Pocket Bible given by a captured Union soldier to a woman in a prominent Unionist family
Harper's Ferry. Pocket New Testament bound in red sheep over card, measuring 3 x 4.25". Extremities somewhat rubbed but in overall solid condition. Offsetting to pastedowns. Various selections dog-eared but no markings to internal text. Multiple ownership signatures from the prominent Koonce family, most notably the inscription to the front endpaper: "Presented to Mollie E. Koonce by a patriot soldier at the line of surrender in Harper's Ferry to the Rebels under Gen. Hill." Other signatures include Howard Koonce, Alice R. Koonce, and Peachie Koonce. A unique artifact that speaks to women's presence, influence, and the risks they faced in wartime.
The Mollie E. Koonce of the ownership is possibly Mary E. Koonce daughter of George Koonce, an entrepreneur and statesman; several other family members' names also appear in the Bible (Howard, who went on to become a physician, and Estelle May "Peach" Koonce). History has remembered and recorded George Koonce. The proprietor of a Harper's Ferry general store Koonce & Son, he was a prominent Unionist and delegate to the 1861 Wheeling Convention protesting the secession and arguing for the creation of a separate state (West Virginia, a Northern and Unionist region carved out of Virginia, to which he ultimately served as senator). What remains lesser known are the experiences of the women in this family, who were clearly present for the traumatic events of the Harper's Ferry battle and surrender and who were identifiable as part of an activist family. They faced tremendous risk, yet it is likely, as with women on both sides, that they continued maintaining homes and businesses, and may have even been volunteers. The fall of Harper's Ferry was an especially harsh loss for the Union (44 killed, 47 wounded, 12,419 captured). In her 1862 account The Battle of Harper's Ferry as a Woman Saw It, nurse Mary Clemmer Ames reported that "traitors gathered around us, even while we watched. Besotted, blear-eyed Virginia cravens squatted on stones and stood with hands in their pockets, estimating the probabilities of a fight...Beside these cowards stood women watching, trembling for the safety of their homes...young girls whom the fortunes of war had given a temporary home here wondered if, with the enemy in, they would ever get out." What was Mollie's role in the midst of this, and what brought her to the line of surrender where she could receive this gift? To what extent was the "patriot soldier" passing along his Bible in request for her prayers, versus giving it to her a sign he prayed for her safety?
A unique piece of women's Civil War social history, raising questions deserving of further research.
U.S. Census Records 1860-1900. George W. Koonce Family Papers at West Virginia University (AM.0407). (Item #3256)