Alfred Beckley

Alfred Beckley was born in Washington, D.C., on May 26,1802, the son of John J. and Maria (Prince) Beckley. His father, a Democratic politician, was mayor of Richmond, Virginia, and clerk of the U.S. House. After the father's death in 1807 the family moved to Pittsburg and then to Frankfort, Kentucky, from where young Beckley was appointed (in 1819) to West Point. He graduated in 1823, ninth in his class of thirty-five, and was commissioned second lieutenant of artillery. Beckley's thirteen years of military service were in the artillery, at various posts. In 1835 he finally obtained clear title to a large tract of land in western Virginia, curtesy Mrs. M. M. Raisten in what is now Raleigh County, West Virginia. Beckley resigned from the army on October 24,1836, in order to manage those estates. "A gentleman of fine education and excellent understanding," Beckley soon became a leading citizen of the county, being its first circuit court clerk. He founded the county seat, Beckley (also known as Raleigh Court House), which was named after his father. Among other varied activities, Beckley was a Methodist preacher, a brigadier general of Virginia militia, and a delegate to the 1844 Whig Party National Convention.

On May 17, 1861, Virginia Governor John Letcher nominated Beckley to be colonel of volunteers in the Provisional Army of Virginia. The governor ordered him to organize a regiment, to be numbered the 35 th Virginia Volunteers, out of his militiamen. However, the Virginia Secession Convention refused to confirm his nomination, the militiamen refused to volunteer in any numbers, and the 35th never formed. Instead, Beckley spent the next months organizing and training both his militia brigade and Confederate volunteers. In the summer of 1861 Beckley, as general of the 12th Brigade of the Virginia Militia, called out his militiamen to help repel a Union invasion of the Kanawha Valley. He met with little success. The populace of the area was largely Unionist and reluctant to fight for the South, and the pro-southern element tended to join regular units instead of the militia. Under orders of Brigadier General Henry Wise, his militia guarded ferries on the New River. On August 5,1861, Wise condemned Beckley's militia in scathing terms, calling his force "demoralized" and stating that "Gen. Beckley can raise no force of any efficiency at all."' The militia served through October, 1861, their "war" limited to firing a few shots at Union scouting parties. Beckley, "light of talent, but well educated," was also appointed colonel of the 35th Virginia Volunteers, but that was a "paper" regiment that never completed its organization. On February 8,1862, Beckley resigned from the Virginia militia and returned to his Raleigh home. The arduous journey took over a month. The day he arrived (March 17, 1862) he surrendered to the Union forces occupying Raleigh. In a May 22,1862, letter to West Virginia's Governor Francis Pierpont, Beckley claimed that he came forward in good faith and laid down his arms. The "conservative" Beckley s "desire was really for the Union" and he had only gone along with his militia role out of a general loyalty to the state of Virginia. However, on April 3, 1862, the Union forces arrested him. They took Beckley to Columbus, Ohio, as a military prisoner, to be held until exchanged or released. Beckley protested that he should be treated as a civilian, that he had severed all connection with the Confederacy. On June 18 he was paroled and on June 26 returned to Raleigh. Beckley took no further part in the war. His five sons, however, all served in the Confederate army.

Beckley lived in Raleigh County for the remainder of his life, farming and resuming his office of preacher. In 1872 he was made county superintendent of schools, and in 1877 was elected state representative. General Beckley died on May 26, 1888, at his home, Wildwood, and was buried in Beckley. A monument to him was erected in Beckley in 1938.

General Beckley's command of a brigade of militia which served in a campaign qualifies him to be considered a Confederate general.

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Reference:  More Generals in Gray.  Bruce S. Allardice.  A companion volume to Generals in Gray.  Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. LA.