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Giles County

A Community History


Giles County is situated in the mountainous section of Southwestern Virginia, bordering for many miles on the State of West Virginia. It has an average elevation of two thou sand feet, and many mountain ranges varying in height from three to four thousand feet. New River traverses the entire county and adds much to its natural beauty. Bald Knob, 4,500 feet high, and Mountain Lake are two interesting points in the county.

The people are descended from English, Scotch and Irish ancestry. They are home-loving and peaceful and have never been disgraced by a mountain feud. However, when the call to war has been sounded they have ever been amongst the first to respond.

When the World War started in 1914, the sympathy of our people was largely with England and France. With England because of our kinship and with France on account of the help she gave us in the war of the Revolution. It would not have taken much to have stirred us to the point of joining forces with our cousins overseas when Germany first began to violate the neutrality of Belgium. As time went on, however, and our government decided to stay out of the conflict, the settled down to a condition of neutrality, our sympathies still with the Allies.

In 1916 and the early part of 1917, when Germany began an unrestricted submarine warfare and started dictating where our commerce should and should not go, the folks in Giles County, as elsewhere, became indignant. As news of sinking ships became more and more frequent the feeling against Germany grew more bitter, and when the Lusitania was sunk the spark was fanned to a blaze, and it needed but the word of our great war President, Woodrow Wilson, to fire the nation. That word was given on April 6, 1917.

Pearisburg, the county seat of Giles County, soon became the center of local activities. No great demonstrations were indulged in, but the seriousness of the situation and the determination of every one to do his bit could be read on each face.

A few of the boys from the county volunteered at once, but the Draft Act was soon passed by Congress and it was the general opinion that the proper course to follow was for each man to register and await his call. Robert William King, of Poplar Hill, was the first man in the county to volunteer. He was living at Gary, West Virginia, at the time and volunteered at that place the day after war was declared. He was assigned to duty on the U. S. S. Mt. Vernon, and was on her at the time she was torpedoed just off the coast of France. It will be remembered that this ship was carrying wounded soldiers home from France and was flying the hospital flag. Thirty-six wounded soldiers were killed and William King had leis knee badly hurt.

Immediately after the Draft Act became a law every man in the county between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five was registered and given a serial number. This registration in Giles County did not cost the Federal government a penny, the work being gladly and willingly volunteered.

Interest was very keen concerning the first report from the office of the Adjutant General which was to show the result of the draw from the “Mystic Bowl” and determine the order in which the boys were to report for examination and service. George William Johnston was number one, but was rejected because of ill health.

The Draft Board for the county was composed of W. H. Thompson, sheriff of the county and, as such, chairman of the board; F. E. Snidow, clerk of the court and secretary of the board, and Dr. W. D. Woolwine, chairman of the Board of Health.

The Legal Advisory Board was composed of judge Martin Williams, Judge Bernard Mason and Mr. D. J. Chapman. Mr. M. P. Farrier, Commonwealth’s attorney for the county, was appeal agent for the government. It is impossible to say too much in praise of the fairness of the Draft Board and tile efficient way in which its work was done under the management of F. E. Snidow, secretary of the board.

Dr. F. S. Givens, Newport, and Dr. H. G. Johnston, Pearisburg, were members of District Medical Advisory Board, No. 36.

Dr. Woolwine, assisted by Dr. H. G. Johnston, spent many days in snaking the necessary physical examination of the boys. The Board of Supervisors’ room at the courthouse was used for this purpose, scales were brought in and charts for testing the eyes were installed. The courthouse, during those days, became the scene of many activities.

The first quota for Giles County was ninety-four men. The cost per capita for the quota was $7.59 as against $36.46 for the highest county in the State.

A day long to be remembered was the one on which the first drafted men left home for Camp Lee. The German armies were then sweeping everything before them. Paris was almost in sight, and it looked like a needless waste for us to drop raw recruits into the defeated battle lines to become fodder for the German cannon. The successful submarine activities intensified this feeling. Nevertheless, when the day came for the first draftees to go to camp all of then showed up early at the courthouse, and a large crowd from all parts of the county went with them to the station and bade them Godspeed. Never did a braver company go forth to war. None of the men expected to live to come home, but under the leadership of Perkine W. Orndorff, of Narrows, they boarded the train amid the tears and prayers of friends and relatives.

