The 1842 decision to carve a county into existence from the neighboring counties of Monongalia and Harrison in Virginia, and to name the new county in honor of the celebrated American Revolutionary War Brigadier General Francis Marion, could be seen as prescient by the end of the Civil War. Throughout the Revolutionary War, Marion’s Partisans harassed the British Army with guerrilla tactics which continue to inspire special warfare doctrine into the twenty-first century. It was upon the exploits of General Marion whom the protagonist of the Roland Emmerich-directed historical fiction movie The Patriot (2000) starring Mel Gibson was based. Although the film’s central character “Benjamin Martin” did not actually exist in real life, the real life Martin family of Marion County actually did leave their mark on a brutal chapter in American history.
The guerrilla saboteur Blackburn Davis (1842-1882) was himself a Martin. His mother Sarah Martin Davis (1805-1850) was a daughter of Joshua Martin (1769-1849) and Katharine Tetrick Martin (1776-1852), who married on August 12, 1796 in Harrison County. Sarah Martin Davis married Asa S. Davis (1802-1890) on January 4, 1824 in Harrison County. In 1824, Harrison County also saw the birth of Confederate States Army Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. The performance of his soldiers throughout the legendary Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 solidified the status of Stonewall Jackson as one of the greatest Confederate States Army officers, second only to General Robert E. Lee.
Stonewall Jackson’s cousin Colonel William L. Jackson, another native of Harrison County, also fought in the Valley Campaign of 1862. Although Colonel William L. Jackson served on the staff of his cousin at that time, he had previously been responsible for organizing volunteers in northwestern Virginia for service in the Confederate States Army, and he had served as the original commander of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment.
The 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment consisted almost entirely of companies from the area that is now known as the State of West Virginia, including the counties of Harrison and Marion. Company A originally constituted itself on May 17, 1861 in Fairmont as a state guard infantry militia called the Marion Guard. Along with Blackburn Davis and his twin brother Jesse Davis, their cousins Benjamin Koon Martin and Henry Flowers Martin enlisted together on May 17. Another cousin, Ezekiel Martin, had moved away from Marion County before the war but enlisted in Company A at Huttonsville on June 14, where the companies of the 31st first organized together as a regiment.
Benjamin Koon Martin was a son of Jesse Martin (1773-1859) and his much younger second wife Cinderella Koon Martin (1819-1875). Mary Koon Davis, the mother of Asa S. Davis, was an aunt of Cinderella Koon Martin, thus Asa S. Davis and Cinderella Koon Martin were first cousins on the Koon side. Joshua Martin, the father of Sarah Martin Davis, was a brother of Jesse Martin, thus Sarah Martin Davis and Private Benjamin Koon Martin were first cousins on the Martin side. Another first cousin of Sarah Martin Davis and Private Benjamin Koon Martin, Templeton Crim Martin (1820-1854) was the father of Private Henry Flowers Martin. In addition to her uncle Jesse, Sarah Martin Davis had a brother named Jesse Martin (1808-1851), who was the father of Private Ezekiel Martin. Thus Privates Jesse and Blackburn Davis were first cousins of Private Ezekiel Martin, second cousins of Private Henry F. Martin, and of Private Benjamin Koon Martin first cousins once removed.
The closer proximity of the descendants of Joshua Martin among the many branches of the Martin family is obvious in their names. His daughter Sarah Martin Davis and her brother Jesse Martin both named sons William. Sarah named a son Jesse Davis, and after Sarah named a son Blackburn Davis, Jesse Martin named a son Blackburn Martin. Another brother of Sarah Martin Davis and Jesse Martin was named George Washington Martin, and Sarah Martin Davis named her oldest son George Washington Davis. Sarah Martin Davis and her husband Asa S. Davis named a son John Davis, and Sarah’s brother John Martin named a son Asa Davis Martin. Asa Davis Martin (1841-1913) stayed out of the war as well as he could, but the Unionists nevertheless harassed him, arrested him, imprisoned him, and then released him without charge following a petition by the citizenry.
