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Biography: Francis Lyell “Frank” Hoge

By Jeanne Finstein, Ed.D.

U.S. Navy Midshipman Francis Hoge, c. 1860 From the collection of Larry EvansFrancis Lyell “Frank” Hoge (1841 – 1901) 
was born in Marshall County, (West) Virginia in January 1841, the son of Isaac and Rachel Machir Hoge. He was educated at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, graduating as midshipman in the United States Navy on June 15, 1860.

His first service was on board the Susquehanna, a sidewheel steam frigate, on a cruise in the Mediterranean. He was there when the Civil War broke out. The Susquehanna sailed home from Italy on May 5, 1861, reaching Boston on June 6. On June 24, less than three weeks later, Hoge resigned from the US Navy and entered the navy of the Confederate States. He was assigned to the Patrick Henry as a midshipman and on February 8, 1862 was appointed lieutenant by Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy of the Confederate States of America. Hoge was on the Patrick Henry when it took part in the Battle of Hampton Roads, often called the Battle of the Ironclads, on March 8-9, 1862.

Although the South had retained control of the shipyards at Norfolk in early 1862, the North controlled Fort Monroe and thus the gateway to the Chesapeake Bay. Through this control, the North had successfully established a blockade of Hampton Roads nearly a year before, cutting off Norfolk and Richmond almost entirely from the sea and international trade.

Meanwhile, the South had converted the partially destroyed Merrimac into an ironclad ship, the Virginia, and planned to use it as a key player in breaking the blockade. Joining the Virginia in the Battle of the Ironclads were the ships Raleigh, Beaufort, Jamestown, Teaser, and Patrick Henry (on which Francis Hoge served). On the Union side were the sloop-of war USS Cumberland; frigates St. Lawrence, Roanoke, and Minnesota; and the storeship Brandywine. Hoge’s Patrick Henry was temporarily disabled by a shot in her boiler that killed four of her crew. After repairs, she rejoined the battle.

Action on the first day, March 8, 1862, was clearly on the side of the South. The ironclad Virginia sank the US Navy’s Cumberland and Congress, killing some 400 men and losing only two. Three other Union ships were run aground.

The second day of the battle, March 9, 1862, brought the Union’s ironclad Monitor to face the Virginia. During the battle, the Patrick Henry fired long range at the Monitor, and the Confederate Congress later recognized its officers and men for their gallant conduct during the battle. Although the battle between the ironclads ended in a draw, it received worldwide attention and has been called the most notable naval battle in the Civil War.

Union forces continued their blockade of the James River, resulting in the Confederate abandonment of Norfolk. In early May 1862 the Patrick Henry helped remove Confederate property from the Norfolk Navy Yard and then sailed upriver to Drewry’s Bluff (called Fort Darling by northern forces).

In mid May 1862 the Federal fleet made another attempt to approach Richmond on the James River. Confederate forces had blocked the river with submerged steamers, pilings, and other debris, connected with heavy chains. The Patrick Henry was dismantled, and the guns were mounted on the bluff. Francis Hoge was in command of the gun that was nearest the enemy. The battle started early in the morning of May 15, 1862 when the USS Galena closed to within 600 yards of the bluff. Before the Galena could even open fire, the Rebel forces made two direct hits that pierced the lightly clad hull. The battle lasted over 3 hours. During that time the guns of the Patrick Henry scored over 40 more hits on the Galena, resulting in the deaths of 14 Union sailors with another 10 injured. The iron-clad Monitor was also there that day. Although Confederate shells couldn’t pierce her heavier armor, the Monitor’s guns couldn’t elevate enough to reach the Confederate batteries high on the bluff. Three other Union ships either withdrew or stayed out of range. Richmond – just 7 miles away – remained safe. [See video commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle.]

Hoge remained on duty at Drewy’s Bluff after the battle. By October 1862 he was appointed Second Lieutenant, and in November he was called to serve as a member of the Naval Board of Officers in Richmond. In June 1863 he was “detached from the batteries at Drewry’s Bluff” and ordered to report for duty on the CS Steamer Richmond.

The next action of note for Hoge occurred on August 23, 1863, when he took part in a daring expedition against the Federal gunboats Satellite and Reliance at the mouth of the Rappahannock. Hoge was second in command under Col. John Taylor Wood[1] and was in charge of two of the four small boats that made up the attack squadron. He was first onboard the Reliance, and as he fought his way forward he was struck in the neck by a pistol ball. Although he survived, he was disabled from service until October of that year. During his convalescence, both Hoge and his doctor wrote letters home describing the events and assuring his family that he would recover. The letters are part of the collection of Hoge memorabilia owned by his great, great nephew, Larry Evans, of Glen Dale, WV.

