Journal-News, Wednesday, May 1, 1996
10 soldiers from Butler County have earned Medals of Honor
By Jim Blount
More than 3,400 Congressional Medals of Honor have been awarded for service "above and beyond the call of duty" since 1863, including 10 credited to natives of Butler County.
The nation's highest military honor was enacted by Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln in December 1861. The medal's design was approved in 1862, and about 1,520 were bestowed for heroism during the Civil War (1861-1865).
Five of the Civil War honorees are recorded as Butler Countians. Two were recognized for "gallantry in the charge of the volunteer storming party" May 22, 1863, at Vicksburg, Miss. They were Corp. Richard W. DeWitt, Company D, 47th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and Pvt. Benjamin W. Schenck, Company D, 116th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Their regiments were part of the army commanded by Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, whose objective was the strategic city on the Mississippi River. Vicksburg, in addition to overlooking a loop in the river, was an important Confederate railroad center.
Grant, whose campaign to capture the city had started in December 1862, encountered several frustrations. As a result, the under-manned Confederates were still holding out in mid May 1863. But victory seemed near as Grant's troops formed a 12-mile ring around three sides of the city with Union gunboats commanding the river on the fourth side.
He ordered a frontal assault Tuesday afternoon, May 19. The 47th OVI -- with about 60 men from Butler County in its ranks -- lost 13 killed, 40 wounded and six missing in the attack. Overall, the futile action cost Grant about 1,000 casualties in a few hours.
Three days later, Friday morning, May 22, the stubborn Union commander ordered another frontal attack over the rough terrain.
His officers were told to select 150 volunteers for the mission -- which the soldiers named "the forlorn hope." Only unmarried men were accepted for the dangerous venture in which some soldiers were to carry heavy logs as they advanced. The logs were to be used to form a bridge over a ditch leading to a Confederate stronghold.
Instead of 150 men, Grant had twice that number volunteer for the risky mission, including DeWitt and Schenck, both of whom had been born in Butler County. Again, the assault failed. This time Union casualties were about 3,200 men, including six killed, 26 wounded and one missing in the 47th OVI.
After those two tries, Grant resorted to a siege. Vicksburg surrendered July 4, 1863, about seven months after the Union campaign had started.
When Sgt. Joseph Stickels won his medal, General Robert E. Lee had already surrendered his Confederate army in Virginia. Sgt. Stickels of Company A, 83rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was recognized for capturing a flag April 9, 1865, at Fort Blakely, an outer defense of Mobile, Ala.
He was one of more than 200 Butler Countians in the 83rd OVI in a battle waged several hours after Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Va. The Union siege at Fort Blakely had started April 1. Mobile fell to Union forces April 12.
The key April 9 assault on Fort Blakely was "extemporaneous," said the commander of the 83rd. Skirmishers had been ordered forward to feel out the rebel defense. But men in the 83rd and other regiments took matters into their own hands and charged over 500 yards to capture the fort within 20 minutes. The 83rd lost six men killed and 26 wounded in the action.
Another Butler County native, Pvt. Edward J. Bebb of Company D, 4th Iowa Cavalry, earned his medal April 16, 1865, a week after Lee's surrender. He was cited for capturing a Confederate flag during Major-General James H. Wilson's sweep from Georgia into Alabama.
Next week, this column will cover a fifth Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor winner credited to Butler County.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 8, 1996
Was Pvt. John Wollam, railroad raider, really native of Hamilton?
By Jim Blount
Was a Hamilton native among the first group awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor?
A document in the National Archives says Pvt. John Wollam, one of the Andrews Raiders involved in "The Great Locomotive Chase," was born in "Hamilton, Ohio."
Wollam of Company C, 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, earned the medal for his exploits in the Georgia expedition in April 1862.
According to the citation, Wollam was one of 22 men (including two civilians), who "penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., and attempted to destroy the bridges and track between Chattanooga and Atlanta."
