Graybeards

Apr 8, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It is hard in our cynical age to imagine the kind of patriotism which made George W. Kinkaid of rural Muscatine, Iowa, leave his wife and plow and march off to the Civil War in 1862.

Actually, George Kinkaid did not just up and go. He had to work at it. Forty-five was considered the maximum age limit for recruits, and George was well beyond that. Believing that a regiment of old men could still be of service, Kinkaid pulled some strings. He was related by marriage to several Iowa politicians, and used their influence to convince the Lincoln cabinet to try his plan.

Kinkaid sent out a call for "patriotic patriarchs," and was deluged by fellow farmers as well as business and professional men who left offices and stores to rally to the Union colors. During the month of August, 1862, an entire regiment was formed, some of the men as old as sixty. This Regiment became the 37th Iowa Infantry, and assembled on Muscatine Island in the Mississippi to begin military training. Along the way, someone gave these out-of-date white males the nickname "Greybeards."

After several months of training, Colonel Kinkaid reported his Greybeards ready for action. They were mustered into the United States service in December of 1862, with their own officers, quartermaster, surgeon, and chaplain.

The Greybeards enlisted for three years. They came under Rebel fire only once, in the summer of 1864, near Memphis, Tennessee, suffering two dead and two wounded. They spent most of the war guarding military prisons and railroads, freeing younger soldiers for duty at the front lines.

The Muscatine Greybeards won the admiration of their superiors. In relieving them of their duties at the end of the war, and sending them home to save the fall crops, General Willich pointed out that the Greybeards, after having sent their sons and grandsons off to serve their country, to the number of 1,300, had felt the need of additional sacrifice.

And we? More often than not we decide not to go out and vote because it kind of looks like rain.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.