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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Iowa Soldier and Last Veteran, Speaker of the House

by Gordon Thorsby

The Second Battle at Corinth, MS, on October 3-4, 1862 is a mere footnote in our memories when sandwiched between such battles as Antietam, Perryville, Fredericksburg, Stones River, and the announced Emancipation Proclamation.

One soldier’s life path in Corinth altered that day on October 4. David B Henderson (1840, Scotland-1906 California) enlisted in 1861 in the 12th Iowa as Private. At Ft. Donelson in February, 1862, his bravery going over the breastworks earned a promotion to 1st Lieutenant and a wound in the neck. When he returned to duty, he participated in the Corinth Campaign and another promotion to Captain.

At Second Corinth, the fighting’s ferocity increased as Confederate advancing lines broke through the blue lines. Officers tried to stabilize their lines. During the chaos, Henderson received a minie ball wound again, this time in his left foot. It was a horrible wound as best described as shattering the foot’s structure. “The ball entered my foot on the top and two inches back of the second and third toes, cutting the cords of those toes. It then passed diagonally across the foot and came out three quarters of an inch below the left ankle, Its course was through the large part of the foot. “ It was the worst used up Minnie I ever saw’” he described. The foot was amputated and Henderson would from there on he wore his “timber foot and leg.” Henderson, recovered sufficiently enough to be discharged in February, 1863. The years continued on and doctors had to attend to the wound and continue further amputations of the leg. This did not stop Henderson.

He raised a regiment of one hundred days men in February, 1864 and became its Colonel. After the war, he married his college sweetheart, Augusta, and took up the law until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1889. Henderson served until 1903 and served as Speaker of the House for two terms, wooden leg and all. For interesting trivia, he was the first Speaker born west of the Mississippi, the last foreign born Speaker, and the last Speaker who was also a Civil War Veteran. Henderson was a strong supporter of Civil War battlefield preservation so the American Battle Trust would be proud of him.

Today, Henderson’s portrait hangs in the Speaker’s room at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.


David Henderson Papers, University of Iowa.

Corinth, by Smith, Timothy B., University Press of Kansas, 2012.

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