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Surname Origins








Chapter VIII: Civil War

        After Michael Brown’s death in Pennsylvania in 1785, most of the Bickel and Brown descendants moved on to southwestern Virginia. In the decade between 1810 and 1820, many of those families again moved on. There were some who stayed in the area, but several families moved on to Ohio, some to Tennessee and some then eventually moved from Tennessee to Mississippi and Arkansas. It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for this. One possible explanation could be “the year without a summer.” In 1815 the Tambora Volcano erupted thousands of miles away in Indonesia. The resulting ash in the northern hemisphere around the world in 1816 caused profound cooling. In the northeastern United States there were reported snowfalls in July, and thin ice on some of the rivers. There were widespread crop failures. This was 20-25 years before there were telegraph wires and railroads, and so by most people, these conditions would have been considered local phenomena, since for the most part they wouldn’t have been able to access the information that this was very widespread. Many families may have moved on to other areas, thinking things would be better elsewhere. The country mostly recovered from this by 1817, but by then many may have moved on. This then may have been the reason for the family being split apart in their loyalties during the Civil War. Those who stayed in Virginia and those who moved on to other southern states, ended up supporting the Confederacy.
        The Civil War era must have been a time of trial and turmoil, not only for the Bickel and Wise families, but for the entire area. They had only to look out over the Ohio River from Gallipolis to view enemy territory beyond.97 Anthony and Dianah’s sons, Salmon and George, were but two of many of the county’s young men who went off to war. My grandmother, Rosa (Wise) Elvick had many uncles and cousins from Gallia and Belmont Counties who served as soldiers. Also some of the extended family now lived in the South and they contributed soldiers to the Confederate cause. Anthony’s brother, Michael, had died in Tennessee a few years before the war, but his children were scattered in Tennessee and Arkansas. Many of the Brown cousins had left Virginia, but there were still many who were still living around the Wythe County area. Dianah’s sister, Elizabeth, and her family had moved to Mississippi. Most of these families in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi had sons who joined the Confederate army. 
        The early Southern victories on the battlefields must have caused enormous concern. Enemy territory was only a few miles away and with the early part of the war going badly, the area would have been understandably nervous. In 1862 Ohio’s southern border was being threatened by a Confederate army moving north in Kentucky. The Ohio governor called for volunteers to protect the state and these troops were stationed in all of the southern counties, including Gallia. Collectively these soldiers would become known as the Squirrel Hunters. When the invasion threat subsided within a few months the Squirrel Hunters were disbanded.
        There were over 1,100 men from Gallia County who responded to this call. Henry Wise was one of the names on this list. There was a military group from Clay Township that called itself the Clay Township Militia which probably originated as Squirrel Hunters. There is very little surviving information about them, but some members appear to have also participated in subsequent military operations in the first half of 1863. Point Pleasant is a town in West Virginia which sits just across the Ohio River from Gallipolis. In late March 1863 there was a Confederate raid on that town. The attack was beaten back by military units in West Virginia and from Gallipolis. There is some local lore that some civilians from Gallia County also crossed the river and participated. It isn’t known who those citizens were, but Clay Township was very close by and a militia group from there could very well have participated.
        In July of that same year Morgan’s Raiders invaded Indiana and Ohio. The Union Army finally caught them just as they were attempting to cross the Ohio River back into West Virginia. The resulting Battle of Buffington Island occurred in Meigs County, which is just north of Gallia. Some of Morgan’s men were trapped and captured in northern Gallia County the next day. Some others apparently tried to escape to the south and some were captured in southern Gallia County as they attempted to cross the river there. The Clay Township Militia was involved there. Two accounts have recently surfaced about the exploits of two of the Clay Township men, Jacob Larrimer and Jacob Riggs. Both were neighbors of the Wise family in Clay Township.
        Henry Wise died on April 13, 1863, which was about two weeks after the Point Pleasant raid. There is no information from contemporary sources or from family lore about the cause of death. Malinda was just two months pregnant and so it could be inferred that he had been in at least reasonable health to have accomplished that, but there is no other available information. It’s possible it could have been an infectious disease that was going around. Henry’s sister, Mary Alexander, had died in Gallipolis just a few weeks previous to this. Whether his death could have been related to possible involvement in the Point Pleasant incident, which occurred just two weeks earlier, is not known.
