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
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.