My trip into the office usually takes about seven minutes door to door if I hit the lights just right. With recent construction shutting down the interstate between the two points I’m forced to take a slightly longer detour into downtown Wheeling. I don’t mind it, to be honest. I see a lot more history on the detour than I do in traveling the interstate.
Following U.S. Route 40 (National Road) west I climb Wheeling Hill, site of the famed 1777 McColloch’s Leap. Cresting the hill I pass the overlook, site of the massive 1840 Whig Rally and planned site of West Virginia’s first national cemetery (later awarded to Grafton), as well as Mt. Wood Cemetery, where colonels Joseph Thoburn (killed at Cedar Creek) and Daniel Frost (mortally wounded at Cool Spring) rest alongside Confederate veterans of the Shriver Grays (Co. G 27th Virginia, Stonewall Brigade).
Coming into town I pass the 1849 Wheeling Suspension Bridge, once the longest suspension bridge in the world, brainchild of Charles Ellet Jr., who was killed at the Battle of Memphis in 1862. Sitting just below the bridge is the site of the Revolutionary War Fort Henry.
Finally, climbing the hill towards my office I pass the home of a Confederate congressman and the headquarters of multiple Civil War generals. Today while making my first trip into the office in over two months I noticed the recognizable orange and black “for sale by owner” signs in front of one of the city’s prominent Civil War buildings.
The Greek Revival structure at 75 12th Street was built in 1848 as both a dwelling and office for Charles Wells Russell, a prominent western Virginia attorney and politician. Russell would argue cases in Baltimore, Richmond, and Washington, DC, one case evening rising to the US Supreme Court. In 1850 he was elected the the Virginia House of Delegates and in 1860 was a presidential elector, favoring John C. Breckinridge.
In 1859 Russell paid to the take the place of a member of the Virginia State Fencibles at the execution of John Brown. Following Virginia’s secession Russell took leave of Wheeling and was elected to the Provisional Confederate Congress. He was later elected to the first and second Confederate congresses, serving 1862 – 1865. He refused to return to Wheeling following the war, instead moving to Baltimore where he died in 1867. His son, Charles Wells Russell Jr., would later edit John Mosby’s memoirs.
Following Russell’s departure from Wheeling his home was seized under the 1861 Confiscation Act. Beginning in December 1861 the home would serve as headquarters for Brigadier General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Department of Western Virginia. Rosecrans would string a telegraph line directly to the building, and from his headquarters, in partnership with Dr. Jonathan Letterman, perfected design of the innovative Wheeling Ambulance. This ambulance, which could accommodate up to twelve men in sitting or recumbent positions, utilized springs to reduce the jarring of wounded passengers. Wheeling ambulances would see heavy use following the Battle of Antietam, and were used with modification into the 20th century, arguably one Rosecrans’ longest enduring legacies.
Another occupant of the Russell house during this period was George L. Hartsuff, serving as Rosecrans Assistant Adjutant General. Hartsuff served with distinction throughout the war and was grievously wounded at Antietam, and later in a bizarre outhouse accident. By the end of the war he would rise to the rank of Brevet Major General.
In March 1862 Rosecrans was replaced by Major General John C. Fremont, who had been placed in command of the new Mountain Department. Fremont would make the Russell house his headquarters, from which he oversaw operations in western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky. Fremont departed Wheeling later that spring to take command of his army in the field, where the battles at Cross Keys and Port Republic would lead to his dismissal.
Since its sale in 1865 the building has housed the offices of numerous doctors, architects and professional services. The building sits steps from the impressive US District Court building, several restaurants and nightlife, and Wheeling’s impressive waterfront. And now, with all of these connections to a Confederate congressman, several Union generals AND the father of battlefield medicine, it could be yours! As Dana Shoaf would say, that’s worth a move to West Virginia!