three infantry companies marched from their camp near Iowa City, by way of Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Sioux City, Iowa, to Fort Randall -- a distance of five hundred fifty miles -- in thirty-five days.  They were subsequently permanently detached from the Fourteenth Iowa and became the Forty-first Iowa Infantry Battalion, and were assigned to service on the frontier.  Upon the organization of the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, these companies were transferred to that regiment, which constituted a part of the command of General Sully, and remained in the northwest, engaged in active service against the Indians, until the close of the war.  (Note:  See historical sketches of the Fourteenth Iowa Infantry, in Vol. II, and the Seventh Iowa Cavalry, in Vol. IV, of this work.)

The foregoing statement, as to the conditions which existed on the northern border and the part taken by Iowa troops in the early part of the war with the Indians, has been made as an introduction to the history which follows.  It became evident that the Indians could not be completely subdued by the forces then operating against them, and that adequate protection could not be furnished to the settlers, without the establishment of a regularly organized body of State troops and the erection of a chain of defenses along the Iowa frontier.  In his official report (Vol. 2, 1863, pages 861 to 870 inclusive), Adjutant General Baker -- after making a preliminary statement of the conditions then existing -- quotes the reports made to the Governor, and his orders and instructions with reference to the formation of the Northern Border Brigade.  The statement, copies of some of the reports in full, and of others in part, are here given as follows:

The Indian outbreak in Minnesota in the latter part of August and in September, 1862, as well as the threatening attitude of the Indians on our own frontier, having alarmed our citizens on the border, and numerous appeals for aid and protection being made by them to the Governor; His Excellency, on the 13th of September, 1862, appointed S. R. Ingham, Esq., of Des Moines, as his agent to proceed to the exposed frontier of the State, to give the matter his personal and immediate attention.  His reports show his prompt, energetic and able performance of this duty. -- A. G.

To His Excellency, S. J. Kirkwood, Governor of Iowa,

Sir:  Under your instructions, place in my hands August 29, 1862, of which the following is a copy:

"August 29, 1862.

Sir:  I am informed there is probably danger of an attack by hostile Indians, on the inhabitants of the Northwestern portion of our State.  Arms and powder will be sent to you at Fort Dodge, lead and caps will be sent with you.  I hand you an order on the Auditor of State for one thousand dollars.  You will please proceed at once to Fort Dodge, and from there to such other points as you may deem proper.   Use the arms, ammunition and money placed at your disposal, in such manner as your judgment may dictate as best to promote the object in view, to-wit:  the protection of the inhabitants of the frontier.  It would be well to communicate with Captain Millard, commanding the company of mounted men raised for United States service at Sioux City.

Place any men you may deem it advisable to raise under his command.   Use your discretion in all things, and exercise any power I could exercise if I were present, according to your best discretion.  Please report to me in writing.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Samuel J. Kirkwood."

I have the honor to report that, in compliance therewith, I at once proceeded to the northern border of our State, to ascertain the extent of the supposed difficulties, and to do the needful for the protection of our frontier settlements, should circumstances warrant or demand.  I visited Dickinson, Emmet, Palo Alto, Kossuth, Humboldt and Webster Counties; found many of the inhabitants in a high state of excitement, and laboring under a constant fear of an attack by Indians.  Quite a number of families were leaving their homes and moving into the more thickly settled portions of the State.  This feeling, however, seemed to be more intense and to run higher in the more inland and remote counties from the border than in the border counties themselves.  In Emmet and Kossuth, both border counties, I had the settlers called together in order that I might learn from them their views and wishes as to what ought to be done for their safety, or rather what was necessary to satisfy and quiet their fears and apprehensions.  They expressed themselves freely and were very temperate in their demands.  They said all they wanted or deemed necessary for the protection of the northern border was a small force of mounted men, stationed on the east and west forks of the Des Moines River, to act in concert with the United States troops, then stationed at Spirit Lake; but that this force must be made up of men, such as they could choose from amongst themselves, who were familiar with the country and had been engaged in hunting and trapping for years, and were more or less familiar with the habits and customs of the Indians, one of which men would be worth half a dozen such as the State had sent up there on one or two former occasions.  In a small force of this kind they would have confidence, but would not feel safe with a much larger force of young and inexperienced men, such as are usually raised in the more central portions of the State.

