William Peter Deahl served Virginia during the Civil War as a private in Capt Pichegru Woolfolk, Jr.’s light artillery company. A quick internet search reveals little about Deahl personally. His name is listed in Woolfolk’s company muster record as “W. P. Deeles” (correct spelling not being the priority then as it is today). However, search a bit more and Woolfolk’s artillery company shows up in many of the Civil War’s pivotal battles. Woolfolk’s troops saw action in the Penninsular Campaign under Brig. General W. N. Pendleton, at Lookout Mountain in Tennessee and at Antietam.
If Private Deahl, who is buried in Green Hill cemetery, was a resident of Berryville when he enlisted, it becomes easy to imagine that he may have fought on the bloodiest day of the Civil War waged just a few miles up the road from where he rests in peace today. The battle came to be known as Antietam to some, Sharpsburg to others. The fighting commenced on September 17, 1862 and ended with 23,000 American casualties.
If William Peter Deahl did fight at Antietam, he was one of the fortunate to have survived. His grave stone, flanked by American and Confederate flags, reveals that Deahl lived until February 9, 1925.
Just a block south of where Private Deahl rests, another veteran is placing American flags along the sidewalk in front of his home. Edward O’Neal says that his house is around ninety years old, the former residence of Judge Norman “Dev” Morrison. O’Neal and Morrison grew up together in Clarke County before O’Neal joined the U.S. Army and went off to war.
O’Neal’s war was fought a hundred years after Deahl’s in a far away land called Viet Nam. O’Neal was a member of a reconnaissance unit stationed at An Khe in the central highlands of Viet Nam. O’Neal said that his unit operated mainly at night throughout the Cha Rang Valley northwest of Qui Nhon. The “recon” unit also ranged into neighboring Cambodia, “unofficially” of course.
Recon teams assembled during the Viet Nam war required men with steel nerves and brave hearts. The men in Recon were known as “problem solvers”, troops that went off into Viet Nam’s tropical jungles and didn’t come back to base until the mission was completed. Death was seldom a stranger on Recon missions. Dangerous operations conducted in isolated terrain meant that help just didn’t exist if problems were encountered.
Thankfully, both William Peter Deahl and Edward O’Neal did return home to Clarke County alive. O’Neal says that he places American flags in front of his house every 4th of July, Labor Day, and of course, Memorial Day. Whether Private Deahl ever made the trip north to Sharpsburg in 1862 we may never know. If he did, chances are that he and O’Neal may have shared many of the same feelings and emotions associated with risking your life in a foreign country. Surely we can imagine, but never fully know, the relief and comfort both men must have felt upon their safe return home to Clarke County.
War always involves our most precious possession, the blood of our sons and daughters. Whether in the cornfields of Antietam, the jungles of Qui Nhon or the mountains of Afghanistan, Memorial Day is America’s time to raise our flag in honor of our fallen soldiers and pause to remember the awful cost of war. To those who serve today and to those who have served in the past, we offer our profound thanks and gratitude.