I was glad to see the sign for the scenic overlook. Having been on the road for the past six hours, I was ready to get out and stretch. Of the six hours, the majority of it had been spent in construction zones or in rain, except for the half hour of being detoured through the Flatwoods and Sutton region.
Not realizing that the overlook was on the northbound side of Route 19, I was almost past the crossover before I realized it. Thankfully there was nobody else on the road and I quickly crossed to the turning lane and crossed safely to the overlook.
I was immediately taken in by the view as I got out and stretched. The overlook on Route 19 is south of Birch River on Powell Mountain. The view is of the Powell Creek Valley to the east and farther north, it is the Birch River Valley. As gorgeous as the view was in the summer, I could only imagine what it looks like in the autumn when the leaves changing.
After photographing the vista and eating lunch, I wandered over to the historical marker that was near the entrance to the rest area. The marker was an official West Virginia Historical Marker for Young’s Monument: “Off Young’s Monument Rd. (.3M) is / grave site of Henry & Lucinda Young. / A Confed. militiaman or sympathizer, / he was killed by Union troops nearby / on 8 Sept. 1861. Details of Young’s / life and death are scant and confused, / symbolizing divided loyalties, tragic / times and enduring saga of Civil War / in WV, when state was pitted against / state and brother against brother. / New road in 1970 required reburial.”
Note: I want to state that this story is not to glorify the Confederacy or Union. This is a presentation of the facts discovered in reading about the story of Henry Young’s death.
The story of Henry Young is one that has become a part of the local history and has also found its way into the folklore of the area. The historical marker is correct in I found very little about Henry’s early life, but found plenty about his death on September 8, 1861. The WPA Guide to West Virginia refers to Young’s Monument as “The Lonely Grave,” though it states that both Henry and his wife, Lucinda, were both buried at the location. Henry, according to the version recorded in the guide, refused to surrender to the advancing Union army and maintained a one-man war against the entire advance guard of General William S. Rosecrans’s Army until he was shot down. The version makes Henry’s death seem to be a shoot-out between him and the entire army.
Sutton’s History of Braxton County and Central West Virginia, tells a slightly different version of the story. The version shared in this history states that Henry was returning home when he encountered the advance unit of the Union Army traveling on the turnpike. Henry had stepped out onto the turnpike in view of the troops and after refusing to surrender or flee, he stood in defiance of the unit until he was shot down by them.
McWhorter’s The Border Settlers of Northwestern Virginia from 1768 to 1795 adds a little more detail in that Henry was ordered to halt and ignoring the order was killed. McWhorter continues that a Federal officer went to the Young homestead and reported Henry’s death to his family. After the Union troops left the area, Henry’s body was buried where it fell in an unmarked grave.
McWhorter in his notes gives a version of the event that places blame on neither side. This version was given to him by Judge William S. O’Brien who suggests that Young had not realized the troops were on the road and the troops were startled by his sudden appearance on the turnpike. Young panicked and attempted to flee and was shot down by the Ohio troops who thought him to be a bush-whacker.
Carefully reviewing all the sources and opinions, I believe that the truth lies somewhere in between the accounts given. I do not think Henry was a one-man war machine facing down the Union army, nor do I believe that he turned and fled like the Union army maintained.
The advance troops of Rosecrans’ army were moving to attack the Confederate army entrenched at Carnifex Ferry, along the Gauley River. Confederate Brigadier General John B. Floyd’s army had held control of the valley since August and General Rosecrans, afraid that the Confederacy would retain control, wanted to push them out of the region. The location where Rosecrans and Floyd’s armies would clash two days later was just south of the the place Henry Young encountered the Union army. Henry was executed by the unit who did not want Henry reporting their movements through the mountains of West Virginia to General Floyd.
Henry would later be joined by his wife at this lonely location. The graves would not be marked until sometime after her death. The residents of the region raised money and had the monument placed. Here the two of them would rest until Route 19 was expanded and their graves were moved to another location. Note: I’ve read a number of different dates when the monument was placed for Henry Young, but I believe it was placed around 1900. McWhorter’s book includes a letter dated 1903 that states the monument had recently been erected.
Henry’s death has become more than just a piece of regional history – it has become a part of regional folklore. According to legend the headless spirit of Henry Young has been spotted riding along old Route 19. Ever since the road was expanded and modernized, his ghost has not been spotted as often, though who knows, maybe it still appears on the older roads that cross the mountain.
I finished my break and crawled back into the vehicle, leaving the scenic view behind and heading towards another adventure.
Note: I did locate the graves of Henry and Lucinda Young. Though it could be spotted from the road, the Young Monument/Cemetery appears to be on private property, so I paid my respects from a short distance away. Unless you have permission, please do not trespass.