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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter VII.  1861 - 1865 (Part 2)


The commands of Generals Wise and Floyd, being sorely pressed by the enemy, the militia brigades of General Alfred Beckley and Augustus A. Chapman were called into service in August, 1861, and sent to Cotton Hill, in Fayette County.  A call had been made in the early part of the summer of 1861 for the services of the militia of the County of Mercer, and Colonel Thomas Little, the then commandant thereof, declined, in fact refused to obey the call, and in a public meeting of the citizens held at Princeton he was fearfully denounced, and threatened with personal violence, so much so that he thought it prudent to immediately retire within the Federal lines.  The Mercer and Giles regiments of militia, belonged to Chapman's brigade.  The Giles regiment was commanded by Colonel James W. English with Samuel E. Lybrook and J. C,. Snidow as Majors.    the Mercer regiment was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John S. Carr, with Harman White and W. R. Bailey as Majors.  H. W. Straley was the brigade Commissary.    The militia brigades were disbanded in the fall of 1861, and later in the same fall the troops of Wise and Floyd were withdrawn from the Gauley and New River section; Wise going to the eastern coast of Virginia and North Carolina, and Floyd with his command, in which was the 36th Virginia regiment of infantry, composed in part of New River men, to Fort Donelson, Tennessee.

During the winter and spring of 1861-2, the 8th Virginia regiment of cavalry under the command of Colonel Jenifer, occupied the territory of Mercer County, as a corps of observation, with headquarters at Princeton.

Before proceeding further with this narrative, it becomes important and interesting to relate what is transpiring during this period among the people of the northwestern counties of Virginia, who were so violently opposed to Secession, It is not proposed to discuss the military side of this rather novel situation, but the civil.    It is well known and need not here be related, that Federal troops had largely occupied all of the territory of the northwestern counties north of the Kanawha, and mostly that west of the Alleghanies, in what is now the state of West Virginia.   As already stated, that in the Secession Convention, which assembled at Richmond in February, 1861, a majority of the members from the northwestern counties of Virginia were earnestly, conscientiously and violently opposed to Secession and a number of them voted against the ordinance.  These men returned to their respective constituencies, and public meetings were held in many of the northwestern counties for the purpose of determining what action should be taken by the people of these counties.  A large meeting of the people was held at Clarksburg on the 22nd of April, 1861, under the auspices of the Honorable John S. Carlisle, the late delegate from that county to the convention.  About twelve hundred people attended the meeting, and after reciting in a long preamble the means which had been resorted to by the Secessionists to transfer the state from its allegiance to the Federal Government to the Confederate states without the consent of the people, and reciting many other grievances, recommended to the people of all the counties composing northwestern Virginia, to appoint not less than five delegates from each county to a convention to be held at Wheeling on the 13th day of May following, to consult and determine upon the course of action to be taken by the people of northwestern Virginia in the then fearful emergency.  Delegates were accordingly selected from twenty-six counties, viz: Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, Wood, Lewis Richie, Harrison, Upshur, Gilmer, Wirt Jackson, Mason, Wetzel, Pleasants, Barbour, Hampshire, Berkeley, Doddridge, Tyler, Taylor, Roane, Frederick, and Marshall.

The convention met on the13th day of May, and was organized by the election of John W. Moss as permanent president.  After a long and somewhat stormy session, this convention ended its work by recommending that in the event the ordinance of secession should be ratified by the people, the counties there represented, and all others disposed to co-operate, appoint on the 4th of June, 1861, delegates to a general convention to meet on the 11th day of the same month at such place as should be designated by a committee to be afterwards appointed by the convention.

