"Died in the Defense of his Country"
By Elias Stewart, graduate assistant
Despite being a lesser-known engagement, the Battle of Lynchburg acts as a unique tapestry in which an array of notable people from across the East Coast convened in a seemingly insignificant town to fight in the Civil War. Many of these individuals went on to do prominent work after the war while others left a lasting impact before their deaths on the battlefield. This post will follow the West Virginian soldier, Samuel Wilson Nester. Although not much is found of his life, a valiant legend covers Private Nester at the time of his death that has stayed with his family for generations.
Samuel Nester was born in what is now Barbour County, West Virginia on April 2, 1823. He married Elizabeth Smith on October 23, 1845 and they had ten children together. A military report described Samuel as having a “dark complexion,” “grey eyes,” and stood around six-feet tall. Nester was a 38-year-old farmer before the call of duty compelled him to enlist as a private in Company C of the 11th Infantry of the West Virginia Volunteers on December 22, 1861.
Nester and his regiment took part in a number of engagements throughout West Virginia and Virginia. As the Calhoun Chronicles, a local West Virginia newspaper documented, Company C engaged in “Cloyd Mountain, Virginia, May 9, 1864, where the 11th…acted as supports to the 10th West Virginia and 30th Ohio, who in a fierce hand to hand engagement captured the Confederate works in less than ten minutes. Later assisting in the destruction of the Virginia & Tennessee R.R. tearing up tracks, heating the rails and bending them around trees. At New River Bridge on May 10, 1864, the 11th supported the Artillery, throughout this engagement, which was in artillery action at long range.” On May 26th, the 11th infantry joined with Union forces under the command of General David Hunter to continue south through Lexington with plans to capture Lynchburg.
Weeks later, after Hunter and his army ravaged Staunton, Lexington, and Liberty (now Bedford), Nester and his regiment found themselves approaching the edge of Lynchburg’s city limits. Although the 11th West Virginia did not see action until the following day, June 17th marks the start of the battle when General Hunter’s army engaged with the Confederates at a disused Quaker Meeting House, near the Sandusky estate. On June 18, 1864 the 11th West Virginia Infantry went into battle around 2:30 in the afternoon. Samuel and his regiment participated in an unsuccessful flank march to the right of what is present-day U.S. Route 29. Due to the rugged and steep terrain the troops turned back, looping around just in time to repel a Confederate advance on the Union forces. However, this maneuver brought heavy fire onto Company C and caused a number of casualties including a vicious gunshot to Nester’s leg resulting in a compound fracture.
Despite his serious wound, instead of being taken to the Union field hospital at Sandusky to be treated, or worse, to have been left on the battlefield for dead, it appears that Samuel’s brothers-in-arms helped Nester travel alongside the army once General Hunter made the decision to retreat west, towards the safety of West Virginia. A muster report described Nester entering a hospital in Charleston, West Virginia on June 28, 1864, nearly ten days later. Either through a worsening condition or to be closer to home Nester transferred to a hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio that next month.
According to family history, as told by Samuel’s Great-Great Grandson Richard Nester, Samuel’s youngest son, “Samuel Dias Nester, was born on April 10, 1864, while [father], Samuel W. was in the field; he had never seen his youngest son. While in Gallipolis, Samuel W. left the hospital to go visit his family and meet his son. His gunshot wound became infected due to contamination while crossing the Ohio River, and he was returned to the Army hospital.” It was at that hospital in Gallipolis, Ohio where Samuel died of gangrene on July 20, 1864.
Although Nester’s death was unfortunate, having only seen his newborn son briefly before dying, he left behind an honorable legacy as recognized by the state of West Virginia. Samuel’s family received a medal awarded to “officers and soldiers who had died of disease and wounds received in battle.” Nester’s medal bears an inscription reading: “Died in the Defense of his Country.” Samuel Nester currently lies at the Pine Street Cemetery in Gallipolis, Ohio.
Ayers, L. E. (2001). Calhoun County in the Civil War from 1927 Part VI. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from http://www.hurherald.com/cgi-bin/db_scripts/articles?Action=user_view
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 06 October 2020), memorial page for Pvt Samuel W. Nester (2 Apr 1823–20 Jul 1864), Find a Grave Memorial no. 15125087, citing Pine Street Cemetery, Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio, USA ; Maintained by Richard A. Nester (contributor 46855669)
Fluharty, L. (n.d.). SAMUEL WILSON NESTER Company “C” 11th West Virginia Infantry. Retrieved October 06, 2020, from https://www.wvgenweb.org/wvmilitary/11wvi-nester-s.pdf
Nester, Richard. “Re: Nester Blog.” Message to Eli Stewart. 7 October 2020. Email.