© 2019 Doddridge County Heritage Guild

Unclaimed Civil War Medals  

 

I recently shared with you the story of a Doddridge County family’s tradition of military service that started with the Civil War record of Charles W. Zahn and was carried on by his son William C. Zahn also in the Civil War, his grandson Harley E. Zahn in World War I, his great-grandson Bernard H. Lipscomb who was killed in the D-Day invasion, his great-granddaughter Thelma Lipscomb Swisher also in World War II, and his great-great-grandsons Melbourn L. Swisher in Vietnam and William L. Swisher Jr. in Vietnam and Desert Storm.

 

Thelma’s application for her great-grandfather’s unclaimed Civil War medal was approved, and last Saturday it was presented to her at an open house hosted by the Doddridge County Heritage Guild at the library.  An enthusiastic crowd of about fifty was in attendance, some mainly to support Thelma, but many others simply as history or Civil War buffs.  A slideshow presentation by Rennie Brown kept everyone’s interest, as he first touched on the Civil War in general, then described how in 1866 the state of West Virginia issued a medal to each of its Union soldiers.

 

The medals were minted in three designs.  The most common was simply inscribed “Honorably Discharged.”  The inscription of the second design, “Killed in Battle,” speaks for itself.  The third type was inscribed “For Liberty,” indicating that the soldier had died of wounds or of disease.  In all cases, the medal was personalized with the soldier’s name, rank and unit engraved around the edge.

 

Of the nearly 27,000 medals minted in 1866, over 4,000 of them remain unclaimed, despite the state’s best efforts to locate the soldier or his heirs.  On one of my monthly visits to the State Archives, I was escorted behind the scenes and shown the large filing cabinet in which those 4,000 medals are stored, waiting for an heir to step forward and file a claim.  When the archivist opened the drawer and I saw all the neatly labeled and arranged little boxes, it occurred to me that some of them must belong to Doddridge County veterans.  And so I set about trying to figure out who they might be.  As it turned out, one of them was Thelma Lipscomb Swisher’s great-grandfather, Charles W. Zahn.

 

To date, I’ve identified 33 more unclaimed medals of Doddridge County Civil War veterans. I’m listing all of them below in hope that a reader will make a connection that will lead to a medal finding its proper home with a soldier’s descendant or heir.

 

Marshall Allen  1825-1881

Henry Clay Bond  1848-1865

Henry Dorsey Booher   1846-1895

Isaac Cumberledge  1824-1899

Isaac N. Czigans  1849-1931

Franklin Davis  1841-1867

Timothy K. Davis  1842-1921

Richard Ford  1847-1916

William P. Green  1840-1864

William E. Haught   1836-1862

Emery Malone  1848-1865

Beckwith A. McNemar  1839-1926

Oliver Benton Myers  1844-Unk

James Pinell  1815-1901

Henry C. Powell  1844-1864

George Revels  1819-1893

Samuel Richards   1838-1907

David Roberts  1842-1923

Ludim Rose  1846-1926

Elijah G. Smith  1825-1890

Thomas J. Smith  1845-1865

Isaac C. Snider  1834-1923

Francis Spray  1835-1864

Andrew H. Swiger  1843-1887

Joseph N. Thomas  1836-1863

Grove Tucker  1843-1864

Newton G. Waldo  1845-1917

Solomon Weekly  1847-1926

Loman Welch  1833-Unk

Richard A. Wells  1843-Unk

Abraham Williams   1830-Unk

Solomon Williams   1843-1864

William C. Zahn  1837-1908

 

For biographical and genealogical information about these veterans, or for links to the West Virginia Civil War Medals in general and a listing of all 4,000+ unclaimed medals, refer to the Doddridge County Roots website at: www.doddridgecountyroots.com/military/unclaimedmedals.pdf

 

Not surprisingly, as my research progressed I found that most of these Doddridge County soldiers had stories worth telling, many of them tragic.  For example:

 

Henry Clay Bond was wounded in battle, discharged from service, and committed suicide by hanging three days before his 17th birthday.  Henry Dorsey Booher and Ludim Rose were prisoners of war.  Emery Malone was held prisoner for three months and died of starvation shortly after his release.  Oliver Benton Myers and William C. Zahn were POWs at Libby Prison.  George Revels was one of Doddridge County’s few free African-American citizens.  Thomas J. Smith was assigned to Washington DC after Lincoln’s assassination, then was killed in a train wreck two months later.  Franklin Davis, William E. Haught, Francis Spray and Joseph N. Thomas all died of disease.  William P. Green, Grove Tucker and Solomon Williams were wounded in battle and later died from those wounds.  I now want to tell you more about one of these soldiers, William P. Green.

 

William P. Green’s mother was Charlotte Potter, who I wrote about in this column many months ago.  She was married first to Noah Hillary Dawson, who died at age 34 after fathering five children, one of whom was Jackson Dawson.  In 1839 Charlotte remarried Jacob P. Green, who became the father of William P. Green.  In 1856 Jackson Dawson’s house in Doddridge County caught fire.  Jackson, all five of his children, and a niece were all killed in the fire.  Charlotte was surely devastated when she attended the burial of her son and six grandchildren at what is now Blockhouse Hill Cemetery in West Union.

 

Six years later, Charlotte’s son William P. Green enlisted in Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry, in West Union and was soon promoted to 2nd Lieutenant.  William was a dutiful son, as we can see from the following letter, included in Charlotte's Civil War widow's pension application, which was written by William from Webster, W.Va., on April 3 1864:

 

"My Dear Mother,

I propose to drop you a few lines to inform you that I am still on the land and among the living and enjoying good health. I left Burlington, W.Va. on the morning of the 2nd and come to New Creek and from there on the Cass to Webster, this side of Grafton. I expect we will go to Beverly or some other place up in the mountains. I will write to you soon again.

I remain your devoted son,

Wm. P Greene, Lieut.

P.S.  I expressed one hundred dollars for you at New Creek yesterday. I forgot to pay the expressage on it. You will have to pay it."

 

Five months later, William was wounded in the Battle of Fisher Hill, and he died a few weeks later in Winchester, Virginia.  A Doddridge County preacher, Flavius Josephus Ashburn, kept a meticulous diary, which contains the following entry in November 1864:

 

"On Sunday the 6th I attended the funeral services of Lieut. William Green.  He died on the 1st day of this month from a wound received in battle and his body was embalmed and sent home to West Union.  He was there placed in a highly finished coffin and conveyed to the meeting house while Bro. Lyon (a Methodist minister and Chaplain in the army) preached his funeral.  After which, amidst the outbursts of grief and mournful lamentations of his mother and other relations, he was interred in the silent tomb."

 

That silent tomb was at Blockhouse Hill Cemetery, a few yards away from the grave of William’s half-brother Jackson Dawson, where the grief-stricken Charlotte had attended the burial of another son and her grandchildren a few years before.

 

 

 

(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)