CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Jeanine Humbert Johnson's voice slightly trembles, betraying the faintest hint of emotion when she talks about her great-grandfather's service in the Civil War.

She researched him for three years, searching through family letters and heirlooms passed on from him through the generations. As she learned more, she became committed to making sure he had his comrades are never forgotten.

She is one of a growing number who are giving voice to the cause of raising Iowa state funds to repair and restore the Iowa Civil War battlefield memorial at Vicksburg, Miss.

"A lot of men gave their lives" in the monthslong siege there in 1863, Johnson said.

Her great-grandfather, Solomon B. Humbert, was a soldier in Company B of the 31st Iowa Volunteer Infantry regiment in the Union Army. He and his fellow soldiers from Cedar Falls saw combat across the South, in places like Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia to the sea.

"We lived it over and over and over again for three years," Johnson said of her research with local historian and author Cynthia Huffman Sweet. They co-authored a self-published work on Solomon Humbert, with proceeds going to the Cedar Falls Historical Society.

The Cedar Falls volunteers were among the 80,000 Iowans who served in that war. They suffered from disease in addition to the horrors of combat. Solomon Humbert contracted malaria that would affect his health the rest of his life. While he was stricken, his comrades broke the siege of the Confederate riverfront stronghold at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, cutting the South in two and restoring unrestricted Union navigation of the Mississippi.

He rejoined and fought alongside them to the war's end in 1865.

He returned to Cedar Falls, succeeded in business and served on the school board, the City Council and as postmaster. Cedar Falls' Humbert Elementary School was named for him. He died in 1938 at the age of 96.

Despite his numerous civic accomplishments throughout his long life, he never forgot his service as a young man, or his comrades. He was determined others wouldn't forget, either.

He served on an Iowa gubernatorial commission overseeing the dedication of numerous Civil War memorials at battlefields where Iowans fought.

In 1906, Johnson served as president of the commissions erecting and dedicating Iowa Civil War memorials at Lookout Mountain, Sherman Heights and Rossville Gap. He also served on the commission dedicating the memorial at Vicksburg, where the most Iowans served at any one time, and where more Iowans served than any state except those from Illinois and Ohio.

In 1922, Solomon Humbert was among the Iowa delegation of Union Army veterans present for the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He spent a lifetime collecting memorabilia of Lincoln, his commander in chief during the war. Those items now decorate an entire upstairs hallway wall in Jeanine Humbert Johnson's home.

But memorials age with the passage of time, and Civil War memorials are no exception. The Iowa Civil War memorial at Vicksburg is worn with age and neglect, even as the 150th anniversary of the Union victory there approaches.

And Jeanine Humbert Johnson takes it personally. She has grown passionate about preserving her great grandfather's and his comrades' sacrifices "by reading Solomon's letters; by reading the family letters; by reading his diary, by reading everything I've got.

"The men of the 31st actually became brothers," she said. "They watched out for each other and their families." Often, a veteran of the regiment would serve as executor for a deceased comrade's estate. A regimental flag, now preserved at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo, served as the casket flag for each member of the regiment as they passed on.

Perhaps none of the Iowa Civil War memorials in the South is as symbolic of Iowans' bond of sacrifice as the one at Vicksburg.

"Iowans fought in other battles but Vicksburg is Iowa's most significant moment of the Civil War," wrote retired Iowa Army National Guard Col. Robert Pitts, raised in Ankeny and now living in Cabot, Ark. "It is a symbol of Iowa's greatest battle in its first war. But the Iowa Monument needs to be restored. Time, elements and vandals have taken their toll...I encourage all Iowans to contact their legislators supporting state funds for restoration."

State Sen. Dennis Black, D-Newton, an Iowa historian and author, has been designated by the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad to research the memorial's condition.

"It is really sad we have not kept better care of our state memorial. Being in Mississippi, it's out of sight, out of mind," Black said. The foundation is chipped, the stone is blackened with mold and mildew and the memorial needs tuck pointing.

Black estimates the repairs necessary not to exceed $500,000. But he said the funds must be secured in the upcoming session of the Iowa Legislature for the repairs to be done in time for an anticipated rededication on Memorial Day 2013.

State Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, president pro tem of the Iowa Senate, said the money likely would have to come out of state infrastructure funds, derived from gambling revenues. He says it's time for the restoration to occur, with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Vicksburg battle, and in light of Iowans' present-day sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We want Iowa's Vicksburg memorial to be presentable, and honor the service of one of states that sent the highest percentage of its citizens to fight in the Civil War," Danielson said. "If our memorial isn't up to snuff, shame on us."

 

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