W. E. Sefton: Reformatory Superintendent and Civil War Veteran

William Edgar Sefton was born in Norwalk, Ohio, February 11th, 1841, to Thomas and Jane (nee Weible) Sefton.

It was only shortly after he was born that his parents moved to Ashland county, where Sefton grew up working on the farm and attending the local schools. When he was eighteen, he began working to become a blacksmith, but this pursuit was never to be. His studies were interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War, and in 1861 he enlisted with the newly formed company G of the Twenty-Third Ohio Infantry Regiment. The Twenty-Third is a well-known unit for many reasons, the first of which is that two soldiers from this regiment would later become United States presidents and a third would become a United States Senator. In fact, William McKinley specifically served in Company G, the same company as Sefton. The other future president who served in the Twenty-Third was Rutherford B. Hayes.

One of the other reasons Sefton’s company is well-known is because of the number of important battles they served in. Sefton personally fought in the following battles: Carnifex Ferry, West Virginia, September 10, 1861; Princeton, West Virginia, May 15, 1862; South Mountain, September 14, 1862; Antietam, September 17, 1862; Cloyd Mountain, May 9, 1864; New River Bridge, May 10, 1864; and Buffalo Gap, June 6, 1864. Sefton was injured at the Battle of Cloyd Mountain in 1864, but continued to serve as a corporal until his term of service expired June 10th, 1864.

After the war, Sefton took up work with the Etna Manufacturing Company, then became a traveling salesman and agent for the C. Aultman Company of Canton for about thirteen years. From there, he worked in several capacities for the Princess Plow Company, eventually becoming the general manager before leaving the company.

It was at this point that Sefton changed his line of work, and 1896 he was elected as the first assistant superintendent of the newly-opened (though still under construction) Ohio State Reformatory, under the supervision of the first Superintendent W. D. Patterson. Even as Assistant Superintendent, his duties were significant, as was apparent in the first two months of his tenure, during which there were multiple escapees from the Reformatory. In October 1896, William Kelly took advantage of a guard’s negligence to escape through a cellar door while he was supposed to be washing windows. The guard failed to report the escape to Deputy Superintendent Sefton immediately, and after this incident Sefton changed the way in which guards patrolled the border and tightened up security.

Less than six months after being elected, Patterson resigned as the Reformatory Superintendent, and Sefton took over the position. He established a prison library of more than 300 volumes, and continued to manage a staff of more than 30 people with 350 inmates in residence at the Reformatory.

Although Sefton’s tenure as superintendent was longer than Patterson’s, it was only three years after taking the position that Sefton resigned, citing ill health. He returned to his home in Mt. Vernon and returned to the apparently less strenuous work of a salesperson, continuing on in this field until he became ill, and died on December 9th, 1918 from complications of the illness.

Sources:

  • Baughman, A.J. Centennial Biographical History of Richland County.
  • Roster of Ohio Soldiers, War of the Rebellion, Vol. III
  • Butler Enterprise, 22 October 1896, page 1.
  • Mansfield News,  17 December 1900, page 1.
  • “Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch
  • Mansfield News, 10 December 1918, page 4.
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A Mansfield Soldiers Meeting with President Lincoln

In 1893 a book, Billy and Dick: From Andersonville Prison to the White House, was published by Ralph O. Bates, which detailed his experience in the infamous Andersonville Prison during the Civil War.  The book detailed the capture, transport, and eventual escape of Ralph, or Billy, as he was called in the book, and fellow prisoner Richard King and their eventual arrival at Washington D.C. to meet President Lincoln.  The book closes with Billy’s return to Mansfield and his reunion with his parents.  It is a fascinating tale of bravery and struggle, and Bates traveled the country telling the story.  But did it really happen?

It is hard to say for sure where Ralph Orr “Billy” Bates was born.  In the book, he states he is from Mansfield, Richland County, Ohio, and was born on June 29, 1847.  This information is also copied on FindAGrave.com.[1]  An article in the Mansfield News on January 27, 1922 also hints at a Mansfield connection.  Bates’ widow, Rozella, placed an ad in the newspaper looking for anyone who may have known Billy to help her secure a Civil War pension.  In the ad, she states “he was born in or near Mansfield.”[2]  What we do know is his parents, Calvin C. Bates and Kezia Fink, were married in Knox County on October 6, 1846.[3]  The 1850 U. S. Census shows the couple with a son, Ralph, living in Franklin Township, Morrow County, Ohio.[4]  Morrow County was organized March 1, 1848 from parts of Crawford, Delaware, Knox, and Richland counties.  Franklin Township would have been part of Knox County before 1848.[5]  While only circumstantial evidence suggests the Bates family lived in Mansfield at any time, they were in the area and probably would have conducted business in and around Mansfield.

