Wild West


Forged in the furnace of the Civil War, the 7th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Cavalry fought the same warrior tribes as the 7th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, with victories and defeats and a record that was sometimes reputable and sometimes controversial but never as dire as what happened to Custer’s men on the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory a decade later. The 7th Iowa was perhaps typical of the Volunteer regiments that fought Plains Indians during the waning days of the war and in the months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s April 1865 surrender in Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

Samuel W. Summers and Herman H. Heath took the lead in forming the 7th Iowa in Davenport through the latter half of 1862, and in late April 1863 the regiment consolidated, two companies mustering in on April 27, two on April 28, two on June 3, one on June 16, and one more on July 13. The U.S. War Department then transferred in the three companies of the disbanded 41st Iowa Volunteer Infantry—presumably men who knew something about horses—and a company of municipal cavalry from Sioux City. Summers, a Virginia-born attorney and man of property from Ottumwa, was appointed colonel of the 7th Iowa. Canadian-born John Pattee—Iowa’s onetime state auditor, formerly of the 41st Infantry—was appointed lieutenant colonel, and Heath served as one of the regiment’s three majors.

Heath, born in New York in 1823, was a postmaster in Dubuque at the outset of the war and had been elected a first lieutenant in the 1st Regiment Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. He was soon promoted to captain. On Aug. 2, 1862, Heath was wounded leading the 75 men of his company in an attack against several hundred concealed Confederate guerrillas at Clear Creek near Taberville, Mo., reportedly “running a flank along a double line of shotguns and Minié

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