First of Iowa

Letter First

DAVENPORT, IOWA, APRIL 24, 1861.

I need hardly speak of the events which occurred at the departure of the Dubuque Companies, as a tolerable majority of your city readers were there to see for themselves.

I did intend when I planned the correspondence to have said something sentimental over our departure, but a short conversation with his Excellency, Gov. Kirkwood, has divested the parting of half its pathos. He informed me that he did not want the Washington Guards - at least not at present - that he couldn't take but one Company from Davenport, and from the tone of his conversation it was not a severe inference that even the two companies already here from Dubuque might have deferred their leave-taking for some time yet - possibly six months, or a year - and the circumstance would not have proved displeasing to any great extent. But remember, that this last is only inference. In view of the possibility that said inference may contain some truth, I cannot well yet sentimentalize over our departure. Weren't three companies ordered to recruit immediately - didn't they do so - didn't they abandon their business, their friends, and everything to get to the rendezvous? Wasn't there a tremendous hurry and scurry - werenít there oceans of tears, acres of sighs, and kisses (tearful kisses at that) at and over our departure? And after all these sacrifices we find upon getting here "on time" that it is not exactly certain that we are needed, or even welcome.

We dropped our chisels, yard-sticks and pens from devotion to our country - we took strong farewell embraces, and deep, earnest kisses of wives, mothers, sweethearts and babies from devotion to our country - we dashed the spray from our eyes, we shook fervent hands at parting, all through devotion to our country, and now our country has slightly "thrown oil'" on us - "gone back" on us - to use another phrase of expressive slang.

But "Our Country" has got us just now, and I deem it a little more than a matter of doubt that our country will get rid of us immediately. Yes, good folks at home, they've sent for us, we've come, and there'll be a fight before the companies go back, sure - if not a demonstration against the seven-starred flag, there will be an invasion of Suckerdom, a sortie among the Illinois Banks, or an expedition having for its end the suppression of some sort of a nuisance, either local or general.

But to begin. The leave-taking at Dubuque was flattering, so far as the conduct of the citizens was concerned. A larger crowd never gathered in the Key City, nor ever swung a steamer into the channel of the broad Mississippi, that went freighted with kinder wishes or more heartfelt adieus. Eyes were dimmed with mistiness, and hearts throbbed heavily with painful yet tender thoughts, as amid the thundering hurrahs of the crowd and the roar of artillery the Alhambra turned its prow away from the Key City, and went cutting the spray to the Southwards.

The boys hung around awhile in solitary places, but after the landmarks of the Key City had all disappeared, they gathered in slowly with lugubrious countenances, and in many cases with eyes terribly red - from the winds, of course. And all through the evening there was some moping - the brilliant moon was as ever suggestive of sad thoughts, and even the notes from the silver horns of the Band became mournful as the alto of a dirge, and seemed to voice tearful Good-Byes and melancholy Farewells.

A huge owl sat upon the dead limb of a tree on the shore, and hooted mournfully at the crowd. A gentleman of the Greys, sometimes called Barney G - - , drew a revolver, shut both eyes, took good aim at the solitary bird, and fired, and the next instant his owlship splashed heavily in the water below. The distance was over a hundred yards, and the shot was such a remarkable affair that everybody fell to discussing it, and thus in five minutes a trivial circumstance had turned the whole crowd from melancholy to animation.

And thus, alas! Wives, Babies, and Sweethearts, were you turned "bag and baggage" out of our thoughts by a gentleman shooting an owl at a hundred yards with both eyes shut.

And oh! my friend Russell, thrice unfortunate thou - no more kisses - no more of the tender sheeny light, of thy glorious Lune de Miel perhaps for months - possibly, alas! forever.*

The night was not of the most pleasant description. The Greys took their stations on one side of the cabin, the Guard* the other, and the crowd -which was three-fourths of all - was deposited on the floor. Profound silence soon covered the whole boat, till suddenly some "rough" on the floor gave a tremendous "Baa!" - another at the other end responded, then the chorus was taken up in all parts, and in three seconds the whole crowd was Baa-ing with the force of a thousand calf-power. So it went till daylight - there were cat voices, sheep voices, and coon voices - there were gobblings and crowings - these were fellows' there who could beat any jackass on a bray, and give him fifty - in short there were more noises than ever were made or ever will be again, unless all the jackasses, mules, gobblers, roosters, cats, coons, and cattle in creation are assembled for a grand concert. Nobody slept - some laughed a little, others swore a great deal, and thus wore away the night.

We arrived here at eight o'clock this morning, and soon after were escorted up by the Davenport City Artillery, Lieut. Brewster, and the Sarsfield Guards, Capt. Bob Littler. The Greys went into quarters with the D. C. A.'s, and the Jackson Guards with the S. G.'s. This, however, is but temporary, and before night separate quarters will be provided for all parties.

The war spirit runs high here. Three resident companies are filled up and are drilling daily, although but one of them .will probably be accepted by the Government. The Governor has ordered United States uniforms for the entire regiment.

In my letter tomorrow, I will give you fuller particulars of the various companies, and if possible the names of those which will be accepted. But two companies will be taken from Dubuque.

P. S. - I have just learned that Gov. Kirkwood has telegraphed to headquarters insisting upon the acceptance of two regiments from Iowa and doubtless the request will meet with compliance. The Governor and all parties are at work as hard as they can to expedite matters.

Quarters have been provided for four hundred additional troops, and other quarters will be provided when necessary. Gov. Kirkwood is doing everything he can to arrange matters so as to equalize the supply of troops, and he will sustain the credit of the State in, every respect..

*Amos Russell, Esq., was married the night before the departure of his Company - the Governorís Greys - for the South;

[The Iowa First: Letters From the War, by Franc Barige Wilkie, 1861, submitted by Cathy Danielson]


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