The raiders -- except the civilians -- were recruited from the ranks of three Ohio infantry regiments (2nd, 21st and 33rd). They were led by a civilian, James J. Andrews, a Kentuckian who also was a Union spy.
The Andrews raiders started April 7 from Shelbyville, Tenn. They wore civilian clothes as they headed for Georgia, posing as Kentuckians heading south to join Confederate units. They moved in groups of two to four to a rendezvous at Marietta, Ga., 20 miles north of Atlanta and 118 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn.
Their mission was to capture a train on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. The raiders were to run it north to Chattanooga, burning bridges and destroying tracks behind them.
April 12, the raiders stole a train, pulled by the locomotive General, when it made a breakfast stop at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw, Ga.). Three railroad employees pursued -- first on a handcar and later on the locomotive Texas. The 90-mile chase ended two miles north of Ringgold, Ga., near the Georgia-Tennessee border, when the General ran out of steam.
No bridges had been destroyed because the raiders couldn't ignite the rain-soaked spans. Only minor damage was inflicted on the W&A right-of-way.
Wollam was captured April 13, escaped June 1 and recaptured June 4. Confederates hanged eight of the raiders, including Andrews, in Atlanta June 7 and June 18.
Wollam and seven other raiders escaped from their Atlanta cells Oct. 16. It took him 32 days to find his way back to his regiment. Less than a year later, he was captured again during the Battle of Chickamauga, Ga., Sept. 19-20, 1863.
Despite a ball and chain, Wollam escaped a third time in February 1864, rejoined his regiment and served until discharged Oct. 10, 1864. He returned to Jackson, Ohio, where he had resided before the war.
The first Congressional Medals of Honor were bestowed on six Andrews Raiders March 25, 1863. The others -- except the civilians -- were honored later for the mission, popularized in a 1956 Walt Disney movies as "The Great Locomotive Chase."
Most of the surviving Andrews raiders wrote books or newspaper accounts of their adventure and capitalized on their fame, but not Wollam. He attended only one reunion (1888). His reluctance to attend was based on his belief that one of the raiders had betrayed them.
After the war, the quiet veteran worked with his father as a carpenter in Jackson before moving to Illinois and eventually Kansas. He died Sept. 26, 1890, in Topeka, Kansas, and is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Jackson, Ohio.
In the 1950s, a Jackson County historian tried to verify Wollam had been born in that county. Instead, he unearthed information through a relative which indicated Wollam had been born in Cincinnati. Wollam's obituary in a Topeka newspaper reported he had been born in Cincinnati in 1838.
The birthplace listed in military records may have been a matter of someone writing Hamilton, Ohio, instead of Hamilton County, Ohio.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 15, 1996
Three Butler County men honored for heroism on western frontier
By Jim Blount
Three Butler County natives were among the 423 men awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in Indian campaigns between 1861 and 1898. For one of the local heroes, the nation's highest military honor was a posthumous award.
Sgt. William T. DeArmond of Company I, 5th U. S. Infantry Regiment, earned the medal for gallantry in frontier action Sept. 9-11, 1874. He lost his life in an encounter with Indians at Upper Washita, Texas. His body was never recovered.
DeArmond was an experienced soldier. As a 19-year-old, he left Butler County to fight in the Civil War. He joined the 26th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment June 10, 1861, was appointed corporal Oct. 28, 1862, and was mustered out June 10, 1864.
At age 28, he started a five-year army stint July 2, 1869, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was discharged as corporal July 2, 1874. He was only two months into another five-year enlistment when he died.
The first Butler County native to win the Medal of Honor in an Indian campaign was Pvt. William G. Cubberly. He was born Nov. 26, 1847, on a farm in Reily Twp. and at age 16 entered the Union army during the Civil War. May 2, 1864, he enlisted in Company I, 167th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a 100-day unit raised in Butler County. He was discharged Sept. 8, 1864.
Two years after the Civil War, Cubberly enlisted for five years. He joined Company L, 8th U. S. Cavalry in Cincinnati May 18, 1867. He earned his Medal of Honor May 30, 1868, at San Carlos, Arizona.
