In early February 1863, a young Maryland native named George Pforr, journeyed from Baltimore, Maryland to his sister’s home in Staunton, Virginia. Professing Confederate sympathies, he feels drawn to support the Confederate war effort. It was here in Staunton that he encounters a newly formed artillery battery which has been christened McClanahan’s Mounted Artillery. Pforr joins the unit, which is assigned to support the 62nd Regiment of Mounted Rifles, and General John Imboden’s independent cavalry command.
Pforr participated in the famed Jones-Imboden Raid into West Virginia in April and May 1863. Raiders claimed success as they severely damaged several railroad bridges, as well as an oil field, and other critical Union stores. Attackers also captured valuable supplies. General Jones estimated that about 30 of the enemy were killed and some 700 prisoners were taken. Four hundred new recruits were added, as well as an artillery piece, 1,000 head of cattle, and some 1,200 horses. From a political standpoint, however, the raid failed, for it had no effect on pro-statehood sentiment, and West Virginia was still admitted into the Union as the 35th state the following month.
During the Gettysburg Campaign, Imboden’s brigade served under Major General J.E.B. Stuart guarding the left flank for General Robert E. Lee’s Army during his drive north through the Shenandoah Valley. Though his brigade did not participate in Stuart’s foray around the Union Army, it instead raided the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between Martinsburg, West Virginia ,and Cumberland Maryland.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, General Imboden’s men remained in the rear guarding the ammunition and supply trains. Throughout the Confederate retreat, though, Imboden is ordered to escort the army’s wagon trains, with thousands of wounded soldiers, back to Virginia. On July 6, 1863, with the Potomac flooding at Williamsport, Maryland, he found himself trapped with his wagon train. He puts together an effective fighting force which included McClanahan’s Artillery Battery, and those wounded soldiers who could still manage a musket. This hastily organized force, turned back several attacks from Union cavalry details under both Generals John Buford, and Judson Kilpatrick. His efforts saved the wagon train and thousands of wounded soldiers from capture. Robert E. Lee would praise Imboden for the way in which he “gallantly repulsed” these attacks.
General Imboden returned safely to the Shenandoah Valley, bringing thousands of Union prisoners and Confederate wounded with him. The general would continue to fight in the Shenandoah Valley serving as a major distraction to General Mead’s Army in eastern Virginia. George Pforr, and McClanahan’s Battery, would admirably minister to this cause.
It was on February 27, 1864, though, when Charles Anderson, in the midst of one of the most severe cold spells ever to hit the Shenandoah Valley, rode to Kernstown and into the camp of the 1st New York Cavalry. “The slightly built man reins his horse up in front of the regimental headquarters tent. To the soldiers idling in front of the tent he says he wants to enlist.” Though the regiment has its origin in New York City the unit has “members from throughout the Union, with one company from Pennsylvania, and another from Michigan. Since the regiment had been in the field continually since early 1861, it was not uncommon for civilians to walk up and offer to join the regiment.
The regiment’s Sergeant Major greets Charles. With the weakened state of the cavalry regiment, all of the companies in the unit desperately need replacements. Here was “a healthy-appearing young man who even has his own mount.” Charles claimed that he was born in New Orleans on March 15, 1841. He is 5’ 7” with grey eyes and black hair. “He says he is a local farmer who has stayed out of the war until Rebels foraged through his land, stealing crops and livestock. Now he wants revenge.”
The sergeant Major was suspicious of the recruit. “It is obvious the man’s hair is dyed and he doesn’t sound like he is from Louisiana. Still, he extends his hand and says; ‘Welcome to the 1st New York.’” Sign on the dotted line my friend. Charles Anderson is quickly registered and assigned to Captain Edwin F. Savocool’s Company K.
For the next year Private Anderson and his 1st New York Cavalry spar with Confederates up and down the Shenandoah Valley. “Anderson proves himself a competent, able soldier. Not foolhardy, he none the less pushed boldly forward while others hold back. He quickly develops a well-deserved reputation for coolness under fire.”
