Shenandoah Campaign On Minds of Residents
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.
By JEANNE FINSTEIN
For the News-Register
The Shenandoah Campaign was undoubtedly on the minds of many Wheeling residents during August 1864, as letters and newspaper reports relayed news from the locally based units that were involved in that area.
The Aug. 1 issue of The Wheeling Intelligencer reported that 1,200 to 1,500 “of our brave sick and wounded soldiers” had been admitted to the Cumberland and Claryville hospital. Wheeling’s George K. Wheat visited the hospital and provided a list of dozens of area men who had been hospitalized, along with their units and the nature of their wounds or illnesses.
Among those mentioned in the paper was Col. Daniel Frost, a St. Clairsville native and former newspaper editor of the Virginia Chronicle in Ravenswood. Frost was an ardent Union supporter and had been elected Speaker of the House of the Restored Government of Virginia.
He was 43 years old when he enlisted, considered old for a recruit at that time.
He served as colonel of the 11th West Virginia Infantry and was killed on July 18 at the Battle of Snicker’s Ferry (sometimes called the Battle of Cool Spring). His remains were returned to Wheeling’s Mount Wood Cemetery.
C.J. Rawling, a member of the 1st Infantry and author of the book that chronicled its activities, reported on the locations of that unit during the month. “On the 7th, General (Philip) Sheridan took command of the army for operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and on the 8th of August the regiment again crossed the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, and bivouacked on the banks of the Shenandoah near Halltown. The regiment has camped on the banks of this stream many times during the past two and a half years, and its beautiful waters have become quite familiar to the men. How long will they be moved up and down the river is a question they put to each other, but none can answer it.”
The regiment saw little action other than picket duty and a few skirmishes. Rawling reported that on the 18th, the men “were now feasting on green corn and foraging for hogs, chickens, apples, etc., which, as may be supposed, were valuable and welcome additions to the marching ration.”
Late in the month, the regiment found itself very near a Confederate unit. Rawling reported, “On the 25th the picket-firing was again very active, but toward the close of the day there was a cessation of firing, during which the men began to fraternize. ‘Yank’ and ‘Johnny’ conversed together, which led to an exchange of papers, tobacco, coffee, etc., then banterings and course jokes; finally hostilities were resumed, and the men that a little while ago were exchanging coffee and tobacco and the news were again exchanging leaden compliments – such was army life.”
Thomas Jefferson Orr, a member of the 12th Infantry and author of numerous letters home to friends and relatives, seemed tired and hungry during this period. On Aug. 5, he wrote to his parents from his post in the Eastern Panhandle, “The boys are beginning to get very tired of West Va. they would rather go to the army of the Potomac they feed them better there.” Fortunately, a supply shipment arrived soon after the letter was written, including “onions pickels potatoes pork beef hard tack coffee sugar beans etc. which makes very good living.”
Meanwhile, Battery D of the First West Virginia Light Artillery, better known as Carlin’s Battery, spent the latter part of the month and the first half of September in Wheeling, recruiting additional men and receiving new guns. The Wheeling Intelligencer reported, “The men looked travel worn and weary enough, and are bronzed by the suns of Dixie; but we are glad to learn that all are in good health and spirits.” The battery was welcomed to Wheeling with a brass band, and “hundreds of people followed, and the wildest excitement prevailed for a time.” The names of 38 new recruits made the paper on Aug. 23.
Some 360 Rebel prisoners arrived in Wheeling on Aug. 11, including at least five who left Wheeling to join the Confederate forces. The prisoners were housed temporarily in the Athenaeum, before being sent the next day to Camp Chase, in Columbus. The paper reported, “The whole gang of prisoners look exceedingly hard in the way of attire but they have a very healthy look in other respects. Some are without shoes, and hardly a man among the number has a whole suit of clothes. They all express a desire to be entered for exchange and refuse to take the oath.”
The paper also reported that the local police had been “dealing very vigorously with the disreputable women who are in the habit of parading the streets of the city; in consequence of which many of them have donned male attire. Several of these women are now in the city dressed in men’s clothing.”
On Aug. 21, the cornerstone was laid for the new academy and convent of the Sisters of Visitation near the city. A long, front-page article describes the planned “massive” structure – later known as Mount de Chantal. The article boasts that the structure would feature low-pressure steam heat, gas manufactured on-site for lighting and “all the conveniences found in the most finished private residences.” Cars on the Hempfield Railroad reportedly carried “several thousand” people to the celebration. This building stood nearly 150 years before being demolished.