I at one authorized a company to be raised in Emmet, Kossuth, Palo Alto and Humboldt Counties.  Within five days forty men were enlisted; held an election for officers, were mustered in, furnished with arms and ammunition, and placed on duty, twenty at Chain Lake, and twenty at Estherville, on the west fork of the Des Moines.   I authorized them to fill up the company to eighty men, if necessity should demand such an addition to the force.  At Spirit Lake, in Dickinson County, I found some forty men stationed, under command of Lieutenant Sawyers, of Captain Millard's company, Sioux City Cavalry, in the United States service.  From the best information I could obtain, I deemed this a sufficient force and therefore took no action to increase the protection at this point, further than to furnish the settlers with thirty stand of arms, and a small amount of ammunition, for which I took bond as hereinafter stated.  Not being able to see Captain Millard, he being at Sioux City, I did not place the company raised under his command, but simply made an arrangement with Lieutenant Sawyers, by which the forces were to act together until such time as I should be able to see the Captain . . . . . . .

The remainder of Mr. Ingham's report relates mainly to the further distribution of arms and ammunition to responsible men among the settlers, to be distributed for use only in cases of emergency, when it might become necessary for all who were capable of bearing arms to unite their strength for the common defense, and act in conjunction with the regularly organized companies who were constantly on duty.  He concludes his report as follows:

Having done all that seemed necessary for the protection of the settlers of the more exposed of the northern border counties, I returned to Fort Dodge on the 8th day of September, intending to proceed at once to Sioux City, and make all necessary arrangements for the protection of the settlements on the northwestern border.  At that point I was informed that the Legislature -- then in extra session -- had passed a bill providing for the raising of troops for the protection of our borders against hostile Indians.  I therefore deemed it best to report to you for further instructions, and did so report on the 10th of September.  On the 13th day of that month, you placed in my hands the following instructions, together with your General Orders No. 1.

"Executive Office, Des Moines, Sept. 13, 1862.

S. R. Ingham, Esq. --

Sir:  You are intrusted with the organization of the forces provided by law for the defense of the northwestern frontier, and with furnishing them with subsistence and forage during and after their organization; also with the posting of the troops raised, at such points as are best calculated to effect the object proposed, until the election of the officer who will command the entire force, and generally with the execution of the orders issued of this date, in connection with this force.  It is impossible to foresee the contingencies that may arise, rendering necessary a change in these orders, or the prompt exercise of powers not therein contained, and delay for the purpose of consulting me might result disastrously.  In order to avoid such results as far as possible, I hereby confer upon you all the powers I myself have in this regard.   You may change, alter, modify or add to the orders named, as in your sound discretion you may deem best.  You may make such other and further orders as the exigencies of the case may, in your judgment, render necessary.  In short, you may do all things necessary for the protection of the frontier, as fully as I could do if I were personally present and did the same.  The first object is the security of the frontier; the second, that this object be effected as economically as is consistent with its prompt and certain attainment.  All officers and citizens are enjoined to co-operate with you, and yield to you the same assistance and obedience they would to me, and I hereby ratify and confirm all you may do in the premises.  You are further fully authorized to employ any person or persons whom, in your judgment, you may deem necessary to assist you in the execution of your commission.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Samuel J. Kirkwood."