In addition to his wife Elizabeth Franklin Martin, and their sons Blackburn (aged five) and Ezekiel Martin (aged nine), Jesse Martin’s oldest sons David (aged thirteen) and William F. (aged twenty) appear together with their four sisters Minerva, Rebecca, Martha, and Mary (aged fifteen, eleven, seven, and three, respectively) in the 1850 census of Marion County. Following the death of Jesse Martin in 1851, his family scattered across the counties of northwestern Virginia.
By 1860, most of Jesse Martin’s children remained in Marion County. David Martin lived and worked near Boothsville, on the farm of Harrison Manly, whose wife Sarah was a Martin cousin of David. Ezekiel Martin lived and worked on the farm of Hamilton Williamson in Pleasants County, and Blackburn Martin lived and worked on the farm of his brother William F. Martin, also in Pleasants County. The Martin brothers may have stayed apart and away from Marion County throughout the 1860’s, had they not been brought together by the Civil War.
Private Ezekiel Martin found his way to his relatives and friends in Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment weeks following the organization of that unit in the early summer of 1861, but it is unknown for precisely how long he served in the 31st. His record of service in that regiment ceases after the Company A muster report of September 2, 1861. The service record of Private Benjamin Koon Martin contains the same muster report, a receipt for clothing, and a note that he received special orders to report from the Army of Northern Virginia in January of 1863.
Private Henry F. Martin received orders to serve as a nurse at the hospital in Staunton from October of 1862 to February of 1863. A report dated August 31, 1864 notes that he went absent without leave on August 28. A report dated September 9 states that he reported to the Unionists at Paw Paw Station in Marion County on August 30. He swore the oath and was released on September 2, 1864.
After the desertion of Henry Flowers Martin, the last Martin cousin remaining in Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment was Private Jesse Davis, who was captured in the fall of Petersburg at the end of the war. Private Blackburn Davis had been captured by the invader during the Valley Campaign at Strasburg on June 2, 1862.
Following his parole ten days later, Blackburn Davis quickly returned home to join the guerrilla effort in Marion County, which was well underway at that point in the war. On June 21, Blackburn Davis was captured by the same Union Army regiment which had captured his cousin Blackburn Martin just a month before.
One source states that the Unionist 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment (later known as the 6th West Virginia Infantry Regiment) captured Blackburn Martin in Marion County on May 1, another states that his arrest took place in Wood County on May 1, and yet another places his apprehension in Marion County on May 5. One source states that he served as a private in the “Moris Rangers,” but no such unit seems to have existed. It must have been an error, as the other sources agree that Blackburn Martin served as a member of possibly the most dreaded of all the Virginian guerrilla outfits: the Moccasin Rangers of Calhoun County.
The Moccasin Rangers were a Confederate guerrilla company that operated around the headwaters of the Little Kanawha River during the first two years of the Civil War. The Moccasins, led by Perry Conley, drew most of their members from Calhoun County, but at various times included men from Webster and Braxton counties. Other leaders were George Downs, Daniel Duskey, and Peter Saurburn. . . The Moccasins were regarded as bushwhackers by many. According to West Virginia Civil War historian Boyd Stutler, they were responsible for atrocities on the civilian population in the region and only rarely participated in actual combat with federal troops.
