Robert Lewis Kimberly

He traded pen for sword

Gen. R. L. Kimberly was a strong voice for Union, Veterans

Pieces of the Past column by Jim Reis


Twenty-five-year-old Robert Lewis Kimberly lay abandoned on a Tennessee field-left behind because his friends feared his wounds were mortal.  More than 3,400 men would die near Pittsburg Landing in 1862, but Kimberly would not be one of them.  Instead, he would be one of 20,000 Civil War soldiers wounded in the Battle of Shiloh. Kimberly, who later settled in Northern Kentucky, survived the war, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

He was born in Connecticut on July 3, 1836. As a young man, Kimberly became a newspaper reporter at the Cleveland, Ohio, Herald. He was apparently working there when the Civil War began. Kimberly enlisted in the Union Army as a second lieutenant in the 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry on Oct. 29, 1861. His family had a tradition of military service. Accounts say an ancestor had fought in the Revolutionary War and a cousin, Lewis Ashfield Kimberly, would rise to rear admiral in the Navy.

Meanwhile, Richard Kimberly probably held the rank of captain at the time he saw service at the Battle of Shiloh. The battle was an eye-opener for many Americans, both North and South, who thought the war would be a glorious adventure and over in a few months. By the time the two-day battle concluded, the brutality of war had been brought home to families and friends, and to numerous river cities, including Covington, which were flooded with the wounded.  More than twice the number of American soldiers fell in those two days- April 6 and 7, 1862-than in all the previous battles fought to that point in the Civil War.

Recovered from his wounds, Kimberly later returned to his unit and served throughout the Civil War. The 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry fought in such well-known battles as Chickamauga, Ga.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Missionary Ridge, Tenn.; Kenesaw Mountain, Ga.; the siege at Atlanta; Franklin, Tenn., and Nashville, Tenn. His commanding officer, Brigadier Gen. William B. Hazen, singled Kimberly out for commendation several times in official dispatches to Hazen's superiors. During much of that time Kimberly apparently served as Hazen's assistant adjutant-general.

At the battle for Chattanooga, Hazen wrote that Kimberly had two horses shot out from under him and commended Kimberly for his 'gallantry and fortitude . . . untiring vigilance and zeal.' At Missionary Ridge, Kimberly assumed command of a brigade after his commanding officer, Col. Aquila Wiley, was severely wounded, requiring his leg to be amputated. After the war ended, Kimberly was honorably mustered out on Aug. 27, 1865.

Upon his return to civilian life, former Brigadier Gen. Kimberly went back to newspaper work. He purchased a newspaper in Ohio called the Saginaw Herald, which he operated for several years. Accounts say during this period Kimberly also worked as a contributing writer to a number of national magazines and later moved to Philadelphia, where he worked for the Saturday Evening Post.

In 1885 he moved to Cincinnati, where he worked in the publishing business. By 1888 he had moved to Northern Kentucky and was living at 203 Southgate St. in Newport. He later moved to 516 Central Ave., Newport. It was about this time that Kimberly also helped compile a history of the 41st Ohio Volunteer Infantry and collaborated on an historical book called 'Ohio in the War.' By the mid-1890s Kimberly had moved to Dayton, living at 808 Terrace Ave., in 1897. As a resident of Dayton and a Union veteran, Kimberly joined the Joseph Hooker Post No. 16 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Better known simply as the G.A.R., the group was made up of Union Civil War veterans.

The Dayton chapter, which met monthly, took its name from Union Gen. Joseph Hooker, a career military officer who was nicknamed 'Fighting Joe' and who at one point during the war commanded the Army of the Potomac. The G.A.R. periodically held national reunions called 'encampments' and in September 1898 the 32nd National Encampment was held in Greater Cincinnati with events on both sides of the Ohio River.

Kimberly became involved in the planning for G.A.R. events in Dayton, serving as chairman of the printing sub-committee of the Dayton Citizens' Committee. A Kentucky Post account on Aug. 18, 1898, said one project called for erecting electric archways across roads in Dayton at Sixth and O'Fallon, Sixth and Berry and at Third and Boone. A subsequent account on Aug. 24 said the archway at Sixth and O'Fallon consisted of two iron tubings covered in canvass with illuminated signs - one reading 'Dayton Welcomes G.A.R. and another '1861-1865.' The same account said the city was offering prizes of $5, $3 and $2 to homeowners with the most beautiful lawns during the encampment.

What was drawing the veterans to Dayton was the fine, white sandy beaches along the Ohio River. The business there offered changing rooms, lockers and canoe rentals. One of the products apparently produced by Kimberly's printing committee was the Dayton G.A.R. souvenir book. A Kentucky Post account on Sept. 3, 1898, described the book as advertising-free, with 'more than a hundred beautiful illustrated pages.' Also as part of the encampment, the same account said a large G.A.R. flag was being raised that week 'opposite the city buildings.'

Kimberly later moved to 511 Second Ave. in Dayton about 1900 and in 1901 was selected the Democratic candidate for city assessor, to which he was apparently elected the next month. Kimberly also served during that period as secretary for the Dayton Board of Education, a position he was re-elected to in 1902. Also in 1902 Kimberly was appointed inspector for the Joseph Hooker G.A.R. Post. By this time he was living at 426 Fourth Ave., Dayton.

Despite his brushes with death as a soldier, Kimberly told acquaintances he always felt he would reach the age of 76, which was the age at which his mother died. That prediction was recalled in newspaper accounts when Kimberly died on June 15, 1915, just a couple weeks prior to his 77th birthday. In addition to his writing and printing career, he was also credited with obtaining a patent on parts of the first Linotype machine.

He was survived by his wife, Louise Charlotte Kimberly; a daughter, Mrs. H. T. Burnsides of Philadelphia; and a son, Lewis R. Kimberly. He is buried in the special section for soldiers in Evergreen Cemetery, Southgate.


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