Cockayne House Mysteries and Discoveries

by Thomas J. Tarowsky.

Column reprinted courtesy of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.


Tom Tarowsky with Civil War Medal of John W. Smith.

     This is the second in a series of columns about the curious and interesting items that the Marshall County Historical Society has identified and cataloged in the Cockayne House, and what they tell us about life in the Ohio Valley between 1850 and the turn of the current century.

Sam’s Grandfather and the Civil War

     During the last 6 years, we have seen many young men and women from Marshall County and surrounding areas serve their country during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Grandparents of these young soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen served in World War II, the Korean War, or even Viet Nam. Sadly, this pattern recurs with each new generation: Sam Cockayne served in the U.S. Army between 1942 and 1945; his maternal grandfather, John W. Smith, served in the U.S. Civil War.

     Even before West Virginia statehood in 1863, young men flocked to serve their country—be it the Union, or the Confederacy. The people who became West Virginians were divided in their sentiments. Some from the central part of the state, like my wife’s ancestor, Aaron B. Young, of Burning Springs, Wirt County enlisted in service of the Confederacy near Clarksburg. Others, from the north, like John W. Smith, volunteered for service in the U.S. Army at the Capitol of the Restored Government of Virginia, in Wheeling.

     Records found at the Cockayne House indicate that 19 year old John W. Smith, born in Belmont County, Ohio, enlisted in Company E of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Regiment, United States Army (Captain Trimble’s company) on May 17, 1861, shortly after the beginning of the war. He had enlisted for a term of three months—and was discharged on August 27, 1861. According to his discharge, John was 5 feet 6 inches in height, with gray eyes and brown hair. He was, by occupation, an iron worker at the time of his enlistment.

     Did John W. Smith serve his country for only 3 months? Although the only discharge record as yet found at the Cockayne House is the one issued on August 27, 1861, there is additional evidence that indicates that he had reenlisted in another unit, and served further into the war.

     The evidence? Two brief letters. The first, printed on letterhead, bearing the Seal of the State of West Virginia, states:

Wheeling, February 21, 1867
John W. Smith,
late Private, Co A, 1st West Virginia Infantry
Benwood, Marshall County, West Virginia

Sir—I am directed by His Excellency, the Governor, to present you with the enclosed Medal, in accordance with a Joint Resolution of the Legislature of West Virginia, adopted February 1, 1866, as a slight testimonial of the high appreciation by the State of West Virginia of your Devotion, Patriotism and Services in suppression of the late rebellion.
Very Respectfully,
     Your Ob’t Serv’t,
(signed) George W. Brown
     Adjutant General

     Did you spot the discrepancy? John’s discharge paper reflects his enlistment and release from Company E of the 1st Virginia Infantry—the letter from the Adjutant General identifies John’s service as having been in Company A.

     The second letter enlightens as well as confuses. It is identical to the first, save two exceptions—the date (February 23, 1867), and the unit designated (Company E, 1st West Virginia Infantry.)

     Two letters and only one medal. Both recently-found letters provide the provenance for the West Virginia Civil War Service Medal among the Cockayne holdings—but which is correct?

     It seems that both documents are correct.

     The Regimental History of the 1st West Virginia Infantry sets the record straight. According to this source, this regiment was reorganized under the command of Colonel Joseph Thoburn, just weeks after the August, 1861 separation. The company roster indicates that John reenlisted in Company A, on September 18, 1861.

     Four companies of the regiment were deployed to Burning Springs, while the recruiting continued in Wheeling. On November 9, 1861, the additional companies recruited met up with these companies at Romney. The organization of the 1st Virginia was perfected on November 14, 1861.

     With the coming of statehood in 1863, the unit became the 1st West Virginia. According to copies of regimental and pension application records provided by Civil War historian Linda Fluharty, John Smith suffered a gunshot wound to the left foot at the Battle of New Market, on May 15, 1864, “in a charge on the enemy, (while) under the command of General Sigel.”

     His application for a military disability pension (“Declaration for Original Invalid Pension”) form goes on to state that he was first treated at a hospital in Clayville, Maryland, and was then moved to Wheeling Hospital, where he was under the care of Dr. Kirker, who was then in charge of the hospital. Another document also indicates that he had also sustained a gunshot wound of the right arm on July 26 of that year. Still other pension records also indicate that he also developed respiratory illness during his service.

     The 1st was consolidated with the 4th West Virginia infantry on December 10, 1864, but Private Smith never served in the consolidated unit; he was discharged on November 26, 1864, as a result of his injuries.

     Throughout the war, the 1st was deployed to and fought in engagements in both the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and in what became the State of West Virginia. Among the battles and engagements in which the 1st participated during John W. Smith’s service were the second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Port Republic, and the Battle of New Market.      Further information on the 1st West Virginia Infantry can be found at the West Virginia Department of Culture and History website:

Next time: Style and Fashion on the Farm?

Please submit questions to Tom Tarowsky, Cockayne House Preservation Committee, 1105 Wheeling Avenue, Glen Dale, WV 26038. Be sure to include your name and contact information, and let us know if we can use your name, as well. Selected questions will be used in future columns. Tom regrets that he is unable to respond to each individual request.