The First Iowa Volunteer Mounted Infantry

Social Media Head Shot Sean K. Gabhann 20150329When preparing the back-story for the characters in the Shiloh Trilogy, found that I needed to identify a particular fictional Union regiment as the home for Jamie Harper, Josuah Featherstone, Gus Magnusson, Johnny Cooke, and the others.  I wanted to identify a unit which could plausibly have participated in most of Grant’s and Sherman’s major battles not only in the time period covered by the Trilogy, but extending from the earliest battles to the end of major operations in April 1865.

I had the particular good fortune to have chosen Sergeant’s Bluff, Iowa as Harper’s home town.  Using the constraint that Harper would have to join a unit from a state near his home town, this gave me the choice of Iowa, the states of Minnesota and Missouri, and the territories of Nebraska or Dakota.

Of these, Iowa proved to be the best historical choice having provided regiments for nearly all of the major battles in the western theater, from the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry at Wilson’s Creek, to the sixteen regiments of Iowans in the final battle for Sherman’s armies at Bentonville.   In particular, I wanted a unit which could plausibly have participated in the four battles described in the Trilogy: Belmont, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh.

The Civil War Archive TitleUsing Wikipedia as a quick reference source, I discovered that there were just five Union regiments present at Belmont, four from Illinois and the Seventh Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  For a cross-check, I consulted the Regimental Index of The Civil War Archive website operated by Mike Northway.  Based on their regimental history, it seemed that the Seventh Iowa would serve quite well is a means for validating the feasibility of an Iowa unit participating in most of Grant’s and Sherman’s major battles.  Back to Wikipedia and a check of the Union orders-of-battle confirmed this.

So, I now knew it was feasible.  But I didn’t want to use the actual Seventh Iowa because I didn’t wish to be constrained by that unit’s known, recorded history and personages.   I also knew that I want at some time in the future to write a prequel which covers the campaign in Missouri during 1861.  So, I looked at the Union order-of-battle of Wilson’s Creek and discovered the First Iowa Volunteer Infantry, a ninety-day unit, whose only major battle was Wilson’s Creek – ten days prior to the unit being mustered out of service in August 1861.

I had my fictional unit.  What if, instead of returning to Iowa, a number of the veterans of the First Iowa re-enlisted for three years and they are permitted to retain their unit lineage?  Some of the officers would need to be changed and I still wanted to avoid using real soldiers names.

Iowa Genealogy Project LogoDuring an internet search, I had the great good fortune to find the Iowa Genealogy Web Project.  In these pages, I found the initial muster rosters for every Iowa unit in the Civil War provided by Guy Logan.

Now I also had access to thousands of authentic soldiers’ names which I could (and would) manipulate to fill out the roster of fictional Iowans in Harper’s War Stories.


The story of Jamie Harper and the others begins with Harper’s Donelson which was published in September 2015.

Harpers Donelson Front Page for Web 20150901

Harper’s Donelson: A Novel of Grant’s First Campaign



  1. Zina Abbott
    Nov 14, 2015

    That is a great summation of the process of identifying a CW unit for a character so that the story is believable to Civil War buffs, but still has the flexibility you need for a fictional work. I did much the same for a character in a book yet to be published. In addition to internet searches, I relied heavily on the information from the Alexander Street Press and its American Civil War Research Database. Its collections include letters and diaries, photographs and the military regiments, including the rosters of soldiers, battles, and some battle reports. It is a subscription site and can be found at some libraries. It is also at most Family History Centers because of its value in genealogical research.

    Since I volunteer at my local family history center, it has been convenient for me to access the site not only for book research, but for trying to locate family members. I have only one ancestor I know that served in the Civil War, but my husband has several. One was named James Johnson or James John Johnson, possibly from Illinois, Indiana or Kentucky. Do you have any idea how many men in the Civil War just from those three states were named James or John Johnson? Lots. So, I became very familiar with this site.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

    • John Kevin
      Mar 17, 2016

      Robyn/Zina, Thanks for that information. I am stuck on a genealogy point and may contact you off-site for help.

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