Grenville M. Dodge

Grenville Dodge (1831-1916)
by David Lotter
Grenville M. Dodge (1831-1916)
Grenville M. Dodge (1831-1916)
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       Grenville M. Dodge was born in Danvers, MA in 1831, and graduated from Norwich University in 1850 as a civil engineer. He began surveying in Illinois and in 1851 was hired by the Illinois Central Railroad, and then the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad from Davenport to Council Bluffs, IA. He relocated to Council Bluffs in 1854 and opened a second business as a freight shipping agent from the Plains to Colorado. He also married in 1854, and from 1854-1860 surveyed the Union Pacific Railroad and opened a bank, becoming a very prosperous citizen.

       Early in the Civil War, Dodge raised the 4th Iowa Volunteer Infantry and the Second Iowa Artillery Battery. He was quickly made a brigade commander and commanded the garrison at Rolla, MO, one of Gen. Fremont’s forward outposts in southern Missouri. There, he gave his superiors a taste for what was to come by organizing an aggressive scouting operation in his area.

       Dodge rose to prominence for his spectacular performance as a brigade commander at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, one of the most impressive (and unremembered) Union victories of the early war period. There is reason to believe that the Union Commander, Gen. Samuel Curtis, received warning of the planned (disastrous) Confederate encircling movement of his position through scouts working for Dodge. Further legend (utterly untrue) is that James “Wild Bill” Hickock was one of these scouts. Badly wounded at Pea Ridge, upon Dodge’s recuperation he was promoted to brigadier general. General Grant placed him in command of the District of Corinth, Mississippi, part of Grant’s Army of Tennessee, as well as the Second Division, 16th Corps.

       The District was not the combat command Dodge preferred, but it did have two tasks which, given his limited number of troops, were serious challenges for Dodge: first, to protect Grant’s lines of communications in his operations against Vicksburg; second, to provide Grant advance warning of any Confederate moves to assist the Vicksburg garrison.

       Dodge dealt with these challenges in two main ways: first, he was a prolific builder and manager of railroads to provide Grant the most efficient logistics possible—it was doubtless Dodge’s railway experience that led Grant to give him the assignment. Like US Military Railway Superintendent Herman Haupt, Dodge gained a reputation as a man who could repair a railroad faster than Confederate raiders could cut them.

       With his limited troops, Dodge adopted a very aggressive information-gathering strategy, using aggressive cavalry reconnaissance and raiding, most famously (unfortunately) Col. Abel Streight’s ill-fated April 1863 raid. To supplement his forces, Dodge raised what might be considered one of the best special-operations units of the Civil War: the 1st Alabama Cavalry (USV), a group of Unionist Alabamans, many fleeing the Confederacy’s draft. They quickly became a superlative group of scouts and raiders, eventually serving also as Gen. Sherman’s Headquarters Guard in his March to the Sea.

       Dodge also built one of the largest intelligence networks of the war—at least 100 agents, many of whose identities remain unknown to this day, ranging at least as far as Atlanta. He used code names and numbers for most of them. To avoid paper-trails in the Army’s paymaster department, he funded many of his agents through the proceeds of captured Confederate cotton and other contraband sold at auction. When his immediate superior, General Hurlbut, insisted on seeing his lists of agents, Dodge risked relief by refusing to share them. General Grant stood by Dodge’s decision, and in fact told Dodge he regretted not being able to give him a field command, but felt him too essential in the intelligence and railroad work he was doing. In the Vicksburg Campaign, Dodge’s reliable intelligence was absolutely vital to Grant, both in determining Pemberton’s numbers and plans, and in keeping abreast of the activities of Johnston’s and Bragg’s armies, which were desperately seeking ways to relieve Pemberton.
Walnut Hill Cemetery in Council Bluffs, IA.
Walnut Hill Cemetery
Council Bluffs, IA.

       After Vicksburg and his Division’s participation in the relief of Chattanooga, Dodge was rewarded for his successes with the field command he desired: command of the 16th Corps in Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee. Unfortunately, he was badly wounded during the Atlanta campaign in August 1864. Upon his recovery, he took command of the District of the Missouri, where he took the surrender of Confederate forces under “Jeff” Thompson and fought with the Indians before returning to civilian life in 1866. Iowa’s Fifth District almost immediately elected him to Congress, but either Washington life or Congress did not please him; he did not run for re-election in 1868, and returned to Council Bluffs, becoming Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad.

       Dodge played a leading role in the completion of the trans-continental railroad, and became one of the richest men in the American West. Remaining in private business for the rest of his career, he was a lifelong lobbyist in Washington and Des Moines for railroads and Civil War veterans until his death in 1914.

       Dodge was not an “intelligence officer” in the sense that George Sharpe or Allan Pinkerton was: he was a full-time commander with a range of duties, who chose to put much energy into intelligence management. Given that intelligence was not his full-time work, his achievements in the field are only that much more impressive.

       Dodge left two lasting legacies to Iowa: upon his death, he put a large sum of money in a charitable trust to be held for 21 years after the deaths of his grandchildren. As of today, the Dodge Trust still provides charitable services to Council Bluffs. His other lasting legacy is the First Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment, Iowa National Guard, part of the 34th Infantry Division (Mechanized). Descended directly from Dodge’s 4th Iowa, the 168th is presently (2005) deployed as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Also See: Grant's Intelligence Chiefs

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