Samuel Kirkwood served as Iowa governor for most of the Civil War, from January 1860 until January 1864. Kirkwood had been born in Maryland and studied law in Ohio. Before coming to Iowa in 1855, he was an attorney in Mansfield, Ohio, and a prosecuting attorney for Richland County, Ohio. He took part in the founding of the Republican Party in Iowa, deserting the Democrats to join the new antislavery party.
A successful businessman and farmer with “homespun manners of talk and dress, he was the ideal candidate in frontier politics,” wrote Leland Sage in A History of Iowa. He defeated Democrat Augustus Caesar Dodge in the gubernatorial race of 1859, showing up for a debate in a lumber wagon. Dodge came in an expensive coach.
Kirkwood effectively managed Iowa during wartime, recruiting troops and keeping order. The governor and a few friends provided credit to help equip some of Iowa’s first regiments. He also supported the enlistment of African-American troops, albeit only to help save the lives of white soldiers. Kirkwood also helped quell unrest tied to pro-confederate sympathizers in August 1863 by sending troops to Keokuk County. He declined a third term as governor in 1863 and was replaced by William Milo Stone, who had been wounded at Vicksburg.
Kirkwood served one more term as governor in the late 1870s and as Secretary of the Interior from 1881-1882. He died in Iowa City in 1894.