Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 1998
Margedant fought for his adopted nation
By Jim Blount
William C. Margedant had emigrated to the United States from Prussia to avoid becoming a solider in the king's guards, but he was among the first Butler Countians to respond to the call to defend his adopted nation in 1861. His Civil War service earned him the unofficial title of "Pathfinder of the Army of the Cumberland."
He was born Nov. 15, 1835, in Dusseldorf, Prussia, and educated in Germany before coming to the U. S. in 1854.
The 19-year-old immigrant worked for about a year in Cincinnati. He was employed by C. A. Latta and, according to a Hamilton historian who knew Margedant, "assisted in constructing the first steam fire engine in this country."
He came to Hamilton early in 1855 and worked as a machinist with Owens, Lane & Dyer, one of Hamilton's pioneer industries. In 1859 he became an engineer and architect for John W. Sohn, a Hamilton industrialist. Margedant married Sohn's daughter, Caroline, Jan. 28, 1864, during a furlough from the army. They were the parents of nine children.
In 1869, Margedant acquired part interest in a firm that manufactured woodworking machinery. He was an officer of the Bentel & Margedant Company for 31 years, until his death in 1900.
A condensed list of his contributions to the community include: organizer of the Hamilton celebration of the United States Centennial in 1876; leader in 1891 of Hamilton's Centennial; president of the United German Societies; president of Mercy Hospital from its founding; president of the Citizens' War Committee in 1898 during the Spanish-American War; and president of the Pioneers, Soldiers and Sailors Monument Association, the group that spearheaded the building of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument.
He started his Civil War service in 1861 as a captain in an infantry regiment, the Ninth Ohio. Margedant was then the physical instructor of the Hamilton Turners (Turnverein), a German gymnastic society. Upon hearing President Abraham Lincoln's appeal for volunteers, 40 Turners decided to join the all-German regiment forming in Cincinnati.
In less than three months, Margedant was reassigned to duty more in line with his technical training and experience.
A shortage of topographical engineers (only 45) in the regular army opened the way for Margedant, who pioneered new techniques during his Civil War service.
Henry Van Ness Boynton, an officer in the 35th OVI -- who relied on Margedant's maps -- called him "a soldier of unusual ability, of great energy and enthusiastic patriotism. He invented methods of duplicating maps in the field by which all corps, divisions and brigades, as well as individual regiments" received up-date information on the surrounding area, Boynton explained.
His maps and charts not only showed streams, roads and trails and their current conditions, but also potential camp sites, sources of water and forage and other data necessary for sustaining and moving armies. "These maps were printed on cloth, often on a handkerchief, and distributed in great numbers," said Boynton.
More details of Margedant's innovative Civil War service will be covered in future columns.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 1998
Margedant a Civil War 'insider'
By Jim Blount
Captain William C. Margedant -- who had no military experience or training when the Civil War began -- probably saw more inside information on Union army strategy, tactics and politics than any of the more than 4,000 Butler Countian who served in the internal conflict.
The Hamiltonian, only 25 years old when the war began, participated in councils of war involving some of the most prestigious and notorious military commanders of the period.
Margedant was more than an observer at crucial meetings that determined how battles would be fought -- and won and lost -- from 1861 through 1864. As a topographical engineer, the data he collected and the maps he produced often were the focal points of the critical discussions.
Margedant's work earned him the unofficial, but respected title of "Pathfinder of the Army of the Cumberland."
He provided information for a who's who of Civil War generals, including George B. McClellan, William T. Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, William S. Rosecrans, George H. Thomas, John C. Fremont, Franz Sigel and Don Carlos Buell.
His title and work may suggest the relative behind-the-lines safety and comfort of a headquarters tent, but Margedant's service was full of risks. In performing his duties -- as prescribed by army regulations -- he was constantly exposed to enemy fire.
Margedant said his tutor in topographical engineering was Brigadier-General William S. Rosecrans. The 1842 West Point graduate took him under his wing in preparations that led to the July 11-13, 1861, Battle of Rich Mountain in western Virginia. In his first lesson, the two men -- without any protective escort -- rode beyond the Union lines to reconnoiter enemy lines.
Obviously, the student impressed the general. In his battle report on the Union victory, Rosecrans said "Captain W. C. Margedant, engineer, also deserves mention for his valuable services as a reconnoitering officer in the face of storms of bullets." It was not the last time his work and bravery were lauded in a report.
Before the Civil War, the military hadn't solved the problem of revising and correcting maps on hand, and reproducing enough copies for the commanders who required them.
Thanks to Margedant's ingenuity, by the end of the Civil War, it was a common practice to revise maps daily and to rapidly produce them for each commander.
Maps handed out in the morning were returned that night with changes, corrections and additions. "At headquarters a new map was produced," he said, "and issued the next morning."
During a battle, maps were revised during the day as situations changed. For example, at Chickamauga, the superintendent of topographical engineers of the Army of the Cumberland moved over the battlefield gathering information and attended meetings of generals to offer insights and answer questions concerning tactical matters.
Margedant's innovative methods relied on photography -- a technology unknown in the military before the Civil War. With General Rosecrans' support and approval, Margedant said he "bought the instruments, as they could be obtained at that time, and started a photographic department in connection with the engineering department."
The photographic "innovation became standard army practice by the end of the war," said William M. Lamers, a Rosecrans biographer.
More details of Margedant's military and civilian career will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 1998
Margedant hailed as military innovator
By Jim Blount
Captain William C. Margedant's mapmaking skills not only helped Union forces win the Civil War, they also contributed to the economic growth of the reunited nation.