The convention was composed of about five hundred in number, and from its close to the election which took place on the 23rd of the same month, the country was in a feverish state of excitement.  On election day the people voted for the members of the house of Representatives to the Federal Congress from the three districts west of the Alleghanies.  In twenty-five counties, embracing a part of what is now West Virginia, there was a majority of over twenty-four thousand votes against the ordinance of Secessions.  There was great interest manifested in the coming election for delegates to the convention to be held on the 11th day of June.  The county committees appointed persons to hold the election at the various precincts on the 4th of June.    There was a very full vote polled, and delegates from twenty-one counties were reported elected, which number was subsequently augmented to thirty-five.  The delegates met in Washington Hall, in the city of Wheeling, on the 11th day of June, 1861, and elected Arthur I. Boreman, of Wood County, President of the convention.  On the 19th day of June the convention passed an ordinance for the reorganization of the state Government of Virginia; and on the following day elected the following officers:    Francis H. Pierpont, of Marion, Governor, Daniel Polsley, of Mason, Lieutenant Governor, and James S.Wheat of Ohio, Attorney General.  The General Assembly met in pursuance of the ordinance of the convention at Wheeling on the 1st day of July.  The session was held at the custom house, where the Governor had already established his office, and where the other officers of the Government were subsequently located.  On the 9th of July the House on a joint vote elected L. A. Hagans, of Preston, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Samuel Crane, of Randolph, Auditor of Public Accounts, and Campbell Tarr, of Brooke, Treasurer.  On the same day John S., Carlisle and Waitman T. Willey were elected Senators to the Federal Congress.  The convention was reinforced by the appearance of several members from the Kanawha Valley, which for some time previous thereto had been occupied by the Confederate Military forces.  On the 20th of August the convention passed an ordinance providing for the formation of a new state out of a portion of the territory of the state of Virginia, which included the Counties of Logan, Wyoming, Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Webster, Randolph, Tucker, Preston, Monongalia, Marion, Taylor, Barbour, Upshur, Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Clay, Kanawha, Boone, Wayne, Cabell, Putnam, Mason, Jackson, Roane, Calhoun, Wirt, Gilmer, Ritchie, Wood, Pleasants, Tyler, Doddridge, Wetzel, Marshall, Ohio, Brooke, and Hancock; thirty-nine in all, and the convention was empowered to change the boundaries so as to include the Counties of Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Hampshire, Hardy, Morgan, Jefferson, and Berkeley, or either of them, and also all the counties contiguous to the boundaries of the proposed state , or to the Counties just named, were to be added if the people thereof by majority of the votes given should express a desire to be included on the same day that the election was held in the other counties, and should elect delegates to the convention.

Kanawha was proposed as the name for the new state, and the election was to be held on the fourth Thursday of October succeeding.  Delegates to the convention were sent from all the foregoing enumerated counties, except Webster and Berkeley.

The convention met on the 26th day of November, 1861, completed its labors, and adjourned on the 18th day of February, 1862, providing for the submission of its work to the people on the 3rd day of April, 1862, and was accordingly voted upon on that day and adopted by a vote of  18,862 in its favor and 514 against it.

The Legislature of the reorganized Government assembled on the 6th day of the May following, and gave its formal assent by the passage of a bill on the 13th of the same month, for the formation and erection of the state of West Virginia, within the jurisdiction of the state of Virginia.

As has already been shown it was at first proposed to call the new state Kanawha, but the convention finally gave it the name of West Virginia.

In the convention which framed this first constitution for the state of West Virginia, Captain Richard M. Cooke, of the County of Wyoming, was admitted as a delegate from Mercer County, by authority, as he claims, of a petition of a few people in the western portion of said County of Mercer.  It is uncertain, under this first Constitution, how Mercer County became a constituent part of the state of West Virginia.    Research does not disclose that any vote was taken whereby the people of the County elected, authorized or commissioned any person to represent them in the said convention.   And it is further certain that no election was held in the County of Mercer by the people thereof upon the question of the ratification or rejection of the said Constitution, and hence it would seem to follow that Mercer County was not legally a part of, or one of the Counties of the State of West Virginia prior to the adoption of the Constitution of 1872.

