Doddridge County Roots

A West Virginia Genealogy

Lafayette SWIGER

Male 1844 - 1864  (20 years)


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  • Name Lafayette SWIGER 
    Born 11 Mar 1844  Pike Fork (McClellan District, Salem), Doddridge Co, WV Find all individuals with events at this location  [1, 2
    Gender Male 
    Census 1850, 1860  Doddridge Co, (W)VA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Military (ENLISTED 7/28/1862)  [3
    Pvt, Co A, 14th W.Va. Inf, Civil War (KIA, 2nd battle at Kernstown, Winchester Va) 
    Died 24 Jul 1864  Winchester, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  [3
    Notes 
    • 2018-11-30 Lafayette Swiger of Center Point
      Lafayette Swiger of Center Point

      This past summer I traveled to Winchester, Virginia, where I had the opportunity to visit the National Cemetery there. Knowing that Doddridge County’s Co. A, 14th W.Va. Infantry extensively traversed the Shenandoah Valley during the Valley Campaign of 1864, I decided to visit some of the battlefields where they fought. One of the most memorable moments from that trip was standing on the hill where one of our own, Lafayette Swiger, stood amidst a barrage of gunfire and watched as attacking Confederate soldiers charged toward him.

      At the museum now located on the farm where the 2nd Battle of Kernstown took place is a display containing the very rifle that Lafayette Swiger was holding the day he died on that hill, July 24, 1864. Next week I will tell you more about the items in that display, but right now I want to share with you a story written by one of Lafayette’s distant relatives, Dennis W. Kellison of Winchester.

      After visiting the Kernstown Battlefield, I contacted Mr. Kellison, who had generously loaned the display items to the museum. His well-researched and documented article about Lafayette Swiger was recently published as part of the book Journal of the Shenandoah Valley During the Civil War, Volume II 2019, a publication of Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War Institute. Mr. Kellison encouraged me to reprint his article, hoping that other relatives of Lafayette Swiger might come forward with additional information. If nothing else, he was “very happy his [Lafayette Swiger’s] story has finally been told.”

      The remainder of this week’s article are the words of Dennis W. Kellison.

      An Ordinary Soldier: Lafayette Swiger, 14th West Virginia Infantry
      Shortly after the Civil War centennial, my paternal grandmother shared with me a copy of the Swiger family history (my grandmother was a Swiger). Although the entire book seemed interesting, I fixated on the image on page thirty. On that page the image of a young Union soldier -- Lafayette Swiger, my first cousin four times removed -- stared back at me. His eyes, at times, seemed to be gazing beyond the page inviting me to get to know him better. It has taken him almost 175 years and it has taken me more than fifty years to bring the story of my ancestor, a man who lived only a few months more than twenty years, to light. Although Swiger lived a short life by any standard, his wartime experience provides a compelling look into one young soldier’s Civil War experience and the conflict’s tragic consequences.

      Lafayette Swiger was born March 11, 1844, near Centerpoint, Virginia (now West Virginia), in what is now Doddridge County. His parents were Barnes and Mary Marsh Swiger. Barnes’ grandparents, John William and Mary Swiger, were the original Swiger settlers in the United States. Lafayette had twelve siblings.

      Little is known about Lafayette from the time of his birth until the moment he enlisted in the 14th West Virginia Infantry. His parents were farmers, so one can imagine he did his share of labor on the farm taking care of crops and livestock. Although unclear, there is reason to believe Lafayette might not have been able to read or write. When Lafayette’s brother Jefferson enlisted in the 6th he did not sign his enlistment paper, but marked it with a simple “X.” While various documents exist that offer insight into his Civil War service, Lafayette’s enlistment paper has yet to be discovered to confirm whether or not he possessed the ability to read or write.

      Private Lafayette Swiger
      Lafayette enlisted to fight for the Union’s preservation in West Union, Virginia, on April 28, 1862. He officially mustered into the 14th West Virginia Infantry’s Company A on August 25, 1862, in Wheeling. He trained at Camp Carlisle (later named Camp Willey) on Wheeling Island. Following its stint at Camp Carlisle, the regiment initially served as part of the Railroad Division. However, in January 1863, it performed guard duty on the Upper Potomac with headquarters at New Creek until June 1863. From the summer of 1863 until the war’s end, the regiment saw significant action in the Shenandoah Valley, including Lafayette Swiger’s final fight, the Second Battle of Kernstown.

