Cemetery Reading - research in progress

Cemetery Name:

Laurel Hill Confederate

Laurel Hill Confederate graves near Belington, WV
Click on photo above to enlarge

County: Barbour
USGS Quad: Belington
Coordinates: near 39.0059N  79.9199W 
Maintained by: City of Belington, WV
Belington Convention and Visitors Bureau
Land owner: City of Belington, WV
Belington Convention and Visitors Bureau
Date added to WVCPA register: February 2008
Condition of cemetery**: Excellent (February 2008)
Accessibility: Located on the Civil War battlefield near Belington. It is believed that fewer than a dozen Confederate soldiers died at Laurel Hill. They were buried in a common grave - only four of them have headstones.

For further information, visit The Battle of Laurel Hill website.

** Condition of cemetery as observed on the given date -
may not be representative of care at other times of the year
Scale: Excellent - Good - Fair - Poor - Abandoned


Last Name: First Name:






Blake John H.   1861 [19 years of age - PVT Co. H 23rd VA Infantry]   Source: WVCPA volunteer and Civil War researcher Terry McCallister
Goff Charles H.   1861 [19 years of age - PVT Co. H 23rd VA Infantry]   Source: WVCPA volunteer and Civil War researcher Terry McCallister
Oney Robert   1861 [21 years of age]   Source: WVCPA volunteer and Civil War researcher Terry McCallister
Whitlock Fendell C.   1861 [20 years of age - Co. G 23rd VA Infantry]   Source: WVCPA volunteer and Civil War researcher Terry McCallister

Comments: Dates in Red are not inscribed on the tombstone and have either been calculated based on death date or are as a result of research on the individual.

Any additions or corrections to the information presented here, as well as any photos for this cemetery, will be gladly accepted. Contact WVCPA at

Excerpts from an article that appeared in the Charleston Gazette on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008, highlighting this battlefield gravesite:

Frozen in time: Groups want to bring more recognition to some of Civil War's first battlefields
By Tara Tuckwiller, Staff writer, Charleston Gazette

We are anxious to meet the foe, for we have them to whip, and the sooner we do it, the sooner we will be able to return to the dear loved ones at home.

- A letter home from Laurel Hill by John B. Pendleton, 23rd Virginia Infantry, C.S.A.

BELINGTON - Four gravestones stand sentry at the head of a sunken mass grave. A whitewashed rail fence surrounds it and a Confederate flag flutters over it.

Four gravestones erected by a recent Union government mark this mass Confederate grave at the Laurel Hill battlefield... It's a short hike through a hayfield to get here, although somebody has close-clipped a grassy walking trail through the waving seedheads. There's nothing but mountains, and woods, and quiet.

It's as if time stopped here in 1861, right after these dead Confederates lost one of the very first land battles of the Civil War.

That makes Laurel Hill - a low knob overlooking the cattle farms of Barbour County - a very rare jewel indeed: a Civil War battlefield unspoiled by tourism.

"It's like stepping back in time," said Hunter Lesser, an Elkins archaeologist and historic consultant who served as technical adviser for The Conservation Fund's "The Civil War Battlefield Guide."

Lesser wrote the book on the battle of Laurel Hill. His "Rebels at the Gate" became a History Book Club main selection in 2004. He has been involved with several nationwide historical groups, including the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Park Service.

Now, he's supporting local groups in their effort to get greater recognition - and possibly more tourist traffic - for a string of battlefields across rural West Virginia, starting with the very first land battle of the Civil War: the famed "Philippi Races."

"People are really impressed by how well preserved some of these sites are," Lesser said. "Last fall, I spent a couple of days with a fellow who's doing a survey for the American Battlefield Protection Program," an arm of the National Park Service.

"He'd never seen these battlefields before. He was just amazed at the preservation of the sites we have here, and the outstanding scenic quality."

The Smithsonian Institution's Smithsonian Associates tours have already come more than once, Lesser said.

"The whole 'First Campaign' tour starts at Philippi and goes southeast to the Virginia line, at Camp Allegheny," he said. "That's only 400 feet lower than Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. So you go from this scenic, pastoral farmland, eventually up into the high Alleghenies. People seem to really like it."

Civil War buffs have seen all the other sites, Lesser said. Laurel Hill and its sister battlefields are something new.

"You can only go to Antietam or Gettysburg or Shiloh so many times," he said.

'The gates to the northwestern country'

Every West Virginia schoolchild learns about the "Philippi Races," so named because that's how fast the rebels ran away from that first land battle of the war.

But present-day West Virginia was Virginia back then. It was Confederate country, and the rebels didn't give it up without at least a little bit more of a fight.

Confederate Gen. Robert Garnett had 5,000 troops, trying to hold back 20,000 Union soldiers, Lesser said.

"He identified two key passes - one at Rich Mountain," about 20 miles south of Philippi, "and one at Laurel Hill.

