Ceremony Remembers Iowa’s First Casuality Of The Civil War

1/Lt. David M. Lamb is seen here presiding over a short ceremony at Nelson Pioneer Farm in honor of Mahaska County and Iowa's first fallen during the Civil War 150 years ago on Monday

Oskaloosa, Iowa – With Cottonwood seeds floating in the summer breeze at Nelson Pioneer Farm, a small group of “The Governor’s Own Iowa Rifles” made a stop to remember one of Iowa’s fallen.

Private Cyrus W. West of Company H. Third Regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry, Mahaska County was killed July 11, 1861 in the Battle of Monroe, Missouri. According to a plaque in his honor, “The first Iowa Soldier to die in the Civil War in the defense of the Union.”

“Cyrus West has kind-of gotten short tripped in history”, says 1/Lt. David M. Lamb of Company “A” 49th Regiment Veteran Volunteer Infantry/SVR.

“When those guns opened on Fort Sumter on the morning of April 12, 1861, they were mostly manned by 13, 14, and 15 year old kids from the Citadel Military College in Charleston, South Carolina. Far from being the acts of rebellious teenagers,  everybody knew now they had fired on their national flag. Though no one was killed it still was an insult, that was beyond repair, as far as the government was concerned. Lincoln put out a call initially for 75,000 volunteers to come to put down this rebellion.”

A Mahaska County farm kid, West, had joined the Army in advance of Lincoln making his call for volunteers. He is buried near the battle spot in Monroe City, Missouri.

1/Lt. David Lamb of the 49th Iowa talks about Cyrus West. Not only about his sacrifice but the sacrifice of many others during America's Civil War

Iowa had only been a State for 14 years when the war broke out. We were small; we had a population of 600,000 people, with about 130,000 of them being men of military age; the age of 14 to 45. Lamb said that, “76,534 men stepped forward, raised their hand, and marched off to the Civil War. One out of every two men were of military age. The highest per capita of any state in the nation.” Of those Iowans that marched off to the Civil War, 1 out of every 5 did not return home.

“Cyrus West was the very first Iowan to fall. He was killed at the Battle of Monroe Station, Missouri, July 11, 1861.” Lamb explained of the first Civil War causality for Iowa and also for Mahaska County. West was lost in battle, a “victim of friendly fire” Lamb explained. Cyrus was in a ditch when 1,400 Confederate cavalry made themselves known. In the excitement and with many new inexperienced recruits, West was killed. It’s not known if a weapon misfired or if someone mistook him as a Confederate trying to infiltrate the lines.

“So the history books have kind-of overlooked him, and decided on Shelby Norman, who was actually the third Iowan to die. The second was a kid [John Gibbons] from over along the river, who went over to Illinois and joined an Illinois Cavalry Unit, who was killed shortly after Cyrus and before Shelby.” Lamb explains about those Iowans first lost in the Civil War. “Shelby Norman was the first to die of a Confederate bullet; at Wilson’s Creek.”

“We remember Cyrus West as being the very first Iowan to march off to war in those difficult times. And as the Governors Honor Guard, the 49th Iowa is honored to take part in things like this all over the state, where we try to remember the service of Iowans in that long and terrible war.”

This arrangement was placed at the memorial of Mahaska County's own Cyrus West, the first Iowan lost in the Civil War

The Honor Guard placed two roses at his memorial here in Mahaska County. The first was the Red Rose of Valor and the second the White Rose of Honor. “For this Iowa Hero.” Lamb stated, as he placed them upon the Memorial located at Nelson Pioneer Farm.

“No act in the history of our country comes anywhere near the American Civil War. If all the other wars that this Nation has fought were tallied together, with all the dead and wounded, it would equal approximately 50 percent of the number that fell in those four years. 629,000 Americans died, at our own hands, because somehow we lost the ability to talk to one another and work out our differences through any other means. I hope we can all pray that never happens again.” Lamb said of the huge loss of life suffered in the Civil War.

The 49th Regiment, of today, evolved out of the Grand Army of the Republic. The group will also be taking a battle flag, that has been located at Nelson Pioneer Farm, to have it cleaned and preserved. Lamb also works as a conservator at the State Historical Museum, where he will start work on documenting the flag.

“It looks like a homemade [flag], which is not unusual.” Lamb said after briefly looking at the flag. The flag appears to date from 1861. It wasn’t until later in the war, around 1862, that the Federal Government issued flags. Early flags had the stars painted on them “[With] the early flags all the stars were silver, but when they got out in the field- the heat, the sun, the rain, the humidity- the stars tarnished and the stars became black; so that’s when they changed to gold stars.” Lamb explained of some history of flags during that period.

Members of the 49th - Color Sgt Richard Grimm, Regimental Color Sgt Michael Rawley and Commander David Lamb at the end of the ceremony for Cyrus West

“This one looks to be hand stitched with hand stitched stars on it, so I would suspect some community probably got together and made this flag and gave it to the boys from their community that marched off as part of the 13th Iowa or the 31st.” Lamb said about this flag and how many of them were presented to young men who marched off to war.

The group is also responsible for repairing the Civil War Monument in Eddyville that had been damaged. The group hired their own sculpture, “who then ended up joining the 49th” Lamb said. Costs to have the statue redone were over $4,000 dollars.

“We have found a lot of Civil War Monuments decaying as towns have no money in their budget to repair them.” Lamb said about part of what the group does to help preserve our history and to respect those who served so long ago. The group does these things with the help of public donations.

You can learn more about the 49th and all they do to help preserve history at www.iowavalor.com

Posted by on Jul 10 2011. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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