Battles Erupt Across A War-Torn Country
Editor’s Note: This article is part of an occasional series on the Civil War sesquicentennial provided by members of the Wheeling Civil War 150 Committee.
September 1862 was a crucial month in the Civil War, ranging from an attempted robbery at the Custom House in Wheeling to the battles of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain and Antietam, and Lincoln’s proclamation of emancipation.
Early on, Camp Willey, the troop training camp on Wheeling Island, held 2,000 men. One group, the 12th (Union) Virginia Regiment, marched from the island to the B&O depot. “Their appearance created great sensation. The people flocked after them,” The Daily Intelligencer reported.
This sight was repeated many times through the month, with the troops often pausing at The Daily Intelligencer office on Main Street and giving a cheer.
The paper frequently sent copies to the soldiers at the camp.
News on the Aug. 30 battle of Second Manassas/Bull Run was filtering in. “Our loss has been immence in government stores and in killed, wounded and missing,” The Daily Intelligencer reported.
The Wheeling Soldiers Aid Society, well known for its generosity under Jacob Honnbrook and Mr. Gilchrist, sent boxes of supplies to the sick and wounded at Martinsburg and Alexandria.
It was reported that two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth Peck of Moundsville, were jailed at the Athenaeum for refusing to take the oath of allegiance. James Bumgardner of Wheeling was arrested and jailed for using treasonable language. This happened quite often. “Rebel sympathizers will no longer be dallied with. They must take the oath or go to jail and stay there.”
Gov. Francis Pierpont was in Washington and telegraphed for 10 nurses to go to D.C. Eleven people promptly responded, including Alexander Laughlin and Mrs. Holliday. The governor felt the rebels were at the end of their rope.
Meanwhile, a Confederate force had captured Buckhannon and taken a lot of supplies. It was also reported that 20 Wheeling ambulances were shipped to D.C. And it seemed the government could not stop the sale of liquor to soldiers, who used ingenious ways to get off the island.
On Friday, Sept. 5, a lengthy article described the Wednesday night attempt to rob the Custom House safe of $1,250,000. Fortunately, the burglars could not get the money out of the well-constructed vault. The newspaper took the army security to task and the army responded in kind.
The paper also reported the presentation of a fine sword to Capt. Carlin of the Wheeling Battery by his men. “The battery is composed of the best young men (150) in the city, and a deep interest will always be felt in its movements.”
On Sept. 6, a man wrote asking for help for the western Virginia sick and wounded. “Alexandria and Washington are nothing but vast hospitals.” Col. Thoburn was reported ill of typhoid in Alexandria and Jacob Hornbrook went to visit the hospitals there.
In military matters, Maj. Gen. Jesse Reno was put in command of the 3rd Army Corps. Pierpont asked that the people of western Virginia organize themselves for the protection of their communities. Lee’s army had crossed the Potomac into Maryland on Sept. 4, and by Sept. 11 was active in the Hagerstown area. On Sept. 14, Lee’s forces engaged part of the Union army at the Battle of South Mountain, where it was reported “we have to lament the death of the gallant General Reno,” born in Wheeling.
Meanwhile, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had taken Harpers Ferry, capturing almost 12,700 soldiers, the most ever surrendered during the Civil War.
On Wednesday, Sept. 17, the two armies collided at the Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam, setting up the bloodiest day of the war. Approximately 23,000 soldiers were killed and wounded.
The medical corps faced a daunting challenge and Clara Barton herself came to the battlefield with supplies and succor. This was the first great battle where the chief army medical officer, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, who had served in Wheeling with Gen. Rosecrans, put into effect his plan for triage and evacuation. A total of 200 ambulances had been sent from D.C., including many made in Wheeling, and the wounded were efficiently removed from the battlefield, instead of lying for days and dying.
The Confederate armies were generally on the move. The rebels, under Col. McCausland and Col. Loring, drove Col. Lightburn out of the Kanawha Valley, capturing the important salt works. Even the President was shot at as he traveled to his Soldiers and Sailors Home cottage. Mrs. Lincoln put her foot down and he was provided a suitable escort.
As the horror of Antietam sank in, a call was put out for relief supplies and surgeons. Gen. McClellan telegraphed: “We may safely claim a victory.” The Confederates began to retreat to Virginia and were engaged on Sept. 19 at Shepherdstown, the largest battle fought on western Virginia soil.
On Wednesday, Sept. 24, The Daily Intelligencer was filled with a momentous story. On Sept. 22, Lincoln announced he would officially issue the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and the entire text was printed. It had become clear in the previous months that preserving the Union and dealing with slavery could not be separated. Many, including Frederick Douglass, had urged the President to speak to the issue.
Finally, Lincoln resolved to take action and discussed the proclamation with his cabinet. They cautioned him to wait for a Union victory to announce his decision. Now the President had Antietam, so five days later he made his move.
The Daily Intelligencer applauded Lincoln’s effort. “We say a thousand Amens to the proclamation.” On Sept. 25, the paper stated: “Slavery is the cause of this war. Had we not had slavery among us we would not have had this war. The President recognizes this great truth and so does the country.”
On Saturday, Sept. 27, a crowd went to the White House to serenade the President. In greeting them, he commented on the proclamation: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake.”