Two Weeks in the Valley

For a state that was so geographically isolated from the fields of battle, Maine always seemed to have had a disproportionate influence on the outcome of the American Civil War. When most people think of Maine and the Civil War, however, they usually think of Joshua Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and Little Round Top. Most do not appreciate that Maine supplied more than just one infantry regiment, and a serving Vice-President, Hannibal Hamlin. The state actually fielded thirty-one infantry units, as well as two cavalry regiments, one heavy artillery unit, seven artillery batteries, and, along the way, achieved the highest rate of volunteerism of any Northern state.

In spite this, seldom do you see the terms Civil War, Shenandoah Valley, and Maine written in the same sentence. Yet, multiple Maine regiments would fight up and down the Shenandoah Valley in varying capacities throughout the war. Most of these would sacrifice their lives in battle, some would perform guard functions, and some would contribute by participating in regional occupation assignments. A splendid example of the latter is the experience of the 10th Maine Infantry during the month of May, 1862.

The 10th Maine was actually a reincarnation of a three-month regiment which had originally been designated as the 1st Maine Infantry. The First Maine had been mustered into Federal service on May 3, 1861. Though the unit was a three-month regiment, the contingent was mostly composed of men who had committed to a two-year enlistment. Most were furloughed at the end of their term of duty, but some two hundred of them chose to remain in service and became the backbone of a new regiment, the 10th Maine Volunteer Infantry. That unit would be mustered into service on October 1, 1861.

Early on in its service this new Maine regiment was dispatched to Harper’s Ferry. Most of its companies were dispersed along the Baltimore and Ohio with orders to “guard the railway.” The regiment would follow orders but with “the intense disgust of every man, from Col. Beal down to the cooks.” Having never experienced combat the men yearned to prove themselves in battle. Guard duty was not satisfy that yearning.

The regiment would remain at their posts until May 9, 1862, when four of their companies were ordered to Winchester, Virginia, to occupy the town. Second Lieutenant John Gould, who would later write the history of the 10th Maine and its associated regiments, noted on that same day that Lieutenant-Colonel James S. Fillebrown had taken under his charge four companies, C, E, G, and I, had been sent to Winchester by train to occupy the town. The commander of the regiment, Colonel George Beal, would follow along a short time later.

Mary Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee

On the very day the 10th Maine arrived in Winchester, Mary Greenhow Lee, a Winchester civilian and rebel zealot, wrote in her diary: “People here are so gloomy now; they think Richmond will be given up, & consequently we are subjugated; but I do not think they will go to Richmond now, any sooner than after the battle of Manassas issue; it would only delay it. A Maine Regiment arrived today, & McDowell & his command are to join Shields tomorrow. These Maine wretches say, they are going to make the Secession women hold their tongues, & that they will set the town to rights.”

Fillebrown

Lieutenant-Colonel James S. Fillebrown (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

On May 10, Mary Greenhow Lee went about doing what she had done every day for the last several weeks. Early that morning she had marched off to the jail to provide the Confederate prisoners there with “tea and supplies.” “The whole Maine Regt. was drilling before Mr. Conrad’s door, but we did not let them turn us one inch out of our way.” “Every one says the ‘Maine’ is a splendid Regt., but I cannot see anything to be admired about the Yankees, in any form, but their music; that is not part of them; neither the airs nor the musicians, generally, belong to that contemptable race, nor do they belong to the fighting ranks.” “The Yankee’s here are mad if any one tells them we are going to have a very hot summer; they are evidently afraid of the climate.”

On the day after their arrival the Maine men began to feel the wrath of the town’s inhabitants as they went about performing their new mission. Gould wrote: “We found ourselves in another atmosphere here in Winchester: we had already seen rebel women, but in all our travels we never saw any so bitter as those of Winchester. They were untiring in their efforts to show how they hated us.”

Beal1

Colonel George L. Beal (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

On May 11, Mary Greenhow Lee writes that a Mr. Miller reported “Banks Head Quarters would be at Strasburgh to-day, and the hope was, Jackson, would drive the Yankee’s out of the Valley, in ten days. Laura Lee, who was also a strong Winchester secessionist, noted in her diary that same date how dreadful it is “to hear the Yankees shouting and exulting over their victories. There is a new Commandant here, a Col. From Maine and his regiment. The new provost is odious and audacious.” “He was not placed here to protect rebel women and children.”

10th Maine Map

Position of the 10th Maine Relative to General Nathaniel Banks Army.

The man assigned the position of Provost Martial for Winchester was Lieutenant-Colonel James S. Fillebrown. Provost marshals were the Union Army’s military police. “They hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using Government transportation; and investigated the theft of Government property.” Provost martials were the most prominent specimens of Northern occupation and, as a result, were the ones most often resented and detested.

When members of the 10th Maine sat upon residential “door-steps a moment, the prominent women of Winchester would send out their servants to wash up the spot that was supposed to be made filthy by our presence.” One lady “delighted to open her windows and play Dixie on her piano every time the regiment passed that way.” “They would not walk under the stars and stripes nor suffer their dresses to brush our clothes never so lightly, and rarely would they pass by us without scowling.”

