Men in Gray: Confederate Soldiers of Central West Virginia

By Ralph P. Bennett

     From the onset of our American Civil War both Union and Confederate governments fiercely endeavored to hold onto the area that was then northwest Virginia, with its’ productive farms, valuable salt resources and strategic section of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. These counties west of the Allegheny Mountains served as fertile ground for the recruitment of soldiers for the blue and the gray. It was a land of divided loyalties where the fighting was often of a brutal guerilla type of warfare. The struggle of brother against brother is one of the most enduring legacies of the American Civil War. These conflicts that divided families and communities created resentment and mistrust that persisted for many years.
      Over 20,000 men from (West) Virginia fought for the cause of Southern Independence. This article discusses the lives of a few of these men who served the Confederate States of America and is dedicated to their memory, lest they be forgotten. 1)
     On 18 May 1861 the ‘Mountain Guards’ company (later Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry) of Confederate soldiers was organized at Meadowville, Barbour County and the same day marched triumphantly to Philippi to join other Confederate units. 2)
     John Riley PHILLIPS, later elected Captain, was requested to deliver a farewell speech to gathered supporters. PHILLIPS wrote in his diary, “I was brimming over with patriotism. I told our friends we would be with them within the year, and promised the girls their beaus back at the coming Christmas, but alas! Many of them never returned again. They lie sleeping amid the blue hills of their now peaceful Virginia. No tombstone marks their final resting-place, they perished. I was mistaken, everybody was sadly mistaken The war was long and stubborn…God grant that we may never witness such another scene as were those days of tears, parting and war.”

JOHN RILEY PHILLIPS- 2nd Lt.-Captain, Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry. Born 24 August 1839 near Meadowville, Glade District of Barbour County. Son of James & Osa (JOHNSON) PHILLIPS and grandson of Jacob & Sarah (BENNETT) PHILLIPS. His mother Osa was the daughter of John & Elizabeth (POLING) JOHNSON and granddaughter of Robert & Mary (VANNOY) JOHNSON). His grandmother Sarah was the daughter of Jacob & Sarah BENNETT of Fauquier County, Virginia. Sarah had moved to Barbour County with her mother and siblings following the death of her father in 1805. John was raised on Brushy Fork Creek in Valley Furnace, Barbour County, along with one sibling, Sarah Ann PHILLIPS. She was to marry Robert S. GODWIN, a fellow soldier of her brother. Captain PHILLIPS was wounded in action six times during the Civil War. He was promoted to Captain, Co. K, following his wounding on 13 December 1861 at the Battle of Allegheny Mountain, Pocahontas County, (West) Virginia. He suffered his sixth wound 6 May 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness and received a medical discharge 24 February 1865 due to wounds at the CSA Hospital, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. Captain PHILLIPS remained in the Charlottesville area at the Sutherland private hospital in North Garden until the end of the war where he was paroled 17 May 1865 by the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He returned to Valley Furnace where he worked as a farmer, teacher and writer. He married Elizabeth PARKS on 7 March 1867. The marriage produced two daughters. Alice, born 1868 and May, born 1873. Captain PHILLIPS died 25 October 1894 at Valley Furnace and is buried in Shiloh Cemetery. Elizabeth PHILLIPS died 01 March 1938.
     An excerpt from his obituary in the Barbour Democrat newspaper states, “Captain Phillips was as brave a soldier as ever wore the uniform and has carried in his person for the last thirty years a wound received in the war which has given him pain unknown to the public and too many of his friends… Like an autumn leaf he fell, but not unnoticed”.
     His early life and Civil War experiences are described in his book, ‘A History of Valley Furnace’, which was serialized in the Barbour Democrat, July 31-November 13, 1968. His writings reveal an individual of great promise and intellectual ability who perhaps due to his wounds and the trauma of his war experiences was sadly never able to realize his potential. 3)

BENNETT PHILLIPS- Private, Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry. Born 1823 Barbour County. Son of Jacob & Sarah (BENNETT) PHILLIPS, and uncle to John Riley PHILLIPS. He married first on 17 April 1841 to Anna FITZWATER and second, 30 November 1884 to Almira PHILLIPS. Private PHILLIPS enlisted 29 May 1861 at Philippi. He deserted July 1862, following the Battle of Malvern Hill and returned to Barbour County where he was arrested by Captain John McNeill’s Confederate Rangers. There is no further military record. Bennett died Barbour County in 1912 and is buried Shiloh Cemetery, Valley Furnace.

