Grenville M. Dodge, An Iowa Hero
Grenville Dodge was one Iowan who was well known to most people living in the last half of the 19th century. He was a war hero, a politician and a railroad builder who led a very exciting life. He was wounded in battle and known by presidents.
Grenville Mellon Dodge was born in 1831 in Massachusetts. He graduated from a military academy as a civil engineer in 1850. Dodge moved west working as a surveyor of railroad routes in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. He got married in 1854 and lived in Iowa City before moving further west to Council Bluffs in 1855.
A Mover and Shaker
In 1856 he organized a militia company called the “Council Bluffs Guards.” In Council Bluffs Dodge was involved with an overland freighting company hauling cargo and supplies to Colorado. He was also a co-founder of the banking firm Baldwin and Dodge. In addition, he worked at surveying a potential route for the Union Pacific Railroad west of Council Bluffs. Dodge’s abilities as an organizer, leader, businessman and engineer would pay off as an officer during the Civil War.
At the start of the war in April 1861 Dodge was asked by Iowa Governor Samuel Kirkwood to join his staff and was assigned the task of securing weapons for the Iowa regiments organizing for service with the Union Army. Dodge traveled to Washington and was successful in obtaining 6,000 muskets for the use of Iowa troops. Upon his return to Iowa he traveled back to Council Bluffs, organized the 4th Iowa Volunteer Infantry and received a commission as colonel of the regiment in June 1861.
The regiment was ordered south to force Confederates from northern Missouri. With that mission accomplished, the 4th Iowa Infantry deployed to Arkansas and fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862. During the battle the 4th Iowa Infantry suffered 18 killed and 135 wounded out of 300 men. Colonel Dodge was one of the wounded. As a result of his leadership and the performance of the 4th Iowa Volunteers Dodge was promoted to brigadier general. From June 1862 until October 1863 Brigader General Dodge assumed a number of command assignments applying his leadership skills and winning a series of battles against Confederate forces in the Western Theater.
By 1864 Dodge led the XVI Army Corps under General Sherman including three Iowa Regiments. He participated in the drive on Atlanta, Georgia, and received his third wound in the battle for Atlanta. Following the Atlanta campaign he was promoted to major general. In the spring of 1865 Dodge was assigned to oversee the Indian campaign on the plains and protect the overland stage and freight routes to California. He resigned from the Army in May 1866.
Dodge Becomes a Politician
Recognizing his reputation as an accomplished leader, Iowa Republicans nominated Dodge in July 1866 for election to the U.S. Congress. After his election in November, Dodge routinely provided expert opinions on matters concerning the West, Native American policy, and the reduction of the Army to a peacetime force. He declined to run for a second term and accepted a position as chief engineer for the Union Pacific railroad.
Working for the Railroad
At that time the Union Pacific was constructing a transcontinental railroad that when completed would link both coasts of the United States by rail. Utilizing his talents and experience as a railroad engineer, Dodge was placed in charge of selecting and surveying the 1,186 mile route west to Promontory Point, Utah.
In May 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed. Its construction was considered one of the most spectacular American technological achievements of the 19th century. The transcontinental railroad played a major role in opening the American West to settlement and in transporting crops, minerals and natural resources to Eastern markets.
Everybody Wants Dodge
With his name associated with the successful completion of the transcontinental railroad Dodge was asked to serve as chief engineer, director or president for over a dozen U.S. railroad construction projects during the 19th and early 20th century. In addition, he consulted on the building of the trans-Siberian railway in Russia during the late 1870s and frequently lobbied for railroad interests in Washington D.C.
By the 1880s Dodge was a well-known national figure and was selected to lead the funeral procession for General Grant in 1885. He was asked by President McKinley to chair the “Dodge Commission” charged with investigating accusations of Army misconduct following the Spanish-American War. In 1909 Dodge was honored by the state of Iowa as the namesake for “Camp Dodge” the permanent National Guard training site near Des Moines. He died in 1916 at age 84.
- Ambrose, Stephen E. Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
- Brigham, Johnson. Iowa: Its History and Its Foremost Citizens. Volume I. Des Moines, Iowa: The S. J. Clark Publishing Company, 1918.
- "Gallant soldier and railroad builder goes to final reward" Nonpareil (Council Bluffs) January 4, 1916.
- “Grenville Mellon Dodge: Soldier – Engineer.” The Palimpsest, November 1966.
- Gue, Benjamin F. Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa. Des Moines, Iowa: Conaway and Shaw Publishers, 1899.
- Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa. Volume IV – Iowa Biography. New York, New York: The Century History Company, 1903.
- Hirshson, Stanly P. Grenville Dodge: Soldier, Politician, Railroad Pioneer. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1967.
- Omaha World Herald, 4 January 1916.
- Perkins, Jacob R. Trails, Rails, and War: The Life of General G. M. Dodge. New York: Arno Press, 1981.
- Wood, F. Dorothy. Long Eye and the Iron Horse: A Biography of Grenville Dodge and the Union Pacific Railroad. New York, New York: Criterion Books, 1966.
Written for Iowa Pathways by Michael Vogt.