Cubberly and two other volunteers searched for a wagon passage out of a 4,000-foot valley where an infantry column was trapped.
"This small group passed six miles among hostile Apache terrain, finding the sought passage," the citation explained. "On their return trip down the canyon, they were attacked by Apache who were successfully held at bay."
Cubberly was discharged Oct. 18, 1868, because of disability caused when he was thrown from a mule while on duty. He lived in Ehrensburg, Arizona, from 1868 to 1872, when he moved to Peoria, Ind., just west of Butler County.
He married Clemente Davis May 12, 1875, in Reily, and the couple moved to Kansas in 1878, and to Custer, S. D., in 1891. Nine years later, they relocated to Lyons Station, near Connersville, in Fayette County, Indiana. He died there July 27, 1919.
Pvt. Samuel D. Phillips, born Jan. 28, 1845, on a Butler County farm, also had served in the Union army. As a 16-year-old, he joined Company B, 29th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment Sept. 1, 1861. A disability shortened his term and he was discharged April 23, 1862, at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.
Phillips re-entered the army Sept. 3, 1876, in Montana -- 10 weeks after Lt. Col. George A. Custer's famed defeat in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana Territory. Phillips won the Medal of Honor for gallantry while a member of Company H, 2nd U. S. Cavalry Regiment, May 7, 1877, at Muddy Creek, Montana.
The action was part of a successful campaign led by Colonel Nelson Miles. The troops were chasing renegade Sioux led by Lame Deer, a chief who had been present at the Custer massacre. Phillips was one of five soldiers to earn the Medal of Honor during the campaign which climaxed with an attack on Lame Deer's village near the mouth of Muddy Creek.
Phillips suffered several injuries, including fractures before his discharge May 22, 1879. After his military service, he resided in Minnesota. He died Nov. 12, 1915, in St. Paul.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 22, 1996
Two Butler County natives honored for World War II, Vietnam heroism
By Jim Blount
Only two soldiers born in Butler County have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in 20th century action. One was among 433 accorded for World War II and the other among 238 honored for heroism in Vietnam. With five awards during the Civil War and three during Indian campaigns, Butler County is credited in official sources with 10 recipients of the nation's highest military honor.
The World War II honoree was Pfc. Patrick L. Kessler of Company K, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division. The 22-year-old Middletown native earned the medal in action May 23, 1944, near Ponte Rotto, Italy. He killed at least four Germans and captured 16 while wiping out two machines guns and a pair of snipers during the Anzio breakout.
Kessler didn't live to receive the medal. He was killed in action two days later. (The complete details of his exploits were covered in this column May 18, 1994, and in a recent book, "On the Home Front.")
The Vietnam honoree was born in Middletown, but entered the army in 1968 as a resident of Lebanon in neighboring Warren County. He served six months in Europe with the 8th Infantry Division before going to Vietnam in April 1969.
Sgt. Gordon R. Roberts of Company B, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, was cited for his actions July 11, 1969, in Thua Thien Province, Vietnam. He had already earned a Silver Star for courage during the May 10-20 battle for Ap Bia Mountain, called "Hamburger Hill."
Roberts, 19 at the time of the Thua Thien fight, was recognized for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty." The citation described his feat this way:
"Sgt. Roberts' platoon was maneuvering along a ridge to attack heavily fortified enemy bunker positions which had pinned down an adjoining friendly company. As the platoon approached the enemy positions, it was suddenly pinned down by heavy automatic weapons and grenade fire from camouflaged enemy fortifications atop the overlooking hill.
"Seeing his platoon immobilized and in danger of failing in its mission, Sgt. Roberts crawled rapidly toward the closest enemy bunker. With complete disregard for his safety, he leaped to his feet and charged the bunker, firing as he ran. Despite the intense enemy fire directed at him, Sgt. Roberts silenced the two-man bunker.
