The following has been excerpted from Iowa Journal of History and Politics, January, 1908.
Iowa State Historical Society.
THE COLOR BEARER OF THE TWELFTH IOWASergeant Henry J. Grannis, of the Twelfth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, who died at Fayette,
Iowa, October 13,1907, at the age of sixty-six years, had an unmatched career as a color bearer
in the Civil War. He was born in Indiana, July 18, 1841, the youngest but one in a family of
seven children. He came to Fayette County, Iowa, with his parents in 1860, and entered Upper
Iowa University at Fayette in the fall of the same year, or in the spring following. In the spring of
1861 the young men of the school, fired by the prospects of war, organized a company for
drilling, pledging themselves to respond in case the President should make another call for
volunteers. William W. Warner, a senior student, was chosen Captain; and David B. Henderson,
late Speaker of the House of Representatives, was chosen First Lieutenant Henry J. Grannis was
a member of this company, which was known as the "University Recruits".
During the summer vacation several of the boys belonging to this company enlisted, but most
of them returned at the opening of the fall term, when drilling was resumed, but for a short time
only. A meeting of students was called in the little chapel, on the afternoon of September
15,1861, as a result of which twenty-three students enrolled for service. One of the number
withdrew his name later; two enlisted in other organizations; and one was rejected at muster-in.
The nineteen pledged men dispersed to their several homes, promising to report in person one
week later, with "recruits". Thirteen days after the enrollment in the little chapel, the company,
101 strong, was accepted by the Governor of the State; and it became Company C of the Twelfth
In the meantime the "girls" of the University, led by the preceptress, Miss E. A. Sorin,
determined to show their patriotism and their interest in the volunteers by the presentation of a
flag made with their own hands. Material was purchased and the flag was made according to
"regulations", and there was embroidered upon its folds the legend: "University Recruits 101". In
return for this expression of interest and patriotism, the "girls" were invited to fill, by election,
the one vacancy still left in the list of sergeants, and the person so chosen was to be the color
bearer of the company. Accordingly, the preceptress called a meeting of the "girls" in the
reception room of the Ladies' Hall. 911 that occurred in that room was never divulged; but it is
known that two names at least were up for the suffrages, and that the choice fell to Henry J.
The flag was duly presented by the preceptress in a patriotic and inspiring speech, closing
with these words: "Take our flag, and as it floats over you, sometimes give a thought to those by
whom it has been presented. Proudly, confidently, we commit it to your keeping.... As you have
been proud to live under it; if death be your lot, may you die under its folds, and may God
protect and prosper you as you defend your colors."
As already stated, the "University Recruits" became Company of the Twelfth Iowa Infantry,
and Grannis became the regimental color bearer—and there is little to hazard in claiming for him
an unmatched career in that responsible and most dangerous position, in either army, during the
Civil War. Told in few words and without embellishment it may be thus stated:—From muster-in
to muster-out, November 25, 1861, to January 20, 1865,5 Grannis was not only Color Sergeant
in rank, but he was color bearer in fact in every battle and skirmish in which the regiment was, as
such, engaged. In "University Recruits" Company C, by Captain D. W. Reed, page 27, we read
that he "carried the flag on every march, in every campaign, and during every battle in which the
regiment was engaged, from enlistment to muster-out.... In several engagements, the colors were
riddled in his hands. On one occasion, every guard was killed or wounded; yet strange to say,
Grannis never received a scratch, nor suffered the flag to go from his hands. That it was always
at the front and carried with the greatest gallantry, every official report from the regiment
The same writer, who was in close touch with the colors throughout the War, in a private
letter of recent date, further says that "in all marches, skirmishes, and bivouacs, Grannis was ever
and always at his post with the flag. On the march he kept his place and the flag was in his
hands. In bivouac, he never allowed himself to go foraging or on pleasure excursions his
pleasure and duty was to be ready to carry or care for the flag on every occasion. He was often
heard to say: 'I did not know whether we were marching North, East, South, or West. I only
cared to obey orders and keep my place."'
