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Bell, Col. William B.


Posted By: mjv (email)
Date: 7/31/2020 at 15:56:18

Col. William B. Bell, of Washington, Iowa, is one of the best known citizens of the county. He is a native of Muskingum County, Ohio, born in 1832. His father William Bell, was a native of Pennsylvania, and in an early day emigrated to Muskingum County, Ohio, where he was one of the pioneers, and where he improved a farm in the heavy timber. He there married Mary Culbertson, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, who came with her parents to this country when quite young, the family settling in Richmond County, Ohio. After their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Bell settled in Muskingum County, Ohio, where eighteen children were born to them, eight sons and ten daughters. Eleven of this number are now living. Both parents died in Ohio many years ago. They were members of the Associate Presbyterian Church, and in the community where they resided were well and favorably known, being honest and upright in all their dealings.

The subject of this sketch was reared upon a farm, and there remained until he was seventeen years old, when he was apprenticed to learn the trade of a blacksmith, serving three years, and receiving $36 per year, together with his washing and mending, in addition to which he was allowed two weeks each season to work in the harvest field. On completing his three years’ service as an apprentice, he visited various parts of the State in search of a location, but returned to his old home and continued working at this trade until the fall of 1854, when he came to Iowa, landing at Muscatine on the 23rd of November. In the spring of 1855 he commenced business for himself in that city, and was principally engaged in repairing the coaches of the Western Stage Company. This was quite a profitable venture. In September, 1856, he came to Washington, Iowa, and embarked in business on the West Side, forming a partnership with Mr. Childs, under the firm name of Childs & Bell. The business was that of wagon and carriage manufacturing, together with general blacksmithing. In the spring of 1861, the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Bell then erecting a portion of the Bell Carriage Factory.

The war for the Union was now in progress, men were needed for service in the field, and in response to the call of President Lincoln for 300,000 men, Mr. Bell enlisted, and was unanimously chosen Captain of Co. C, 8th Iowa Vol. Inf., a company composed of citizens of Washington County. Previously to this he had been commissioned Captain of another company, but declined to serve. On the organization of the 8th Infantry he was offered a Lieutenant Colonelship, but declined the commission, preferring to remain with his company, which had shown its regard for him by electing him unanimously as Captain. The regiment rendezvoused at Camp McClellan, Davenport, from which place in September, 1861, it was sent to Benton Barracks, and there equipped for the field. It was then sent to Jefferson City and placed under command of Col. Steele, where a force was being organized under Gen. Fremont to march against Price. In the campaign which followed, the 8th Regiment actively participated. After chasing Price through Missouri and into Arkansas, it returned and went into winter quarters at Sedalia.

In March, 1862, the regiment was sent to Pittsburg Landing, and in the battle of Shiloh, which occurred a few days after, took an active part, being in the center of what was known as the “Hornet’s Nest,” where 248 men were killed and wounded. Capt. Bell was there taken prisoner, together with his whole company, as were also 3,500 others, including Gen. Prentiss. The day after their capture they were sent to Memphis, and thence to Mobile. It was next moved to Selma, and from there Talladega, where they were kept two weeks, then returned to Selma, remaining two and a half months. From Selma they were sent to Montgomery and placed in a rail pen, and from there to Atlanta, where they were quartered in the court-house for two weeks; from there they were sent to Madison, Ga., and quartered in an old cotton factory for three months, then removed to Columbia, S. C., and kept temporarily in jail, from which place there were sent to Libby Prison. After being in Libby about two weeks, they were paroled and formally exchanged at Aikin’s Landing, from which place there were sent to Washington, D. C., where Capt. Bell and others received a leave of absence for thirty days, during which time he visited his family at home. In the fall of 1862 the regiment was sent to Missouri in the neighborhood of Rolla, and from there returned to Benton Barracks, where, in December, it was re-organized. The following spring it joined Grant’s forces at Vicksburg, thence crossed the Mississippi, taking an active part in the first assault on Jackson and then returning, went into rifle-pits in the rear of Vicksburg for thirty days, and in the assault of May 21 lost heavily.

After the capture of Vicksburg, on the 4th of July, 1863, the regiment took part in the second battle of Jackson, from which place it went to Brandon, Miss., where it was engaged in a sharp fight. At Black River the regiment went into camp, and there, July 28, 1863, Capt. Bell was mustered in as Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment. From this time on till the close of the war he had command of the regiment. During the fall of 1863, it was on a raid through Mississippi, and in the winter following veteranized. Those re-enlisting returned home on a veteran furlough. Returning at the expiration of his furlough, Col. Bell rejoined his regiment at Memphis, Tenn., in April, 1864. While there, Forest made a raid upon the city, and was driven back by the 8th Infantry, assisted by others. The citizens of Memphis for this service raised Col. Bell $1000 to pay for a horse, and $25 for shoulder straps, and also presented the regiment with a flag, which is now in the archives of the State.

From Memphis the regiment was sent to New Orleans, thence to Mobile, and from March 27 to April 8, 1865, was several times engaged in the assaults on Spanish Fort, and for its bravery and pluck in the final assault, the regiment was permitted to inscribe in its banner “First at Spanish Fort.” The regiment made the final charge and were the only ones that engaged the enemy inside the fort. After the capture of Spanish Fort and Ft. Blakesly, the regiment was sent to Montgomery, Ala., where Col. Bell was assigned to provost guard duty, where he remained until June 24, 1865, when he was mustered out of the service. Returning to his home in Washington, Col. Bell fell sick, and for three months was unable to do any business. He then returned to his old business and built up a splendid trade in wagon and carriage manufacture. In this business he continued until 1882, and met with good success. In 1878 he was appointed Postmaster at Washington, by President Hayes, from which position he was retired by President Cleveland in 1886.

Col. Bell was married in Muskingum County, Ohio, Oct. 25, 1855, to Miss Nira C. McDonald, a daughter of William McDonald. By this union there were born four children: Emma B. married William A. Wilson, and died March 11, 1882; George W. is now residing in Kansas City, and Harry and Cora are at home. For several years, and until the summer of 1887, Harry was Deputy Postmaster at Washington. Col. and Mrs. Bell are members of the United Presbyterian Church at Washington.

In every position where he has been placed Col. Bell has served in an honorable manner; whether in the shop as an employer of men, in the field as a commander of the volunteer soldiers of the war, or as an official, he has served in a creditable manner, and in every position has made true and life-long friends. The cause of all this is because he has been true to others. For almost a third of a century he has been a citizen of Washington. In all that time he has been brought in contact with the people, and to-day has probably as few enemies and as many friends as any citizen of Washington County.

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of Washington County, Iowa (1887). Excerpt from Biographical Sketch of Col. William B. Bell, pages 263-265.


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