Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black Sheep Sunday - November 29, 2009

William McHarvey Bean
1832 - 1890

William Bean, also known as "Irish" and as "Uncle Willie", was born to William Bean and Rachel Wiseman Bean on Dropping Lick in Monroe County, in what is now West Virginia. William met and married Miss Margaret Smith Perkins from Fort Spring in Greenbrier County on April 26, 1852. And, as nature would take its course, a family ensued.

Life was soon interrupted with the threat of a Civil War. And families were being torn apart with the dissension. Literally torn down the middle, the Bean family was no different than many other families of the Civil War. With one exception. William, taking a stand for the Union Army, silently decided to be an undercover agent. William, already enlisted in the Union Army, undercover, enlisted in the Confederate Army.

His status remained undercover, and undetected, except by his purely Confederate father, who threatened to disown him. Two of William's brothers, Joseph Floyd Bean, and James Franklin Bean, were also enlisted in the Union Army, and were attached to an Ohio unit. This did not help their father's frustration at what appeared to be treason to the South.

To the world at large, William was true to the Bonny Blue! Then on July 13, 1864, William was taken as a Prisoner of War near Hagerstown, Maryland and sent to Elmira Prison in Elmira, New York. This was the Union's answer to the worst Confederate prisons! Prisoners who were sent to Elmira were expected to live no more than 6-months. Most wasted away to nothing more than skin stretched taut over bone. But William did not lose weight, and only spent a 6-week time in the present before being transferred, as a Union soldier, to Johnson Island in Ohio, a prison camp restricted to holding Confederate Officer's. This facility seemed more like a camp than a prison, and the inmates were treated with honor and dignity.

Shortly after William arrived in Ohio, his wife and children joined him, having moved by covered wagon pulled by oxen across enemy lines to be reunited.

Johnson Island became known for an infamous Confederate attempt to free the many officers held there with a stunning steamboat escape! However, an unknown soldier, fresh from Elmira Prison, only 2 weeks after the arrival of William at Johnson Island, thwarted the attempt by passing on vital information he had learned at the hands of the Confederate soldiers at Elmira. It is unknown if this information came from William, however, in reading Johnson Island's records, William was the most recent arrival from Elmira at that time, deductions lead one to believe it may have been he who thwarted the Confederate breakout!

Although William had 2 brothers who had also enlisted in the Union Army, he alone was singled out by family and friends in his mostly Confederate community as a "traitor to the Cause". William however, took it in stride.

In December of 1866, following the War and the birth of his son, John on the 15th of that month, and amidst the blowing, cold snows of winter, William and his family moved back to Monroe County, West Virginia. William, now recognized by the Federal Army and government as a Unionist, soon became active in local politics, and was made a U.S. Marshall. He remained so for the remainder of his life.

In 1890, a local constable named Henry Egleston, was sent to retrieve William's horse and buggy as a lien had not been paid on them. Meeting William at Keenan, he agreed to allow William to drive the horse and buggy back to his home first before taking them back to Union, the county seat. However, rounding the bend in Gap Mills, just below the first mill on the creek, Egleston, who was following closely behind William, pulled his pistol and fired through the buggy window in the rear of the buggy, hitting William in the back of the head.

William was carried to Dr. Pharr's home, just across the creek, where he died a short two hours later without ever regaining consciousness.

William was known as a "traitor to the Cause", and could be quite harsh to known Confederate sympathizer's following the War. But it is said that to his family he was loving and caring, and would have given his life in an instant for any one of them.

William McHarvey Bean was my great-grandfather, and I am proud to proclaim him my "Black Sheep" ancestor.

1 comment:

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Wonderful ancestor story!
Thank you, so much, for sharing.

Those were very difficult times, for all families.

Bill ;-)