|Charles Preston Wickham served with distinction in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to the rank of Colonel. Afterwards, he served two terms in the U.S. Congress for the State of Ohio, becoming chairman of the Committee on Coinage,
Weights, and Measures.|
Charles Preston Wickham was born in Norwalk, Huron County, Ohio, on September 15, 1836. He was the eldest of thirteen children born to Frederick Wickham and Lucy Bancroft Preston. Frederick (see picture) owned and operated a local newspaper called the Norwalk Reflector, which he took over from his father-in-law, Samuel Preston. The paper, established in February of 1830, is still published, although it was sold out of the family to newspaper publisher R.C. Snyder in 1913. Frederick, who also served as a judge, member of the Ohio senate and mayor of Norwalk, was born in New York City in 1812, but grew up in Sodus Point, NY on Lake Ontario, and was one of many Wickham cousins who headed West to Ohio for new opportunities. Frederick began his career sailing the Great Lakes, where his brothers were ship chandlers. At about age 20, he visited Norwalk and spotted eighteen-year-old Lucy Preston, who he decided to marry the first moment he laid eyes on her. They were married in 1835 and as a wedding present, her father gave them a house on 38 West Main Street, which was used by the family until 1953, then later became the museum of the Firelands Historical Society (see picture).
Charles was a descendant of Puritan settler Thomas Wickham, who established himself in Wethersfield, Connecticut in about 1648. From there, Thomas' son Samuel had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where his branch of the Wickham Family lived for nearly 100 years as prominent citizens, becoming involved in local politics and co-founding the Redwood Library (see picture), the oldest lending library in America. Samuel's grandson Thomas was married to Elizabeth Wanton, daughter of Rhode Island's colonial governor, Joseph Wanton, but after Thomas was briefly imprisoned for being a Loyalist, he decided to move to more Loyalist-friendly New York City. (Many of the Wickhams were Loyalists during the American Revolution, with Parker Wickham and his nephew John Wickham being the two most famous examples). In New York, Thomas ran a shipping business with his son William specializing in West Indies trade, enabling them to become rather wealthy, but business fizzled after the Embargo Act of 1807 was enacted, so William moved to Sodus Point, and just a generation later, Charles' father Frederick moved to Norwalk.
Charles attended the public schools and the Norwalk Academy. He learned the printerís trade and studied law at the legal firm of Worcester and Pennewell. He graduated from the Cincinnati Law School, was admitted to the bar in 1858, and practiced in Norwalk. In August of 1860, he married Emily Jane Wildman and together they raised six children: Charles, Grace, Louis, Winthrop, Romeyn, and Mary Grace, who went by the nickname Mayno. Grace married noted American Impressionist painter Charles Courtney Curran, whose works can be found in many major museums including the Smithsonian Institution, (see his painting "On the Heights"). With the onset of the Civil War, Charles' father, who as publisher of the Norwalk Reflector was very influential in the local community, ferociously denounced Southern sympathizers living in the North. Charles shared these sentiments, writing that if Congress compromised with the Confederates then "where blood has heretofore trickled, it will run rivers. The Government must be sustained in its dignity and integrity, and without any compromise whatever with rebels! Let the traitors of the North understand this!"
Charles and his brother William enlisted at Norwalk in the Union Army, as privates in Company D, 55th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, on September 13, 1861. His brother Frederick enlisted at Norwalk the following year on August 15, 1862 in Company B, 123rd Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Charles served with distinction in a number of important battles, including Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, where he faced off against his distant cousin, Brigadier-General Williams Carter Wickham. In a letter published in the Norwalk Reflector, Charles wrote, "I see in the future a glorious consummation of our strife in behalf of the freedom of man, in which we are so awfully, so grandly engaged." Towards the end of the war, Charles' regiment was taken by train to Tennessee, where they soon joined General Sherman's famous March to the Sea through Georgia. Charles was promoted to lieutenant October 20, 1861, commissioned captain January 1, 1863, major July 4, 1864, and lieutenant colonel by brevet for bravery and merit in the spring of 1865. With the victory of the Union Army in the Civil War, he was mustered out of the service July 11, 1865 at Louisville, Kentucky and resumed the practice of law in Norwalk. Charles emerged from the war unscathed, but his brother William, who was promoted to captain of the 55th Regiment, suffered serious hearing loss from being exposed to artillery fire, derailing a promising legal career. His brother Frederick was held prisoner at the Confederate prison camp in Andersonville, where he nearly starved to death. Years later, when a neighbor told him that a tramp was stealing vegetables from his garden, Frederick grabbed a basket and filled it full for the man because he knew what it was like to go hungry.
Charles served as a prosecuting attorney from 1866-1870 for Huron County and was elected judge of the Court of Common Pleas of the fourth judicial district in 1880 and 1885. In one of his most prominent cases, where a man had murdered his wife with an ax, Charles declared it "one of the most cruel and relentless crimes in criminal annals." Resigning in 1886, he was elected as a Republican to the Fiftieth and Fifty-first Congresses (March 4, 1887-March 3, 1891), serving as chairman of the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures (Fifty-first Congress), after being appointed to the post by Speaker Reed. The Norwalk Reflector noted that his campaign speeches were "applauded to the echo," and among his closet associates at the time was future U.S. President William McKinley, the representative for Ohio's nineteenth district. After serving out his second term, he resumed the practice of law. He died in Norwalk on March 18, 1925 from complications resulting from being struck by a car while crossing the street to return home after worshipping at the local Presbyterian Church. During a funeral ceremony attended by hundreds, including many Civil War veterans, he was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery. In his obituary, it was noted that "he was as brave as a lion and as tender as a woman." A larger-than-life painting of Charles done by his noted son-in-law Charles Courtney Curran still hangs in the Huron County Court of Common Pleas.