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First West Virginia Legislature

Biographical Sketches: William Dunbar


Wheeling Intelligencer
August 17, 1863

The First West Va. Legislature.

HOUSE OF DELEGATES

Sketches Personal, Political and Biographical.

WM. S. DUNBAR From Raleigh, &c

Capt. William S. Dunbar, the member from the district comprising the counties of Raleigh, McDowell and Wyoming, is a native of Fincastle, Botetout county Virginia, and is forty years of age. His father who was a lieutenant in the war of ’12 removed to Monroe county when William was about twelve years of age. He was a carpenter and taught his son that useful craft with so much success that he followed it steadily from that time till the breaking out of the rebellion. In 1844 he was married, and in ’57 removed to Raleigh county. When the trouble began to thicken, and people began to talk of secession in the winter of ’60-61, Mr. Dunbar opposed it with all his energies. When the day approached for voting on the ordinance, being quite active in opposing its adoptions, some of his secession neighbors undertook to persuade him out of it.—They told him if he voted against the ordinance and the State did go out, he couldn’t stay there—that the sheriff was already threatening to have him arrested for treason, and moreover that the polls would be guarded by a militia company, and every man arrested who attempted to vote against the ordinance. Undismayed however, he went to their voting place and spent all forenoon talking to those there with such good success that all but two voted with him against the ordinance. When this became known throughout the county dire threats were made, and in about two weeks he was arrested for treason, but released for want of proof. Was re-arrested and again discharged for the same reason. Not long after this he was drafted in the regular rebel army to fight the “Yankees.” He refused to go and was arrested, but the party arresting him agreed to let him off if he would make an appointment. Mr. Dunbar was late and when he got there he learned the Colonel had been there, and seeing such a full turn out supposed all was right and left word for them to repair to town next morning. The next morning he made a speech to them and told them that they could do as they chose, but as for him he was going to Charleston, Kanawha, to join the Union army. Nearly the whole company joined him and they went directly to Charleston and enlisted. Here he recruited awhile and was then elected Captain. He was through the Fremont campaign in Virginia in the spring of ’62, and was in a number of battles, the severest of which was Cross Keys. While in the army the rebels robbed his family of everything they had, including about $2,500 worth of dry goods. A large reward was offered for him, and his house watched for a long time in the hope of catching him. His family was abused. His daughter, 15 years of age, was shot at standing in the door of his house, and his wife threatened with loaded muskets because she would not disclose his whereabouts.—This was while he was on a visit home during recruing [sic] service. He hid once in a mountain near home for three weeks, day and night, while the rebels knowing he was in the neighborhood, scouted the country far and near.

He resigned his commission on account of sickness, and as soon as he recovered went to recruiting again, and was so engaged when elected to the Legislature.

Mr. Dunbar was always a Democrat, voted for Henry A. Wise for Governor and John C. Breckenridge for President, both of which he wouldn’t do again if he had it to do over. He is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was an exhorter in the church.

No man could be more unqualified in his loyalty than Mr. Dunbar. His Unionism has been ground in by the brutal conduct of the rebel ruffains [sic] toward himself and his family. He has no fine sentimentalities on the subject. He has no apologies to offer for our “misguided southern brethren.” He wants them whipped into subjection and will not rest satisfied until it is done.

In height he is somewhat below the medium stature, his frame firmly knit and muscular, though not robust, and slightly inclining to stoop. He dresses plainly and makes no pretensions in style or manner.—Is a very quiet unobtrusive man in his intercourse with others. Hair light; eyes a sort of dark steel gray, which look as if there was a good deal of grit behind them, features regular; mouth firm; face square, smoothly shaven, and somewhat bronzed as if it had been accustomed to sun and wind. The impression one gets of this member, both from face and manner, is that of a man who would never relinquish short of success anything he had undertaken, and who would be hopelessly obstinate if he should be wrong.

Mr. Dunbar speaks occasionally to the business of the House, and is very pointed in his remarks and direct in their application. Is very earnest about his duties as legislator and means business; is a very clever gentleman socially; but has a careworn, troubled air that never deserts him.


Biographies of the First West Virginia Legislature

West Virginia Archives and History