Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
By Dennis Ranney, SCV and Joanie Jackson, UDC
John R. McKinney and Joseph McKinney were sons of William J. and Mary Polly Reed McKinney. John was born about 1830 in Peel Tree, Harrison County, Virginia. Joseph was born about 1840, also in Harrison County. Both men were of military service age when the War Between the States started in 1861.
In the 1850 Federal census, John was living with Mary McKinney (mother) and siblings William, Anna, Harriet, George, and Joseph.Their father, William J. McKinney died April 18, 1850, before the census was taken in July 1850. This non-slave holding family group was living in District 22 of Harrison County, Virginia (later West Virginia).
John married Elizabeth Davis (born about 1825 in Virginia) on December 9, 1852 in Harrison County, (West) Virginia and apparently no recorded children were born of this marriage.
By the next Federal Census in 1860, John and Elizabeth were still living in Harrison County with the post office listed as Clarksburg. In less than a year, war was upon the country and a former prominent Harrison County soldier was about to take center stage earning his moniker as Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of 1st Manassas. The day of John’s enlistment, May 10, 1863 was marked by the death of this famous Harrison County general. John enlisted at Bulltown, Virginia and was enrolled by Captain Asbury Lewis for a three year term of service. This regiment became Company F, 20th Regiment Virginia Cavalry. On Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) for July 1, 1863 through August 31, 1864 (dated January 6, 1865), 1st Corporal John R. McKinney was noted as “absent” with the remarks “prisoner since December 18, 1863, entitled to bounty”. Federal Prisoner of War (POW) records have Corporal McKinney as being received at Camp Chase, Ohio on January 1, 1864. He had been sent to Camp Chase by Captain Wesley Coleman Thorpe from Wheeling, West Virginia, having been captured in Alleghany County, Virginia on December 19, 1863. In the Federal records, John McKinney was described as being thirty-four years old, five feet eight inches tall, of fair complexion, having grey eyes and dark hair. John was listed as a farmer in pre-war Harrison County.
John’s younger brother, Joseph McKinney, also served in Company F, 20th Virginia Cavalry. It appears John and Joseph both enlisted about the same time and were enrolled by the same Captain Lewis. Coincidentally, both brothers were captured in the same place (listed as “deserters”) and both sent to Camp Chase military prison in Columbus, Ohio. Joseph’s description is listed as: six feet two inches tall, dark hair, hazel eyes, and dark complexion. A sharp contrast to John’s physical description.
Joseph fared better at Camp Chase than John. Corporal John R. McKinney died of smallpox at Camp Chase on Sunday, November 27, 1864, 331 days after arriving. Joseph McKinney lived to be released from the prison in May 1865, for both men, the war was over.
Joseph went on to live his life in Barbour County, Virginia and according to the West Virginia United States Marriage Index 1785-1971, Joseph McKinney at age twenty-seven married Ms. Mary Ellen Greathouse in Barbour County, West Virginia on May 24, 1866. The index listed the groom’s parents as William J. and Mary. The family later relocated to Heaters, Virginia.
Now, the story of the two brothers takes a mysterious twist… The military issued headstone for grave #525 at Camp Chase cemetery reads “Jos. McKinney Co F 20 VA. Cav. CSA”, Jos. being short for “Joseph”. But Joseph survived the war and was released!
According to Federal POW Records, both brothers took the oath of allegiance on June 10, 1864 at Camp Chase. Which brother actually died and is buried in grave #525 at Camp Chase? According to the so-called “book of Confederate Dead” the soldier was listed as Jno. R. McKinney. The Federal POW Records lists him as “Private” John R. McKinney of Company F of the 20th Regiment Virginia Cavalry who died of smallpox on November 27, 1864 and was buried in grave number 525. Joseph McKinney was released after the war on May 13, 1865 at Camp Chase per General Order Number 85. General Order Number 85 (May 8, 1865) directed that all Confederate POW’s being held in POW camps who had asked to take the Oath prior to the fall of Richmond (April 2, 1865) were to be released upon taking the Oath and allowed transportation to a point nearest their home. Also according to Federal POW Records, both brothers were in Prison Number three in Mess number 10. Since John died of smallpox, chances are he would have been taken to the smallpox ward of the hospital and Joseph would not have been allowed to go with him, so it is likely John died without seeing his younger brother again.
Former Confederate soldiers like Joseph McKinney would never receive a Confederate pension, nor would their wives. West Virginia became a Union State on June 20, 1863 and the Federal government did not pay Confederate pensions. Likewise, the State of Virginia did not pay for former Confederates who had fought for units in West Virginia.
Joseph McKinney went on to live a long life. According to West Virginia Deaths Index 1853-1973, Joseph McKinney died on November 20, 1921 in Weston, Lewis County, West Virginia and was listed as being 82 years, 6 months, and 12 days at the time of his death. It is likely he never forgot the older brother he left behind at Camp Chase, Ohio, possibly reflecting from time to time - “brother, where art thou?”