JACOB C. ECKES

Private, Company D,

Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment

B018

My Grandfather Eckess Fought In The Civil War

More Than One Hundred Years Ago

by Edward C. Jones, Jr. – March 25, 1969

(Note: My Dad made several small errors that have been identified by subsequent research and I have taken the liberty of correcting them.)

A few weeks ago, our son David brought home a history of the career of General Thomas Maley Harris, for whom the town of Harrisville, West Virginia is named. General Harris in his later years was a member of the panel that tried and convicted the slayers of President Abraham Lincoln, but his wartime career was brilliant as Commander of the Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. This history shows that Grandfather Eckess enlisted in the fighting regiment on March 17, 1862, in Company D, was wounded during the engagement at Stickley’s farm near Cedar Creek on October 13, 1864 and was mustered out at the end of the war, in 1865.

David, who has a keen interest in American history, is not content with these bare bones of his great grandfather’s war adventures, and has asked me to recall what I know of his war experiences. So I will do so, perhaps in rambling fashion, but reporting exactly what he told me during visits in 1921 and 1923. He was born in 1842, so he was 79 and 81 on those occasions. As a child I seldom heard him mention the Civil War, but, as an old man the war was again very real to him, and he recalled many stories in detail.

In 1921, with my brothers Hugh and Paul, we took our seven passenger Nash automobile and made an adventurous trip to Florida to visit our grandfather. (We went by Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charlotte, Columbia, Augusta and Jacksonville, the trip taking five days. We crossed the Cheat River at Ice’s Ferry, above Morgantown, on a flat boat that accommodated two cars, traveled all sorts of roads – narrow macadam, clay and sand – crossed over numerous rickety wooden bridges above the cypress swamps – often paying as much as $2.00 for the privilege – and broke a spring on a sandy road below Augusta. I was 22, Hugh was 20 and Paul 18).

Perhaps the thought has occurred to you – how did our Grandfather Eckess, who fought in the Northern Army, happen to live in the deep south? Well, that’s a story in itself. Sometime about 1907, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that West Virginia owed the State of Virginia a debt of over three million dollars, which with interest at 6%, amounted to more than fifteen million dollars. Grandfather was indignant. He had fought those rebels and won. Rather than be taxed to pay that huge sum to his late adversaries, he would sell his farms and leave West Virginia.

Florida was then a new frontier. He and Grandmother Eckess were over 65, but they pulled up stakes. He left grandmother the formidable task of selling his two farms, the livestock and equipment, their home and all possessions, while he sought a new life for them. In those days it was like moving to Alaska or Australia, a big undertaking for older people. Grandmother died soon after, and her children thought it was from loneliness and a broken heart.

We found his farm at Dinsmore, ten miles above Jacksonville and grandfather was there to greet us. He was a wiry little man, about five feet, eight inches tall, with ruddy clear skin, bright blue eyes and a magnificent head of snow white hair and flowing moustache to match.

He took us to the barn to show us a live six-foot long rattlesnake which he had in a fertilizer sack. He and his English bulldog had caught it the day before we arrived and he kept it for us.

A couple of weeks earlier he had been troubled with an aching tooth. When it hurt too bad he took a hammer and nail and knocked it out – which gives you an idea of what a stout character was my Grandfather Eckess.

I know very little about my grandfather’s boyhood or early days, except that he was born on September 15, 1842 in Lewis County, then Virginia, and on March 17, 1862, when he was twenty years old, he joined the Tenth Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which later became the Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

In the early days of the War, young Jacob Eckess was with the troops at Weston and Buckhannon. West Virginia was torn in sympathy between North and South and there was much marauding by stragglers from both sides. The Tenth West Virginia Regiment had the assignment of protecting the citizens of the very new State, which was threatened by guerrillas and shortly after, by General William E. Jones and his Confederate Regulars. I don’t believe his wartime experiences brought him quite to Fairmont, but he pointed out to me a spot along the road from Pruntytown to Webster where his Company bivouacked by a spring.

One of Grandfather Eckess’s first duties was to help fill the covered bridge at Philippi with hay on a rumor that General Jones was on his way. It didn’t happen then, but when the southerners came later, they crossed the bridge without much trouble. They came to Fairmont in what is known as Jones’ Raid. They marched up the old Beverly Turnpike, and stopped at Watson Spring (in our own backyard). They intended to find Governor Francis Pierpont, who was named as the Governor of the Restored State of Virginia, but couldn’t find him, so they burned his library in the street, rounded up all of the horses, cattle and sheep that they could find and drove them back south through Kip and Nancy’s and David’s present front lawns, fighting skirmishes along the way.

I am indebted to General Harris’ history for the following facts concerning the 1864 Campaign of the Union Army in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, in which my Grandfather was wounded.