Typical of the bitter divide which plagued families all across the Upper South, it was his own cousin who betrayed Blackburn Martin to the Unionists. Elizabeth Franklin Martin — the mother of Ezekiel, Blackburn, David, and William F. Martin — had a sister named Martha who married Abraham D. Nuzum (1806–1890). Their son Sanford Nuzum (1832-1910) reported to Unionist Captain William M. Skelton that Blackburn Martin was “a very malicious man,” and that Martin would be a threat to the very life of Nuzum should Martin ever learn that Nuzum testified against Martin. According to Nuzum:
About the month of September 1861 I asked Blackburn Martin how they were coming on in Harrison County, he said he had not been there, I asked him where he had been, he said he had been up on Kanawha, I asked him if there was any truth in the report that a lot of men was surrounded at Spencer Court House, he said yes, we kept about 100 of damned abolitionists there three days on dry bread, I asked him why they did not keep them there longer, he said the damned abolitionists come on them so strong that they had to give back, but we give some of them Blue kills and he said there were companies of Guerrillas through there that all hell could not take them…
The event in which Sanford Nuzum claimed that Blackburn Martin boasted of having participated is indeed historical. According to pages 114 and 115 of On This Day in West Virginia Civil War History:
The Siege of Roane Court House (Spencer) began as two hundred “Moccasin Rangers” — led by Captains George Downs, Peregrine Hayes, Dan Duskey, Perry Conley, and James Smith — isolated the town. Attacked from Tanner’s Hill (Schoolhouse Hill), the forty Federal defenders under Captain William F. Pell (later Company B, Eleventh West Virginia Infantry) retreated to the Roane County Courthouse. Pell ordered Union earthworks built on Fort Hill to hold out until reinforcements could arrive. The Confederates constructed earthworks and pinned down the Federals at the courthouse, which the guerrillas threatened to bombard. For eleven days (August 23-September 2), the Rebels lay siege. Finally, the approach from Ripley of Major (later Brigadier General) Adam J. Slemmer with Union reinforcements forced the Confederates to retreat, ending the siege. The guerrillas fell back into Calhoun County to harass the Federal approach. During the siege, several men were killed and wounded on each side.
Captain Skelton arrested Blackburn Martin on or about May 1, 1862, almost certainly in Marion County, and Blackburn Martin was charged with being “one of the Moccasin Rangers.” On May 9, Blackburn Martin arrived at Atheneum Prison in Wheeling, from where he was sent to Camp Chase on May 13. On August 25, Blackburn Martin began his journey to Vicksburg to be exchanged, which took place on March 28, 1863. This was a very important time in the Civil War history of the present-day State of West Virginia.
Throughout the late winter and early spring of 1863, an audacious plan made its way up the chain of command in the Army of Northern Virginia. The plan advanced from renowned guerrilla Captain John H. McNeill to Brigadier Generals John D. Imboden and William E. “Grumble” Jones, both of whom altered it accordingly before sending it up to General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate government. Their planning resulted in The Jones-Imboden Raid.
Beginning in late April 1863, Confederate Generals William E. Jones and John Imboden led a month-long raid through West Virginia. Their goals were to wreck the vital B & O Railroad, cripple the Union government in Wheeling, and seize horses and cattle badly needed by the Confederacy. Splitting into two columns totaling about 5,000 men, Jones and Imboden left their camps near the Shenandoah Valley and circled the state. Jones pushed north, destroying railroad bridges, tunnels and track. Moving west to “Oiltown” at Burning Springs, he torched some 150,000 barrels of crude, turning the Little Kanawha River into an inferno.
General Imboden’s exploits were no less dramatic. Marching northwest along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, he struck the Union depot at Beverly on April 24th, wounding Sheriff Jesse Phares who still managed to sound the alarm. Imboden met resistance from 900 Federals under Col. George Latham of the 2nd West Virginia Infantry, but the defenders fled by nightfall, burning large quantities of supplies and a portion of the town. Imboden’s raiders entered Beverly to the cheers and waving handkerchiefs of the citizens, now liberated from their “Yankee” occupiers. The raiders chased small Union forces from Buckhannon, Weston, and points south before rejoining General Jones at Summersville and returning east. Although the raid fell short of their goals, they wrecked railroads and turnpikes, demoralized Union troops, and threw the Wheeling government into a panic. An estimated 3,000 cattle and more than 1,200 horses were driven south through Beverly by the raiders—stock that kept Confederate troops in the field for two more years.
The Jones-Imboden Raid made use of Confederate regulars, but relied heavily on raiders native to northwestern Virginia who had participated in some of the earliest guerrilla violence of the war.
