A farm boy joins the Union army 

Enlisting in the 40th Iowa Infantry was the most important decision of David Patrick’s life. It changed everything for him and his family. He  was on the path to becoming a farmer. His family was just starting to grow. David didn’t have his own land yet, but he was saving up and had hopes. 

There were no battles in Iowa, but Iowa farmers and men from all walks of life signed up and joined the Union army. Iowa had a large part of the eligible population enlist, and did not have to draft soldiers to meet quotas. 

War fever was everywhere, the Kansas compromise, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and a battle on Fort Sumter. The Iowa pioneers were motivated by patriotism, a call to duty, and the example of their grandfathers and fore bearers who had served in 1812 and the Revolutionary War. David’s family had settled in Ohio as part of revolutionary war grants. Military service was their duty as a self regulating citizenry to defend their country. 

Many in David and Mary’s family had already enlisted–cousins, uncles and his youngest brother Joe.  His brother had signed up when he was just 17. Joe joined in the first flurry of recruitments and died of disease in training camp in Iowa City during the winter.  Having his brother Joe die and not even leave Iowa must have hung heavy. David may have felt a longing to make his family proud. To go and fight. To be tested and found courageous is a desire nursed by young men through the ages. 

There was no promise of return or returning whole. By the time David joined, the Union had a number of spectacular defeats at Shiloh and Bull Run. Thousands of dead and wounded had been reported in the local papers. In the decision to join, David was risking his life for his country.

David left his pregnant wife and year old daughter. He was not drafted. He chose to enlist. Perhaps it was the incentive of bounty money. A soldier received cash money payment when he mustered in. A soldier also received monthly cash pay. In an area where cash money was seldom seen, it was a big incentive. A three year enlistment for cash money to add to their savings was a strong inducement to an ambitious young man just starting out in life. 

Did the decision to enlist happen all of a sudden.  If you are in town, looking for a buyer for your crops and all the talk is about war, it could set a man to thinking if maybe he should enlist too. Was David was in town, seeing his contemporaries enlisting? The desire to join up and be part of the war of his generation must have been a strong pull. The sentiment of the times made heroes of the young fathers leaving the family behind. To be a man had changed from being a farmer to being a soldier.

The call went out and David signed up. He joined in July. The crops had been planted, the spring wheat had been harvested and the mustering in didn’t start until November. As they worked preparing for David to leave, the land would appear more precious, his wife more and more beloved and his child more in need of having her papa home. He worked all summer knowing he was leaving for three years and might not return. 

As David watched  his daughter Hittie grow that summer, he would do so knowing that when he returned she would be five and likely not even remember him or recognize her daddy. The child Mary carried would be almost three years before old when David returned. 

But the decision had been made. David would leave the life he knew behind and become a soldier.