The Civil War Diary of Henderson George



At the first call for troops (three months men) I joined a military company, and with the company, in a few days, was sent to Wheeling Va. West Virginia had not yet seperated from Virginia and was not organized as the State of West Virginia, until some months later.

This military company was the first to set foot in Wheeling; we were not yet armed; union sentiment in the city was divided; the anti-unionists were aggressive and mob violence was threatened. For safety the company was hurried out of the city to an Island in the Ohio River on which was situated the Fair Ground, and immediately armed; this relieved the fear of a rebel mob. Other Union military companies began to arrive and soon a Regiment was formed and was designated as the First Virginia, with which we were incorporated as Co. D.

On May l5th., 1861, the lst. Virginia Regiment was mustered into the military service of the United States, under the command of Colonel B. F. Kelley a regular army officer.

After about ten days drilling, word was received that a rebel force was distroying bridges along the Baltimore and Ohio R.R., in the vicinity of Grafton Va., and the Regiment was ordered at once to the front. We were transported on a train of box freight cars, and moved slowly through the rough hilly country, every moment in fear of being fired on from ambush. We recognized our disadvantage in being crowded together in box cars in case of attack.

About noon we arrived at the first burned bridge a few miles west of Grafton, disembark and encamp, while our engineer corps was engaged in constructing a temporary bridge. In three or four days, or as soon as the bridge was cornpleted, entrain and move to Grafton. Disembark and encamp for the night. Next morning troops entrain and move forward about six miles, disembark and take up a forced march of about thirty miles, our objective point being Phillippi Va., where it was said a rebel force of fifteen hundred to two thousand were encamped. From the time we left the train about nine o'clock A.M., marched all day and the succeeding night. When night came on a drenching rain set in continuing throughout the night; this with the muddy, slippery, rough mountain road, and mountain torrents, enveloped in egyption darkness, the men of the lst. Va. regiment had an experience they will never forget.

As planned we arrived at our objective point, Phillippi, about sunrise, and with troops that came by another road the rebel camp was at once attacked. The enemy not having pickets out that night were completely surprised, and made but little resistance, soon fled in disorder through the village; in fact it was a route. Our regiment being in the advance followed close upon the heels of the fleeing enemy; but on account of the long day and night march, with practically no food, were not in condition to follow up the victory. The casualties were small on both sides; only one or two of our men were wounded or killed. Among the wounded was our Colonel Kelley; the writer was within a few feet of him when he was struck as he rode by on his horse. This was my first experience under fire; for the first time I heard hostile bullets sing and shells screech through the air.

The battle of Phillippi scarcely rose to the dignity of a skirmish when compared with later events; but as it was the first field action of the war, it had an important bearing and influence on the public mind and strengthened the Union sentiment in West Virginia.

After the route and flight of the enemy the regiment returned to the village and our Co., D., was fortunate to secure for temporary quarters, the residence of Colonel Barbour; it was the largest and best house in the village. We found it well stoked with provisions. In the kitchen a table was spread for about twenty persons; in the celler we found quite a stock Qf ham and bacn, preserves and pickels. The provisions found in the Barbour residence came in most auspiciously to the relief of our famished and exhausted men. As before mentioned we had had practically nothing to eat for twenty four hours, and in the mean time had made a march of thirty miles, more than half the distance through rain and darkness over mountain roads.

Col. Barbour was a rebel officer and was probably the richest man in Barbour Co., which was probably named for him. His home was no doubt the boarding house of his brother officers while on duty in the village; but that morning his guests with himself fled without sitting down to the loaded table, and so Co. D. came in and were greatly pleased to partake of the excellent breakfast, and to appropriate the surplus provisions.

After the skirmish, in looking over the town not a man woman or child, white or colored, could be found except an old colored woman who was crippled and who could not, like the bird with the broken wing, make the flight. The people of the village had been told that the "yankee" murderers were coming and had fled in terror.

Resting a few days in Phillippi, the regiment was ordered forward in the direction of Beverly, Randolph Co., about twenty five miles distant. At Laurel Hill, on the road to Beverly, we came upon a force of the enemy said to number about twenty five hundred. This force was strongly entrenched in a mountain gap for the purpose of resisting our onward movement. After, however, two or three days reconoitering and skirmishing, threatening their rear, the enemy retreated, our troops then moved on to Beverly without further hindrance.

While we lay at Beverly our three months term of enlistment expired. From this point we returned to Wheeling Va., and were discharged August 27th., 1861; having served three months and twelve days.

The return of the Regiment to Wheeling was signalized by great public demonstration and banquet,tendered by the city, in honor of our short and victorious career.

Just at this time West Virginia was declared a State seperated from Virginia. The first legislature was now in session (August 1861). The legis1ative body, in behalf of the people, voted to present through the governor a bronze medal to each soldier of the lst. Virginia Regiment, with a letter of thanks from the people of the State. The name of each solddier was stamped on the outer edge of these medals. You will find the medal received by me among my war relics; the letter, however, from the governor tendering in a formal way the thanks of the people of the State seems to be lost.

This closes my first brief experience as a soldier. I certainly was a bit strenuous; you will agree with me on this point when I recount the fact of our lack of proper equipment.

The Springfield with which we were armed was a splendid weapon, and was the best arm at that time of any country. But we were lacking in cartridge boxes, haversacks, and canteens, also suitable clothing and shoes. Cartridges we carried in our pockets, while many times we were hungry and thirsty for lack of haversacks and canteens.