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A blend of Pvt. Philip KIRSCH family details and historical accounts of
the 5th West Virginia Cavalry, half of whose members came from Pittsburgh
and adjoining Washington County. Written in an informal style, but contains
many hard facts about this regiment (mustered in as the 2nd VA Infantry
and later "mounted").

Contributed and Copyrighted:
Larry Sullivan, Glasgow, KY, E-Mail:


By Lawrence Sullivan

     "Overcome by superior forces," the dry phrase so common to Civil War
battle summaries, fails to capture the horror by which the soldiering days
of Pvt. Philip KIRSCH and his patrol came to a screeching halt. Let's try
to picture what really happened, hopefully without being too fanciful in
our imagined scenario.

     The men, 30 seasoned veterans of mountain warfare, were on picket duty
and camped at an idyllic spot. Overhead was a cozy canopy of old oak trees,
the leaves just starting to turn red in the crisp autumn air. A few yards
away from their bedrolls and saddles was a mountain stream whose rolling
murmur had lulled them all, one by one, into a deep sleep.

     Then -- with no warning other than the unheeded sudden silence of forest
critters -- the nighttime air was rent by frightful whoops and hollers and
the rush of assailants everywhere.

     Until that rude awakening, the men of Company A, 2nd Virginia Volunteer
Infantry, had things pretty much to their liking. It had been, in a way,
a neat little war. For two years they'd been chasing Confederate troops
and renegade bushwhackers up and down the valleys, back and forth from the
Ohio River to the nation's capital. They'd participated in a handful of
battles and many skirmishes, and spent countless boring hours standing
guard at vital transportation links serving the Union's major coal resources
and steel industry. The unit's specific duty, when not in battle: protect
regional rail lines, and particularly their bridges, from rebel marauders.

     The 2nd Virginia Infantry, later renamed the 5th West Virginia Cavalry,
hardly played a major role in the hostilities over-all, but it laid claim
to three historic firsts in the war. The regiment participated in the war's
first land battle, scored the first Confederate military casualty and
suffered the first Federal casualty. The regiment even boasted of handing
Robert E. LEE his very first battlefield defeat. At least that's what the
record says.

    For Kirsch and about one-third of Company A, the war ended shortly after
midnight on 25 Sep 1863 at Shavers Fork, a tributary of the Cheat River,
nine miles from their camp at Beverly, (West) VA. They were on picket duty
at the site, which is near both the Western Maryland Railroad and a major
roadway, while other regimental patrols scoured the Mountain Highlands
region for raiders who were burning bridges and generally causing havoc.

     When the shooting and shouting were over that fateful night, two members
of the 30-man detachment had been wounded, one had drowned trying to escape,
and the rest were all taken prisoner. They were quickly marched eastward to
Confederate regional headquarters at Staunton, VA, some 60 miles away, and
loaded onto railroad cars bound for prisons in Richmond. Some would be
transferred to other prisons -- including four destined to die in Georgia's
infamous Andersonville -- and some would spend the rest of the war as
captives. One man died in Richmond's Libby Prison and another died returning
home from prison.

     Kirsch would be one of the lucky ones, saved from death perhaps by as
little as a cup of thin broth, chunk of sweet potato, or crumbly piece of

     After six months at a prison camp ironically known as Belle Isle, on the
western end of Richmond in middle of the James River, he was freed in a
wholesale exchange of sick and ailing prisoners. He spent more than a month
in Federal hospitals, treated for general debility, and returned to duty
just in time to be mustered out on 14 June 1864. By then, the renamed
5th West Virginia Cavalry had gone one month beyond its three-year commitment.

     Kirsch, no doubt still weak, weary and sick of the whole thing, pocketed
his honorable discharge and headed home to South Pittsburgh and a wife he'd
married just months before he answered his adopted country's call to arms.
Back also, no doubt, to a hero's welcome and many a night of story-swapping
comaraderie at friendly neighborhood German saloons.

     He was one of the veterans who, a few years later, would proudly claim
medals coined especially in their honor by the new state of West Virginia,
and he most likely joined one of Pittsburgh's 28 chapters of the highly
popular and powerful fraternal organization known as the  Grand Army of the
Republic. He may not have seen it, but his name would be among those displayed
on "Roll of Honor" bronze plaques at Pittsburgh's Memorial Hall, completed in

    When age and arthritis succeeded in bringing him down, where Rebel gunfire
and prison starvation rations had failed to do so, Kirsch took a soldier's
disability pension and moved in with his unmarried sons.