In part due to the excesses of groups such as the Moccasin Rangers of Calhoun County throughout late 1861, the Confederate government sought a mechanism by which partisan guerrillas would be legitimized under the laws of war, thereby preventing their capture and execution as mere bushwhackers. The Confederate States Congress passed the Partisan Ranger Act on April 21, 1862. The Virginia General Assembly had already taken the initiative on March 27 with an act to authorize the Virginia State Rangers. Many of the Virginia State Ranger companies would later be organized into a branch of service called the Virginia State Line. The Confederate States Army gradually absorbed these units as numbered regiments of regular infantry and cavalry, and the Virginia State Line formally disbanded. The Moccasin Rangers for example made their way through these formations, first as Virginia State Ranger Company 1, and then as Company A of the 3rd Virginia State Line Regiment. In March of 1863, the aforementioned Colonel William L. Jackson reorganized the 3rd Virginia State Line Regiment as the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, of which the Moccasin Rangers again received the designation as Company A.
The Confederate States Congress eventually repealed the Partisan Ranger Act on February 17, 1864. Only two Virginia ranger units continued to operate as such throughout the remainder of the war, one of which was commanded by the most famous Virginian ranger of all, Colonel John S. Mosby. McNeill’s Rangers, commanded by the aforementioned progenitor of the Jones-Imboden Raid Captain John H. McNeill, was the other. Whereas Colonel Mosby served under General Grumble Jones early in the war, Captain McNeill and his rangers served under General John D. Imboden when the latter commanded the 1st Virginia Partisan Ranger Regiment at the rank of colonel.
True to the fluid nature of the war in northwestern Virginia, this regiment was also variously known as the 62nd Virginia Partisan Ranger Regiment, the 62nd Virginia Cavalry Regiment, the 62nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry Regiment, or simply Imboden’s Regiment. Later in the war, following his promotion to brigadier general, this unit would be reorganized as the 18th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, commanded by Imboden’s cousin, Colonel George W. Imboden.
General John D. Imboden led various units on his prong of the Jones-Imboden Raid, one of which was his former regiment, then known generally as the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry Regiment. He had also specifically requested a loan of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment from the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, thus the Martin cousins remaining in that unit would not be with Stonewall Jackson in his final battle at Chancellorsville. They did however raid northwestern Virginia with their cousin Private Blackburn Martin, who had enlisted less than two weeks following his exchange, in the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry Regiment.
In addition to the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment, the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry Regiment, and various other notable units in the brigade of General Imboden on his prong of the Jones-Imboden Raid was the aforementioned 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment of Colonel William L. Jackson. Another company in the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment besides the Moccasin Rangers of Company A was a unit known as Captain Righter’s Cavalry Company.
Captain Righter’s Cavalry Company also made its way through the Virginia State Rangers, as Company 4, and then joined the 3rd Virginia State Line Regiment as Company C, before Colonel Jackson organized the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment with Righter’s men as Company D. Captain Righter’s Cavalry Company came from Marion County and had served as the principle guerrilla force in the area. The best available source on how Righter got his start in guerrilla warfare is the account given by the vociferously Unionist Colonel Henry Haymond of Harrison County, in his History of Harrison County, of the firefight at the home of John Righter’s father:
Peter B. Righter, a well to do farmer and grazier, lived in a handsome residence on Coon’s Run about four miles from Shinnston just over the Marion County line. He was a pronounced secessionist and his house was a headquarters for those of like faith in the neighborhood. He was reported to the Military authorities and a detachment of Company I of the 20th Ohio under Captain Cable from Mannington, was ordered to the Righter Farm on June 21, 1861. They were fired upon from the house, one of his men was killed and three or four wounded, and John Nay, the guide, also wounded. Captain Cable’s command fell back to Shinnston and receiving reinforcements on the 22nd returned to Righter’s and found the premises deserted. The house, barns and outbuildings were burned and all the horses taken. . . Banks Corbin, a resident of the neighborhood while held a prisoner by the troops, attempted to escape, was fired upon and killed. This incident caused great excitement in the neighborhood and brought the realities of war home to our people.
Peter B. Righter was the son of John Righter (1762-1820), an American Revolutionary War Veteran who is buried in Harrison County. Peter B. Righter was born in Harrison County, but his neighborhood fell just across the border at the creation of Marion County. Because Peter B. Righter and his son John politically supported the democratic secession of the State of Virginia from the Unites States, the Unionists initiated the first Civil War battle in Marion County by showing themselves at his front door. The Unionists lost the skirmish, and their revenge arson attacks the next day only ensured that the Righters had nothing else better to do than wage a private guerrilla war against the Unionists.
