Avid historical researcher and re-enactor David Connon, of Earlham in central Iowa, was digging deeply into the history of the Underground Railroad’s route across Iowa when he discovered a Civil War story he’d been unaware of — there were at least 76 Iowans, maybe even more, who in fact joined the Confederate army and fought against the Union.
For the next 11 years, from 2008 into 2019, he pursued the story, and has now published a new book, “Iowa Confederates in the Civil War.”
On Sunday afternoon, Oct. 10, Connon will tell that fascinating and little-known story, and answer questions, in a program at 2 p.m. at the Greene County Historical Museum in Jefferson.
The free program — with free refreshments, too — is a collaboration by Humanities Iowa, the Jefferson Public Library and the Greene County Historical Society.
The heart of Connon’s book consists of historical sketches of all 76 Iowa Confederates, featuring their pre-war, war-time, and post-war experiences.
In the program, he will offer insights into the strains and turmoil of life and politics in Iowa during the Civil War era. For example, one of four Iowa Confederates had a divided family, that is, at least one brother or a father who served in the Union Army. Some fathers of Iowa Confederates were prominent Democrats, and at least a couple were personal friends of Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederate States of America.
“Of course, I was surprised when I first came across this, because Iowa has such a strong and proud history of support for the Union during the Civil War,” Connon said. “But the fact that there was also support here for the Confederacy is not so surprising when you think about how riven the whole country was back then.”
As for Connon’s own family, two of his great-great-grandfathers served in the Union Army. He is a member of Sons of Union Veterans, an associate member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a member of the Des Moines Civil War Round Table.
Besides his book, his history stories have appeared in Iowa Heritage Illustrated, Iowa History Journal, Illinois Magazine, and local newspapers in both states. He blogs regularly on the internet at his website titled “Confederates from Iowa: Not to Defend, but to Understand.”
Connon, who grew up in Illinois, did his undergraduate studies at North Central College in Napierville, and he has a master’s degree in education from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. In Iowa, besides his continuing research, writing and occasional substitute teaching, he has worked as a historical interpreter at Living History Farms, and he now works part-time at the West Des Moines Public Library.
He said he has been able to spend so much time focused on history the last 20 years because his wife Melinda Bradshaw Connon “is a veteran and professional high school math teacher” while he is “doing research and handling chores around the house.”
He will sell and sign copies of his book Sunday at the museum in Jefferson.