Editor’s note: Paul Ray Blankenship passed away Sept. 30, 2010 after a long illness. He was a retired teacher and college professor, who wrote several books about the history of Oceana and surrounding areas. As a tribute to his achievements, his columns will continue in this newspaper. The following excerpt is reprinted, with his permission, from “From Cabins To Coal Mines, Volume I.” This is part three of “The Civil War Era 1861-65.”
In June 1861, William T. Sarver (1825-1900), a son of Henry and Catherine Tracy Sarver, raised a contingent of Confederate soldiers at Oceana. According to Rev. G.P. Goode’s narratives, this troop of Confederates rode immediately into the Kanawha Valley to help Gen. W.W. Loring establish Confederate control over the Kanawha Valley. Perhaps they went off to war with the same romantic notion as Hank Fleming, Stephen Crane’s immortal hero in “The Red Badge of Courage,” believing that war was some kind of glorious adventure. These Wyoming County soldiers, however, were soon engaged in battle at Scary Creek, Putnam County, on July 17, 1861, a battle in which the Confederate forces, commanded by Gen. Henry A. Wise, soundly defeated the larger Union army under the command of Gen. Jacob D. Cox, of Ohio.
An historical article in “The West Virginia Hillbilly,” September, 10, 1983, stated that the Confederate victory at Scary Creek on July 17, 1861 “...was short-lived, though, as military events in the northern sector of the state compelled Gen. Wise to retreat east out of the Kanawha Valley... In that retreat... the entire 22nd Virginia Infantry barely escaped capture by Cox’s troops near present-day Dunbar while aboard the steamer Julia Maffett, which they were forced to abandon and set aflame. But escape they did, although most of them returned to their homes rather than join the army’s retreat, in the belief that their purpose was only to defend their homes and vicinity.”
Apparently this first taste of battle helped some of them quickly see that war was little more than sacrifice, depravation, and blood. Following the battle at ScaryCreek, three Wyoming County soldiers, and perhaps more, left the army in the Kanawha Valley and returned home. According to Rev. Goode’s account, Randolph Brooks, Thomas C. Bailey, and Austin Cooper deserted by crossing the Kanawha River on a raft, crudely-made of pawpaw trees, scurried back to Wyoming County, and then lived for at least a year in a cave while raising a garden to supply food to their families. The cave where they lived was probably near present Glen Fork.
One can only wonder if Sarver, Brooks, Bailey, and Cooper, or other Wyoming County men, were aboard the steamer Julia Maffett and decided to make their return to Wyoming County after the boat was abandoned and burned.
Thomas C. Bailey, son of Isaac and Juda Cooke Bailey, apparently took no further part in the war. William Randolph Brooks (1829-1869), son of William and Nellie Cooke Brooks, enlisted in Company C, 45th Battalion Virginia Infantry, under Capt. James Russell Cooke, on May 18, 1863. Capt. Cooke was a brother-in-law of Randolph Brooks, being married to his sister, Malinda. Austin Cooper later joined the Union army and died at a military camp at Gallipolis, Ohio, in December 1862.
William T. Sarver, a prominent citizen of Oceana, became known as Captain Sarver, which perhaps resulted from his early Confederate serivce. Sometime before the war ended, Captain Sarver, like a good many others, joined the Union army. He was listed as a Union soldier in the 1890 Veterans Census of Wyoming County.
Note: Only a few copies of “From Cabins To Coal Mines, 1799-1999, Volume I” remain available. Cost is $45, which includes tax, at the Wyoming County Historical Museum in Oceana, open Tuesday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Saturday from noon until 4 p.m. The book has been reprinted by the Wyoming County Historical Museum Board of Directors. Additionally, a few copies of Volume II are now available for $55.
Add $5 for postage costs to have either book mailed.
To order, contact Betsy Ross, board treasurer, at 304-732-6995; or write her at P.O. Box 411, Pineville, WV 24874; or by e-mail at b