Hiram Harvey Kimball’s Civil War Service

In honor of Memorial Day I am telling the story of another one of our ancestors’ military service.   In May 1868 General John A. Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a declaration that May 30 should become a day of commemoration for the soldiers killed in the recently ended Civil War. The occasion was called  “Decoration Day.”  Americans should decorate the graves of the fallen “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Supposedly May 30 was chosen because it was a day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle, and the date ensured that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.

Hiram Harvey Kimball is Maxine Wymore Renschler’s great-grandfather, making him my children’s, 3rd great-grandfather.  Hiram was born April 3, 1843, at Indian Ford, Rock County, Wisconsin.  In 1860, according to the Federal census, the Kimball family was living in the Rock County village of Fulton.  Hiram’s father, Abraham Kimball, worked as a carpenter and Hiram, age 17, had attended school within the year.  A description of Hiram was found on his military Certificate of Disability for Discharge.  He was five feet ten inches tall, fair complexion, hazel eyes, light brown hair, and by occupation a carpenter.

Hiram H. and Mariah (Phillips) Kimball late 1890s.
Hiram H. and Mariah (Phillips) Kimball in the late 1890s.


On April 12, 1861 Confederates attacked Fort Sumpter at Charleston, South Carolina, and on April 15th   President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 militiamen.  The Civil War had begun.  On April 20th Hiram, who had just turned 18 years old, enlisted in Company D, 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry at Janesville, the county seat of Rock County.

Hiram was mustered into three years of Federal service on June 11th.  The regiment was transported by railroad to Washington, DC, arriving there on June 25th.  They were assigned to the Third Brigade, 1st Division, Department of Northeast Virginia, commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman.  From July 16th to 20th, the 2nd Wisconsin marched in sweltering heat from Fort Corcoran, Virginia to Manassas, Virginia.  The 2nd Wisconsin saw its first combat at the First Battle of Bull Run, which was the first major battle of the Civil War.

The First Battle of Bull Run, known as the First Battle of Manassas by the Confederates, was fought on July 21, 1861, just north of Manassas, Virginia, about 25 miles southwest of Washington, D. C.  The Union troops were poorly trained and poorly led in the battle.  After marching in sweltering heat, the Union Army was allowed to rest. While Union General McDowell hesitated, Confederate reinforcements under General “Stonewall” Jackson arrived at Manassas.  During the battle Union troops under William Tecumseh Sherman, which should have included Hiram H. Kimball, managed to send the Confederate line into a retreat.  However, Union General McDowell failed to press the advantage.  The eventual Union defeat was followed by a disorganized retreat with panicked Union troops running in the direction of Washington, D. C.   Union casualties were 460 killed, over 1,300 missing or captured, and over 1,100 wounded.

Following the Union defeat at Bull Run, panicked efforts were made to strengthen the forts defending Washington, D. C. from Confederate attack.  Many makeshift trenches and blockhouses were built.  After Bull Run the 2nd Wisconsin was assigned to guard the National Capital from Fort Corcoran, a wood and earthwork fortification in Arlington County, Virginia overlooking the Potomac River.  Hiram would have been among those digging trenches, throwing up breastworks, building blockhouses and palisades, and standing guard.

Map showing forts defending Washington DC.
Map showing forts defending Washington D. C.

Fort Corcoran was one of 33 forts on the Virginia side of the Potomac River that made up an outer defense line for Washington D. C. known as the Arlington Line.  On July 23rd, President Abraham Lincoln visited Fort Corcoran in an effort to revive morale after the defeat at Bull Run.  Whether Hiram was present and saw President Lincoln is unknown.  Apparently, Hiram spent the following year manning the fortifications along the Potomac River.

Entrance through the palisade around Fort Corcoran.
Entrance through the palisade around Fort Corcoran.

From information contained in Hiram’s pension file, it appears he was in the Regimental Hospital at Belle Plains, Virginia from July 1862 until his disability discharge in February 1863.  Belle Plains was a landing and unincorporated settlement on the south bank of Potomac Creek, off the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia.  I haven’t found any description of the hospital; it may have been a field hospital composed of tents.  Another pension file document states: “During the last two months the soldier has been unfit for service 50 days.  Private Hiram H Kimball has been subject to fits during the last year and has been in Regimental Hospital for the last eight months.  The officer commanding does not know whether the disease has been contracted in the service.”  On the same document was the  “Attending Surgeon’s Statement:  I find him incapable of performing the duties of a soldier because of epilipsia [sic].  He has been afflicted with epilipsia [sic] ever since he came into the service, and had two attacks in one week.  Said disease was not contracted while in the service of the U.S.”

Hiram, a private, served 22 months of his three-year enlistment, then was discharged due to disability. Union privates were paid $13 a month during his service.  Hiram’s address after discharge was Edgerton, Rock County, Wisconsin.  Five weeks after his discharge Hiram married Maria M. Phillips in Jefferson County, Wisconsin.   In February 1874 Hiram applied for a pension stating his epilepsy was caused by his military service. He received a pension probably about $8 a month.  By 1880 the Kimball family along with some of Maria’s siblings had moved to Kearney, Nebraska where Hiram was working as a blacksmith. By June 1885 they were living at Sweetwater in Buffalo County and Hiram was working in the mill there.  The family moved to Harbine, Republic County, Kansas in 1886 where Hiram worked as a mechanic and blacksmith.  He was also a member of the Harbine Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans of the Civil War.

Hiram died at Hardy, Thayer County, Nebraska on April 28, 1903, at age 60 years and 3 weeks.  He and his wife Maria are buried in the Hardy Cemetery.