Letter to the Editor

A Civil War Veteran’s Story

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

In honor of Veterans Day, I share the story of Sgt. Henry Boeck, a Civil War veteran and my great-grandfather.

Heinrich Otto (Henry) Boeck (1839-1925) immigrated to the United States from Germany when he was 17-years-old and settled in Davenport. He enlisted with the Union Army in 1861 at the age of 22 and served four years with the Iowa 2nd Cavalry. Henry's enlistment lasted for the duration of the Civil War, 1861-1865. After completing a two-year tour, he re-enlisted for a second tour of duty. Henry Boeck mustered out with the rank of Sergeant in Selma, Alabama, and received a military service medal personally from President Abraham Lincoln.

Sgt. Boeck was a Quartermaster, responsible for finding food and supplies for the troops. Whenever possible, he relied on supplies sent from the North, or bought provisions from Southerners willing to sell to the Union troops. As the war wore on, and supplies were scarce, he scavenged for whatever he could find in the fields of Southern plantations.

Sgt. Henry experienced 25 battles, was wounded three times, and had several horses shot out from under him while fighting in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. During his four years with the Union Army, he spent hundreds of nights sleeping outside with only one army blanket for cover. Sometimes the temperatures dropped to freezing, even to zero degrees, but he slept without even a tent for cover. Often, the men had orders to "sleep with reins in hand," which meant he had to be holding the reins of his saddled horse so he could jump up and ride into battle at a moment's notice.

The happiest day of the soldiers' lives was the day they were issued Spencer repeating rifles. Because Henry was in the cavalry, he was issued a short-barreled (carbine) rifle. Sgt. Henry said the saddest day of his life was the day he heard that his beloved president, Abraham Lincoln, had been assassinated.

Following his discharge from the Iowa 2nd Calvary, Mr. Boeck became a pioneer of Davenport and helped the settlement grow from a small river town into a thriving Iowa city. He built a mercantile business and worked as a carpenter. As a Civil War veteran, he received "bounty land" in Iowa, which he used to secure a farm in Crawford County. His son farmed the land, but Henry came from Davenport every summer to help with the farming. Henry Boeck died in Davenport at the age of 86 following complications of a broken hip caused by a fall in his home. He is buried in the cemetery in Davenport.

As America celebrates Veteran's Day this week, we honor all the men and women – living and dead – who served in the United States military. The number of veterans has been steadily declining over the past half-century. Percentage-wise, there are fewer veterans living among us today than at any time in our history. The VA estimates veterans comprise only 8% of the population, down from 18% in 1980. Projections indicate a further decrease to 4% of the population being comprised of veterans by 2045.

Veterans' accounts of their time in the service give us an inside look at the realities of war. We need to preserve them, but with the smaller numbers this is becoming more difficult. If you are acquainted with a veteran, or have one in your family, now is the time to ask them to share their experiences, if they are so inclined. Listen to them and let them know how much you appreciate the sacrifices they made for our country. Their stories are a national treasure.