MORTIMER C. JOHNSON- Private, Co. H, 31st Virginia Infantry, 2nd Lt., Co A, 18th Virginia Cavalry & Captain, 2nd Co. H, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry. Born 1836 Meadowville, Barbour County. He married Rebecca POLING, daughter of James & Elizabeth (VANNOY) POLING. Mortimer was a son of William & Lydia Ann (WELLS) JOHNSON and grandson to Levi & Rebecca (McMULLAN) JOHNSON. His father, William JOHNSON of Meadowville was a strong Confederate sympathizer and spent the war years in self imposed exile as a political refugee in Highland County, Virginia, serving as Barbour County representative to the Virginia House of Delegates. Mortimer, a tradesman like his father, enlisted 14 May 1861 at Philippi as Private in Co. H, (Barbour Greys), commanded by Captain Albert G. REGER. He received a medical discharge from the CSA for prolonged typhoid fever with resultant deafness, 14 June 1862, near Mt. Meridian, Virginia, following the Battle of Port Republic. Returning to Barbour County he enlisted in Co. A, 18th Virginia Cavalry and was appointed 2nd Lt. on 5 September 1862. He then organized 2nd Co. H, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry and was elected Captain on 4 April 1863. He was very likely present on the retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia following the Battle of Gettysburg and the subsequent Battle of Williamsport, Maryland. During the sad aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg, the 62nd Virginia was assigned to escort the seventeen-mile-long wagon train of Confederate wounded returning to Virginia. Captain JOHNSON was described in the 1894 issue of ‘The Confederate Veteran’, as one of the most successful scouts in Virginia who made frequent trips across the Allegheny Mountains to scout Union activities and recruit Confederate soldiers and horses. 4) While on detached duty with other members of the 62nd Virginia, Mortimer was ambushed and killed on 6 December 1863 by the Union Home Guard in a skirmish at the Sinks of Gandy, Randolph County, leaving his wife and two daughters. He is buried in New Bethel Cemetery, Meadowville, Barbour County. His tombstone inscription reads, ‘CAPTAIN M.C.JOHNSON 1836-1863 REBECCA HIS WIFE 1843-1926 HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR HIS COUNTRY’.

ISAAC VENDEVENTER JOHNSON- 2nd Lt-1st Lt., Co. H, 31st Virginia Infantry. He was brother to Mortimer C. JOHNSON. Born Barbour County 15 November 1837. Isaac was a prominent citizen who served the Barbour Circuit Court before the Civil War. Lt. JOHNSON was badly wounded in the thigh 13 December 1861 at Battle of Allegheny Mountain. Due to his wound disability he transferred to the Confederate Quartermaster Dept. at Richmond for the duration of the war. He was elected Clerk of the Barbour County Circuit Court in 1872 and was elected State Auditor of West Virginia in 1892. He married first, 24 December 1874 to Fanny LINK, with whom he had three daughters. Fanny died 25 August 1891. Isaac then married Fanny KEMPER, 20 September 1893. He died 13 May 1916 at Shepherdstown, West Virginia and is buried Masonic Cemetery, Philippi.

