Benjamin R. Haley — Milt Haley’s father — was one of the most ardent Unionists in Wayne County (West) Virginia during the Civil War. He served in at least two companies of infantry (one in West Virginia and one in Kentucky), one company of militia, and two companies of Home Guards. He first enlisted in April of 1861 and remained on muster rolls as late as May 1865. He was twice captured and almost court martialed. He was also, based on his military records, a drinker and a fiddler.
Ben Haley was born around 1820 in Virginia. According to census records, he married Cynthia Dyer around 1843. They were the parents of the following children: Hannah Jane Haley, born about 1844; William A. Haley, born about 1846; John B. Haley; James Haley; Helen M. Haley, born about 1850; Charles Haley, born about 1852; and Margaret Haley, born about 1856. In 1850, the Haleys lived in Russell County, Virginia (as did, incidentally, Bill Duty and the Ferrells). Toward the latter years of the decade, Ben moved to Wayne County in the Big Sandy Valley, where he fathered Milt Haley by Nellie Muncy. What contact he had with Milt is unknown. In 1860, according to census records, Ben and his family lived with James Short in Wayne County, (West) Virginia. Haley had $300 worth of real estate and $250 worth of personal property. At some point, according to the Doris Miller Papers at Marshall University, he lived on the Sweetwater Branch of the East Fork of Twelve Pole Creek.
On April 2, 1861, 40-year-old Haley enlisted as a corporal in Captain Joseph M. Kirk’s Company of the 5th Virginia Foot Volunteers at Ceredo, (West) Virginia, for a period of three years. Ceredo was an abolitionist town established in 1857. On September 2, the 5th was reorganized as the 5th West Virginia Infantry at Camp Pierpont in Ceredo. It was mustered into U.S. service on October 18. On November 1, Haley was appointed 1st lieutenant of Company F (following the death of former lieutenant James Baisden). In December, the 5th was ordered to Parkersburg, while a principal part of the regiment was sent to New Creek, Virginia. Haley was apparently with the Parkersburg group as he left there for home in March of 1862 without permission and was listed in records as “Absent, sick at Ceredo.” He was still AWOL in April.
By late spring, Haley was back with the 5th where he soon found trouble with the U.S. Army. According to papers filed by the army, he was charged with “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a gentleman; Conduct subversive of discipline; and Violating 77th Article of War.” More specifically, “on the 20th day of June, 1862, at New Creek, Va., the said Lieut. Benj. R. Haley, did drink at a saloon, with a number of enlisted men, of his own and other companies, and was then and there drunk and disorderly, being subversive of good order and discipline at said Post.” Furthermore, “Lieut. Benj. R. Haley, did, when put under arrest, allow a detachment of his company, to resist the demand for his sword, and thereby inciting mutiny. That, at the same time and place, when asked for his name and regiment, he told the Post Adjutant to find out as best he could.” More importantly, “the said Lieut. Benj. R. Haley, after having been placed in arrest and ordered to his quarters, did leave the same without permission and was afterward found in a Beer Saloon, playing the violin for some teamsters and enlisted men to dance.”
On July 16, 1862, Haley wrote a letter of resignation as second lieutenant while camped near Woodsville, Virginia. The 5th had recently been engaged at Luray, Virginia, from July 5-11 and at Sperryville, Virginia, on July 11. “I have the honor to tender my resignation as Second Lieut. Fifth Regt. Va. Inf. for the following reasons. Charges are herewith enclosed prepared by Major Burtnett agst myself, parts of which are true and I prefer that my resignation should be accepted than be tried by Court Martial. In the second place I feel my incompetency to discharge the duties of the Office which I hold.” Haley’s resignation was approved and finalized on July 30, 1862.
On August 7, 1862, Ben Haley and his son James enrolled as privates in William T. Caldwell’s Company of the 167th Virginia Militia in Wayne County. On November 29, Haley was captured in Wayne County and confined at Richmond on April 1, 1863. He was paroled on April 3 at City Point, Virginia, and reported to Camp Parole, Maryland, on April 6. He and his son James were back on muster rolls for the 167th on May 7. Captain Caldwell referenced Haley in a letter dated May 17 (“Your favor of the 14th inst has just been handed me by Mr. B.R. Haley…”) Ben’s son James was wounded later that fall, probably in an October 20 skirmish near the Logan-Wayne County line with Vincent “Clawhammer” Witchers’ troops.