Calvin Bates and Kisiah/Kezia Fink marriage record from Knox County, Ohio

According to the book, Bates enlisted in Troop H of the Ninth Ohio Calvary on June 7, 1862 and was mustered in on June 29th.  There are a couple of problems with this statement.  There is no record of a Ralph Bates being connected to the Ninth Ohio Calvary.  In addition to this, the regiment was not organized until December of 1862.  It is believed that Bates served during the Civil War.  There is a record of him entering the service on January 10, 1864 and serving in Company A of the 129th Indiana Infantry.[6]  However, this also contradicts his timeline of events in the book.  According to Bates, he didn’t make his escape from Andersonville until March 2, 1864 and arrived in Washington D.C. on April 28, 1864 to meet President Lincoln.  He does note in the book that he reenlisted and served in the 129th.  Though, he notes, he doesn’t join his regiment until the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain which took place on June 27, 1864.

One of the more exciting moments in the book is when Bates writes about his experience in Andersonville Prison and his interaction with Confederate Captian Henry Wirz.  After the war, Wirz would be charged with war crimes, found guilty, and hanged on November 10, 1865.  According to Bates, a Southern woman was allowed to enter the prison and hand out “tracts” to the prisoners.  The woman took offense to something in one of the prayers of fellow prisoner Rev. Hathaway and spat in his face.  Bates escorted the woman to the gates and told the guard about the disturbance.  The woman then spat in Bates’s face, causing him to push her to the ground.  The woman reported the incident to Wirz and he had the men involved placed in a chain gang.  Bates admitted to pushing the woman and Wirz gave him a particularly brutal punishment.  He ordered Bates’s thumbs to be tied together by a cord and to be suspended from a beam, causing the flesh to be cut to the bone.  When another prisoner tried to give him water, Wirz fired 5 shots into the man, killing him.  Bates spoke up saying: “For God’s sake, if you shoot anyone, shoot me, and end this torture.”  Wirz proceeded to empty his revolver with two shots hitting Bates in the left leg, one fracturing the bone between the knee and ankle.  Bates was cut down and, a few days later, Wirz came back and said to him: “Well you little yank, I thought I had killed you.”  Bates responded saying he would not die until he saw Wirz hung.  This enraged Wirz and he shot Bates a third time, this time the ball struck the left side just above the heart.

Bates survived his ordeal and months later, on March 2, 1864, along with Richard “Dick” King, dug a 49-foot tunnel to the outside of the prison walls.  “Billy and Dick” encountered many people on their journey to freedom, including an old African-American couple who hid them from Confederate soldiers.  One of the most surprising encounters was their meeting with General W. T. Sherman.  It was Sherman who, after meeting the men, arranged for them to be sent to Washington D. C.  In Sherman’s memoirs, published in 1889, he wrote briefly about meeting men who had escaped from Andersonville.  He gives no details of the men but does describe the conditions of the prison.[7]  These mirror closely the descriptions given by Bates in his book.

After they met with Lincoln, Bates and King headed home.  King was dropped off at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Bates continued on to Mansfield, Ohio.  Upon arriving at night, he was quickly taken to the “Wilder House,” most likely the Wiler House, where he was met by the Crosby’s who immediately recognized him as “Cal’s boy.”  He was quickly reunited with his parents and returned home to recover.

Almost immediately, people tried to verify the facts and Bates was called a fraud by many.  The G. A. R. investigated Bates after the release of the book and said he had been kicked out of the organization four years earlier “under not very favorable circumstances,” referring to him as a fraud and “dead beat.”[8]  Bates continued to lecture where he could until his death on December 27, 1909.  Afterward, his widow, Rozella, continued to lecture and republished the book in 1910.  The new edition contained testimonials by people who allegedly knew Bates, verifying his story.  Debate on the authenticity of the book continued for years.  The book in its entirety can be read online through the Internet Archive here.


Sources:

  1. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/144902324/ralph-orr-bates
  2. The Mansfield News, 27 Jan 1922, p. 17.
  3. Ancestry.com. Ohio, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1774-1993 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.
  4. U. S. Census, Year: 1850; Census Place: Franklin, Morrow, Ohio; Roll: 716; Page: 477a
  5. Sinko, Tuck. Ohio, Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. P. 130 & 170.
  6. Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
  7. Sherman, William T. Memoirs, Vol. 2 (1889). p.  143.
  8. Roster and Proceedings of the … Annual Encampment of the Department of Ohio, Grand Army of the Republic (1898). p. 198.