    The heritage of his "neat little war" stayed with him until his final days,
which were spent at the Old Soldier's Home in Marion, IN. He died there on
5 April 1916 -- his 84th birthday -- and was buried at the nearby Marion
National Cemetery.

    His Civil War service would have one more benefit to bestow. When his
widow, Caroline, died at Benton Harbor, MI, in 1919, special financial aid
for impoverished veterans' families covered the expense of shipping her body
back to Pittsburgh, where her parents, John and Mary (BENDER) LAUER and
four of her ten children were buried at St. Michael's and St. Joseph's

    How Philip Kirsch -- only five years off the boat from his native Prussia
and eight months after setting up housekeeping with his new bride -- found
himself at the start of the Civil War serving in a western Virginia infantry
regiment is an interesting tale in its own right.

   When a call to arms was sounded after the bombing of Fort Sumter, SC,
eager recruits in the Pittsburgh area rushed to fill five companies only to
find that Pennsylvania had already surpassed its quota. Word came from
Wheeling that it could use the men, so they chartered a steamship to take
them there.

   By the time it was fully organized, the 2nd Virginia Infantry had in effect
become a tri-state regiment. Fully half of the men (five of the 10 companies)
came from Allegheny and Washington counties, PA. Two companies were made up
of western Virginia soldiers, one was purely an Ohio "Buckeye" unit, and two
companies included men from both states.

   It was Virginia's first regiment enrolled for three years service. Previous
units entailed sign-ups of just three months in the mistaken belief the war
would last only that long.

   Three-month volunteers in Wheeling who greeted the new recruits from
Pittsburgh called them "the boatmen" because of where they came from and
how they had cruised into town. Many had actually followed that occupation.
(This was not true of Kirsch. Although he did live near the Monongahela
River in South Pittsburgh and was married to a "riverman's" daughter, he
was by trade a coal miner.)

   Military historian Theodore E. LANG, in his book LOYAL WEST VIRGINIA FROM
1861 TO 1865, offers this assessment of the 2nd Virginia Infantry/5th West
Virginia Cavalry:

"The muster out rolls [of the regiment] show a total enlistment of 1,069
men from first to last. Of that total, 65 were discharged before the arduous
campaigns of 1862 began and Co. G was detached for artillery service, making
the real strength of the regiment on 1 April 1862 about 900 men. Of the total
enrollment, 189 were killed in action or died of disease, including a large
number who died in Confederate prisons.

"As a rule, when a West Virginia regiment was once formed and mustered
into the service, it had to depend on its original members for its future
strength. Few recruits were received, and as comrades fell in battle, or by
disease, their places were forever left unfilled, sad reminders of the
horrible realities of war. In this regiment, but 19 recruits were received
in the whole of the three-year's service."

   In a claim copied almost verbatim in several local histories, Lang says
the first uniformed Confederate casualty was Capt. Christian ROBERTS,
commander of a rebel unit engaged by a patrol of Company A at a railroad
bridge in Marion County on the morning of May 27.

   In one dissenting voice, a Tucker County history questions the man's rank
and even his military status, suggesting he might simply have been a free-
lance bushwhacker. A biographical sketch published in Pittsburgh many years
later, in which the subject recalled serving on the burial detail for
Roberts, places the incident on May 28, rather than May 27.

   A contemporary newspaper article in the Wheeling Intelligencer also said
the killing was on May 28, a Tuesday, and identified the victim as a
"secessionist" named Stephen ROBERTS, rather than a uniformed officer named
Christian Roberts. Here's what the paper said:

"Stephen Roberts, leader of the secessionists at Glover's Gap, seven miles
west of Mannington, was shot and instantly killed by a squad of Captain [sic]
Oliver WEST's men (Co. A, 2nd W.Va. Inf.) who have possession of the post.
It appears that a squad was scouting on Tuesday morning and came across
Roberts and two other men, all armed. The Lieutenant in command of the squad
[i.e. West] called upon the secessionists to halt, but instead of doing so
they wheeled around and fired upon the soldiers. The fire was returned and
Roberts was killed, though the others took to their heels and made their
escape. The minie ball passed entirely through his body. He was buried
yesterday morning by his friends."

   This time the newspaper got the story right.

   Stephen Roberts, a 65-year-old Pennsylvania native who owned nearly 450
acres along the Fish (now Fishing) Creek in Wetzel County, had organized
a guerrilla force and proclaimed himself captain. Their assumed duty was
to operate behind enemy lines, in support of the breakaway state's
authorized military units, to counter Federal scouting parties and foragers.