Mary Greenhow Lee went on to complain on May 13, that “our oppressors are drawing in the reins; they have commenced arresting women for talking; A Mrs. John Campbell was arrested today.” She was eventually able to “talk the Provost down so completely…and in self defense, he let her go.” “The Provost Marshall, makes himself more odious every day; Mrs. Barton gave him such a scolding to-day, as is not often heard from a lady, & then she went to Col. Beal to complain of him; he refused to give Mrs. Jones a pass to return to Vaucluse, but the Col. was more obliging.”

Laura Lee wrote that same day that “the Maine regiment that is occupying the town now, is much the most obnoxious of any of the Yankees we have had. The Lieut. Col is a perfect brute and insults and browbeats every one who is unfortunate enough to be brought into contact with him. No one can leave the town without a pass, and a pass can only be obtained by the person’s swearing that he or she is a loyal subject of the U. S. No decent person will take such an oath.”

As time passed Provost Martial Fillebrown began to respond to what he considered to be provocations on the part of the civilians. His reaction was especially swift when it came to brazen forms of protest. His attempts at discipline, however, were not always well received. For example Mary Greenhow Lee noted: “The Provost says the ladies shall not wear sunbonnets & aprons on the street, because they only do it, to insult the officers.” “Of course after such an order, they are more universally worn, all my household wear them & I think I shall have to adapt mine.”

On the evening of May 16, a building at the Fair Grounds was set on fire. “In less than an hour, there was another alarm, & on opening the door, the flames were ascending somewhat in the direction of Selma, but it proved to be the Medical College which is burnt to the ground; what is this the beginning of, we cannot tell as we are in the hands of a treacherous foe.” The Winchester Medical College was situated on the corner of Boscawen and Stewart Streets.

Medical College

Winchester Historical Panel Marking the Location of the Medical College

Many of the residents believed the burning of the building was “for the purpose of destroying superfluous Government stores & preparatory to an evacuation.” Union forces explained the reason for the “burning of the college is that a skeleton of Oliver Brown (John’s son) was there, they buried in the yard what they supposed were his bones, but the genuine ones, had been removed by Doctor Hunter Maguire, thus foiling their malicious design.” Winchester resident, John Peyton Clark, would later claim it was Colonel George Beal of 10th Maine that ordered Brown’s remains recovered and the College burned. True or not, there is no mention of this incident in the regimental history of the regiment.

Julia Chase

Sketch of Julia Chase

Not everyone in Winchester, however, was a secessionist. Julia Chase, for example, was a Maine native and a resident of Winchester. She was a Unionist and her husband was the town’s postmaster. They were a perfect example of a Winchester divided. On May 18 she reported she was “taking the fever.” She noted: “Some of the Maine boys have been brought in sick to the Court House Hospital.” She stated that as soon as she was feeling better, she planned on going to the hospital to help there.

By May 21, rumors were rampant in Winchester that Turner Ashby’s pickets were only six miles outside of the city and that Jackson was close behind. Mary Greenhow Lee wrote what she thought might happen “if the Yankees go away & Jackson does not come here. I think of establishing an independent monarchy, & assuming the dictatorship.”

Two days later Mary recounted: “The Yankees are still here & also a thousand rumors about Jackson; one is, that he is certainly at Blues Gap; Banks is certainly in a Trap, between Ewell on one side, & Jackson on the other.” “There is an idea, that Jackson will be here to-morrow night; I am perfectly confident, that our deliverance is near.” Later that night she reported “there is great excitement to-night; wagons are coming in; cavalry dashing by.” “There has been some fight at Front Royal…and they were “in hourly expectation of the arrival of a vanquished army, which may probably be allowed to wreck its vengeance on our town, if they have time.”

On May 23, Unionist Julia Chase reported that Col. Beal of the 10th Maine, said “he will make a stand here but his men number so few he can’t do much.” The following day she complained the Maine men “are not half strict enough.” “Some 50 letters & papers have been taken Miss Belle Boyd, who have been making herself very officious since the Federal troops have been here. She acts as a spy I imagine.”

With Front Royal having fallen on the 23rd, Colonel Beal sent Company C of the Tenth Maine out along the Front Royal Pike the following day to act as skirmishers and to detect enemy movements. Later in the day he reinforced that unit with Company I. The detachment took position about two miles outside of town near the Toll Gate. Here they would participate in a lively skirmish with Rebel Cavalry. Fortunately, there were just six casualties among the Maine men, all in Company C. The small detachment retreated to Winchester that evening.

