The guerrilla war ravages around Wood County remained a constant problem. It was so bad in Calhoun County there was literally no functioning government. No one wanted to hold office for fear of being attacked by either a Confederate or Union sympathizer.
The armistice between Col. Rathbone and Perry Hays, one of the principal guerrilla leaders in Calhoun County, brought in Gen. Kelly who was determined to make a concerted movement against the guerrillas. He had several assaults conducted with positive results. Camp Big Bend was attacked and a location on the Hughes River was attacked with the killing of several guerrillas and the capture of several key leaders and members.
The Wheeling Intelligencer on June 8, 1862, reported, "More Bushwhackers - Captain J. W. Myers of Co B, 11th Virginia arrived in the city last evening with the following Moccasin Rangers: Capt. George Downs, Calhoun County, Capt. Wm. Harris, Parkersburg, Wood County, Seth Rogers, Calhoun County, Newton Ratcliffe, Gilmer County, Jas. M. Morgan, Marion County. These men were captured at Big Bend, in Calhoun County, on the 2d inst, after a severe skirmish."
Several days later on the 13th it was reported, "Perry Hays and Silcott. These two notorious guerrillas, who have been marauding throughout Calhoun and adjoining counties for the last year, were brought to the city yesterday in charge of Capt. Baggs. They came into our camp under the armistice granted by Col. Rathbone, and in view of that fact, it is not yet determined what will be done with them."
"This city" obviously refers to Wheeling where the Athenaeum Prison was located. Undoubtedly this is where the prisoners were initially located, but would have then been transferred to the Federal fort in Columbus called Camp Chase.
Taking Perry Hays out of action was a major step in the fight against the guerrillas as Hays was a leader and respected person in Calhoun County. He would have been very persuasive in bringing in recruits. We mentioned in the last column that Hays and Rathbone would have been friends as they were both large landowners in the Wirt/Calhoun counties area. It was Hays' father when he was in Congress who appointed Stonewall Jackson to West Point, no small accomplishment. They had been early settlers in the area.
On the other hand, J.C. Rathbone and his family had come to Wirt County in the 1840s and settled at Burning Springs. At one point they had accumulated more than 10,000 acres of land in the area and were prosperous farmers and businessmen. When oil was discovered just north of them at California and Petroleum, they got started in the business and soon were reaping huge returns. By 1861, it was rumored that the Rathbones, J.C., J.V. and father W.P. were earning more than $10,000 a day. They leased their property in small acreages for $1,000 and acre, $1,000 when you struck oil and one-third of your well's oil in iron-bound barrels.
It is no wonder Burning Springs became a target during the war. It is no wonder that J.C. Rathbone financed a Union regiment, the 11th Union Infantry Regiment, to protect the area and his oilfield.
To bring this influence full circle, remember that P.G. Van Winkle was the Rathbones brother-in-law and was in Wheeling helping engineer the new state. He had just written the new constitution, was president of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad between Parkersburg and Grafton and was a key adviser to the new governor Pierpont. He also owned the P.G. Van Winkle Oil Co., run by his two sons, at Burning Springs. It should be obvious the Rathbones and the Van Winkles had a vested interest in protecting the West Virginia oilfields from destruction by the Confederate guerrillas.
It should be pointed out, however, neither Hays nor Rathbone had military backgrounds.
The other significant leader was George Downs, who was Hays' subordinate and also was an important catch for the Union. However, this did not put a stop to the guerrillas.
News from Parkersburg, quoted from the Parkersburg Gazette, June 18, 1862: "The Parkersburg Gazette announces a meeting to organize for a Fourth of July celebration. This is what we like to see. It says, also, that the crops generally look well in that region. The apple crop will not be large, but there is a fine promise of wheat, grass, peaches. &c. The Baltimore Road has an immense amount of freight accumulated there. The whole depot, wharf boats and surrounding grounds are overflowing. At the strawberry festival given by the Episcopal Church there, last Thursday evening, nearly two hundred dollars were realized. The Gazette publisher praises very highly, Senator Willey's speech on behalf of the new state."
Sounds as if Parkersburg was in a relative state of normalcy amidst the storm of war.
Willey was probably in town conferring with P.G. VanWinkle about the trouble in Congress about the new state constitution not having an antislavery provision. Willey was in the process of writing an amendment that would make the new constitution acceptable to Congress.
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. He may be contacted at email@example.com