      Sunday, July 24, 1864, dawned hot and sultry. As troops from the 14th West Virginia, part of Colonel Daniel Johnson’s brigade, prepared breakfast in camp on a piece of low ground in Winchester northwest of Bowers Hill, the sound of small arms fire rolled into the Union camp. Whether Private Swiger remained in camp or attended religious services offered by the regiment’s chaplain on the front portico of Willow Lawn near the Valley Pike is uncertain. Throughout the morning what first started as ragged small arms fire from the direction of Kernstown grew into a more consistent fire. Corporal Jesse Tyler Sturm, one of Swiger’s comrades in the 14th, wrote that “we heard ominous sounds in the direction of Kernstown… The battle was now plainly nearing us. We were listening to the sermon with one ear and to the battle with the other.”

      As Confederate general Jubal Early’s army forced General George Crook’s Army of West Virginia from the field at Kernstown that afternoon and pushed to the southern outskirts of Winchester, the 14th West Virginia was summoned, as one member of the regiment noted, “to cover the retreat of our army, who were rapidly giving way all along the line.” The regiment, originally informed that it would be held in reserve because of the significant losses it suffered at the Battle of Rutherford’s Farm four days previously, now along with the rest of Johnson’s brigade, had to slow Early’s onslaught. The effort ultimately proved futile. The 14th’s veterans, along with the rest of Crook’s command, retreated “first at a quick step, next on a double quick and then almost a run.” During that retreat a Confederate bullet struck Swiger in the head and killed him.

      The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer published the grim news of Private Swiger’s death in its August 9, 1864, issue. Although the paper contained a report penned by Colonel G.W. Taggart that claimed two of the regiment’s ranks perished on the 24th -- Swiger and Henry Nichelson -- Nichelson in fact survived the fight; he was captured and later returned to the regiment.

      As Crook’s army retreated north toward Martinsburg, Private Swiger’s body remained on the field. More than likely his body was buried in a mass grave and perhaps later moved to the unknown section in the Winchester National Cemetery. But the final whereabouts of his remains can never be known for certain.

      Fifty-one years after Private Swiger’s death, family historian Ira Swiger -- at a family reunion at the old Hepzibah Church in Hepzibah, West Virginia -- released his long-awaited book on the family and, for the first time, shared a powerful account of Lafayette’s final moments:

      His company occupied the top of a hill and were fighting from behind a stone wall as the Rebels advanced toward them. The officer of the company, seeing that his men were greatly outnumbered and that remaining longer meant total annihilation, ordered a hasty retreat. Mr. Swiger and two companions, being nearer the stone wall and the deafening sound of musketry, failed to hear the retreating orders and continued firing. When they happened to glance around, seeing that they were alone, they fully realized the perilousness of their positions; and as the enemy advanced nearer and nearer to the top of the hill, they started running down the other side. Swiger, who soon fell, was thought first to have been tripped by running briars; but when his companions tried to assist him to his feet, they saw blood oozing from his forehead, which had been pierced by the enemy’s bullet.He was buried in an unknown grave, if buried at all.

      Although unclear of how Ira Swiger constructed the account of Private Swiger’s death, it is possible that it derived from postwar recollections of Fabius Hall, a relative who served in the 12th West Virginia Infantry. Hall survived the war and returned to his home and lived until 1919. Some of Hall’s relatives attended the reunion, but Fabius was not listed. He would have been seventy-five years old at the time.

      While Private Swiger’s remains rest in some unmarked grave, tangible reminders of his Civil War service and sacrifice exist, most notably Private Swiger’s Enfield Rifled Musket -- the firearm carried by all of the troops in the 14th West Virginia.

      To Be Continued
      Next week I will tell you about Lafayette Swiger’s Enfield rifle, as well as the legal wranglings which befell Mary Marsh Swiger right here in Doddridge County when she applied for her son’s military pension.

      2018-12-07 Lafayette Swiger of Center Point - Part 2
      Lafayette Swiger of Center Point - Part 2

      Last week I shared with you a portion of the story of Civil War casualty Lafayette Swiger of Center Point, written by a distant relative of his, Dennis W. Kellison of Winchester, Virginia. I will now give you the rest of Mr. Kellison’s article, An Ordinary Soldier, which was recently published as part of the book Journal of the Shenandoah Valley During the Civil War, Volume II 2019, a publication of Shenandoah University’s McCormick Civil War. Then I will reveal some additional information that my own research has turned up.

