Congressional Elections Made News in 1863

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.


For the Sunday News-Register

Upcoming congressional elections were in the Wheeling news during the early days of October 1863, as the war continued on both the eastern and western fronts.

Although Wheeling’s Chester D. Hubbard was seen as being “instrumental in convincing Lincoln of the necessity of signing the statehood bill,” Parkersburg’s Jacob B. Blair received the 1st District nomination instead.

Daniel Frost also agreed to run for Congress, from the 3rd District. Frost was born in St. Clairsville and had served as editor of the Union-leaning Virginia Chronicle in Ravenswood, until Confederates burned his paper.

He was elected Speaker of the House in the Restored Government of Virginia and then enlisted in the 11th West Virginia Infantry, serving with distinction.

The Intelligencer described his opponent, K.V. Whaley, as “loyal, after a fashion” but “absolutely no account at all.” Despite this and other criticism of Whaley, he defeated Frost. Unfortunately, Frost was never able to reach his potential in politics; he was killed in action at the Battle of Snicker’s Ferry in July 1864. (He was buried in Mount Wood Cemetery.)

Newspaper notice was given on Oct. 1 alerting relatives that Jacob Hornbrook would be returning to Wheeling the next day with local soldiers’ pay. Nicknamed the “soldier’s friend,” Hornbrook had distinguished himself in business and as a delegate to the First Wheeling Convention, urging statehood.

Although considered too old to serve in the military, he took it upon himself to travel the countryside to where Wheeling soldiers were stationed, often accompanied by his daughter, India (daughter-in-law of Gen. Benjamin Franklin Kelley), to bring home their pay, ensuring that their dependents were taken care of in their absence.

On this particular trip, the amount he brought back from the 1st, 14th and 15th regiments was reported to be between $25,000 and $30,000 (which would be equivalent to about $450,000 to $550,000 today).

The first term of the Ohio County Circuit Court in the new state of West Virginia was held early in October and included the trial of James Collins, accused of the murder of John W. Lewis. Reports of the trial testimony were apparently of great interest, given the amount of newspaper coverage. A scathing editorial followed the jury’s finding of justifiable homicide. Lesser altercations also made the news, including one case in which a fight erupted when one man called the other a “son of a female dog” and was insulted in return by being called a Confederate.

A daily summary of war news was typically printed on page 3 of the paper, and a list of names of local casualties periodically appeared. A huge crowd attended an address given in Wheeling by Gen. Franz Sigel on Oct. 14, and Union rallies and processions were held frequently.

Also in mid-month was an announcement that there were to be no through trains to Baltimore because of an “apprehended danger of a raid beyond Cumberland.” Meanwhile, the West Virginia Legislature appropriated $2,000 to pay the expenses of bringing wounded and sick soldiers home from distant hospitals or battlefields and returning the remains of the fallen when friends and family could not afford the expense of transportation.

The role of slaves freed by President Abraham Lincoln was still uncertain, even though nearly a year had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation. One outlandish rumor was that Lincoln would “enforce amalgamation by conscripting a large number of young white ladies who would be compelled to accept husbands from the black brigade.”

The same issue of The Intelligencer included statements by a Louisiana legislator that “the slaves of the South [are] more intelligent and capable of sustaining a representative government than the peasantry in many states of Europe” and that there was “hardly a plantation on the Mississippi which did not have upon it some slave who knew more about its management than his master.”

A week later, a reprint of an article from the southern-leaning Richmond Enquirer expressed dismay that [former] slaveowners were averse “to hire their negroes in the Confederate army. The prejudice is certainly an ignorant and mean one. As the war was originated and is carried out in part for the defense of the slaveholder and his property, rights and the perpetuation of the institution, it is reasonable to suppose that he ought to be the first and foremost in aiding the triumph and success of our arms. Good wages are offered, and proper care and attention will be given every negro hired to the army, and the slaveholder ought to remember that for every negro he thus furnishes, he puts a soldier in the ranks.”

Advertisements, often found on the front page of the paper, reflect the general war environment. For example, D. Nicoll & Bro, 109 Main St., advertised the receipt of 100 dozen Union flags, and patent medicines focused on the needs of soldiers. Ads for Hoofland’s German Bitters (75 cents a bottle, with “no alcohol or bad whisky”) told those who had friends in the army that the product would “cure nine-tenths of the diseases induced by exposure and privations incident to camp life.”

Another option, the “Never Known to Fail, Soldier’s Friend,” Dixon’s Blackberry Carminative claimed to be the “sovereign remedy for dysentery, diarrhea, flux, cholera morbus and summer complaint.” On a more ominous note, the Geo. R. Taylor store announced the receipt of a new shipment of “mourning goods.”

Women’s fashion news appeared frequently in the newspaper. The season’s bonnets were to have more shallow sides and drooping fronts than those in the prior season. Light and gauzy fabrics for dresses were being replaced with “heavy merinos and dark silk” for fall.

Although the belt waist was still in fashion, a more pointed waist could be seen “on the promenade.” Skirts retained “full flowing amplitude of width” and were often trimmed with broad bands of velvet placed horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

A later report praised the latest Paris fashions that shortened skirts to a point that they no longer featured the “filthy and extravagant” lengths that swept the streets and brought dust into houses … This change in fashion is one of the most sensible we have yet had occasion to record.”