Thursday, February 18, 2010

Retrospective on a Veteran

I ran across a letter yesterday while in Morgantown doing research. I should have photocopied it and brought it back to the Mineral County Historical Society, but I didn't think about that until after I had left for the evening. It was from Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley to Nathan Goff, West Virginia Republican leader in the early 1870s.

I have been through some of General Kelley's letters from the Civil War when he commanded Fort Fuller, where Potomac State College stands today. This was a man with confidence and strength in a difficult position. He had to defend a long fixed object, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, against a mobile and usually invisible guerilla enemy. This thankless task is something that our troops today would understand all too well. Kelley did a great job not only in this role, but also later in the war. Ulysses S. Grant mentions in his memoirs a battle in which Kelley's support was important. Kelley was the only Union general to never be on the losing side of an engagement, unless I have heard wrong.

This made the letter I ran across yesterday all the more sad. Kelley wrote to Nathan Goff asking for some job, any job, that would help him to pay his bills. In those days, support for the political party of the president could get you a federal position. Kelley had served on the state Republican Executive Committee and did have a federal job before running afoul somehow of Senator Arthur I. Boreman. He retired to his farm to support his wife and the two children of his son who was killed in the war. Kelley found that his own war wounds kept him from the rigorous work of farming and so he had no choice but to beg for a job, any job, anywhere, that would help him support his family.

There's no partisan political point here. We just need to remember that even years after the wars are over, that our veterans still need help. Many of them have wounds of all kinds that will never heal. The combat may fade into history, but they do not do so nearly as quickly. Even the commanders sometimes return home with problems that will always affect them. Just don't forget.

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