WILLIAM B. CURTIS, General
Fifteen years ago, Jim Frasca purchased the Civil War headgear of Colonel William Baker Curtis of the 12th Virginia Infantry, consisting of a matching dress hat and forage cap, both adorned with State of Virginia embroidered insignia and buttons. In addition, he has a signed carte de visite of Curtis as "Major of the 12th V.V.I." These items were acquired from a distant cousin of Colonel Curtis.
Jim has generously provided the following photos:
CDV - Back
William B. Curtis was born at Sharpsburg, Md., on the Antietam battleground, April 18, 1821. He was the oldest son of Josiah and Hester Curtis. His great-grandfather, upon his father's, side immigrated from Wales in the seventeenth century, and settled in Maryland. His grandfather, John Curtis, was a soldier in the revolution, and was wounded in battle, for which he was pensioned during his lifetime. His mother, Hester Curtis, was of German descent. In the year 1832 his family moved to West Liberty, W. Va., at which place his mother died. The year following, W. B. Curtis indentured to Jeremiah Clemens, in the city of Wheeling, for the term of four years to learn the cabinet-making trade, after which he
returned to West Liberty and continued in that business. In 1840 he connected himself with the Methodist Episcopal church, and in February, 1844, was married to Hannah M. Montgomery. In the year 1848 he entered into the mercantile business, and was elected justice of the peace, and continued as such until 1862. In the year 1861, when public opinion was so much divided in West Virginia, in reference to the right of secession, he remained a firm supporter of the general government, and was a member of the convention that met in the city of Wheeling, in the month of May, 1861, to organize the state government. After the state of Virginia had passed the
ordinance of secession he recruited a company of home guards, and had them uniformed, armed and equipped, and was commissioned as their captain, August 21, 1861, and tendered their services for home protection to F. H. Pierpoint, who had been elected governor of the restored state of Virginia. In the year 1862, when Lincoln called for 300,000 more troops he enlisted a company, took them to Camp Willey, on Wheeling Island, elected as their captain, and they were
mustered into the service as Company D, Twelfth West Virginia Volunteer infantry. He commanded his company until June 17, 1863, when he was promoted to major, and put in command of the regiment. As major he continued in command of the regiment, being the only field officer with it, and on the 26th day of January, 1864, be was promoted to colonel of his regiment. He continued in command of his regiment until October, 1864, when he was given command of a brigade consisting of the First, Fourth and Twelfth regiments West Virginia Volunteer infantry, doing duty in the valley of Virginia. In the month of December, 1864, while in command of the post at Stephen's depot, his brigade was re-organized by withdrawing the First and Fourth regiments, their time having expired and their places filled with the Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania and the Twenty-third Illinois regiments. On the 20th of December he was transferred to the army of the James, and his brigade was consolidated with the Twenty-fourth Army corps, as Second Brigade Independent division of that corps. His brigade participated in the assault upon the rebel works in front of Richmond, in the spring campaign of 1865, and on Sunday, April 2, had the honor of capturing Fort Gregg, near Petersburgh, for which the Twelfth regiment received a bronze eagle, presented to them with the following inscription: "Presented to the Twelfth Regiment, West Virginia Volunteer infantry, by the corps commander, Gen. John
Gibbon, for gallant conduct in the assault upon Ft. Gregg, near Petersburgh, Va., April 2, 1865." In this assault there were 715 men and officers killed and wounded. The Twelfth regiment had three color bearers killed in planting their flag upon the parapet. Three
of its members, Lieut. J. M. Curtis, Andrew Apple, and Joseph McCauslin, had medals presented them by congress, and Gen. Curtis received his general's commission from the president for gallant conduct in this assault. Richmond was immediately evacuated when this fort surrendered. His brigade followed in the pursuit of Lee, and marched thirty-five miles on the 8th of April to get support of Sheridan, who was in front of Lee with cavalry, and were present and witnessed the surrender, and had the honor of receiving the army and colors the first day, after which he returned to Richmond with the command, and was discharged June 20, 1865. He was afterward elected as a delegate for Ohio county to the legislature in 1866, and served one term; was superintendent of the West Virginia penitentiary in 1870 and '71; was aide to the department commander of the G.A.R., of West Virginia, in 1887 and '88, and aide on the grand commander's staff of the G.A.R., in 1888 and '89, and is now retired.
From History of the Upper Ohio Valley,
Vol. I, pages 494-495.
