Cambridge Culbertson has the distinction of having served Knoxville as its mayor for five terms and the record
which he has made in office is best attested by his frequent reelection. His service has not been continuous but
after his retirement from the position his fellow townsmen, thinking of the excellent work which he had done as
the city's chief executive, again called him to the office, in which he is the present incumbent. Efficiency, loyalty
and a public spirit that subordinates personal aggrandizement to the general welfare have been the crowning points
in his career as mayor.
Mr. Culbertson was born in Kentucky, May 28, 1845, a son of Cambridge and Charlotte (Jones) Culbertson, who were
natives of Pennsylvania and of Tennessee respectively. The paternal grandfather, John Culbertson, was likewise
born in the Keystone state and was of Scotch-Irish descent. Three brothers of the name came from the north of Ireland
prior to the Revolutionary war and established their home in Pennsylvania, and through the period of hostilities
with the mother country the great grandfather of our subject served as inspector general of the Pennsylvania troops.
Both the grandfather and the father of Cambridge Culbertson of this review engaged in the manufacture of pig iron
in Pennsylvania. Later the father carried on a similar business in Kentucky and in the late '40s he removed to
Ohio, where he continued in the same line of activity to the time of his death.
His son, Cambridge Culbertson, now of Knoxville, acquired a public school education and also attended a preparatory
school in Marietta, Ohio. He afterward learned telegraphy and joined the United States Military Telegraph Corps
in 1862, remaining in connection therewith until December, 1865. He served with the Army of the Cumberland and
later with the Army of the Potomac and at different times was stationed at Cairo, Illinois, Memphis, Vicksburg,
Nashville and Chattanooga. He also started with Sherman on the march to the sea but discontinued ere the coast
was reached. He went into the Department of the Potomac with five others and on the 25th of March, 1865, Mr. Culbertson
opened an office in the field for General Grant. He sent the dispatches from General Grant that moved the army
into Richmond and Petersburg and while at the front he met President Lincoln. He was a cipher operator and it would
be impossible to overestimate the worth of his work. Because of the fact that he was sending dispatches continuously
he was in touch with every detail of the operations when Lee surrendered and knew of the surrender long before
the news was received in the north. He saw General Lee after he had given over his army to General Grant and says
that the intrepid leader of the southern forces was heartbroken. Mr. Culbertson was left at Petersburg and was
there when Lincoln was assassinated. He carried the first message of the news into Petersburg. Later he was transferred
to Fortress Monroe, where he handled the correspondence relating to the disposal of Jefferson Davis, the orders
being transmitted over his wire. Davis was incarcerated at Fortress Monroe and was put in irons while in prison
for striking his guard, this being done by order of General Miles, but Secretary Stanton had the irons removed,
so that he was only left in irons for a few hours. Mr. Culbertson was afterward sent to Memphis, where he remained
as telegraph operator until the conditions of civil life were established in December, 1865. He spent the succeeding
winter in New Orleans and during the winter of 1866 was in Atlanta. Mr. Culbertson's association with Thomas A.
Edison during the Civil war is one of his most pleasant reminiscences. While acting manager of the Cairo office
of the telegraph company he hired young Edison as an operator and from then on they were thrown together and became
intimate chums. They again met forty years later in New York city at a banquet and reunion of the United States
Military Telegraph Society and the occasion was one of mutual pleasure.
After receiving his honorable discharge Mr. Culbertson returned to Ohio and in 1868 went to Missouri, where he
remained until 1875, when he came to Marion county, where he engaged in teaching school for several years. In 1892
he established his home in Knoxville, where he engaged in the real estate and loan business. His value and popularity
as a citizen were indicated in the fact that in the following year he was elected mayor of Knoxville and made such
an excellent record that he was reelected for a second term. He resigned, however, in 1896 in order to take charge
of the Industrial Home for the Blind, which he superintended until 1900, when it was closed by order of the state
legislature. In 1909 he was reelected mayor of Knoxville and in 1910 was appointed supervisor of the census for
the seventh congressional district of Iowa. Again he was chosen mayor of the city in 1911 and once more, in 1913,
so that he has held the office of mayor for five terms. For a number of years he was chairman of the republican
county central committee, but is now a non partisan, believing in progress in politics as in everything else. He
takes great pride in Knoxville and her upbuilding and works untiringly for her benefit.
Mr. Culbertson lost his arm during his service at the front and he is the only man in Iowa who is a pensioner of
Andrew Carnegie for his service in the Civil war. There was no provision made by congress for pensions to the Telegraph
Corps but in 1897 congress recognized the military telegraph operators by giving to each a certificate of honorable
service, which entitled the holder to a Carnegie pension. In 1861 Mr. Carnegie was assistant superintendent of
the Pennsylvania Central Railway and, moreover, he was a telegrapher by profession. It was he who received the
first order from the government for four operators for the war and thus was started the United States Telegraph
Corps for military service.
In 1880 Mr. Culbertson was married to Miss Mary F. Morris, of this county, a daughter of Andrew J. Morris, and
they became the parents of two children: Bunnie Iona, who died at the age of eleven; and Mrs. A. C. West, of Marion
Fraternally Mr. Culbertson is connected with the Red Men and with the Modern Woodmen of America, and his religious
faith is that of the Methodist church. High and honorable in his purpose, he has never deviated from what his judgment
has dictated as right between himself and his fellowmen. There is an utter lack of self seeking in his official
service. At all times he is guided by the high civic spirit which seeks the benefit of the majority, while in social
relations he has won many warm friends as the result of his unfeigned cordiality and genuine worth.
History of Marion County, Iowa
And its People
John W. Wright, Supervising Editor
W. A. Young, Associate
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Marion County, IA
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