The fun of tracing Our Iowa Heritage stories begins when I find an Iowa City-related item listed on Ebay. In March of 2021, this bank note (above) from the Iowa City National Bank, dated August 1, 1873, came up for sale. Thinking it an interesting piece to explore, and with the price being ridiculously low, I decided to buy it. The next day, I began doing my typical on-line search for any details about the item or the person associated with it.
I didn’t have to go too far after typing in the name:
Ira J. Alder.
It turns out that Ira, the Major, as he was called, was a pretty well-known dude in Iowa City, living here for for nearly 60 years (1863-1922). He was born on July 15th, 1842 in Union County, Ohio, and then, as a teenager, came west to Iowa with his family, as so many pioneers did, in 1856. At age 21 (September 1863), Ira relocated from Oskaloosa to Iowa City to study at the State University, but his studies only lasted one school year before being interrupted by the Civil War.
Iowa’s 44th Infantry – Company D: A Hundred-Days Regiment.
Historian Ellen M. Rich, in an extensive article, Iowa and War: The State University of Iowa and the Civil War, indicates that Ira left school in May of 1864 to enlist, like so many other young men, in the Union Army…
Ira John Alder – A Civil War Hundred-Days Man.
In the spring of 1864, the Governor of Ohio, John Brough, was concerned with preventing Confederate invasions of the North. As the Civil War entered its fourth year, troops were increasingly difficult to raise, so Brough proposed to enlist men for a period of 100 days to provide short-term troops that would serve as guards, laborers, and rear echelon soldiers to free more veteran units for combat duty. This would increase the number of men in the Northern armies campaigning in the South and allowing the Union to achieve victory more quickly—hopefully in one hundred or fewer days. Brough contacted the governors of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and New Jersey, inviting them to help raise 100,000 men to offer the Lincoln Administration. The governors of these five states submitted their suggestion to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who placed the proposal before President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln immediately approved the plan. Lincoln immediately approved the plan, and in the early spring of 1864, the War Department accepted a total of 81,000 recruits with the men ready for duty within sixteen days of enlistment. These Civil War veterans became known as Hundred Days Men.
Ellen Rich continues her SUI narrative…
Both the Civil War and University of Iowa records indicate that Ira was assigned to the 44th Iowa Infantry, Company D, but his tombstone says Company B. Either way, when he enlisted, Ira became part of one of the “Hundred-Day” regiments created throughout the North during the Spring of 1864. Like the four other Iowa Hundred-Day units, the 44th filled in the gap during the closing months of the war, protecting garrisons and railroads, allowing more seasoned troops to assist with combat operations in the field. Here are some of the official war records from Ira’s time with the 44th Iowa Infantry…
During those 100 days in 1864, the SUI campus looked a lot different…
A Special Thank You from President Lincoln.
Before Ira mustered out of the service (September 1864), he was promoted to Major, which was a title he enjoyed using throughout the remainder of his career. Like the other brave men in his company, each received this special memento as well…
Back to Iowa City (1864) to become a “major” lawyer.
Upon Ira’s return to Iowa City in September 1864, The Major was admitted to the bar in January, 1869, and practiced law in Iowa City until late in life. Ira studied at Iowa under Judge W. E. Miller, continued with the Hon. Rush Clark, and then took a law position with Judge Miller’s office. In 1882, Ira married Julia Buttles, youngest daughter of the Hon. J. B. Buttles, on June 8th. The Annals of Iowa published this glowing announcement…
Major Ira Alder and Governor Samuel Kirkwood.
Ira’s records show that he was member of the Episcopal Church of Iowa City and a Republican in politics. At one point, early in his career, he served as a legal secretary for Samuel Kirkwood. Historian Jacob E. Reizenstein, in the Annals of Iowa, gives us a humorous look at a time when some of Kirkwood’s associates attempted to poke fun at the famous statesman by nominating him for the lowly position of Road Supervisor for Iowa City township. Apparently, Kirkwood saw through this attempt at humor, decided to turn the tables on these jokesters, and asked Ira to file the necessary paperwork so he could fulfill the lowly position!
Ira J. Alder (1842-1922) – Aged Resident of Iowa City and War Veteran Died.
Ira J. Alder, octogenerian and pioneer resident of Iowa City, veteran of the Civil War and one of the best known local characters died here this morning at the Berkley Hotel where he has lived during the past years. Major Alder, as he is known locally, enlisted in the Union army from Iowa City at the opening of the Civil War. He was at one time private secretary to Gov. Samuel Kirkwood and was a member of the local bar for a half century. Until a few years ago, Major Alder was a owner of much property and real estate which he persistently refused to sell or improve. Recently this was all sold and the proceeds invested by his guardian. His wife and daughter died a few years ago. He has two brothers and five half brothers and sisters all living away from here.
Here’s to The Major – Ira John Alder. Godspeed!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.