        Fortunately for Malinda, the oldest son, Charles, age fifteen, was old enough to work the farm, but too young to go to war. John Anthony, twelve, was certainly also called upon to pitch in. With grown daughters, Martha and Caroline, still at home Malinda, herself, seems to have taken over the job of managing the farm. Although on the 1870 census her occupation is listed as “keeps house,” in 1880 it was “conducts farm.” 
        The war itself was cause enough for concern. Because of its strategic location Gallipolis had long been one of the stops on the Underground Railroad, hiding escaping slaves on their way to Canada in buildings along the Ohio River waterfront. Now it was to be a strategic spot to protect Ohio from Confederate incursions. General Henry Alexander Wise commanded a Confederate army just across the river in the Great Kanawha Valley of West Virginia. Gallipolis had therefore been selected as a base to stockpile weapons and supplies. The Gallipolis City Park, which lies between the Ohio River and downtown, was turned into a military camp. Wartime supplies were stockpiled here and troops were stationed there to guard them. Fortifications were built to protect the town and a large military hospital to treat the war’s wounded was built. 
        Malinda’s brother, Salmon Bickel, at age thirty-three, entered the Union army on November 8, 1862. He had been employed as a schoolteacher and had married one of his students, Susan Herrington, in 1855. They had two young children, John aged five, and Josephine aged three, when he enlisted for a period of three years. He mustered into Company M of the 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in Pomeroy, Ohio as a private. He had served for just three days short of a year when he was taken prisoner near Rogersville, Tennessee, on November 6, 1863. The timing of this would turn out to be very unfortunate. Prisoner exchanges between the North and South had been taking place on a regular basis, but just at this point the process had become stalled. The North felt that further exchanges at this point would favor the South, because the Confederacy was increasingly short of manpower. Also the South’s resources were being strained by having to care for the large number of Union prisoners. The South for its part was insisting on the return of Negroes serving in Northern Armies. 
        By chance, Salmon was captured in the same battle and on the same day as John Ransom, the quartermaster of the 9th Michigan Cavalry, whose John Ransom’s Andersonville Diarybecame a best seller when it was republished in 1986. The day to day accounts of this soldier’s imprisonment can therefore be useful in revealing the ordeals that Salmon would now go through. The Union troops involved in the Battle of Big Creek, were the 9th Michigan Cavalry, the 7th Ohio Cavalry, and the 2nd Mounted Tennessee Infantry. (Although a Confederate state, Tennessee ended up supplying 38,000 troops for the Union cause versus 115,000 for the Confederacy.)  
        John Ransom’s diary describes the capture. The rebel citizens of Rogersville had sponsored a dance and invited all of the Union officers. He suspected it was a ruse to get the officers away from their command. Many had not returned by the following morning when the troops were surprised by a rebel attack. Over a hundred were killed and two to three hundred wounded before the surrender. Three soldiers from the 2nd Tennessee were picked out and shot. They were accused of deserting from the Confederate Army. They had in fact been impressed involuntarily and had escaped after their first few days and had joined the Union army. These men, as it turned out, may have been the lucky ones, since they were spared the horrors that would confront the ones taken prisoner. 
        The prisoners were marched to the nearest railway station in Bristol, Virginia, a little over fifty miles away. They reached Bristol in two days and were boarded onto cattle cars for the ride to Richmond. The destination was Belle Isle Prison located on a ten to twelve-acre island in the James River on the western side of the city. At the time of his capture there were about six thousand prisoners here. By the time they were transferred a few months later, the number had swelled to ten thousand. There were only tents for about half of the men. The rest had to sleep in the open, and this was the winter season. Survival would often depend on being warmly dressed and having at least a blanket. Every night there were some men who died in their sleep because of the cold. Footwear was at a premium, and if good boots were recognized by their Southern captors, they were often confiscated. John Ransom reports that on average about fifteen to twenty-five men died every day, many from exposure to the extreme cold, but many also from disease and starvation. 
        Food rations consisted of thin rice soup and corn bread, but in very small quantities. The men who had been there the longest were described as being “almost reduced to skeletons, from continued hunger, exposure and filth.” Men passed the time by picking greybacks (lice) from each other and from their clothing. Conversation dwelt almost entirely on the prospects for exchange and a return home. 
        The last prisoners to arrive were the ones who had to live outside the tents. They could move into the tents when vacancies occurred because of death, or if someone became sick enough to be taken to the hospital on the mainland. No one was admitted to the hospital unless they had to be carried, and there was very little chance of recovery for the ones admitted. Fighting among the prisoners was common, and gradually there evolved an element of predators, whom he called raiders, who would steal from the honest and the weak. 
