FORGOTTEN MOUNTAIN MEN OF FREEDOM
BY LONNY J. WATRO
JUNE 14, 2000 (FLAG DAY)
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY LONNY ESPECIALLY FOR US :)
LONNY HAS BEEN ACCUMULATING INFORMATION ON PLACING A ROAD SIGN AT THE SITE OF THE BATTLE OF MCNEMAR'S CHURCH. SHE HAS BEEN INFORMED THIS WILL COST APPROXIMATELY $1,200.
SINCE MANY OF THESE MEN, NOR THEIR REMAINS RETURNED TO THEIR BELOVED MINERAL COUNTY, I FEEL A ROADSIDE SIGN AT THE SITE OF THE LAST PLACE THEY SERVED AS FREE MEN WOULD SERVE AS A WONDERFUL MEMORIAL TO THEM. IF YOU WOULD BE INTERESTED IN DONATING TO THE PLACEMENT OF THIS SIGN, PLEASE CONTACT
Photo of Trinity Church - Junction on 220/11 at Junction WV
Courtesy of Norman Raines
During 1813, Benjamin Franklin Mayhew was born in Virginia. It is thought that his parents might have lived in Loudon County, Virginia, which might be part of Clark County now. However, it is uncertain exactly where in Virginia he was born. He most likely had no proper schooling, as he could neither read nor write. He must have known something about arithmetic, geometry, and design, for the 1860 Hampshire County, Virginia census shows carpenter as his occupation. Therefore, it is likely that he had some knowledge of wood construction. Quite possibly he learned his trade from his father, uncles, or maybe an early employer.
The early life of Benjamin Franklin Mayhew is left to only mere speculation. The only true record that is available for him is the last four years of his life. In 1860, the forty-seven-year-old carpenter, Benjamin Franklin Mayhew, was living in the small community of Ridgeville, Virginia, which is now in West Virginia. With him were his wife, Mary J. Mayhew, 33, and children, John W. Mayhew, 20, Joshua Jackson Mayhew, 19, Amanda Mayhew, 12, Ellen Elizabeth Mayhew, 5, James W. Mayhew, 2, and Andrew J. Mayhew, 1.
Benjamin Franklin Mayhew was practicing his trade as carpenter in an area, which is still today quite sleepy, rural and serene. Two years later, the quiet and content life of the country carpenter was to be turned upside down, for in September 1862, Benjamin Franklin Mayhew found himself volunteering his services for the Union Army 10th West Virginia Company I. He was mustered in as a Sergeant, possibly because of his age of 52. Two of his sons, John and Joshua, and probably many of the sons of Mayhew's neighbors served with him. Therefore, he could have been a father figure to the young men of Company I who hailed from Piedmont, New Creek (now Keyser), and Ridgeville, Virginia. Certainly, he would have been a figure of authority to these young men.
The initial task of the 10th West Virginia and particularly
Company I was to put down the uprise of the bushwackers who
were reeking havoc on the local communities in the Appalachian
Mountains of West Virginia. These men were also responsible for
protecting the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from being destroyed by the
Confederates. later in the war, the 10th West Virginia Company I would participate in many major battles.
Benjamin Franklin Mayhew's army records show him as being absent at various times during the Civil War. This may have been due to inactivity in the area, personal illness, or to attend to responsibilities at home. It was not unusual for soldiers to be given permission to leave their company in order to take care of family responsibilities during the Civil War.
In December 1863, Confederate Major General Fitzhugh Lee sent a scouting party to the panhandle of West Virginia and along the Potomac River with the intention of attacking the B & O Railroad and capturing much needed supplies. The commanders of the 10th West Virginia wanted to try to cut Lee off, but instead Lee attacked the 10th.
On January 3, 1864, twenty-five men from the 10th West Virginia Company I were guarding a wagon train bound for New Creek. At a location then know as Moorefield Junction, VA, Lee's men attacked the wagon train and possibly the block house where the remainder of Company I was located. The battle was known as the Battle of McNemar's Church. Lee secured the supplies he needed and captured approximately 20 men of Company I. Among these capture men was Benjamin Franklin Mayhew, who with the others was sent to Richmond, VA. In March of 1864, Benjamin Franklin Mayhew was transferred to the notorious Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia. This Confederate prison was considered one of the worst prisons during the Civil War. It was over crowded and there was not enough shelter for the in mates. Many were required to live out in the open under tents made of rags. Sickness and malnutrition ran rapid among the men and many died of exposure to the elements.
Benjamin Franklin Mayhew died at Andersonville in July 1864, a month before a miracle rain came and provided abundant fresh drinking water in the form of a natural spring in the middle of the prison. The records at Andersonville indicate there was confusion about were Mayhew is buried. Therefore he lies somewhere in one of the many unmarked graves - a forgotten soldier of freedom.
Men like Benjamin Franklin Mayhew were rugged mountain men, who reportedly fought ferociously against the bushwackers hiding in the Appalachian Mountains and the Confederates on the battlefields. Just as no tombstone marks the grave of Benjamin Franklin Mayhew, no road sign hails the courage of the men of the 10th West Virginia Company I who made an important contribution to the victory of the Union Army. Without the courage of these forgotten mountain men of freedom, the United States of America might very well be only a memory in our history books.
Matheny, H E Major General Thomas Maley Harris Parsons WV,
McClain Printing Co., 1963
Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment
JACOB C. ECKESS
Pvt., Company D
Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Andersonville Civil War Prison - Historical Background
Andersonville National Historic Site
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