Nathan O. Smith: Richland County’s First to Fall in the Civil War

Nathan O. Smith was born on October 23, 1834, in Madison Township, Richland County, Ohio[1] to Elisha D Smith and Mary (Page) Smith.  Nathan’s father died on November 4, 1844,[2] leaving Mary a widow with two sons: Nathan and his older brother, Socrates Seneca Smith.  The 1850 U.S. Census shows them still living in Madison Township where Nathan and Socrates were farmers.[3]  In 1852 Nathan and his brother enrolled in the Norwalk Institute in Norwalk, Ohio.[4]  The school was originally a private, Methodist school called the Norwalk Seminary and it opened in 1838.  In 1846 a Baptist church purchased the building and renamed it the Norwalk Institute. The building was later called Central High School under the Ohio public school system.   The brothers returned to Richland County where Nathan became a school teacher and Socrates continued farming.[5]

On April 15, 1861, just three days after the attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling forth the state militias, to the sum of 75,000 troops, in order to suppress the rebellion. He appealed “to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate, and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union.” As days passed, senators noted the tremendous response to the president’s call for troops. “The response of the loyal states to the call of Lincoln was perhaps the most remarkable uprising of a great people in the history of mankind,” wrote Senator John Sherman of Ohio. “Within a few days the road to Washington was opened, but the men who answered the call were not soldiers, but citizens.”[6]

Nathan felt compelled to answer this call and entered the service on April 23, 1861.[7]  Two days later, the company under the command of Moses R. Dickey left for Columbus.  The company was presented with a silk flag in the public square, which was accepted by Capt. Dickey on behalf of the soldiers.  They then proceeded, followed by citizens of “town and country”, to the junction to meet their train and start their journey.[8]  The men soon arrived at Camp Jackson in Columbus.  Here Capt. Dickey was appointed Lt. Col. of the 15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry and Hiram Miller was promoted to Captain of Company H of the 15th Regiment.  They then made their way to Camp Goddard in Zanesville, where they remained until late May “drilling, disciplining and preparing for the field.”[9]

dickey moses

Capt. Moses R. Dickey

The Regiment then made their way to West Virginia, which was still Virginia at the time, and saw their first action on June 3 at Phillippi, West Virginia.  On June 29, 1861, in a town in Upshur County, West Virginia, a group of secession cavalry entered the town in an attempt to intimidate voters.[10]  The rebels began to flee and Captain Miller and some of his men charged them fearing they would escape.  Nathan O. Smith fired on the rebels and was hit in the head by a return shot.  The bullet hit over the left ear, penetrating the brain and lodging in the right cheek.  He died about a half-hour later and was the first Richland County citizen killed in the war.  Three rebels were also killed, including the man who shot Smith.[11]

nosmith grave

Nathan O. Smith’s grave in Windsor Park Cemetery from findagrave.com

The remains of Smith arrived in Mansfield on July 4, 1861, and he was taken to Windsor, where friends and family lived and buried in Windsor Park Cemetery.[12]  That day Capt. Miller wrote a letter to the editors of the Herald:

Rowlesburg, July 4th, 1861.

The circumstances connected with the fall of N. O. Smith will doubtless reach you through other sources.  It is due to him to say, I never saw a better man or soldier.  He never missed a roll-call; he never took an oath and never made use of a vulgar expression during his connection with Company H.  He was always the first to volunteer for any duty.  He was with us upon all our severe marches, and always had a pleasant smile for those who addressed him.  Every member of the company loved him and feel that they have lost a true friend and brave comrade, who fell while defending the cause of his country.

Yours Respectfully,
H. Miller
Captain Co. H. 15th Reg. O. V. I.[13]

The company arrived home from their three-month engagement on August 2, 1861.  The courthouse bell was rung and citizens hurried to greet the returning soldiers.  They marched up Main Street to the square where their journey had begun.  L. B. Matson greeted them and welcomed them home.  Smith was not forgotten in Matson’s remarks: “We mourn the loss of but one of your number, the brave and noble N. O. Smith, who fell as you men were prepared to do, on the field of battle in defense of our common rights.”[14]

Sources:
[1] Graham, Albert A., History of Richland County, p. 821.
[2] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10851224/elisha-d-smith
[3] 1850 U.S. Census
[4] Ancestry.com. U.S., School Catalogs, 1765-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
[5] 1860 U.S. Census
[6] The Civil War: The Senate’s Story, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/civil_war/LincolnEmergencySession_FeaturedDoc.htm
[7] Ohio. Roster Commission. (18861895). Official roster of the soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, Vol. 1. Akron: Werner Co..
[8] Captain Dickey’s Company. Daily Shield and Banner. 01 MAY 1961, p. 2
[9] Ohio. Roster Commission. (18861895). Official roster of the soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, Vol. 1. Akron: Werner Co..
[10] From Grafton. Daily Intelligencer. 02 JUL 1862, p. 2.
[11] Death of N. O. Smith – Correction. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 10 JUL 1861, p. 4
[12] Arrival of the Body of N. O. Smith. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 06 JUL 1861, p. 4
[13] Death of N. O. Smith – Correction. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 10 JUL 1861, p. 4
[14] Return of Capt. Miller’s Company. Mansfield Semi-Weekly Herald. 03 AUG 1861, p. 4