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Centennial History of Hurricane (1994 Edition): The Kirtley Family: Charles J. S. Kirtley and Maggie E. Rowan Kirtley

In 1988, The Centennial History of Hurricane, WV was published to commemorate the town’s 100th anniversary. In 1994, the Centennial Committee published a follow up book which included family histories which were not submitted in time for the 1988 Centennial History. This week’s selection is the 22nd history from The Centennial History of Hurricane WV Continued — 1994.

CHARLES J. S. KIRTLEY (1845-1876)

Her name was Margaret E. Rowan, but she was called “Maggie” because her mother was also a Margaret. Stewart Rowan, her father was an innkeeper – in a section of western Virginia which was a part of Botecourt County in the Census of 1850, but later became a portion of Giles County. Situated in the lower part of the Shenandoah Valley, the winters were harsh and the Blue Ridge brooding.

The “good” land was claimed early in the settlement of the area, so Stewart Rowan sought other means to provide for his family. The route westward provided the answer; his land faced a frequently traveled road. The Census of 1850 titled him a hotel keeper.

The Civil War brought a different kind of guest to Stewart Rowan’s inn. Depending upon the fortunes of war, guests were tailored in blue or gray uniforms. The Rowans favored the Confederate gray.

Probably sometime in 1862, a company of cavalry was quartered at the inn. A young lieutenant caught Maggie’s fancy, a Lt. Charles J. S. Kirtley from Hurricane Bridge in western Virginia (Putnam County). Lt. Kirtley wore his uniform well and was ably served by his black servant, Jeff Maghee. Jeff had been with C.J.S. from boyhood and had accompanied his master when he rode from Hurricane Bridge to Buffalo Creek to be mustered into the 36 Batt’n Virginia Cavalry of the Provisional Army of the Confederate States on 1 November, 1862.

They were brothers of time and place. When C.J.S. was elected lieutenant, Jeff was filled with pride. But the brilliant autumn days yielded to the cold rains of December, which in turn yielded to the sleet and snow of January. The festivities of the mustering – in gave way to the harsh reality of skirmishes, the wounded and the dead. With relief, they paused at the Rowan Inn, to rest their mounts and their weary bodies.

Here it was that C.J.S. vowed his enduring love to promising to return to marry her and take her home to Hurricane Bridge. He described the Kanawha Valley in the most gentle terms. It held promises untold.

Return he did in 1863 to marry her on the 6th day of May. Pastor John Repass of the Evangelical Lutheran Church found them a handsome couple and prayed that peace would soon bless their union. Charles J.S. soon rejoined his company and Maggie’s happiness dulled, tarnished by the despair of separation. She longed to escape the valley, the inn, the war!

The tides of war turned against the Confederacy, and the bright promise of a November day at Buffalo Creek was swept away. Instead there was hunger and dysentary, unquenchable thirst or gnawing hunger, amputation and mutilation. Death marched before them.

Death marched, as well in Tennessee, where the half-brother of C.J.S., Frank Kirtley fell at the Battle of Morristown, 12 December, 1863. Six years younger than Frank, C.J.S. held his brother in the highest esteem.

Overcome by his personal sorrow, his yearning for Maggie, his horror of the sick and dying, Charles J.S. fled to Giles County, where he reclaimed Maggie. Together they set out for the comparative safety of Charleys Creek and Hurricane Bridge. He was dropped from the Confederate rolls on 24 April, 1864.

Time passed…The heroes returned, like cousins, Mahlon and Morris Kirtley, while the one hero, Frank, continued to haunt them all. A pocketful of tears became a flood of despair when a stillborn male child was born to Maggie in 1867.

Sorrow heaped on sorrow! The grandfather, Joseph Kirtley, died “of old age” in December of that year. A few months later Frank’s young sons succumbed to the flux. More despair.

Offsetting these losses in 1871 was the birth of Stewart Simms Kirtley on 25 April. C.J.S. and Maggie rejoiced in this son. Virginia B. was born two years later, but pneumonia claimed her at age six months.

Then, on a stifling day in August of 1875, double triumph and celebration… TWIN sons, John and Mahlon Oak (“Oakie”) were born. Charles J.S. was Exuberant! Then, suddenly, his health faltered, righted itself briefly, but abruptly worsened. At age 31, he died “paralyzed”. Maggie’s horror and emptiness was magnified when baby John fell to diphtheria. One year old and taken from her!

She never really recovered from the multiple losses. Her “sometimes” ill health became a gradual but steady decline, the cough a chronic racking one. She died of consumption on 9 September, 1877.

Out of his grief, Jeremiah Kirtley took up his pen, writing sadly to the inn in Giles County, “Our Maggie is dead this day.” … The Blue Ridge brooded even more darkly that year; the waters in Charleys Creek were frozen white, empty of any image.

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