War of 1812 Veterans

The Battle of New Orleans, War of 1812 *

The War of 1812 started as an economic battle when the British attempted to control US trade.  Even though the physical battles were not fought in the Rockbridge area its citizens did suffer consequences in trade.   A few years prior to the United States’ involvement in the war, a group of Rockbridge County residents passed a resolution “to encourage by every means in their powers the art of domestic manufacture” such as grist mills and iron works (1).   The signers of the resolution included William Alexander Graham’s father, Edward Graham (1).   William Alexander Graham was 16 years old when the War of 1812 began and it ended just as he was finishing college (2).   At that time, his uncle, John Alexander, who had been a major in the war, was serving as brigade inspector of four districts in western Virginia.  Either for his uncle or together with him, Graham embraked on a journey to “convey training & regimental order to the Colonels of the respective regiments” (MS pg. 1).   On his travels, Graham encountered many veterans from the war.

Graham first stopped at the house of Colonel Thomas Beard, in Greenbrier County located 100 miles west of Lexington (3).  In the manuscript, Graham described the “good fare.”  He must have stayed overnight because he described the breakfast he ate in great detail:  “At breakfast three persons sat down to a table, rather profusely supplied with meats. We had beef, venison, chicken, bear bacon, hog bacon, wheat-bread, egg-bread, fruit, butter, cheese, coffee and milk.” (MS pg. 3).

Graham continued his travels to Kanahawa where he met forty-three year old Major William Morris who had been his father’s student at Liberty Hall Academy (4). “He appeared very glad to see me; said he wished to have a long conversation with the son of an old acquaintance.  He and my father were cotemporaries at school…” (MS pg 6). Graham also described Morris as a drunkard.  While talking, Morris recalled his visit with General Andrew Jackson prior to the war and said “his bravery [was] unquestionable.  Will fight anything from a mouse to a giant; insult him, he will be at you in a moment…”(MS pg 7). At the end of his discussion with Morris, Graham claimed that Morris had been ruined by his unhealthy alcohol habits, “In William Morris, you see the wreck of genius, the ruins of a mighty mind” which had been produced by his “pernicious habit.”(MS pg 7).  This was ironic because later in life Graham turned to alcohol although he stopped drinking in 1851 (5).

When Graham reached Kanahawa he stopped at the house of Colonel David Ruffner. Graham knew Colonel Ruffner’s son, Henry, who graduated from Washington College just two years before Graham himself (6).   Henry would eventually return to Washington College serving as professor and eventually president, but at this time Henry lived with his father in Kanahawa where he built a school and was serving as a missionary to people living in the mountains (7,8).   His father, Colonel Ruffner, served as a County Militia Colonel although he never stepped foot on a real battlefield.

Artist’s rendition of the spring pole developed by the Ruffners for mining salt *

According to Graham, “his father is a man when his opportunities are considered remarkable for his intelligence and urbanity” (MS pg 8) (9, 10)Graham seemed to enjoy Colonel Ruffner’s company. “They treated me with every politeness and attention” (MS pg 8).

Colonel Ruffner was head of a very large successful salt mine for which he had developed special equipment for an improved drilling technique. He was also the first to use coal to fuel the salt furnaces, starting the use of coal as a primary source of fuel in America. (11).

After spending a few days with Colonel Ruffner, he hopped on a stagecoach and headed west to Abingdon with General John Smith and Robert R. Preston.  Graham seemed to enjoy General Smith’s presence.  “The Gen was an intelligent, jovial companion, contributed much to enliven the journey by his conversation, by his wit and his anecdotes…”(MS pg 18).  General Smith wanted Graham to join the army. Once the

stagecoach arrived at their destination, Graham told a funny story that occurred with General Smith and a German lady.  From this story, it was clear that General Smith had an easy-going personality and the two seemed to become fast friends. Graham did not seem to enjoy Preston’s personality as much for he said, “The Merchant, although a man you were compelled to respect, was yet taciturn, reserved, and somewhat distant in his manners” (MS pg 18).