THOMAS BENTON JOHNSON- Enlisted Co. H, 31st Virginia Infantry on 14 May 1861 at Philippi. Brother to Mortimer C. & Isaac V. JOHNSON. Born Barbour County 1838. Thomas deserted 15 November 1861 and returned to Barbour County where he was arrested as a POW on 25 November 1861 and was sent to the Union POW facility at Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio. He was paroled for exchange from Camp Chase, 25 August 1862, via Cairo, Illinois to Vicksburg, Mississippi and exchanged aboard the steamer John H. Done on the Mississippi River on 11 September 1862. Returned to the 31st Virginia at White Post, Virginia by 18 November 1862, where he received a medical discharge for typhoid fever. Thomas was arrested 3 January 1863 in Randolph County by Co. A, 1st West Virginia Cavalry (Union). Post war records indicate he died either in a Union prison or while boarding a moving train. Thomas is buried Bluemont Cemetery, Grafton, Taylor County, West Virginia.

JOSEPH LINDEN JOHNSON- Private and drummer, Co. E, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, commanded by Captain Hannibal HILL. Brother to Mortimer C., Isaac V. & Thomas B. JOHNSON. Born Meadowville, Barbour County 1846. Later promoted and served on staff of General John D. IMBODEN, CSA. He surrendered 11 May 1865 to Union forces at Beverly, Randolph County and was paroled 17 May 1865 at Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia. Joseph married Ella Rebecca CRIM on 12 January 1869, they had six children.

FREDERICK M. JOHNSON- Private-Corporal, Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry. Born Barbour County 1841. Son of Enoch & Rebecca (COONTZ) JOHNSON & grandson to Levi & Rebecca (MCMULLAN) JOHNSON. Enoch JOHNSON served the Confederacy as a scout and mail courier. Frederick enlisted 18 May 1861 in Co. K at Meadowville and was promoted Corporal 01 July 1864. He was wounded in action in the arm on 8 May 1862 at the Battle of McDowell, Virginia. He was later wounded in the face, 22 August 1863, in a skirmish on the Rappahannock River. Frederick was one of the 5 remaining soldiers of Co. K, 31st Virginia who were present at the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on 9 April 1865.

ADDISON E. MARPLE- Private, Co. D, 20th Virginia Cavalry. Born 17 April 1836, Warren District, Upshur County, West Virginia. Son of John Weaver & Ruth (REGER) MARPLE and grandson to John Abram & Barbara (WEAVER) MARPLE. Married first, 4 September 1859 to Marietta CASTO, the daughter of Joel & Jemima (POST) CASTO. Married second to Martha CASTO, a sister of his first wife. Addison enlisted 27 July 1863 near Hightown, Highland County, Virginia, in Co. D, 20th Virginia Cavalry, commanded by Captain Edward M. CORDER. Addison apparently deserted shortly after his enlistment. He and his brother Albinas surrendered to Joseph STRAGER, a private citizen, 13 October 1863, took the Union oath of allegiance and were sent north. It was a common practice for Union authorities to send paroled Confederates north of the Ohio River for the duration of hostilities. Addison returned to Upshur County after the war as a farmer along the waters of Hacker’s Creek, Warren District. Addison died 26 June 1921 and is buried McVaney Cemetery, Upshur County.

ALBINAS REGER MARPLE- Private, Co. D, 20th Virginia Cavalry. Brother to Addison E. MARPLE. Born 27 January 1834, Warren District, Upshur County. Married 01 February 1855, Mary J. POST, daughter of Daniel. She died 20 January 1909. Brother-in law to George W. POST, of Co. D, 20th Virginia Cavalry. Enlisted with his brother Addison at Hightown also deserted and was sent north after taking the oath of allegiance 13 October 1863. Post war farmer of 308 acres on Hacker’s Creek. Albinas died 20 September 1908 and is buried adjacent to his brother Addison in the lonely hilltop McVaney Cemetery. 5)
     The MARPLE brothers like many others wished to serve the cause of the Confederacy, yet their loyalty was in conflict with their awareness of the sufferings and privations of their families who lived behind enemy lines. A letter in the ‘31st Virginia Infantry’ by John M. Ashcraft, from the wife of Private William W. STOCKWELL to her soldier husband states states, “having hard time…out of provisions…no crops…will come to you… meat me at Staunton”.5) Many soldiers requested detached duty to spy on Union activities and hopefully recruit soldiers but often their primary motivation was to visit home and family. By 1864 the declining fortunes of the Confederacy caused morale to plummet and desertions increased markedly.

