Biography of Capt. Benjamin F. Grail
Jefferson County, IA Biographies





CAPTAIN BENJAMIN F. GRAIL.
Of the many volunteers that Jefferson county sent to the south during the Civil war, probably none made a more brilliant record or had more thrilling experiences than Captain Benjamin F. Crail, who despite the fact that he received a number of serious wounds, one of which the surgeons pronounced as fatal, remained at the front until the close of hostilities. He is a native of Pennsylvania, his birth having occurred in Beaver county, on March 19, 1828, and is a son of Benjamin and Nancy (Daugherty) Crail. The father, who was a millwright by trade, was born in Pennsylvania, of Scotch extraction, his natal day being in 1793. He participated in the war of 1812, while his father John Crail fought in the Revolutionary war. He subsequently became the owner of a grist mill in Beaver county, in the operation of which he actively engaged until his death in 1846. The mother was born in Ireland in 1798 and in her early childhood came to the United States, where she was reared to womanhood, marrying Mr. Crail in Beaver county. There she continued to make her home after the death of her husband until 1855, when together with her children she removed to Iowa, settling in Jefferson county. She passed away in 1886 at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Ella Snodgrass, at Winterset, Madison county, Iowa. To Mr. and Mrs. Crail there were born ten sons and daughters: John, Irwin and James D., who are deceased; Benjamin F., our subject; Milton and Mary, both of whom are deceased; Cynthia, of Shenandoah, Iowa; and Ella, Elizabeth and Matilda, who are also deceased.

Reared at home, after the completion of his preliminary education which was obtained in the common schools, Benjamin F. Crail pursued a course in Debts Business College of Pittsburg. Having decided to take up civil engineering for his life vocation he subsequently went to New Cumberland, Virginia, now West Virginia, to study surveying and engineering under John H. Adkincon. In 1852 he took a position as carpenter in the ship yards of Pittsburg, going from there to Freedom, Pennsylvania. Later he signed on as carpenter and mate on a boat on the Ohio, but relinquished his berth in 1859 and came to Fairfield, where his mother was then residing. Soon after his arrival here he purchased an ox team and drove to Colorado, where he remained until the fall of 186o, when he returned to cast his vote for Abraham Lincoln for president. Mr. J. S. McKemey, then treasurer and recorder of Jefferson county, appointed Mr. Grail his deputy, the duties of this office engaging his attention until the call came for troops when he resigned his position to go to the front. He enlisted on the loth of August, 1861, in Company F, Third Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, at Fairfield, entering the service in the capacity of a private. His regiment was sent to Missouri, participating almost immediately in engagements and skirmishes at Fulton and Santa Fe, that state. In the latter encounter Captain Crail was thought to be mortally wounded, one bullet having passed entirely through his body in the region of the heart, while another lodged just above that organ. The surgeons pronounced his recovery as impossible, believing that wounds such as his must necessarily prove fatal. He was young, however, and possessed a fine constitution and wonderful recuperative powers, and after spending five months in the hospital was discharged and rejoined his command at Lebanon, Missouri. During the very early days of his enlistment he displayed the courage, resourcefulness and executive ability qualifying him for a more responsible position than that of private, so he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, and at Paris, Missouri, on the 1st of April, 1862, he was made captain. He took part in many battles and skirmishes in southern Missouri, among them being that of Pilot Knob, his company seeing active service every day until they reached the Arkansas line. They were ordered to Little Rock, and driving the confederates before them after some hard fighting took the city. He next joined a raiding party through the southern part of the state, during that time attacking and capturing the towns of Arkadelphia and Mount Ida, and after driving the rebels out of Hot Springs skirmished all the way back to Benton. While at camp in Little Rock, Captain Crail went on a veteran's furlough, reenlisting for three years. During his thirty day furlough he returned to Fairfield and visited his family, then went to Keokuk from there to St. Louis and on to Memphis, Tennessee. On the 1st of May, 1864, with his command he crossed the river into Arkansas. where they had some pretty sharply contested battles. He was defeated at Gunntown, Mississippi, on the loth of June, 1864, and on the 14th of July, that year, he participated in two days' fighting at Tupelo, Mississippi. On the 19th of December, 1864, his company joined Grierson's raid to Vicksburg, which city they reached on the 6th of January. 1865. They subsequently went to Louisville, Kentucky, from which city they departed on the 19th of March, 1865, via Paducah and up the Tennessee river, on Wilson's raid that finally lead to Atlanta. On the way they participated in the battles of Monta Tala, Oldtown Creek and Selma, as well as the siege of Montgomery, the latter city finally capitulating after a hard struggle. They next went to Columbus, where there was a big battle and on to Macon, Georgia, on April 21, 1865. At the latter point they received word of Lee's surrender, and remained in camp until April, 22, when they were advised of the assassination of Lincoln. The regiment was then ordered to Atlanta, and there they were mustered out on the 9th of August, 1865. Captain Crail maintains that Wilson's raid would have been one of the biggest things of the war, had it not have happened so near the close of the struggle. When mustered out Captain Crail was suffering from some fresh wounds received at Oldtown Creek, Alabama, where a bullet had shattered the bones of his right arm, while he had also been bayoneted during the battle. He received his discharge at Davenport, Iowa, on the 23d of August, 1865, and returned to Fairfield, suffering severely for more than two years thereafter from his wounds. To conclude his war record we quote from the report of the adjutant general, vol. of Iowa: "On the 24th day of July, 1862, with one hundred men encountered the rebel Porter with his force of about four hundred men strongly posted in the dense brush on the 'Botts' farm in Monroe county. Killed one rebel and wounded many others. Our casualties were, one man killed, Captain B. F. Crail of Company F and nine others wounded. Porter fled south into Callaway whither we pursued. Also vols. II 1863 and 1867:" On the 31st of March, 1865, Captain Crail led a charge and was wounded with several of his men at Montevallo, Alabama.

