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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Baker, Nathaniel Bradley
(September 29, 1818–September 11, 1876)

–lawyer, Democratic politician, Civil War adjutant general, and organizer of the Iowa National Guard—was born in Hillsborough (now Henniker), New Hampshire. He received a fine education, first at Exeter Academy and then at Harvard College (Class of 1839). He was fortunate to secure a position in the law firm of Franklin Pierce, with whom he studied law and politics. He was admitted to the bar in 1842 and opened a law office in Concord. He took a half ownership in the New Hampshire Patriot, a Democratic newspaper, and served as its editor for three years. He rose rapidly in the state's Democratic Party. He was first appointed Clerk of Court of Common Pleas in 1845, and in 1846 was appointed Clerk of Merrimack County Superior Court. He was elected to the New Hampshire legislature in 1851, was chosen Speaker of the House, and served for two terms. He was a presidential elector in 1852 and proudly cast his vote for his friend Franklin Pierce. In 1854 Baker was elected governor of New Hampshire. His year in office was dramatic, as Democrats tried to hold back the Republican political revolution that was sweeping the North. The Democrats failed, and Baker was not reelected.

    Once out of office, he left New Hampshire for Clinton, Iowa, bringing his wife, Lucretia, and their two daughters and one son with him. (They would have a second son a year later.) In 1859 he was elected to the Iowa legislature and served in the 1860 session and the special "war session" of 1861. The Democratic Party was divided on the war: many Democrats were in open opposition, some were undecided, and some were in support. Baker, a Union man, led Iowa's prowar Democrats in a close alliance with Iowa's Republican governor, Samuel J. Kirkwood. Kirkwood, in turn, appointed Baker to the position of adjutant general in July 1861.

    With the war well under way, with thousands of soldiers called into service, and with Iowa blood spilled on the battlefield, the gubernatorial election of 1861 was an important test for Kirkwood and his administration. Splinter groups met in Des Moines in August at a "People's Convention" to organize a "Union Party" to oppose both the Republicans and the Democrats. The new party nominated Baker as its candidate for governor, but he refused to turn against Governor Kirkwood and declined the nomination. Kirkwood was reelected, and Baker continued to serve as his adjutant general. He was reappointed in 1863 by Iowa's next Republican governor, William Stone.

    Baker's task was enormous. The state was virtually broke, just recovering from the terrible financial crisis of the late 1850s, and not prepared for the demands of war. Countless details had to be addressed efficiently and immediately. Baker proved to be up to the task. In an 1878 address in Baker's honor, Governor Kirkwood said, "It was in the midst of these embarrassments that I secured the services of General Baker, and he entered upon the discharge of his duties with earnestness and vigor. He created the Adjutant General's Department in Iowa. Before the rebellion it had existed in name only. He made it a reality, gave it form and substance, and made it one of the best, if not the very best, state Adjutant General's office in the United States."

    Baker's efficiency and attention to detail in organizing Iowa's Civil War regiments resulted in the publication of the Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion (1910), a remarkable six-volume record of every Iowa regiment and soldier in the Civil War. During the war, Baker had organized an Iowa home-guard militia system. When the war was over, he reorganized the system, turning it into the Iowa National Guard. Baker planned and supervised the state's first soldiers' reunion in 1870. General William Sherman was an honored guest, along with more than 20,000 veterans and 30,000 friends and family.

    In 1873, 15 Iowa counties were devastated by swarms of grasshoppers. Thousands of farmer were left without crops or seed for the next spring's planting. Granges collected food and provisions for the desperate farm families, but state assistance was also needed. Baker volunteered to supervise the relief effort. With his experience and through his office, he arranged for mass contributions of goods as well as for their rail transport to the needy areas.

    Baker died on September 13, 1876, while still serving as adjutant general. He was buried with full honors in Woodlawn Cemetery in Des Moines. Iowa veterans volunteered funds for a monument that was erected on his gravesite in 1878.
Sources on Baker include Dan Elbert Clark, Samuel Jordan Kirkwood (1917); Benjamin F. Gue, History of Iowa (1903); Samuel Jordan Kirkwood, "Address of Governor Kirkwood. Delivered at the Dedication of Gen. N. B. Baker's Monument at the Cemetery in Des Moines, Sept. 6, 1878, by Hon. S. J. Kirk-wood," Iowa Historical Record 7 (1891), 71–77; Edward H. Stiles, Recollections and Sketches of Notable Lawyers and Public Men of Early Iowa (1916); Hiram Price, "Recollections of Iowa Men and Affairs," Annals of Iowa 1 (1893), 11– 12; and George G. Wright, "The Writings of Judge George G. Wright," Annals of Iowa 11 (1914), 352–54.
Contributor: Kenneth L. Lyftogt

Cite as: Lyftogt, Kenneth L. "Baker, Nathaniel Bradley" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 26 April 2018