   Such guerrilla units were common throughout the western highlands. They
would eventually be taken into the fold as Virginia State Rangers, and
many would me melded into regular regiments of the Confederate Army. Not
everyone was proud of the guerrillas, however, and Gen. Henry Heth
characterized one unit known as the Mocassin Rangers as "an outlaw band
that robbed and plundered."

   Roberts, whose only son and grandson followed him and eventually served
in Company A of the 19th Virginia Cavalry, was killed before he could do
much robbing and plundering.

   The site of the skirmish is about halfway between Wheeling and Grafton on
the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The railroad itself carried the raw recruits
to the area, but not without a fight of another kind. The story reveals
something of the temper of the times.

   Col. Benjamin F. KELLEY, a regimental commander, asked the railroad to take
his forces to their assigned posts about 100 miles down the line. The
railroad refused, Lang says, "upon the grounds that the railroad company
proposed to remain neutral [and] would not carry either troops or munitions
of war for either side."

   Kelley responded that the railroad was obliged to serve the government that
guaranteed its protection, adding bluntly, "You have a train of cars in the
depot to-morrow morning [that is, Monday, May 27th] at four o'clock, or I
will place you in prison and take possession of your railroad by military

   The cars were waiting at the crack of dawn.

   Returning to the killing of Capt. Roberts, historian Lang takes pains to
challenge published accounts that the first Confederate casualty of the war
was a man named James JACKSON slain several days earlier in Alexandria, VA,
in a scuffle over the display of a Confederate flag.

   Lang insists Jackson's killing did not count as a war casualty because he
was a civilian. Jackson, proprietor of a hotel called the Marshall House in
the historic old town across from Washington, DC, shot and killed a popular
young military leader, Col. Elmer ELLSWORTH of the brilliantly-clad troops
known as Zouaves, on the morning of May 23 after Ellsworth had torn down a
Confederate flag displayed at the hotel. Jackson in turn was gunned down on
the spot by one of the colonel's aides.

   The 2nd Virginia's -- and the war's -- first Federal casualty bore striking
similarity to the killing of Capt. Roberts. This was the death on the night
of May 22 of a new recruit in Company B named T. Bailey BROWN. He was shot
to death after he and another member of the Grafton Home Guards defied a
Confederate picket at a railroad bridge. The guard, Daniel KNIGHT of the
25th Virginia Infantry (CSA), ordered the two men to halt. Instead, Brown
drew a revolver and fired at Knight, hitting him in the ear. Knight, armed
with an old-fashioned smooth-bore flintlock musket loaded with slugs,
returned fire, killing Brown almost instantly.

   The first land battle of the war, in which 2nd Virginia troops fought under
the banner of the 1st Virginia, was a relatively bloodless skirmish known
as the "Philippi Races." It took place on June 3 when the Federals drove
Rebel forces from the rail line south of Grafton. A total of 30 men on both
sides were wounded, but there were no deaths. This was seven weeks before
the first Battle of Bull Run/Manassas, where the war's horrific carnage
began in earnest.

   After Philippi, the various units of the regiment were brought together at
Beverly, where it was formally organized in July and set up camp on the old
courthouse square.

   Lang describes at length the campaigns, skirmishes and battles that took
the 2nd Virginia Infantry from Wheeling to Washington and back over its
three-year span. The first was a charge up Cheat Mountain 13 Sep 1861 when
troops commanded by Gen. Robert E. LEE were rousted "from their hot breakfast
in confusion" and driven from the field.

   "To this regiment is due, in part by its impetuous advance, the honor of
administering to Lee his first defeat," Lang concludes.

   Other principal actions in which the 2nd Virginia took part included
Allegheny Mountain, 13 Dec 1861; Cross Keys, 8 June 1862; Second Bull Run,
30 Aug 1862; Rocky Gap, 25-27 Aug 1863; and Droop Mountain, 6 Nov 1863.

   After Second Bull Run, the regiment stayed in Washington on guard duty for
nearly two months, returning to Beverly in late October.

   Lang cites no military action during the harsh winter of 1862-63, and it
appears both sides took advantage of the lull to send men home on furlough
in staggered shifts. Philip Kirsch's military file shows he took leave in
early April. It also indicates he was slow in reporting back for duty. After
lingering around home for a couple weeks beyond the expiration of his leave,
he turned himself in as AWOL and was hauled back to Wheeling.

   The net result of this escapade: he was dunned $1.87 for transportation and
Caroline gave birth the following January to their first-born son, Philip Jr.

