The tree that stands tall against the prairie sky in Elm Tree Park is now an oak; and of Gosport, only a few scattered houses and the cemetery remain. But the 40 boys who gathered here beneath an elm on Feb. 4, 1863, and marched off to war together have never been forgotten.
Winter neglect is evident now --- frayed miniature flags, faded plastic tributes and fallen fence rails --- but this is still a good place to be on the eve of that day 150 years ago, April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces under the command of Gen. Pierre Beauregard opened fire at 4:30 a.m. on Fort Sumter, guarding the entrance to Charleston Harbor, and launched the Civil War.
By 1863, midway through that deadly war, Union ranks had been severely depleted in battle and by disease. The Gosport 40 had not answered the initial call for volunteers two years earlier, most because they were too young.
Gosport itself was only 10 years old in that year, having been laid out during July of 1853 on prairie perched at the edge of the east rising from English Creek's heavily timbered valley in Washington Township, Marion County. The elm tree stood less than a quarter mile north of the Gosport crossroads and when I was a kid, a derelict church building that may have been Gosport Methodist stood just across the road to the west. No trace of it remains.
Gosport's nemesis, Columbia, had been founded little more than a mile south in 1857 and for some reason it flourished --- at Gosport's expense.
But this was a rallying point that winter, and the young men who came together here were from Columbia and elsewhere in southern Marion and northern Lucas counties as well as Gosport. Quite a number were McCorkles --- and McCorkle is synonymous with Columbia.
After gathering here, the 40 men traveled together to Davenport on the Mississippi where they enlisted wherever they were needed, thus becoming widely scattered. Most survived the war and returned home to southern Iowa after its conclusion, although some didn't.
Elm Tree Park and the first marker in it were 1938 projects of Mary Marion Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. As the years passed, more and more of Gosport was torn down, the old elm fell victim to dutch elm disease and was replaced by an oak.
In 1995, descendants of some of the 40, and others, hauled another boulder to the tiny park and mounted a bronze tablet on it to insure that the 1863 volunteers would be remembered by name.
Here are the names on that tablet and the units they volunteered to serve in:
Co. I, 33rd Iowa Infantry
John W. McCorkle
John Y. McCorkle (died in service)
James Wolfe (died in service)
Co. F, 40th Iowa Infantry
Samuel Hunt Sr.
Co. K, 15th Iowa Infantry
Co. A, 33rd Iowa Infantry
John McKinney (died in service)
Co. B, 3rd Iowa Infantry
James E. McCorkle
Co. G, 40th Iowa Infantry
William McKinney (died in service)
Co. E, 8th Iowa Infantry
Co. O, 31st Iowa Infantry
Co. A, 47th Iowa Infantry
Co. H, 40th Iowa Infantry