Was Ebenezer Exline at Gettysburg?

Was Ebenezer Exline at Gettysburg?

I have always found it fascinating that my great-great-grandfather, Ebenezer Exline, served in the Civil War from October 1861 to June 1865. When the war began, he served from the state of Virginia, but was from a region that later became the state of West Virginia on 20 June 1863. Based on his Union service records, Ebenezer served with the 6th West Virginia Infantry, based primarily along the railroad lines between West Virginia and Cumberland, Maryland.

To discover the activities and locations of his unit, the Soldiers and Sailors Database hosted by the National Park Service is a great resource to begin my research. On the site, you can search by a soldier’s name or regiment to learn more details about the service in the Civil War. For example, the 6th West Virginia Infantry primarily served on guard duty along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; a detailed chronology of the unit’s skirmishes and activities within West Virginia and Maryland are also provided.

Wanting to learn more about his time in the war, I visited the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and accessed his Civil War pension file. Among the more than 100-page file, one document piqued my interest. While completing a questionnaire in 1911, when asked if he was involved in any battles, the 74-year- old Ebenezer wrote that he was a scout at Gettysburg.

Ebenezer Exline Civil War Questionnaire, 1911 [front page]                       Ebenezer Exline Civil War Questionnaire, 1911 [back page]                                      

How was that possible? Was he misremembering? At the same time, why would Ebenezer mention Gettysburg only on that one document in his 100-page pension file? The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in Adams County, Pennsylvania, which was not anywhere near where his unit served in.

Wanting to know whether Ebenezer truly had been near Gettysburg in July 1863, I consulted The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, a collection of the official reports and military correspondence for the Civil War. The 127-volume set can be accessed on HathiTrust.

From these volumes, I learned that in December 1861, Ebenezer’s unit was under the Department of Western Virginia,[1] headquartered in the Mountain Department within the Railroad District; this consisted of fifteen companies from the 6th Virginia Voluntary Infantry, commanded by Brigadier-General Benjamin F. Kelley.[2] A 1862 reorganization later moved Ebenezer’s unit into part of the Middle Department of the U.S. Army, also known as the 8th Army Corps, Department of Ohio, District of Western Virginia, Railroad Division.[3] General Order No. 186, dated 24 June 1863, later created the Department of West Virginia from the part of the Middle Department that was west of Hancock, Maryland, with Brigadier-General Kelley commanding.[4] 

By closely following the history of the unit, the various and often-confusing organizational restructures, and the names of the commanding officers, the detailed movements and activities of the 6th [West] Virginia Infantry and its’ soldiers are chronicled in these volumes.

Getting back to my questions about Ebenezer’s potential involvement at Gettysburg, I discovered that, in July 1863, according to the report filed by Major General Henry W. Halleck, General-in-Chief, U.S. Army,[5] “the operations of our troops in West Virginia are referred to here as being intimately connected with those of the Army of the Potomac ... When Lee's army retreated across the Potomac … Brigadier-General Kelley concentrated all his available force on the enemy's flank ... They also rendered valuable services in the pursuit, after Lee had effected his passage of the river."[6]

Ebenezer Exline was a scout, pursuing the retreating Confederate Army, immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg. It is still confusing why he does not mention this role in any of the other documents in his pension file. Why would someone not want to identify with one of the most important and famous battles in American history?

Lessons learned are to read through every document and review multiple sources. Doing so will give you a more complete picture of the unit and the men that served.

[1]  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, volume 5, page 691, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891-; digital images, “The War of the Rebellion” collection, HathiTrust, (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/mb?a=listis;c=106642625: accessed 11 December 2023).
[2] Ibid., Series 1, volume 12, part 3, page 10.
[3] Ibid., Series 1, volume 19, part 1, pages 338, 421, and 522-523.
[4] Ibid., Series 1, volume 23, part 2, pages 454-455.
[5] Ibid., Series 1, volume 27, part 1, page 14.
[6] Ibid., Series 1, volume 27, part 1, page 17.
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