May 30, 1862, had been a stressful day for General Stonewall Jackson. With one Union army closing in on his east flank and one on his west flank, the General had taken a room at the hotel in Winchester to plan his next move and get some needed rest. It was a little after ten that night when Colonel Alexander Boteler came to the general’s room offering a late-night whiskey toddy. Jackson’s reply to the offer: “No, Colonel, you must excuse me, I never drink intoxicating liquors.” “I know that General, said I, but though you habitually abstain as I do myself, from everything of the sort, there are occasions, and this is one of them, when a stimulant will do us both good; otherwise, I would take it neither myself nor offer it to you. So, you must make an exception to your general rule, and join me in a toddy to-night.” Jackson, took the beaker and began to drink its contents. After partially emptying the glass, he said: ” Colonel, do you know why I habitually abstain from intoxicating drinks?” When Boteler replied in the negative Jackson stated: ” Why, sir, because I like the taste of them, and when I discovered that to be the case, I made up my mind at once to do without them altogether.”
It is obvious that General Thomas Jackson was the quintessential teetotaler. One should also know that Jackson was once quoted as saying he was “more afraid of King Alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy.” There is one occasion, though, when the veracity of this testimonial might come into question. The issue would arise on April 19, 1862, and would involve two celebrated members of his staff, Jedediah Hotchkiss and Colonel Turner Ashby.
Jedediah Hotchkiss is a character we have referred to on several occasions but we have never really explained who he was. Hotchkiss was born in the town of Windsor, New York on November 30, 1828. His father was a businessman involved in lumbering and farming. As a young boy Jed worked on the family farm helping to harvest the crops that would provide income to the family. In spite of these demands Jed still found time for academics. As a child he studied Greek, Latin, and even Italian. Math and science were high on his priority list as well.
Photo of Jedidiah Hotchkiss.
When Jed turned seventeen he elected to embark on a bold adventure. With the permission of his parents he set off for the South. He trekked down the Cumberland Valley, through Pennsylvania, and into Harpers Ferry. From there he continued on into the Shenandoah Valley. Like most people, to experience the Shenandoah Valley is to love the Shenandoah Valley. He marveled at the Shenandoah River, Weyer’s Cave and the natural bridge. He was captivated by the grandeur that surrounded him.
In Augusta County he came into contact with a man named Henry Forrer who lived in the small town of Mossy Creek. The two men became friends and Jedediah was soon offered the opportunity of becoming a private teacher for the Forrer family. Hotchkiss jumped at the chance and soon discovered that he loved the teaching profession. He was so proficient at it that several of the families in the area agreed to build a school for him which became known as Mossy Creek Academy. Jed would teach there for several years.
While instructing at Mossy Creek Jed Hotchkiss developed a new interest in the science of surveying and engineering. Topography became an obsession and he began drawing maps of the region. He had a natural eye for landscape features. It was a skill that he would nurture and profit from for the rest of his life.
In 1859 Jedediah opened his own boarding school for boys in the nearby town of Churchville. He embarked on this enterprise in partnership with his brother Nelson. They would name the institution Loch Willow Academy and it would become their passion. Jed and his wife, Sara Ann, handled instruction and management of the facility. Nelson was responsible for the boarding of students and for managing their nearby farm.
Less than two years later, however, when Civil War came to the valley, Jedediah Hotchkiss was forced to close Loch Willow. Jed’s brother Nelson was a “Union man” and could not change his loyalties. Jed was forced to make his own decision as to which side he would champion. Complicating the decision was the fact that both he and his wife still had family in the North.
Jed’s wife, children, and business interests, though, were firmly entrenched in the Shenandoah Valley. Needless to say, Jed determined he would buttress the Confederacy. On March 10th, 1862, Governor John Letcher called out all of the militia in the Shenandoah Valley. “This included the county of Augusta in which I resided. The militia were ordered to report at once to Gen. T. J. Jackson at Winchester.” Jed answered the call.
March 17, 1862, found Jedediah Hotchkiss marching north along the Valley Pike in company with some four hundred other men set on joining Jackson’s Army of the Valley. Nine days later, on March 26, General Thomas Stonewall Jackson reinforced Hotchkiss’s decision to volunteer by retaining him as his official mapmaker. Jackson ordered him to “make me a map of the valley, from Harper’s Ferry to Lexington, showing all the point of offence and defense in those places.”