   Kirsch got back to Beverly about the time fighting in the mountains

"On 23 April [Lang writes] the command was attacked by a superior force of
Confederates and compelled to leave Beverly. They returned May 21 and
remained at Beverly until ordered to Grafton to be mounted [i.e. converted
into a mounted infantry], during which time scouting expeditions were so
numerous that it was difficult to keep run of them."

   Lang does not mention the Cheat River raid in which the Company A
detachment was attacked and taken prisoner in a body, and Dyer's Compendium
of regimental histories makes only a slight reference to it. Lang's omission
seems a bit odd, since the masterful attack was directed by his older
brother, David. In a classic case of "house divided" split loyalties,
Theodore Lang served with the 6th West Virginia Infantry, fighting for the
Union cause, while David LANG rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the
62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry (CSA).

   A summary of the raid is contained in an official field report dated
1 Oct 1863 from Brig. Gen. John D. IMBODEN to the CSA Valley Division

   He wrote, in part, "I have the honor to report that Maj. D.B. Lang, 62nd
Virginia Infantry, whom I sent week before last, with 100 men on foot,
across the Allegheny, toward Barbour County, has returned safely
[to Staunton] without the loss of a man.

"On last Thursday night, the 24th, at midnight, he attacked a Yankee camp,
9 miles northeast of Beverly, where the Seneca trace, or road, crosses
Cheat River ... and captured the whole concern and brought them safely out,
except 2 so badly wounded they could not travel, and 1 drowned in the river
in attempting to escape. ..."

Imboden itemized booty taken with the captives as "38 horses, with new
saddles, bridles, and halters; 3 carbines, 31 Minie muskets, 3 swords,
1 pistol, with their accouterments, &c."

   Despite its success, the raid nearly was called off. An aide to Maj. Lang,
writing about the incident 40 years later, said the major himself sneaked
into the Yankee camp the night before to check things out, mulled over the
situation for 24 hours, slept on it, and changed his mind twice before
launching the attack.

"After he returned to his company on the mountain, he at first decided not
to take them, as their horses were jaded, although the object of the
expedition was to get horses to supply his command," Lt. H.H. STALNAKER
wrote in a magazine article.

"After waiting all day on the mountain side, they went down the next night
and captured all except one man, who made his escape [sic]."

   The official report on the raid from Imboden's Federal opposite, Brig. Gen.
William W. AVERELL, is surprisingly terse and peevish.

"All quiet 4 miles beyond Cheat Mountain Summit at 8 a.m.," he wrote on the
25th. "On the Seneca road a picket of the Second [West] Virginia was attacked
and captured this morning about daylight by about 100 rebels. The officer in
command of the picket had disregarded his orders. Our loss was about 30. I
have a hundred infantry in pursuit, and some cavalry ahead of the rebels. ..."

   Averell's cavalry troops may have been "ahead of the rebels," as he claimed,
but they didn't catch them.

   After the forced march to Staunton, Company A's "lost detachment" was
hustled by train to Richmond, where a week later the following small item
appeared in the Richmond Examiner:

"THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PRISONERS, irrespective of commissioned officers, held
in the various prisons and Belle Isle, numbered, up to yesterday, a trifle
over eight thousand five hundred and fifty. More are on their winding way.

"General Winder thinks we will have to entertain fourteen of fifteen thousand
of the "azure-stomached" race this winter. Good gracious, Mr. Commissioner
Ould, can't you do something for our relief? Already, like the locusts of
Egypt, they eat up our subsistence."

   Belle Isle would receive the lower-ranking prisoners; the lieutenant in
charge of the detachment and his noncommissioned aides would be held in
Libby Prison, which comprised a cluster of four-story brick converted tobacco

   The island prison camp was described in brutal frankness by B.S. DeFOREST,
a New York soldier held there about the same time as Kirsch. He wrote:

"There was no regular stockade, but an enclosure of about six acres,
surrounded by an earthbank, some three feet in height, having a ditch on
either side. The space, thus bounded was destitute of trees or verdure, the
ground being low and sandy, exposed in winter to wind and storm, and in
summertime scorched under the heat and glare of noonday, or dank with the
malarious fogs of night. ...

"No variety or even regulation of rations seems to have been known at Belle
Isle. The prisoners were fed as swine are fed. A chunk of corn bread, twelve
or fourteen ounces in weight, half baked; two or three spoonfuls of rotten
beans; soup thin and briny, with worms floating on its surface; the whole
ration never one-half the quantity necessary for a healthy man."

   A Federal surgeon sent by Washington to assess conditions at Belle Isle, in
a report dated 26 Nov 1863, said that by then prisoners no longer got meat
as part of their daily rations, but "are receiving nothing but corn bread
and sweet potatoes."

