Few People Realize That A Civil War Battle Was Fought In Iowa... By Accident
Here’s something you might not have realized that you can do in Iowa – visit a Civil War Battlefield! That’s right, the site of the northernmost Civil War battle west of the Mississippi is right here at Croton, Iowa.
At the outset of the Civil War, in 1861, the North and South clashed in the Battle of Athens (or as it has also been called, the Battle of Croton). The small community of Croton, Iowa, is located along the north banks of the Des Moines River in the far southeast corner of the state.
During the Civil War era, it was an important stop on the Keokuk to Des Moines railroad, serving as a storehouse for provisions, weapons, and ammunition. Just across the river was Athens, a town in Confederate Missouri that in August of 1861 was held by the North.
On the whole, northeastern Missourians were staunch supporters of the South. Southeastern Iowans, however, were well-known for their support of the Underground Railroad and Northern sympathies.
Very early on Aug. 5, 1861, the Confederate militia set up three cannons just south of Athens, Missouri, in preparation for an attempt to recapture Athens for the South.
Northern troops, who had heard rumors of a coming invasion to Athens, had ridden the train to Croton the night before. Seeing no immediate threat, they fell asleep for the night at the Croton depot.
But they had a rude awakening that morning as cannon balls intended for Athens accidentally landed near the depot... in Iowa! They were meant to begin the Battle of Athens, but were overshot by the Confederate soldiers onto Croton, Iowa, soil.
Although the Northern troops stationed in Athens “skedaddled” across the river into Iowa after these shots were fired, raising the alarm of impending invasion, the Iowa soldiers in Croton rushed to the river and fired back, halting the Southern advance within two hours.
Thanks to these brave soldiers, the only Civil War battle fought in Iowa was a resounding Northern victory.
According to the Civil War Memorial in Croton, 25 soldiers were wounded on the Iowa side of the river, and one was killed. This soldier is buried nearby.
Today, the granite memorial marks the site at Croton. To learn more about this park, visit the Lee County parks website here. Take a picnic (maybe from Dr. Getwell’s in Keokuk) to the shelter house and honor our brave Iowa citizens and Civil War soldiers.
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