Local Lifestyle

They were the first Morgan County men to be called up, Part I

by Terry Golden

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part article.

The Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society members research local history and enjoy sharing their findings with others.  There are 325 names on the World War Memorial on Fairfax Street in Berkeley Springs.

These are just a few of the many who served during World War One.

The Morgan Messenger reported, on September 6, 1917:


Gradually the people are coming to realize that this world conflagration is at last “our” war as it is being brought close home to us. On Wednesday morning at 7:30 the first four to be ordered to a training camp left Berkeley Springs for Petersburg, Va., and they were given “God speed” by a number of citizens who were at the depot to see them off. As the train was out of commission, Col. V. E. Johnson took the boys to Hancock Junction in his automobile. Before leaving the new soldiers were each presented with a comfort kit by a committee from the Red Cross, a gift they will much appreciate.

Those who went Wednesday represent five per cent of the total number to be furnished by Morgan County and are as follows:

George C. Biggs

Wilbur E. H. Harden

Clarence V. Youngblood

Harold Alston Rice

(The Morgan Messenger, September 6, 1917)


These were the first of the Morgan County young men who were drafted during World War One to head to training camps, many more would follow in the coming months. It was only a few short months prior that each of these men had a very different life. Being a member of the U.S. Army and possibly going to war may have been the farthest thing from their minds. On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, on May 18, 1917, the draft was signed into law, and on June 5, 1917, they registered for the draft. Now they were heading off, possibly to war. So, who were these young men and what did the future hold for them?

These are small synopses of four individuals from Morgan County, from different backgrounds, but their lives came together that day in September 1917. It is not possible to tell the complete story of each in such a small format. Hopefully, those who read this will have an appreciation for those who served their country in “The War to End All Wars.”

George C. Biggs

George Clyde Biggs was born in New Midway, Md., on December 30, 1889, to Lewis Augustus and Laura Manora (Renner) Biggs. By the 1900 census George was ten years old, living in Sleepy Creek, Morgan County with his parents and six siblings.

In the 1910 Morgan County census, the family continued to reside in the Sleepy Creek area. His twin brother, Willard Lee Biggs, who had been working as a brakeman for the B&O Railroad was killed in a work-related accident June 27, 1914, at Brunswick, Md.

When time came to sign up for the draft on June 5, 1917, Biggs was 27, single, and living in Sleepy Creek working for the B&O Railroad. According to U.S. Army Transportation records, Biggs was now a private, assigned to Headquarters Company 313th Field Artillery 80th Division, departed Norfolk, Va. for France onboard the USS Siboney. The 80th Division was activated in September 1917 and because most of the men assigned were from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, it was nicknamed the “Blue Ridge” Division.

The 313th Field Artillery was primarily made up of West Virginians. In 1918, this division was involved in the Battle of the Somme, the Meuse-Argonne and the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. The division was deactivated in May 1919. On November 19, 1918, while Biggs was deployed to France, his mother, Laura Biggs, passed away and was buried in the Bethel Independent Church cemetery in Sleepy Creek.

U.S. Veterans administration records show that George Biggs was discharged on June 6, 1919. Shortly after being discharged, he returned home to Morgan County where on August 4, 1919, he and Miss Daisy

George C. Biggs headstone in Arlington National Cemetery.
photo courtesy of the Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society.

Emily Butts applied for a marriage certificate and on August 9, 1919, they were married.

In 1920, George Biggs and his wife lived in Sleepy Creek along with his father. Son Grayson Eugene Biggs was born in 1921 and in 1924, son Kenneth E. Biggs was born.  Unfortunately, on January 21, 1925, Daisy Biggs died due to ectopic gestation and was buried in the Bethel Independent Church cemetery.

In the 1940 census, George  Biggs was 50 years old, living in the Philadelphia area with his wife, Mary, his two sons Eugene and Kenneth, and stepdaughter Roberta. He was working as a trackman for the railroads. On June 29, 1966, at the age of 76, George Clyde Biggs passed away in the Aliquippa Hospital, Aliquippa, Beaver County, Pa. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, section 37, grave 891.

Wilbur E.H. Harden

Wilbur Elijah Henry Harden was born in Baxter, Berkeley County, W.Va. on October 7, 1894, to James Bembrange [Bemerage] and Anna Elizabeth (McConnaughey) Harden. In the 1900 census, Wilbur Harden was five years old, living with his parents and three siblings in Hedgesville, Berkeley County, W.Va.

Wilbur Harden, his parents and six siblings were living in the Allen District of Morgan County in the 1910 census. When Wilbur registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, he was single, 22, and working for the B & O railroad telegraph. U. S. Veterans Administration records show Wilbur E. H. Harden, rank of Private, was a member of the U. S. Army from September 4, 1917, until his discharge on January 13, 1919.

In a note in The Morgan Messenger, dated August 1, 1918, Wilbur wrote his father that he (Wilbur) remained at Camp Lee on account of having had pneumonia when the rest of the Morgan County boys left there May 25th for overseas. He indicated he was improving after nine weeks’ illness but is not yet well.

Considering the high mortality rate for pneumonia during World War One, Wilbur was lucky to have survived. After being discharged, he returned to Morgan County and in 1920, was living with his parents, his occupation being a telegraph lineman.

On April 21, 1923, Wilbur married Ida L. Lutman, daughter of James W. and Floria Lutman, in Hagerstown, Md.  Their first daughter Vivian Margaret was born on April 11, 1925.

By the 1930 census. Wilbur Harden,  his wife and daughter were living in the Town of Bath (Berkeley Springs) on Washington Street. His occupation was listed as millwright at the sand mill. Their second daughter, Phyllis, was born on October 30, 1934.

In the 1950 census, they continued to live in the Town of Bath, Wilbur’s occupation was a dryer operator at the sand mine. He remained employed by the Pennsylvania Glass Sand Corporation until his retirement in 1959. Congratulations were in order as Wilbur and Ida celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1973. At the age of 93, Wilbur Elijah Henry Harden passed away on July 5, 1988, at the VA Medical Center, Martinsburg. He was buried in Greenway Cemetery in Berkeley Springs.

Wilbur Harden and wife’s headstone.
photo courtesy of the Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society.

If you need assistance researching your Morgan County family history, check out the Morgan County Historical and Genealogical Society. Volunteers are available in the Morgan Room of the Morgan County Library, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. If not available on those days, contact Fred Widmyer (304-702-4888) or Harold Michael (304-258-4063) to arrange for an appointment at a more convenient time. The Society is not staffed when the library is closed.

Next week, Part II will share the stories of Clarence V. Youngblood and Harold Alston Rice.