April 10, 2011

Newel King, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry

By the summer of 1862, with war sweeping the nation and hopes for a quick and easy end to hostilities fading, the Ohio River became more than just a symbolic dividing line between North and South. The river counties on the Ohio side braced for the possibility of invasion. Ohio Governor David Tod issued a call for 300,000 men in early July 1862, followed by a call for an additional 300,000 men just a month later. This sense of urgency heralded the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, with recruits from six southern Ohio counties, into hasty formation.

Newel King, my third-great-grandfather, answered Tod’s call on August 6, 1862. He and his younger brother, Wesley, enlisted in their hometown of Cheshire in Gallia County, Ohio, which borders the river along its entire eastern edge. It couldn’t have been easy for Newel to take that step. His father, Newel King Sr., had died in 1853, leaving his mother widowed with 15 children. By 1860, 22-year-old Newel was the oldest child still at home, in charge of helping his mother, Clarissa, run the farm and support seven siblings. But this was the Ohio Valley’s time of need. Newel and Wesley were assigned as privates to Company B, mustering in at Camp Ironton on September 7, 1862.

View of the Ohio River from Gallipolis
Only a week later, the regiment crossed the river into Point Pleasant, Virginia. The 91st OVI marched off to its first raid against the Confederates in Buffalo, Virginia on September 26th. After a little more activity, the new recruits spent their first winter in the mountains of Fayetteville, Virginia. In the spring, as they skirmished to protect the Kanawha Valley, they were no doubt bolstered by the news of West Virginia’s admittance into the Union. Following a fairly quiet summer and early fall, the regiment engaged in a campaign against the rebel forces in Lewisburg, West Virginia, in early November. After burning the enemy’s winter quarters and commissaries, without incurring any casualties, the men of the 91st O.V.I. returned to Fayetteville for a second winter.

Throughout this time, Newel’s service record indicates only that he was “present.” But as the company prepared to move out in the spring of 1864, Newel contracted measles. He was marked “Sick in Hospital” at Fayetteville in March, April, and May. In early June, while his company (including Wesley) pushed through Virginia in a series of battles, Newel was transferred to the U.S. General Hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio.

The regimental surgeon, John Warwick, M.D., later testified how Newel became ill: “About the middle of March 1864 the said Regiment made a reconnaissance in force to Summersville West Va. The roads were very bad & the weather very severe. On this march the said Newel King broke out with measles and returned with his Regiment to Fayetteville West Va. and was placed in Regimental Hospital. He soon recovered so he could walk out to his meals. About this time our rooms were crowded with sick and he being much better had to give up his room & was placed in a cold, open shed. The night he was placed there was a fearful stormy night; morning found him covered with snow & very cold. From this exposure he contracted Inflammatory Rheumatism, was helpless & had to be handled as a child, could not move hand or feet. We were ordered from Fayetteville about May 1st 1864 at which time the said Newel King was sent to Gen. Hospital at Charleston West Va.”

Newel recalled that after spending about two weeks in at the hospital in Charleston, he was sent to the hospital at Gallipolis, where he remained until November. While there, his “back and limbs were swollen and much afflicted.” Feeling better at last, he obtained a furlough to go home for 15 days around November first, in order to vote in the Presidential election. But that was far from the end of his troubles. His mother and sisters recalled that, while home on furlough, Newel “was stricken down with a fit of Epilepsy which continued some little time.” He returned to the hospital but, despite the seizures, was soon released.

Newel rejoined his company in Fayetteville in December. His illness, however, prevented him from resuming active duty. As company Captain John Hamilton later testified, “Newel King had not then fully recovered his health, but was able to do light camp duty, to which service I put him, and in which he continued until the discharge of the Regiment from service in June, 1865.”

During Newel’s absence, the 91st O.V.I. had fought valiantly in numerous battles in Virginia throughout the summer and fall of 1864. Wesley had been promoted to Corporal. As the final weeks of the war played out in early 1865, the regiment kept on the move but saw little military engagement. They were stationed in Winchester, Virginia when General Robert E. Lee surrendered. On June 24, 1865, both Newel and Wesley King mustered out with their company at Cumberland, Maryland, and returned home to Gallia County.

After the war, Newel married twice. His first wife, Mary Gross, died five months after the wedding. His second wife, Electa Roush, whom he married May 9, 1869, had four children and eventually became my third-great-grandmother. Although Newel farmed his land until 1892, he suffered continually from seizures and poor health.

Newel died September 17, 1896, in Cheshire Township, Gallia County, where he had been born 58 years earlier. His obituary noted, “Mr. Newell King of Cheshire, an old Ninety-Firster and a most excellent gentleman, departed this life at 3 o’clock Wednesday morning, leaving a wife and four grown children to mourn their irreparable loss. He had long been ill with that dreadful malady, consumption, and his sufferings, though dreadful, were borne with that resignation that bespeaks the Christian character.”

A most excellent gentleman indeed, and one whose story I'm glad to have the chance to tell.

For regimental history: Lois J. Lambert, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Milford, Ohio: Little Miami Publishing Co., 2005).
For family information: 1860 U.S. census, Cheshire Twp., Gallia Co., Ohio, p. 95, dwelling 710, family 656: Clarissay King; digital image, Ancestry.com, citing NARA microfilm M653, roll 966. 
For service record: Compiled service record, Newel King, Pvt., Co. B, 91st Ohio Infantry; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1782-1917, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
For pension record: Invalid pension application no. 223,493, Newel King, certificate no. 186,803 (Pvt. Co B, 91st Ohio Infantry, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1961-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files, Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs, Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
For marriage: Mason County, West Virginia, marriage records, book 6, p. 55 (1869), Newel King and Electa A. Roush, Mason County Clerk's Office, Point Pleasant.
For obituary: Newel King obituary, The Republican-Herald, Middleport, Ohio, 25 September 1896, p. 6, col. 1.
For map of Ohio: Gallia County Economic Development Office (www.growgallia.com)

Copyright by Shelley Bishop, 2011


  1. Great post.

    Makes you think - if the war had never happened, would Newell have been healthy enough to escape tuberculosis at the end? And how was medical treatment for epilepsy way back then? Primitive at best, I suppose.

    What courage he had - to try and recover and go back in to do his duty for his country...

  2. Wow, what a life story. Thanks for sharing it. (And it looks like your King line was just east of several of my families - in Clermont and Brown counties.)

    Pat at genealogygals.com

  3. Thanks, Dee and Pat! Those are interesting questions, Dee, and it does make you wonder, doesn't it? His pension file is over 150 pages and it seems like he just got sicker as time went on. And Pat, yes-we could have been ancestral neighbors :)

  4. And a most excellent post, Shelley. I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing it in the challenge!

  5. Thanks, Bill, and thanks for giving us the challenge!

  6. I was looking for something else and happened up on this post.
    What is so great, I 've found a new cousin. I did this research also for the Civil War Families of Gallia County, along with Wesley, I think without checking my genealogy notes.
    Newell , Jr. is the brother of my greatgreatgrandmother Lucina King Swisher. I am a native of Gallia County, Ohio and a genealogist.
    So, happy to have stumble upon this blog.


Thank you for reading my blog! I welcome and appreciate your comments.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...