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Jerome King: Civil War Private
Jerome King served in the 6th Iowa Cavalry during the Civil War. The 6th Iowa, under the command of General Alfred Sully, participated in the Battles of Whitestone Hill and Killdeer Mountain. However, Jerome King was not present at either battle. His story is complicated (and the historical record isn’t complete), but the record tells us a little about this very young man who left us one important historical document – his drawing of the encampment at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory.
King was the name Jerome Keuhn adopted after he enlisted in the Army. Born in Germany, he immigrated to the United States in 1853. Army records state that he was 18 when he enlisted in 1862, making his birth date 1844. Later in life, however, he claimed a later birth date of August 1847. If that record is accurate, then King was only 15 when he enlisted. He lived in Toledo, Iowa where he worked for a printer before he enlisted.
King mustered into the 6th Iowa Cavalry at Davenport Iowa December 6, 1862. The 6th Iowa was recruiting men for a three-year term of service with an offer of “$100 bounty, $25 of which is paid in advance, together with One Month’s Pay.” Recruiting posters stated that Iowans would be subject to the draft by January, so they were encouraged to enlist before they were ordered into uniform.
The 6th Iowa enrolled a total of 1,420 men. King, among the original enlistees, had a troubled record of service. By March, 1863, when the 6th Iowa was stationed at Fort Randall in Dakota Territory, he was treated for health problems. Then, he apparently disappeared, perhaps because of ill health. He did not draw pay throughout the winter and spring of 1863.
In August, 1863, while Sully was marching his troops north along the Missouri River toward White Stone Hill, he turned himself in to a special agent in Iowa. His record notes that he was on sick furlough, but he was called a “detached man” meaning that he was not with his company, but it could also mean that he had deserted. From August to November, he was in transport from Davenport to Fort Randall, for which he had to pay $7.25 from his own funds.
King returned to Fort Randall just after his company, “F”, returned from the Battle of White Stone Hill. King was soon back in the regimental hospital for treatment of an unknown health condition. By April 1864, while Company F was preparing for the summer campaign in northern Dakota Territory, King was at Fort Leavenworth, where he was labeled a “straggler.” Stragglers were soldiers who could not keep up with the pace of the march and often arrived at camp a few hours, or days, behind the rest of their company. Straggler was also another word for a deserter who changed his mind and returned to his company. The Union Army had a hard time keeping enough men in the field to fight the war and tended to be forgiving of stragglers.
Disease caused the loss of more men in the Civil War than combat. Among the soldiers of the 6th Iowa, 22 were killed in action. Seventy-five men died of disease. Considering the rate of death and desertion, King’s return to his unit after his health problems were treated would have been welcomed.
In May 1864, King was back with Company F. In June, General Sully issued Order No. 46, returning King to duty and noting that he was “recovered from desertion.” Sully punished King by withholding his pay until August, but otherwise forgave him. However, Sully apparently did not completely trust King in combat. Sully assigned King to serve as an aide to an officer who remained at Fort Rice during its construction. One day, King drew a picture in pencil and red ink of the new post. This drawing is the earliest document of the construction of Fort Rice.
When the 6th Iowa returned from Fort Rice in October 1864, King went with them and remained in the service. His record shows no more instances of desertion, and he was mustered out of the Army on October 17, 1865. At that time, he purchased his gun for $8.00 and his saber for $3.00. He also received the rest of his bounty.
After the war, King married and worked as a railroad baggage handler. In 1886 he applied for an Army pension. In 1890, he was a resident, along with 85 other men, of the Iowa Soldiers’ home.