By J. L. Starkey
“I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.”– Robert Edward Lee
The article, which was buried on page eighteen of the Richmond paper, contained two amazing clues. The first one broke through my Baugh brick wall, and the second one? It was the beginning (or ending) of a whole new mystery, courtesy of my first cousin four times removed:
“R. A. Baugh…received a letter revealing the fact that his brother, William H. Baugh, supposed to have been killed at Laurel Hill during the Civil War, is alive and well.”– The Times Dispatch, 2 February 1908
After I determined that William H. Baugh was the nephew of my third-great-grandfather, Everett Wingfield Baugh, I had questions for this newly-discovered cousin.
So. Many. Questions.
For example, if William didn’t die in the Civil War, where was he hiding from 1861 to 1908? Did he start a new life? How did he survive?
But those questions paled in comparison to the biggest one of all: Why was William – a former Confederate soldier – able to collect a Union pension?
The First Life of William H. Baugh
Born in Amelia County to John and Anne (Holt) Baugh in 1839, William was orphaned as a teenager and sent to live with his Uncle Everett . Just seven years apart in age, William and Everett were probably more like brothers than guardian and child.
Everett Baugh’s ancestors were slaveholders with deep Virginia roots, but he lived his life differently than they did. He was not a slaveholder, and he did not appear to support the Confederacy. Instead of volunteering to serve the CSA, Everett was drafted as a detailed conscript . He never took up arms during the war, but instead worked in a factory that manufactured military supplies .
Everett may have dreamed of moving to a northern state where others shared his views. However, he had a large family to support, along with a pretty limited skill set, so his dreams would never be realized.
His nephew, however, did not have those limitations, and the two men may have planned for the future in the years before war. Did Everett encourage William to make a move and take a chance on a better life?
If he did, William heard him – loud and clear.
At the start of the Civil War, William and his brother Robert answered the CSA’s call to arms. William joined the Jetersville Grays (Company B, 23rd Virginia Infantry), while Robert enlisted with the Manchester Grays (Company I, 6th Virginia Infantry) .
Tragically, just two months after he enlisted, William would be killed in action at the Battle of Laurel Hill. That’s what his family believed, anyway.
They were wrong.
Off to the (Philippi) Races!
As a member of the 23rd Infantry, William fought in the first land battle of the Civil War. It would be a “shining-star moment” for Union General George McClellan, who staged a surprise attack on Confederate troops in the early morning hours of 3 June 1861 .
Unprepared and outnumbered, thousands of Confederate soldiers retreated so quickly that the battle would be nicknamed “the Philippi Races.” By the time the battle ended, Robert Selden Garnett would earn the dubious distinction of being the first Confederate general killed in action, while McClellan would be praised as “the Young Napoleon” for his success. The rebels would never regain a foothold at the site of the battle, an area that is now part of the state of West Virginia.
The 23rd Infantry’s losses were light in comparison to what awaited them at Antietam and Gettysburg, and the dead were buried in a mass grave at Laurel Hill. To date, only four soldiers in that grave have been positively identified .
It was a tragic situation, to be sure. But Laurel Hill was also the perfect place for a certain Confederate-soldier-turned-Union-sympathizer to just…disappear.
Private William H. Baugh of Company B, 23rd Infantry, was classified as missing in action. The last time his name appeared in CSA records was on 16 October 1862, where he was listed as “missing since the 13th July 1861.” He was later presumed killed in action at the Battle of Laurel Hill.
Reality was quite different than presumption, however. Yes, Private Baugh ran in the Philippi Races. That part of the story was true. He ran and he ran…and he kept right on running.
He ran all the way to a Union enlistment office in West Virginia, as a matter of fact.
A Jetersville Gray Turns Blue
In 1863, Confederate deserter William Baugh enlisted with the 4th Regiment of the West Virginia Cavalry, also known as Lanehat’s Company, where he was tasked with “guarding [the] railroad and operating against guerrillas .” He re-enlisted in 1864, this time with the 6th West Virginia Infantry Division, where he continued his railroad guard duty .
Though William may have enlisted, in part, to collect a bounty payment, he did not abuse that system. He completed two enlistment periods and was eligible for a Union pension as compensation for his service.
William became a new man in West Virginia. By 1865, his former enemies were his friends, while his brother Robert and his Uncle Everett were considered his enemies, at least in the eyes of the nation. He knew that he could not return to his home in Virginia, since he risked execution for desertion.
Union soldier William Baugh mustered out of the army on 10 June 1865, and he headed home. But where was his home? It certainly was not in Virginia.
After all, CSA Private William H. Baugh died on that hill four years ago.
