"Camp Life In West Virginia"

When the Hayes family discussed events of the Civil War years, they remembered most vividly the months they spent together along the Kanawha River. After January 1863, Hayes served as commander of the First Brigade of the Second Kanawha Division, which was responsible for guarding West Virginia from enemy attacks. Except for danger from occasional Confederate raids and anxiety over forays into enemy territory, West Virginia provided a relatively safe haven for families of Union officers.

After a seven-week period of recuperation in Ohio, Rutherford's arm had healed enough for him to rejoin the regiment in West Virginia in November 1862, and in his first letter to Lucy he wrote, "It was like getting home again after a long absence. The officers all came in. . .and around the wine, etc. . . .talked over the funny and sad things of the campaign. . . ." One of those funny things occurred when the Twenty-third moved in beside the Eighty-ninth. An officer of the latter regiment told his men they must be watchful or the Twenty-third, "an old regiment," would steal whatever they wanted. In spite of the warning, stoves, blankets, and even a tent over a group of sleeping soldiers disappeared during the night. In the morning the Twenty-third looked on in mock sympathy as the other regiment vainly searched for the missing items. After the Eighty-ninth moved on, soldiers of the Twenty-third began to pull stoves and other plunder out of the river. When the Eighty-ninth's surgeon returned for a visit, he was surprised to find his cooking stove doing duty in a friend's tent. Rutherford added, "The Eighty-ninth appeared to take it in good part."

While Rutherford supervised construction of a winter camp with quarters suitable for officers' families, Lucy managed their family in Cincinnati. She wrote that the boys tried to help by bringing coal from the basement at one cent a day. "Grand mother 'banks' for them, while I owe them&they have less trouble with her." Webb resisted her efforts to teach him to read. As she explained, "Books he hates&but withal so good natured that you are completely outdone by him." That year Lucy had the responsibility for selecting the children's Christmas presents. She planned to buy a little globe and one of the "Rollo Books" for Birch, who still enjoyed reading the Biblical tales that Uncle Joe had given him the previous Christmas and dreamed of being a preacher. Lucy smiled whenever she recalled Birch's remark upon receiving the book: "I know Uncle Joe sent me the Bible Stories for he is more of a Christian than Papa." After Christmas, Lucy wrote that the new book sent by Rutherford, Picture Book of Quadrupeds, interested Birch almost as much as the Bible stories. Inclement weather kept the boys inside during the holidays and they almost drove their mother "wild" with their fighting and teasing.

Toward the end of January 1863, Lucy and the two older boys came to Camp Reynolds, the regiment's log cabin village on the Kanawha River near Gauley Bridge. They traveled by boat from Cincinnati to Charleston and then rode the final twenty-eight miles of rough and muddy road in an army ambulance. The view from their two-room cabin (a bedroom-sitting room connected by a covered passage to a kitchen) and the sound of water racing toward the falls of the Kanawha delighted Lucy. As described by Rutherford, mother and sons "rowed skiffs, fished, built dams, sailed little ships, and enjoyed camp life generally." Rutherford noticed that Webb liked nothing better than playing soldier, while his older son seemed more interested in reading, a current favorite being Boy Hunters and Voyageurs. Rutherford worried when Lucy and her brother rode any distance from the camp area. On one occasion, they found Union picket lines removed and had to dash back to camp with rebels in hot pursuit. When the regiment abandoned Camp Reynolds in March and moved to Camp White, across the river from Charleston, Lucy and the boys returned to Ohio.

Friendly passengers on the riverboat talked to Lucy and entertained the boys so well that they were within sight of Cincinnati before she began to feel the pain of separation. Naturally the younger boys, Ruddy and little Joe, greeted them joyously. "Home is sweet," she wrote, "but oh we do miss you so much." Awaiting them at home were other concerns. With prices so high, she did not know whether they could buy butter&considered necessary for the baby's health, while earlier she had been concerned about the rising cost of coal. With houses scarce and in great demand, rents increased appreciably.

