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Tales of two local Civil War veterans

By HENRY TIMMAN • Feb 8, 2019 at 12:00 PM

During the American Civil War, the state of Ohio played a leading part. There were no pitched battles on our soil, but our state did furnish a great many men for the war effort — 310,654, according to the U.S. Provost-Marshal General’s office. The War Department put forth the figure of 313,180 troops. Whichever number is correct, our state ranked third among the states in the number who served.

In 1865, it was calculated that Huron County had supplied 2,454 of those soldiers and that of that number, 347 died or were killed in the service and 158 were disabled. Many of those who survived returned here to live; some moved west to take up federal homestead land; and some had a genuine problem in settling down after three and four years of living in the field and moving from place to place — and of trying to survive countless battles and skirmishes.

One of those who wandered around the United States after the war and eventually settled in Huron County was Charles W. Hale. As a young man, he was a boatman on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and in 1861 enlisted in the Union army from Kentucky. Hale served in the 157th Ohio Infantry as a cook. After the war, he became a riverboat captain until coming to Huron County about 1880.

Hale liked our area so well that he stayed and in 1893 entered the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky, where he lived until passing away in 1924. He had purchased a lot and a monument in Norwalk’s Wodlawn Cemetery and was buried there. Part of the monument’s inscription is that Hale was “a flatboatman and tug boat captain on the Miss. River.” No doubt he had many tall tales to swap with his comrades at the Veterans Home.

Now we turn to the story of a Berlin Heights veteran who wasn’t nearly as lucky as Charles Hale. In 1909 a man known as Henry Davis, alias George Benedict, alias Henry Sharp, was arrested by a U.S. marshal after being indicted by a federal grand jury on making a false affidavit for a military pension. At this time, he was 71 years old.

Our subject served in the American Civil War from New York state under the name of Henry Davis. Soon after enlistment he deserted and later reenlisted as George Benedict. He served out his time and was discharged in 1865. After the war he eventually settled in Berlin Heights, where he was an active member of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic), the veterans’ organization for Civil War veterans. He had worked as a printer until age forced him to seek a pension.

When Mr. Davis/Benedict/Sharp was arrested and taken to court, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 days in jail and costs. If he paid the costs within 21 days, there would be no jail time. He was released to come back to Berlin Heights and raise the $50 for the costs. I presume he did so; at least, he was living in Berlin Heights when the 1910 census was taken.

Within a few years he entered the Ohio Veterans Home at Sandusky as George Benedict, where he died in 1915 and was buried there under that name. His indictment and court case seem to be extreme in that he was a legitimate veteran, but I do know that some of the pension claims were carefully examined and investigated before being approved.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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