Reprinted from Profiles of Valor: Iowa’s Medal of Honor Recipients of the Civil War by Dennis H. Black (Des Moines: The State Historical Society of Iowa, 2010), pp. 52–63. Used with the permission of the publisher.
LETTS, Iowa — One of the soldiers featured in Iowa’s Medal of Honor Heroes exhibit that opened Friday in Des Moines is Civil War soldier William Henry Harrison Reddick, who lived and died in the Letts area after the war. He and several of his relatives are buried at the Letts Cemetery. Reddick was one of the first six soldiers who received the Medal of Honor. “He is one of our stars since he was one of the first to receive the Medal of Honor,” said Bill Johnson of the State Historical Society of Iowa. Research by the Historical Society, local historians and family members reveals the following story about the first Medal of Honor recipients. It’s a tale that’s been depicted in several movies. As a corporal in Company B, 33rd Ohio Infantry, Reddick was one of the 22 men known as Andrew’s Raiders. They penetrated nearly 200 miles into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty (today’s Kennesaw), Ga., in April 1862. Their mission was to destroy the railroad bridges and track in order to isolate Chattanooga, Tenn., and make possible its capture by the Union Army. The mission Some details about the mission are still disputed 144 years after the mission, but it is clear that the Raiders hijacked the locomotive called The General. However, Confederates chased them in an engine called Texas, resulting in a nearly 100-mile race that became known as “The Great Locomotive Chase.” In the end, all members of the Andrew’s Raiders were captured and confined in Confederate prisons. On June 7, 1862, James Andrews, a civilian and the leader of the famous raid, was hanged as a spy. Nine days later, seven more raiders including two civilian members were hanged. Fourteen raiders, including Reddick, later escaped from their prison camp. Reddick was captured near Ringgold, Ga., April 12, 1862. He spent 11 months in Libby Prison before an exchange with Confederate prisoners on March 17, 1863. Reddick and five of his fellow Raiders were presented the first Medals of Honor in history in a simple ceremony March 25, 1863. Reddick was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant for his efforts. Local descendants Reddick married Rachel Ann Stahl the following year in his home state of Ohio. They had nine children and at least 53 grandchildren. Many of their descendants still live in Muscatine and Louisa counties. About 1870, Reddick came to Iowa, settling first at Kossuth and then Northfield in Des Moines County. About 1874, the family moved into Louisa County and lived near Newport for 17 years. Later, they moved to the Letts area in Louisa County and eventually to Seventy-Six Township in Muscatine County. He died at age 63 of typhoid pneumonia on Nov. 8, 1903, at his home in Muscatine County of typhoid pneumonia. He is buried in the Letts Cemetery at Letts. It is unclear where he was born; Indiana or Alabama are considered most likely. Reddick’s widow died Dec. 15, 1930, in Seventy-Six Township, Muscatine County, and also is buried in the Letts Cemetery. Orletha Robertson of Columbus Junction remembers her mother, Bessie Swanson, telling stories about Reddick, Robertson’s great-grandfather. “When he came home from the Army, his health was broken and he was never well,” Robertson remembers. Sasha Clark, 19, Robertson’s granddaughter, said a large contingent of Reddick descendants attended the grand opening of the New Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in 2003, at Kennesaw. “It is really neat to know that I have an ancestor who was in the Civil War,” Clark said. “Our family has been lucky to have some genealogists who have traced the family.” Contact Connie Street at: 319-527-8164 or firstname.lastname@example.org