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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Dodge, Grenville Mellen
(April 12, 1831–January 3, 1916)

–railroad engineer—was born in Massachusetts. He had several different jobs as a teenager, graduated from Norwich University in 1850 with a degree in engineering, moved to Illinois, took up surveying, worked for the Illinois Central Railroad, and then joined Peter Dey at the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, an Iowa predecessor of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. He married Anne Brown in 1854 and took up residence in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1855. Dodge worked with Dey to locate the Rock Island's route across Iowa from Davenport through Iowa City and Des Moines to Council Bluffs.

    Soon after the beginning of the Civil War, Dodge was appointed colonel of the Fourth Iowa Volunteer Regiment. He led his regiment at the Battle of Pea Ridge, and was wounded. After he recovered, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and given command of the District of the Mississippi, where his primary responsibility was building and protecting railroads, a job for which his civilian experience had prepared him well. He and his troops, using just axes, picks, and spades, reopened the Nashville and Decatur Railway in only 40 days. To do that, they had to repair 182 bridges and 102 miles of railroad. He also rebuilt 150 miles of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad despite having to contend constantly with the efforts of Confederate troops and guerrillas to undo his work.

    In June 1864 Dodge was promoted to major general and given command of the 16th Corps during General Sherman's Atlanta campaign. During the Battle of Atlanta, his corps was supposedly being held in reserve, but it was placed in exactly the right spot to intercept General John Hood's daring and potentially successful surprise flank attack. Subsequently, during the siege of Atlanta, Dodge received a severe head wound, which ended his participation in that phase of the war. After his recovery, in November 1864 he was given the command of the Department of the Missouri. Two months later he was given command of the Departments of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Utah. He held those commands until he resigned from the army in 1866 to become chief engineer for the Union Pacific Railroad, the eastern partner in the country's endeavor to complete the first transcontinental railroad.

    A decade earlier Dodge and Abraham Lincoln had chanced to meet in Council Bluffs, and the conversation had turned to railroads and the prospective cross-country venture. Both men knew that several candidates had presented themselves as eastern terminal cities, but Dodge argued vigorously for Council Bluffs. Dodge had impressed Lincoln with the force of his contentions. Later, as president in 1863, Lincoln had summoned Dodge to Washington. Again they talked of rail routes to the West. In the end, Lincoln followed Dodge's advice and established Council Bluffs as the Union Pacific's eastern terminus.

    Dodge skillfully organized the Union Pacific's operations, brought in reliable contractors, laid out the route, and pushed construction. But he worked under a constant and ominous cloud of contention in his relationship with Union Pacific vice president Thomas C. Durant, a man of suspect character and motivation who was locked in battle with others over control of the company and who was deeply enmeshed in the later Crédit Mobilier scandal. Matters occasionally went to the brink, but Dodge usually prevailed because of his solid reputation in civil engineering and because of his well-known friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, soon to be president of the United States. Dodge and his forces overcame innumerable problems, and on May 10, 1869, the Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory, to complete the Herculean project. General William T. Sherman later told Dodge that the transcontinental railroad had "advanced our country by one hundred years."

    Dodge went on to help advance other major railroad projects in the West and Southwest. These included a stint as chief engineer for the Texas & Pacific; as a member of the board and contractor for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas; and later as a principal at the Fort Worth & Denver City, which completed an important Gulf-to-the-Rockies rail artery. He returned to the Union Pacific to help that company establish its own independent route to the Pacific. Dodge stayed with the Union Pacific until Edward H. Harriman assumed control of the property in 1897. Later he joined with William Van Horne to cofound and oversee construction of the Cuba Railroad.

    Dodge maintained his impressive Council Bluffs home overlooking the Missouri River valley. He was active in numerous veterans and military groups, labored energetically within the Republican Party, served a term in Congress from Iowa in 1867-1868, carried on an extensive correspondence, was an effective lobbyist, was a member of several corporate boards of directors, did some writing, and was in demand as a speaker. Failing health caused Dodge to curtail many of his activities as early as 1906; he died in Council Bluffs a decade later.
Sources Archival material on Dodge can be found at the State Historical Society of Iowa in both Iowa City and Des Moines as well as in the Western History Collection of the Denver (Colorado) Public Library. Valuable secondary sources on Grenville Dodge include Stanley P. Hirshson, Grenville M. Dodge: Soldier, Politician, Railroad Pioneer (1967); and J. R. Perkins, Trails, Rails and War: The Life of G. M. Dodge (1929). For his own reminiscences, see G. M. Dodge, How We Built the Union Pacific Railway and Other Railway Papers and Addresses (1910).
Contributor: Don L. Hofsommer

Cite as: Hofsommer, Don L. "Dodge, Grenville Mellen" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 16 August 2018