May 22, 1861: Thornsberry Bailey Brown Becomes First Union Solider Killed in Civil War

May 22, 2020

Credit e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On May 22, 1861, Thornsberry Bailey Brown became the first Union soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. It occurred during a brief stand-off at Fetterman in Taylor County.

At the beginning of the war, both Union and Confederate forces were scheming to control the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which had arrived in Taylor County in 1857. The railroad would be a key to moving troops and supplies.

Like much of present West Virginia, Taylor County’s loyalties were divided early in the war. Most residents backed a local Union militia unit, known as the Grafton Guards. However, there was also strong support for the Confederate Letcher’s Guard. On May 22, just more than a month into the war, Thornsberry Bailey Brown and another member of the Grafton Guards surprised three of Letcher’s Guards, who were on picket duty. In a quick exchange of fire, Brown was killed.

Brown is considered the first combat fatality of the Civil War. Following the capture of Fort Sumter, two Union soldiers had died during a cannon salute. Brown is buried in the Grafton National Cemetery, which was established after the war.