Tuesday, April 07, 2015

What's in a name: Hilas L. Kells

Find A Grave/K Guy photo

I counted 131 names yesterday while transferring information from the roster of Lucas County's Civil War dead that's been a work in progress here (and still is) since 2011 and will turn the resulting list over to Earl Comstock this afternoon.

If all goes as planned, volunteer students will read the names late this week during a tree-planting ceremony at the old jail site, now being developed into a veteran memorial park. I'm a little vague about the timing of the ceremony, so will wait until after I meet with Earl to fill that information in.

But whatever the case, it's been a heck of a long time since most of these names have been heard in Lucas County.

And I'm reasonably sure that the list is not entirely complete, but it is getting close. It's been a tricky business to track some of these guys down and there probably are a few more out there.


Hilas L. Kells, for example, has been a bit of a challenge --- in part because the official record keepers had difficulties with his last name. He is carried on many Iowa records, for example, as H.L "Kills" --- and is buried under that name rather than his own in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.

And although he was living in Cedar Township, Lucas County, he enlisted in a unit --- Company E, 6th Iowa Volunteer Infantry --- generally attributed to Monroe County, our neighbor to the east.

Kells is a familiar name in Lucas County --- especially in the Russell area where if you're not related to a Kells or to someone who is, well shame on you. But it was a close call.

Hilas and his five siblings were born in Defiance County, Ohio, to Robert Marshall and Lavina/Lavinia (Bay) Kells, but their mother died in 1848, when Hilas was 4 years old. Robert married as his second wife Dorcas Newell and she proved to be a kind stepmother, but then died in 1853 not long after the birth of another Kells sibling. Robert Kells died, too --- leaving his children orphaned.

After Robert's death, the Kells children were sent west to Pleasant Township, Monroe County --- across the Des Moines River from Eddyville --- to live with their maternal uncle, Hilas Bay.

Meanwhile, Hilas's oldest sister, Mary Jane, had married Francis M. Trowbridge and settled at Lagrange in far eastern Lucas County --- and she gathered her younger siblings around her in Lucas County.

Hilas enlisted in Company E, 6th Volunteers, on July 1, 1861, and was mustered on July 17. A few months later, his unit was engaged in the great battle at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, now known most often as Shiloh. He sustained a shoulder wound and was transported up the Ohio River to a hospital in Cincinnati where he died as a result on April 23 or April 26, 1862.

Meanwhile, Hilas's younger brother, Ezra C., had enlisted in Company F, Eighth Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. He was captured in Georgia during 1864 and sent to the notorious Andersonville prison camp, where he came very close to death himself. Fortunately, he recovered, returned home and during 1866 married Margaret Allen and they had a family of six children.


If you look at Hilas's tombstone in Spring Grove Cemetery --- marking one of approximately 1,027 graves in a reserved section of the Cincinnati cemetery where most of the Union soldiers who died after being sent to the city for medical treatment are buried --- you'll notice that it is not of the type we're familiar with.

Going into the Civil War, the government had marked the graves of those who died while in service with simple wooden headboards, tops rounded and with painted inscriptions. Confronted after the war with hundreds of thousands of graves to be marked, it soon was realized that a more permanent style of headstone was needed. So the original and smaller version of the upright marble stones still in use was developed in 1873 and used thereafter.

However, in Spring Grove --- one of the nation's earliest carefully landscaped park-like cemeteries --- the government and cemetery officials collided. Cemetery officials refused to allow the upright stones, arguing that they would disrupt the landscape. And so, the govenment developed the smaller square stones, tops flush with the ground, that still mark soldier graves there.

And although the government never did get the Kells surname quite right, his neighbors in southern Iowa did. Hilas's inscription on the Civil War memorial in Evans Cemetery is correct, "H.L. Kells."

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