"Without hesitation," the citation said, "Sgt. Roberts continued his one-man assault on a second bunker. As he neared the second bunker, a burst of enemy fire knocked his rifle from his hands. Sgt. Roberts picked up a rifle dropped by a comrade and continued his assault, silencing the bunker.
"He continued his charge against a third bunker and destroyed it with well-thrown hand grenades. Although Sgt. Roberts was now cut off from his platoon, he continued his assault against a fourth enemy emplacement. He fought through a heavy hail of fire to join elements of the adjoining company which had been pinned down by the enemy fire.
"Although continually exposed to hostile fire, he assisted in moving wounded personnel from exposed positions on the hilltop to an evacuation area before returning to his unit.
"By his gallant and selfless actions, Sgt. Roberts contributed directly to saving the lives of his comrades and served as an inspiration to his fellow soldiers in the defeat of the enemy force," the citation said.
Roberts remained in Vietnam until April 1970. His Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded March 9, 1971, by President Richard M. Nixon in ceremonies at the White House.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, May 29, 1996
Ritchie's Motor Wagon in 1899 first gas-powered auto in Hamilton
By Jim Blount
The demise of the horse-and-buggy era in Hamilton began Thursday, Aug. 31, 1899, when the Motor Wagon, a local product, cruised the streets of the city at less than six miles an hour. It was the first gasoline-powered automobile to appear in Hamilton.
"To a Hamilton firm will be given the distinction of constructing the first automobile made in this section of the country," said a newspaper in revealing the historic event. The car t was built in the plant of the Advance Manufacturing Company at the southwest corner of North Fifth and Vine streets
"The carriage -- really a wagon with an engine mounted on it -- came down muddy, unpaved High Street and had to stop three times in one square," said Will H. Howe, who witnessed the event. Howe, a founder and long-time secretary of the Butler County Automobile Club, described the scene in 1934.
The Motor Wagon, a name painted on the side of the wood frame, was produced by Oscar Ritchie, who had joined his father, William Ritchie, in 1888 in forming the Advance Manufacturing Company.
The company, "wishing to extend its borders and try something new, decided a few months ago to construct an automobile, or a horseless carriage, as commonly called," reported the Republican-News. The 1900 city directory said Advance built gasoline engines. Experimenting in car building may have been an attempt to revive the firm, which had been in receivership litigation for two years.
In describing the Ritchie vehicle, the Republican-News offered a primer on how the car worked. "The motive power is furnished by gasoline which is placed in a tank, containing four gallons, beneath the foot boards in front. This amount of gasoline is sufficient to run the automobile about 20 hours," the article said.
"The rate of speed has been fixed at six miles an hour by the gearing. This speed, however, has not been attained as yet," the reporter noted. Based on those figures, Ritchie's car would have realized about 30 miles to the gallon.
"While the gasoline tank is placed in front, beneath the foot boards, this does not signify that the rear and middle of the automobile is vacant," the report continued, "for here is found its principal machinery, consisting of a small engine placed beneath the seat and almost numberless chains and belts attaching themselves to each other and, in turn, being united with the front and rear wheel as motive power."
"However, to be fully comprehended, it must be seen," said the reporter, apparently somewhat befuddled by the new-fangled vehicle.
"The automobile is a one-seated concern and is guided by a lever placed in the middle of the seat," he explained. "It is a bit cumbersome and weighs considerable, and in running makes considerable noise." The article said "as the bed of the carriage is of such heavy weight, it is placed upon strong and steady wheels with rubber tires to make it easy in running."
The newspaper saw a bright future for the Motor Wagon. "The test made Thursday proved most satisfactory and it is only a question of time until it will be perfected and be running upon the streets of Hamilton in a most satisfactory manner," the report concluded.
That optimism was ill-founded. The Advance Manufacturing Company -- which survived receivership -- never mass produced the vehicle. The fate of the prototype Motor Wagon is unknown. The 1902 and subsequent city directories listed Advance's business as "builders of gas and gasoline engines."
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