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 eight of “The Civil War Era 1861-65.”
The Shannon family of Wyoming County, descended from James and Sarah Layne Shannon through their sons James Shannon (1787-1881) and Rev. Layne Shannon (1789-1865), was among the early settlers of the county. James Shannon, a son-in-law of Capt. Edward McDonald, arrived in 1802 with his father-in-law. He built a large plantation-farm near present Brenton and owned several slaves.
Rev. Layne Shannon, who had arrived in Wyoming County shortly after his brother, settled at present Sun Hill.
Though the Shannons were mostly Confederate in loyalties and actions, there was division, to some degree at least, on the issues of the Civil War.
The older sons of James and Mary McDonald Shannon — Myles, Lloyd, Reece, Powell, Augustus, and Fielden Shannon — left Wyoming County prior to 1860 and headed to Kansas with the supposed purpose of joining the pro-slavery forces which were active there. The extent of their participation in the war was apparently confined to that part of the country. They did not return to Wyoming County.
Wyatt Ballard Shannon (1831-1900) and Albert Shannon (1843-1935), sons of James Henderson and Rena Gore Shannon and grandsons of Rev. Layne and Mattie Cohen Shannon, became Federal soldiers, unlike most of the other Shannon men.
Wyatt Ballard Shannon, who married Sarah Abigail Gadd, owned a large, prosperous farm at Sun Hill, west of Oceana. He became a man of many trades — merchant, blacksmith, cobbler (shoemaker), miller, carpenter, farmer, village postmaster, and community casket maker. The river gristmill he owned was capable of grinding up many bushels of corn a day into cornmeal.
Shannon’s prosperous farm was likely a natural target for some of the roving bands of rebel Home Guards. As a result, Wyatt Ballard Shannon was nearly hanged by some of these rebels.
According to the story told by his son, Lightburn Lane Shannon (1866-1952), the rebels showed up at the Shannon farm one day and placed W. B. Shannon under arrest. One of the more extreme members of the band wanted to “string him up,” using the rope attached to the well bucket, and some other members quickly concurred. In the band of rebels, however, was a man named Elijah Tiller, who was well-acquainted with Shannon. Tiller pleaded for Shannon’s life and the others finally decided against hanging him. Mrs. Sarah Gadd Shannon (1837-1918), wife of Wyatt B. Shannon, may have had some influence in saving her husband as well, as several of her brothers were serving as Confederate soldiers.
Wyatt Ballard Shannon joined Capt. William Walker’s Company, 190th West Virginia Militia, on February 25, 1863. His narrow escape from the noose may have persuaded him to make that decision. Or his prior service in this unit may have been the reason why the rebel Home Guard wanted to hang him.
Wyatt Ballard Shannon was later elected Sheriff of Wyoming County (1885-1889), moved to Oceana and built a home in town, bought a newspaper, and lived the remainder of his years at Oceana. Both W. B. and Sarah A. Gadd Shannon were buried in the Cook Cemetery in Oceana.
Albert Shannon (1843-1935), younger brother of Wyatt B. Shannon, likewise joined Capt. William Walker’s Company of the 190th West Virginia Militia on February 2, 1863.
The story of Confederate soldier Newsome Shannon (8 Feb 1840-13 Dec 1862), youngest son of Rev. Layne and Mattie Cohen Shannon, was one of the more poignant ones arising from the hardships of the war. It was a story in which the war took the father before he ever saw his unborn son and a story in which the son came into the world as a fatherless infant.
When young Shannon, newly-married, first joined the Confederate army, his father, Rev. Layne Shannon, was able to bring him back home by providing a replacement for his son. Shannon had married Martha “Mattie” Bailey (1842-1900), daughter of James and Delilah Gore Bailey, who had several brothers serving in the Confederate army, Alexander J. Bailey, Miles H. Bailey, Theodore F. Bailey.
In addition, two of Newsome Shannon’s sisters, Emily and Levisa, were married into the strongly pro-Union family of William and Catherine Stewart Cooke. Emily Shannon (1816-1854) had been the wife of James Cooke, Esq., and Levisa Shannon (1827-18??) was the wife of George Paris Cooke. Most, if not all, of his Cooke in-laws and Cooke nephews were Union men.
Shortly after his return, however, Newsome Shannon —– no matter the wishes of his father and wife — rejoined the Confederate army and marched off once again, leaving behind his pregnant wife.
Following a forced march in the rain, young Sergeant Newsome Shannon took sick and died of pneumonia on December 13, 1862, while encamped in Monroe County, (W)Va. In the few months he had been in the army, young Shannon had begun compiling a journal of his experiences and impressions. Doubtless it was with great sadness that Capt. Alexander J. Bailey, Shannon’s brother-in-law as well as his commander, wrote his sister Mattie on the front cover of her husband’s diary, under the date December 13, 1862:
“Mattie you have Lost a good & prized husband & I as well as the rest have lost a good friend & we regret the Loss of him very much in our Cd. as well as the Loss of a friend.”
The diary was returned to the family and is now a family heirloom.
Twenty-two-year-old Confederate soldier Newsome Shannon never saw his only son, Theodore Floyd Shannon (1863-1933), and Mattie Bailey Shannon, war widow, married Isaac Edward Cooke (1840-1927), son of Jacob Hartley and Malinda Chambers Cooke.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.