The Henderson's and the Civil War

The Civil War called on many to make sacrifices and the Hendersons were no exception. Family patriarch George Washington Henderson was elected in 1861 to serve in the Wheeling Convention which necessitated spending a great deal of time away from his family, his farm and the Henderson's burgeoning oil business.

G.W. was one of 70 delegates from Wood County to the First Wheeling Convention. But you won't find Henderson's name among the representatives for the Reformed Virginia House of Delegates because he was a replacement for Parkersburg physician Dr. J.W. Moss who joined the Union Army as a physician/surgeon. After discovering numerous letters in the Henderson Hall archives exchanged during that time period between G.W. and his wife Elizabeth, and other family members, Dave McKain did some searching and discovered the appointment, at the same time asking Charleston officials to enter G.W.'s name on the rolls of the delegates so future historians could have accurate information of his service

A December 1862 letter from G.W. to his wife Elizabeth in part reads: "We got the news yesterday evening of the passage of the act admitting the State of West Virginia to the Union which was hailed with the firing of 35 guns and many muskets. This session will close, I think, next week, and an adjournment is to be made to Alexandria, to commence sometime in the fore part of January, with the probability of remaining a few weeks, and then bidding farewell to Old Virginia."

When the president signed the statehood bill, it was thought there would be a new West Virginia legislature which would meet in Wheeling. The old Reformed Virginia Legislature (Union), would move to Alexandria, where Governor Pierpont and the old Legislature would govern those parts of Virginia still in the Union - Norfolk, Alexandria and parts of the eastern shore occupied by Union forces. This did not happen because they had to wait until the new Constitution was passed by popular vote and the date for statehood was set for June 20, 1863. At that time, the Virginia legislature and the governor did move to Alexandria governing from there until the end of the war in 1865.

Like so many of the time, Henderson family members were divided in their opinions of the war and the politics surrounding the war which often resulted in tension and heartache.

There are letters in the Henderson Hall archives written to and from sisters Mary Henderson Beeson and Margaret Wallace Henderson, who later married local dentist Dr. Charles Bartlett which shed light onto what must have been a heart-wrenching division of loyalties and love.

Mary was married to Benjamin Beeson, a prominent member of the Parkersburg community and a Confederate sympathizer.

G.W. Henderson, the girls' father had been a slave owner, and although other members of his family supported the secessionists, he became an ardent Union supporter. His son G.W. Henderson Jr. who was enrolled as a student at Marietta College at the time and was an ardent Unionist.

In a letter writtten in August 1861, from Mary to Margaret, Mary says in part: "Why don't you write? You need not be offended at me because (brother) George so foolishly got angry. I hope you will not resent his imaginary insults, but he got so angry for no one meant to insult him. We spoke in all kindness but he so far forgot himself as to wish we were all dead. He wishes all secessionists dead and their children. I told him he includes me and my children and he said, well if we were such fools as to be secessionist, but I forgive him, he knew not what he said. I cannot resent such things though I can never forget them. I maintain the same feeling for you that I always did. We bear no enmity though there have been hard words & insinuations."

In a letter dated later in August, Mary says: "I have written three times without an answer & if my poor letters are not wanted I will trouble you no more. If I am not old enough to think & judge for myself with(out) receiving the contempt of the family I am very, very sorry. I know there are enemies at work to break up the friendship which has existed between our families. It is well to remember that the dog that will carry a bone one way will carry another back and although none of the family would come near me in my great trial (probably when her husband was arrested for his views) or in any way show that they remembered the ties of kindred. Neither of us would by word or deed do anything to harm or injure any one of you. On the contrary if you were in trouble we would do All We could to assist or help you (even George) with all his bitterness. He dare not deny that when he was telling us he wished us all dead, or he wished all secessionists killed, was assured by Ben that if in these times of trouble he or any of you got in trouble he would not forsake you but would help you all he could. I should think our (or your) family had trouble enough to know that even sympathy in trouble was highly valued. I would be glad to remain in friendship with the family. I would like to see you all (but George). I have forgiven his cruel words but I do not want to see him. Time may wear off the edge of bitterness but it is very hard for a sister to be told such bitter words by a brother whom she has nursed and tendered and dearly loved from his infancy, but I suppose loyalty now must supersede anything else with him. Ever your affectionate sister, M.P. Beeson."

Other family letters in the archives at Henderson Hall relate illness at home while G.W. was serving in Wheeling, including diphtheria. To add to the trauma, G.W. Henderson Jr. died on Jan. 3, 1863 of Typhoid Fever.

- Pam Brust, Henderson Hall historian/research assistant