Early in April, Lucy rejoiced when she heard that a daring raid by Jenkins's Confederate cavalry on strategic Point Pleasant, located where the Kanawha joins the Ohio River, had been repulsed. She wanted to begin her letter to Rutherford with the chorus of "John Brown's Body"&"Glory, glory hallelujah! . . . His soul is marching on"&but her husband might think her "daft." Also the victory of the Union (wartime term for Republican party) ticket in the local elections pleased her. Referring to the selection of a former army officer for an Ohio judgeship, Lucy said that she did not believe a soldier should leave his post for public office. This expressed a sentiment made famous later by Rutherford when he refused to take time out from the army to canvass for a seat in Congress. A further item in this same letter described her distress when a relative, a surgeon in Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army who had been paroled following his capture in the Battle of Murfreesboro, stopped to see them on his way South. She explained, "Love your enemies is not prominent in my character."

After the near success of Jenkins's raid, Rutherford hesitated to ask his family to come to West Virginia during the campaign season. When it appeared likely, however, that the brigade would be moved after the expected fall of Vicksburg, he sent for his wife and family." On June 15, 1863, Lucy, her four sons, and her mother traveled to Camp White on the river steamer Market Boy.

But the happiness of the reunion was quickly shattered. After a few days together little Joseph became ill and on June 24 the eighteen-month-old infant died. His father wrote in his diary that complications brought about by teething and dysentery caused his death; he had seen so little of Joseph, Rutherford wrote, that he did not "realize a loss; but his mother, and still more his grandmother, lose their little dear companion, and are very much afflicted." In later years, Lucy said that the "bitterest hour of her life" was when she stood by the door of the cottage at Camp White and "saw the boat bear the lonely little body away." Lucy's friends in Cincinnati assisted Lucy's brother James, who had resigned from the army because of poor health, in the burial of the little boy in Spring Grove Cemetery. Lucy and her family left a few days later for Chillicothe where they hoped to escape the heat and humidity of the city.

The summer of' 1863 marked a crucial period in the war between the North and the South. At Gettysburg during July 1-3 Union forces under Gen. George C. Meade repulsed General Lee's efforts to invade the North. Then on July 4, the Confederate garrison at Vicksburg, Mississippi surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. This placed the Union in control of the entire Mississippi River and severed Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas from the rest of the Confederacy.

Great excitement also prevailed in Ohio. For the first and only time Confederate forces penetrated the borders of the state. On July 8, Gen. John Morgan with approximately 2,500 mounted men crossed the Ohio River in southern Indiana and five days later entered Ohio just north of Cincinnati. Near panic swept the southern part of the state as people heard that farmers close to Cincinnati had awakened to find Morgan's men in their stables, stores, and kitchens. The raiders cut a three-mile-wide swath across Southern Ohio, plundering as they went, with much of the loss coming from a swarm of thieves who followed close behind the invaders. Meanwhile, Ohio residents frantically ran their horses into back hollows and woods and lowered their valuables into wells. Union troops and gunboats on the Ohio River soon began to close in on Morgan's men. Two regiments from the Kanawha, under Rutherford's command, arrived in time to help prevent the raiders from fording the Ohio at portages in Meigs County and further upstream. Groping for a safe crossing, Morgan and those of his men who had eluded capture headed north through half a dozen Ohio counties until the last of the soldiers were captured on July 26 near Lisbon in Columbiana County-the farthest north any Confederate forces penetrated during the war.

Lucy, visiting in Chillicothe, gave her husband a graphic and humorous account of scenes that occurred when a rumor reached the town of the approach of Morgan's men:

No one could give a description to fully equal the scene.
All the Militia from adjoining Counties were here. . . . All
these unarmed sheep were drawn up to be reviewed&the
few arms that were distributed were carefully marched to
the Northern end of town. . . . In the meantime the different
scouting companies came across each other and mutually
seeing Morgans men before them took to their heels. . .and
on coming to Paint Creek bridge so terrified the guard that
they set the bridge on fire-in an instant the whole was in
flames&while Morgan had not even a scout near.

She also said that the defenders of Chillicothe, realizing the difficulty Morgan might have gathering horses, forbade their removal from the city limits. Since approximately 6,000 men, most of them mounted, had rushed to Chillicothe's defense, the "goodly number of horses" kept within the town apparently caused sanitary problems.