SOLOMON C. GAINER (GANER)- Pvt.-Sgt., Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry. Born Barbour County 30 June 1841. Son of Samuel M. & Elizabeth (CARPENTER) GAINER and grandson of Bryan K. & Rachel (BLACK) GAINER. Solomon was taken prisoner 3 October 1861 while on picket duty during the Battle of Greenbrier River, Pocahontas County and was sent to Camp Chase. He was paroled for exchange from Camp Chase 25 August 1862 and transferred to Vicksburg, Mississippi via Cairo, Illinois. Exchanged 11 September 1862 aboard the steamer John H. Done near Vicksburg. He returned to 31st Virginia Infantry and was wounded in action in 1864. Present at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, he was paroled 9 April 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. He married Mary Jane ADAMS of Jennings Gap, Virginia, on 11 March 1866. Solomon and his family moved to Doxey, Beckham County, Oklahoma in 1901, where he was a farmer, minister & church elder. He received an Oklahoma State Confederate Soldier Pension in 1916. Solomon died 3 February 1934 at Doxey, survived by his wife, nine children and 51 grandchildren. He was the oldest surviving member of Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry. Mary Jane GAINER died 17 November 1936 at Doxey. Mary and Solomon are buried Sayre-Doxey Cemetery. 7)

HAYMOND C. GAINER- Private, Co. E, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, commanded by Captain Hannibal HILL. Born Barbour County 1840. Son of Bryan K, & Sarah (VANNOY) GAINER and grandson to Bryan K. & Rachel (BLACK) GAINER. His only military record indicates he took the oath of allegiance, posted bond and was released 22 November 1863 at Clarksburg, Harrison County. Returned to Barbour County where he married Serena PHILLIPS, 24 November 1864, daughter of Asa & Mary (PHILLIPS) PHILLIPS. Asa PHILLIPS was a Union soldier in the 17th West Virginia Infantry. Haymond died 19 August 1895 in Barbour County.

MARION G. GAINER- 4th Sgt., Co. E, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry. Born Barbour County. Son of Jackson B. & Rachel (VANNOY) GAINER and grandson to Bryan K. & Rachel (BLACK) GAINER. Enlisted Co. E, 26 August 1862, Pocahontas County. Likely present on the retreat from Gettysburg and the Battle of Williamsport, Maryland, 6 July 1863. Marion was reported captured by Union Barbour Home Guards 21 March 1864. No further military record. Married 3 June 1856 to Nancy HOLSBERRY, the daughter of Samuel & Magdelena (DIGMAN) HOLSBERRY. Samuel was incarcerated at Camp Chase from April 1862-January 1864 as a political prisoner charged with being a Southern sympathizer and was held as a hostage in retaliation for the kidnapping of Barbour County Sheriff James Trayhern by Confederate raiders. Marion GAINER was living in Barbour County in 1888.

SYLVESTER GAINER- Co. A, 3rd Virginia State Line, (The ‘Moccasin Rangers’) & 3rd Sgt., Co. H, 20th Virginia Cavalry. Born 22 July 1844 Barbour County. Son of John & Mary (STALLMAN) GAINER and grandson to Brian & Mary E. (CLARK) GAINER. While a resident of Calhoun County, (West) Virginia, Sylvester enlisted 01 September 1862 in Co. A, 3rd Virginia State Line, commanded by Major George DOWNS of Calhoun County. He was captured 27 November 1862 in Calhoun County by the 6th West Virginia Infantry (Union) and sent to Alton Illinois Military Prison. He was paroled for exchange 01 April 1863 from Alton Prison to City Point, Virginia. Enlisted 01 June 1863 at Camp Northwest, Bath County, Virginia, Co. H, 20th Virginia Cavalry, commanded by Captain Joseph HAYHURST of Calhoun County. Sylvester was likely present on the Confederate cavalry raid at Beverly, Randolph County, in July 1863. He deserted, took the oath of allegiance and was released at Clarksburg, Harrison County, 25 December 1863. Married 1864 to Arminda GAINER. Married second on 9 December 1879 to Amanda BENNETT in Gilmer County, West Virginia. Sylvester served as a minister near Salem, Harrison County where he died 02 April 1900. He is buried Tunnel Hill Cemetery near Salem.