The Twelfth Iowa was in its first line of battle at Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, but there
was no land engagement. A few days later it was at Fort Donelson where Grannis's flag was the
first inside the enemies' works, though the Second Iowa had the honor of being first on the
works. At Shiloh, on April 6, 1862, Sergeant Grannis kept the colors flying from about nine
o'clock in the morning until six o'clock in the evening, in the midst of that inferno, aptly named
by the enemy "The Hornet's Nest"—and there was no hotter "nest" on any field at any time
during the War than was "The Hornet's Nest" from about four o'clock until nearly six o'clock,
when two-thirds of the artillery of the enemy was trained upon that spot, and two-thirds of the
Confederate army was slowly coiling itself about that devoted band of scarcely two thousand
At the battle of Nashville, on December 15 and 16, 1864 the Twelfth Iowa took a leading and
conspicuous part. The third brigade of McArthur's division led the movement on the 15th; and
when the line was within charging distance of one of the forts, the order was for the colors of the
Twelfth Iowa to lead straight to the center of the fort and for other regiments to "guide" on the
colors of the Twelfth. Lieutenant Colonel Stibbs, commanding the Twelfth, instructed his
adjutant to conduct the colors, and to see that they were carried into the fort. On reaching the
redoubt a deep ditch was encountered, across which most of the men were able to leap. The
adjutant sprang across, but the color bearer was not able to make the distance; and so he jumped
into the ditch, and was climbing up the other side when the adjutant turned to assist him by
taking the flag. The color bearer showed signs of objection to parting with the flag, and so the
adjutant reached down and grasped Grannis's free hand and helped him out of the ditch. Grannis
sprang to the top of the redoubt and lifted the flag as high above his head as possible—just in
time to catch in its folds a charge of grape shot from a second redoubt. The commander of the
brigade, Colonel Hill, was killed by this charge of grape. The second redoubt was taken within a
few minutes, the colors of the Twelfth Iowa still leading the movement.
An incident of the second day's fight is best related by the acting adjutant of the regiment, D.
W. Reed, who, in a recent private letter (Nov. 7, 1907) says: "On the second day, at Nashville,
the regiment charged across an open field, upon the enemy entrenched behind a stone wall.
When about half way across the field, a rebel shell exploded exactly in the folds of the flag,
tearing it to shreds. The colors, color bearer, and color guard were so enveloped in smoke, that it
appeared that all were down; but without a moment's halt, the battered flag came out of the
smoke, and Grannis, still unhurt, carried it forward with a rush, over the wall and up the high
hill, in pursuit of the fleeing enemy, until he, and the little squad of Twelfth Iowa men were far
in advance of the rest of the line, and until the halt and recall was sounded."
It is worth relating in this connection that, at the battle of Nashville, the Twelfth Iowa had but
five commissioned officers, including the Quartermaster. There was not a commissioned
company officer in command; every company was commanded by a non-commissioned officer.
Sergeant Grannis surely possessed a charmed life, if there be any such. For more than one
hundred days he was under fire, the one particularly "shining mark" for the missiles of the
enemy, yet passing through all, unscathed!
The following is a list of battles in which Sergeant Grannis carried the colors, as given in
Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Regiment Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry by Major
David W. Reed:-
Fort Henry, February 6, 1862.
Fort Donelson, February 13, 14, 15, 1862.
Shiloh, April 6, 1862.
Jackson, Mississippi, May 14, 1863
Vicksburg, Mississippi, Assaults and Siege, May 18-July 4, 1864
Jackson, Mississippi, July 10 to 16, 1863
Brandon, Mississippi, July 19, 1863.
Brownsville, Mississippi, October 16-17, 1863.
White River, Arkansas, June 24, 1864.
Coonewar, Mississippi, July 13, 1864.
Tupelo, Mississippi, July 14-15, 1864
Nashville, Tennessee, December 15, 1864
Brentwood Hills, Tennessee, December 16, 1864.
Spanish Fort, Alabama, March 27 to April 9, 1864.
Twelve skirmishes at different dates.
The flag presented by the "girls" of Upper Iowa University was captured with the regiment at
Shiloh, on April 6, 1862, and the men were prisoners of war until exchanged on November 19,
1862. The regiment was reunited and reorganized in the spring of 1863. Another flag, a duplicate
of the one carried at Donelson and Shiloh, was prepared and presented by the same hands that
made and presented the first one; and this was carried to the close of the War.
Sergeant Henry J. Grannis was modest, unobtrusive; never pushing himself into notice,
except when duty called him to lead with the colors of his regiment, and then he was the
personification of cool, deliberate courage that knew no fear, flinched in the presence of no
danger, having ear for no sound but that of the command of his superior officer. Even promotion
to the rank of Lieutenant could not tempt him from the colors. He declined the honor by failing
to "muster" under the commission tendered him. Sergeant Grannis was a model soldier, "beloved
by all the regiment —he honored his comrades and himself by his gallant service and faithful
discharge of duty."