The Bittersweet Tale of a Misclaimed Civil War Medal

By Linda Cunningham Fluharty
© March, 2001

The vast amount of information available in cyber space has touched our lives by broadening our horizons in a myriad of ways. Gone are the days when a quest for the family roots requires a lifetime of effort. We can encounter an abundance of facts and clues within minutes and we can even check and cross-check with equal speed.

After nearly four years of posting as much information as possible on my web pages, the day has come that the fruits of that labor have evolved into a bittersweet tale, as facts were assembled in order to preserve the historical record.

Years ago, Gary Timmons did genealogical research and concluded that his ancestor, James Howard, had served in Company "D" of the 1st West Virginia Infantry during the Civil War. In good faith, he presented his research findings in an application to the West Virginia State Archives to claim the Civil War medal of James Howard. Subsequently, in 1984, he received the medal, no doubt greatly satisfying to him.

Last week (March, 2001), Gary generously contributed to this website, the information about his Civil War medal and the soldier, James Howard, for whom it was issued. According to his research, James was born 17 Oct 1845, Ohio County, W.Va.; married Mary Margaret Trussell 28 Dec 1869; died 07 Mar 1913.

A chance exchange between this writer and Jim Byer, a "Howard Researcher," immediately revealed a conflict between the data on the Marshall County WVGenWeb page and that provided by Gary Timmons.

Marguerite Delbridge Howard, whose husband is a direct descendant of the James Howard who served in the Civil War, was told about the possible error. She stated that she had been told by the State Archives in 1987 that the medal of James Howard had been claimed. The family, she said, had wondered who could possibly have it.

It should be stated, in the most emphatic way, that there is NO hint of wrong-doing in this scenario. This was merely an error, but the Civil War medal was indeed awarded to a descendant of a James Howard who was NOT the James Howard who served in the 1st West Virginia Infantry.

Armed with the 1864 West Virginia Adjutant General's Report, the 1999 Broadfoot List of West Virginia Civil War Soldiers, the complete microfilm of the West Virginia Civil War soldiers obtained from the West Virginia State Archives, it became readily apparent that there was ONE James Howard in the 1st West Virginia Infantry.

James Howard, age 20, enrolled at New Creek, W.Va, 31 Mar 1861, and mustered in at Wheeling. From the State Archives film, taken from the records at the Adjutant General's Office: "Farmer, born in Marshall County, W.Va. Re-enlisted as a Vet. Vol. Dec. 8, 1864, under Gen'l Order No. 191, War Dept. Series of 1863. Sergeant. Transferred to Co. "G" 2nd Vet. Infty."

Referring to the fact that there was ONE James Howard in the 1st Infantry, the following is his obituary:

Wheeling News Register, Wheeling, WV - Saturday, April 13, 1901


     Yesterday morning, at some time between nine and ten o'clock, James Howard, 66 years of age and a veteran of the civil war, committed suicide at the home of his daughter, Mrs. George Markis, of McMechen. No reason is assigned that would cause him to commit the rash deed when he retired the night before, as he seemed in the best of spirits.
     About two years ago Howard moved to McMechen from Cameron, and had made his home with his daughter there. Yesterday morning Mrs. Markis, after preparing the breakfast and waiting a considerable time on her father, became alarmed and went to his room. On opening the door she beheld him lying face downward on the floor, in a pool of blood, with a razor grasped tightly in his hand. An investigation showed that the body was still warm and revealed an ugly gash on the right side of the throat, about four inches long, with the jugular vein severed.
     Late yesterday afternoon Squire Harry Smith, of Benwood, empaneled a jury, composed of W. F. Reese, G. O. Criswell, J. W. Gatewood, C. M. Morris, R. W. Stewart and J. L. Ice, and an inquest was held. The jury rendered a verdict that the deceased had come to death by his own hand.
     The unfortunate man was a Union soldier in the civil war, having served with credit in Company D, First West Virginia. He is survived by a number of children, all grown, who reside in McMechen and Cameron. Among these are Mrs. George Markis and Mrs. Geo. Bailey, of McMechen.

Last evening the funeral arrangements had not been completed, but the Interment will be at Cameron.

James Howard was buried in Howard Cemetery, Cameron District, Marshall County and his grave is marked with a Civil War Tombstone. His family is buried there, including his wife, Sarah, and his brother, Jacob, who also served in the 1st West Virginia Infantry.

James & Sarah Howard, living with Reason Howard, are found in the 1870 Marshall County, WV Federal Census, Cameron District:

Howard (233)
Mary E...F- born in April...WV

James & Sarah Howard are found in the 1880 Marshall County, WV Federal Census, Cameron District:

HOWARD (250)
Sarah...30-wf....keeping house...PA...PA...PA labor...WV...WV...PA

1890 Special Census:

HOWARD, James A.?, Sergeant, Company "D", 1st WV Infantry. Enlisted 10/17/1861; discharged 3/11/1865. Address: Cameron, WV. Remarks: Re-enlisted veteran.

In the 1900 Census, James Howard, a widower, age 59, born May 1841, f-in-l of George Marcus, is residing with George & Mary Marcus and their 3 children, James, Ollie & Homer.

A document contained in the Civil War Pension file of James Howard, obtained from the National Archives and provided by Marguerite Howard, proves the date of death of the James Howard, who served in the 1st WV Infantry.

In a letter included in the file, James' signature appears to read, "James M. Howard."

A genealogy file of the descendants is provided by Marguerite Howard.

The information contained in the application submitted by Gary Timmons to obtain the Civil War medal of James Howard, applies to James C. Howard, who died in 1913 and was married to Mary Margaret Trussel, both of whom are buried in the Mt. View Cemetery in Dallas, Sand Hill District, Marshall County.

Almost all of the information cited here was readily available on my Marshall County WVGenWeb page, so it took only minutes to see how the mistake was made - - and how easily it could be made by anyone. Two men of the same name, of the same approximate age, living in the same general area.

So what to do?

It seemed appropriate to at least discuss the matter with Gary Timmons, so a few days after the facts came to light, Marguerite Howard called him and explained what had been discovered. He listened, calmly and reasonably, and said he would speak with her the next evening. When they spoke again, he agreed that an error had been made - - and of his own accord, he offered the medal to Marguerite's husband, Russell Howard.

There was NO expectation of such a gesture by the Howards! And certainly, Gary Timmons did NOT have to make such an incredible offer!

But on April 6, 2001, Gary Timmons met Russell & Marguerite Howard at the Ohio County Library in Wheeling and presented them the Civil War medal of Russell's gr-gr-grandfather, James Howard.

Gary Timmons (left) and Russell Howard

Ultimately, this story is NOT about the medal. It is NOT about honest mistakes that were made years ago by well-intentioned people. It IS a bittersweet tale, about Gary Timmons, an honest and decent human being. This unselfish and heart-warming act, of placing the medal in its rightful home, surely reveals that he is a man of great character and integrity.

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