FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
IN presenting a record, brief though it be, of the services of a body composed of men taken from different classes socially considered, - the several walks in life represented in the ranks, - the daily toilers for their support, the skilled artisans, clerks, professional men, and young men not yet settled in life or fixed in any regular pursuit to gain a livelihood, it may be readily seen that it became a task of magnitude requiring more than ordinary organizing ability to mould them into a unit, necessary in order to have the weight that an integral part of a command should have in performing any service likely to be demanded of a regiment or battalion.
The volunteers of '61 were, as a class, material such probably as was never before seen arrayed in defence of a principle, based on the integrity of the Union and the very existence of the republic; embracing, of course, protection of property, home, and firesides.
Such, however, was the lack of preparation to meet the exigency that the officers selected were men wholly untrained in war or capable of lending assistance in the organization of an army. No teachers to instruct the officers and men in the details necessary to fit them for active warfare. No great servile insurrection, desolating revolutions, or popular uprisings of any kind having occurred in the land within the lifetime of any of the actors in the bloody drama about to be opened to call men to fill these responsible positions. The effect that must inevitably follow this condition of things was, that some whose pre-eminence or prominence, suddenly obtained by favor or political influence, after trial, were found incompetent to make good their position and pretensions, - the men being the sufferers and the cause most dear at heart the loser thereby.
The men as a body possessed great personal bravery. Many were distinguished for it, and to cull out the ones prominent for this first soldierly quality would be a difficult task. They were intrepid, bearing hardships and suffering with singular patience, accomplishing long and forced marches with remarkable endurance and fortitude; facing the dangers of the battle-field with that determination, coolness, and tenacity of purpose characteristic of the American soldier, as shown in all the wars the country was ever engaged in. Possessing these qualities, they only required to be properly commanded and well led, those leaders having the character to inspire respect, to insure success, as a crown to their efforts.
To command this active, intelligent, and intrepid body of men at the outset, as already stated, there was lacking the material, and it was only after trials and severe losses, resulting from this incapacity, that the remedy was applied and the control placed in the hands of the capable and the meritorious.
The conditions of society in this community, in common with all the region now known as the State of West Virginia, in 1861, were anomalous, society being stirred to its very depths. Neighbors, heretofore friends, looked upon each other with suspicion, and soon, when the overt act announced that war could not be averted, and the sound of the first hostile gun resounded throughout the length and breadth of this land proclaiming the inauguration of civil war, a broad and clearly distinguished line was drawn between the friends of the government and it's enemies. Divisions then occurred that were only to be healed by a bloody contest and the lapse of time, the great healer. Friends heretofore took opposite sides now, - one the supporter of the government, the other an advocate of secession and all the evils that might follow in the train of the triumph of that policy styled "States' rights," which was nourished, if not founded, in a slave-holding aristocracy. But little respecting this class was known in the Panhandle counties, or, indeed, of slavery itself, which, though practically extinct in the part of the State mentioned, was recognized as carrying with it its own punishment in the corruption of the morals of the youth, rendering them arrogant and domineering to all whom they considered beneath such a high-born class. It had become a question with thinking people all over the land as to which class was most injured by the institution; in fact, which wore the chains, the slave-holders and their families or the slaves themselves. Naturally, political measures and the general policy supported by this class were rich in seeds sown freely throughout the South that boded no good to a republican government, and, as Mr. Seward aptly stated it, there was an "irrepressible conflict" between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.
The representatives of the seceding States remained in Congress just so long as it was safe for them to do so. After injuring and crippling the government all they possibly could, their attempts were directed to fettering its hands, sealing its lips, and making it a helpless and inactive witness of its own destruction.
The power to coerce a State, a question agitating the people, was the "Gordian knot" that the lamented President Lincoln cut by summoning the people in their might to the defence of the country. And then followed father against son, brother against brother; old companions, schoolmates, and friends were divided; in short, these divisions permeated society, entering as strongly into the social as into political life, the churches and all other organizations usually binding a community together. The people living north of the Ohio re-echoed the exhortation of the Union men of the south side, "Organize," and adding, "we will assist you with all our power," lending force to their words by their actions, organizing themselves and moving bodies of men to the borders on the Ohio River. The spirit of the hour seized the people, they refusing to be Controlled in their actions by the cabal at Richmond, and declined seizing the government property in the name of Virginia as ordered, but, on the contrary, prior to and during the firing on Fort Sumter (April 12) commenced preparing for a contest.