Portrait of Civil War hero a precious artifact | News, Sports, Jobs


(Photo by Jess Mancini) Civil War historian Brian Kesterson stands in the niche near the portrait of William Henry Enochs by 19th century artist Enoch Wood Perry. Enochs, a native of Middleburg in Noble County, served the Union honorably during the Civil War.

By Jess Mancini

Staff reporter

PARKERSBURG — About 12 years ago, Brian Kesterson was visiting Arlington National Cemetery and came across the tombstone of William Henry Enochs.

This caught his attention because the marker said Enochs, a Noble County native, served and commanded the 5th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.

Kesterson is a Civil War re-enactor, a nationally recognized expert on the Civil War, and a professor of American and West Virginia history at Williamstown High School. Enochs’ tomb was interesting, but Kesterson at the time had no incentive to seek out the man promoted to general during the war.

(Photo by Jess Mancini) William Henry Enochs’ Honorable Discharge Medal and his photograph are displayed in a case held by Wood County Civil War expert Brian Kesterson. Kesterson acquired the militaria earlier this spring.

That changed this spring at the National Road Military Show in Zanesville, where he came across a vendor and a box of Civil War discharge medals. He found a medal with Enochs’ name and rank engraved on the rim.

“Until then, nothing had really piqued my interest in Enochs,” Kesterson said.

Enochs was born in 1842 in Noble County. His family moved to Ironton where they were farmers and his teachers noted how much of a student he was and how easily he understood his lessons. They believed Enochs would go far in life, Kesterson said.

“He was very smart” Kesterson said.

Enochs was a teacher for a short time, Kesterson said. The war broke out in 1861 when Enochs was a student at Ohio University in Athens. A Federal fife and drum corps came into town to cheer on the recruits, and Enochs joined the 22nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry as a private, Kesterson said.

(Photo by Jess Mancini) The gutta percha case is in remarkably good condition for its age, local Civil War expert Brian Kesterson said. The slipcase contains a picture of William Henry Enochs.

The Ohio Volunteers marched through Parkersburg, Elizabeth and into Calhoun and southern counties, mostly in pursuit of Moccasin Rangers, Kesterson said. Enochs reached the rank of sergeant.

Released after 90 days, the length of his enlistment because everyone thought the war wouldn’t last that long, Enochs wanted to reenlist, but no slot was available in the Federal Army until December 1861, when which Enochs joined the 5th Loyal Virgina Infantry (US), which became the 5th West Virginia Infantry, and was engaged in many major battles, including the Second Battle of Bull Run and in the Shenandoah Valley, Kesterson said. The 5th and 9th West Virginia Infantry units were consolidated in 1864 into the veteran 1st West Virginia Infantry, he said.

“He saw a lot of action” Kesterson said.

Enochs rose through the ranks to colonel in December 1864, succeeding Washington County Col. Hiram DeVol when he was promoted to general, Kesterson said. Enochs was granted general patent in March 1865.

Enochs dreamed of becoming a lawyer and in his spare time during the war he studied law, Kesterson said.

“If you can imagine he had free time to study,” he said.

After leaving the army, he attended law school in 1866 and graduated, Kesterson said. He practiced law in Wayne County, West Virginia, before returning home to Ironton, Kesterson said.

Enochs’ career included service in the Ohio Legislature beginning in 1870, Kesterson said. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1890 and served until his death in 1893.

He was highly regarded as a lawyer and was known as a decent and honorable man who helped those who lacked the resources to help themselves, Kesterson said. Enochs was a lifelong Republican and supporter of the Grand Army of the Republic, Kesterson said.

Enochs throughout his life believed in duty above all else and he served America first, Kesterson said.

“I wish more people were like that these days,” Kesterson said.

On eBay, Kesterson found an oil painting of Enochs and a gutta percha case with Enochs’ picture on it. The original framed portrait and slipcase were in excellent condition, he said.

Kesterson debated over and over with himself about purchasing the painting. After a while he made an offer and the seller jumped on it.

“I was very lucky to have him” Kesterson said.

The painting was by Enoch Wood Perry, 1831-1915, a renowned artist of the time whose work was in major galleries, Kesterson said. Perry presented the portrait to Enochs’ widow in 1893, the year Enochs died, Kesterson said.

The Enochs painting was acquired from the estate in the 1930s and remained in the buyer’s possession for many years, Kesterson said.

Kesterson has the portrait with the original gilt frame hanging in a niche in his home where pieces are named after figures from the Civil War and other eras in history. The portrait and other documents he acquired will be in a book he is writing.

“Something was nagging me that I better buy the painting,” Kesterson said. “I’m glad I did.”

Jess Mancini can be reached at [email protected]

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