Speakers Recount Civil War Stories From Wheeling Perspective
Several contributors to the 2015 book, “Wheeling During the Civil War,” shared stories from that era with an audience at the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday.
Ten members of the Wheeling Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, which spearheaded the history project, spoke at the Lunch With Books session. They and four others wrote Civil War-related articles that were published in the Sunday News-Register from 2011 to mid-2015.
The articles were then compiled for the new book, which offers a month-by-month account of events in Wheeling during the war years. The writers used issues of The Daily Intelligencer from 1860-65 as the main primary source.
Using material from their research findings, Tuesday’s speakers discussed events from selected months of the Civil War era.
Examining the period of November and December in 1860, Margaret Brennan said the presidential election that year prompted raucous rallies and drunken revelry in the city, with the cannon known as “Old Garibaldi” being fired 36 times in South Wheeling. As Southern states began seceding in early 1861, she said, “In Wheeling, spring was in the air, but war was just around the corner.”
Bekah Karelis, who wrote of events in January 1862, said Union Gen. William Rosecrans, who established headquarters at the Charles Russell house at 75 12th St., also developed the Wheeling ambulance that was used in every campaign of the war.
Regarding the research that the project entailed, Karelis said, “It was very great and very interesting to go day by day to read all these newspapers … It was interesting to have the first-person account in the voice of Wheeling.”
Jeanne Finstein, who coordinated the series and edited the book, said, “The newspapers had a wonderful collection of information in them.”
Researching May 1862, Finstein learned of Francis Hoge, a Marshall County native and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, who left the federal Navy to join the Confederate Navy. Hoge, who “had quite a stellar career,” participated in the Confederates’ successful defense of Richmond, Va., by stopping a U.S. naval assault on the James River. After the war, he became the city engineer of Wheeling and was responsible for building the Main Street Bridge in 1891, she said.
Ed Phillips, who researched August 1862, shared a story of Joe Hooker, a small pup found by Wheeling native Joe Conley on a battlefield. The pup spent four years with Carlin’s Battery, prompting one soldier to write, “He was a mongrel, but he was our dog.”
As a young pup, he chased cannonballs at the Battle of Winchester. When Conley was captured, fellow soldier Dick French took over the dog’s care. The soldiers shared ownership of the dog when Conley was freed, Phillips said. When French was killed in battle, the dog refused to leave his side until burial.
The dog’s last master was killed at Lynchburg, but another soldier took over his care. After the war, the dog spent his time following members of Carlin’s Battery in Wheeling, Phillips said.
Wilkes Kinney related that the 54th Massachusetts, commissioned in February 1863, was the first full-fledged black infantry group in the war. The unit’s members were mainly free men. The 54th started with a full platoon of 1,000 men, but lost 600 in its first battle, he said.
Jon-Erik Gilot spoke of Wheeling’s problem of enlisting its quota of 200 men in February 1864. Men from Wheeling were enlisting in Brooke and Marshall counties which paid each enlistee an additional $200 on top of the federal bounty of $300. To halt that trend, Ohio County enacted a $300 bonus, plus $100 for re-enlisting, bringing the total bounty to $600 for new recruits or $700 for re-enlistees. As a result, the 200-man quota was fulfilled in less than two weeks, Gilot said.
With the North clearly winning the war by September 1864, Joseph Laker said the Wheeling newspapers published four-page editions, with the front page devoted to national news and ads. The second and third pages contained local news, while the back page was “almost all ads,” he said.
David Javersak, who wrote of January 1865, focused on the hundreds of men from the West Liberty area who fought in the war; that number included two Medal of Honor winners. “West Liberty, a little town, plays a mighty big role in the history of the American Civil War,” he commented.
Kate Quinn, who studied March 1865, told of James Duncan, a Wheeling native who joined the Confederacy while living in Louisiana and became the official baker for the infamous Andersonville prison. There, he looked for prisoners from Wheeling and offered them shelter. Quinn also spoke of America’s biggest maritime disaster, the explosion of the overloaded steamboat Sultana.
John Bowman recounted the significant events of April 1865: the Confederates’ surrender and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Finstein said Charles Julian, Judi Hendrickson and committee members Robert DeFrancis and Sean Duffy also wrote articles for the series. The book, “Wheeling During the Civil War,” is available for purchase at the Wheeling Artisan Center and Words and Music bookshop at Stratford Springs.