In August, Lucy and the children, at Rutherford's prompting, left Chillicothe for visits with relatives in Columbus and his uncle in Fremont. She wrote to her husband that she sometimes felt she never wanted to return to the house in Cincinnati with its memories of little Joe. As usual, she described the activities of the boys and their promises to try to act more like gentlemen by the time their "dear papa" came home. Lucy thought their manners suffered in comparison with those of their cousin, Ruddy Platt. Of course, she realized that Ruddy's more settled mode of life and association with sisters encouraged courteous behavior.

Evidently ill and perhaps depressed by the unusually cool summer weather&frost in Columbus on August 29&she lamented in a letter to her husband that she was not as true a Christian as her Cincinnati friend, Eliza Davis. "I almost despair," she wrote, "of ever being what I earnestly desire." She asked about the bride Lt. Col. James M. Comly had brought to camp "How does Mrs.C&and is she taking your hearts. . .not that I am at all jealous for I know she is a sweet lovely woman more gentle in her manners than yours." As a loving and understanding husband, Rutherford assured his wife that she was as good a Christian as Mrs. Davis, and that Mrs. Comly although "affable and approachable. . .can't make friends as you do. Your gifts are rare enough in that line."

The difficulties of travel in wartime, a change of trains between Columbus and Fremont, and the care of active children did not worry Lucy when she journeyed to Uncle Sardis's early in September. She told her mother that she arrived at the Fremont station with three boys, two baskets, a haversack, a trunk, a carpet sack, and a large basket of strawberry plants for Mrs. Valette and "lost nothing nor had a moment's trouble." A letter written at the same time to Rutherford described the joyful meeting between Uncle Sardis and his grandnephews (other passengers thought it was between grandfather and grandsons). Naturally, Lucy asked about the regiment, and, noting the "mania for marrying," suggested they keep her favorite, the young lieutenant William McKinley, away from Ohio for "he would not return alone."

In 1863 Ohio faced a political crisis that worried Lucy Hayes. The peace Democrats made their most dramatic stand when they nominated Clement L. Vallandigham, a "copperhead" (a Northerner who sympathized with the South), for governor. Earlier, the popular and charismatic Vallandigham, in defiance of a military order against declarations of sympathy for the enemy, had been sentenced to detention in a United States military fort for the duration of the war. Lincoln wisely commuted the sentence and exiled Vallandigham to the Confederacy, from whence he made his way by sea to Canada. While Vallandigham watched the progress of the campaign from headquarters on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, George E. Pugh, a former United States senator, carried the burden of the canvass. The Union party's candidate, John Brough, a former state auditor, had been prominent in Democratic politics twenty years earlier but since then had devoted his energies to running railroads. While Lucy visited in Fremont, Peace Democrats with Pugh as the principal speaker held a rally which she depicted as "a small affair composed largely of women&and small boys and a large sprinkling of girls" In contrast, the town was "alive" with Brough and Union badges. It disgusted her to hear Pugh declare that there was no necessity for the war and then to launch into "a long tirade about the slavery of white men in Ohio."

Although feelings ran high on both sides and Union party members, including President Lincoln, fretted about what the results might be, Brough and the Union party won by a large majority. For the first time, Ohio soldiers in the field were allowed to cast ballots; their 41,467 votes for Brough to 2,288 for Vallandigham helped give the Union party its substantial victory. A jubilant Lincoln congratulated Brough on his victory. The outcome also pleased Dr. Joe Webb. He reported that no one from the Twenty-third Regiment voted for Vallandigham. Then, showing the depth of emotion evoked by the campaign, he continued, "I blush when I think there are men in Ohio, who are so completely governed by party, that they would vote for a traitor. If there is no 'Hell' for traitors, then there is no use for such an institution."

Early in the autumn, Rutherford, apprehensive that the regiment might be ordered east, sent word to Lucy to come to West Virginia immediately. She left Webb and Ruddy with their Grandmother Webb in Chillicothe and Birchard with his uncle in Fremont. After a "rather perilous ride" in a fast stagecoach to Gallipolis, Ohio, where Rutherford met her, they boarded a steamboat for Charleston and Camp White. Soon a letter from his mother arrived for Birch. It described how officers and their wives sat around the campfire on the fine October nights listening to the regimental band or watching the soldiers square-dancing with each other to the merry sound of the fiddle. One evening his Uncle Joe presented Lucy with a lovely bouquet of roses and dahlias that he had won in a horse race.