      **********

      An Ordinary Soldier: Lafayette Swiger, 14th West Virginia Infantry (conclusion)
      by Dennis W. Kellison
      After Private Swiger was issued his rifle, he had his name, “L. Swiger,” along with “Company A,” stamped into the rifled-musket’s brass trigger guard. The family assumes he carried the rifled musket with him through the battles in which the regiment was engaged and had it with him at the time of his untimely death on July 24, 1864. If Swiger did in fact have the Enfield with him at the time of his death, it is reasonable to surmise that a Confederate soldier picked it up.

      Although not certain who picked it up and where it traveled for decades after the conflict, Private Swiger’s Enfield eventually ended up in the hands a Civil War collector in Hopewell, Virginia, and then sold to a relic dealer in Ohio. Sometime in 2011, a West Virginia collector purchased Swiger’s Enfield, with the intent of returning it to West Virginia and its rightful family home. The Enfield’s existence first came to my attention when doing genealogical research in 2013. I discovered a photograph of a relative posing with the rifle shortly after it returned to West Virginia in 2011. This picture and story were posted on the Harrison County Genealogical Society web page that October.

      On September 6, 2013, my wife, Karen, and I traveled to rural West Virginia to examine Private Swiger’s Enfield. Armed with prior research about this type of weapon, which included discussions with Gary Crawford and Harry Ridgeway, local Civil War historians and experts on the conflict’s material culture, my wife and I knew what to expect in determining authenticity. A close examination of the Enfield with Lafayette Swiger’s name and company stamped on the trigger guard, coupled with an assessment by various experts at the Kernstown Battlefield confirmed we had indeed discovered Private Swiger’s rifle and made a tangible connection with the past.

      The rifle is now displayed proudly in our living room, above the fireplace, when not on loan to the Kernstown Battlefield Association Museum, where it is on public display during the tourist season.

      On February 10, 1866, Mary Marsh Swiger, mother of Lafayette Swiger and wife of the late Barnes Swiger, applied for a mother’s pension. The amount of the pension was $8.00 per month and the application cited that the pension should have commenced in July 1864, the month and year of his death. The application stated that she “had a life interest in 100 acres of land” and that her son Lafayette had cultivated the land to help the family. During the conflict Lafayette sent a total of $140 to support his mother, but with his death that financial support ceased. Mary Swiger now needed the pension in order to make ends meet.

      Slightly more than eight years after her initial petition for financial support, on October 10, 1874, Israel B. Allen, a relative of Mary Swiger, the postmaster of Yeater’s Mill and the assessor in Doddridge County, wrote to the Commissioner of Pensions stating that Mary Swiger did not need the pension nor did she truly rely on it for income and thus argued she was not entitled to the pension. Allen further stated that there were 447 acres shared between Mary and three living sons. On May 12, 1875, H.M. Atkinson, the Commissioner of Pensions, responded and asked Allen for additional evidence to support his claim.

      Allen responded promptly and explained that many “good citizens” would support the allegation that she was not entitled to a pension. In a follow-up letter later in June, Allen again asserted that some of the land was under cultivation and produced, by his estimates, an income of $300 to $600. Intent on having Swiger’s pension revoked, Allen followed up his response with another letter contending that Mary “has a good living provided by her husband and one son living with her.” It was signed by Allen, as well as three additional individuals related to Mary. Fortunately for Mary Swiger the federal government never revoked the pension. She received it until her death in 1885.

      **********

      About Mary Marsh Swiger
      As much as I enjoyed and appreciated Dennis Kellison’s article about Lafayette Swiger and his Enfield rifle, I found myself intrigued by the situation involving Mary Marsh Swiger’s pension application. So of course I had to do some research of my own.

      Mary Marsh was the daughter of Elijah Marsh and Athalia Hurst from Ten Mile in Harrison County. Elijah owned several slaves who worked on his sugar plantation near Grass Run. The Marsh plantation came to be known as Marsh's Village, which we know today as Marshville.

      In 1827 Mary married Barnes Swiger, son of Christopher Swiger and Eleanor Backus. Barnes and Mary had at least eleven children, seven of whom died in infancy or before reaching adulthood. The family moved to Doddridge County sometime between 1840 and 1850.

      Death of Barnes Swiger
      In October 1859, Barnes Swiger died of fever at Road Fork in Doddridge County. Road Fork was the area between where three creeks dump into McElroy Creek. The creeks are Robinson Run, Pike Fork and Talkington Fork. This area used to be called Three Forks, then Yeaters Mills, and is known today as Center Point.

      After Barnes Swiger’s 1859 death, only Mary and four children survived, Jefferson, Jesse, Lewis and Lafayette. In the 1860 Census, Mary and sons Lewis and Lafayette were living in one household and her other two sons were living nearby in separate households with their wives. Because Mary had inherited Barnes’ property when he died, her real estate was valued at $2,000 and personal property ay $100.