Brant & Fuller, 1890.
Submitted by Linda Fluharty.
THE CURTIS FAMILY
The Curtis Family, of West Liberty, West Virginia, descended from Sir James Curtis, of Wales, John Curtis, the head of this branch being a lineal descendant of Sir James.
During the War of the American Revolution John Curtis served with distinction in the 1st Maryland Regiment as sergeant under Capt. Nathaniel Smith and Colonel Matross, from the spring of 1776 until the fall of 1779. He was wounded in action, for which he received a pension in his latter years. Early in the nineteenth century he changed his residence from Baltimore to West Liberty. He died at the latter place in 1843, at the age of ninety-three years, and was buried in that historic old graveyard at West Liberty where lie more heroes of all the wars of the country, - the Indian wars, War of the Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War and Civil War. - than can be found in any other acre in the United States excepting the National Cemetery.
John Curtis married Ealsy Wilkins, a descendant of Lord Wilkins. Their children, five in number, were: Josiah; George Washington; Priscilla; Ealsy; and Rachel. George Washington remained single during his life. Priscilla married James Woods, of Wheeling, Ealsy married Jesse Wheat, of Wheeling, and Rachel married James Darling.
Josiah Curtis, son of John, married Hester Earnsparger, and their were: William Baker; Alice; Jacob E; and George Washington. Alice married William McFarland; Jacob E., Malissa Kerr, and for his second wife, Sarah Kerr; George Washington remained single.
Jacob E. Curtis was in the mercantile business for some years at Bethany, and has served for years as a trustee of Bethany College. He is now a resident of Wellsburg and is the owner and editor of the Panhandle News.
George Washington Curtis served during the Mexican War under Gen. Zachary Taylor, and afterward went west with the old "forty-niners," and while there took a hand with the "vigilantes" in clearing Jackson and Sutter Creek, California, of bad characters. He even made his way to Australia and the Fiji Islands, - cannibalism being rampant in the latter in those days, - and he and his partner lived in a hut with no white man nearer than 50 miles. Before and at the outbreak of the Civil War he held a commission as a brigadier general in the Virginia Militia, western section, and was constantly planning, on paper, fortifications and the movement of troops. He was a student at Bethany College when the call to arms was sounded by North and South. After deliberating for days as to which side was right and which was wrong, and after he had been forced by the Home Guards of Wheeling to deliver up the arms of his old company at Bethany, and finally, after having been attacked one night in the street by two men who were employed as laborers on the new college building, he decided to cast his lot with the South, and immediately set out for Richmond, Virginia, where he enlisted as a private in the 23d Virginia Regiment, 3d Brigade. William B. Taliaferro commanding, - in "Stonewall" Jackson's command. He was speedily promoted to be a lieutenant, and almost immediately afterward was promoted to be a lieutenant colonel of the same regiment. In the "War of the Rebellion," official records of the Union and Confederate armies, his name is mentioned in various places: First, at Kernstown, Virginia, as being wounded in that battle. Second, engagement near McDowell, Virginia: "To Cols. &c., Curtis, 23d, my thanks are due for the gallantry they displayed and the coolness with which they directed the movements and fire of their men." - (William B. Taliaferro's report). Third, engagement at Port Republic, Virginia, June 13, 1862: "Colonel Curtis kept his command closed up and well in hand." Fourth, at the battle of Cedar (or Slaughter) Mountain, August 9, 1862, Col. A. G. Taliaferro in his report particularly mentions Lieutenant Colonel Curtis: "The 4th & 23d, Lieutenant Colonel Curtis, likewise fell back under my orders." *** Lieutenant Colonel Curtis, commanding 23d Regt., Va. Vol., fell mortally wounded while gallantly leading his men into action. He came to the regiment in September, 1861, from Brooke county, Virginia, a private, and a refugee from the tyrants of the Northwest, and in the reorganization he was called to the position he so gallantly filled." A fit testimonial by the officers to his gallantry and good conduct: "He has fallen far from his home and friends, but will long be remembered by all associated with him in the cause of liberty." Again, - same battle, - report of S. T. Walton, lieutenant colonel: "When in 400 yards of the enemy's line of fire was opened on them and continued for some time, when we were ordered to fall back a short distance (the 37th Va. having already done so) in order to be out of reach of a cross-fire upon our left flank, which was very close and very destructive. It (23d Va.) fell back in some confusion. It was during this retreat and while attempting to stop it that the lamented Lieutenant Colonel Curtis received his mortal wound."
