PARKERSBURG -Most West Virginians take pride in celebrating the state's birthday, particularly Thursday's sesquicentennial.
For 97-year-old Rachel Perine, the day is particularly special. Her father, Harvey Smith, served the Union during the Civil War from which West Virginia was created.
That's not a typo.
Rachel Perine holds a photo of her father, Civil War veteran Harvey Smith. Perine, 97, is the state’s last living son or daughter of a Civil War veteran. She takes pride in West Virginia Day knowing her father served in the war that created the state. (Photo by Jody Murphy)
Perine's father served in the Civil War, joining the Union Army in August 1862 in Wheeling.
"It's a little special," she said. "I'm proud of my father; that he served."
Perine's mother, Virginia Elliott of Ritchie County, married the 70-year-old Civil War veteran in 1915. Elliott, who was 25 when she married Smith, died in 1972.
Smith, who fathered 11 children from his first marriage, had four children with Elliott. Rachel was the oldest, born in 1916. The family lived in Arnold's Creek in Doddridge County, where Smith ran a large farm that included gas and oil tracts.
Perine, who was 13 when her father died in 1929, at age 83, recalled him as quite a talker. He was a popular man who enjoyed company, she said.
"If he rode his horse to town, he didn't get back until after dark. He was a great talker," she said. "We'd hear him singing when he came home."
Perine said house guests would stay up until late at night talking with Smith.
"If anybody came to the house they didn't go to bed," she said.
But Perine recalls little of her father's tales from the war or views on statehood.
"If he did, I can't remember," she said. "Kids don't pick up on that. It doesn't interest them."
"He talked, he talked about the war. I didn't realize at the time how important his words were," she added.
Perine retains some of her father's papers from the war. She has Army papers detailing his pension. And she was a member of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic, established to perpetuate the memory of Union soldiers.
Less than two years after he enlisted, Smith was captured at Cloyd's Mountain, Va., on May 9, 1864. He spent six months as a prisoner of war, including a 20-day stint at the infamous Andersonville prison in Georgia.
Perine remembers her father talking about an incident that occurred in Andersonville one summer night.
"He was on the upper end of the prison grounds. He heard a commotion on the lower end during a storm. Water from a well began gushing up and the soldiers were drinking it. Some died because they drank so much water after not having any for so long," she said.
A structure was later built around the site at Andersonville called "Providence Spring." Perine has made three trips to Andersonville to tour the grounds; her last was more than 30 years ago.
One of Perine's great-granddaughters wrote a paper about Smith for a social studies project in 2001.
According to records and Internet databases, there are little more than 30 living sons and daughters of Civil War veterans in the United States. Perine is the last in West Virginia. She and her husband, Benjamin, settled in Parkersburg in 1952, raising two sons. Benjamin passed away in 1980.
In addition to Perine, there are three sons of Charles Parker Pool, a Ritchie County native who served in the 6th W.Va. Infantry. Pool moved to Missouri following the war, marrying twice and bearing several children.
Pool died in 1933, at age 89, but three sons- Garland, Ernest and William- are still alive and well in Missouri. Garland Pool was born in 1927.
Perine remains a life-long West Virginian. She spent a few winters in Florida, but gave it up to stay at home.
"I was born here," she said. "It's a beautiful state."