Upon their formal muster in the spring of 1863 into the Confederate States Army as Company D of the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, Private Peter B. Righter, born in 1804 and an old man when the war broke out, served under the command of his own son Captain John Righter. The extent of Peter B. Righter’s leadership up until that time is unknown. However, a year after the skirmish on his property at the beginning of the war, he was captured on May 5, 1862 by the Unionists in Harrison County who remarked that Peter B. Righter was a “bad secesh and guerrilla leader.”
This took place just days after the arrest of Blackburn Martin. Peter B. Righter and Blackburn Martin were at Camp Chase together, as well as Atheneum Prison in Wheeling. They even made the same voyage down to Vicksburg, Mississippi as prisoners of war onboard the Steamer John H. Done.
This was very fortunate for the two, as Peter B. Righter was an uncle of Blackburn Martin. Peter B. Righter’s wife, Mary Franklin Righter (1808-1890) was a sister of the mother of Ezekiel, Blackburn, David, and William F. Martin. This explains the disappearance of Private Ezekiel Martin from the rolls of the 31st Virginia Infantry; First Lieutenant Ezekiel Martin went home to serve as the right-hand man of his first cousin Captain John Righter.
The rolls of the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment also reveal the fact that two other men of Captain Righter’s Cavalry Company were two of Ezekiel’s brothers, David and William F. Martin.
Also solved is the mystery of the orders sent early in 1863 from the Army of Northern Virginia to Private Benjamin Koon Martin. Although he was not a Franklin cousin of the Righters, Benjamin Koon Martin did follow their mutual Martin cousins into the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment.
A careful examination of the rolls of the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment also answers perhaps the biggest unaddressed mystery of all thus far: why in September of 1861 would Blackburn Martin of Marion County have been riding around with the Moccasin Rangers of Calhoun County? Multiple counties lie in between Marion and Calhoun, so why would a band of brutal mountain guerrillas have allowed a stranger, who was just a teenager, into their ranks? The answer is because Blackburn Martin’s uncle Joseph Martin, who was born in Harrison County, moved with his sons to Calhoun County before the war; Joseph Martin and his son Joshua H. Martin were Moccasin Rangers.
It is very likely that more of Joseph Martin’s sons served with the Moccasin Rangers. However, they must not have made it as far into the war as the time of the organization of the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. Joseph Martin’s son George served with the Moccasin Rangers when they were known as Company A of the 3rd Virginia State Line Regiment, but there is no trace of George Martin in the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment.
Captain John Righter and Private Benjamin Koon Martin were not cousins, but they served together with their mutual cousins, the brothers First Lieutenant Ezekiel Martin, Private David Martin, and Private William F. Martin. It is unknown at exactly what point the Unionists took Private Benjamin Koon Martin as a prisoner of war, but he received his parole as such on April 30, 1865. Captain John Righter was captured as a “spy” in Harrison County on April 3, 1864 and was imprisoned at Wheeling, but escaped on July 18, 1865 after the war ended. He later reported to the Unionists, received his parole in Harrison County on August 8, and went home. Private Peter B. Righter evaded capture throughout his formal enlistment in the Confederate States Army, and received a full pardon from United States President Andrew Johnson on February 6, 1867.
Righter’s men had served in nearly every Confederate unit associated with Marion County; as Company D of the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, Company C of the 3rd Virginia State Line Regiment, and as Virginia State Ranger Company 4. Only two other Confederate regiments are associated with the men of Marion County, and First Lieutenant Ezekiel Martin had served in one of them, as a private in Company A of the 31st Virginia Infantry. As such, he and his Martin cousins of that company had served under the command of Marion County’s own William W. Arnett.
