Joseph A. Pyle (1847 – 1943) Company C, 1st West Virginia Infantry
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series featuring Civil War veterans with Wheeling connections. The series will lead up to the planned move of Wheeling’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Wheeling Park to the side yard of West Virginia Independence Hall.
By JON-ERIK GILOT
For the News-Register
In February 2017, I wrote an article for this series on Lorenzo Ullom, recognized as Ohio County’s last surviving Civil War soldier. In this month’s installment, I’ll introduce you to Mr. Joseph Amos Pyle, who is likewise alternately credited as both Wheeling and Belmont County’s last surviving Civil War soldier.
Joseph Pyle was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio on June 9, 1847, the son of John and Sarah Bone Pyle. Joseph’s father – a former British sailor who traveled as far as South America – died when Joseph was only 8 months old, and the family would experience difficulty and hardship during his youth. Joseph moved to Wheeling as a young child where his mother worked as a washerwoman.
Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Joseph’s older brother John enlisted in Company C of the 1st (West) Virginia Infantry under the command of Pyle family friend, Col. Joseph Thoburn. John served from October 1861 through the end of the war, while his younger brother Joseph was not accepted for service until February 1864, when he signed his enlistment paper as having reached age 18, though he was only 16 years old at the time. Joseph was assigned to Company C of the 1st West Virginia Infantry, the same company as his older brother, whom Joseph would recall would help to support him and would carry his knapsack when the younger Pyle was sick.
Joseph participated in heavy fighting in the Shenandoah Valley during the summer and autumn of 1864, including the battles of New Market, Piedmont, Lynchburg, Snickers Gap, Winchester and Cedar Creek, where Thoburn, whom Pyle recalled as “the bravest man I ever knew,” was mortally wounded. Thoburn escaped the battles without injury, but recalled a bullet striking the heel of his shoe while lying behind a stone wall at the battle of Lynchburg, Va.
In December 1864, Joseph and John Pyle were transferred to the newly organized 2nd West Virginia Veteran Infantry and were stationed at Cumberland and Grafton until being mustered out in July 1865. By the age of 18, Joseph Pyle was officially a veteran of our nation’s deadliest war.
Joseph returned to Wheeling and on his 24th birthday, married Nancy Jane Armiger, the widow of a Union soldier from Maryland who had died as a prisoner of war. The couple had six children, as well as a son from Nancy’s prior marriage. Joseph worked as a produce grocer in Wheeling for a number of years before moving across the river to operate a dairy farm at Kirkwood Heights, near Bridgeport. After selling the farm he opened a dishware store in Bridgeport, finally retiring at age 85.
Joseph was active in veteran’s activities in the years following the Civil War. In 1938, he attended the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. He is credited as the last living member of Wheeling’s J.W. Holliday Grand Army of the Republic post, earning the distinction as Wheeling’s last Civil War soldier.
Following retirement Pyle moved in with his daughter in Aetnaville. Local children marveled at his snow-white beard, calling him Santa Claus. The Wheeling Intelligencer interviewed Pyle on his 90th birthday, and he imparted some words of wisdom to the younger generation that still ring true to this day – “…believe in yourself. Whatever you start, do it with the best in you and finish it. Don’t be disappointed with your station in life. If you’re a bricklayer, be the best one there is and don’t worry about the fellow who is a lawyer. Stick with your job and you’ll be successful.”
After surviving a war and nearly a full century, you might wonder about Pyle’s secret to longevity “take a nap after lunch like I did all my life,” he recalled.
Joseph Pyle died at Aetnaville on Jan. 8, 1943 at the age of 95. He was buried in Riverview Cemetery in Martins Ferry under a simple headstone making no mention of his military service. In 2012, the Benjamin D. Fearing Camp No. 2, Sons of Union Veterans – a group that has made a mission of marking the final resting place of the last surviving Civil War veteran in each of Ohio’s counties – incorrectly marked the grave of Barnesville’s William W. Groves as Belmont County’s last surviving soldier. Groves died on Dec. 28, 1941, more than a year ahead of Joseph Pyle, Belmont County’s true “last soldier.”