Biography of Cambridge Culbertson
Marion County, IA Biographies





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 county.

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.

From:
History of Marion County, Iowa
And its People
John W. Wright, Supervising Editor
W. A. Young, Associate
Vol II
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chiago 1915


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