6th West Virginia Infantry

HISTORY

The Sixth West Virginia Infantry Regiment was organized August, 1861, with the following field officers: Nathan Wilkinson, colonel; John F. Hoy, lieutenant-colonel, and John B. Frothingham, major, with 14 companies of 100 men each. The regiment was recruited and mustered into service with the express proviso that it was to serve as guard duty upon the lines of the Baltimore and Ohio and Northwestern Virginia Railroads. It did not, therefore, share in the hurry and enthusiasm of large bodies of troops together in battle, and when a detachment of them had the good fortune to strike the enemy, they were going it alone and unobserved, and did not receive the general commendation from superior officers, or receive the plaudits of the press of the country. Realizing this, the subordinate officers in command of scouting parties or the defenders of bridges and blockhouses failed to make formal reports of such incidents, and if they did make reports, those above them seemed to regard it as unimportant, and felt some delicacy about troubling headquarters or the official records with what then appeared comparative trifles, when the current news of the day was filled with accounts of greater events. But this failure of subordinate officers to make full and complete reports operated to do injustice in the light of history to this fine regiment. The author has been told by an officer of the regiment, that sometime after the close of the war, he with a small group of officers of the regiment went over the list as they could recall, and they counted 41 men that had been killed in action, whilst the number having died from wounds and disease was several hundred. The official record places the number at much less. Notwithstanding the charge of “Home Guards” that was so often frivolously applied to this regiment, its mission was just as honorable, its duties as exacting, as was the service of regiments who were further to the front.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a necessity to the Union Army: the faithful guarding of it was a specific service that required tact, and it was better that that duty be entrusted to men made familiar by experience with every detail. There were many illustrations of gallantry displayed by both officers and men during the war. In addition to the officers named as “field officers,” we recall Majors J. H. Showalter, Larkin Pierpoint and E. A. Bennett, and Captains Fisher, Skelton, Hall, Mattingly, Reece, Schockey, Harrison, Carroll, Kenney, Godwin, Lang, Over and others. During the latter years of the war, Colonel Wilkinson was in command of a brigade, so the command of the regiment was assigned to Major Showalter, who proved to be an intelligent, painstaking and gallant officer.

Col. John C. Rathbone, commanding at Spencer, in Roan County, in his report to General Kelley, May 31, 1862, says: “Captain Showalter, with 23 men acting as escort to a wagon train from Ravenswood to his headquarters at Spencer, was surrounded by over 100 Confederates under command of Captains Downs and Duskey. Captain Showalter showed fight and gallantly repulsed the Confederates, and held them in check, until Captain Showalter, under great difficulties, dispatched two messengers, Joseph H. Hershberger and Charles C. Eyster, for reenforcements. These messengers were fired upon, Eyster’s horse was killed, when Hershberger stopped amid a shower of bullets and mounting Eyster upon his horse, the two dashed away to Spencer and returned with Lieutenant Lawson, Co. K, First West Virginia Cavalry, and 30 men to the relief of Showalter, who had with his 23 men defended his train. When the reenforcements arrived the enemy were driven off with considerable loss in killed and wounded, when the train with its valuable stores was brought safely to its destination.

It is a matter of truthful record that Capt. John Fisher with 35 men of his Company A, successfully held the town of Piedmont on the B. & O. Road, against the attack of the Confederates 300 strong under command of Major McDonald, but the account, if given in detail, would be a long one. The regiment is entitled to the highest honors for splendid service done.

