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