Allegiance between the northern and southern governments
was almost equally divided in Calhoun County. This created a frightening
battlefield where brother would stand against brother and father against
son. When hostilities broke out, Calhoun became overrun with loosely
organized bands of southern partisans. It is said that these bands “made
war largely on their own account.” History shows that these “irregulars”
were more active in Calhoun than in any other county. The self-appointed
groups united under the name “Moccasin Rangers.”
No one paints a pretty picture of the Rangers. Boyd
Stutler in West Virginia in the
Civil War had this to say about them, “They terrorized the Union
Element and kept fighting men at home to protect their families and
property. It was a great time to pay off old scores, quarrels about
fences and neighborhood disagreements. Many of the acts of the Rangers
were more personal than political. They left a wake of looted and burned
homes and rode horses ‘appropriated’ from their loyal Union neighbors.”
Due to Moccasin Ranger activity, recruitment for the old
flag was difficult and slow. Men feared to leave home, but in the fall
of 1861, Capt. James Simpson (Calhoun born) got enough men together to
make up the major part of Company C at Camp Pierpont near Elizabeth.
This is where Michael Ayers began his military career. It took until
Dec. 22 for Company C (Calhoun men) and Company B (Wirt men) of the 11th
West Virginia Volunteer Infantry to be commenced.
These companies, instead of being sent to a training
camp to be instructed, were immediately armed and sent to combat the
irregulars. Many were sent to Camp McDonald, Arnoldsburg. Outposts were
set up in three counties, and regimental headquarters was established in
Spencer under Colonel J. Castello Rathbone.
Lines had been drawn. Men who went to the same grade
school, sat in the same pew at church, and shared memories from birth
were now mortal enemies. The Civil War brought more than battles and
blood shed to Calhoun; it shattered the very fabric of its people.