STURMS H. GAINER- Co. A, 9th Battalion Virginia Infantry, (later, Co. A, 25th Virginia Infantry), commanded by Captain John A. ROBINSON of Taylor County. Born 1839 Barbour County. Son of George Washington & Phoebe (SCHOONOVER) GAINER and grandson to Bryan K. & Rachel (BLACK) GAINER. His father George served in Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry. 8) Sturms enlisted 31 May 1861 at Philippi and died of disease during the winter of 1862-63 near Gandy Creek, Randolph County. He has no known grave. Both Confederate & Union forces maintained hospitals in the caves of the ‘Sinks of Gandy’ at various times during the Civil War.

ALVIN DRAPER TRIMBLE- Private, Co. D, 20th Virginia Cavalry. Born 29 August 1845 near Peel Tree, Barbour County. Son of Andrew & Barbara (MARPLE) TRIMBLE and grandson to John & Sarah (WAYBRIGHT) TRIMBLE. This TRIMBLE family moved to Barbour County from near Monterey, Highland County, Virginia, about 1833. Following the failure of a family business they moved to the farm of Samuel & Isabella WOODS on Ford Run near Meriden, Barbour County, as tenant farmers. Union riders burned their home the night of 8 February 1862 while Andrew & Barbara were away, the children escaping with only their bedding and clothes. 9) Draper enlisted 01 May 1863 in Co. D, 20th Virginia Cavalry during the CSA Jones-Imboden raid. Prior to his enlistment he served the Confederacy as a cattle drover and courier. Draper was arrested on June 28, 1863, in Barbour County by the Union Home Guard and was sent to the POW facility at Fort Delaware, Maryland. On 12 September 1863 he signed the Union oath of allegiance and returned to Barbour County as a farmer, singing teacher and a founder of the church in Arden. Draper married on 3 May 1868 to Amanda STEWART at the home of her father Silas STEWART in Flemington, Barbour County. Amanda died 1922 and Draper died of cancer 3 July 1923 at his home near the Crislip Church, Union District, Barbour County. Amanda & Draper are buried Crislip Church Cemetery.

ASA O. BENNETT- Private, Co. H, 31st Virginia Infantry. Born 1841 on Laurel Creek, Glade District, Barbour County. Son of Jacob & Elizabeth (GAINER) BENNETT and grandson to Asa & Rachel (JOHNSON) BENNETT. Asa deserted after October 1863 and returned to Barbour County. He married Lettice Ann POLING, 11 June 1865, daughter of Daniel & Mary (JACKSON) POLING. Asa was brother to Jonathan P. BENNETT, Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry and brother-in-law to Valentine Black POLING, Co. E, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, husband of his sister Rachel BENNETT. Asa owned a 65-acre farm near Tacy, Barbour County where he died 20 September 1919. He is buried Crossroads Cemetery, Tacy, Barbour County. 10)

