As those who read this blog know, I have a couple of interests other than the American Civil War, and, occasionally, wires cross… not for the worse, but usually resulting in something interesting.
Take for example, my interests in the 116th Infantry from the Shenandoah Valley in the First World War. One of the men of the 116th was Winchester native, Robert Young Conrad. Of course, if the name sounds familiar to folks interested in Virginia’s history in the Civil War, well… it should. Born in 1884, the younger Conrad was named for his grandfather, a Frederick County delegate to the Virginia Convention of 1861.
The elder Robert Y. Conrad was originally an appointee to the United States Military Academy, but resigned to practice law in his native county. Conrad had a rather successful career, but with the turmoil of the 1860 presidential election, was thrown into another test. As one site states, he was “no fan of Lincoln. But he was loyal to the Union and thought there must be a way to preserve it.” In the wake of the election, and at a public meeting on December 14, 1860, Conrad addressed a public meeting to offer five resolutions, which, in turn, were passed by those in attendance. Among the tenets passed was the agreement that there was no cause, at the time, to justify the secession of any State from the Union.
Even so, the position of Conrad and those who passed the five resolutions, also made clear their position on slavery. In Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (2003), Historian William A. Link writes:
Frederick citizens regarded slavery “as perfectly consistent with civilization, humanity, and piety.” Virginians would not “tamely submit” to any limitations of their rights. The resolutions appealed to the North to repeal obnoxious laws regarding fugitive slaves and to suppress abolitionists’ activities that led “to invasions of other States, seducing slaves to abscond, harboring runaways, and otherwise disturbing the peace of sister States.”
Within months, the selection of Conrad, as a representative in the Virginia Convention of 1861, further demonstrated the dominating sentiment of the county.
Still, Conrad was up against some challenges from other Virginians, mostly from the east, who felt differently, and he often lamented the tactics of these secessionists in letters to his wife, Elizabeth. Even after the firing on Fort Sumter, he seemed to remain resolute against secession, describing the ensuing “great parade of mobocracy and military in the streets,” with “one hundred guns fired, in honour, of the disgrace of our own National flag … and the flag of the Confederated Southern States hoisted on the roof of the Capitol, just over the Hall in which we sit.” In yet another letter, he wrote, “My heart is very sad… viewing the now near prospect of civil—fratricidal war in our country—so young—so prosperous, the pride of our people, the hope of the world—which is not to lose all its prestige, become the object of contempt to the nations, and, we know not to what extent, the victim of our own folly and madness.”
Conrad voted against secession in both the first (April 4) and second vote (April 17), but was among those who changed the original vote of April 17 from a “nay”, to an “aye”. It seems likely that this was done more to show a unified decision on the part of the Commonwealth, though some degree of reluctance may have remained in the back of Conrad’s mind. Whatever remnants of Unionist sentiment lingered, Conrad does seem to have made a shift in position due to Lincoln’s call for troops, writing to his wife on April 16:
It is not to be supposed that the Southern States yet remaining in the Union will stand tamely by and witness the subjugation of those further south. The preparations of the administration seem to show that it is taken for granted that Virginia, at least, will very soon unite her forces to those of the victims of this policy. Indeed there seems to be no alternative, and the question is only one of time.
Ultimately, Conrad moved even more behind Virginia as part of the Confederacy, calling on Frederick County residents to defend Virginia and “if forced to fall back upon Winchester, to recede no further; but, if need be, to die to a man in defence of our homes ….”
In fact, five of Robert Y. Conrad’s sons served the Confederacy.
Daniel Burr Conrad (born 2/24/1831), a doctor, having graduated from the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, joined with the 2nd Virginia Infantry, in June 1861. By that time, he had already completed six years in the U.S. Navy, and aboard the U.S.S. Congress and Brooklyn. By August 1861, he requested to be detached from the 2nd Virginia, in order to serve on the staff of Admiral Franklin Buchanan. The Southern Historical Society Papers note that he was present with Buchanan at the Battle of Mobile Bay. D.B. Conrad survived the war, and later served as superintendent of the insane asylum in Richmond, and then Western State Hospital in Staunton.
Powell Conrad (born in 1833) was, like his father, a lawyer, but served as an engineer in the army; the only brother to die during the war, having contracted typhoid fever (1862).
Holmes Conrad (born January 31, 1840) enlisted on April 19, 1861, initially, as a 1st sergeant, with Company A, 1st Virginia Cavalry (also known as the “Newtown Cavalry”; the town of Newtown being just south of Winchester, and is known, today, as Stephens City). Already a graduate of VMI (’54), law school at the University of Virginia, his rise in ranks seemed certain, and he did… transferring to the 17th Battalion Virginia Cavalry in January 1862 (becoming a lieutenant), and eventually rising to the rank of major and assistant inspector general of cavalry for Gen. Thomas L. Rosser’s Division. His postwar years were no less busy…
The fourth in the lot, Charles Frederick Conrad (born 1843), enlisted in Co. D, 11th Virginia Cavalry on June 28, 1863, and transferred to J.W. Carter’s battery of horse artillery (R.P. Chew’s former battery) in July 1864. Following the war, he was a resident of Staunton, and served as a civil engineer.
Lastly, there was Francis “Frank” Whiting Conrad (born 1848), who was merely a postwar reference with J.W. Carter’s battery. As seems to have been a family tradition, he too was a civil engineer, and lawyer.
Which brings us, full circle, back to Robert Young Conrad of the 116th Infantry, son of the above-mentioned Holmes Conrad. No doubt, the man had a lot to live up to… and he did quite well in that regard.
A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (’05), and the University of Virginia law school (’10), the younger R.Y. Conrad became a partner in the law office of his father. Called-up in June 1916, as a captain in the Virginia National Guard, Conrad went to the Mexican border with the Second Virginia Regiment, and was stationed at Brownsville, Tex., for eight months. The Second Virginia was mustered out of Service in February, 1917, but was called into Federal Service again in a few weeks. Captain Conrad, as commanding officer of Company “L,” then did guard duty on Virginia railroads for five months, after which the Second Virginia was ordered to Camp McClellan, Anniston, Ala., and there became a part of the Twenty-ninth, or “Blue and Gray” Division. After nine months’ training, the regiment sailed for France, June 15, 1918.
On October 8, 1918, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, while leading an assault on Malbrouck Hill, he led an assault, and swept successfully beyond the objective set for his unit. At the third line trench, however, he was met with “a murderous machine-gun fire”, and, between nine and ten o’clock in the morning, received a mortal wound to the head. Not only was Conrad the highest ranking casualty from Winchester in the First World War, he was also the highest ranking officer killed in the 116th Infantry during the same. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “extraordinary heroism in action near Samogreux, France, on Oct. 8, 1918.”
Four months after his death in France, his wife, Helen Wylie Conrad, gave birth to a daughter, naming her in honor of her father, and referring to her as “Bobbie”.
For more about Capt. Conrad, see his Find-a-Grave page, here.
*On a Sesquicentennial note regarding the Conrad family, two first cousins of Holmes Conrad were to fall at First Manassas/Bull Run… Sgt. Holmes Addison Conrad (9/30/1837-7/22/1861)and Pvt. Henry Tucker Conrad (12/17/1839-7/21/1861), both of Company D, 2nd Virginia Infantry, who were sons of David Holmes Conrad (1800-1877), brother to Robert Young Conrad (1805-1875). Both are buried together in a single grave in Norbourne Parish Cemetery, Martinsburg, West Virginia.