Biography of William C. Phenicie

William C. Phenicie, an honored veteran of the Civil war, a resident of Kansas for more than half a century, had played his varied part in life with exceeding industry, thrift, and a public spirited sense of responsibility as a citizen. He is now a resident of Tonganoxie in Leavenworth County.

His birth occurred on a farm near Zanesville, Muskingum County, Ohio, December 19, 1841. His parents were George W. and Mary Ann (Howk) Phenicie. His father was an Ohio farmer. He also had the pioneer spirit which led Americans of all classes away from the settled states into the wilder and less developed regions of the West. About 1848 he loaded all his worldly goods on a wagon and drove overland to Steuben County in Northern Indiana. There he and his family had their home when the Civil war came upon the country. He and his wife were the parents of twelve children, four sons and eight daughters, and six of them are still living. All the four sons enrolled as soldiers in the Union army.

William C. Phenicie was seven years old when he went to Indiana and he grew up on a farm in Steuben County. He had the sports and pastimes and the hard work of the average farmer boy of seventy years ago. He attended country schools as they were maintained for a few brief months each winter season, but otherwise as rapidly as his strength permitted he made a hand in the clearing, grubbing, sowing, cultivating and harvesting of the fields on the homestead.

He had not yet turned his twentieth birthday when he volunteered his services to defend the Union. He enlisted September 20, 1861, in Company A of the Twenty-ninth Indiana Infantry. With this company he spent the following winter in Kentucky, from there he moved to Nashville early in the spring of 1862, joined Buell’s army, and marched to Shiloh, where they arrived in time to participate in the tremendous fighting of the second day of that great battle. At Shiloh Mr. Phenicie met with an accident, resulting in the breaking of a bone in one of his legs. He spent some weeks recovering in the hospital at Louisville, Kentucky, and rejoined his command near Huntsville, Alabama. His next service was in that somewhat ragged and disappointing campaign in which the Federal forces were engaged in chasing Bragg as the latter advanced across Tennessee and Kentucky threatening the Union communications on the Ohio River. Thus in a manner of speaking he advanced by retreating back to Louisville, Kentucky. The next great battle in which he participated was at Stone River or Murfreesboro. After that battle the Union forces entrenched themselves and kept their headquarters in that section of Tennessee until the advance began toward Chattanooga. Mr. Phenicie was a participant in the battle of Chickamauga. On the second day of Chickamauga, September 22, 1863, he and his brother, James M., and many of their comrades were captured. The captives were sent to Richmond, Virginia, kept in confinement in the capital city of the Confederacy a month, and then removed to Danville, Virginia. In April, 1864, they were sent to Andersonville, Georgia, where Mr. Phenicie suffered scurvy and all the tortures and horrors of that notorious stockade prison. He had always considered it his very good fortune that he escaped death altogether. When Sherman started on his march to Savannah the rebel authorities believed that a detachment of the Federal army would be sent to release the prisoners at Andersonville. Accordingly, in October, 1864, Mr. Phenicie and his comrades were taken to Milledgeville, Georgia, and from there to Savannah. While at Milledgeville the Union prisoners went through the form of casting their votes at the general election. The soldiers in the field were given the privilege of voting for President, and Mr. Phenicie cast his ballot for Abraham Lincoln. The rebels were very much interested in the outcome, and advised those who wanted the war to come to a speedy close to vote for McClellan. However, the result of this balloting was about two to one in favor of Lincoln. The prisoners were kept at Savannah about a week and then again taken out of the path of Sherman’s advancing army and sent into Florida. While there Mr. Phenicie was paroled and at Florence, Alabama, was exchanged. He came north by transport to Annapolis, and from there was sent home on a thirty days’ furlough. His honorable discharge is dated February 22, 1864, by reason of expiration of his term of enlistment, though he was actually in service for nearly a year after that time. After being at home he returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and remained in the employ of the Government in various capacities for some months after the close of hostilities.

In October, 1865, Mr. Phenicie returned home and in the spring of 1866 he arrived in Leavenworth County, Kansas. Here, with his brother, he bought eighty acres of land in Reno Township. The price of that eighty was $600. Besides doing what he could to clear up and develop the farm, he became a sub-contractor in getting out ties for the railroad. In Leavenworth County Mr. Phenicie laid the foundation of his real prosperity. He had been taught the lessons of thrift, honesty and industry from boyhood, and after coming to Kansas he not only worked but saved. Even while in the army he was constantly seeking a way to make extra money. His success was not long delayed as a Kansas farmer, and he invested most of his surplus profits in other lands. At the present Mr. Phenicie had about 1,000 acres, all in Leavenworth County. As a farmer, wheat raiser and grower of hogs and cattle, he had become one of the most substantial men in his section of the state.

In November, 1912, he removed to Tonganoxie, where he now enjoys all the comforts of retirement and a pleasant town home. He is a republican in politics, having never wavered in his allegiance since casting his vote as a prisoner of war at Milledgeville, Georgia. He is also affiliated with the Masonic order. Mr. Phenicie had been three times married. His first wife, Phoebe Ann Lacy, died leaving two children, Stella May, now Mrs. Leroy Wings, and George L. His second wife was Annie O’Brien. There were five children of that union: Jennie, Mrs. Bert Harmon; Ralph; Hattie, deceased; Ella; and Edith. The present wife of Mr. Phenicie was Mrs. Leah (Knight) Todd.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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