By the spring of 1864 the war situation in the new State of West Virginia had quieted so the fighting Tenth West Virginia Infantry Regiment was ordered to join General Philip H. Sheridan’s forces to the east. Confederate General Jubal A. Early’s southern forces had pushed as far north as Harper’s Ferry, Martinsburg and Cumberland, and the Northern Army was on the defensive.

He controlled those areas and proved it by destroying the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridges, tracks and repair yards. His men drove the B&O ironclad trains south. General Early hoped to either push as far north as Pittsburgh, or swerve to the east and capture Washington. He almost succeeded in the latter, actually getting within sight of the Capitol.

So the men of the Tenth West Virginia Infantry Regiment made a forced march east to Martinsburg. Recently inducted men from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania were also hurried to the front, but two-thirds of them were raw recruits and almost useless. However, the Army of the South was short of supplies and many of the soldiers were barefoot. Soon a more experienced Northern Army was assembled and many sharp engagements followed. The Tenth West Virginia Infantry Regiment during this period was used for scouting and patrol duty, but were often harassed by the enemy and withdrawn to Harper’s Ferry for protection that they began to call it Harper’s Weekly”.

As the Union Army grew in strength, it began to take the offensive and General Early began a slow retreat southward. Heavy fighting marked the battles of Cool Spring, Kernstown and Berryville. By the time of the Battle of Winchester in September, the Tenth West Virginia Infantry had lost half of their officers and men, killed, wounded or captured. The northerners had laid waste to the rich Valley of Virginia, but General Early was still a strong adversary. It is interesting to note that after these bloody battles, field hospitals were set up, and Union Army hospital supplies were generously divided with the Southern Army doctors who stayed behind to care for their wounded.

In early October, General Grant ordered General Sheridan to withdraw to Harper’s Ferry, and the retreating Confederates turned about to follow the Union Army north. On the morning of October 13, 1864, the Union Army was camped near Cedar Creek. They had stacked their arms, believing the enemy was far to the south. At noon, general Sheridan’s men were quietly lounging in camp, preparing dinner, playing cards and enjoying themselves. The pursuing Confederates came upon this peaceful scene and decided to attack. A battery of artillery was placed in position and as luck would have it, guessed the exact range with the first shot. As the Union officers sat down to dinner, the first shell landed among them.

The Tenth West Virginia Infantry received orders to move out to ascertain the strength and position of the enemy. At the top of a hill they were met with a hailstorm of bullets. Harris saw the folly of combating an unknown force, and led his brigade by flanking movement to a sheltering woods some 200 yards away. The opposing forces, commanded by General Joseph Kershaw, raked the woods with withering fire and the Tenth West Virginia Volunteers retreated in disorder, losing 46 men, killed or wounded, and four missing.

About 1923 my father wrote to him suggesting that he come to West Virginia and go with the family to visit a number of Civil War sites. Grandfather came, and my brother Paul drove the car on a tour of the battlefields, including Gettysburg, although the Tenth West Virginia did not participate in that battle.

Jacob C. Eckess and a Model 1861 3 inch Ordinance Rifle at Gettysburg
Jacob C. Eckess and a Model 1861 3 inch Ordinance Rifle at Gettysburg

At one of the battlefields, Granddad gave them a first hand account of the battle action, pointing out the landmarks, and identifying the embattled troops. He found an opening or gate in a stonewall where he had been stationed as a sentry shortly before the battle began. As the firing grew hotter he looked for someone to change his orders so that he could take cover. Troops were streaming through and he appealed to the officers to permit him to leave his post, but no one had the authority to do so. Finally, to his relief, his commanding officer came and ordered him to abandon his station. Now, sixty years later, he was back on the same ground.

My father and mother took grandfather Eckess to the scene of other war experiences. As they drove down the Valley of Virginia toward Strasburg and Fisher’s Hill, they came to a historic monument marked “Belle Grove Inn”. Grandfather was dozing in the backseat. They drove down the long lane and pulled up at a stately mansion that had been General Sheridan’s headquarters.

Belle Grove Plantation
Belle Grove Plantation

As the car stopped, Grandfather awakened. “Do you know where we are?” my father asked. “Yes”, my grandfather replied without hesitation, “one day and night I walked guard duty across this entrance!” He had recognized the place instantly, a full sixty years later.

Jacob C. Eckess
Jacob C. Eckess

At the end of the War, Jacob Eckess married, settled at Rock Cave, and soon had two prosperous farms and a fine home that he built in the little town. He and my grandmother had six children, four daughters and two sons. The eldest daughter married a man named Smith, the second a man named Brown, and the third daughter lived up to expectations by marrying a man named Jones. That’s how I got into the picture.

Signed by Edward C. Jones, Jr. – March 25, 1969