William Baker Curtis, a hero of the Civil War (Gen. William B. Curtis, better known in West Virginia as Colonel Curtis), a son of Josiah Curtis, was born April 18, 1821, at Sharpsburg, Maryland, on the now historic ground where the great battle of Antietam was fought. The family removed to West Liberty in 1832. William B. learned the cabinetmaker's trade, which he followed for some years, and then entered into mercantile business. In 1844 he married Hannah M. Montgomery, a lateral descendant of General Montgomery, who fell at Quebec. Twelve children, - four sons and eight daughters, - were the result of this marriage, viz: Josiah Montgomery; Eugene H.; Hester; Clinton K; William H. C.; Anna M.; Ella F.; Nancy L.; Caroline W.; Jessie L.; Alverda; and Maude O.
Josiah Montgomery Curtis (Lieutenant, afterward Dr. J. Mont, Curtis), married Emma Walker; Eugene H., Fannie Cunningham; Clinton K., Mary Rose Vaughan, of Norfolk, Virginia; and for his second wife, Louise H. Perkins, of Norfolk, Virginia; William H. C., Jennie Shannon; Anna M., Rev. John Trussell; Ella F., Zach Springer; and Nancy L., Charles Jerome. The second wife of Clinton K. Curtis is a lineal descendant, on the maternal side, of Gen. Thomas Mathews, a hero of the War of the Revolution, who commanded Fort Nelson at Norfolk, Virginia, when forced by overwhelming numbers of the British to evacuate. He also served at the siege of Yorktown. On the paternal side she is the lineal descendant of Alexander Whitaker, who performed the marriage ceremony of Pocohontas. Resulting from this union of Clinton K. and Louise H. (Perkins) Curtis is one child, Cornelia Montgomery, born July 8, 1897. In 1848 William B. Curtis was elected justice and continued in office until 1862, when he entered the army. He was a firm supporter of the government at the outbreak of the Civil War, and was a member of the Wheeling convention which organized the Restored Government of Virginia in 1861. A price was set on the head of every member of that convention by the governor of the old state of Virginia. Each one cast his lot and his vote on the Union side risked his life, his property and his all, on what was then a doubtful result, yet that lot and that vote were cast fearlessly by William B. Curtis. August 21, 1861, he was commissioned captain of a company he had raised, and in 1862, when a call was made for 300,000 men, he recruited a company and took it to Camp Willey, where it was mustered into service as Company D, in the 12th West Virginia Regiment. He commanded this company until June 17, 1863, when he was promoted to be major. On January 26, 1864, he was promoted to be colonel, and in October, 1864, was given command of a brigade, consisting of the 1st, 4th and 12th West Virginia regiments. In December, 1864, the brigade was reorganized, - the 1st and 4th West Virginia regiments being withdrawn, and the 54th Pennsylvania and 23d Illinois (the latter Mulligan's old regiment) taking their places. This brigade did hard fighting until the close of the war, was in front of Richmond and Petersburg, and was in at the finish at Appomattox Court House.
Thirteen battles fought, of greater or less severity, make up the war record of this fearless old soldier. At Winchester, New Market, Piedmont, Lynchburg, Snicker's Ferry (or Ford), Kernstown, Cedar Creek, Opequon, Fisher's Hill and Hatcher's Run, in front of Richmond and Petersburg, but above all, at Fort Gregg, he was the leader not only in rank of his brigade but also in fact. He served under the brilliant and glorious Phil. Sheridan throughout the great campaign of 1864, in the Shenandoah Valley.
Grant in his "Personal Memoirs" calls the assault on Fort Gregg, in front of Petersburg, Virginia, "desperate." In this assault 715 officers and men were killed and wounded on Sunday, April 2, 1865, yet William B. Curtis with his brigade, captured the Fort. His old regiment, the 12th West Virginia, had three color-bearers killed in planting the flag in the works. After he had ordered the charge, General Foster, commanding the division, regarded its success as impossible and ordered a halt, but that order was too late, and no halt was made; the brigade had started in to capture the Fort and it did it, - the men rushing through chevaux-de-frise and ditch and throwing themselves on their faces against the sandy fronts of the ramparts. General Foster remarked when they refused to about face, - "Well, go on, you will all be killed anyway."