If will thus be seen that Mr. Ingham was given full power and authority to put into effect the law authorizing the organization of the Northern Border Brigade.   The good judgment which he had exercised in forming the companies already raised, and in the entire discharge of his duty under his former commission from the Governor, fully justified the confidence reposed in him.  He at once proceeded to organize and muster into the service the companies named in the order, at the places designated, as follows:  Webster City, Fort Dodge, Denison and Sioux City.  He also ordered the construction of blockhouses and stockades at Correctionville, Cherokee, Peterson, Estherville and Chain Lakes.  At Spirit Lake a strong stockade had already been constructed.  These places formed the nucleus of the principal settlements on the northwestern border of the State.  With the completion of these defenses, and their occupation by the four companies last organized, and the two previously stationed at Chain Lakes and Estherville, a force of two hundred fifty mounted men, well armed and equipped, were ready at all times to co-operate with the cavalry forces under General Sully, then operating against the hostile tribes of Indians beyond the border.  The wisdom of the action of the Governor, in asking for the necessary legislation to enable him to place an adequate force upon the border, was demonstrated by the security subsequently afforded to the settlers.  Most of those who had fled in terror from their homes returned and resumed the cultivation of their farms, with the knowledge that, in case of attack by the Indians, there were places of refuge provided for them.  Mr. Ingham -- in closing his official report -- says:  "From information in my possession, I am entirely satisfied that it will be necessary to keep this entire force on duty, after the completion of the blockhouses and stockades, on which they are now engaged."

While the danger from attack was not so great as it had been before these precautions were taken, the fact remained that the number of Indian warriors then engaged in hostilities far exceeded the number of troops under the command of General Sully.   In spite of the disparity in numbers, however, the splendid troops, under the command of that brave and intrepid General, had defeated the Indians in several pitched battles, and had driven them far beyond the frontier  The danger was that other Indian tribes, which had thus far refused to join those actively hostile, might be induced to go upon the war path, and, with greatly increased numbers, succeed in compelling General Sully's forces to fall back to the settlements on the frontier.  Keeping in mind the horrible events of the recent past, there was still much to justify the feeling of anxiety which pervaded the minds of both settlers and soldiers in those border counties of Iowa.   To show how well this feeling was justified, the following extract from the report of George L. Davenport, Esq., who had been sent by governor Kirkwood to confer with Governor Ramsey of Minnesota, is here given:

. . . . . . Upon my arrival at St. Paul, I called upon Governor Ramsey, who gave me all the information in his power.  He informed me that the outbreak of the Sioux Indians is of the most serious character, and the massacre of men, women and children of the frontier settlements, the largest known in the history of the country.   Nearly six hundred persons are known to be killed, and over one hundred women and children are in the hands of the savages as prisoners.  The Indians are very bold and defiant, repeatedly attacking the forts and the troops sent out against them.  They have plundered many stores and farm houses, and have driven off a very large number of cattle and horses.  The Indians continue to attack the settlements almost every week, keeping up a constant alarm among the people.  It is estimated that over five thousand persons have left their homes and all of their property, causing immense loss and suffering.  Governor Ramsey informs me that he will have, in a short time, about four thousand troops to operate against the Indians, one thousand of which will be cavalry, as soon as horses can be obtained. . . . .

It is proposed to erect stockade forts, at short distances apart, along a frontier of two hundred miles, and garrison them with forty or fifty men each.  This, it is supposed, will induce many to return to their farms and feel that they are protected, and, in case of alarm, have a place to fly to.  I am much alarmed in regard to the safety of the settlements on the northwestern border of our State.  I think they are in imminent danger of an attack at any moment, and will be in constant danger and alarm during the coming winter.  As the Indians are driven back from the eastern part of Minnesota, they will fall back towards the Missouri slope, and will make inroads upon our Iowa settlements. . . . . . (Note:  Report of Adjutant of Iowa, 1863, Vol. 2, pages 867-8.)

The foregoing official report, showing the terrible calamity that had come upon the hapless settlers in Minnesota, afforded full justification for the prompt action taken by the Iowa legislature and Governor Kirkwood.  Had such action been delayed, the depopulation of those border counties would have resulted, either on account of the actual warfare which would have been waged by the Indians, or the fear of it,  which would have caused all the settlers to have abandoned their homes and removed to the interior of the State.

During the winter, and a part of the summer of 1863, the work of erecting defenses at the different places indicated in the order was vigorously prosecuted.   Lieutenant Colonel Sawyers made frequent reports to Governor Kirkwood as to the progress of the work, and, in the early part of June, made his final report, which reads in part as follows:  (Note:  Report of Adjutant General of Iowa, 1864, pages 665 to 669 inclusive.)