"He called them 'the gates to the northwestern country.'"

Union Gen. George McClellan did indeed attack Laurel Hill - but it was just a diversion. He sent a brigade to skirmish with the rebels for five days while he took the bulk of his army and captured Rich Mountain.

Garnett realized he would soon be cut off, because his supply line ran through Beverly, just five miles west of the Rich Mountain pass.

"General Garnett tried to flee south," Lesser said. "He believed he was cut off. Actually, he could have made it. ... He circled north and got into the Cheat River valley in Tucker County.

"He ended up being killed on a riverbank, right in present-day Parsons, at a place called Corrick's Ford."

Garnett was the first general killed in the Civil War.

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[Fendall] Whitlock of our company died a few days since. We buried him on the side of a mountain ...

- Last letter home by John B. Pendleton, killed in action at Laurel Hill

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It is believed that fewer than a dozen Confederate soldiers died at Laurel Hill. They were buried in a common grave. But only four of them have headstones, courtesy of the federal government: John H. Blake, 19; Charles H. Goff, 19; Robert Oney, 21; and Fendall C. Whitlock, 20.

"Those were the only ones with documentation acceptable to the government - without disinterring and DNA testing," said Lynne Snyder of the Belington Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

Snyder is part of a group that has applied for National Register of Historic Places designation for the Laurel Hill battlefield.

Measured in casualties, Laurel Hill wasn't much of a battle.

"But if you measure battlefields by their political effect, it's an important battlefield indeed," Lesser said.

For one thing, Laurel Hill and its sister battles - the first campaign of the Civil War - gave rise to Gen. George McClellan.

"McClellan was a master of PR," Lesser said. "He had a secret weapon: the telegraph.

"He set up a telegraph at Beverly and sent a series of dramatic press releases to Washington. President Lincoln was a visitor to the telegraph office, so he was often getting these firsthand."

McClellan apparently spared no flourish in trumpeting his accomplishments in present-day West Virginia, Lesser said. "McClellan was an overnight sensation ...

"This was about a week before the first great battle: Manassas."

Impressed with McClellan's apparent genius at Laurel Hill and its sister battles, Lincoln called him from Beverly to command the Union army at Manassas.

Unfortunately, "McClellan's underlings had actually taken the initiative here" in present-day West Virginia, Lesser said. "He was a good organizer, but not a good battlefield general."

Union forces were expected to stomp the Confederacy at Manassas, ending the Civil War before it could even start.

But under McClellan, "it wound up being a Confederate victory," Lesser said.

"McClellan's rise actually prolonged the Civil War quite a bit."

There was one other big result of the Civil War's first campaign, Lesser said: the state of West Virginia.

"The Union presence here in western Virginia gave the Wheeling delegates the presence they needed," he said.

"By 1861, there was a Union government here and a Confederate government in Richmond. Two years later, West Virginia was made a state."

Tourists spend $3 million a year at Mo. battlefield

Local groups have done a little sprucing up around Laurel Hill. With a $230,000 federal grant, the Belington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Laurel Hill Reenactment Foundation bought 50 acres of the battlefield site, installed interpretive signs at the graveyard and other places of interest, and dug a well.

The well will provide water for the 1,000 to 3,000 people who usually show up each July for the annual re-enactment of the Laurel Hill battle.

Local groups have applied for funding for a visitors center. But they don't plan to do too much development.

"We want to try and maintain it as pristine as possible," Snyder said. "We don't want to commercialize it to the point where it's a bunch of hamburger stands."

Relatively small battlefields have become major tourist attractions.

One month after the battle at Laurel Hill, Gen. Nathaniel Lyon became the first Union general to die. That battlefield, at Wilson's Creek in Missouri, now has a National Park Service interpretive center with a movie and driving tour. Tourists spend $3.1 million a year there, according to a 2006 study of the economic benefits of battlefield parks commissioned by The Civil War Preservation Trust.

Not all people who live around Laurel Hill agree with the plan to make it a historic site and a tourist destination, Snyder said. Some fear a historic designation would interfere with their freedom to do what they want with their property, she said.

Before the "First Campaign" sites can become a real tourist destination, Lesser said, "We have to have more citizens aware of the fact that heritage tourism is a viable form of economic development. It will eventually create jobs and opportunities for people who live around battlefields and camps. It's not going to happen overnight, of course."

But the sites of the Civil War's first land battles - still almost exactly as the soldiers found them in 1861 - make a strong historic trail, Lesser said.

"Together, they make a compelling package," he said.

To contact (Charleston Gazette) staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call (304)348-5189."

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The WVCPA sends thanks to its volunteer Civil War researcher, Terry McCallister, for forwarding this information to us. We encourage our readers to visit this historic grave site and to continue to learn about the history of this great state of ours, ever remembering those who have gone before us and paying them their due respect when visiting their final resting places.

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