The Return of Private Baugh
William settled in West Virginia, and for the next 47 years he lived less than 50 miles from where he was “buried” after the Battle of Laurel Hill. He raised a family, built a life for himself, and remained loyal to the Union for the rest of his life. In 1900, his occupation was recorded as “old soldier” on the census .
In 1908, William finally reached out to the family he left behind all those years ago. Times had changed, and he no longer risked execution for desertion.
William’s letter to his brother ended with a heartfelt plea:
“Please let me know if you are Robert Archer Baugh, or let me know if you know anything of the man I name here. I left Manchester in 1861 and have heard nothing of my relatives since then.”– William H. Baugh, 28 January 1908
He was six years too late for a reunion with Uncle Everett, but William was not too late to reconnect with his brother. By the end of February 1908, Robert Baugh was on his way to Pennsylvania for a reunion with the brother he thought he had lost in 1861 .
It seems unfair that such a joyful reunion would be overshadowed by grief, but that is exactly what happened. William suffered a stroke less than one month after his reunion with Robert, and he passed away on 6 April 1908 .
Although William ultimately reconnected with his extended family, he still took some secrets to his grave. His parents’ names are not listed on his death certificate. Instead, his son Howard, who served as informant, stated “don’t know” for those items.
William H. Baugh faced a life of secrets and risks when he made the bravest of choices on that battlefield in 1861. He and his family paid dearly for his actions, but his sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Rest in peace, sir. Job well done.
- “Finds Brother,” The Times Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 2 Feb 1908, p. 18, col. 1-2. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- United States Federal Census, Year: 1850; Census Place: Amelia, Virginia; Roll: M432_933; Page: 52A; Image: 107. Original data: Seventh Census of the United States, 1850; (NARA Microfilm Publication M432, 1009 rolls); Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from Ancestry.com, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009). (See also: Amelia County Va. Chancery Causes, 1738-1939. Sallie Baugh and her next friend Everett Baugh, v. William Baugh et. al and their next friend Holt, 1856-010. Local Government Records Collection, Amelia County Court Records. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.)
- “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M41Q-GW6 : 12 December 2017), W H Baugh in entry for E W Baugh, 1860.
- Compiled service record, Baugh, E. W., Private, Co. C, 2nd Inf, Local Defense, Virginia. NARA M324, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903-1927, documenting the period 1861-1865, record group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from Fold3.com. (See also: “A Good Man Gone,” Richmond Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 23 Jan 1902, p. 5, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- Compiled service record, Baugh, William H. Private, Co. B, 23rd Virginia Infantry. NARA M324, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903-1927, documenting the period 1861-1865, record group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from Fold3.com. (See also: Compiled service record, Baugh, Robert A., Private, Co. I, 6th Virginia Infantry. NARA M324, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Confederate Organizations, compiled 1903-1927, documenting the period 1861-1865, record group 109; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from Fold3.com.)
- “Laurel Hill and the First Land Battles of the Civil War.” The Battle of Laurel Hill – History, http://www.battleoflaurelhill.org/history.htm.
- “Cemetery Reading – Research in Progress.” West Virginia Cemetery Preservation Association: Laurel Hill Confederate Cemetery, Barbour Co., WV, http://www.wvcpaweb.org/cemeteryregister/Barbour/BarbourLaurelH.html. (See also: Lesser, Hunter. Rebels at the Gate: Lee and McClellan on the Front Line of a Nation Divided. Sourcebooks, Inc, 2005.)
- Compiled service record, Baugh, William, Private, Co. I, 4th West Virginia Cavalry Regiment, NARA M508, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890-1912, documenting the period 1861-1866. Record group 94, Roll 0041; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from Fold3.com. (See also: “4th West Virginia Cavalry Regiment.” The Civil War in the East, http://civilwarintheeast.com/us-regiments-batteries/west-virginia/4th-west-virginia-cavalry/.)
- Compiled service record, Baugh, William H., Private, Co. F, 6th West Virginia Infantry Regiment, NARA M508, Carded Records Showing Military Service of Soldiers Who Fought in Volunteer Organizations During the American Civil War, compiled 1890-1912, documenting the period 1861-1866. Record group 94, Roll 0236; National Archives, Washington, D.C. Retrieved from Fold3.com.
- “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M9Z4-6Y3 : accessed 20 Nov 2019), Wm H Baugh, Grant district (east side) Brandonville town, Preston, West Virginia, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 99, sheet 5B, family 95, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,770.).
- “Personals and Briefs,” The Times Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 1 Mar 1908, p. 11, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- Death Certificate, Baugh, William H. Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90. Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 040601-044400, digital image 468 of 3895. Retrieved from ancestry.com.