Civil War vet being honored

THE BATTLE of the Wilderness, Cold Harbor and Petersburg weren’t just places in history books for a Belmont County man, who will be honored Saturday when a marker is placed on his grave near Hendrysburg.

William Wirt Groves, who died in 1941, was the last Civil War veteran to be buried in Belmont County, and the Benjamin D. Fearing Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War has planned a dedication ceremony to honor him. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is involved in a project to identify and mark the graves of the last Union veterans in each of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Members of the Civil War organization will wear Civil War uniforms for the special event involving placement of the marker. Saturday’s ceremony, which will include remarks by family members and friends, is open to the public and will begin at 1 p.m. at Salem Cemetery about two miles north of Hendrysburg in Kirkwood Township.

When Groves died Dec. 28, 1941 at the age of 98, he not only was the last Civil War veteran in the county, but he was Barnesville’s oldest resident. One of his descendants is Carol Murphy Daniels, a great-granddaughter who will be present for the ceremony.

Groves, in an interview by his granddaughter, Helen Murphy Nelson, recalled that he was in school at Hendrysburg when the Civil War began.

“The whole country was alive with patriotic feeling. Half the talk in school was of enlisting – one boy saying to another, ‘I’ll go if you’ll go’. … I had never been away from home three nights in my my life. I used to cry with homesickness when (I was) away in the Army. It’s a good deal like a girl getting married when a boy joins the Army. It’s for keeps,” he said.

Groves enlisted Aug. 13, 1863, less than a week before his 19th birthday anniversary. He was in Company B, 126th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

When going off to war, he left on the train at 2 a.m. when he went into the service. “‘Mam’ got my breakfast. I remember I had a piece of apple pie,” Groves said. “I was so choked up with emotion that I couldn’t say goodbye to ‘Mam.’ I just stole out of the house.” His father followed him as long as he could to the train.

Among the initial places where his outfit went was Martinsburg, Va. (now West Virginia). “We stayed there till General (Robert E.) Lee cleaned out the valley on the way to Gettysburg. That used to be a great place for stone fences. We made breastworks out of them to shoot at the rebels – pretty hard for a bullet to get through them.”

One part of Virginia “was the old stomping ground of his grandfather, Matthias Groves,” and there, he “found a whole nest of Groveses down there one day.” The Hendrysburg man was wearing his Union uniform, and they were rebels. After he identified himself as a Groves, they said, “We had no kinfolks west of Wheeling.”

His reply was; “I’m not hunting kinfolks. I’m just hunting Groveses.” Some of the rebels were wearing homespun suits and rabbit-skin caps.

Groves told of hunger among the soldiers as well as among the Southern civilians and also recalled being without shoes. “I got scurvy early in the war. We had mostly fat pork, called sowbelly. Once in a while, we would have a feed of beef. Some of my teeth fell out.”

He said 2,000 barns, hay and wheat stacks, water mills and everything edible in the Shenandoah Valley was destroyed by the Union Army. Groves quoted Gen. Philip Sheridan as saying, “A crow flying over would have to take his rations with him.” And that valley had been called the rebels’ granary, the richest land in the South.

Groves took a hat from the head of a dead Southerner and wore it all winter. Made of stiff cloth, the hat, he said, “was better than my old worn-out Union cap. I was given the name, Johnny, because of wearing the hat” with reference to Johnny Rebs.

The Hendrysburg man was wounded during the Battle of the Wilderness and was ill with measles and pneumonia while serving. Another member of the Groves family said he was so sick that his father traveled from Ohio to Virginia to see him and found him lying on a brush pile with snow all around him.

“I didn’t rejoice in that war even though it was sanctioned by the government,” said Groves. “They (the Southerners) were nice people – just as nice as the Yankees. There was one difference.They were raised on one side of the fence and the Yankees on the other.”

Groves became a teacher after the war. His first wife was Matilda Burson and after her death, he married Bertha Mills. She died, and his third wife was Sarah Linch. Groves moved to Barnesville in 1937 where he lived with his daughter and her family.

The front-page story about his death noted: “Blessed with good health and a keen mind, he got a lot out of life … (he was) known as “the grand old man of Kirkwood Township.”

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