Headquarters Northern Border Brigade.
Spirit Lake, Iowa, June 8, 1863.

His Excellency, Samuel J. Kirkwood, Governor of Iowa.

Dear Sir:  Enclosed please find final report of the work at Estherville, together with a ground plan of the same.  I am pleased to say that this finishes all the work assigned to the Northern Border Brigade, furnishing for each of the settlements along the line a safe place of retreat in case of attack by the Indians.   The works assigned the captains of the different companies are all finished in a good, substantial and work-manlike manner.  Captain William H. Ingham has built a large and substantial fortification -- one that reflects much credit upon him and his command . . . . . . . You will see from this report, together with the plan of the work, that the works at Estherville are more extensive than at any other point on the line. . . . . . . .  The fortifications along our northwestern frontier are now complete. . . . .

Hoping to hear from you soon in regard to our future service, I remain,

Your obedient servant,
James A. Sawyers, Lieutenant Colonel,
Northern Border Brigade.

The headquarters of the brigade were subsequently established at Estherville, and from that post details were made for the other posts along the line of the frontier.  Near the last of September, 1863, (owing to the defeat of the hostile tribes of Indians on the 3d and 4th of that month, by the forces under the command of General Alfred Sully, at the hard fought battle of White Stone Hill, in which the Sixth and Seventh Iowa Regiments of Cavalry greatly distinguished themselves,) it became evident that the danger of further attacks upon the settlers had greatly diminished, and it was deemed safe to disband the Northern Border Brigade, and to substitute a smaller force in its stead.  The following order for the disbandment of the Brigade was, therefore, issued:

State of Iowa, Adjutant General's Office,
Davenport, Sept. 26, 1863.

General Order No. 121.

I.  The Northern Border Brigade, as now organized, is hereby disbanded.

II.  All officers of the Northern Border Brigade are hereby directed to turn over all arms, equipments, ammunition, and all other public property, to Lieutenant Lewis H. Smith, Second Quartermaster of said Brigade, and who is hereby continued in said office, for the company ordered to be organized by this Department, under order of this date, in place of said companies of the Northern Border Brigade, hereby disbanded.

III.  William S. Pritchard, of Des Moines, will at once proceed to the posts where any of the said companies of the Northern Border Brigade are located, and muster out said companies, as herein directed, and will muster in the company to be raised in accordance with these orders:  the company to be mustered for service until relieved by United States troops, unless sooner discharged by order of the Governor.

IV.  Said Pritchard will also inspect all horses, equipments and arms, and will accept only those fitted for the proposed duty.

By order of the Governor.

N. B. Baker, Adjutant General of Iowa
Report of Adjutant General of Iowa, page 669.)

In confirmation of the statement made at the beginning of this historical sketch, with regard to the duty of guarding the frontiers by troops belonging to the Regular Army of the United States, the following correspondence is here quoted:

Headquarters, District of Dakotah,
Sioux City, Iowa, Oct. 22, 1863.

General N. B. Baker,
Adjutant General of Iowa,

Sir:  By a late order from the Department of the Northwest, the sixteen counties in the northwest corner of Iowa are placed in my district.  I have just returned from the upper Missouri, and know very little about the points now occupied by the Iowa State troops in this section, nor for how long a time they have been called into service.  Will you be kind enough, therefore, to give me all the information you can in the matter.  I have many places in Dacotah to garrison this winter, but will still have left at this place some three or four companies of cavalry.  I expect them here in about a week.  At least two or three companies can be placed on duty at points already occupied by State troops, if necessary.  But I think it would be better, if possible, to keep the State troops at these posts this winter, as they are better acquainted  with the country and are already located.  I will send one of my Aids up there tomorrow to visit these posts, and will myself visit the line as soon as I can settle up unfinished business here.

With much respect, your obedient servant.
Alf Sully, Brigadier-General.


State of Iowa, Adjutant General's Office,
Davenport, October 29, 1863.

