At this point, May 1861, the proposed Constitution for the new state had been sent to Washington.
Nationally, the ironclads Monitor and Merrimac had had their battle, Confederate Gen. Johnson had attacked Gen. McClellan in his march toward Richmond in the Peninsular Campaign and Gen. Lee was appointed head of the Confederate forces. In the west, Union Adm. Farragut had taken New Orleans, the South's greatest seaport.
Locally, troops were still marching through Parkersburg to join masses of troops in Virginia. New buildings and corrals were being erected to handle the goods flowing by railroad from Ohio and west to the eastern war front. And the guerrillas were still attacking the railroad to try and halt this massive movement of troops and goods to support Union forces.
Guerrillas marauding in Wirt, Calhoun and Roane counties were a continuing problem, primarily from Captain Down's and Perrigrin Hay's guerrilla units. Col. Rathbones's 11th Infantry Regiment troops were pursuing the guerrillas at every turn and it appears that both sides were getting weary of this activity. There were numerous troops killed and captured, mainly in the guerrilla ranks.
The Parkersburg Gazette reported on May 21, 1862, that Gen. Kelly, commander of forces in this part of Virginia, was in the city and, "On Sunday morning he made arrangements and started off a detachment of the Ringgold Cavalry and part of Myers and Simpson's companies of Col. Rathbone's 11th Virginia. In a very short time he left with his staff and Capt. Baggs leaving Capt. Dickey in command of the post. He soon overtook the force and took the advance. He found no enemy at Elizabeth or Burning Springs, but on Wednesday at about four miles beyond the latter place, they met a large body of guerrillas and after a severe skirmish, killing 18 and taking 22 prisoners, they drove the enemy to the woods. The information is pretty clear that the robbers were in considerable force at Big Bend (Calhoun County), and would make a stand there. We have no doubt they will experience the benefit of being killed a little."
This caused one of the more interesting events to take place in this war-weary zone. Confederate Capt. Downs, Hays and Union Col. Rathbone decided to declare an "Armistice" to give time for a needed rest and possibly rethinking of positions. A Judge in Calhoun County wrote and negotiated the armistice and word quickly spread - including to the newspapers and then to the Union hierarchy, including Rathbones's boss, Gen. Kelly, who was in charge of troops in the area. He quickly pointed out to Col. Rathbone that he had no authority to declare an "Armistice" and voided the action, severely reprimanding Rathbone.
The Wheeling Intelligencer reported on May 29, 1862, "That Armistice with the Guerrillas - From the Ravenswood Chronicle - It appears the Perry Hays and his brother Captain, have persuaded Colonel Rathbone to enter into an armistice for eight days, at the end of which period, either to surrender up themselves and their commands or leave the State. This is, as near as we have been able to learn, the substance of the agreement.
"It is said these fellows claim to be regular officers and soldiers of the Confederate army and present that they don't have any affinity with rangers or guerrillas. To controvert this point of regularity, which they have doubtless made for the purpose of screening themselves from the punishment awarded to captured guerrillas, it is only necessary to refer to the nature of their organization. These fellows have no such organization as regiments, brigades or divisions."
The armistice was discarded and it was obvious that the union forces were on the ascendancy. The guerrillas were at a distinct disadvantage being semi-official units, with informal organizations and not supported by the regular southern Confederate army.
It should be pointed out that short-term lulls or truces in fighting were frequently called to clear bodies and wounded from a battlefield, or during inclement weather, but these were usually only for a few hours and infrequent and usually approved ahead of time by higher headquarters. It should also be pointed out that neither Rathbone, Downs or Hays were trained military and in addition were neighbors and friends - and probably didn't want to kill each other. It is also likely that Rathbone would have been relieved from his command had he not had very high connections in his brother-in-law, Peter G. VanWinkle, who just wrote the state Constitution and was president of the critical railroad headquartered in Parkersburg. These men were farmers and businessmen - and oilmen - and apparently were getting tired of war. But the die was cast, and Gen. Kelly was in no mood for such negotiations. War is war, and Rathbone was informed that his duty was to continue to eradicate the guerrillas - not make peace with them.
We want to take this opportunity to announce that the Civil War Roundtable is sponsoring a new exhibit at the Oil and Gas Museum of original art from several newspapers - notably Harper's Weekly and Leslie's Weekly. The exhibit is made up of original lithograph prints mostly of Western Virginia scenes. The prints are from the Oil and Gas Museum's collection and several from the archives of Henderson Hall. Dates will be announced later. Also, we are sponsoring a Civil War play to be presented at the Smoot Theatre this fall about the events in the area during this tumultuous period. Details to be announced.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.