Iowa Confederates in the Civil War by David Connon. Arcadia Publishing, 2019. Paper, ISBN: 978-1634991551. $24.99.
By most estimates, approximately three million soldiers served during the Civil War. The border states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri—which remained devoted to the Union while keeping slavery intact—famously supplied soldiers to both the federal and Confederate armies. But so too did nearly every one of the United States.
Iowa remained stanchly in the Union and sent roughly 76,500 of its sons to loyal armies. However, the Hawkeye State was also the home of no fewer than 76 rebel servicemen, as author David Connon has detailed in his original and innovative book, Iowa Confederates in the Civil War.
The backbone of Connon’s work is an exhaustive statistical analysis of Confederate sympathy among the typical “Iowa resident,” defined “as one who lived in Iowa before the Civil War for at least two years, no earlier than 1850, and was thirteen or older during residency.” Connon’s many facts and figures include (among other calculations) the proportion of Iowa Confederates who left the state during secession and at the start of the war, those who were the children of families with divided loyalties, and those who hailed from slaveholding households.
Each demographic factor played some role in the motivations of these men “to defend someone else’s fireside,” according to Connon. Although they all exhibited some “love of adventure,” he reveals three primary incentives for Iowans to fight against their nation, including: (1) “opportunism, often related to earning a living,” (2) “familial concerns, often related to loyalty to their birthplace or the birthplace of their father or mother,” and (3) “a philosophical motive, involving state’s rights related to slavery and/or an interpretation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”
Iowa Confederates in the Civil War is much more than a quantitative analysis of soldier data, though. At the heart of the book—“the driving force,” Connon writes—are personal stories. “Read them individually, as you like,” he suggests, which proves a worthwhile method indeed.
Though they may be consumed in essentially any order, Connon has organized the 76 stories into chapters based on several thematic elements, ranging from cities to battlefields and from devotion to desertion. He begins his engaging series by chronicling the son of a former Iowa governor who served in a Virginia regiment, was captured, and then personally petitioned Abraham Lincoln for his release. He concludes by narrating the biography of a Dutch-born Hawkeye who befriended Jefferson Davis, lived on the Confederate president’s farm in the last years of his life, and finally surrendered his Confederate allegiance to support the U.S. military effort in the First World War.
At times, Connon utilizes too many block quotations, particularly those which derive from secondary sources and other historians. Such a pattern periodically interrupts the flow of an otherwise cohesive narrative. When descriptions suffer from this trend, the text reads more like a series of notes in paragraph form, rather than a comprehensive monograph.
Connon contextualizes Iowa’s place in the grander Civil War story and effectively combines national events with local and state affairs involving Iowans and their antebellum and wartime roles. In what fundamentally serves as a microcosmic study of the nation using the example of this one state, he describes the effects of federal affairs upon Iowa, including the suspension of habeas corpus, a prewar senator’s relationship with Jefferson Davis, the fight against abolitionism, and propaganda efforts. Subsequent appendices attentively list intricate statistics and the names of every Confederate soldier from Iowa.
Despite the book’s relative brevity, this study benefits from an impressive and extensive variety of unpublished manuscripts and newspaper sources.
While it will be most interesting to readers with meaningful connections to the state, Iowa Confederates in the Civil War is a volume that deserves a place in the library of anyone interested in the study of contrarians, conflicted individuals, and local communities over the course of the conflict. David Connon’s is an intimate and thought-provoking work which challenges notions of Northern hegemony and satisfactorily explores the role of an otherwise-unnoticed group of nonconformists.
Codie Eash currently serves as Visitor Services Coordinator at Seminary Ridge Museum, Gettysburg. He operates the independent Facebook blog “Codie Eash – Writer and Historian” and is a regular contributor to PennCivilWar.com.