It seems death is a recurring theme lately. In Mason County, it’s nearly impossible to avoid military history, particularly the Battle of Point Pleasant, but there are quite a few other stories that get pushed aside. The following is a sad, but courageous, story of two brothers who gave their lives to keep our nation together.
James Robert and John Thomas Hall were born to John and Olivia Hall in 1838 and 1841, respectively. Their father, John, was a self-educated politician who served as sheriff, state delegate, state senator, and president of West Virginia’s Constitutional Convention. His wife, Olivia, was the daughter of another prominent citizen, Thomas Gory Hogg.
When the Civil War broke out, the Hall family immediately leaned towards the Union. John Hall was one of our delegates at the First Wheeling Convention, and later helped draft West Virginia’s first constitution.
The younger son, John Thomas, helped organize the 4th West Virginia Infantry at Point Pleasant and Mason City. Because he was a West Point grad, combined with his family’s status, he was appointed major of the new unit. In August of 1862, Major Hall was leading a scouting party near Logan Courthouse when he and 48 other soldiers were ambushed by 200 Confederate cavalrymen, who immediately opened fire. Rather than obey a demand to surrender, Hall shot the Confederate colonel in the shoulder, severely wounded their major, and was shot four times in return. His troops rallied around their fallen commander and repelled the attack. According to multiple accounts, Major Hall instructed his troops to ignore his wounds, keep fighting, and never surrender. He died peacefully two hours later. In the local papers, they vowed that “his death will not be unavenged, mark that! …We can mingle our tears with theirs (his parents), but tears are unavailing now. Let us each and all, nerve our arms for the dreadful contest before us, and resolve now by the memory of our departed friend, that we will sacrifice our lives and our all upon the altar of our country.”
Shortly before the death of his younger brother, James Robert called for volunteers to form the 13th West Virginia Infantry. Recruiting was slow at first, but sped up soon after the death of Major Hall. By the end of it, the 13th was widely referred to as “our own Mason County boys.” Upon their organization in Point Pleasant, James Hall was appointed as this unit’s major. From here, they participated in many important engagements. They were at Buffington Island, where they protected West Virginia’s shores from Morgan’s Raiders. They were at Cloyd’s Mountain, where the dishonorable and murderous Gen. Jenkins was struck down. At Lexington, they participated in the burning of the Virginia Military Institute. Major Hall was in the VMI Class of 1859. Soon after returning to West Virginia, they were called back to the Shenandoah Valley, where they participated in 2nd Kernstown and Cedar Creek. At Kernstown, Hall, now a Lieutenant Colonel, was shot in the right wrist and shoulder. He returned home to recover, but was soon back with his regiment. At Cedar Creek, a still wounded Hall crowded to the front of his troops and rallied them forward. It was during this that he was shot in the heart, dying instantly.
Soon after the battle, Hall’s commanding officer wrote a letter to his father, informing him of his son’s death. “My dear sir, although personally a stranger to you, I felt that I ought to write you a few words in regard to the death of you gallant and noble son… He had still not recovered from his wounds received at Winchester… But his heroic and patriotic spirit would not allow him to be absent… An example which it would be an honor, even faintly to imitate… I need not attempt to tell you how much we admired him… Your son will be remembered as the bravest of the brave. To Hon. John Hall. Sincerely, R.B. Hayes.” (Yes, the future President.)
After the war, John Hall paid to have his sons brought home and reburied in the family cemetery. Today, their graves (pictured above) are nearly forgotten. Personally, I think that any cemetery looking like that is a shame, but this instance is particularly sad.
Information for this article taken from the Weekly Register, West Virginia State Archives, and National Park Service.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 6:30 p.m., with location near Leon to be determined.