   The very next day, coincidentally, Belle Isle inmate John RANSOM would
write in his diary,  "From fifteen to twenty and twenty-five die every day
and are buried just outside the prison with no coffins -- nothing but canvas
wrapped around them."

   Philip Kirsch was released on 21 March 1864 and one week later, again by
coincidence, the Richmond Examiner published a farewell, of sorts, to him
and all his suffering brethren:

"THE LIBBY AND ITS TRIBUTARIES. - The spring crop of the Yankee bluebirds
have not yet begun to come in, while nearly all the old residents have
departed Northward or flown Southward. Belle Isle has almost reverted to the
possession of its original inhabitants, so small is the Yankee element there.
All the sick in the hospitals here, about eight hundred, will probably be
sent Northward by the next flag-of-truce."

   The poet Walt WHITMAN, who made a crusade of visiting prisoner of war camps,
both Northern and Southern, after his own brother was captured and sent to
Libby, happened to be in Richmond when some of the "Belle Isle bluebirds"
were set free. "Can those be men," he asked, "those little livid brown,
ash-streaked, monkey-looking dwarves?"

   The description no doubt fit Kirsch, who records show stood only 5 feet 6
inches tall, but the attending physician chose for his official diagnosis
the more delicate Latin word debilitus. Emaciated is a fair translation. His
prognosis: "Requiring no treatment other than the proper adaptation of diet
to his weak condition, which is merely the result of bad food."

   For good measure, the doctor also prescribed whiskey -- six ounces per day.


2nd Lt. James R. HUTCHINSON -- captured; held at Libby until end of war
Sgt. Michael CAMPBELL -- captured; exchanged
Sgt. Franklin H. SINGER -- captured; exchanged
Sgt. Harrison SMITH -- captured; held prisoner until end of war
Cpl. John	BREEN -- captured; exchanged 
Cpl. Chas. BRITCH -- captured; exchanged
Cpl. Samuel K. CROCO -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Benj. J. ACKELSON  -- wounded; re-enlisted 5 Jan 1864
Pvt. James CARRIGAN -- captured [at Cheat River?]; died at Andersonville
     15 June 1864 of ansarca (enrolled as CARRINGTON)
Pvt. Fred'k DICKROGER -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. George DIXON -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Wm. HEINE -- captured; died at Andersonville 5 Aug 1864 of diarrhea
     (enrolled 2nd VA as HINE)
Pvt. Louis HEINRICH -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Philip KIRSCH -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Benj. F. KURTZ -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Wm. LUDAKING -- captured; died at Andersonville 17 April 1864 of
     diarrhea (enrolled as LUDAHING)
Pvt. John 	McCLARREN -- captured; exchanged  
Pvt. F.H. McCLEANE -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Louis	METZ -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Saml. L. REYNOLDS -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Michael ROBLE -- captured; died at Andersonville 12 May 1864 of typhus
     (enrolled as ROBB)
Pvt. Peter ROMISER -- drowned trying to escape 
Pvt. Edward SALADIN -- captured; died at Andersonville 25 Sep 1864 of
     scorbutus (enrolled as SULLIVAN)
Pvt. John	STONE -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Wm. S. TAYLOR -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. Henry WAGNER -- captured; died at Richmond prison
Pvt. John WASHINGTON -- captured; exchanged at Andersonville 1 April 1865
Pvt. L.H. WEBSTER -- captured; died returning from unidentified prison
Pvt. Charles WERNER -- captured; exchanged
Pvt. George WILSON -- captured; exchanged

[NOTE: Above list, taken from Frank S. Reader's regimental history
(see below), lists 30 casualties but only one wounded man. All reports
say two were injured and left at the scene.]


REBELLION, Albany, NY, privately printed: 1866

Dyer Publishing Co.: 1895

Lang, Theodore E., LOYAL WEST VIRGINIA FROM 1861 - 1865, Baltimore, MD,
The Deutsch Publishing Co.: 1895

Lang, Winfield S., "Career of Lieut. Col. D.B. Lang," article in
CONFEDERATE VETERAN, Vol. XIII, No. 3 (March 1905), a monthly magazine
published in Nashville, TN

2ND VIRGINIA INFANTRY, New Brighton, PA, The Daily News: 1890

Government Printing Office: 1880-1900. (Series I - Volume XXIX/1 [S# 48])

Waitt, Robert W., LIBBY PRISON, Official Publication #12, Richmond Civil
War Centennial Committee, 1961-1965

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