This story was mentioned to me by my father and I received a lot of information from Hobart Byrnside(the son of Virgil Byrnside that is mentioned in the story). I researched some on the internet and added family information plus Civil War notes to finish this story.
George Byrnside Story
George was the son of Benjamin born 1805 and Cynthia Alford Byrnside 1811-1870. He was born 1838 in Peytona, Boone County, West Virginia and died 1863 during the Civil War. He was unmarried. George Byrnsides appears in the 1850 Boone County Census as the son of Benjamin and Cynthia then age 12. His name appears in the 1860 Putnam County Census, Dist. #2 living in the house of Richard Byrnside and shown as 23 years old, probably working for Richard.
Several accounts are given as to George’s death in the Civil War. Older members of the family state with certainty that George was executed, unjustly, without a fair trial for personal reasons of General John McCausland.
Adjutant General’s Office, War Dept., Washington, D. C. show that George W. Byrnside enlisted as a private May 1, 1867 in Giles County, Va. (also shown to have enlisted in Boone County, Va.) in (2nd) Company B and (3rd) Company I; 36th Regiment Virginia Infantry (Also known as the 2nd Kanawha Reg’t Virginia Infantry, Confederate States Army.) The company muster roll for September and October 1863 lists him as having “Deserted September 7, 1863 from Camp Princeton, Mercer County, Va.” His name appears on a Consolidated Description Roll, dated Headquarters, Dept. of West Virginia, Clarksburg, October 31, 1863, of rebel deserters within the Dept. of West Virginia. His age was shown as 26 years, occupation- farmer, residence Kanawha, West Va.; and bears the remark; “Took oath of allegiance and was sent to Ohio, Oct. 11, 1863.” His name does not again appear on the rolls of that company and no later record has been found. (These notes were obtained by Don G. Byrnside from the War. Dept.)
Despite the War. Dept. Record, the family members have handed down two other stories, and they appear to have some measure of truth in them. One tells that George Byrnside was absent from camp, but at home sick, (They say he had tuberculosis). On his return to camp, he was caught and classified as a deserter and was ordered shot by Gen. John McCausland. He was forced to sit up in his own coffin and shot there! When asked if he had anything to say before his execution he sang the old Primitive Baptist hymn, “I Would Not Live Always, I Ask Not to Stay”. George knew he was sick, the family say, and knew he could not live, anyway. His family, especially his brothers, could never talk of his execution without showing deep emotion. They believed him to have been honorable and condemned unfairly, due to poor communications of the day. The execution took place at New River Narrows, where George was returning to his company. George Booth also tells that George Byrnside was courting a Meadows girl, who was also in favor of Gen. McCausland. George Byrnside was “shot over her”, states George S. Booth. (George Sherman Booth, born 1880, was named for his Uncle George Byrnside and for General Sherman.)
George Booth recalls the old folks talking when he was young about the execution of George. He states that Jim “Balt” Estep(Divinah Byrnside’s husband) and Jack Meadows(Mary Ann Smith Byrnsides’s half-brother) (Jack Meadows was the son of John and Ruth Meadows) were ordered (selected) on the firing squad but they refused because of the family relationship. George Booth states that “George Byrnside was forced into the rebel army but later deserted. He was captured by rebels and was shot while sitting in his coffin at the Narrows of New River and buried there, but later moved to a small church yard near by. I knew some of the men who were detailed to shoot him. Feb. 1, 1867.” “I was named after him and Gen. W.T. Sherman and I am a Republican and proud of my name.” George Booth.
Mrs. Lottie Eggleton Mullins recalls seeing, as a young girl, a letter which George Byrnside wrote home to his family. In the letter he said to be sure to tell his sisters, “Hello”, naming each of them in the letter.
Pharlenia Casdorph Courtright Hodges in her records, (copied from her Bible by Virgil Byrnside in 1931) stated that George was shot without a fair trial.
From “History of the New River Settlements” by David E. Johnston, “Gen. John McCausland and his 4th Brigade, 36th and 60th Virginia Regiments spent the winter of 1863 at the Narrows (Thurmond, WV)”
From “History of Great Kanawha Valley”, by J.P. Hale, pub. 1891 and later West Virginia History books. General John McCausland attended the Buffalo Academy at Buffalo, WV in his youth. (This Academy was turned into a hospital during the Civil War).
General John McCausland of the Confederate Army returned to live (at his old home) in his home area, Pt. Pleasant, Mason County, WV. He was looked upon with ill favor by those with Northern feelings. He lived to be 90 years old.
Mr. C. J. Casdorph wrote: “I recall squirrel hunting at New River Narrows, the region of George’s execution. This mountain is a rough place. The Civil War skirmish took place at what is now Cotton Hill, just east of Gauley Bridge. There was a crossing near there on the North side of New River high on Gauley Mountain(on Rt. 60); a “Plantation” stood in the most unlikely place and was occupied by both sides during the Civil War. It was later destroyed and grew up in trees. It is now the site of the elaborate Country Club and Golf Course of the Carbide Metals Alloy near by and this was where George Byrnside was court –martialed for being away sick. This information about George, C.J. Casdorph states, came from an old Mr.Clendenin with whom I worked at one time in the Cannel Coal Company. (Coal River) (It was this man who also told C.J. Casdorph that there was a Byrnside-Clendenin relationship)
From “36th Virginia Infantry”, by J. L. Scott, pub. 1987
Page 60- George W. Burnside, Co. B.; enlisted May 1, 1862 in Giles County. Present until he deserted Sept. 7, 1863. Transferred to Co. I; Aug. 1863. Paroled Oct. 11, 1863, age 26, 6’0” tall, blue eyes, light hair.
Page 21, 22- The 640 men of the 36th Virginia who were present in September 1863 spent the remainder of the year defending Narrows and stood ready, if necessary, to defend the saltworks in Smyth County. McCausland’s Brigade, which included the 36th Virginia under Major Smith, the 60th Virginia, and Bryan’s Battery, went into camp at Narrows for the winter. There were a number of furloughs granted during the winter, and the October muster rolls shows that the band members had been detached to Richmond.
The winter was uneventful except for an incident that took place before the new year. Two men from the brigade who had deserted, were captured and tried. They were found guilty and since it was the third time for both, they were sentenced to be executed. The entire brigade was ordered out to view the event. Both men were blindfolded and sitting on their coffins. When the order was given to fire “the souls of two men, almost in the twinkling of the eye, passed into eternity.”
These types of incidents had a great affect on both the men and officers. Lieutenant Thomas Fowler Walker may have been remembering that day when he was sent into his home county to bring back a deserter. It seems that Walker knew the man he was to retrieve. Walker did not go directly to the man’s home but circulated around the area for several hours, where he could be seen by the man’s friends and relatives. When Walker finally went to the man’s home, he could not be found and the lieutenant returned to the regiment, having done his duty in searching for the deserter.
The family had reasons for the desertion and the military had reasons for the execution but the truth remains lost in history.