The pervasive impact of the Civil War on life in early Greene County


RIPPEY, Iowa, Dec. 16, 2016 — Six generations, or “four greats-” ago, mothers, wives and sisters may have been preparing food to send off with their sons, husbands, and brothers as they leftMary Weaver Profile Greene County for the “War of the Rebellion,” the “War Between the States,” or as it is now called, the “Civil War.”

It was 1861, and Greene County men, young and middle-aged, were ready for adventure. They were eager to get away from the mundane work of being a pioneer on the prairie.  There was great patriotism and general excitement among the citizenry.

The men drilled frequently, at least once per week, and the Brand School, near present-day Squirrel Hollow Park, was composed of  32 men up to age 25 that served as a company under the leadership of their teacher Azor Mills. The 32 men’s names include ones familiar to current residents – Toliver, Burk, Davis, Myers, Johns, Turpin, as well as Brown.

The State of Iowa, under Governor Samuel Kirkwood who was elected in 1860, called for volunteers to fight for the North.  The still-young state – it had won statehood on December 28, 1846 – provided 70,000.  Of those, 20,000 perished due to battle or illnesses, or infections associated with battle. Among those who went to the war from Greene County, many were iinjured, died of disease or returned home with injuries. Their commander Azor Mills lost the use of his arm after it was struck by a cannon ball.

School teacher, administrator, military and political leader Azor Mills and his wife Miranda Mills, an early civic leader herself, were portrayed during a 2014 “cemetery walk” in Jefferson by Rob and Emily Hoyt, of Scranton.

In 1861 the population of Greene County was 1,400 persons.  One half of Greene County’s able bodied men wore the blue uniform of the Union Army according to the local history book “Past and Present of Greene County, Iowa,” published in 1907.

That book notes, “…among the pioneers, a good many people who had been born and brought up in the South and hence were not great admirers of the plan to keep the South in the Union. They settled along the ’Coon, adjacent to the timber and when the war was really on, many of them were neutral and some even leaned South in their sympathies.”

An interesting historical fact documented in that history is that on July 4, 1861, at the Independence Day celebration in Jefferson, two full companies of infantry were present.  The Jefferson Company’s uniforms featured trousers with a red stripe down the outer seam.  The other company, from Washington Township, was not fully uniformed, but was well-drilled.  A number of men in the Washington Township unit had no boots suitable to wear at the July 4th celebration, but local Rippey physician Dr. J. C. Lovejoy suggested the barefooted men black their feet.

Onlookers noted the agility demonstrated by the men during their drills.

I came across those fascinating notes of local history during the Civil War when I was searching the internet for recipes that were popular and common back then.  One thing that caught my attention is that troops on both sides of the war carried and ate soda-like crackers.  The soldiers of the South called them “Johnnie Cakes,” while the Union forces called them “Hard Tack.”

They could not have been very tasty by current standards, as the Hard Tack was made of flour, water, and lard, while the Johnnie Cakes were made of cornmeal, milk, lard with a little soda and salt.  Here are the recipes if you’d like to try them:

Hard Tack

2 cups flour
½ cup of water
1 Tablespoon of lard
6 pinches of salt

Johnnie Cakes

2 cups of cornmeal
2/3 cup of milk
2 Tablespoons of lard
2 teaspons of soda
½ teaspoon of salt

Baking instructions: Roll out as a thin dough and bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

The Civil War soldiers were also issued “crackers” during fighting, but reports indicated those had become homes for insects and rodents as they were transported to the front lines.

The pioneer cemeteries of Greene County have the graves of many Civil War veterans.  Be on the lookout for the headstones. During upcoming family gatherings, ask members of the oldest generation who among their ancestors fought in the Civil War. Be certain to determine if they wore the Blue or Gray uniform.

You can comment on this story in the space below here, or write directly to the columnist by email at  The author, who lives outside Rippey, is an active member of the  Greene County Historical Society.


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There have been three courthouses built where the Greene County Courthouse stands today.  Ground was broken on the current courthouse in November of 1915, the cornerstone was set in May 1916 and the new building was dedicated in October of 1917. The centennial celebration of the courthouse is already underway, with events being planned by the “Courthouse 100” committee, with support from the Greene County Historical Society.  You can learn more about the courthouse history and the celebration plans on the Facebook page “Courthouse 100: Greene County, Iowa.”


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