MUSCATINE, Iowa — Helping place a new Civil War monument in honor of the 513 Muscatine County soldiers who died in battle, is among Lee Miller’s fondest of memories.
It also inspired Miller to begin researching and writing “Triumph and Tragedy, The Story of the 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the Civil War.”
His research turned up a surprising local angle.
Miller, a member of the Muscatine County Civil War Monument Committee, worked with his team to replace the original monument, installed in 1875 in remembrance of the fallen Muscatine County soldiers, with a new monument dedicated in 2011 on the Muscatine County Courthouse lawn.
As Miller researched the names that would be inscribed on the monument, he realized that 224 of the soldiers were from the 35th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
“That’s 40 percent,” said Miller, of Muscatine. “So I started looking into the 35th and discovered the Regimental Commander was Sylvester G. Hill of Muscatine.
“He and a local minister got 400 volunteers from the county,” said Miller.
Miller’s research continued and culminated in him writing the book.
Published last week, “Triumph and Tragedy” is Miller’s second history book on Iowans in the Civil War. His first, “Crocker’s Brigade,” published in 2009, was written in honor of Iowa’s Civil War veterans, and contains documented accounts of the victory and peril of the men of Crocker’s Brigade, led by Col. Marcellus Crocker.
In researching “Triumph and Tragedy,” Miller learned that Col. Hill’s sacrifices to the war marked his own life and that of his son, Fred Hill.
Both men died in 1864 from musket shots to the forehead, with Fred’s death recorded during the Battle of Yellow Bayou and Sylvester being struck six months later at the Battle of Nashville.
Col. Hill’s other son, Edwin Hill, also fought and was wounded in the Civil War, but survived.
The book contains a photograph of Sylvester Hill’s grandson, Edwin Hill Jr. of Nebraska, holding the musket that felled his grandfather.
Miller said there are no descendants of the Hill family living in Muscatine, but he connected with Edwin Hill Jr. through mutual friends, before Edwin Hill Jr. died last year at age 93.
The completion of his newest book also followed the loss of Miller’s wife, Sally Miller, to whom he’d been married for 53 years when she died in April 2011.
“I was writing this book in June 2010, but Sally was real sick, so I stopped to take care of her,” said Miller. “I started it again about a year ago.”
Today, Miller’s devotion to honoring Muscatine County’s Civil War soldiers has also taken the form of education.
He and other members of the Civil War Memorial Committee give presentations in area schools on their project and how it inspires them.
Miller’s book can be purchased for $12 by calling him at 263-8988. In the future, he intends to hold book signings.