"In 1861, the young country was still a poorly charted wilderness, and the campaigns of an unexpected war often required information that was simply unavailable," said Christopher Nelson in his 1992 book, Mapping the Civil War.
"Although growing population and commerce had resulted in improved topographical knowledge and better maps," Nelson noted, "it was ironically the scourge of war that left the greatest legacy of well-made maps in its wake."
Margedant, who had left his native Prussia in 1854, developed a duplication process that involved photographing maps "on paper impregnated with nitrate of silver," according to Nelson.
The Hamilton captain found other uses for the army's cameras. Photographers also took shots of enemy lines and fortifications. Then the pictures were enlarged, Margedant said, "bringing the position of the enemy clearly before the eye of the observer."
"Gradually it became necessary to use the lithographic process for making maps and printing orders, etc., and in the Army of the Cumberland, two lithographic presses were used, besides the photographic apparatus, to print and multiply maps and information for the benefit of the army," Margedant recalled.
When paper was in short supply, he said "many of them were printed on handkerchiefs and shirt backs for the use of scouts and spies, and for other purposes."
Margedant also relied on information garnered from scouts, deserters and prisoners in the constant updating of army maps.
Margedant's three-year enlistment was scheduled to end as General William T. Sherman launched his drive toward Atlanta. His commander, General George H. Thomas, issued an order May 24, 1864, which decreed that "Captain Margedant's services being greatly needed with this army, he is hereby ordered to remain in the field and will not be mustered out of service."
He served through the Atlanta campaign, leaving the army late in 1864 in a weakened condition after a long siege of typhoid fever.
After experiencing at least 36 battles and engagements, the army's "pathfinder" returned to Hamilton to resume his industrial career. He was an officer of the Bentel & Margedant Company for 31 years.
Always humble about his Civil War achievements, Margedant also assumed many civic responsibilities, especially those related to patriotism and veterans affairs. He was one of several Civil War veterans responsible for promoting the building of the Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers Monument. Unfortunately, he didn't live to see it completed in 1906.
When Margedant died Jan. 12, 1900, in his residence at Millikin and South A streets in Hamilton, the Washington Post called him "a soldier of national reputation and well known in the War Department for his valuable services during the War of the Rebellion."
"A process he originated," the report said, "to quickly print and distribute topographical information" and his innovative use of "copies of photographs of war scenes" were Margedant's lasting contributions to military science.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 1998
Greenwood Cemetery 150 years old
By Jim Blount
The formation of Greenwood Cemetery began the day after passage of an enabling act in the Ohio General Assembly in Columbus. At the Feb. 25, 1848, meeting in the Butler County Courthouse, John W. Erwin, John M. Millikin and Gov. William Bebb were appointed a committee to inspect and recommend a site in or near Hamilton.
Because discussions about a non-profit cemetery had started the previous year, the process didn't take long. At a March 16 meeting, the full committee approved purchase of 21.29 acres from David Bigham at $125 per acre.
A month later, stockholders bought an additional 5.57 acres of Bigham land, then northeast of Hamilton, a city of about 3,200. They also considered several names -- including Hamilton, Sylvan, Oakwood, Hawthorne and Willow Grove -- before agreeing on Greenwood.
Most of the work of designing and laying out the cemetery was performed by Millikin, Erwin and Henry S. Earhart. Most of the grounds were ready by the fall of 1848, and burial lots were priced at $25.
Strangely, the first internment was Sarah Bebb, a daughter of one the cemetery's founders, Gov. William Bebb. The governor's term didn't expire until Jan. 22, 1849. He didn't seek a second term, according to some sources, because of the illness of his daughter.
Two-year-old Sarah Bebb, the youngest of four children of William and Sarah Bebb, was buried in the new Greenwood Cemetery Oct. 12, 1848, two days after her death. When Bebb moved his family to near Rockford, Ill., in 1850, the child's body was removed to a burial plot there.
Within a year of its opening, Greenwood became the final resting place of several victims of the 1849 cholera epidemic. Within a few years, more than 1,800 remains were moved to Greenwood from their original interments in two pioneer cemeteries. They were the Hamilton Burying Ground between Sycamore, South Third and South Fourth streets, and the Rossville Cemetery between Park Avenue, North D Street and Wayne Avenue.
Removals from other locations outnumbered new burials, 199 to 117, in the cemetery's first two years.
Later, Adolph Strauch, the landscape architect and gardener who designed Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery, contributed to the planning and layout of the expanding cemetery.
Greenwood, blessed with a variety of shrubbery and trees that blossom from spring through fall, has been the burial site for about 49,000 people in its 150-year history. That total includes men and women who have fought in every war from the American Revolution through the Gulf War.
There also are the graves of 49 victims of the March 1913 flood.
Five years later, in the fall of 1918 as World War I ended, more than 200 victims of the world-wide flu epidemic were buried in Greenwood. The burden became so great that prisoners from the Butler County jail and unemployed men supplemented the cemetery staff in digging graves.
There also are some empty graves among the cemetery's 96 acres. One, complete with a tombstone, has awaited the remains of Daniel Beaver since 1857.
Beaver was a Rossville innkeeper, carpenter, civic leader and sexton of the Rossville burying ground before attracted to the California gold fields. On a second trip, he stuck it rich. He was headed home with his new fortune Sept. 12, 1857, aboard the SS Central America.
That day a hurricane caught the ship about 160 miles east of Charleston, S. C. Beaver was among the victims and two tons of gold that went down with the ship.
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