Major Showalter, who was in command at Rowlesburg in April, 1863, became the object of much severe criticism at the time by reason of his retreat from that place to Morgantown, Pittsburg, Wheeling and return to Rowlesburg. The lapse of years and the official records of the War Department have furnished abundant evidence to show that Major Showalter and his command partook of the general stampede that prevailed at that time. This was the period of the Jones-Imboden-Jackson raid into West Virginia; Latham had fallen back from Beverly, Roberts with his entire force retreated to Clarksburg, in fact a general stampede of the Union forces prevailed. We find by the records of the War Department that Major Showalter was in April, 1863, in command at Rowlesburg with 220 men. Gen’l W. E. Jones, with over 3000 Confederate cavalry, had left the Shenandoah Valley on this noted raid. Jones had disposed of his forces to strike the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at several points simultaneously. He attacked Rowlesburg in person, with over 1000 cavalry, on Sunday, April 23, at noon. Major Showalter held the place, fighting continuously till darkness brought the battle to a close, when Jones retired to West union, on the N. W. turnpike, six miles from Rowlesburg, leaving his dead and wounded in our hands.

To meet this attack, Showalter had divided his force into three parts. Sending Lieutenant McDonald, of Co. L, up the Cheat River road with a detachment who felled trees across the road, behind which he successfully repelled the cavalry charges; a small detachment was also at the iron trestle bridge who defended that important work against a much larger force. This piece of trestle-work was especially placed on the list by General Lee for destruction. Their implements for the prosecution of this work fell into Showalter’s hands. Within the following two or three days, the operations of the raid extended from Harper’s Ferry to Parkersburg, and north of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Morgantown. Consternation reigned everywhere; it seemed to be catching, and that Major Showalter, after having been surrounded, with his small force, did what he believed was for the best, must be conceded. Certainly the charge of cowardice cannot be truthfully charged against Major Showalter.

The army may have contained more conspicuous regiments, but it contained no more faithful defenders of the nation’s cause than the Sixth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry.

[Source: Loyal West Virginia 1861-1865, by Theodore Lang]

SERVICE

Organized at Grafton, Mannington, Cairo, Parkersburg and Wheeling, W. Va., August 13 to December 26, 1861. Attached to Railroad District, West Virginia, to March, 1862. Railroad District, Mountain Department, to July, 1862. Railroad District, 8th Army Corps, Middle Department, to September, 1862. Railroad District, West Virginia, to January, 1863. Clarksburg, W. Va., 8th Army Corps, to March, 1863. 6th Brigade, 1st Division, 8th Army Corps, to June, 1863. Wilkinson’s Brigade, Scammon’s Division, Dept. of West Virginia, to December, 1863. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, West Virginia, to April, 1864. Kelly’s Command, Reserve Division, West Virginia, to April, 1865. 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, West Virginia, to June, 1865.

SERVICE.–Regiment organized for railroad guard duty and served on line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad by detachments, at various points west of Sleepy Hollow entire term. Raid from Fairmont to Valley River and Bootheville April 12, 1862 (Co. “A”). Skirmish at Valley River April 12 (Co. “A”). Skirmish at Big Bend June 7. Skirmish at Weston August 31 (2 Cos.). Skirmish at Weston September 3 (Detachment). Skirmish at Standing Stone September 28. Capture of St. George November 9 (Co. “B”). Skirmish at Johnstown April 18, 1863 (Detachment). Skirmish at Rowlesburg April 23. Rowlesburg and Portland April 26. Oakland, Md., April 26 (1 Co.). Skirmish at Bridgeport April 29 (Detachment). Fairmont April 29 (Detachment). Bridgeport April 30. Sutton August 26 (Cos. “G” and “I”). Ball’s Mills and on Elk River August 27 (Detachment). Bulltown, Braxton County, October 13, 1863 (Detachment). Bulltown May 3, 1864 (Detachment). South Branch Bridge July 4 (Detachment). Patterson’s Creek Bridge July 4 (Detachment). Back Creek Bridge July 27 (Detachment). Cumberland, Md., August 1 (1 Co.). New Creek August 4 (2 Cos.). Bulltown August 20 (Detachment). Sutton August 24 (Detachment). Nutter Hill August 27 (Detachment). New Creek November 28 (Detachment). Mustered out June 10, 1865.

[Source: Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, by Frederick Dyer]

LOSSES

Regiment lost during service 8 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 2 Officers and 167 Enlisted men by disease. Total 177.

[Source: Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, by Frederick Dyer]

BIBLIOGRAPHY