April 16, 1874.—Ordered to be printed.
Mr. Pratt submitted the following
[To accompany bill S. 709.]
The Committee on Claims, to whom was referred a memorial praying for the relief of the trustees of the German Evangelical Church at Martinsburgh, W. Va., and an appropriation of $3,500 to re-imburse them for the destruction of their church-edifice, submit the following report:
The German Evangelical Church at Martinsburgh, W. Va., was composed of Germans and citizens of German descent, mostly laboring people, attached to the Government of the United States, many of whom proved their loyalty by entering the Union Army during the war of the rebellion. The house in which they worshiped is valued by the witnesses at $3,500. On the night of the 17th of February, 1863, it was destroyed by fire. It was securely locked, and had not been used for religious worship for eighteen months previously to that time; the disordered condition of the country and the absence of many of the members who had been driven from home, and found employment in the service of the United S[t]ates as soldiers or otherwise, and of their preacher, who was a chaplain in the Union Army, having rendered their regular worship impracticable.
On the evening in question, (February 17, 1863,) Capt. G. W. Hicks, of the Ninth Virginia Infantry, arrived in Martinsburg, having in charge about sixty men, who escorted a Government train from Winchester to that post. They were quartered in this church by order of the post-adjutant, (Lieutenant Hyatt.) A stove stood on the eastern side of the building, and a fire was kindled in it. The pipe became disjointed at or near the ceiling. It was joined again, or supposed to be, and the fire again started. The night was stormy, the soldiers wet and cold, and a quick fire made from the dry pine seats created such heat that the ceiling took fire near where the break in the stove-pipe had occurred. This is one account.
Another states that the stove was moved by the soldiers to the open space in the front part of the church, and the pipe detached from the chimney and run up as far as it would reach into the dome or cupola. The blaze of the fire out of the top of the pipe ignited the wood-work. The stove was so moved in order to give the soldiers more space to hand and dry their clothes, wet from rain and snow.
But, whichever account is the true one, it seems that the building was discovered to be on fire at 7 o’clock in the evening, and, all efforts to stay the progress of the flames proving ineffectual, the building was burned to the ground.
It appears that those living in the neighborhood of the church refused to extend any aid to extinguish the fire, though appealed to for buckets and assistance; and this arose, it is said, from the hostility they cherished to the loyal sentiments of the worshipers at this church.
Possession of the building was obtained by the soldiers entering at the windows and opening the door from the inside.
Such, in brief, are the facts:
First. The soldiers were quartered in the church by order of the officer in command.
Secondly. They were so quartered for purposes of shelter, warmth, and rest.
Thirdly. The building was violently entered without the consent of the owners.
Fourthly. It was dedicated to religious uses and used for no other purpose than the worship of God.
Fifthly. The humble owners were, to a man, loyal to the United States, and many of them doing service in its armies.
Sixthly. Its value was $3,500, and the congregation have not had the means to replace it up to this time, and the prayer of the memorial is to compensate them for the loss.
Martinsburgh is situate in Berkeley County, which furnished many conspicuous instances of loyalty during the war.
On the 16th day of August, 1861, President Lincoln, by proclamation, declared the inhabitants of certain enumerated States to be in a state of insurrection against the United States, and commercial intercourse between the same was prohibited; but he excepted from the operation of this proclamation the inhabitants of that part of Virginia lying west of the Alleghany Mountains, and such other parts of that State and other States as might maintain a loyal adhesion to the Union and the Constitution, or might be, from time to time, occupied and controlled by forces of the United States engaged in the dispersion of the insurgents.
At a later date, on the 1st of July, 1862, another proclamation declared that Virginia, except certain enumerated counties, not embracing Berkeley, were in a state of insurrection and rebellion, so that the law for the collection of taxes there could not be executed.
Again, on the 2d of April, 1863, another proclamation declared that the inhabitants of Virginia, except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, were in a state of insurrection against the United States.
Except for a short time during the war, Martinsburgh was never in the enemy’s lines. The troops of the United States had almost continuous and uninterrupted possession, and held such possession when this accident occurred. Shortly after the admission of West Virginia into the Union as a State, the counties of Berkeley (in which Martinsburgh is situate) and Jefferson were, by a vote of the inhabitants, attached to the new State, and have been regarded as a part ever since.
The committee are of opinion that the trustees of the church should be allowed $2,500 for the loss of the church and furniture, and report herewith a bill, and recommend its passage.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: February 1863