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The Moccasin Rangers of Calhoun County West Virginia

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  • John Jehu Starcher, Civil War Veteran (CSA) (1845 - 1874)
    Jehu Starcher BIRTH 20 Sep 1845 Kanawha County, West Virginia, USA DEATH 14 Aug 1874 (aged 28) BURIAL Gibson Cemetery Calhoun County, West Virginia, Co. A, Virginia State Line (Moccasin Rangers). Phot...
  • Capt. Rev. John Elim Mitchell (1818 - 1862)
    The Reverend Captain John Elam Mitchell was killed in guerrilla warfare at Arnoldsburg the age of 44.Guerilla Unit Capt. (Rev.) John Elam Mitchell’s Co., formerly 165th Regt. Va. Militia (Gilmer) : Anc...
  • Peregrine Hays, (CSA) (1819 - 1903)
    of Samuel Lewis Hays (1794-1871) and Roanna Arnold Hays. Husband of Louisa Ann Sexton Hays, daughter of Augustus and Anna Sexton. Children of Peregrine and Louisa Sexton Hays. (1). Mary. b.Mar 31 1850....
  • Perry D Connolly(Conley), Sr., Civil War Veteran (CSA) (1837 - 1862)
    Perry D. Connolly(Conley) Sr. BIRTH 1837 DEATH 1862 (aged 24–25) Welch Glade, Webster County, West Virginia, USA BURIAL Bobbitt Farm Cemetery Cowen, Webster County, West VirginiaPhoto Perry D Conley ...
  • Nancy "Rebel Hart" Douglas (Confederate scout and spy) (1846 - 1902)
    Hart Douglas (1846–1913) was a scout, guide, and spy for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Serving first with the Moccasin Rangers, a prosouthern guerilla group in present-day West Virgini...

"These are the times that try men's souls". Those words, penned at the time of the American Revolution, mirrored the mood of Virginians in 1861. Their state had joined the Confederacy and seceded from the Union that their ancestors had fought to create. Northwestern Virginia was seceding from Virginia to create a new state, loyal to the Union. People in central Virginia were fighting a "war within the war" with tensions mounting as men joined either the Union or Confederate armies. Calhoun County, part of the new state of West Virginia, was in the center of divided loyalties.

Confederate sympathizers in Calhoun and surrounding counties were forming local companies of "partisan rangers" to fight the "northern enemy" without official recognition from Virginia. Protecting one's home and community without being part of an organized military unit was not new to these people. The frontier had long been guarded by local militia, and many of their ancestors had served as rangers defending their frontier properties during and after the Revolutionary War. The charter of a local ranger company reflects the attitude, purpose and mission of these groups stating they were an "independent Guerrilla Volunteer Company, to serve for a period of three months in defense of the State, and of our families, friends and personal property against Northern troops or any body of citizens raised for illegal or improper purposes". These charters granted them permission to administer 'frontier justice'.

Although West Virginia was not the scene of major Civil War battles, these self-appointed rangers. using guerilla warfare tactics, terrorized individuals, businesses and communities. Trying to disrupt any government activities, they destroyed post offices and public records. There were reports of "stolen horses and cattle; bridges being burned; roads suffering from neglect of repairs; court houses, churches and privates residences being abused or burned; public records destroyed; and soldiers or residents maimed for life". Neighbors identified as northern sympathizers were victims of random attacks. Men who had previously served in positions of authority were committing acts of disruption. Probably the most notorious of these local ranger groups were the "Moccasin Rangers", organized in 1861 in Calhoun County, West Virginia. The focus of their guerilla activities included the counties drained by the Little Kanawha River which flowed through Calhoun, Gilmer, Roane and Wirt counties.