By April 17, Jedediah Hotchkiss had firmly installed himself as a trusted member of Stonewall Jackson’s staff. The rebel army had that day found its position at Rude’s Hill challenged by General Nathaniel Banks Union forces due to Colonel Turner Ashby’s failure to burn the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah. As a result, Banks’s army had been able to cross the river unopposed. Stonewall soon recognized Banks’s intention of making a direct assault on his position. When he was also “advised that a flanking column was moving up the western side of North River to intercept us at New Market he slowly fell back up the Valley.” “We formed a line of battle at New Market where we remained for a time, then fell back and halted for a while.”
Map of General Nathaniel Banks Planned Attack on Jackson’s Army at Rude’s Hill.
When his army was not immediately challenged by Banks at New Market, Jackson continued his retreat up the valley to the town of Sparta where he parked his army for the night. Jackson and his mapmaker continued on, spending the night just two miles away at the Lincoln Inn in the town of Lacey Springs. Ironically, the inn at which they dined and slept was actually owned by a second cousin of President Abraham Lincoln. (This event was the subject of a previous narration and is still available for review on this blog.)
Well-fed and rested, the “General and staff were up at an early hour and rode rapidly 12 miles to Harrisonburg.” The army was awake early as well, marching south to Harrisonburg and then turning east toward Peale’s. Here they bedded down once again. Much of the supply wagon train was diverted here, and sent on to Staunton. This would accord the army greater maneuverability.
The Rebel army was up once again at two A.M. the next morning, and soon found themselves trudging on toward McGaheysville. The rain had fallen heavily during the overnight and, without the benefit of tents, the troops had found very little rest. Hotchkiss noted “the roads are badly cut up by the army train and became very muddy.” The movement of the army was slow and torturous.
Midst all of this commotion, General Jackson came to Jedediah Hotchkiss and ordered him “to go and burn the ‘Red’ and the ‘Columbia’ bridges, across the South Fork of the Shenandoah, on the roads leading from New Market eastward, if they were not already held by the enemy.” Jackson knew if Banks were to cross the South Fork at any of these three points, he could easily flank Jackson and compromise his army. The order also included the destruction of White House Bridge, which was the northernmost crossing, connecting New Market to Luray in the Page Valley. Hotchkiss was instructed to take with him “all the cavalry I could find on the way to those bridges.”
Jedediah Hotchkiss was chosen for this mission, first, because of his familiarity with the region. Secondly, and what Jed may not have known, Jackson had placed him in command of the operation due to a waning confidence in his own cavalry commander, Turner Ashby.
One must be made aware at this point that Hotchkiss was a civilian topographer. As such, he had not, and would never be, conscripted into the Confederate Army. He would always have acted in the capacity of a noncombatant. This means he never wore a military uniform, and he never carried a weapon. Still, Jackson had great confidence in him and would make frequent use of Hotchkiss’s skills to lead operations such of these.
The Valley Army’s Route is in Black. Hotchkiss’s Route to Burn the Bridges is in Red.
Hotchkiss grabbed his associate, S. Howell Brown and headed east to Conrad’s Store and then North toward Summersville, which was where Red Bridge was located. On their way they interrupted their trek by stopping at Shenandoah Iron Works. “We found the cavalry at the Shenandoah Iron Works, many of them under the influence of apple-jack.”
For those of you that are not familiar with applejack, and I am not saying that I am, you might be interested in how it is brewed. First, of course, apple cider is produced from apples and is allowed to ferment. Then the cider is placed outdoors as winter weather sets in. A process known as freeze distillation is used to concentrate the alcoholic content. The cider is allowed to freeze and the ice chunks are removed periodically. As alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than water, when the water, or ice, is removed the alcohol content could increase to forty-five per cent or more. The end product would be a very potent drink.
“After a short halt at Mr. Henry Forrer’s, at the Iron Works, we went on down the river.” At this point there were some one hundred and fifty cavalrymen in the detail. On reaching Red Bridge, Hotchkiss left “Brown with Lieut. Mantaur’s company to get the ‘Red’ Bridge ready for burning, but directed him not to fire it until I should have time to reach the other bridge, to which I rode on with the companies of Capt. Macon Jordan and Capt. Sheets to Honeyville, near Columbia bridge whence I sent Capt. Sheets to reconnoiter.” Hotchkiss noted that he “had much trouble with Jordan’s men, some of which, as well as him were drunk.”
A short time later the detail returned and reported that there were no Union troops at the bridge. “I gave permission to feed the horses and let the men get out of the deluge of rain that was then falling.” “Captain Sheets and some 50 men went to burn the ‘Columbia’ Bridge, about a mile away down the river, at the same time sending a squadron, under Lieut. Lionberger, to burn the White House bridge, still further down the river on the road from New Market to Luray.”
