Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

As I wrote last week, the Twelfth West Virginia Infantry Regiment was a Civil War Unit largely composed of troops enlisted from the Northern Panhandle. A Civil War Infantry Regiment typically had approximately 1,000 officers and men across ten Companies, when at full strength. However, illness, wounded and killed troops and desertion usually kept the Regiments far below full strength. They did receive replacements, some were even returned to their home area to recruit more locals. Also when units became too small to be effective they might be merged into other below strength Regiments. So during the course of the war more than 1,000 soldiers likely served in the Twelfth. To me, at first blush the Regiment’s five Medal of Honor recipients seems rather high. But considering the amount of close fighting and the high casualty rate in the war and the fact of its involvement in the dramatic taking of the city of Petersburg perhaps the number is not so high at all. Continuing from last week’s column where we looked at three of those who were awarded the medal while serving in the Twelfth, it seems only logical to view the remaining two awardees.
Lieutenant James R. Durham was born in Richmond Virginia, in February 1833. He joined the Regiment at Clarksburg and by June of 1863 was serving as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company E of the 12th. He was in charge of a group of skirmishers from his Company at the second Battle of Winchester. His group was pinned down behind a stone wall for several hours on June 14. He received orders along with other units to advance and clear the confederate forces in front of them which were about 150 yards distant and ensconced behind a stone wall. His led his small group forward into heavy fire and they were able to advance only about 30 yards when their casualties were so significant that they were stopped, and saw that they were the only group which had advanced. Lieutenant Durham’s right hand and arm were severely wounded. Seeing the impossibility of the situation, he saw to it that his men retreated in good order, and that all of his wounded were carried back to the Union line, himself being the last to leave the field. He was treated at a field hospital and the next day rode 45 miles to avoid capture all the while bleeding from his wounds. He reported that it was six months before he could return to duty. Later in the war he did attain the rank of Captain. After the war he received the Medal of Honor for the valor he exhibited in the above action.
Post war, Captain Durham resided in Washington D.C. where he was a druggist until his death on August 6, 1904 at the age of 71. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The fifth Medal of Honor awardee from the 12th West Virga was Charles Avery Reeder, a private in Company G. Not surprisingly, he received the award for the action at Fort Gregg, at Petersburg on April 2, 1865. His Company was part of the storming party. In the pre-dawn they were part of a group which was pushing heavy artillery into place against the enemy position. They were discovered at about 100 yards distant, and an exchange of artillery fire began at near point bank range. When a significant breech in the defensive walls was achieved his group charged into the fortification. He was separated from the rest by some little distance, and was fighting, using his rifle as a club, when the confederate color bearer charged him and whom he clubbed and seized the battle flag, quickly taking it to his comrades. For this he was awarded the Medal.
Charles Reeder was born in 1844 in Harrison County. His parents were Thomas S. Reeder and Eliza (nee Shinn.) The family was among those in that region in favor of the Confederacy, and did not take well to Charles enlistment in the Union forces. They were people of some property and standing, slave owners, and his mother’s family founded Shinnston. Her father is sometimes in records referred to as the “famous Reverend Asa Shinn.” Eliza was a daughter of Asa and his first wife Phoebe Barnes. Phoebe’s sister Sarah was the mother of one of the first West Virginia U.S. Senators, Waitman Thomas Willey. The sister of Asa’s second wife’s was married to Frederick Dent and was the mother of Julia Dent, wife of General Ulysses S. Grant. After the war, Private Reeder married Lenora Jarret in 1867. He served as a Justice of the Peace. He died in 1902 and is buried in the Shinnston Masonic Cemetery.
In writing this column and last week’s I found the internet site: “www.lindapages.com” which has tremendous Civil War and other historic materials related to West Virginia, to be extremely helpful.
The history of this West Virginia Regiment is just too full to not devote significant time exploring more fully. Among the more interesting individuals to serve in the Regiment was a commander of Company I, Richard Hooker Brown who was an influential citizen of Hancock County in his post war endeavors. He seems like a good topic for next week’s column.