top of page

A Family Tradition of Military Service


Many Doddridge County families have a tradition of military service, with multiple generations answering the call to duty.  This is a story about one of those families, with a number of twists along the way.


Charles W. Zahn was born in Augusta County, Virginia, on November 9, 1811.  The following year saw the beginning of the War of 1812, which was to last for nearly three years.  A soldier in that war was Charles’ father, John Zahn, who served as a Private in McDowell’s Flying Camp of the Virginia Militia.  So Charles experienced as a young boy the unpleasantries of war and learned that military service was a necessary and honorable part of life.


Charles married Lydia Hoover in Frederick County, Maryland, in 1836.  I was unable to find them in the 1840 and 1850 censuses, but by 1860 they were residing in Doddridge County with three of their ten children.  Charles’ occupation was physician.  Just as happened with his father, war broke out the following year, in this case the Civil War.  And like his father before him, Charles answered the call to duty.  His military service is summarized on the Doddridge County Roots genealogy website as follows:


Charles Zahn’s Civil War Service

“Charles W. Zahn joined for duty in West Union on September 24,1861 for a term of three years.  He mustered in as a Private in Co. M, 6th W.Va. Infantry, on March 16, 1861 in West Union.  He was present for every muster roll.  He was scheduled to muster out at Grafton on December 1, 1864, rank Private, but the company muster-out roll stated that he was "sick in U.S. General Hospital at Cumberland, MD.  Not mustered out."  Following Charles W. Zahn's discharge, his unit, Co. M of the 6th W.Va. Infantry, was transferred to Co. L, 6th W.Va. Infantry, per Special Order No. 72, dated December 26, 1864.


“The 6th infantry was organized by authority of the War Department and was mustered into the U. S. service from August to December 1861 for the purpose of guarding the Baltimore & Ohio railroad in the state.  During the years 1862 the companies were moved about from place to place as their services were needed.  ...  The non-veterans were mustered out at the expiration of the original term of enlistment and the veterans and recruits were retained in service until June 10, 1865, when they were mustered out by order of the war department.


“Despite Charles W. Zahn's occupation as physician in the 1860 Census and at the time of his enlistment, the 26 pages of military records on file for him at the U.S. National Archives refer to him only by the rank of Private and give no indication that his military duties may have been of a medical nature.”


Following the war, Charles returned to his family in Southwest District, where his occupation in 1870 was school teacher, and in 1880 was farmer.  Charles W. Zahn died in Doddridge County in April 1882, age 70,  from the effects of diabetes. His burial location is unknown.


Charles’ Son a Civil War Prisoner

Perhaps inspired by the gumption of his middle-aged father, Charles’ son William C. Zahn (1837-1908), who was with his parents in Doddridge County in 1860 and eventually became a school teacher in Maryland, also enlisted for service a year after his father did.  From his obituary and military records, we learn that his military experience took a much greater toll than that of his father’s:


William C. Zahn enlisted on September 5, 1861 in Clarksburg, Va. (age 23), and mustered in September 21, 1861 in Clarksburg, Va., as a Private in Co. F, 1st Regiment Va. [W.Va.] Mounted Cavalry.  According to the Descriptive Book, William was 5’10", fair complexion, hazel eyes, sandy hair, born in Frederick County, Maryland, and his occupation was a farmer.  He was captured by Ashby's Cavalry near Strasburg, Virginia, on March 26, 1862, then confined at Libby Prison in Richmond.  He was paroled in a prisoner exchange on May 11,1862 and granted a medical discharge on May 23, 1862 in Washington, DC.  A few months later, on September 1, 1862, he enlisted as Sergeant in Co. B, 12th Regiment, Maryland Volunteers, until September 1864, and then enlisted as Sergeant in Co. F, 11th Regiment, Maryland Volunteer Infantry.  He served for the remainder of the war, being discharged on June 15, 1865.


Another of Charles W. Zahn’s sons was Benjamin F. Zahn (1857-1944), a farmer originally from Cove and New Milton districts who eventually settled at Morgansville.  He and wife Eliza Alice Lipscomb (1859-1933) had six children, one of whom, Lelah Gay Zahn (1897-1991), married Hobert Lipscomb (1896-1994), a farmer and railroad worker.  Two of their five children, son Bernard and daughter Thelma, continued the family tradition of military service.


Charles’ Great-Grandson a WW II Hero

Bernard H. Lipscomb was born in Doddridge County on September 7, 1921.  He and his family were living in the Southwest District of Doddridge County in 1930 and in Morgansville in 1940.  On August 27, 1942, Bernard enlisted in the U.S. Army, eventually assigned as a Pfc with the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.  His unit took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and Bernard Lipscomb was one of those killed there that day.  His Purple Heart was awarded to his family back in Doddridge County.  He is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery in France, one of the 54 Doddridge County veterans who lost their lives in World War II.


Charles’ Great-Granddaughter a WW II Veteran

A month after Bernard’s death, his younger sister Thelma took it upon herself to finish the work that he had begun.  On July 13, 1944, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves in the innovative program known as WAVES, or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.  Her specialty was Air Traffic Controller, and following boot camp and specialty training, she put her training to use at the Norfolk Naval Air Station in Virginia.  She remained on active duty for a full year after the war, being discharged in August 1946.  The following month, she married William L. Swisher, also a Doddridge Countian and a Navy veteran.  The parents of three children, the Swishers are rightfully proud that their two sons have continued the family’s military tradition, with both having served in Vietnam and one also in Desert Storm.  Thelma and Bill Swisher are now residents of Greenwood.


Civil War Medals

Immediately following the Civil War, the state of West Virginia awarded to each and every one of her Union soldiers who honorably served during the war a bronze medal, personalized with the soldier’s name, rank and unit.  Nearly 27,000 medals were minted, and most were issued within a year or so.  But some soldiers, for whatever reason, did not claim theirs.  The state has publicized the existence of these unclaimed medals ever since, urging descendants of the intended recipients to step forward and lay claim to them.  Many medals have been claimed this way in recent years, but over 4,000 of them still remain in storage at the West Virginia State Archives.


When Thelma Lipscomb Swisher learned that one of those unclaimed medals was intended for her great-grandfather Charles W. Zahn, she of course wanted to claim it.  But she needed help in proving her right to it and getting the paperwork submitted properly.  Through the local VFW and American Legion, she met Rennie Brown, whose Doddridge County Roots website had much of the information she needed.  He volunteered to do the remaining research and documentation and to submit the application packet for her.  The application was approved and, with Thelma’s permission, the medal has been released to Rennie for presentation to her.


I think all would agree that the presentation to Thelma of her great-grandfather’s Civil War medal is a very special event.  For that reason, the Doddridge County Heritage Guild is making it the centerpiece of its next Open House, on Saturday, February 25, 2017, from noon to 3:00 p.m., at the Doddridge County Library.  Also included will be a slideshow of Doddridge County Civil War veterans, some of whom are likely to be your ancestors.  Rennie will be there for your genealogy questions and to share with you the local news of 100 years ago.  And Norma Bowyer and I will be on hand to talk local history with anyone interested.  All that plus door prizes, refreshments and socializing.  What better way to spend a part of your Saturday afternoon?


(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.”)

bottom of page