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    Wilmon W. Blackmar, Medal of Honor Recipient. Archive of Letters Relating to His Service in the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Calvary. An archive of 21 letters, various sizes, from various places in West Virginia and Virginia, dating from March 3 to August 9, 1864. There are 21 letters from Blackmar to his parents and family members, written from various camps, relating to his service in the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry. The letters concern primarily his duties as 1st Lieutenant, Provost Marshal, and Acting Assistant Adjutant General in Company H.


    The first letter in the archive is from Blackmar's father, Joseph, dated March 3, 1864, to a correspondent in Taunton, Massachusetts, in which Blackmar's father provides a copy of a letter from the governor of the state of West Virginia to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton concerning Blackmar's commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry, and thus requesting that Blackmar be discharged as 1st Sergeant in Company K, 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry in order to assume his new duties. Blackmar received his discharge on March 14 and the next day he started for his new regiment.


    Not long after joining the West Virginia Cavalry, Blackmar was serving as Provost Marshall for the 2nd Brigade. In an April 30, 1864 letter to his father, Blackmar describes the lawless behavior of a number of men. "There are many really wicked men in our Brigade, especially in the 1st Va. who do not hesitate at any degree of Crime. I firmly believe they would murder without compunctions of conscience...two or three houses have been robbed in the dead of night, and the occupants threatened with death if they made any disturbance or informed me. I am u about /u u certain /u that there is an u organized /u u gang /u for the object of u plundering /u and doing anything for gain, without a care whether they disgrace their uniform or not. I am in hopes to catch them somehow and I shall deal with them with a heavy hand....I have to listen to so many tales of misery caused by these u cursed /u u fellows /u I would feel glad to rid our command of them at any cost....I wish I could catch them in the act and shoot them in their tracks."


    As part of his plan to have the various Union armies in the field to act in concert and to strike the Confederacy from several directions, Grant ordered Brigadier General George Crook to deploy his Army of West Virginia to destroy the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad in western Virginia, the last southern railroad connecting Virginia and Tennessee. In conjunction with Crook's assault, Grant directed Brigadier General William W. Averill to lead his West Virginia cavalry in raids against lead and salt mines in western Virginia. Once Crook's and Averill's missions were accomplished, the two armies would be combined and then were join General Franz Sigel's army in the Shenandoah Valley. From May 5 to May 19, 1864, The 1st West Virginia Cavalry, under Averill, participated in a raid on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. Blackmar, in a May 29 letter to his father, wrote of his perilous experience, almost getting lost in enemy territory. On May 10, "we were then about 35 miles S.W. of Dublin Depot camped at the forks of two roads. Averill generally camps u thus /u , picketing both roads and in the morning making a u false /u u start /u , perhaps going a few miles and then taking the u other /u road thus bothering spies who may be watching our movements. Late at night on the 9th. I received a note from Hd. Qurs. In accordance with which I started at 5 A.M. 10th. with my prisoners towards Dublin Depot. Gen. A. was to give me an hour start and then move off the Wythville Road and draw the Rebs. who might be following him away from the road I took. He expected fighting and wished to be unimpeded, so sent me off with the prisoners to try and catch the Infantry under Crook who had fought the day before at Dublin.... About dark we came to the late battle field near Dublin where we saw plenty and bloody evidence of conflict. On reaching Dublin we found the Depot and public buildings in flames, the R.R. burning for miles and other evidence of our men having been there. There we were in a u box /u - right in the heart of the Confederacy with the prisoners u nearly /u u dead /u - u literally /u - gangs of the enemy on all sides for aught we knew, and our infantry which we were sure of finding here, gone no one knew where....We were all very hungry the prisoners actually starving." Fortunately, he and his prisoners eventually joined up with main force after two days being separated and received a good meal. Crook defeated Confederate forces at a small engagement at what became known as the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain and Averill's forces destroyed the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad.


