General John Murray Corse, who is depicted in this photograph, was one of five Civil War generals from Burlington. The photograph was taken by the Whiteside Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky, at some point during the 1860s. General Corse served honorably in the Union Army and returned to Burlington after the war.
Corse was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but moved to Burlington in 1842 at the age of 7. He worked in and later managed his father’s stationary store. When he was 18 he went to West Point Military Academy. He left after two years to pursue a career in law and attended law school in Albany, New York.
He returned to Burlington to practice law and dabbled in politics. Politics was also a family business for Corse. His father had served as a six-term mayor in Burlington. Gen. Corse ran, unsuccessfully, and the Democratic candidate to be Iowa’s Secretary of State in 1860.
When the Civil War began, Corse enlisted as a member of the Iowa 6th Infantry division. Gov. Kirkwood of Iowa, appointed Corse as major of the 6th and the regiment was mustered into service on July 17, 1861. Major Corse initially served in the army of General Pope.
Corse advanced quickly during the war. Gen. William T. Sherman promoted Corse to Lieutenant-Colonel on May 21, 1862, and gave him control of the Iowa 6th. On August 11, 1863, Corse was appointed Brigadier-General in recognition for his service in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.
He was put in command of the 4th Brigade, 4th Division, XV Corp in the Army of Tennessee. The General was wounded in the battle of Missionary Ridge, but then returned to service. First as inspector general under General Sherman, and then he went back into the field in command of a division from the XVI Corp.
General Corse is most well-known for his defense of and the victory at the Battle of Altoona Pass that took place in Georgia on October 5, 1864. Sherman sent Corse to the pass with 2,100 men to prevent the confederate general, John Bell Hood from severing Union communications.
Corse successfully held the pass against Hood’s 7,000 men until Sherman arrived with reinforcements; however, it was not without cost. General Corse lost a third of his men during the battle. He also lost an ear and part of his cheekbone during the encounter; however, he returned to active duty and participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea and subsequent siege at Savannah, Georgia.
After the war he returned to Burlington, but eventually moved to Massachusetts. He served as the head of the state’s Democratic Committee and then as Postmaster in Boston. John Corse is memorialized in several places throughout Burlington. Corse Elementary on Leebrick is named after him. Corse Elementary. There is also a large statue of Gen. Corse on horseback located in Crapo Park.
Corse died in Massachusetts, and his body was transported back to Iowa. He was interred in the Corse Mausoleum at Aspen Grove Cemetery which serves as perpetual memorial to one of Burlington’s most notable Civil War figures.
“Out of the Attic” features artifacts from the collection of the Des Moines County Historical Society. For more information, to ask questions or to offer comments or suggestions, call (319) 752-7449 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.