Graham described another one of his adventures while passing through Louden County—approximately three hours northeast of Lexington—and in particular the house of Major Robert Grattan who lived on the banks of the Middle River.  The stagecoach stopped at a gate where “…the old Major with a servant bearing a large ­­­­­­waiter loaded with viands and liquours. Gentlemen, will you take some refreshments?”  According to the driver, “The stage stops here as regularly as at a post-office- and every passenger is entertained in this way…” (MS pg 115) (12).

General Francis Preston was Graham’s next veteran acquaintance.  General Preston served as a lawyer, a member of the State Senate of Virginia, and was a Brigadier General in the War of 1812 where he commanded troops in Virginia (13,14). His daughter married James McDowell who invited Graham to the wedding.  Graham said that General Preston was the only person that ever treated him kindly in Abingdon—General Preston called upon him to help his family and always treated him with respect.

Graham’s final encounter with a veteran of the War of 1812 was Colonel Mr. P Thompson. Colonel Thompson helped him find his first patients, bringing him to a family living at the Ebbing and Flowing Springs, and also introducing him to General Francis Preston.

We find that Graham encountered many army veterans during his travels. One explanation for this was that during this time there were no hotels that people stayed in; another reason was because the war had just occurred and there were far fewer deaths during this war compared to the Revolutionary War, so there were still a lot of veterans around.  Many of the veterans Graham met were friends of his father or were related to him in some way.  Even though the war did not directly affect the people of Virginia, it did inadvertently affect Graham. Without the war Graham might not have stayed with these veterans, to quote the author of this manuscript, “…his destiny would have been entirely changed” (MS pg 18).

By: Elena Dorogy


1. Bodie, Charles. Remarkable Rockbridge: The Story of Rockbridge County, Virginia; Business Publications Incorporated, 2011.

2. The War of 1812. http://www.historyguy.com/war_of_1812_links.html#.T7AhepjLDao2 (accessed May 11, 2012).

3. Shipe, Mary. My Renick Thomas BEARD (Va) notes. Rootsweb. http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/RENICK/1998-11/0910544295

4. Descendants of William Morris. http://www.genealogy.com/users/d/e/r/Dee-Derrico/FILE/0043text.txt (accessed May 16, 2012).

5. Davis, Curtis C. Three More Letters from and to William Alexander Caruthers, M.D. Chronicler of the Cavalier. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/4245603

6. Washington and Lee University. A Catalogue of the Officers and Alumni of Washington and Lee University; John Murphy & Co: Baltimore, 1888.

7. Ruffner, Henry; Pemberton, J Michael. Judith Bensaddi : a tale ; and, Seclusaval, or, The sequel to the tale of Judith Bensaddi. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge 1984.

8. Welcome to Rockbridge County Virginia. Genealogy Trails History Group. http://www.genealogytrails.com/vir/rockbridge/bios_r.html (accessed May 13, 2012).

9. Hedrick, Charles. Rootsweb. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvkanawh/Early/ruffner2.html (accessed May 12, 2012).

10. Hale, J.P. The West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly; West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Soceity, 1901.

11. Rowe, Larry L. Larry’s Old Malden Timeline for King Salt in the Kanawha Salines. http://www.larrylrowe.com/History-of-Malden/Old-Malden-Timeline.shtml (accessed May 14, 2012).  

12. Waddell’s Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, from 1726 to 1871. http://www.roanetnhist\ory.org/bookread.php?loc=WaddellsAnnals&pgid=288 (Accessed May 17, 2012).

13. Prestons, Smithfield. Gen. Francis S. Preston 1765-1835. http://www.suddenlink.net/pages/fpreston/prsffrsm.htm (accessed May 12, 2012).

14. Alderman, E.A., Ed. Harris, J.C, Ed. Kent, C.W. Ed. Library of Southern Literature: Biography; Martin & Hoyt Company, Atlanta, Ga 1909.

15. William Alexander Graham, “A Narrative [1827] of Graham’s Journeys, Medical Training and Career 1816-1819 in Lexington, Va., Abingdon, Va., and Philadelphia,” Washington and Lee University Library, Special Collections.

* Images:
The Battle of New Orleans: Wikipedia
Springpole: from J.E. Brantly, History of Oil Well Drilling, Gulf Publishing Company, 1971

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