In the ordinance adopted by the reorganized Government of Virginia, giving consent to the formation of the new state, it was provided; "that the new state should take upon itself a just proportion of the public debt of the Commonwealth of Virginia prior to the 1st day of January, 1861, to be ascertained by charging to it all state expenditures within its limits, and a just proportion of the ordinary expenses of the state Government since any part of it was contracted; and deducting therefrom the moneys paid into the treasury of the Commonwealth from the Counties included within the new state during the same period."  This provision was duly assented to by the new state, and hence, the principle and basis upon which West Virginia's part, part if any, of the anti-bellum debt of Virginia is to be ascertained, is fixed and determined.

Francis H. Pierpont had been chosen as Governor of the reorganized Government of Virginia, and Arthur I. Boreman as Governor of West Virginia, whose government went into operation, on the 20th day of June, 1863, in accordance with the proclamation of the President of the United States, under an act of Congress authorizing the admission of the state into the Union.  Upon the admission of the new state, the reorganized Government of Virginia under Governor Pierpont removed from Wheeling to Alexandria, Virginia.  During the existence of the reorganized government at Wheeling, the formative period of the new state and afterwards, all kinds of excesses, political, military or otherwise were perpetrated.  The Virginia Government at Richmond claimed and attempted to exercise jurisdiction over the same territory that the reorganized government at Wheeling and the new state claimed to exercise, and this led to the arrest of many citizens by both sides for alleged political offenses, each government charging treason.  It was more dangerous to life, liberty and property to live in the section referred to than to have been in the army of one or the other of the belligerents.    A peaceable non-combatant was liable at any hour night or day to be arrested, carried away  and incarcerated in prison without any charges preferred against him, and worse than all, he was frequently allowed to lie in prison and perish without knowing with what offence he was charged, if any.  In partial illustration of this statement it is stated that one Augustus Pack, of Boone County, an old man and a non-combatant, who carried on trade between the lines, was frequently arrested, first by one side and then by the other, and carried to military prison where he remained some times for months, and then released upon taking the oath of allegiance to the government that had him a prisoner.  General Cox, the Federal commandant in the Kanawha Valley, had  had Mr. Pack so frequently before him that he had become very well acquainted with him, and so, as the story goes, on an occasion after Mr. Pack had been arrested by the Federal troops and was being carried to General Cox's headquarters, he was discovered by General Cox approaching his tent under guard, whereupon the General exclaimed, "Here you are again, "Pack," to which he replied, "Well, General, I am an old man and have nothing to do with the war, and try to remain at home a quiet, peaceable citizen, when along comes the Rebels who arrest and carry me within their lines and require me to take the oath of allegiance, and as soon as I return home I am picked up by your men and brought within your lines, and required to take the oath of allegiance, and this process has been going on for several months; the truth is, General, that the foxes have holes and the  birds of the air have nests, but as for me I have no where to lay my head."

The Federal army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan, began in the early spring of 1862 its movement to  the Peninsula, and General Johnston's army, which in the last days of March had retired from Centerville behind the Rappahanock, commenced moving by way of Gordonville and Richmond to the Peninsula.  The brigade of General A. P. Hill left Richmond by steamer on the James River on April 10th, and disembarked at King's landing and from thence marched to a point within one or two miles of Yorktown, where and in the vicinity of which, it remained for about twenty days engaged in picketing and drawn out in line of battle in the swamps.  The 24th Virginia regiment remained attached to the brigade of General Early.

During the last days of April or the first days of May, at any rate before marching orders were received, the "Wiseacres" were telling us that we were to retire towards Richmond.