General:  I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 22d inst., and reply that we now have in service only one company for the northern border.   With the exception of this company, the Northern Border Brigade, for the protection of the northern frontier, has been disbanded.  The headquarters of that company is at Estherville, and it is scattered in squads over a line of nearly one hundred sixty miles.   In my opinion, one company of your cavalry would be amply sufficient to supply the place of the State company.  It certainly would not require over two of your companies.  The State seriously objects to keeping State troops longer at these posts, and for good reasons.  If they are not immediately relieved, every day's delay will increase the labor and difficulty of relieving the State company, as the inclement season soon sets in.  We have maintained at State expense five companies on the northern frontier, and can neither obtain credit for the men nor allowance for cash expended, while other States, that have raised men for local or temporary purposes, have received credit for the men, simply because they were mustered into the United States service.  As far as the General Government was concerned, it received as much benefit in the one case as in the other, and had had no trouble or expense up to this time,so far as this State is concerned, in the matter.  We have an idea, that this sort of injustice should cease, and earnestly urge upon you that the State company at Estherville may at once be relieved by the cavalry under your command.  Upon notice received from you that you have given the requisite orders, the Governor will issue the proper orders to disband the State company at Estherville.  This is urged for another reason.  We are called upon for more troops, and if we cannot get credit for the Northern Border Brigade, we would like to give those soldiers a chance to enlist where the State can obtain credit for them.

With great respect, yours truly,
                                 N. B. Baker, Adjutant-General of Iowa.

Brigadier-General Alfred Sully,
                                     Sioux City, Iowa.

There was further correspondence between Adjutant General Baker and General Sully on the subject, but, no definite action having been taken by the latter, on November 21, 1863, the Governor ordered General Baker to instruct Captain Ingham that his company would be discharged on the 1st day of January, 1864, or at an earlier date, upon being relieved by United States troops.  This action evoked the following reply from General Sully:

Headquarters District of Dacotah,
Sioux City, Iowa, Dec. 22, 1863.

To General N. B. Baker,
         Adjutant-General of Iowa.

Sir:  I have this day started part of the command to relieve your State troops on the northwest frontier.  Tomorrow I start more, and the third day the remainder.  So your State troops can be discharged when you are ready.

                                   With much regard, your obedient servant,
                                               Alf Sully, Brigadier General,
                                                               Commanding District.

(Note:  Report of the Adjutant General of Iowa, 1864, pages 670 to 673 inclusive, containing the entire report of the subject referred to.)

Captain Ingham's company was soon relieved and mustered out of the State service.  The hostile Indians had been driven far to the north by General Sully's troops, and the settlers upon the frontier were comparatively free from the dangers which had formerly threatened them.  With a sufficient force of United States troops, constantly on duty at the posts where fortifications had been erected by the State of Iowa, and the country to the north thoroughly patrolled by General Sully's cavalry scouts, the danger of the Indians committing depredations upon the homes of the settlers was reduced to the minimum.

While the records do not show that the State troops composing the Northern Border Brigade were ever engaged in serious conflicts with the Indians, they do show that they performed most important service and endured great hard-ships.  During the time they were engaged in constructing the fortifications along the line of the frontier, they were in constant danger.  Had the Indians proved too strong to be overcome by the troops under General Sully's command, that officer would have retreated to the State line and united his forces with those of the State.  Upon more than one occasion before the works were completed, such a contingency seemed likely to occur.  It is therefore evident that those hardy sons of Iowa -- who braved the rigors of the northern winters and the risk of fierce conflict with the hostile tribes of Indians who had murdered so many of the hapless settlers on the frontier -- are entitled to an honored place in the history of their Country's defenders.  The descendants of those hardy pioneers, whose families and homes were saved from destruction, will ever hold in grateful remembrance the men who came to the rescue of their ancestors.  (Note:  The subjoined roster has been transcribed from the records in the office of the Adjutant General of the State of Iowa.  It will be noted that the average age of the officers and men who constituted the Northern Border Brigade was greater than that of the Iowa regiments which were mustered into the service of the United States.  It may therefore be reasonably inferred that many of them were married men and the heads of families at the time of their enlistment.  Such men could most fully enter into sympathy with those whose families were exposed to the danger of massacre by the Indians.



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