WILLIAM BENNETT- Captain of squad of Confederate Partisan Rangers near Glenville, Gilmer County, (West) Virginia. Born 7 December 1818 in Barbour County. Son of Joseph & Mary (PHILIPPS) BENNETT and grandson to Jacob & Sarah BENNETT. Joseph BENNETT, an 1812 War veteran, was born 23 March 1791, Fauquier County, Virginia and came to present day Calhoun County from Barbour County with his family about 1833. Joseph died Calhoun County, 27 September 1880 and is buried Mt. Carmel Church Cemetery near Normantown, Gilmer County. William was reported captured by Union forces 30 October 1864 at Arnoldsburg, Calhoun County and may have been sent to Camp Chase. No further military record. Married on 4 October 1838 to Miriam BOGGS, daughter of William & Sarah (STUMP) BOGGS. Miriam was born 8 October 1818, in the then Lewis County and died 29 May 1895, Gilmer County. William was a farmer on the left fork of Steer Creek near present day Normantown and a founder of the Bennett Church (later Mount Carmel Church) located near the hamlet of Bennett. William BENNETT died 14 November 1902 and is buried with Miriam in the Mount Carmel Church Cemetery.
     During the Civil War years there was a general breakdown of law and order in the counties of central West Virginia. The Confederate Partisan Rangers were created to operate in small detachments behind Union lines to counter Union forces and Home Guards and protect Southern sympathizers and their families. Partisan service offered a certain freedom from the constraints and discipline of service with a regular CSA unit. In a letter written by Confederate General William L. JACKSON from Pocahontas County to his wife on 14 March 1862, he states,” I fear that many of my men will not reenlist. They all have the Guerilla fever. There is a wild, roving and daring life connected with that system, and a certain freedom from discipline and restraint, dazzling to most of them”. 11) Captain William Bennett like many others, who lived within these mountain backwaters, chose to serve the Confederate cause as Partisan Rangers, close to hearth and home..

Endnotes & Bibliography

1) Primary sources for data on these Confederate soldiers and their families from County vital records, available census returns 1810-1870, court, land and probate records in county record offices and also held at Archives & History Library, State Archives, Charleston, WV., West Virginia Regional History Collection, West Virginia University, Morgantown & the Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
     Other primary sources include the Compiled Confederate Service Records, Record Group 109, National Archives (NARA), Washington, D.C. Official Records of the War of Rebellion, Washington, D.C. 1899, Confederate Muster & Pay Rolls, Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond. Tombstone records from cemetery visits. Barbour Democrat & Wheeling Intelligencer newspapers.
     Secondary sources in addition to those mentioned elsewhere include, Jeffrey Weaver & Randall Osborne. ‘The Virginia State Rangers and State Line’, 1994. Roger U. Delauter Jr., 62nd Virginia Infantry, 2nd edition, 1988. John Ashcraft, ‘31st Virginia Infantry’, 2nd edition, 1988. Richard L. Armstrong, ‘19th and 20th Virginia Cavalry’, 1994 & ‘25th Virginia Infantry and 9th Battalion Virginia Infantry’, 2nd edition, 1990. John W. Shaffer. ‘Union and Confederate Soldiers and Sympathizers of Barbour County, West Virginia, 2005. Hu Maxwell. ‘History of Randolph County’, 1898 & ‘History of Barbour County’, 1899.
All place names, unless otherwise noted, are in terms of present day West Virginia locations and boundaries. The notation (West) Virginia appears when location was northwestern Virginia prior to the creation of the state of West Virginia, 20 June 1863.
The book ‘Born to Blush Unseen’, by Michael R. Hymes, 2004, gives an excellent account of the life of Captain John Riley Phillips.
James M. McCann. ‘Scouting in Virginia’, P. 214&215, ‘ Confederate Veteran, Vol. II, 1894. The ‘Confederate Veteran’ is the journal publication of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Columbia, Tennessee.
Gravestone record, McVaney Cemetery, Upshur County, West Virginia.
Private William Stockwell was later severely wounded during the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, Virginia, a few weeks before the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Oklahoma State Confederate Soldier Pension Record, # 1995, Oklahoma City, , 1916
Civil War experiences of George Washington Gainer, Fifer, Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry were reported in the HCPD Journal, Vol. XXIII, Issue 3, 2004-2005.
Ruth Woods Drayton. ‘Samuel Woods and His Family’, p. 66, 1939.
Civil War experiences of Corporal Jesse T. Bennett, Private Jonathan P. Bennett and 1st Sgt. Jacob S. Bennett, all of Co. K, 31st Virginia Infantry, were reported in HCPD Journal, Vol. XXIII, issue 3, 2004-2005.’The Mystery of Jacob S. Bennett’.
Letter from General William L. Jackson, CSA, to Sarah Jackson, written from Camp Allegheny, Pocahontas County, appearing in Ronald V. Hardway. ‘On Our Own Soil’. 2003.