Keeping with the Civil War theme of my last couple articles, Mason County had men serving in over a dozen different regiments during the Civil War.
Some were Confederates, serving in General McCausland’s 36th Virginia Infantry or General Albert Jenkins’ 8th Virginia Cavalry. McCausland’s infantry never came closer to Mason County than Buffalo, but Jenkins led two raids through our county. Unfortunately, I’m certain that a number of local recruits were with his army when Major Waggener was brutally murdered just outside Point Pleasant.
Of course, the vast majority of Mason County’s Civil War soldiers were in the Union forces. Many of us who have family ties to this area have an ancestor that fought in the 4th West Virginia Infantry under General Lightburn, the 9th West Virginia Infantry under our own Colonel Kellian Whaley (later Congressman Whaley), or the 13th West Virginia Infantry under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes (yes, that Rutherford B. Hayes!).
Most of these regiments were made up of recruits from the length of the mid-Ohio Valley, from Parkersburg down to Ironton with a handful of Mason County thrown in. The 13th, though, held a special significance to our county. They were, as Editor Tippett often called them in the Register, “our own Mason County boys.”
Made up of 1,500 recruits organized into 10 companies, well over 75% of the regiment came from our towns and farms. Recruiting began in July of 1862, just days after President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 more men. Efforts were led by Lieutenant James Hall, youngest son of John Hall (who presided over writing our state constitution just a few months later), brother of Major John Hall of the 4th WV, and graduate of the Virginia Military Institute.
At first, recruiting was slow and tedious, with many of Mason County’s citizens preferring to stay out of the fighting unless absolutely necessary. That all changed after Mason County learned of Major Hall’s death in battle on August 9th… In the following week, over 200 recruits joined his brother’s growing regiment. By October 1st, the 800-strong regiment was training for war in camp near Point Pleasant.
Now, despite the fact that they weren’t officially organized until late October, the 13th’s first taste of war came in September. Faced with 800 Confederate cavalry led by General Jenkins, 400 recruits of the 13th and 500 of the local 106th Militia rallied to defend Point Pleasant. Jenkins bypassed the town, but the 13th later captured a handful of his men near Buffalo.
After finishing their training, the 13th spent the next year in the Kanawha and Ohio Valleys guarding their homes, families, and the region’s valuable salt works. In March, while most of the regiment was patrolling further upriver, Company E turned our courthouse into a makeshift fort during another raid by General Jenkins. In July, the entire regiment joined General Judah’s pursuit of John Hunt Morgan’s raiders through Meigs County, ending in the Battle of Buffington Island. After the battle, the 13th was tasked with transporting 208 captured rebels to Fayetteville by barge.
The new year, 1864, saw the 13th transferred out of our valley and into another, the Shenandoah. On June 8th, after having spent nearly two weeks fighting their way through the mountain passes, they joined General Hunter’s army in Staunton, Virginia.
Now part of an army numbering 16,000, the 13th was with Hunter when he took Lexington and burned the Virginia Military Institute, Lieutenant Colonel Hall’s alma mater. The army then continued on to Lynchburg, where they lost to General McCausland.
Working their way back north, the 13th won national praise for their defense of the retreating army at Kernstown, ensuring safe passage to the Union camp at Harpers Ferry. There they remained, fighting skirmishes against local Confederates while they prepared for another campaign to take the Shenandoah Valley.
That opportunity came in September of 1864, when Hunter was replaced by General Philip Sheridan. With an army 35,000 strong, the Confederates could not stop the Union advance. The 13th was with Sheridan for his victories at Third Winchester and Fisher’s Hill, where they stayed on guard duty while Sheridan continued his march down the Valley.
A week later, Sheridan’s army returned from “The Burning” and with the 13th, continued north. They hadn’t yet made it out of the Valley when Confederates launched a surprise attack, and the 13th fought its last major battle at Cedar Creek. The Union managed to secure a victory, but in the chaos, Lieutenant Colonel Hall was shot through the heart.
Six months later, minus their beloved Hall and 169 of their brothers-in-arms, the 13th West Virginia Infantry returned home to Mason County.
Information from the weekly letters home of Rev. William W. Harper, the major and chaplain of the 13th WV Infantry. Next week, I’ll talk a bit more about Rev. Harper.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society is tonight, Saturday, Feb. 8 at 5 p.m. at the Mason County Library in Point Pleasant
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.