Sandusky County Historical Articles
Ralph Pomeroy Buckland: Unsung Civil War Hero
Ralph P. Buckland had no military training whatsoever. Evidently someone forgot to tell Buckland he knew little of military matters. Based on all accounts of his service in the Civil War, Buckland proved himself to be a cool, and confident, soldier and leader.
Buckland was appointed by Governor William Denison to recruit volunteers in the Sandusky County area to form the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Buckland was successful in recruiting a large number of volunteers, the largest contingency from Sandusky County. In January of 1862, Buckland was mustered into service in the United States Army as a colonel in the 72nd OVI. Buckland and the 72nd OVI embarked by rail to Columbus, and they marched to Camp Chase where Buckland was placed in command of the 72nd.
In February, Buckland and his regiment were ordered to report to General W.T. Sherman at Paducah, Kentucky. Upon arrival, General Sherman placed Buckland in charge of the Fourth Brigade, First Division of the Army of theTennessee. Buckland and his brigade boarded steamers and traveled up the Tennessee River to Fort Henry reporting to Major General C.F. Smith. From here Buckland’s brigade and the rest of Sherman’s division went to Pittsburg Landing. From here they traveled some fifteen miles north on a mission to cut the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Due to major rainfall the mission had to be aborted due to extremely high water. Many of the men had become ill due to bad water and very unpleasant living conditions. Morale among the men was very low. Being away from home, sick, and certainly worried about their fate, it stands to reason that the men would look for someone to blame for their circumstances. Most were aware that Buckland had received his office through political channels and had no military experience to speak of. Naturally, the men began to speculate as to the military worthiness of Buckland.
However, Buckland’s chance to prove himself worthy of his responsibilities came very soon at the Battle of Shiloh. Buckland’s character, and determined resolve under fire became evident when he was ordered to advance his brigade during heavy fire from the enemy. Buckland gave the order to advance, but his men hesitated. Buckland immediately rode toward one of the color bearers, grabbed the staff, and escorted both the color bearer and the flag to the desired point while the rest of the brigade cheered and advanced with him. In his official report of the battle, General Sherman had this to say: “Colonel Buckland managed his brigade well. I commend him to your notice as a cool, intelligent, and judicious gentleman, needing only confidence and experience to make him a good commander.” Buckland himself was keenly aware of his lack of military training, and showed his concern in a letter home to his wife: “As I have said before my greatest fear [is] that I shall commit some great blunder by which men will be sacrificed and our success endangered. But I shall do the very best I know at whatever risk to myself.”
General Buckland again displayed his coolness under fire and leadership capabilities during Forrest’s Raid on Memphis. Union forces had taken Memphis and were occupying the city. General Forrest was being pursued by troops under the command of General A. J. Smith. Forrest managed to escape his pursuers and circled back for a quick night raid on the city of Memphis. Forrest’s goal was to swoop in and kidnap the three Union Generals known to be in the city; General Washburn, General Hurlbut, and General Buckland. Forrest and his men captured the troops on patrol outside the city and began their nighttime assault on the city. General Washburn was rousted out of bed and managed to escape capture wearing only a pair of pants. Buckland’s sentry abruptly awakened him as he pounded on the door while firing at the approaching enemy. Buckland immediately realized the dire circumstances, but he was not going to be captured without a fight. Buckland quickly ordered rapid firing of an alarm gun to wake up his troops and cause his enemy concern. Buckland rallied some men and quickly attacked the Confederate forces, which had congregated around Washburn’s headquarters. Buckland took the lead in the charge and was soon met with reinforcements. Buckland’s counter attack was so swift and sure that within an hour the Confederates were all chased out of Memphis. A little later that morning, a fierce battle took place between Buckland and the Union forces under his command and the Confederates under Forrest. Forrest’s forces were soundly defeated and soon were in full retreat.
Many more instances during the Civil War point to Buckland’s leadership skills. Suffice it to say that General Buckland and the 72nd OVI served their country with valor and determination. Although not trained for battle leadership, General Ralph P. Buckland proved himself more than worthy of the challenge.
Fremont Native Charles Stilwell: Inventor of the Self-Opening Sack
Sandusky County enjoys a diverse history. Several state and national leaders come from Sandusky County; Fremont was once known as the “Cutlery Capitol of the World;” Sherwood Anderson, astronaut Tom Henricks, WWII hero Roger Young, and many more all hail from Sandusky County. Sandusky County has been a great contributor the nation’s historical fabric. Perhaps no more so than an invention that may seem trivial at first glance, but further thought would lead you to the conclusion that the invention of the “self-opening-sack,” could very well have as much impact on the history of our society as any other contribution from Sandusky County.
Charles B. Stilwell was born in Fremont, Ohio on October 6, 1845. He was the oldest of five children born to Dr. Thomas and Jerusha A. (Boughton) Stilwell. The elder Stilwell was a pioneer physician, and settled in Fremont (then Lower Sandusky) in 1839. Charles grew up in Fremont and received a good education in mechanics while working for the railroad in the Lake Erie and Western shops. When the call to arms rang out for service in the Civil War, young Stilwell joined up with the 169th O.V.I. It is believed he ran away to join because he was only 17 years old at the time.
Upon his return to Fremont after service to the Union in the Civil War, Stilwell continued his interest in machinery and mechanics. His life’s work was as a mechanical engineer and inventor.
It was on June 12, 1883 that Stilwell was issued patent number 279,505 by the U.S. Patent Office for a machine that manufactured a square-bottomed paper sack that folded flat for storage. His invention put him a whole new category of inventors. His invention of the pleated, square-bottomed sack is an invention that has stood the test of time. As everyone knows, Stilwell’s invention is still in wide use today, over 120 years later. Prior to Stilwell’s invention, the paper sack was merely a paper tube glued at the bottom; they were similar to a large envelope. Stilwell’s new “Self-Opening-Sack”, or S.O.S. could hold more items, folded flat for easy storage, could be easily snapped open, and stood up on their own for easy filling.
Stilwell did not become wealthy with his innovative invention. His patent was issued for the machine that made the bags, not the bags themselves. His invention was sold to the Union Paper Bag Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When Stilwell invented his paper bag machine he was living in Waterton, New York. Soon after this he moved to Philadelphia, married and had three sons. Stilwell was a student of many pursuits. He was said to have been very well read, and very interested in the possibility that Frances Bacon actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Stilwell was so intrigued by the idea that he traveled to England to research the works of Shakespeare.
Charles Stilwell passed away in 1919 at the age of 75, while in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He is buried in Fremont in Oakwood Cemetery.
Charles Stilwell simply expanded on an idea and ended up with an invention that has stood the test of time. His S.O.S. is still pretty much the same today as it was when it was an idea on an inventor’s notepad.