Saturday, September 24, 2011
The West Patriarchs: 4th in a Series, Alexander Balus West
Perhaps, thus far, this is the most heart-wrenching post to write. It describes the life of a young man who gave his life either for the protection of his family or for a cause, the Confederate cause, in which he deeply believed. It is the story of a young husband and father who apparently deeply loved his wife and son. It is a story which exemplifies the great waste of human lives on both sides of the conflict. It is a story without closure.
Alexander Balus West was the second son of John Balus West and Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson. He was born in Mt. Zion, Wilkes County, North Carolina, in 1828 and died on Sept. 19, 1864, in Winchester, Virginia, where he was killed in action fighting for the Confederate States of America in the Civil War.
He began acquiring land shortly after his marriage to Nancy Land. In November 1852 he received a land grant for 95 acres on the south fork of Stony Fork for which he paid 5 cents an acre. In March 1855 he received a land grant for 86 acres joining the property of William Tugman and that of his brother, Franklin West, on the “waters” of Stony Fork. His brothers, John [Witherspoon] West and William [Thomas Jefferson] West, were the chain carriers. In March 1855 he received yet another land grant for 16 acres on the land near Bull Branch, the “waters” of Naked Creek. In 1857 he purchased about 230 acres on the “waters” of Stony Fork from his father, John Balus West, for the sum of $300. In 1859, he sold 200 acres on banks Stony Fork to his brother, Franklin West, for $500. At one point in time, he owned approximately 427 acres in the Stony Fork area.
In the 1860 census Alexander Balus West’s land was valued at $900 and his personal estate at $500. Since these amounts were considerably more than most of those assessed in the same area, one may assume that he, too, like his father, was relatively “well-off.” Also, in this census, other than his wife, who was mistakenly identified as a spinster, and Thomas Harvey, their one-year-old son, two additional persons were living in his household: Susan Walker, age 19, who was identified as a domestic laborer, and Hamilton Barnet, age 13, who was listed as a domestic.
Hamilton Barnett later married Mary Ann West, the sister of Alexander. Ironically, Mary Ann and Hamilton Barnett’s great grandson was the same farmer I happened to meet on my September 9, 2011, trip to Stony Fork. I am finding coincidents such as this one to be phenomenal!
As “the war” approached, Alexander Balus West at the age of 34 for unknown reasons, other than that of patriotic sympathies, felt the call of duty and enlisted as a private in the Confederation States Army on April 30, 1862. He was in K Company of the 53rd North Carolina Infantry. His military records provide an interesting fact that he was 5’8” tall.
Interestingly, the military records of his brother, Franklin West, indicate that Franklin also was of short stature with a height of 5’8”. As I think back on my father, William Charles West, Jr., and grandfather, William Charles West, Sr., they were not tall. From photographs I have seen of my great grandfather, Thomas Harvey West was likewise short of stature.
On August 1, 1862, Alexander Balus West was promoted to the rank of corporal. He was wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, and was hospitalized through August 1863 in the Wayside Hospital or General Hospital No. 9 in Richmond, Virginia. He later saw action in Winchester, Virginia, where, at first, he was listed on the muster rolls for September/October and November/December of 1864 as a prisoner of war. However, the muster roll for January/February 1865 recorded that he was killed in action at Winchester on September 19, 1864.
So many questions come to mind: Why did so much time lapse before the army knew of his fate? Was communication so poor or nonexistent that word could not be relayed to the authorities and to his family? How much time passed before his wife, his son, and his parents learned of his death? Where is he buried? No answers. No closure. How sad.
I have discovered, however, that Alexander Balus was granted a leave of absence during January and February of 1864. One may only hope that he was able to return home for one last visit during this leave. Because he must have had a premonition of his imminent death, Alexander Balus West wrote a letter to his young son, who would have been 5 years old at the time. In his letter dated March 17, 1864, he wrote “these lines for your instruction” in case he should “see you no more.” He instructed young Thomas’ mother to “keep this for you til you can read it” and if he saw him no more to “receive this as my earnest and prairful advice to you.” Most likely, he never saw young Thomas again since Alexander was killed six months later at Winchester. This letter was kept throughout Thomas Harvey West’s life. One of Thomas’ daughters, Martha Alice West, saved it from his personal belongings. Before her death, she gave the letter to one of her nieces, Alexander’s great granddaughter.
Alexander Balus West was certainly “a man of faith” and was active in the Lewis Fork Baptist Association in which he served as a delegate. According to an article by Irene Hendrix Basey[i], he was a licensed Baptist preacher. I have not completed researching the various documents related to the churches in the Mt. Zion area. Undoubtedly, I will find additional documentation regarding his religious participation.
One of my many goals as I work through my West family is to find the final resting place of Alexander Balus West. I only hope that he has not been buried in an unmarked and/or mass grave somewhere in the countryside of Winchester, Virginia. However, the location of his final resting place may remain unknown.
[i] Basey, Irene Hendrix, “West Family,” Heritage of Wilkes County, 1982. Mrs. W. O. Absher, ed., Wilkesboro, NC: Wilkes County Genealogical Society, Inc., 1982.