Non-Combat Casualties at Laurel Hill

From around June 16 to July 11, 1861, several regiments under the overall command of Brig. Gen. Robert S. Garnett fortified a camp at Laurel Hill southeast of Belington in what is today Barbour County, West Virginia. Life in a military camp could be dangerous. Even without an enemy nearby, accidents and disease were ever-present threats.

There is a small Confederate cemetery at Laurel Hill where the bodies of deceased soldiers were interred. A few years ago, a granite marker was erected with the names of the soldiers, both Union and Confederate, who died at Laurel Hill. It doesn’t distinguish, however, between combat and non-combat casualties.

The Battle of Belington/Laurel Hill was fought here from Sunday, July 7 to Thursday, July 11, 1861. Casualties were light compared to later battles, but both armies had men killed and wounded. How can we sort this out? After some in-depth research, I’ve been able to determine which soldiers died of non-combat related events:

  • Pvt. Fendall C. Whitlock (23rd VA, Co. G) d. June 21, 1861 – Measles/”brain fever” (exact date of death is unknown, but it’s mentioned in a letter dated June 22).
  • Pvt. James K. Davis (23rd VA, Co. E) d. July 9, 1861 – Unspecified illness (probably measles).
  • Pvt. Charles H. Harris (20th VA, Co. C) d. June 28, 1861 – Friendly fire (accidentally shot by a sentry).
  • Pvt. James Slate (23rd VA, Co. E) d. July 15, 1861 – Measles.
  • Pvt. William S. Clay (1st GA, Co. E) d. July 7, 1861 – Accidental discharge of his musket.

What this tells us is that a deadly outbreak of measles occurred before and during the battle, which killed at least three (others may have died and been buried elsewhere, or re-interred at a later date). Inexperienced volunteer soldiers were also accident prone. It’s important to identify these casualties by name so we can make an accurate accounting of how many men were present for duty during these early battles and skirmishes.

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