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The Fourth (West) Virginia

"There were no Virginia regiments that served in the Western Theater," was a comment posted recently on a Civil War forum I visit from time to time. Of course I immediately replied knowing full well that Virginia units served at Fort Donelson as well as at Chickamauga. Well, came the reply "well, I'll be darned, but no WEST Virginia units served in the west." He had me at that one, but only briefly while I fired up my browser and did a bit of a search. It took me a few moments, but there it was, the Fourth (West) Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The Fourth was a bit of an unknown entity to me as my Western Theater focus has nearly always been on the Army of the Ohio\Cumberland and their foes. So, I decided to search on and learn about the Fourth.

My memory then kicked in...I knew there was a Federal Virginia infantry regiment that was formed in Ohio, its ranks filled by mostly Ohioans. Jumping over to the excellent Ohio in the Civil War website (thank you, Larry Stevens!), clicking on the infantry link, I scrolled to the bottom on the page. There it was, that same Fourth Virginia. According to the website seven of the ten companies came from Ohio counties (Athens, Gallia, Lawrence, and Meigs in southeastern Ohio). Initially serving mostly in what would later become West Virginia, the Fourth would see marches, campaigns, and a few battles, mostly within the Kanawha River valley.

James H. Dayton

On December 28, 1862, the Fourth Virginia, along with the Thirtieth, Thirty-Seventh, and Forty-Seventh Ohio Infantry Regiments, all under command of Brigadier-General Hugh Ewing, was ordered out of the Department of West Virginia and sent to General Grant’s command on the Mississippi River, where they were attached to the 15th Army Corps as part of Francis Blair's Second Division, forming the Third Brigade. Colonel James. H. Dayton would command the Fourth at Vicksburg, Missionary Ridge, and the relief of Knoxville. At Vicksburg four men of the Fourth would earn the Medal of Honor as part of the assault on May 18th, its colors were "torn to rags by bullets, both color sergeants killed, and all the color guard but one killed or wounded." After Chattanooga, Knoxville, and a raid into Alabama, the Fourth would return to the east in 1864, serving mostly within the Shenandoah Valley.

Colonel Joseph A. J. Lightburn was the initial commander of the Fourth, and at Vicksburg was commanding a brigade within the Second Division, albeit not the brigade that contained the Fourth. However he penned this letter back to a friend in (West) Virginia:

Head Quarters 2 Brigade

Walnut Hills in rear of Vicksburg

June 17, 1863

My Dear George

Joseph A.J. Lightburn - West Virginia University

Yours of the 2 Inst. has this moment been received to which I hasten a reply, first in relation to a position in the Virginia regiments. I know nothing about any of them except the 4th which is here and in the 4th the position of surgeon is filled I also desire to say that anything I can do that would obtain you a position I will gladly do, first on account of you competency to discharge the duties of surgeon and the efficient Manner in which you discharged those duties while under My Command, and secondly, our social relations have been of that character that I can recommend you as a gentleman, and if your health should continue as good as you say it has been I hope you will succeed in getting that position as I believe it would benefit the service, as to news here I suppose you have probably More particulars than actually exist. We have the city so invested that not even a single individual can escape we have occupied this position for some time our troops are in some place within 75 yards of the enemies works which are said to be as strong as the works around Sebastopol, We have had almost an incessant fire for 25 days, and will take Vicksburg but how would not be prudent for me now to say, My old regiment suffered terribly in the charge made on the enemies works her loss on the first day was 147. including 11 officers amongst the reported killed was Major Goodspeed. who we have since learned by Rumor was wounded and a prisoner the old 4th had gained rather an enviable reputation for discipline and has fully sustained herself in battle. I am doubly paid for what labor I had bestowed on it as a regiment.

I thank you for your congratulations, and for the interest that you and your people exhibit for My success, and I shall ever make it My duty to so demean Myself that it can never be said I have betrayed the confidence of My people and government. My best respect to your father your lady and family, and particularly to the young J. A. J. of which you speak. You must excuse this hasty scrip as My Brigade is in front and I write under fire. We have been carrying on war on a large scale and the firing at times is terrific so much so that it would try the nerves of an old soldier I will give you particulars when we get into Vicksburg provided you will grant me the favor not to have any of My letters published as I am down on Newspaper puffing.

The Boys in the 4th that are left are all well. Capt. Lightburn was struck three times - one shot struck his watch which saved his life, his wound was very slight. Luther was shot through the clothing. I received two shots on striking My sword and another through My coat, they all send their Respects.

I Must close write frequently

yours. Fraternally

J. A. J. Lightburn

Brig Genl.

Comg 2 Brigade

2 - Division 15 Army Corps

Army of the Tennessee

Ewing's brigade, which included the Fourth, denoted by orange oval

From the The Gallipolis Journal, June 11, 1863 edition, is this letter written to Captain Milton Stewart of the 13th West Virginia, who had served in the Fourth.

Camp near Vicksburg, Miss., May 24th, '63 (Station[ed] under a hill behind a big tree.)

Friend Milton:

You may want to hear from the fight by this time, which is now in progress, and the Lord only knows how it is going to terminate, yet I have hopes for the best. We have them comfortably surrounded, and there is no way they can get out without they cut their way out, and we are throwing up rifle pits every night, and in a few nights we will have a row of rifle pits along the whole line. I should not wonder but we could stop them without, but nothing lost by being on the safe side. I do not think we can drive them out, as the rebels' works are very strong, and they have plenty of men to put in them too.

Our regiment in one charge lost one hundred and fifty men killed, wounded and missing. Lieut. Bell was wounded, Major Goodspeed killed, Lieuts. Dale and Ong were wounded, taken prisoner and paroled the next day. They are now at Young's Point, La. Jim Neal, the color bearer, was killed.—We had our flag up to their works but both bearers were shot, and when they fell back they grabbed up one flag and took it with them, and Cpl. Clendinen fell as though he was dead, and lay until night, when he took the other flag off the field safe. He was promoted the next day to Sergeant. Our boys fought well and have made themselves a good name. Capt. Roswell was wounded in the side, Adjt. Stanbury was shot in the arm, and other officers received slight wounds. Capt. Lightburn came near being shot; it struck his watch and tore it all to pieces, thus saving his life.

"Old Joe" is here now but has no command as yet. Some think he will be assigned a command in our Division. If he does, he will be in our Brigade. He was very uneasy when he heard how near we were approaching a fight, and he not there. He got here in time to take us into the last charge we made; he took command of two Regiments, and Gen. Ewing the other two. Both led off like heroes.—Gen. Ewing had his sword shot off, and old Joe had some holes shot in his clothes.

Boss Brooks is all right; he has gone into every charge with us, and was the only one of the "sheep-skins" that did. I must now close. By the way, I forgot to tell you Capt. Grayum was wounded in the arm.—Col. Dayton is all right; he took things as cool as if it had been a battalion drill. Write soon.

I am yours, &c.


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