In the past weeks, leading up to Memorial Day, I’ve wrote about Mason County’s casualties during the Revolution and War of 1812. A lack of detailed records from either time period allowed me to cover most, if not all, of the casualties of those wars. Now that we’re up to the Civil War, that much detail would be impossible. Instead, we will focus on a single story, that of the Hall brothers.
James Robert and John Thomas Hall were born to John and Olivia Hall in 1838 and 1841, respectively. Their father was a self-educated politician who served as sheriff, state delegate, state senator, and President of WV’s Constitutional Convention. Their mother was an equally upstanding citizen, a member of the prominent Hogg family that traced its roots to the settling of Mason County.
The Halls, despite the fact that they were slave owners, were a Union family through and through. At the outset of the Civil War, John left his studies at the Virginia Military Institute and came home to raise a regiment. These men from Mason, Meigs, and Gallia became the core of the 4th West Virginia Infantry, with young John (only 20 years old) chosen as their major.
The 4th immediately went to work in Southern West Virginia, clearing out Confederate bushwhackers and guerillas. Among the most infamous were William Stratton and Vincent “Clawhammer” Witcher, who early in the war had destroyed Guyandotte and nearly captured Congressman Whaley. For nearly a year, the regiment fought their way through the hollers along the Kentucky border.
Then, on August 6th, 1862, Hall and 50 of his men were on patrol near Beech Creek in Wyoming County. During dinner, they were surrounded by the devils themselves and “their troop of cut throats and thieves, who demanded their surrender. Hall responded by shooting Stratton and Witcher both, and rifle fire let loose from every direction. By the end of it, Hall had been shot four times and was mortally wounded, dying two hours later, and three of his men had died defending their commander.
The sad news reached his family on the 9th. Just a week before, he was in Point Pleasant, happy and among friends and family…
His death lit a fire under Mason County. My frequent source, Editor Tippett, wrote, “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.”
By the dozens, Mason County’s young men lined up to avenge their fallen friend, enlisting in the 13th West Virginia to fight alongside his elder brother. Like John, James was also a VMI graduate and chosen as his regiment’s major. Prior to the war, he was a merchant and partial owner of the Excelsior Flour Mill.
With the 13th, James was present at well over a dozen significant battles. He was at Buffington Island, defending West Virginia against John Hunt Morgan’s raiders. At Cloyd’s Mountain, the marauder General Jenkins was killed, no longer to threaten Mason County. He marched into Lexington and watched his alma mater be put to the torch. In Lynchburg, he went toe-to-toe with General McCausland, a fellow farmer he had known since childhood and a classmate at VMI. At Second Kernstown, now promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he was shot through the wrist and struck in the right shoulder by an artillery shell fragment.
He returned home briefly to recuperate, but by October, he was back with his regiment in the Shenandoah Valley. At Cedar Creek, with his arm still in a sling, he made his way to the front and rallied his regiment. It was during this fearless action that he was shot in the heart and killed instantly. Writing his father afterward, his commanding officer declared, “Among the multitude of brave and generous men who have given their lives to their country in this great struggle, your son will be remembered as one of the bravest of the brave. Sincerely, R.B. Hays, Col. Commanding.” And yes, that is future President Rutherford B. Hayes.
After the war, John Hall had both of his sons exhumed and brought home to be buried in the family cemetery. Their headstones stand tall, high above the weeds and brush, clearly visible from Route 62 just north of Camp Conley. We honor their memory, and that of thousands of others killed in the Civil War, this Memorial Day.
Information primarily from the Weekly Register.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.