Civil War artifacts spark new battle

Wilson W. Brown received the Medal of Honor for his role in Andrews’ Raid in Georgia, when federal forces raided a train and led Confederates on a race now known as ‘The Great Locomotive Chase.’
Wilson W. Brown received the Medal of Honor for his role in Andrews’ Raid in Georgia, when federal forces raided a train and led Confederates on a race now known as ‘The Great Locomotive Chase.’

BOWLING GREEN — A family feud over who should have possession of two Civil War-era medals and a key to a Confederate prison cell now may be settled by a Wood County judge.

Albert C. Ward of Timberlake, Ohio, a great-grandson of Sgt. Wilson W. Brown — a Union soldier from northwest Ohio who took part in Andrews’ Raid, also known as the Great Locomotive Chase, and helped commandeer the locomotive, the General — has filed suit in Wood County Common Pleas Court on behalf of the Civil War hero’s surviving descendants. Mr. Ward contends they would like to see the artifacts preserved and displayed in a museum where they — and the public — can enjoy them, but they need a court order to get access to them.

The complaint alleges that Mr. Ward’s cousin, Linda Schwartz of Perrysburg, has kept the artifacts at her home and refused to share them with the rest of Mr. Brown’s descendants for “family reunions, historical convocations, and other events honoring the memory and valor of Wilson W. Brown.”

Mr. Ward claims Mrs. Schwartz, as a fourth-generation descendant of Mr. Brown, has an inferior right of possession to his own “and the other Brown descendants and is contrary to the public interest in honoring, preserving, and displaying the artifacts.”

He is asking the court for immediate possession of the original and reissued Medals of Honor presented to Mr. Brown and the prison key he used in his escape after his capture by Confederate forces. Mr. Ward also is seeking $100 a day in damages dating from Nov. 23 when Mrs. Schwartz was served with a letter from Mr. Ward’s attorney demanding that she surrender the artifacts.

Harold Hanna, a Bowling Green attorney who filed the complaint, said his client is among Mr. Brown’s oldest surviving descendants and said Mr. Ward is eager to see custody of the artifacts established. He said Mr. Ward had hoped the artifacts could be displayed in connection with the ongoing 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War.

“About 37 of the 50 to 60 survivors of Wilson Brown responded to a survey Al [Ward] conducted, and the vast majority — about 90 percent — said they thought the artifacts should be housed in a museum where they could be preserved for the enjoyment of the public and other members of the family,” Mr. Hanna said. “The primary goal is to see them in a place where they can be appreciated by the public at large.”

Mrs. Schwartz declined to comment. Her attorney, Brian Ballenger of Northwood, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The case has been assigned to Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry, who has scheduled a replevin hearing for Feb. 15. Replevin refers to a legal procedure in which a person claims the right to personal property from another person who has less right to hold it.

“The right Al is asserting is on behalf of all of the living descendants,” Mr. Hanna said. “Interestingly, I believe there would be a greater right on the part of Albert as a third-generation descendant as opposed to Linda as fourth generation.”

According to the lawsuit, the artifacts were for years in the possession of Mrs. Schwartz’s father, the late Robert W. Scott, a lawyer from Wood County who died in 2005. Since his death, Mrs. Schwartz has had possession of them, although they were not left to her in Mr. Scott’s will, Mr. Hanna said. The family’s research indicates the artifacts have been in the custody of a number of Mr. Brown’s descendants through the years but never have been probated as property belonging to any of them.

“The artifacts have no determinable monetary value, as they cannot be bought or sold,” the complaint states. “The artifacts do, however, have great sentimental, historical, and genealogical value to the plaintiff and the other Brown descendants as they are irreplaceable memorials to their heritage.”

Mr. Hanna said it is a federal criminal offense to sell Medals of Honor.

Mr. Brown, a Logan County native who died in 1916 in East Toledo and is buried in the New Belleville Ridge Cemetery in Wood County, was among the first U.S. soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor for his part in the daring 1862 raid. After the medal’s 1904 redesign, Mr. Brown then received a second one.

A locomotive engineer and member of the 21st Ohio Infantry Regiment, Mr. Brown was a private at the time he helped commandeer the locomotive called the General in Kennesaw, Ga., on April 12, 1862, in an effort to destroy Confederate rail lines, bridges, and telegraph lines between Atlanta and Chattanooga. While Andrews’ Raiders, as they were known, failed to sever the Confederacy supply lines, they managed to interrupt supplies to Atlanta and divert Confederate forces.

Their exploits were memorialized in several movies, including the 1956 Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase.

Richard Banz, executive director of the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga., which chronicles the story of the chase, said personal items that can be traced to the original participants are important parts of the museum’s collection, which includes the General itself. “Any of those surviving artifacts from that time period that can be identifiable to a person are of particular interest to the museum, whether it be a belt buckle or a musket that can be traced to that individual,” he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: or 419-724-6129.