The corps commander, General Gibbon, called the assault on Fort Gregg, - "If not the most desperate, one of the most desperate assaults of the whole Civil War." Some days after, at a grand review at Richmond, one officer and two privates were called to step four paces in front of the line of troops. A general order was read commending them for conspicuous personal gallantry in the assault, and soon afterward bronze medals were presented them by Congress, with the inscription, - "Presented by the Congress of the United States for gallantry and meritorious conduct in battle at Fort Gregg, Va., April 2d, 1865." The officer who was called to the front was that brave and fearless soldier, Lieut. Josiah Montgomery Curtis, a son of General Curtis.
For that part that he took, the colonel's eagles upon the shoulder straps of Colonel Curtis were replaced by the general's stars by the President of the United States. The official record of the promotion in the War Department reads: - "For gallant conduct in the capture of Fort Gregg, Va., April 2d, 1865."
General Curtis' old regiment, the 12th West Virginia, for the part it took, was presented with a bronze eagle to surmount the flag staff. It bears this inscription: - "Presented to the 12th Regiment, West Virginia Vol. Infantry, by their corps commander, Gen. John Gibbon, for gallant conduct in the assault upon Fort Gregg, near Fort Gregg, near Petersburg, Va., April 2d, 1865."
Richmond was immediately evacuated when Fort Gregg was taken, and Lee began his retreat toward Appomattox Court House. General Curtis' brigade followed in pursuit of Lee and marched 35 miles on April 8th to get support from Sheridan, who was in front of Lee with cavalry. General Curtis was present, witnessed the surrender, and had the honor of receiving the arms and colors the first day. After this he returned to Richmond with his command, and was discharged with his old regiment, the 12th West Virginia, at Wheeling, at Wheeling, June 20, 1865.
He was elected as a delegate from Ohio county to the legislature in 1866 and served one term. In 1870 and 1871 he was warden of the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville. He was aide to the department commander of the G. A. R., of West Virginia, in 1887 and 1888, and was aide on the grand commander's staff of G. A. R. in 1988 and 1989.
General Curtis was one of the most capable and serviceable soldiers of the Republic. When the Union was in danger he went to the front without hesitation, throwing himself into the contest with unsurpassed patriotic fervor. He was ready for any duty assigned him, and quickly won the regard and confidence of his superiors.
He had the rare faculty of attaching those he led to himself in unwavering confidence, and in that enthusiastic, affectionate, personal regard without which no military captain of any degree can be a success. In time of peace he was a man of peace. When war came he became a soldier. When peace returned again, he returned to the paths of peace. He was a splendid type of the citizen-soldier, and his modesty was as conspicuous as his gallantry.
He died at West Liberty, August 25, 1891, from disease contracted while in the army. At the end of his "three score years and ten," he left a memory to be revered, honored and cherished by all who knew him, and perpetuated in the history of a grateful country.
Josiah Montgomery Curtis, the eldest son of General Curtis, was a student at the West Liberty Academy when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted as a private in the company his father had recruited, - Company D, 12th West Virginia, - and served side by side with him in all the battles (13) from Winchester to Fort Gregg, and up to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox Court House. He was promoted to be a lieutenant in the latter part of the war, and was an acting aide on his father's staff at the battle of Fort Gregg. After the third color-bearer had been killed in the attempt to plant the flag on the fort, Lieutenant Curtis seized and held the flag there. He had gone into the charge in the front rank of the regiment, and, brandishing his sword, cheered the men onward. He escaped unhurt, but received two bullet holes in his coat, and a cannon shot from Fort Whitworth, or one of the other Confederate batteries, passed between him and the flag-staff he held planted, tearing away a portion of the tail of his coat. For this act of daring gallantry he was, as before mentioned, commended in the general orders published at a grand review of the troops, at Richmond, and was presented by the Congress of the United States with a bronze medal.
At the close of the war he was discharged from the service with his old regiment, the 12th West Virginia, at Wheeling, June 20, 1865. Upon returning to civil life, he pursued the study of medicine, and graduated with first honors at the Miami College in Cincinnati. He practiced his profession at Pleasant Valley and at Moundsville, West Virginia.
He was honored and esteemed by all who knew him, and his name goes down to future generations in the history of his country as one of its glorious heroes. The G. A. R. post at West Liberty is named, in honor to his memory, "The J. Mont. Curtis Post of the G. A. R." His name is one among the few which appear in the book, "Uncle Sam's Medal of Honor," for conspicuous personal gallantry in battle during the Civil War. In this book his portrait is given and his daring act of bravery at Fort Bragg is described.
