Friday, August 29, 2014

Wheeling, West Virginia - 18 year old boy joins the Grafton Guards to fight for the Union in 1861

Today we headed to Wheeling, West Virgina to visit the Independence Hall Museum.

Why here?

Well, on May 25, 1861 18-year-old George Washington Ordner, was officially mustered in to the 2nd Virginia Infantry in Wheeling by Major Oakes. He was part of Company B that was lead by Captains George R. Latham, Daniel Wilson, and Amos Hammer. I believe he joined with his first cousin, John W. Moore who was 22 years old and possibly a friend from Mt. Savage, James Callahan, who was also 22 years old.

If GWO was living in Mt. Savage at the time, how did he join up with Company B - known as the "Grafton Guards" which were organized as a company in Grafton, Virginia? And why did they go to Wheeling to muster in?

Upon entering the museum today, Jeff and I met Travis Henline, the Site Manager for the museum. He was exceedingly knowledgeable and very helpful in sharing what was happening in Wheeling in 1861.
When learning of our purpose for visiting the museum (finding more about my grandfather's civil war journey) he took us to see the photograph of Major General, Benjamin Franklin Kelley, who was the General who lead the Union Victory at Phillippi, VA. This battle was the first land battle of the war and my grandfather participated in it. General Kelley was severely wounded during this battle. (We are planning to visit the Phillippi battle field and I will write more about it later.)

Travis also explained to us that Wheeling was a key place for the armies to train. Wheeling Island, in the middle of the Ohio River that flows right through the city, had a training area on the north end named Camp Carlisle in honor of the US Senator, John Carlisle, who was instrumental in creating West Virginia as a new state. So now it made sense that my grandfather went to Wheeling to learn how to be a soldier.

But how did he end up in Grafton? 
After looking at the exhibits in the museum and talking more with Travis, we discovered that the B&O Railroad had a direct line from Cumberland, MD (only a few miles from Mt. Savage) into Grafton. So George likely rode the train from Cumberland to Grafton where he joined in with the Company that was organizing there. From Grafton it is only a short train ride, once again on the B&O Railroad (yes, the same one in the Monopoly game!) to Wheeling. The B&O Railroad Depot is actually directly across the street from Independence Hall. 

There is also a notable suspension bridge in Wheeling (just 6 blocks north of the Depot and the Hall) that according to the guidebook, was built in 1848 is 1,010 feet long and is one of the world's longest of its kind. 
This bridge crosses to the island where Camp Carlisle was. Can you imagine? George, a young man who has only experienced ferries to cross rivers, walking over this enormous bridge a hundred feet or more over the river to get to the soldier training camp?


We learned that in 1861 when the first army was called to the front of the war in Phillippi where the confederates were camped. The soldiers, GWO was one of them, were marched from Camp Carlisle across this bridge, parading down Main Street to the cheering of the towns 14,000 citizens, 6 blocks to the B&O Railroad station to board the trains to Grafton. The Civil War was the first time the railroad was used to move troops quickly to where they were needed in battle. 

We were also thrilled to discover that the museum had the largest collection of West Virginia regimental flags. And guess what? In January of 1864, George's regiment the 2nd Virginia was provided horses and became the 5th West Virginia Calvary. In the museums collection they had the flag, or "guidon" that George's regiment carried into battle. The ACTUAL flag that my grandfather likely rode behind and saw clearly in battle. How cool is that? Here is the photo of the flag. Gave me chills....

So, today spent in Wheeling, WV was a gold-mine! I did not know that Wheeling housed the closest military training grounds and it makes perfect sense that my grandfather would have ended up in Wheeling to learn how to be a soldier!

We are now in Cumberland, MD. This is the place where he lived the last 10 years of his life. We are staying near the waterfront and close to the train station. In the next few days we plan to visit several museums and historical society libraries, find his grave, and ride a steam-engine train (which GWO rode on) from Cumberland, through Mt. Savage to Frostburg and back.

Stay tuned for more adventures and discoveries!


  1. So cool to be able to see and follow things your grandfather did!
    Its fascinating!

  2. Yes, Sue, it truly is an adventure! We are learning so much and meeting so many cool people along the way too.