        Food shortage would be a chronic problem for the duration of the incarceration. Any meat they got was often tainted or infested with maggots, and getting access to any vegetables was rare. Occasionally one would get an onion or some beans, but malnutrition soon would set in. In later testimony for Susan Bickel’s pension application, fellow prisoners would testify that Salmon had begun to get sick at Belle Isle even before he had been transferred to Andersonville. The men were familiar with the symptoms of scurvy (weakness, bleeding, depression, muscular pain, loss of vision, swelling and loosening teeth) and seemed to be aware that eating fruits and vegetables, to which they didn’t have any access, could cure it. Dropsy was a term used to describe the edema (fluid accumulation) that would occur in the advanced state of starvation when the body becomes protein depleted. 
        The transfer to Andersonville took place in early March 1864. It was felt that Belle Isle was too close to Union lines and would be a tempting target for a military thrust, and was also close enough so that the Confederate treatment or mistreatment of prisoners would come to Union attention and retaliation made against their own prisoners. The trip to Andersonville, which is near Macon, Georgia, would be a seven-day ride in a cattle car on the train. They would disembark at night to sleep in the woods under heavy guard.
        The horrors of Andersonville have been described in detail over and over. At its peak there were 27,000 prisoners housed on twenty-six acres. Some of this was swampy and couldn’t be used for living. A small, putrid stream ran through the camp, and was the only source of water. A latrine area alongside the stream would overflow when it rained, and it rained almost every day. The climate was unhealthy; hot and humid. When the Belle Isle prisoners first arrived it was still uncrowded and there was wood to burn to cook with. At that time the death rate was about eighteen to twenty per day. These conditions didn’t last. The camp rapidly filled up. The wood was used up and the quality and quantity of food rapidly deteriorated. 
        In the early days here there were sometimes visitors, coming to look at the Yankee prisoners, but the sights and the stench soon became too much and people couldn’t stand to come near. By mid-July the death rate was one hundred sixty-five per day, and it would keep increasing. The bodies were collected only once per day, and added greatly to the stench. The predators from Belle Isle continued their raiding tactics here and much of the prisoner’s sufferings would stem from this. These raiders were finally put down with the help of the Confederate staff in early July 1864, when six of their leaders were tried and hanged. But by that time it was too late for Salmon. He had lasted but two months here.
        There was a hospital inside the stockade. Prisoners who could walk were not admitted, and essentially nobody sent there recovered. His friends carried Salmon to the stockade hospital on May 12, and he died the next day. Living and dying under   these circumstances had to be horrific. Being among friends must have been have been the only consolation. John Ransom’s diary records that on May 13, the day Salmon died, there was a picnic outside the prison, (most assuredly on the upwind side), complete with band for entertainment. The picnic was given by the local populace as a sendoff for some Alabama troops leaving for the front. 
        Later in the summer one of the Andersonville prisoners somehow escaped and found his way to Sherman’s advancing army. His appearance and physical condition were appalling and Sherman’s troops are said to have responded with outrage. Salmon’s sergeant, Henry F. Woods, who was also incarcerated here at this time, wrote a series of letters to the Gallipolis Journal after the war and in these letters he describes in graphic detail what these conditions were and how they were treated by their captors.98        When Salmon was brought to Andersonville, the death rate for a month was one in sixteen. In November, with Sherman’s troops nearing and the camp being evacuated, the death rate was one in three.99 John Ransom, the diarist, barely survived the ordeal. On September 7, 1864, as he was nearing death, evacuation of the camp had begun. Only those able to walk were allowed to go. Ransom was unable to walk, but companions assisted him and they faked it. He was able to go to a Confederate hospital in Savannah and he eventually recovered. Col. Wirtz, the Confederate officer who had been the overseer of the camp was hanged in Washington DC after the war. The diarist, John Ransom, and many Civil War historians agree that although Wirtz was guilty of mistreatment of the prisoners, he was also in a way a scapegoat for superiors in the Confederate army and government who were guilty of the gross criminal neglect that produced these conditions. 
        Salmon’s younger brother, George, also joined the Union army after Salmon died. He volunteered on February 13, 1865, and mustered out on August 4, 1865 at Winchester, Virginia about four months after the end of the war. 
        Salmon and George were not the only family members who fought in the Civil War. Leila Smith Balis in her book, My Braun/Brown Family from Lebanon Co., PA Wythe Co., VA Clinton Co., OH, quotes the following story from the Oskaloosa, Kansas, newspaper “Independent” about Franklin Monroe Brown, who is a grandson of Catharine Brown Bickel’s brother, Andrew. This story appeared on April 8, 1865.100 