When it became evident that the regiment would remain in the Kanawha Valley for the winter and Lucy could live there, the Hayes family decided to rent out their house in Cincinnati. Lucy and Joe made the necessary arrangements and then returned to camp with Maria Webb, Ruddy, and Webb. Birch remained with his uncle in Fremont until March when his parents came back to Ohio to visit relatives and to check on veterans of the regiment in the Cleveland area. While Lucy and Rutherford called on friends in Delaware, Birch visited his Grandmother Hayes and her cousin, Arcena Wasson. He told Arcena he had been happy in Fremont but was "calculating a different kind of happiness in Virginia" where his Uncle Joe would teach him card games.

Aghast when she heard Birch's comment, Sophia Hayes vented her anger in a letter to her brother, Sardis Birchard. "I do not think such things should be begun at his age," she wrote. She could understand why a surgeon might play cards with a wounded soldier, but she did not believe he should "teach my Grand Sons to waste their valuable time. . . . I regret that such good women as Lucy and her Mother should allow him [Dr. Joe] to influence them. . . . I regret that Rutherford has not a good Religious surgeon in his Regiment. . . ." Having been informed of his mother's displeasure, Rutherford tried to placate her by writing, "I think you misunderstood the sort of education we are giving Birch out here. He is getting some schooling every day-and reads constantly the best of books. He is reading Pilgrims Progress with the greatest delight." As might have been expected, Sophia Hayes was able to rationalize the situation and in a few months wrote, "I have always felt that you were fortunate in having Dr. Webb as your surgeon."

While at Camp White, the Hayes family lived in a rambling old house with flowers "springing up all over the yard" and roses still blooming in the neglected garden. Lucy's description of the house mentioned a large old-fashioned coal-burning grate and plenty of air coming through the cracks. Since her sewing machine had been forwarded from Cincinnati, Lucy could fashion bright blue soldier uniforms for her sons, which they wore with pride. Along with caring for the soldiers when they were ill and listening to their grievances, Lucy often sewed and mended their uniforms. Lucy's popularity with the enlisted men was exemplified when James Parker, a good-natured and gullible young soldier, expressed concern because he did not know how to mend his blouse or sew on pockets. His friends suggested that he take the garment to the woman in the colonel's tent who sewed for the regiment. Parker explained to Colonel Hayes what he wanted and Rutherford, with a merry twinkle in his eye, asked Lucy to mend the blouse. When Parker appeared later in the day with his blouse neatly mended, his friends decided the joke was on them.

Mrs. Barrett, wife of Dr. Joseph Barrett, assistant surgeon of the regiment, related other pleasant memories of camp life in West Virginia. She remembered how much she and Lucy enjoyed riding their horses between the river and hills or following the regiment on training marches. According to Mrs. Barrett, the excellent regimental band often serenaded the women with the latest popular songs, brought back from furloughs in Cincinnati. She recalled Lt. William McKinley, "a happy jolly boy of 20" whom Lucy mothered, spending so much time tending the main camp fire that Lucy nicknamed him Casabianca.

Late in April, the Twenty-third Regiment broke camp and started southeast for the memorable campaign of 1864. For the first few days the troops marched along the Kanawha River. Lucy and several other wives chartered a small boat on which they steamed slowly up the river, cheering and waving to the troops as they kept pace with them. Most of the time young Birch and Webb marched with the soldiers. When the small craft reached the head of navigation, it turned and started downstream. As a veteran recalled, "Mrs. Hayes. . .stood aft and waved us an encouraging adieu, and the mountains round rang with the cheers of the brave boys."

These experiences in West Virginia profoundly influenced the future of the Hayes family. For the children, the weeks in camp were a glorious vacation, and probably Webb's pleasant memories of the period helped account for his later years of volunteer service with the armed forces. For Lucy and Rutherford, their emotional reunions strengthened the love they felt for each other. And both gained stature in the eyes of future veterans, Lucy for her interest in their personal welfare and Rutherford for his firmness and fairness as their commander.

Explore other chapters of First Lady: The Life of Lucy Webb Hayes by Emily Apt Geer


Chapter 6 - "The Holy and Just Cause"


Chapter 7 - "Lucy's Search For Her Husband"


Chapter 9 - "The Last Campaign"