John S. Witcher Highway Historical Marker
A native of Cabell County, Virginia (now West Virginia), John S. Witcher served as clerk of the circuit court of Cabell County before enrolling in the Third West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry in late 1862. During the Civil War, Witcher served with distinction and consequently received several promotions, mustering out of service with the rank of brevet brigadier general. After the conflict, he served as secretary of state of West Virginia from 1866 to 1869, U.S. Representative for West Virginia’s Third Congressional District between 1869 and 1871, and paymaster of the U.S. Army from 1880 to 1899. After a lengthy career in public service, Witcher retired and moved out west to Salt Lake City, Utah. He died there on July 8, 1906, a week shy of his sixty-seventh birthday. His remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Backstory and Context
John S. Witcher was born in Cabell County, Virginia (now West Virginia) on July 15, 1839. His parents, both Virginia natives, were farmers. Witcher’s family owned some enslaved African Americans, but his father manumitted them some time prior to the Civil War. As a young boy, he worked on the family farm and occasionally attended a local common school.
In 1861, Witcher commenced a lengthy career in public service when the people of Cabell County elected him clerk of the county's circuit court. In mid-December 1862, Witcher’s strong pro-Union sentiments compelled him to serve his country in its time of need. He resigned his position as clerk of the circuit court of Cabell County and enrolled in the Third West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry with the rank of first lieutenant. During the Civil War, Witcher served with distinction and consequently received several promotions. On September 8, 1863, he rose to the rank of captain. On May 23 of the following year, Witcher was promoted to major. On May 6, 1865, he became a lieutenant colonel. When his unit was mustered out of service on June 30, 1865, Witcher held the rank of brevet brigadier general.
Immediately following his service with the Third West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War, Witcher became a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates in the latter half of 1865, serving as a Republican. His political star continued to rise the ensuing year when he became the third secretary of state of West Virginia. Witcher served in the position until 1869. That year, he moved to Washington, D.C. to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing West Virginia’s Third Congressional District. Witcher’s time on Capitol Hill, however, proved brief. In 1870, he lost his bid for re-election to his Democratic challenger and, after his term of office expired in March 1871, he returned to West Virginia. Soon after, however, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Witcher collector of internal revenue for West Virginia’s Third Revenue District. He would hold the position until 1876. Two years later, in 1878, Witcher returned to Washington, D.C. after being appointed a U.S. pension agent. While in the position, he oversaw the pension rolls in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, in addition to serving pensioners living abroad. In 1880, Witcher became paymaster of the U.S. Army. He would serve in the position for nearly two decades until 1899.
After a lengthy career in public service, Witcher retired and moved out west to Salt Lake City, Utah. He died there on July 8, 1906, a week shy of his sixty-seventh birthday. His remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
In 2016, as part of its Civil War sesquicentennial project, the West Virginia Highway Historical Marker Program of the West Virginia Archives and History installed a marker dedicated to John S. Witcher. It stands along West Virginia Route 2 (Bridge Street) between Richmond and Main Streets in front of the Guyandotte Public Library in Huntington, Cabell County.
Atkinson, George Wesley and Alvaro Franklin Gibbens. Prominent Men of West Virginia. Wheeling, WV: W.L. Callin: 1890.
"Witcher, John Seashoal." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present. United States Congress. Web. 09 October 2020 <https://bioguideretro.congress.gov/Home/MemberDetails?memIndex=W000656>.