David Hunter Strother, my 3rd cousin 5 times removed, was born September 26, 1816, in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Virginia. He was the oldest of 8 children born to Colonel John Strother (1782-1862) and Elizabeth Hunter Pendleton (1786-1861). He was the only son that lived to adulthood. After receiving his schooling at the Martinsburg academy, as well as his father’s tutelage, David traveled to Philadelphia to study drawing in 1829. He also spent a year (1832) at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
In 1835 David and his friend John Ranson took a 500-mile round trip hike in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, down to Natural Bridge and Rockbridge County, Virginia, and back up through the Shenandoah Valley, which changed his outlook on life. In 1837–38, David traveled to New York City to study painting under Samuel F. B. Morse, who later became more famous for inventing the telegraph. David first married Anne Wolfe (1830-1850) in 1849, and they had one daughter, Emily (1850), but mother and daughter died. David then married Mary Elliott on May 6. 1861, and they had 2 sons, with one dying at 5 years old.
At the beginning of the Civil War in June 1861 David volunteered as a topographer due to his detailed knowledge of the Shenandoah Valley. By March 1862 as West Virginia continued its drive toward statehood, he received a commission as captain in the Union Army and was assigned to assist General Nathaniel Banks in the Valley Campaign. In June 1862, he accepted a commission as Lt. Col. of the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry, and was the topographer on General Pope’s staff during the Battle of Cedar Mountain and the Second Battle of Manassas. During the Antietam Campaign, he served on General McClellan’s staff until that officer was relieved in November 1862. He then returned to the staff of General Banks, again seeing action at the Battle of Port Richie in Louisiana. During the Gettysburg Campaign, he was back to Washington, unassigned, but promoted to Colonel of his regiment (which he never commanded in the field).
During the war David documented his wartime experiences in a detailed journal, some of which Harper’s Monthly published after the war as “Personal Recollections of the War.” His articles won praise for their objective viewpoint and humor. On June 12, 1864, Colonel Strother was chief of staff to his distant cousin General David Hunter. He was involved in 30 battles, though never wounded. He resigned his commission on September 10, 1864, when General Hunter was replaced by General Philip Sheridan. In August 1865, David was appointed a brevet brigadier general of volunteers and remained Adjutant General of Virginia militia into 1866.
Due to his dedication to his home state, especially its rural character, he moved to Charleston for a short period in the early 1870s. There, he edited a newspaper and dedicated himself to furthering West Virginia’s growth and well-being. He convinced state leaders to prioritize infrastructure initiatives. David became one of the first writers to understand West Virginia’s unique place in both wanting to preserve its natural beauty while also encouraging growth, both economic and industrial.
In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed David as the General Consul to Mexico. In that capacity he hosted former General and President Ulysses S. Grant and dealt with the problems of various Americans in that country. He also dealt with the country’s relations with the government of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz. He served until 1885, after which he returned to West Virginia. David died in Charles town, West Virginia three years later on March 8, 1888, at the age of 71.