The Civil War offers us many perceived lessons. Lessons in leadership, in tactics. Lessons in victory and defeat; division and reunification. These lessons are imparted to us through a wealth of records, letters, diaries and newspapers as recorded by the participants and individuals who lived through the events. Even still we don’t often encounter Civil War soldiers or veterans speaking directly to us.
Joseph Amos Pyle was born in eastern Ohio on June 08, 1847. That would make him all of sixteen years old when he enlisted in Company C of the 1st West Virginia Infantry on February 29, 1864, though he swore on his enlistment paper that he had reached his eighteenth birthday. His older brother, John Bone Pyle, had served in the same company since late 1861, and young Joseph was anxious to join him before the war was over.
Joseph was present with his regiment through the Shenandoah Valley campaign in the summer and fall of 1864, escaping injury at more than a dozen engagements including New Market, Lynchburg, Third Winchester and Cedar Creek. In 1865 his regiment would be consolidated into the 2nd West Virginia Veteran Infantry, from which he was mustered out in July 1865, still nearly a year shy of his eighteenth birthday.
Joseph would return to Belmont County, Ohio to marry and raise a family. He was active in the Grand Army of the Republic and attended the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1938. Local children marveled at his flowing white beard and called him ‘Santa Claus’. When he died on January 8, 1943 at age 95 he was Belmont County’s last surviving Civil War soldier.
On Pyle’s 90th birthday, the local newspaper sent a reporter to interview the aged veteran – one of the last local links to the Civil War. Pyle would recount growing up in the area, his wartime experiences and his life since the war. Before closing the interview the reporter had the good sense to ask Pyle what advice or life lessons he might impart to future generations. Pyle’s observations are as timely today as they were in 1937…
“Believe in yourself. Whatever you start, do it with the best in you and finish it. Don’t be disappointed with your station in life. If you’re a bricklayer, be the best one there is and don’t worry about the fellow who is a lawyer. Stick with your job and you’ll be successful.”
The reporter also asked Pyle if he had a secret to his longevity, to which he responded “Take a nap after lunch like I did all my life.”
Not bad for a guy who marched off to war at 16 and lived to 95. I think I’ll follow his advice on that daily post-lunch nap…