Dr. Shepherdson’s description of the events came in a letter dated August 25, 1863[2], two days after the attack:

Saturday night we went down the river with our [unreadable]. We found two gun-boats lying close by each other near the entrance to the Chesapeake. It was quite dark and we came within fifty yards without being discovered. The boats were divided: two under Col. Wood were to attack the “Satellite,” the other two under Lt. Hoge the “Reliance.” Upon being challenged we pulled up safely and in about twenty seconds were up the [unreadable] and tumbling down upon her decks. First arms were used freely and Lt. Hoge used his revolver effectively and fought bravely and coolly until shot through the back of the neck by a large pistol ball. He fell and was taken to the cabin, and laid opposite the Yankee commander who was fatally hit.

Hoge wrote home a few days later[3]:

Ashdale Essex Co Va

Aug 29, 1863

Dear Brother and Sister,

            I wrote you or rather got Dr. Shepherdson to write for me, the day I was wounded. I was shot through the back of the neck, the ball entering the right side just below the ear and coming out on the other side. When shot I was engaged with my cutlass with the Captain of the boat. The man who shot me was not six feet from me and must have taken deliberate aim. It was a poor shot not to have killed me. The Surgeon says the fraction of an inch either way would have killed me instantly. I have every reason to thank Our Heavenly Father for so narrow an escape and trust never to go into such an affair again unprepared to appear before Him. I have suffered much pain since but am now doing very well and have had no fever. They took me to Mrs. Baileys near Urbana, where I received every attention that a mother or sister could bestow. Every one for miles around came to see me, bringing every delicacy that a wounded man could think of. In fact I have been overwhelmed by kindness ever since I was wounded. When our forces went up to Port Royal, they sent me to Mr. Evans about five miles from the river so that I would be safe from parties landing from Yankee gun boats. His whole family have shown me the greatest kindness. Two of his daughters are as pretty as any ladies I have seen in the State, and have cared for me as if I had been their brother. Yesterday a Yankee raid was reported and I was brought to this place where Dr. Roy and his family have made me very comfortable. I wish I could mention all the acts of kindness I have received and the names of those who conferred them but will tell you all about it when I get to Richmond. I will come on as soon as I can bear the journey. Do not be uneasy. I am in good hands. you must write to me while here and anything from home you may have received.

Your affectionate brother


Hoge was subsequently promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in the Confederate Navy.[4]

Appointment of Frank L Hoge as First Lieutenant, C.S. Navy

Confederate States of America,

Navy Department, Richmond, September 21 1863

Sir: You are hereby informed that the President has appointed you a first lieutenant in the Navy of the Confederate States to rank from the 23d day of August 1863 “For gallant and meritorious conduct in the capture of the US gunboats Satellite and Reliance on the Rappahannock River on the 23d of August 1863 by the expedition under command of Lieutenant John T Wood CS Navy.”

You are requested to notify this Department of your acceptance of the appointment.

SR Mallory

Secretary of the Navy.

First Lieutenant Frank L Hoge, C.S. Navy

 Richmond Va

His next duty was with the torpedo service, tasked with capturing the USS Underwriter,a gunboat whose primary aim was to prevent Confederate ships from penetrating the Union blockade of Southern ports. On February 2, 1864, “The attack was made in rowboats, on the Neuse River, under the guns of Fort Stevens, and subject to a direct and heavy fire from the enemy before the boats could grapple. Lieutenant Hoge was one of the first on board, and took an efficient part in the successful action.”[5] The intent was to take over the Underwriter, open the magazines, and man the guns. However, a cable slipped, the bow swung ashore, and the attackers had to abandon the vessel. The Confederate commanding officer, Captain John Taylor Wood, sent Hoge and his cockswain back onto boat, each with a canteen of camphene, to set her afire. They were reportedly only about 20 yards away when she was fully ablaze. The men were recognized by the Confederate Congress in a joint resolution of thanks.

Hoge’s final duty during the war was as executive officer aboard the Confederate ironclad Neuse. He served in that capacity near Kinston, North Carolina from late February 1864 until Kinston’s evacuation. 