Other groups of men left in rapid succession as soon as the, various camps could be made ready to receive them.

Soon after the first draftees were called the classified service was adopted and the Draft Board spent many days in getting the boys properly classified. There were very few appeals and no general dissatisfaction over the work of the board. Some few then from the county refused to accept deferred classification, and took their places as indicated by their serial numbers.

There were four hundred and forty enlisted men from the county, of which number thirty-four were colored. An almost complete list of these men’s names has been furnished the Virginia War History Commission by the writer of this, sketch. A copy, of the list has been filed in the vaults of the county clerk’s office and should be recorded in a permanent. book.

Lawrence Fillinger, from Narrows, volunteered at the age of sixteen and succeeded in getting into the service and overseas.

Corporal Walter L. Haskett. Company L, 317th Infantry,. Eightieth Division, was recommended by his captain at Nantillios, France, October 5, 1918, for the Distinguished Service Cross for unusual gallantry during the Argonne offensive. This recommendation never reached headquarters and appears to have been lost. An effort was made after the war through the War Department and Congressman Slemp to have it carried into effect, but this could not be done. However, Corporal Haskett was cited in general orders of the War Department for distinguished braver- on this occasion and was awarded a silver star to be worn on the ribbon of his Victory Medal. The 317th Infantry was held up by an enemy machine gun nest and Corporal Haskett and two others crawled on their stomachs in the face of machine-gun fire to a point sufficiently near to be able to throw hand grenades into the nest, killing two and -,wounding two, and thereby permitting the regiment to advance.

In addition to Corporal Haskett, the Virginia War History Commission in “Virginians of Distinguished Service in the World War,” includes the following honor men from Giles Sergeant John NN”. Christian, silver star citation; William Robert King, commended by Secretary of the Navy; Lieutenant Robert C. Snidow, Polish Commemorative Cross and Polish Decoration-Krzyz Walecznych.

Sidney F. Johnston, of Eggleston, was awarded the Croix de Guerre at the battle of Chateau Thierry, France.

The following men from the county received commissions: W. C. Caudill, Pearisburg, captain, medical corps; Herbert L. Eaton, Staffordsville, captain, sanitary corps; Arthur P. Sibold, Pearisburg, captain, infantry; Robert Chapman Snidow, Pembroke, captain, infantry; James Robert Goodwin, Eggleston, second lieutenant, U. S. R.; James Wilmer Hedrick, Bane, second lieutenant, field artillery; Frank Early Johnston, Trigg, 2nd lieutenant, U. S. R.; James Blaine Munsey, Pearisburg, second lieutenant, M. C., Russell Howe Pearson, Pearisburg, second lieutenant, R. M. A.; Thomas J. Pearson, Jr., Pearisburg, second lieutenant, D. C.; Robert H. Woods, Pearisburg, first lieutenant, infantry; Martin Williams, Jr., first lieutenant, infantry; John W. Williams, Jr., Richmond, second lieutenant, 163rd Aero Squadron.

Those who made the supreme sacrifice were: Leonard C. Duncan, Rich Creek, died of wounds; Wylie Smith Lucas, Pearisburg, killed in action; Evermon P. Powell, Lurich, killed in action; Warren D. Ratcliff, Newport, died of wounds; Kenneth L. St. Clair, Bane, killed in action: Nain Harless, Lurich, killed in action; Toni Williams, Hoge’s Store, died of wounds. Those who died in camp while in France were: Otey H. Elmore, Kire ; John B. Henderson, Thessalia; Robert B. Hale, Narrows, and Ernest M. Williams, Pembroke.

Those who died in home camps were : Walter Kyle Echols, Newport; Elcany Johnston Gillespie, Goodwin’s Ferry; Samuel M. Johnston, Narrows John R. Johnston, Jr., Bluff City; Leslie E. Kirk, Narrows (died at sea) ; Everett Lee Meredith, Pembroke ; John Kale Sarver, Newport; Alfred Howe Williams, Pembroke; T. Bittle Woods, Pearisburg (drowned at Old Point), and Tom Smith (colored), Pearisburg.

Captain Robert Chapman Snidow remained in Germany with the Army of Occupation and brought back with him the only war bride to come to the county.

Five brothers from Newport volunteered-Dallas, Eustace, James, Howard and Early Criner.

Mr. and Mrs. James D. Johnston, of Pearisburg, had four boys in service-Fount, John Witt, Jesse and Tobias.

Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Pyrtle, of Ripplemead, had four boys in service: Alvis Clay, Clarence Ernest, Frank Earl and John Willie.

Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Douthat, of Rippletnead, had eight sons who registered, but only three were called into service.

Bayard H. Taylor, Thessalia, was with the Y.M.C.A. and served in France for some time.

Judge Martin Williams was appointed explosion commissioner for the State by President Wilson.

While first place should be given to those who offered their lives in military service, their sacrifice would have been useless but for the hearty co-operation of those at home. No task was too hard, no sacrifice too great, in order that our own soldiers and our Allies might be fed and clothed and armed for the conflict.

Very little change was occasioned by the war in our churches and schools. Possibly the people attended church a little more regularly. The ministers of the county did their full duty, not only in their own fields of endeavor, but every one of them did good service in the several drives and campaigns for funds. The schools were maintained as usual, the attendance being about the same as before the war, except during the winter of 1917-18 when the influenza epidemic interfered.

The Liberty Loan drives were all put on with an enthusiasm that resulted in a subscription of $627,200 for the county (not including the First Loan, for which no official figures were kept)-$79,900 more than the total quota assigned, which was $547,300. The citizens of the county subscribed generously. Special mention should be made of the work of C. L. King, W. H. Wheelwright, Dr. F. D. Kelley, Mrs. W. P. Miller and Miss Gertrude King.

Bernard Mason was chairman of the War Savings Stamps campaign which lasted for a year and did much to encourage the idea of economy and thrift, especially amongst the children. Some $200,000 worth of stamps were sold, a considerable number being taken by school children. An amusing incident occurred in this connection. Mr. C. L. King offered his young son, Clarence. a stamp for every mouse he would catch. Several days afterwards he happened to be in the barn and hearing a commotion in a barrel found that Clarence had fastened up all the cats around the place so as to give the mice a chance to multiply.

Mr. J. T. S. Hoge was made Food Administrator for the county and reported the most hearty co-operation on the part of all. There was never any- especial shortage of food of any kind except sugar, but the requirements of the government were met just the same. Corn bread was used once a day, and “long sweetening” often took the place of sugar, especially in coffee.

Bernard Mason was Fuel Administrator for Giles County, and during the severe winter of 1917-18 he was frequently compelled to take cars of coal from trains to meet the needs of the people. The railroads never failed to set out cars of coal on six hours’ notice. The price of the coal was fixed in Washington and, while higher than usual, no great hardships were undergone in paying for it.

The County Red Cross was organized at Narrows, with Mrs. J. E. Hammer as chairman and Mrs. J. A. Vaughan, assistant. Local branches were organized in all parts of the county, and the women went to work with an earnestness that never let up until the war was over. Large boxes of supplies were sent at regular intervals to the Red Cross headquarters. The women and girls learned to knit sweaters, gloves and socks, hoping as they worked that the garments they were making might be drawn by a son. brother or lover, The writer saw four generations busily knitting at one time. Mrs. F. G. Thrasher, Mrs. Minnie Easley, Mrs. Bernard Mason and her daughters. No call was ever trade that the Giles Count- Red Cross failed to meet.

The Y.M.C.A. drives were under the management of Mr. A. D. Gerberick, aided by the various ministers of the county. All of these drives were efficiently and fully handled.

Giles County, being situated far from any of the camps and having no munition plants near at hand, had no war-time activities other than those above mentioned.

The progress of the war was watched with the keenest interest. The people in the county were closely related by the ties of blood and friendship, and the news from the camps and from overseas was eagerly received by everyone.

At the time this is written-October, 1925-but little interest is shown by the returned soldiers in any of the events of the war. There is no American Legion Post in Giles County and not much interest is shown by the boys in anything connected with the war. No appreciable effect is noticeable as regards the religious, social or economic life of the people. It cannot be said that the returned soldiers are any better or any worse, morally and spiritually, by reason of their service in the armies. It-is possible that the high price of labor and of all commodities during the war created habits of extravagance that may never be entirely overcome.

Whether the sacrifice of billions of dollars and thousands of liven has helped to make the “World safe for Democracy” or not, it is certain that in Giles County, as in other parts of our great country, the World War has proven that in a just cause Americans, true to the example set them by their forefathers, are not “too proud to fight.”