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Stone, William Milo
(October 14, 1827–July 18, 1893)

—was born in Jefferson County, New York, but moved with his parents, Truman and Lavinia (North) Stone, to Coshocton County, Ohio, when he was six years old. Stone had little formal education. After working in his teens as a farmhand and as a team driver on the Ohio Canal, at age 18 he apprenticed as a chair maker and also studied law under James Mathews, his future father-in-law. He was admitted to the Coshocton bar in 1851 and entered into partnership with Mathews.

    Stone practiced law in Ohio until 1854, when he moved with his parents and brothers and sisters and the Mathews family to Knoxville, Iowa. He married Caroline Mathews in 1857, and they had one child, William A. Stone. The Mathews and Stone law practice proved successful, but Stone earned his Iowa reputation as the owner and editor of the Knoxville Journal. The newspaper represented the emerging Republican Party voice in Iowa, and Stone rose rapidly in Iowa politics. He was the first editor to call for a founding convention of the Republican Party in Iowa. He served as a delegate to that convention and was an elector for the party's first presidential candidate, John C. Frémont, in 1856.

    Stone was elected judge of the Eleventh Judicial District and served until 1861. He had just finished seating a jury for the latest case when he received a telegram informing him that Fort Sumter had been fired on. He immediately gave the order for the sheriff to adjourn the court and announced that he was going to raise a company of volunteers to help fill Iowa's share of the Union army.

    Stone's company was accepted as part of the Third Iowa Infantry, and Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood appointed him major of the regiment. Stone was second in command when the Third Iowa went into its first battle at Blue Mills, Missouri, in September 1861, where he was wounded. Stone commanded the regiment at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. The Third Iowa anchored the left of the famous Hornet's Nest at the Peach Orchard. When the line finally collapsed, Stone and about 30 of his men were captured.

    Months later, while in Confederate prison, Stone was selected to represent Union prisoners in negotiations on prisoner exchange held in Washington, D.C. He was released on a 40-day furlough. When the negotiations broke down, Stone held to the terms of his parole; he willingly left the capital, surrendered to Confederate authorities in Virginia, and was taken to Libby Prison in Richmond. When Confederate president Jefferson Davis was informed of Stone's honorable act, he ordered his release. Stone returned to Washington, the negotiations were reopened, successfully, and prisoner exchanges began in the fall.

    Stone's story as a prisoner/diplomat made him famous across Iowa. Governor Kirkwood rewarded him with command of the 22nd Iowa Infantry. Stone led his regiment into battle at Vicksburg, where he was again wounded. He returned to Iowa and at the Republican State Convention in August 1863 was nominated for governor. Stone defeated the Democratic candidate, James M. Tuttle, another war hero, and took office in January 1864.

    Not surprisingly, his first term as governor was dominated by war-related issues, especially the need to respond to federal military draft calls and the threat of guerrilla raids in southern Iowa. Stone was especially diligent in acting against suspected Iowa Copperheads.

    Stone was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1864 and gave the nominating speech for Andrew Johnson as vice president. Stone was in the nation's capital again in April 1865 when President Lincoln was assassinated, and he represented Iowa in the funeral train that took Lincoln's casket back to Springfield, Illinois, for burial.

    Stone was reelected and served until 1868. Under his leadership, Iowa, by popular vote, became one of the first states outside New England to amend its constitution to give African American men the right to vote.

    In 1877 Stone was elected to the Iowa House. A year later he was chosen as a presidential elector. President Benjamin Harrison appointed him assistant commissioner of the U.S. Land Office, and he was later promoted to commissioner. Stone died in Oklahoma Territory at age 65.
Sources include Alan M. Schroder, "William M. Stone: Iowa's Other Civil War Governor," Palimpsest 63 (1982), 106–18; Dubuque Daily Times, 9/11/1862; George W. Crosley, "Some Reminiscences of an Iowa Soldier," Annals of Iowa 10 (1911), 122–23; Benjamin F. Gue, History of Iowa (1903); and Leland Sage, A History of Iowa (1974).
Contributor: Kenneth L. Lyftogt