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Historian’s book explores Stovepipe Johnson's retreat through West Virginia

September 18, 2013

PAKERSBURG - A noted Civil War historian from Parkersburg has written a book about Stovepipe Johnson's retreat through West Virginia after the Battle of Buffington Island on July 19, 1863.

"Incidents of Morgan's Raid with an Account of Stovepipe Johnson's Retreat Through West Virginia" came off the press on June 19 and was written by Brian Kesterson using a manuscript written by Charles R. Rector, the grandson of the Rev. Enoch Rector, a staunch Unionist and respected Baptist minister in the Mid-Ohio Valley who confronted Johnson as he retreated from the pursuing federal troops.

Most of what has been written about the battle has been about Gen. John Hunt Morgan, Kesterson said. Nothing has been written about Col. Adam Rankin "Stovepipe" Johnson and his retreat through West Virginia, he said.

Article Photos

Brian Kesterson, a local Civil War historian, shows a saddle captured by Union soldiers after the Battle of Buffington Island in July 1863 when federal troops pursued the Confederate raider Gen. John Hunt Morgan. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

Johnson was a commander under Morgan, who had conducted raids throughout Ohio and Indiana. Morgan was pursued by Union troops and as Morgan's men attempted to cross the rain-swollen Ohio River at Reedsville in Washington County across from Belleville in Wood County, two federal gunships came down the river and fired upon the men, Kesterson said.

Many men and horses drowned, Kesterson said. Morgan and most of his men turned around and returned to Ohio, but about 300 men under Johnson made it across the river into West Virginia after they were aided by a southern sympathizer, Kesterson said.

Johnson eventually went to the Rev. Rector's farm in Mineral Wells where his men took whatever they needed, including Rector's prize horse, Kesterson said.

Rector protested and Johnson warned him that if he was to retaliate in any way, he would return to the farm, burn it to the ground and Rector and his family would watch the flames in sack cloth, Kesterson said.

Charles Rector wrote his account of the incident in 1927 in a 13-page story, Kesterson said. The original manuscript after editing and corrections was pared to about four pages, he said.

"This 1927 account is a good account," Kesterson said.

The manuscript was acquired by Kesterson at an auction of the estate of the late Paul Somerville, who worked with Kesterson's father at Dupont.

The book, written to coincide with the sesquicentennial of the battle, includes a driving tour of Johnson's retreat through present-day West Virginia, Kesterson said.

Johnson may have gotten his name by using stovepipes on wheels to look like cannon and tricking a Union garrison to surrender for fear of being shelled.

Kesterson has been recognized for his histories of the Civil War. He is participating in the sesquicentennial observances at Gettysburg where he will be the chief musician-bugler of the United States Veteran Volunteers of the 2nd Division.

An introduction was written by Aaron A. Crites, an assistant professor of history at West Virginia at Parkersburg. Crites said the Battle at Buffington Island is often overshadowed by Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

Kesterson's book, of which only 500 have been printed, is important for Washington, Meigs, Jackson, Wood, Wirt, Calhoun, Gilmer, Braxton, Nicholas, Greenbrier and Monroe counties, Crites said.

The book, which is $22, will be available at Barking Dog Books and Art, 212 Putnam St., Marietta; J&M Used Bookstore, 1215 Blizzard Drive, Parkersburg; and the Parkersburg Antique Mall on Emerson Avenue.

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