LOYAL WEST VIRGINIA, 1861-1865 By Theodore F. Lang.
THE SECOND VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
By Theodore F. Lang.
THE SECOND VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
The Second Virginia Infantry, afterwards the Fifth West Virginia Cavalry, was the first regiment in the State enlisted for the three years service, and the first one mustered in under Governor Peirpoint. Companies A, D, F and G came from Pittsburg, Pa.; Company I from Greenfield and California, Washington County, Pa.; Company H from Ironton, Ohio; Company B from Grafton, Va.; Company C from Wheeling, Va.; Company E from Monroe and Belmont Counties, Ohio, and Wetzel, Taylor and Ritchie Counties, Va.; and Company K from Parkersburg, Va., and Bridgeport, Ohio. The companies met together at Beverly, Va., in the latter part of July, and were organized as the Second Regiment Virginia Infantry.
The muster out rolls show a total enrollment of 1069 men from first to last, of whom about 65 were discharged before the arduous campaigns of 1862 began, and Company G was detached for artillery service, making the real strength of the regiment, April 1st, 1862, about 900 men. As a rule, when a West Virginia regiment was once formed and mustered into the service, it had to depend on its original members for its future strength. But few recruits were received, and as comrades fell in battle, or by disease, their places were forever left unfilled, sad reminders of the horrible realities of war. In this regiment, but 19 recruits were received in the whole of the three year's service. Of this number, 189 were killed and died from disease and in Confederate prisons. It was a regiment of comparatively young men, the average age being about 24 years, a large number of them being but boys of eighteen, while a few had reached the age of forty. They were young, active, strong and intelligent, the making of a splendid regiment, and their work for three years fully confirmed all that was expected of them. Some of the companies of this regiment enjoyed special distinction in the early part of their service. Company A claims the credit of killing the first armed Confederate soldier.
At Glovers Gap, between Wheeling and Grafton, on the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road, the company was detached to guard that important position, and more particularly to break up a Confederate military organization, known to be in that section, under command of Captain Christian Roberts. On the morning of May 27, a detachment of the company under command of Lieutenant West encountered Captain Roberts and a portion of his command, and in the fight that followed, Captain Roberts was killed, being the first armed Confederate soldier that fell in the war. Jackson, the slayer of the gallant Colonel Ellsworth, killed a few days previously, was a civilian, while Captain Roberts was a regularly mustered officer of the Confederacy.
Company I was organized April 27, 1861, and immediately offered its services to the country, but was not accepted because of Pennsylvania's quota being filled, and was one of the first companies organized in the country that entered the three years' service. When mustered into the service the pay of the men began with April 27, they having, at their own expense, in the meantime been drilling and preparing for service. The company was called "the boatmen," when met by the three months' volunteers in western Virginia, because of their having come from the Monongahela River, many of whom followed that occupation and were a hardy set of men.
The regiment lay in camp at Beverly from the latter part of July until September 12, when it was sent to Elkwater, where General Reynolds was fortified against Gen'l Robt. E. Lee, to help drive the enemy's forces from Cheat Mountain. Early in the morning of the 13th, the 2d Va. in the lead, with the 3d Ohio, charged up and over a foot hill of the mountain, driving the Confederates from their hot breakfast in confusion. Soon afterward the enemy were driven from their stronghold, and to this regiment is due, in part, by its impetuous advance, the honor of administering the first defeat to General Lee. On December 13th, it took part in the battle on the summit of the Allegheny Mountains, remaining at Elkwater until January 7, 1862, during which time several important expeditions were made, and the whole section cleared of the marauding bands of Confederates. January 7th, the regiment went to the fort on Cheat Mountain Summit, the highest camp of the war, while the Confederates were encamped on the Allegheny Mountains, 20 miles distant, remaining there scouting, etc., until April 5th, when the onward movement toward Staunton began.
Gen'l John C. Fremont took command of the "Mountain Department," including the Cheat Mountain force, March 29th, and the regiment was with him until superseded by Gen'l John Pope, taking part in the battles of Monterey and McDowell, the advance up the Shenandoah and the battle of Cross Keys.
Under General Pope, it was in General Milroy's brigade, leading the column and took part in the battles of Kelly's Ford, White Sulphur Springs, Waterloo Bridge, Groveton and Bull Run. The regiment lost 24 killed and 90 wounded in these battles, more than one-third of the losses of the brigade. After the Bull Run battle the regiment was placed in the defenses at Washington, and returned to West Virginia, September 30th, arriving at Beverly October 29th. April 24, 1863, the command was attacked by a superior force of Con- federates and compelled to leave Beverly, returning to that place May 21st, and remaining there until ordered to Grafton to be mounted, in which time scouting expeditions were so numerous that it was difficult to keep run of them.
May 23, 1863, Brig. Gen'l W. W. Averell was assigned to the command of the Fourth Separate Brigade, composed of mounted infantry and cavalry, of which the Second Virginia became a part, operating in western Virginia. In addition to scores of scouting expeditions, the most notable of the battles and expeditions of this brigade were the battle of Rocky Gap. August 26 and 27, in which the regiment lost five killed and 18 wounded; the battle of Droop Mountain, November 6, the regiment losing nine killed and 15 wounded, out of 200 men engaged; and the famous Salem raid, from December 8 to 25, 1863, in which the regiment lost but one man wounded and 17 captured. The command then went to Martinsburg, W. Va., where by special order of the War Department, each man that was on the Salem raid received, gratis, one pair of shoes and a suit of clothing, to replace those lost and worn out on the expedition. General Order No. 39, War Department, dated January 26, 1864, was issued, changing the Second Virginia Infantry to the Fifth West Virginia Cavalry. At noon, March 19,1864, the brigade left Martinsburg and went to Charleston, W. Va., arriving there April 30, 1684. In the spring and summer of 1864, the regiment took a gallant part in the battle of Cloyd Mountain in May, and in the expedition of Gen'l David Hunter to Lynchburg.
After this the companies whose term of service had expired were mustered out of the service, and the re-enlisted men, about 200 in number, were consolidated with the Sixth West Virginia Cavalry in September. The regiment had a service of which any troops might be proud, and fully sustained its reputation for courage, efficiency and staying qualities. In the history of this noble regiment, Governor Pierpoint has the following to say of it: "Some that came to Wheeling were mere boys. Major Oakes, the mustering officer, a very judicious man, told me that some of the boys ought to be home with their mothers, but they persevered, and those boys came out veterans. It was the first regiment I had mustered in, the three month's regiments being formed before I became governor. Those that came from Pennsylvania were in citizens' light clothing, and there was a great deal of hardship and destitution until clothing was issued to them, which was some time after their mustered in.
There was one pleasing feature of the troops from the two States, Ohio and Pennsylvania, that was their perfect assimilation in spirit and purpose. The Pennsylvanians seemed to feel that they were with the Virginians to defend the Virginia homes from invasion, and partook of all the enthusiasm of the Virginians in the fight. Whenever I heard of a fight where the Second Virginia or Fifth Cavalry, after they became mounted, was, I heard a good report of them. They were reported brave to recklessness sometimes. It was said of them that whenever they got in a close place, every man was a general, and that they were almost invincible. They certainly achieved some victories that seemed in the beginning hopeless."