Upon his return to civil life he bought a farm in Cedar township, endeavoring to engage in agricultural pursuits. With one of his arms in a sling he hauled the timber cut from forty acres of land into Fairfield, where he sold it. In 1875, he moved into town and erected a residence on the lot where he now lives. As soon as he was able after returning from the war he again took up surveying, continuing to engage in this occupation until the 1st of January, 1911, when his last term as surveyor of Jefferson county expired. He served for several terms as assistant county surveyor and in 1883 was elected to the office of surveyor, which he held for eight years, when he resigned to go to California. Returning to Fairfield in 1898 he was again elected to the same office, continuing to serve in this capacity until his retirement from public life at the age of eighty three years. At the expiration of his last term he again went to southern California, where he spent the winter of 1911, and has since lived in retirement. Captain Crail has always been one of the foremost figures in the public life of Jefferson county, and has prominently participated in promoting its development.

In 1852, while residing in Pennsylvania, Captain Crail was united in marriage to Miss Charlotte McCaskey, a daughter of the Rev. George McCaskey, of Washington county, Pennsylvania, and to them were born six children: James, a prominent dry goods merchant of Washington, Iowa; William H., a retired gold miner of Los Angeles, California; Susan, the wife of E. W. Steele, a retired capitalist of Los Angeles; Robert M., a traveling salesman of Marysville, Missouri; David E., of the firm of D. E. Crail & Co., meat dealers of Fairfield; and Frank A., who is a merchant of Burlington, Iowa. The wife and mother passed away in 1873 and in 1877 Captain Crail married Mrs. Nancy Steel, of this city, who died in 1891. By this marriage were born twin sons, Joseph S. and Charles S., who are engaged in the practice of law in Fairfield under the firm name of Crail & Grail. In 1895, Captain Crail was married to his present wife, whose maiden name was Miss Helen Richardson, a daughter of George Richardson of Fairfield, and they have one daughter, Mary Helen, who will graduate from the high school with the class of 1913.

Both Captain and Mrs. Crail are members of the Christian church and in politics he is a stanch republican. He is one of the highly esteemed citizens of Fairfield, where he has made his home practically ever since the war and is widely known throughout the county. He is a most capable man as his long period of public service attests, having been elected to office and efficiently discharged his responsibilities long after reaching his three score and ten. Success has attended his efforts, because in all of his undertakings he has manifested the intrepidity, foresight and determination of purpose that characterized him on the southern battle fields. Although he always decided with but little deliberation what he desired to do, he never acted impulsively, always following a well conceived plan with a definite purpose in view. Doubtless from the plain where he now stands he sees mistakes he has made, but his life can hold few regrets, as his efforts were always intelligently directed, and he has had the satisfaction of seeing his children grow up into capable men and women, successfully pursuing their various careers.

From:
History of Jefferson County, Iowa
A Record of Settlement, Organizatin,
Progress and Achievement Vol II
BY: Charles J. Fulton
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chiago 1914


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