BUCKHANNON — The Civil War pitted neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend and family member against family member as people chose to support the Union or the Confederacy.
Young Alexander Swaney joined the First Virginia Calvary Regiment, something that surprised his great-grandson, Jack Lewis.
Why would Swaney, a 21-year-old farmer from Smithfield, Pa., join that particular regiment?
Lewis set out to research why and in the process discovered a greater story that he felt needed to be told. It begins with Lewis’ first novel, “Storm Coming: A Novel of the Civil War in Western Virginia.”
Lewis was researching his family history in the Civil War when he learned more about the history of the Civil War and in particular the formation of West Virginia when it broke off from Virginia.
“My great-grandfather, Alexander Swaney, who lived in Smithfield about six miles from Morgantown ended up joining the First Virginia Calvary Regiment,” he said. “I had his archived story of his life in the military but that is all I really had to go on.
“Then I found out more about West Virginia and how it became a state and I was just thrilled with the story because I didn’t know about it and I didn’t know about all the details that went into the formation of the state of West Virginia out of Virginia.”
Lewis learned there were two First Virginia Calvary Regiments — one loyal to the Union which Swaney joined and the second loyal to the Confederacy and headed by J.E.B. Stuart.
“One thing led to another and I uncovered all the battles that took place between West Virginia and Virginia.
“It became a civil war between the eastern and the western part of the state,” he said. “I just thought that was incredible and the heroics of the West Virginians and the great intelligence of the statesmen that were able to pull the whole thing off. It took almost 2 1/2 years to form the state with help from Pennsylvania and Ohio.”
In his research, Lewis — who was born near Smithfield, Pa. and now resides in Virginia with his wife Carol, discovered a connection to Buckhannon, W.Va.
“I was very interested in Alexander Swaney, my great-grandfather,” he said. “He was an orderly for Gen. John Buford who was a calvary officer responsible for holding higher ground at Gettsyburg. So, I intended to start writing about him when I realized the company he was in got started in Buckhannon.”
Swaney and his friend and pastor Harrison Hagans both joined the First Virginia Calvary Regiment that was loyal to the Union at the same time in 1861.
“They were hoping to help West Virginia stay in the Union after the formation of the new state,” he said.
“I thought I knew a lot about the Civil War but this was very enlightening to me,” he said. “It was such a fantastic story.”
Lewis, a retired engineer, has written four non-fiction books, intended to make a non-fiction book but through his research decided to take his first foray into fiction.
The novel is historically accurate as far as the events of the Civil War but the dialogue is imagined to be what Lewis thought at the time.
Lewis said he wanted to thank his wife, Carol, for her professional editing skills and opinion into the love story that develops between Swaney and a girl from home.
Lewis intends to make a trilogy. The first novel “Storm Coming” will segue into the next title, tentatively “Caught in the Storm” which is during the end of the Civil War and then a third novel about how finds his way back to Wheeling after the war.
Copies of the book are available at Charles W. Gibson Public Library in Buckhannon and print and ebook versions are available through amazon.com.
For more information, visit www.jackwlewis.com.