The men who made up the Moccasin Rangers were descendants of the earliest settlers of Calhoun county. There was a permanent settlement as early as 1774 along the banks of the Little Kanawha River, but most came between 1810 and 1830. These were the fathers and grandfathers of the men who became the Moccasin Rangers. George Connolly, Anthony Parsons, Thomas Cottrell, Thomas Brannon, and three Truman families settled on the upper waters of the West Fork. Adam O'Brien, Peter Cogar, Isaac Mace, William Brannon, and Peter McCune settled along the West Fork on McCune's Run which emptied into the West Fork, just below Arnoldsburg. Philip Starcher, one of the earliest settlers, lived near present day Arnoldsburg by 1811 and was joined soon after by James Mayes, James Niles, Audrey Sharp, Stephen Burson, William Brannan, John Haverty, John Goff, John Ball, Job Westfall, Samuel Barr, Alexander Huffman, Joshua Smith, James Arnold, Barnabas Cook, Archibald Burris, George Hardman, Salathiel Riddle, Henry Bell, Phillip Stallman, Isaac Cox, Benjamin Jackson, Michael Haverty, Thomas Holbert and Valentine Ferrell.

Children who would become Moccasin Rangers grew up hearing stories about relatives who fought in the Revolutionary War serving as Indian spies or defending the frontier. Veterans of the Mexican American War and the War of 1812 were living in their neighborhoods. Although these families lived in an extremely rural area, the young men would have heard about the gold rush in California and would have wished they were old enough to join the men and get rich quickly. There was the discovery of oil nearby in Wirt County and promises of riches. As they reached young adulthood, they must have heard talk about whether new territories should be free or slave. Now as strong young adults, these men probably wanted to experience something exciting in their own lives.

At the formation of Calhoun county in 1856, there were only about 2500 people in the area, but there were already arguments about where the county seat should be located. The first meeting of the county court was held at the home of Joseph Burson, at the mouth of Pine Creek, on the Little Kanawha River. In 1857 there were two county courts - one at Arnoldsburg and one at Pine Creek. In 1858 it was agreed that Arnoldsburg would be the county seat with land obtained from Peregrine Hays to build a court house. Peregrine Hays was a one-time sheriff of both Gilmer and Calhoun counties and had represented Gilmer County in the Virginia legislature. Joseph Burson and Peregrine Hays both joined the Moccasin Rangers. In 1862, during the Civil War, Union forces captured Arnoldsburg and placed Peregrine Hays under arrest as a political prisoner. Joseph Burson was killed in 1862.

The topography of Calhoun County is rocky, hilly and heavily wooded with the Little Kanawha River as the main waterway. The land has never been good for farming or raising livestock commercially. There are gas and oil and timber resources, but most of the rights to any timber, oil or gas were sold to wealthier people who lived out of the area. The local woodsmen knew their wilderness and how to trap, shoot game, use their knives and guns, fish, hunt, and escape capture. The woods were their backyards. Traveling by highway, it is 40 miles from Glenville in Gilmer county to Spencer in Roane county, but these rangers knew the area and trails to shorten the distance

In an attempt to eradicate the outlaw rangers, the Union organized the "Snake Hunters" to track these men down, capture them and take them to be imprisoned. In 1862 a newspaper reported that a captain "brought 34 prisoners said to be Moccasin Rangers who had been pillaging and murdering throughout Wirt, Roane and adjoining counties for some considerable length of time." Some men became disgusted with the barbaric tactics while others embraced the outlaw activities and continued to rob, ambush and kill people outside the normal rules of warfare. Two of the most notorious of the Moccasin Rangers were Peregrine "Perry" Connolly and his side-kick, Nancy Hart. Many tales are told of their war activities, but they both had brothers who were Union soldiers. Nancy's two brothers, Kelly and James Hart, both enlisted in the Union army. James Hart was killed at Cloyd's Mountain in 1864. Perry also had two brothers who served as Union solders. His brother James Connolly was a lieutenant in the Union army, and his brother Cornelius was wounded while a Union soldier, but another brother, John Connolly enlisted in Company E of the 14th Virginia Cavalry under Absolom Knotts.

In 1862 the Virginia Assembly recognized these local ranger units as "State Rangers" and felt they were helpful to the regular Army, but in 1863 men from the guerilla units were reorganized under the command of regular Confederate companies. Some had already been killed, captured or tried for criminal activities. Most of the remaining men from the "Moccasin Rangers" were enlisted into Company A of the 19th VA Cavalry under William L "Mudwall" Jackson, a second cousin to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. In May of 1863, Mudwall Jackson’s men participated in the destruction of the oil fields at Burning Springs in Wirt County. In 1865 after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Jackson disbanded the last of his Confederate forces at Lexington, Virginia,