Not Till Then Can the World Know: The 14th Iowa Infantry in the Trans-Mississippi

Civil War battle scene
The Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana, April 9, 1864. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

When the graves shall open, and the sea give up its dead, and the secrets of all hearts be revealed, then, and not till then, can the world know what the many thousands of brave Iowans engaged in the service of their country have endured.

—Col. John Scott, 32d Iowa

Valentine L. Spawr, a 28-year-old husband, father and carpenter in Clarksville, Iowa, enlisted in the 14th Iowa Infantry volunteers of the Union Army in 1862. He was mustered in to Company C May 2, 1863, and after training ended up at Fort Halleck, a  fortification on the Mississippi River near Columbus, Kentucky. His regiment was moved down the Mississippi in January, and he spent most of 1864 marching and fighting in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War.

The Book

Part 1 of Not Till Then consists of the diary Spawr kept at Fort Halleck from June to September 1863. He describes the place and his routines as a member of the regimental color guard, criticizes his camp mates, speculates about rumors of imminent rebel attacks, and complains about missing home and family. He’s hospitalized with dysentery, goes on tramps through the countryside, makes friends with the regimental chaplain (commenting that he’s never liked ministers before), and witnesses the hanging of some of the convicted murderers from Island No. 10.

Spawr’s diary ends in September 1863, so Part 2 of the book was compiled from the eyewitness accounts of others who would have been in the same place at the same time: officers’ reports of battles, letters to Iowa newspapers, diaries of others, and memories published years later in newspapers and books. The 14th Iowa became part of the Third Division of the 16th Army Corps at the beginning of 1864. It participated in Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Meridian Expedition (a trial run for the March to the Sea later that year), General Nathaniel Banks’s Red River Expedition and the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana (which even today some say the North won and others say the South won), and the valiant but unsuccessful defense of the fort at Pilot Knob against General Sterling Price’s invasion of Missouri. The 14th Iowa was in the Second Brigade of the Third Division; its commander, Colonel William T. Shaw, was the organizer and original commander of the 14th. The book includes the controversy over Shaw’s public criticism of General Banks after the battle of Pleasant Hill and his resulting dismissal from the Army.

When Spawr enlisted in 1862, he was actually joining a replacement company. The original Companies A-C had been sent off to Dakota Territory as soon as the 14th was originally formed in 1861 and had had to be replaced. The remaining seven original companies had fought at Shiloh in 1862 and been held as prisoners of war for months afterward. The 1861-1862 portions of the 14th Iowa’s history are not included here.

The book is indexed and contains notes, citations, maps, illustrations, and a roster of the three replacement companies (A-C) of the 14th Iowa.

Publication Status

I have begun the process of self-publishing the book. I have selected an editor and designer but do not have an agreement yet.

It will be published in Kindle and Nook format and in paperback.