    As Provost Marshal in his regiment, Blackmar was occasionally put in an awkward position. One example was his arrest of Henry Capehart, Blackmar's friend and supporter. In a May 31, 1864 letter to his mother, Blackmar offered examples of his various duties, such as "I had to notify Major Capehart the other day that he was under arrest. Now the Major was the one who got me my commission and it seemed odd for me to be putting him in Arrest almost the first month, but I had to do it, and also had the pleasure of signing his release last night after it had been clearly proven that charges could not be sustained-were groundless." In addition to describing his administrative duties, Blackmar wrote to his parents on June 30, 1864 a detailed letter concerning the long and tiring marches he and his fellow soldiers endured. "Let me illustrate how worn we were with constant marching & no food. At night particularly I have been riding along taking cat naps on my horse and suffering u pain /u from the unsatisfied desire to sleep. 'Halt,' 'Dismount' would sound along the column. A tree had been cut across the road a small bridge burnt or something to cause five, ten or fifteen minutes delay. Down we would drop right in the road at our horses feet and sleep until the men in front began to move-sometimes we would not wake for some time and one less dead than the others would have to use kicks & cuffs to rouse his comrades....I know the...enemy have picked up hundreds of our men fast asleep in the road-who the rear guard have either overlooked or found it impossible to rouse to a sense of their danger."


    In a July 26 letter to his mother, Blackmar mentions the Second Battle of Kernstown, Virginia, which occurred two days before, in which General Crook and his Army of West Virginia was driven from the Shenandoah Valley. "I was in front of the enemy and under heavy fire....The telegraph no doubt announced to you on the eve of the 24th or morning of the 25th that Crook was overpowered and badly driven. You would have passed an uneasy night on the 24th had you known where your boy was. On the 25th, the retreat continued. It rained and was as cold as November. I was wet through and shivering. The enemy followed until we came to Martinsburg when our men turned and drove then making a handsome charge, but Crook continued the Retreat."


    An interesting group of letters from Medal of Honor recipient on his various duties and experiences with the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Infantry during the spring and summer of 1864.


    Condition: The letters have the usual folds. Otherwise, the letters are in good condition.


    More Information:

    Wilmon W. Blackmar (1841-1905) was born in Bristol, Pennsylvania. In August 1861, while attending Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, he returned home to Pennsylvania and in August 1862 enlisted in the Anderson Troop, afterwards known as the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, participating in various engagements with Company H and later Company K in the Western Theater and with the Army of the Potomac, including the Battle of Antietam, and was subsequently promoted to corporal, sergeant, 1st sergeant, and then to first lieutenant in charge of Company H of the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry, to which he had been transferred. For his heroism at the Battle of Five Forks in Virginia on 1 April 1865, in which he formed a line and charged into Confederate forces, causing them to disperse, Blackmar was promoted to the rank of captain by General George Custer and subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration bestowed for acts of valor in service of their country. He later served as Provost Marshal and Assistant Adjutant General to Colonel Henry Capehart of General Custer's Third Division of General Phil Sheridan's Cavalry before Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Blackmar mustered out of the army at the conclusion of the war, graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, studied law at the Harvard Law School, and married Helen Brewer in 1880, living in both Boston and Hingham, Massachusetts, until his death. He served as a lawyer and then, upon retirement, as judge advocate to several Massachusetts governors. Blackmar was elected Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1904.

     

    The 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment was organized in Wheeling, Clarksburg, and Morgantown in northwestern Virginia (now West Virginia) mostly between July 10 and November 25, 1861. After the state of West Virginia was created in 1863, the regiment was officially called the 1st West Virginia Cavalry. During July 1863, ten companies of the regiment fought at the Battle of Gettysburg as part of a division. The regiment began fighting in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley during the last half of 1864-usually in a brigade as part of the 2nd Cavalry Division, Army of West Virginia. At the beginning of 1865, the regiment became part of the 3rd Brigade in General George Armstrong Custer's 3rd Division, Cavalry Corps-which, along with another division was under the command of General Philip Sheridan. The division played an important part in the Appomattox Campaign and the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The 1st West Virginia Cavalry was mustered out on July 8, 1865.



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