Francis Marion Drake
Brigadier General Francis Marion Drake was born in Rushville, Illinois, December 30, 1830. He was the second son of John Adams Drake and Harriet Jane (O'Neal) Drake, natives of Nash County, North Carolina.
General Drake was of English descent, and traced his family back to a brother of Sir Francis Drake. He was also a descendant of the illustrious Adams family. His father's family located in Iowa in 1837, and General Drake resided in that State during his life.
He received a good business education, and led an active, successful business life. During the excitement that followed the discovery of gold in California, he crossed the plains twice with ox-trains, taking with him a drove of cattle each time. He was a "born leader of men," as shown by the fact that the first time he crossed the plains—though but twenty years old—he was made Captain of the train.
On the first trip, his command of men was attacked by three hundred Pawnee Indians at the Crossing of Shell Creek in Nebraska. He defeated them, inflicting a severe loss. His own men escaped without injury except to one, who was slightly wounded. As he was returning home from his second visit to California, the Yankee Blade, on which he sailed, was wrecked off Point Aquilla in the Pacific Ocean. The ill-fated steamer was completely wrecked, and over eight hundred of the passengers lost their lives. This occurred September 30, 1854. He, with other survivors, was picked up from a barren rock five days later.
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he enlisted and was commissioned Captain of a company which was organized, and entered Colonel Edwards' Independent Iowa Regiment. Soon after joining this regiment he was elected Major. On assuming command he was informed that the Confederates were rapidly massing in northern Missouri. He determined to strike at once, and sent a messenger to his superior officer announcing his decision. He set out immediately and the enemy fled before him. He served in this command during the critical times of 1861, and saw the forces under General Patton driven from the northern part of Missouri.
He was then assigned to the command of St. Joseph, Mo. He held this position at the time of Mulligan's surrender to Price at Lexington. Price, flushed with victory, pressed on toward St. Joseph. Major Drake had but a meagre force to resist him. The city contained many Southern sympathizers, ready to report every movement.
Drake decided that strategy and vigorous action were the only things that would save him. With nightfall he began to march and countermarch his troops through the city. The early morning light showed the rear guard marching from the city. The morning paper came out with heavy headlines, "Drake heavily reinforced during the night. Advancing to attack Price."
The word was hurriedly carried to Price. In the meantime Major Drake, at the head of three hundred Kansas Jayhawkers, his only mounted force, rode rapidly forward, and attacked Price's advance guard with impetuosity. The enemy broke before them and Price ordered a general retreat.
When the Thirty-sixth Iowa Infantry was organized he was made Lieutenant-Colonel, and his name stands conspicuous in the military history of the three years' hard, efficient service which placed that regiment among the distinguished Iowa regiments.
Colonel Drake took a prominent part in the campaign of Steele from Little Rock to reinforce Banks in Louisiana in 1864. His gallant defense at Elkins Ford on the Little Missouri River was highly commended by his superior officers. With a detachment of five hundred men he held his ground, although hotly engaged for several hours, with Marmaduke's entire division numbering three thousand strong. Soon after this engagement he was placed in command of a brigade.
On the 25th of April, 1864, at the bloody battle of Mark's Mills, with a command of less than fifteen hundred men, he fought the combined cavalry forces of Kirby Smith, commanded by General Pagan. During this engagement he was severely wounded in the left thigh and fell into the hands of the enemy. The wound was pronounced mortal. The upper end of the thigh bone was fractured by a Belgian ball weighing one and one-half ounces. The ball was cut into several pieces by the sharp edges of bone. The pieces of the ball were removed from different parts of the body, except one drachma of lead, which was buried in the bone at the point where it struck, and remained until his death.
The genial disposition and personal magnetism that surrounded him with warm personal friends served him well in this strait.
Before the Civil War he had been engaged in the mercantile business. His business called him frequently to St. Louis to purchase goods. Among the merchants of St. Louis was General Pagan, and he and Drake came to be friends.
When General Fagan recognized in the wounded Colonel his former friend, he was anxious to do anything possible for his comfort. It was thought that Drake's wound must necessarily prove fatal and he was not held as a prisoner of war.
A few days later the Federals occupied the country, and Colonel Drake was taken to Little Rock. His condition was serious and he was sent to his home. After confinement in bed for almost six months, his wounds were sufficiently improved, and he rejoined his command at Little Rock. This was in October of 1864, and he was still unable to walk except by aid of crutches.
He was soon after recommended for promotion by the field and general officers. "On account of special gallantry and hard and efficient service," was brevetted Brigadier General of United States Volunteers, and assigned to duty commensurate with his rank. He relieved General Thayer at St. Charles; later commanded a brigade in the division of General Shaler and the post at Duval's Bluff, Arkansas. He was mustered out of service in September of 1865.
After the war, General Drake engaged in the practice of law for about six years. During his practice of law he won for himself an extended reputation as a criminal lawyer.
For almost thirty years he was engaged in the railroad and banking business. During this time he projected and built five railroads. He was President of the Indiana, Illinois & Iowa and the Albia & Centerville Railroad Companies. For years he was a Director in the Keokuk & Western Railway.
He organized the Centerville National Bank and was its President up to the time of his death.
On the l0th of July, 1895, General Drake received the nomination by the Republican party, and at the following November election was elected Governor of the State of Iowa by an overwhelming majority.
He was President of the Board of Trustees of Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, a University which bears his name as its founder and most liberal benefactor.
The exceptional generosity of his nature is shown by the fact that although his own University was the "apple of his eye," not a college nor a school in the great State of Iowa solicited aid from him without receiving a munificent contribution. He contributed generously to churches and missionary societies of every name and creed.
His name stood for liberality in the various branches of work carried on in the Christian church, with which he stood prominently identified.
In the spirit of public enterprise and improvement in his Town, County and State, he was a leader, and one of the most liberal contributors. He was kind-hearted, and a true friend to the poor and afflicted.
Prior to his death he erected and presented to his home town, the city of Centerville, Iowa, the Drake Free Public Library Building, at a cost of $35,000.
General Drake was married December 24, 1855, to Mary Jane Lord, deceased June 22, 1883. To them was born seven children, six of whom are now living. The surviving members of the family are Frank Ellsworth, John Adams, Milla D. Shonts, Jennie D. Sawyers, Eva D. Goss, and Mary Drake Sturdivant.
He died at his home in Centerville, Iowa, November 20, 1903, leaving a widespread sense of loss, which was evidenced by the attendance at his funeral of people from all the various walks of life—the rich, the poor, the old and the young, dignitaries of the City, County, State and Nation—all there to say a last farewell to their friend.
His enduring monument is the memory he has left in the hearts of his fellowmen, and an honored name that will stand through generations.
[Biographical sketches of distingushed officers of the army and navy, 1905]