The Confederate Soldier was the most remarkable of all the soldiers that the world has produced, and that in many ways.  He could seemingly know more, and in fact did, than the officers in immediate command, and he could know less than any soldier in an army when he wanted it that way-or when so instructed, or when he found it necessary for his convenience or profit, he could forget his name, company, regiment, brigade, division or army commandant; could even forget where he was from or whither he was going.    This same soldier could get farther from camp, get more rations, and get back quicker than any other fellow you ever met.  When he was marching he could see more, laugh louder, brood less over his troubles, and when he wished, could carry more than any soldier any other army ever produced.  He could march barefoot, go farther, complain less, eat nothing, never sleep, and endure more genuine suffering than any soldier that ever marched under the banners of Napoleon.  When he reached camp after a long, toilsome march he could start a fire, find water, and go to cooking quicker than the best trained cook in the land.  Such were these men who were being trained by the Lees, Johnstons, Longstreet, Jackson, Pickett and the Hills.

Before passing to the description of the retreat of the Confederates from Yorktown, it will be noticed that in the fall of 1861 General Jackson with his division had marched from the lines in front of  Washington to the Valley of Virginia; where the next spring, the most wonderful military campaign in recorded history was conducted and directed by him, in which he defeated three Federal armies in succession, and then in June of that year stole away from his enemies and helped to defeat the fourth one.

In the month of January, 1862, the McComas Battery had gone with the Wise Legion to Norfolk, and was to have been sent from there with the command of General Wise to Roanoke Island, but owing to want of transportation, only a part of the company reached the Island, together with Captain Dorman's Mercer County, were captured, along with the other Confederate troops thereon.

In the month of March this battery, under the command of its Captain, left Norfolk and went to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, near where, shortly after its arrival, it engaged without loss in an artillery duel with the enemy.  A short time thereafter the company marched with the 3rd Georgia regiment of infantry, under the command of Colonel Wright, to the vicinity of South mills, North Carolina, where on the 19th day of April it was engaged in a severe battle with the enemy, in which its gallant Captain was slain while behaving in the bravest manner.  Sergeant James M. Peters, and Privates Oscar Blankenship and William Hern were wounded.

The Federal troops 3,000 strong, with four pieces of artillery, led by General Reno, attacked Colonel Wright's troops, composed of the 3rd Georgia infantry 585 strong,  some North Carolina militia, Gillett's company of Southampton cavalry, and McComas' Battery of four guns; the whole Confederate force not exceeding 750 men.    the fight lasted for three hours.  Mr. D. H. Hill, Jr., in his Military History of North Carolina, in reporting this engagement says: "At last McComas, who had fought his guns manfully, was killed, and Colonel Wright fell back a mile to his supports.  General Reno did not attempt to follow, and that night at 10 o'clock left his dead and wounded behind, and made a forced march to his boats."

The Confederates lost 6 killed 19 wounded, the Federals 13 killed and 92 wounded.  Captain McComas informed one of his company on the night proceeding this battle that he had orders to return with his company to western Virginia, but that he did not want to go until he had fought at least one battle.

This company, after the capture of Norfolk by the enemy, under the leadership of its First Lieutenant, David A. French, marched to Petersburg.  Its subsequent history will be stated later.

In December, 1861, the 60th Virginia regiment of infantry commanded by Colonel William E. Starke, in which were the Mercer Companies of Pack and Ryan, was ordered and went to South Carolina where it remained under the command of General Robert E. Lee until it returned to Virginia about the last days of April, 1862, and was then attached to the brigade commanded by General Charles W. Field of A. P. Hill's division.

On the evening and night of the 4th of May, 1862, General Johnston quietly withdrew his army from the Yorktown entrenchment's and hastened up the Peninsula as rapidly as the condition of the roads would permit.  The Federal gunboats were passing up the James and York Rivers with an army corps on transports on the latter, having in view the cutting of General Johnston's line of retreat.

The enemy pressed so hard and closely upon General Johnston's rear that in order to protect his trains he was forced to halt and offer battle.  The Divisions of Longstreet and D. H. Hill were covering the retreat, and upon them fell the brunt of the battle which followed.  The rear of the army had reached Williamsburg, twelve miles distant from the starting point about daylight on the morning of the 5th, amidst a drizzling rain.



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