General Banks spent the daylight and early evening hours of May 24 endeavoring to escape from General Jackson’s Army by retreating north along the Valley Pike. The road was clogged all day by Union troops and retreating supply wagons. In addition to the skirmishing experienced by the 10th Maine, there was sporadic fighting all day along the turnpike between Strasburg and Winchester. By the early morning of May 25, General Banks had placed his men into a defensive posture along the northern bank of Abram’s Creek. Stonewall Jackson positioned his forces opposite him. Everything was staged for the First Battle of Winchester.

first winchester

Map of the Battle of 1st Winchester

About four A.M. hostilities were initiated between the two armies. For some unknown reason the Tenth Maine was never incorporated into the defense of the town. John Meade Gould wrote in the regimental history “whether word was sent or not, Col. Beal never received a single order about going or staying, but at 6:30 A.M. the appearance of crowds of wounded, the wild disorder of stragglers and cavalry, and the host of fugitives of every kind, all convinced him that he must take the responsibility of acting without orders. So we were relieved, as far as was possible, from our duties in town,” and they formed up in the streets of Winchester awaiting orders.

Gould

John Mead Gould (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

Cornelia McDonald, a devout rebel sympathizer who lived on the western outskirts of Winchester, had a unique view of the First Battle of Winchester. Cornelia “saw a long line of grey caps above the crest of the hill, then appeared the grey forms that wore them.” She witnessed a “volley of musketry from their assailants that scattered” the Union troops. The blue clad men broke under the weight of the attack and a “stream of humanity that flowed through every street and by way, through gardens and over fences, toward the Martinsburg turnpike, a confused mob of trembling, fainting objects that kept on their mad flight til they were lost in the clouds of dust their hurrying feet had raised.”

The First Battle of Winchester was over shortly after it began. General Richard Taylor’s Louisianan’s fell upon the Union right flank and Banks’s defense quickly collapsed. Soon the Yankees were coursing through town in a state of panic. Mary Greenhow Lee wrote: “The battle has been fought; the victory won; we are free; our precious soldiers are here, in Winchester, with us all the time, morning, noon and night.”

Gould later wrote: “At precisely 7 A.M., Col. Beal ordered us to ‘shoulder arms’ ‘right face’ and ‘forward march’ and there was no delay in the execution of those commands.” All of the other Union troops were caught up in a rout. “A stampede is contagious, and all but irresistible; we had found it hard enough to resist it before, but now it was even more difficult, for before we were standing still.” “All the mob at our side was going Pell mell, and telling us to hurry up, and our natural impulse was also to break and run.” “It was a sad thing to know that our first movement in the presence of the enemy was to retreat without firing a gun or seeing a rebel.”

The rout had begun. Stonewall Jackson’s Army would take Winchester back from “those Maine wretches.” The Unionist Julia Chase wrote: “God grant I may never see the like again. The Confederate Army are in full possession of Winchester again. Gen. Banks has left in great disorder.”

Banks retreat from Winchester was more a stampede than anything else. One union soldier on a similar occasion said if it wasn’t running “it was pretty d–d tall walking.” The 10th Maine would reach the Potomac River opposite Williamsport by nine P.M. that same day. The regiment had “marched thirty-five miles in fourteen hours, including the halts.” “All of us had our feet blistered, some having even more blister than natural skin, but to describe the thousand aches and cramps we felt cannot be done.”

“The escape from Winchester by Banks’s army was a close affair.” Gould summarized it well by stating just twenty-four hours before everyone “was in good spirits and possessed of every luxury a soldier can expect and many he ought never to expect.” “The regiment was well armed and equipped, one of the best dressed and neatest in the service.” Their losses from the affair were minor and most temporary due to straggling. “The effects of the retreat, together with the loss of all they had is very perceptibly disheartening.”

The regiment, or a further re-embodiment of it called the 29th Maine, would return to the Shenandoah Valley in two short years. They would fight with General Sheridan in the 1864 Valley Campaign and they would charitably spill their blood on all of the battlefields of that crusade. Their losses during that effort would be significant. Some may have seen it as an opportunity to even the score from their earlier mistreatment at the hands the citizens of Winchester and of Stonewall Jackson’s Army. Their sacrifice, however, would help safeguard the reelection of Abraham Lincoln and secure a final Union victory.

Winchester National Cemetery

1st-10th-29th Maine Men Lie Forever Interred at the National Cemetery in Winchester.

Note: I am very grateful to my wife Cynthia Dalton for her expertise in researching the women of Winchester for this essay. I am also very appreciative of Nicholas Picerno’s counseling in helping me understand the service of the 1st-10th-29th Maine Regiments and for his contributions of the images of Maine soldiers used in this blog.

Gould, John M. The Civil War Journals of John Mead Gould 1861 to 1865. Butternut and Blue. Baltimore, Md. 1997.

Gould, John M. History of the First – Tenth – Twenty-Ninth Maine Regiment. Higginson Book Company. Salem, Ma. 1871.

Mahon, Michael. Winchester Divided: The Civil War Letters of Julia Chase & Laura Lee. Stackpole Books. Mechanicsburg, Pa. 2002.

Straader, Eloise C. The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee. Winchester County Historical Society. Winchester, Va. 2011.

http://www.shenandoahatwar.org/history/first-battle-of-winchester/

https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/civil-war/military-intelligence-the-civil-war-provost-guard/

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