August, September and October of 1862 were memorable months in this area's Civil War history.
The Jenkins incredibly swift and embarrassing raid across the state got the most attention. Jenkins literally shook the local military system. For example, at Weston, the Wheeling Intelligencer carried this article dated Sept. 8, 1862: "On Sunday morning just after daylight the town was entered by Gen. Jenkins and between five and seven hundred cavalry. Our troops were well aware of their approach, and were sleeping on their arms here. All was in readiness to meet them. After the rebels entered our outposts they made a charge in the direction of the camp, when Capt. Fisher, who was in charge of Companies A and G, of the 6th Virginia, ordered his men to retreat - an order which the men very much disliked to obey, especially as they had not called in their pickets and not a gun had been fired. They were forced to obey, however. They rallied on the hill at the north of the town and prepared to maintain their position. The firing had now commenced on the pickets. And either through fear or precaution Capt. F. ordered a general retreat, which so excited the men, that a general skedaddle ensued, excepting with a few of Co. G who rallied around Orderly Sergeant Dils and refused to run until they had had a shot."
At Spencer, the surrender by Col. J.C. Rathbone was roundly criticized. The newspapers of the time carried many views and carried letters from men involved on both sides of the issue. Some officers resigned their commissions in disgrace and roundly criticized Rathbone in public.
In Parkersburg, the raid alerted the local military and Parkersburg was put under martial law with a general alert, thinking that Jenkins might be coming to take Parkersburg, admittedly one of Jenkins original goals. This fear fed the paranoia of Parkersburg citizens, which continued throughout the war and was fed not only when there was a real potential attack on the town but also when there was a rumor of an attack. We have diaries of soldiers who had to "sleep on their arms" in Parkersburg in readiness for an attack that never came.
In Jackson County, Col. Frost was in charge of military activity. There were serious guerilla problems and the following article was published by the Wheeling paper dated Aug. 8, 1862: "From Jackson County. We understand that the Rangers of this county have been tolerably active during the past week. A number of horses have been stolen from Union men, and loyal citizens compelled to take an oath to support the Southern Confederacy. Lt. Col. Frost, of the 11th Virginia, who commands the post at Ravenswood, has issued the following orders: (1) In order to more effectually put a stop to the dissemination of treasonable information all assemblages of secession sympathizers, under any pretext whatever, within the county of Jackson, are for the present prohibited, and all persons who have reason to believe that they are suspected of disloyalty are directed to remain at home, unless the most imperative necessity calls them away. (2) Persons coming to Ravenswood on business are required to leave before dark, else to remain until the next morning without a satisfactory reason can be given for their departure after pickets are out. (3) Hereafter sales of the Cincinnati Enquirer are positively prohibited within the limits of the county. (4) No secession sympathizer will hereafter be permitted to go armed in the county of Jackson, and soldiers are instructed to seize all arms belonging to rebels and report with them to these Headquarters.
Col. Frost adopted a more rigid policy in his conduct of the war against the guerrillas, as he is satisfied that the only way to fight the devil is to do it with fire."
On Sept. 23 the Parkersburg Gazette reported that in Wirt County, "during the last two weeks this county has been overrun with guerrillas and horse thieves to a greater extent than ever before. Over one hundred of the most valuable horses, besides much property, has been taken, and many Union men are driven away. We enquire whether the treatment of this county has been fair. With a large rebel element the county has given more soldiers to the Union army in proportion to its population than any other county in the State, and yet she receives no protection. It is wrong and should be amended at once."
Also from Wirt County, we have a diary written by A.J. Vosburgh, an oil driller, who confirms the above reporting on Sept. 3, 1862 - "Day clear, warm and pleasant. In the morning shot at a mark. Geo. R & Orton went to town (Elizabeth) twice. I went to creek with Katie. (his horse) Soldiers came down on a retreat. Tried to press Katie but couldn't. Did all the rest of the horses on the creek (Standing Stone in Wirt Cty.). Col. Rathbone captured at Spencer. Everybody clearing out. "
Reports such as this were common throughout the counties surrounding Parkersburg in this period. As we noted before, it was so agitated in Calhoun County that they had no political system, because no one was willing to stand up and run for office.
We should note in Maryland the famous battle of Antietam had just been fought on Sept. 17, 1862, with great bloodshed - the largest single one day set of casualties in American history - 23,000 killed. To give some modern perspective, that figure can be compared to the 70,000 killed by the atomic bomb at Nagasaki at the end of WWII!
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 is the author of the book "Northwestern Virginia and the Civil War."