General Benjamin Franklin Kelley (April 10, 1807-July 16, 1891) was born in New Hampshire, and moved to Wheeling in 1836. For more than two decades, Kelley was a merchant, and in 1851 he became freight agent for the newly arrived Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. When the Civil War began, Kelley formed the 1st (West) Virginia Infantry, and was named its colonel on May 22, 1861. Severely wounded in action at Philippi on June 3, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general. Kelley’s principal duty throughout the war was to guard the vital B&O line in Maryland and West Virginia. His command frequently defended the railroad and depots from Confederate raiding parties, especially those led by Capt. John H. McNeill of the famed McNeill’s Rangers. The Rangers operated out of the Moorefield area.
During the Jones-Imboden raid through central West Virginia in late April and early May 1863, part of Kelley’s forces, especially the 5th Brigade, destroyed bridges and otherwise attempted to delay and disrupt the Confederate raid. Following the battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, General Kelley participated in the pursuit of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
In August 1863, federal authorities acting on Kelley’s orders arrested the wife and four-year-old son of Captain McNeill. Seeking revenge, a detachment of McNeill’s Rangers slipped into Cumberland, Maryland, Kelley’s headquarters, during the night of February 21, 1865. Kelley and his superior, Gen. George Crook, were captured.
After the war Kelley was a political appointee in numerous posts until his death at Oakland, Maryland. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
This Article was written by Tim McKinney
Last Revised on December 07, 2015
Delauter, Roger U. McNeill's Rangers. Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, 1986.
Warner, Ezra. Generals in Blue. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.
Cite This Article
McKinney, Tim "Benjamin F. Kelley." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 December 2015. Web. 25 March 2017.