      Following Lafayette’s death in 1864 at the second Battle of Kernstown, Virginia, Mary continued living with her son Lewis, who never married. Mary applied to the U.S. Government for a mother’s pension on February 10, 1866. After reading Kellison’s story about how Israel B. Allen tried to have Mary’s pension revoked, I went to our court house to see what I could find. To my surprise, there had never been any legal problems between Mary and Israel. So his animosity toward her must have been of a personal nature.

      A Scandalous Accusation
      Upon reading Lafayette’s pension file at the National Archives (via Fold3), I found that Israel B. Allen (1844-1919) was even more persistent than I had thought about getting Mary’s pension nullified. On June 18, 1875, as a dry goods merchant and postmaster at Yeaters Mills (his term as County Assessor was 1892-1897), Israel B. Allen sent the following letter to the Commissioner of Pensions:

      “There is a widow (Soldiers) in the delivery of this office who is drawing Pension, and has been for 6 or 7 years. Who is said to be the mother of 2 or more illegitimate children born since she has been drawing her pension, which fact can be established by a number of good citizens.”

      Mary could not have had any illegitimate children after Barnes died. Born in 1805, she was already 54 years old at the time of his death and was 61 when she started drawing the pension.

      Voluntary Impoverishment?
      The one thing that might be questionable on Mary’s part is that just two weeks before applying for Lafayette’s pension, she deeded all of her land, 447 acres, to her surviving three sons. As was the custom at that time, Mary retained a dower interest in that property, but that was not nearly enough to render her financially independent. By 1870, having divested herself of all liquid assets, Mary was a housekeeper with no real or personal estate. Her son Lewis now had $1,502 in real and personal estate, Jefferson had $1,050 and Jesse had $2,764.

      I have to believe that what Mary did by deeding her property to her sons was not uncommon at that time. There’s little doubt that she did it to make herself eligible to receive Lafayette’s pension, but who can blame her? She had one less son to help farm the land and provide for her daily needs.

      Was it this action by Mary that made Israel B. Allen so determined to get her pension withdrawn, or was it something more personal? Mary’s husband, Barnes Swiger, was a son of Christopher Swiger, who was a brother of Eve Swiger Allen, Israel’s grandmother. So Israel B. Allen was Lafayette Swiger’s second cousin. Perhaps there was a family feud over land or some other scandalous issue. We will probably never know the truth.

      In the end, though, Mary Marsh Swiger continued to receive the pension until her death in May 1885. She is buried alongside her husband in the Center Point Christian Church Cemetery.

      Acknowledgment & Request
      I would like to thank Dennis W. Kellison for his excellent research and for sharing his work and photos with me. He did ask me for a favor in return, and that was to ask my readers for any additional information or artifacts pertaining to Lafayette Swiger. He’s especially interested to learn the whereabout of Lafayette Swiger’s Civil War medal. Please contact me if you think you can help.
    Person ID I89849  Doddridge County Roots
    Last Modified 15 Feb 2014 

    Father Barnes SWIGER,   b. 24 Feb 1808, Harrison Co, (W)VA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 6 Oct 1859, Doddridge Co, (W)VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 51 years) 
    Mother Mary MARSH,   b. 3 Oct 1805, Harrison Co, (W)VA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 27 May 1885, Doddridge Co, WV Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 79 years) 
    Married 1 Jul 1827  Harrison Co, (W)VA Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F34309  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 11 Mar 1844 - Pike Fork (McClellan District, Salem), Doddridge Co, WV Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 24 Jul 1864 - Winchester, VA Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Photos
    89849_LafayetteSwiger_Pvt_CoA_14thWVaInf.jpg
    89849_LafayetteSwiger_Pvt_CoA_14thWVaInf.jpg
    89849_Enfield-Rifle-of-LafayetteSwiger_Custody-of-DWKellison.jpg
    89849_Enfield-Rifle-of-LafayetteSwiger_Custody-of-DWKellison.jpg
    89849_Enfield-Rifle-of-LafayetteSwiger_Engraved-Name-Unit_Custody-of-DWKellison.jpg
    89849_Enfield-Rifle-of-LafayetteSwiger_Engraved-Name-Unit_Custody-of-DWKellison.jpg

  • Sources 
    1. [S1907] One World Tree, (www.ancestry.com).

    2. [S941] 1850 Census, Doddridge County, (W)VA.

    3. [S2619] U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line], (Ancestry.com).