When the war was over, Hoge received a parole and spent some time in Richmond, where he seemed interested in several young ladies but never married. He eventually moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia and started a brickyard, perhaps in partnership with his former commander, Captain Wood. Several letters to his mother and brothers Gene and Will describe Hoge’s activities there. In 1870 he returned to Wheeling and by 1871 had joined his brother Will in the firm of “W.V. Hoge & Bro., Real Estate Agents,” located at 106 Market Street. He later partnered with Randolph Hix in the firm Hix and Hoge. His business interests included real estate, insurance, and surveying. He was “widely known as an accomplished civil engineer.”[6]

In 1881 Hoge was elected city engineer and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1895, with the exception of part of 1883. During that year he was appointed by West Virginia Governor Matthews to a three-man commission “to examine as to the true location of the monuments which mark the boundary line between this state and the state of Pennsylvania … and to replace any monuments which have become dilapidated or been removed, on the boundary line of said states.”[7] The three men, along with three counterparts from Pennsylvania, prepared a report entitled “Report of the Survey of the West Virginia and Pennsylvania Boundary, 1883” describing the western boundary of Pennsylvania. The report was accepted by the West Virginia Legislature in 1887. Historically, the northern panhandle is “a product of the natural boundary formed by the Ohio River on the west and, on the east, of the provisions of the Virginia and Pennsylvania charters, the latter granting to William Penn territory extending five degrees west from the Delaware River.” The commission’s report describes the southwest corner of Pennsylvania as “a post in a heap of stones, consisting of about two cart loads.”[8]

Keystone placed. Dec. 17, 1891. Brown Collection.During his time as the Wheeling city engineer, Hoge was in charge of the engineering work on the Main Street Bridge, the keystone of which was laid on December 17, 1891. A major celebration was held that day, with speeches by Wheeling’s mayor Charles W. Seabright and other dignitaries. A “good portion” of the crowd then “adjourned to Henry Bieberson’s on South Street, who entertained the contractors, press representatives, overseers and city officials at an impromptu banquet. Toasts were drunk to the success of the bridge, and the crowd whiled away a few hours very pleasantly…everyone adjourned feeling good over the successful completion of the arch.”[9]

The bridge was built of 771 stones and has a span of 159 feet, still one of the longest single-span, stone arch bridges in the country. Newspapers of the day stated, “There was never a more successful job of bridge engineering and building accomplished. The plans were so intelligently and carefully drawn that every stone fit in its place just as if it had been cut to fit the place by actual measurement…Messrs. Hoge and White, the engineers in charge, did their part as well as it could have been done. This is shown by the fact that the sinking of the arch breaks the record…Two inches of sinking in an arch of 159 feet span will be regarded by the engineering world as a marvelous achievement.”[10] The bridge is still in use today, serving travelers crossing Wheeling Creek between the downtown and Centre Wheeling.

Nearly ten years later, on March 16, 1901, Frank Hoge, age 60, collapsed near the bridge while taking an evening walk. He was taken to the office of his brother, Dr. W.V. Hoge, where he died peacefully. Heart disease was ruled the cause of death. His obituary stated that “professionally he stood very high, and as a man and citizen he impelled the esteem and admiration of all.”[11] His funeral was attended by the Shriver Greys camp of Confederate Veterans, of which he was a member, and his body was interred in Greenwood Cemetery.

A few days later, his brother Will received a condolence letter from his former commanding officer, J. Taylor Wood, who was still living in Nova Scotia. Wood wrote, “It was with sincere regret that I read in the Wheeling papers a notice of your brother Frank’s death. Though he was two years my junior, I had known him from his [services?] in the old navy…at all times and under all circumstances he could be depended upon as an able and true officer…Please accept for yourself and other members of his family my heartfelt sympathy. Yours very truly, J. Taylor Wood”[12]

On May 22, 2011, Friends of Wheeling held a Greenwood Cemetery Tour in which Carson Cox portrayed Frank Hoge. A portion of his presentation can be seen on YouTube at:

Additional References

  • Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies [page 180]

  • Report of Drewry’s Bluff Battle from New York Evening Post:,_5_23_1862.htm


[1] Lt. John Taylor Wood was a grandson of former US President Zachary Taylor and a nephew of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. After the attack, the Confederates used the Satellite to seize three US Navy cargo schooners, the Golden Rod, Coquette, and Two Brothers. They then took the shipsupriver to Urbana, Virginia, where they stripped them of anything useful and then destroyed them on August 28, 1863 to prevent recapture by the Union navy.

[2] Personal letter in the collection owned by Larry Evans.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Long, John D. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Vol.9. Washington, 1899. P. 150.

[5] Evans, Clement A. Confederate Military History Extended Edition. Broadfoot Publishing Co, Wilmington, NC. 1987, Pages 216-218.

[6] Evans, p.218.

[7] Boundaries of West Virginia, The West Virginia Review, October 1935.

[8] ibid

[9] Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. December 18, 1891, p. 5.

[10] Ibid, March 11, 1892, p. 5

[11] Ibid, March 18, 1901.

[12] Letter from Wood in the collection of Larry Evans

See also: Archiving Wheeling's post on the Main Street Bridge, "Placing the Keystone Over the Place of the Skull."

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