LIMA — I’ve been taking long, daily walks for the past couple decades, through Gethsemani and Woodlawn cemeteries, located side by side just southwest of Faurot Park here in Lima. In the past month I’ve been joined by a parade of walkers and joggers eager to escape their COVID-19 captivity. The beautifully landscaped, rolling hills of the cemeteries provide an intriguing retreat for those seeking a quiet, safe space to stroll. Much of Lima’s history can be discovered in these two cemeteries.
I often passed a broken military tombstone while crossing between the two cemeteries on the Woodlawn side. The stone honored a Civil War veteran and was made of sandstone, a material that can be damaged by weather or vandalism. When I turned the broken stone over, I could only make out the name of the soldier in large letters at top: SADDLER. My curiosity piqued, I set out to rescue the tombstone and find out more about this long-forgotten veteran.
After cleaning the stone, I was able to decipher only one other line of information about Saddler. He was a Union soldier serving in the 2nd Regiment, Ohio Calvary. That clue was enough to begin a search of Civil War records online and at the library. It didn’t take me long to find the roster for Saddler’s regiment but I was disappointed to discover there was no Saddler listed on the 2nd Regiment roster.
I did manage to discover that three soldiers from Ohio with the last name of Saddler served the Union in the Civil War, but none in the Ohio Cavalry. I realized the answer to the puzzle must lay with the second line of information on the stone that I could not decipher. I bought the material to make a rubbing of the tombstone in hopes of bringing the information to life but was frustrated because I still couldn’t make out the inscription.
I carried the rubbing with me for over a month, sharing it with everyone I encountered in hopes that someone could make out the printing on the second line. I approached people in the library, museum and Veterans Affairs office to see if they could solve the inscription, but no luck. In the end it was my daughter in law, Aimee, who unraveled the mystery.
She taped the rubbing on a kitchen cabinet and, as we sat around her dinner table that evening, the glare from the setting sun, shining through the patio doors, cast the rubbing in a different light and shadow. Like a scene from a movie, the letters became clearer and Aimee began to slowly read them aloud: “WM. C. Cobean.“ I was hoping for a rank, but instead discovered another name.
My next stop was to the Woodlawn Cemetery offices to inquire who exactly was buried under the tombstone. They were kind enough to inform me that, according to their records, William “Calvin” Cobean was the occupant of the gravesite. Their records indicated that he was born in 1837 in Allen County and died in 1905 of heart disease.
Now I began a pursuit of Mr. Cobean’s military record and decided to employ the wisdom of Anna Selfridge, the Allen County Museum’s curator of archives and manuscripts. It took her about five minutes to find Calvin Cobean’s military record while serving in the Civil War and print out the documents. When I ran my finger along the line of information and came to his rank, another riddle was solved.
Cobean’s rank was listed as a saddler. The 2nd Regiment of the Ohio Cavalry traveled by horse and it was the saddler who made and repaired their saddles and harnesses. He was just as indispensable to his regiment as the modern-day military mechanic who keeps jet engines running and tanks rolling. Cobean was proud of his craft and made it the most prominent feature of his tombstone. I Googled hundreds of Civil War tombstones and his was the only one I found to feature his rank in bold letters at the top of the headstone.
Cobean enlisted in Company C, Ohio 2nd Cavalry Regiment on Aug. 29, 1861, and mustered out of the army on Sept. 11, 1865. During his four years of service, William “Calvin” Cobean experienced the Civil War. All of it.
While Cobean traveled with his Ohio 2nd Calvary to their first assignment in Fort Scott, Kansas, they were ambushed by Quantrill’s Raiders, an infamous vigilante group loyal to the Confederacy. The Raiders counted Frank and Jesse James as members. The 2nd Cavalry routed them.
While in Kansas, Cobean’s regiment took part in Union advances into Missouri and Arkansas and also expeditions into Indian Territory to quell uprisings. In 1863, the company was called back east and joined the Union’s pursuit of a Confederate force, under the command of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, that was terrorizing communities along the Ohio river in Ohio and Indiana. They succeeded in capturing Morgan and forcing his troops to retreat to Kentucky.
In 1864, Cobean’s regiment was attached to General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Potomac. They spent a year fighting battles in Virginia, often against Confederate forces under the command of General Jubal Early. All told, Cobean and his fellow soldiers fought in 20 Civil War battles, none more famous than their last engagement.
On April 9, 1865, the Ohio 2nd Cavalry took part in the Battle of Appomattox Court House, one of the last clashes of the Civil War and the last engagement of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. Two days later, Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant and, for all practical purposes, the Civil War was over.
In my imagination I wonder where Cobean was encamped that day and if he was one of the many Union soldiers who watched as Lee slowly rode his horse through their lines to offer his surrender.
Of the 427 soldiers in the Ohio 2nd Cavalry, 83 died of wounds received in battle and 184 died of disease or accident during the war.
William “Calvin” Cobean mustered out of the Army in St. Louis just a few months later. He spent some time in Kansas before returning to this area and taking up residence in the village of West Leipsic in Putnam County. He married Hannah Smith, his second wife, and she is buried beside him. The 1890 census identifies Cobean’s occupation as the rural postman for Putnam County.
Cobean’s tombstone has been cleaned and reset, thanks to Rick Wagar, Woodlawn Cemetery’s superintendent. It’s a fitting tribute to a veteran whose remarkable Civil War experience deserves to be remembered and honored.
If you’re in the area, stop by and pay him a visit.
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.