Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about the people and events that have shaped the 200-year history of New Albany. Read all installments by clicking on the bicentennial link under the “seasonal content” header at newsandtribune.com
No one could argue that George A. Bicknell didn’t witness some amazing historical moments of the late-1800s. Throughout his 47 years in the U.S. Navy, the New Albany resident traveled the world and engaged in a wide assortment of military excursions.
Eventually all his experience and the subsequent promotions gained him the rank of rear admiral. Only one year after achieving this feat, he and his wife Annie would retire back to Southern Indiana where the community knew them as much for their eccentric tendencies as they did for Bicknell’s prestigious legacy.
Born on May 15, 1846, in New Jersey, Bicknell was surrounded by a prosperous, well-educated family. His father, also named George A. Bicknell, immigrated to Indiana in 1846 and ultimately to New Albany in 1851.
Daddy Bicknell was far from a slouch. First a prosecuting attorney then a judge for most of his life, the admiral’s father eventually was elected to Congress and served two terms between 1877 and 1881. In fact, google their shared name and George Sr.’s Wikipedia link will be listed. Don’t look too hard, though, for the admiral’s page. One doesn’t exist. The article on his famous pop doesn’t even mention his son’s famed existence.
Despite his father’s success, Bicknell struck out to make his own way early in his life. A 1991 presentation given to the Floyd County Historical Society by local historian David Condra said President Abraham Lincoln appointed the young man as an acting midshipman on Dec. 2, 1861. As a result, Bicknell immediately entered the U.S. Naval Academy when he was just 15 years old.