Eugene H. Curtis, the second son, now a resident of Bethany, has been engaged in mercantile business at various places since the close of the Civil War. During that war, and while going from Harper's Ferry to Winchester to join his father, he was captured by Moseby's command and sent a prisoner to Richmond. He remained a prisoner for some months, being confined in Libby Prison and at Belle Isle before his exchange was effected.
Clinton K. Curtis (now Commander Curtis, U. S. Navy), the third son of General Curtis, was born April 25, 1849, at West Liberty, and was too young for service during the Civil War, although at the age of fourteen years he led a small squad in pursuit of Morgan when he made his famous raid through Ohio. He received an appointment and entered the U. S. Naval Academy, September 27, 1865, passed, a star member, from the second to the first class, in 1868, and graduated June 10, 1869. While at the academy, Admiral David D. Porter was the superintendent, and Cadet Curtis had among his instructors Admiral Dewey and Rear Admiral's Schley and Sampson. He went on a special cruise to Europe and South America on the old frigate "Sabine" immediately after graduation, and was promoted to the rank of ensign in June, 1870. He served on the "Pawnee" and monitor "Dictator" in 1871. He was assigned to special service with the "Powhatan" on the Atlantic Coast in 1872. He was promoted to be master (now called junir lieutenant) in November, 1872. He served on the "Supply" in 1873, and again on the "Powhatan" in 1874 and 1876, during which time he commanded the monitors "Montauk," "Catskill" and "Nantucket" in transferring these vessels to various ports along the Atlantic coast. He was promoted to be lieutenant in June, 1876. He served on the receiving ship "Worcester" in 1876 and 1877, and on the Essex," south Atlantic Station, from 1877 to 1879, under Commander, now Rear Admiral, W. S. Schley. He served on the old battleship New Hampshire" in 1880 and 1881, and on the "Franklin," on which Farragut made his last cruise, from 1881 to 1883. He served on the "Alert," China Station, from 1883 to 1886, during which time he helped to survey the Kuhm and Mok Po rivers in Corea. He cruised all along the coast of Japan, China, Siam and as far south as Sumatra, stopping in at every place where a landing could be made. Returning from China, he served on the receiving ship "St. Loius" and on the "Franklin" from 1887 to 1890, and again on the "Essex," South Atlantic Station, from 1890 to 1893. He was on shore duty in the U. S. Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia, from 1893 to 1896. He was on the monitor "Terror" from April to December, 1896, and on the "Bennington," Pacific Station, as executive officer, from December, 1896, to June, 1898. He was on that vessel at Honolulu, Hawaiin Islands, when war with Spain was declared. He made every effort to be transferred to the immediate scene of hostilities, but as some one had to guard the Pacific Coast, he was kept on that side to do the duty, along with all others who were so unfortunate as to be on that side of the United States when war was declared. Returning to San Francisco on the "Bennington" in June, 1898, he was detached from that vessel and given command of the "Albatross" and the auxiliary fleet of eight vessels for the protection of the Pacific Coast. He patrolled the coast from Alaska to San Diego, California, during the remainder of the war. He served on shore duty at the Mare Island and Norfolk navy yards from October, 1898, to April, 1900. He commanded the "Vixen," North Atlantic Station, from April, 1900, to September, 1901, during which time he surveyed the harbors of Ports Padre and Tanamo, on the northeast coast of Cuba. He was promoted to be a lieutenant-commander on February 6, 1898, and to be a commander, December, 11, 1900. He is now (December, 1901) on shore duty at the U. S. Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia.
William H. C. Curtis, the fourth son of the General, attended the law department of the West Virginia at Morgantown, and follows the practice of his profession in Ohio county. He is a remarkably fine public speaker, being blessed with the gift of oratory.
Of the four daughters of General Curtis, who graduated at the West Liberty State Normal School, - Ella F., Caroline W., Alverda and Maude O., - the first three, in succession, took the first honors upon graduation. Caroline W. also took the four years' Chatauqua course and graduated. She afterward attended Professor King's Elocution College, at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and graduated there in 1895. She has since taken special courses ay Cornell University. She is now (December, 1901), and has been several years, the first assistant teacher of the West Liberty State Normal School.
From History of Wheeling City and Ohio County,
West Virginia and Representative Citizens,
Edited and compiled by Hon. Gibson Lamb Cranmer, 1902; pages 664-670.
Submitted by Linda Fluharty.