Confining the "Bogus State Sheriff"
— Jones-Imboden Raid —
(Preface):On April 20, 1863, Confederate Gens. William E. "Grumble" Jones and John D. Imboden began a raid from Virginia through present-day West Virginia against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Taking separate routes, they later reported that they marched 1,100 miles, fought several engagements, captured 100 Federals, seized about 1,200 horses and 4,000 cattle, and burned 4 turnpike bridges, more than 20 railroad bridges, 2 trains, and 150,000 barrels of oil. Most bridges were soon repaired. Confederate losses were slight. By May 26, both commands had returned to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
On the morning of April 24, 1863, Confederate Capt. Joseph French Harding, Co F, 31st Virginia Infantry, led a scouting party from Gen. John D. Imboden's command toward Beverly. Encountering Sheriff Jesse Frank Phares on the same mission for the town's Union Garrison, Harding fired and wounded Phares as he fled back to Beverly. Phares was brought to the jail in front of you. A surgeon reported that Phares's "left hip was entered by musket-ball, which passed upward through the region of the lower part of the left lung and out near the stomach. "Imboden wrote that he found the "bogus State Sheriff of Randolph County?in an almost dying condition, although he will probably recover. By "bogus," Imboden meant that he did not recognize the new state of West Virginia then being formed.
The next morning, Harding visited Phares at the jail and "found him doing quite well." On a subsequent visit, Harding wrote, "I was armed and supposed my appearance was somewhat brigandish, for certainly Mrs. Phares was badly frightened at it, and it took assurance of both her husband and myself to quiet her. The sheriff wanted me to stay for breakfast but I declined because of the still evident uneasiness of his wife."
Harding came home to Randolph County after the war. He was elected sheriff in 1876 and helped Phares get a pension.
On January 20, 1863, Gen. Robert E. Lee instructed Gen. John D. Imboden to arrest Union government officials whenever possible and to "render the position of sheriff as dangerous a position as possible." The New York Times
reported on February 6, 1863, that when Imboden arrested the sheriff of Barbour County, Union Gen. Robert H. Milroy retaliated by arresting fifteen pro-Confederate county residents and announcing that they would be executed if the sheriff were not released. If Milroy carried out his threat, Imboden replied, he would arrest and execute thirty Unionists. The newspaper reported Imboden's stated intentions: "Within the limits of the pretended state of West Virginia, he will at all times arrest as dangerous enemies to his state [Virginia], every man he can lay his hands upon who holds any office under the usurped State Government at Wheeling." No one was executed, despite the threats.