William W. Arnett, a distinguished jurist of Wheeling, W. Va., was born in Marion county, October 23, 1843, the son of Ulysses N. Arnett, who resided many years on the Monongahela river and served in the Virginia and West Virginia legislatures and in the constitutional convention of 1872. At the age of sixteen years he entered Allegheny college at Meadville, Pa., where he was graduated in 1860. He then studied law under Judge A. F. Hammond, and was admitted to the bar, but closed his office in April, 1861, to enlist as a private in Company A of the Thirty-first Virginia regiment of infantry. . . In December, 1861, he was elected captain of Company A, and subsequently he was transferred to the Twentieth Virginia cavalry, with the rank of colonel, in which command he served until the close of the war.
A few months following the Jones-Imboden Raid, a brigade led by US Army Brigadier General William W. Averell, in conjunction with the brigade of Union Army Brigadier General Alfred Napoléon Alexander Duffié (a French Army deserter who sailed through the ranks of the Union Army) launched a similar raid against the Virginians. The Unionist raid culminated in the Battle of Droop Mountain on November 6, 1863. The Confederate defeat there effectively ended organized resistance to US military occupation of northwestern Virginia – a land proclaimed that very year as the State of West Virginia. Resistance in West Virginia did continue however, reverting back to its earlier guerrilla forms. Following the Battle of Droop Mountain, much of the 19th Virginia Cavalry Regiment amalgamated with the 20th Virginia Cavalry Regiment under Colonel William W. Arnett. This regiment would go on to fight in the Shenandoah Valley Campaigns of 1864, at which time the Confederates brought the career of US Army General William W. Averell to a humiliating end. Likewise the Union Army General Alfred Napoléon Alexander Duffié pushed further into Virginia and declared his intent to capture the most famous Virginian ranger of all, Colonel John S. Mosby. Duffié’s military career however effectively ended upon his capture by Colonel John S. Mosby.
Captain John Righter did not join the 20th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, hence his continued affiliation with the 19th, his return to Harrison County, and his capture there as a spy in 1864. Yet months prior to the Battle of Droop Mountain and the consolidation of the 19th and 20th Virginia Cavalry Regiments, First Lieutenant Ezekiel Martin led a core remnant of Captain Righter’s Cavalry Company into Company B of the 20th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, a unit which had previously been known as Captain Arnett’s Cavalry Company. On the same day of Captain Arnett’s promotion to colonel, the first lieutenant became Captain Ezekiel Martin.
Whereas Captain Righter’s Cavalry Company represented the men of Marion County who engaged the enemy as guerrillas, Captain Arnett’s Cavalry Company represented the men of Marion County who engaged the enemy as regular soldiers. Their amalgamation into Captain Ezekiel Martin’s Cavalry Company perpetuated the heritage of each in a single unit. Together in that single unit, the brothers Ezekiel, David, and William F. Martin would once again serve. Finally, their brother Blackburn Martin transferred in from the 62nd Mounted Infantry Regiment on June 12, 1864.
At last the Martin brothers of Marion County were united in Company B of the 20th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. The beginning of the war found them spread across northwestern Virginia, and their service took them even further on varying paths. Captain Ezekiel Martin may be the only man who served in every Confederate regiment and ranger company associated with Marion County. He served under Brigadier General William L. Jackson in the 31st Infantry and the 19th Cavalry, and he served under Colonel William W. Arnett in the 31st Infantry and the 20th Cavalry. All four brothers raided northwestern Virginia under Brigadier General John D. Imboden. Private Blackburn Martin rode with the McNeills in the 62nd Mounted Infantry, and he served in the Moccasin Rangers, with whom Ezekiel, David, and William F. Martin served in the 19th Cavalry. Together in Company B of the 20th Virginia Cavalry Regiment they would each serve out the remainder of the war, which all of them survived. As with the mysterious circumstances of the demise of Blackburn Martin at some point in the late 1860’s, the precise fate of David and William F. Martin remain unclear. Peter B. Righter died in 1895, and is buried in the Righter Cemetery in Harrison County. In 1911, Captain John Righter was laid to rest in the Martin Cemetery, Marion County, not far from his first lieutenant and first cousin, Captain Ezekiel Martin, who died in 1907. The guerrilla captains of Marion County grew old, living out their days in the land for which they fought and lost, but held all the same.