Hotchkiss reported “the horses were hardly fed when Capt. Sheets and a few men came dashing back, at full gallop, pursued by the enemy. They had attempted to set fire to Columbia bridge “when a column of the enemy appeared and fired a volley and their dragoons charged.” Jed “succeeded in getting Capt. Jordan’s men into the road and ready to meet the attack, but at the first fire they ran away and scattered and could not be stopped. Many of the men were drunk, as was also Capt. Jordan himself.”
The enemy “pursued us three miles but captured only a few of our cavalry as they had at once taken to the woods.” Hotchkiss was lucky to evade apprehension and sped back “to ‘Red’ Bridge and got Lieu. Mantaur’s company deployed to meet the enemy, but they did not come on.” Brown was successful in burning Red bridge but the other two bridges would remain intact.
Marker Commemorating the Burning of Red Bridge on the South Fork.
Jed Hotchkiss was indeed fortunate to escape from the clutches of Union troopers. “The cavalry that had not stampeded came back to Shenandoah Iron Works, and late in the day, having ridden many miles through rain and mud, I reported to the General at Hd. Qrs., at Capt. Asher Argenbright’s near Conrad’s Store.” “I never saw a more disgraceful affair, all owing, no doubt, to the state of intoxication of some of the men and to the want of discipline among them.”
The incident involving the capture of fifty of Ashby’s men at Columbia Furnace, the failed attempt to burn the bridge at Mount Jackson, as well as those on the South Fork, troubled General Jackson greatly. Incidents involving alcohol and his troops were always taken very seriously. On April 24, Jackson ordered all of Turner Ashby’s cavalry companies, some twenty-seven in number, to be divided into two regiments. Half would report to General Taliaferro and the rest to General Winder. Colonel Ashby would command the “advance guard of the Army of the Valley when on an advance, and the rear-guard when in retreat.” Ashby would have to apply for troops from these two commanders “whenever they may be needed.”
Colonel Ashby was mortified, realizing he had been stripped of his command. He immediately sent his resignation to Jackson. Ashby was so angry that he even considered challenging General Jackson to a duel. Short of that, Ashby decided that he was going to quit Jackson’s Army and organize a new cavalry regiment. Most of the current members of the 7th Virginia Cavalry would have undoubtedly abandoned their current companies and transferred into the new one. In light of this revelation, Stonewall was forced to reconsider his pronouncement. This was one of the few times that Jackson would actually back down from one of his decisions. Ashby would be allowed retain his command.
Few are the times when you relate a story such as this that you find yourself compelled to narrate the beneficial consequences of a failure in command. As you recall from earlier in this story, Hotchkiss’s bridge burning foray had failed to burn two of the three bridges they had been assigned. That failure, however, overshadowed by intoxication, was about to turn into triumph.
Early on the morning of May 21st, Jackson’s soldiers marched down Congress Street into New Market. When they reached Cross Street Stonewall motioned his men to tramp eastward. The army continued its march into New Market Gap. “Late on May 21 the Valley Army wound down the Massanutten Mountain, crossed the Shenandoah’s South Fork and bivouacked near Luray.”
Jackson’s Route to Front Royal Over New Market Gap and White House Bridge.
Jackson had just taken advantage of his own failure. The army had crossed the South Fork of the Shenandoah over White House Bridge. This would have been impossible had Jedediah Hotchkiss, and his cavalry contingent, succeeded in burning this crossing back on April 19. The whole valley campaign, and history itself, would have transpired in a significantly different manner. With this bridge destroyed, and the river unfordable, the army would have been unable to reach Front Royal via this route. Their only option would have been capturing Strasburg. This would have required a deadly direct assault upon well prepared battlements, including Banks’s Fort.
Hotchkiss’s failure to destroy their objectives may well have been one of those rare cases where failure fostered success. Capturing Winchester by way of a fortified Strasburg would have been very difficult and very bloody. Perhaps this is a case where an overindulgence of alcohol, or Applejack in this case, may have been good for the overall success of the campaign. Maybe he should have been less “afraid of King Alcohol than all of the bullets of the enemy.”
Col. A.R. Boteler in the Philadelphia Weekly Times; as quoted in ” Sparks From the Campfire,” Southern Historical Society Papers, x ( June, 1882 ), 287
Gwynne, S. C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. New York. 1973
Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil war Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. 1973