“On Tuesday evening last, during the thunderstorm, Mr. Franklin M. Brown, at the residence of his brother, John Brown, 4 miles north of this place, was instantly killed by lightning. He was out in the yard splitting some wood, when struck. The fluid entered the head, making quite a fracture in the skull, and seemed to pass all over his person. The jaws of a pocket knife and other metal about him were melted.

At the time of the strike, John was in the stable attending to his horses, and both he and the horses were knocked down and stunned by the lightning. As soon as he could he made his way to the house to see if anyone there was hurt, and finding them safe, soon after missed his brother and inquired for him. One of the ladies said he was out splitting wood, remarked instantly: ‘And he is killed too,’ which upon ascertaining the fact, proved true. The death must have been instantaneous.

Franklin Monroe Brown was, we believe, a native of Clinton County, Ohio. He served three years in the Union army, was with Sherman through all his last year’s campaign, his march through Georgia, and he was mustered out of the service at Savannah. During his continuance in the army he participated in thirty-one battles and escaped unharmed through them all, to meet with a sudden and singular death, as stated. The deceased was about twenty-four years of age.

We should be pleased to have a full history of his experience as a soldier for publication.”101

         [Franklin had been home for only two weeks when the above incident occurred.]

        There was also at least one family member who served in the Confederate Army who served time in a Northern prison camp. Henry Lafayette Repass was a great grandson of Catharine Bickel’s brother, Christopher. He died in the Union prison, Camp Morton, at Indianapolis, Indiana, on August 20, 1864. He was only eighteen years old. Christopher Brown’s descendants appear to be the ones who stayed behind in Virginia, when the others moved on to Ohio, and so they lived in the Confederacy when the war broke out. Henry Repass appears to have been the victim of the same stalemate in prisoner exchange that victimized Salmon Bickel. Ironically these two were second cousins. Although conditions in the Union prison camps were not as harsh as they were on the Southern side, they had deteriorated considerably by the time Henry was brought there. Camp Morton had opened in 1861 as a training facility for Indiana recruits. It had been opened in the animal pens of the Indiana State Fairgrounds as an interim measure. The animal pens were converted for the soldier’s occupation. By the following year they had again been converted, this time to be used for Southern prisoners of war. 
        During 1862 and 1863 the camp was filled and emptied and filled again as prisoner exchanges took place. The initial treatment of the prisoners was reportedly very good, with local inhabitants treating them kindly and with local citizen’s groups providing donations of food and clothing. As 1863 wore on, however, things began to dramatically change. Prisoner exchanges were stopped, and mistreatment of Union soldiers in Southern prison camps became known. Many of the guards at the camp had friends who had been killed in battle, and many of the guard’s officers were being held in Southern prison camps. The prisoners suffered greatly during the extremely cold winter of 1863-4. The Southern prisoners, accustomed to a much milder climate, were simply not clothed or housed adequately. The mortality rate was high. There was evidence that adequate supplies were intentionally withheld. The camp commander, Col. Ambrose A. Stevens, had received the following communication from his superior: “…issue no clothing of any kind except in cases of utmost necessity. So long as a prisoner has clothing upon him, however much torn, you must issue nothing to him, nor must you allow him to receive clothing from any but members of his immediate family, and only when they are in absolute want.”102
        The following spring some improvements were reportedly made, but as summer was drawing to a close there was again reported an increase in the mortality rate. Nine percent of the prisoners had died during July. An inspection report on August 6, two weeks before Henry died, blamed “crowded state of the camp, quarters, and tents, the want of change in the positions of the tents, the foul condition of the sinks, the want of good police, the want of vegetables…, and is influenced somewhat by the inevitable nostalgia existing among the prisoners.” Crowding here was almost as bad as it was at Andersonville. There were five thousand prisoners housed on about four and a half acres. The quantity of rations was said to have been sufficient, but the quality suffered. Scurvy due to the lack of fruits and vegetables in their diet was reported among the prisoners. This would appear to have been a deliberate exclusion, since this prison was in the middle of a rich farming area.103 
        The war had indeed become ugly. Family was fighting against family. Prisoners on both sides were being denied basic human necessities, and were being treated worse than animals. Scorched earth policies were being adopted in the field. It had become a total war of attrition. There is no word in the English language to describe this, but there is a German word, bruderkrieg, (war between brothers) that describes it perfectly.         

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