On May 13, Private Anderson and his comrades experience a disastrous encounter at New Market. Among the Confederate units on the field is McClanahan’s Battery. The confrontation for Colonel William Boyd’s New Yorker’s is ruinous and losses are significant. “The wonder was that the whole of Boyd’s command was not captured. Hemmed in between mountain and river, with superior forces on all sides, it was individual determination that saved those that escaped.” Colonel Boyd lost more than 125 men. The majority of these were captured. Most of the rest were left hiding on the slopes of Massanutten Mountain. Nearly 200 horses were secured, all of which would serve as much needed replacements for worn Confederate mounts. Charles Anderson was fortunate to escape.
The fighting was nearly constant throughout the remainder of 1864. During the 3rd Battle of Winchester Charles fought in General William Averell’s Division and was part of the largest Cavalry charge of the Civil War. During the burning of the Valley, he helped destroy farms in Page Valley from Port Republic to Front Royal. He was also present for the last major battle in the Shenandoah Valley at Cedar Creek.
On February 27, 1865, however, General Philip Sheridan decides he will shift his army from Winchester, south, with the intention of joining General Grant at Petersburg. It is Sheridan’s goal to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad as well as the James River Canal. Opposing him were the remnants of the Army of the Valley District under General Jubal Early.
On March 2nd, with General George Custer’s Cavalry leading the van of the army, Custer comes into contact with videttes from Early’s Confederate forces at Fisherville. Custer quickly disperses this contingent and pushes them back into Waynesboro. Here General Early has determined he will make his stand.
Early has chosen his defensive position poorly. Custer pushes on into Waynesboro and orders an immediate assault without even waiting for a reconnaissance of the enemy position. Custer sends three regiments, including the 1st New York, into the woods on the Confederate left flank. His other two brigades faceoff directly opposite General Early’s main battle line.
At 3:30 pm, the signal to attack is given. “A section of Custer’s horse artillery rolled into action and engaged the attention of the Confederates. Minutes later, Pennington’s flanking force, led by the 2nd Ohio, dismounted and armed with Spencer Carbines, rushed out of the woods and rolled up the startled Confederates’ left flank.” “Just as the Confederates were reforming to face this new threat, Wells’ and Capehart’s brigades rushed the Confederate center. In a matter of minutes, Early’s army was thrown into panic.”
Among the men charging in on the Confederate left flank is Private Charles Anderson. “Riding hard through the rain soaked timber Anderson spurs his horse onward. He bears down on a Rebel colorguard, gives a yell, and fires his revolver into the air. Anderson grabs the enemy flag. He pulls it toward him. A brief tug-of war ensues. Anderson wins. He quickly stuffs the Confederate flag into his shirt and rejoins his comrades in rounding up enemy stragglers.”
Jubal Early and his forces are stunned by the weight of the attack. The Confederate line breaks and runs. In the fighting that ensues more than 1800 men are captured, along with 200 wagons, 14 artillery pieces, and 17 Confederate battle flags. While Jubal Early is able to escape, his small army is destroyed. The victory is complete. Jedediah Hotchkiss calls this battle “one of the most terrible panics and stampedes I have ever seen.”
The following week, the cavalrymen who had captured battle flags at Waynesboro were sent to Washington, D.C. On March 19, they are allowed to present their battle trophies to Secretary of War Edward Stanton. It is the largest quantity of battle flags ever captured in a single engagement. As a reward for their bravery each man is given a thirty-day furlough as well as the Medal of Honor.
When Charles Anderson finally rejoins the 1st New York, General Robert E. Lee has already surrendered his army at Appomattox. A few days later the 1st New York is sent to Washington for mustering out. “On June 27, 1865, with a Medal of Honor in his pocket, Charles receives an honorable discharge. He determines he will trek to Baltimore to seek employment.
Anderson finds job hunting very discouraging. Without any employment prospects on the horizon he decides he will return to the occupation he knows best. He impetuously enlists in Company M of the 3rd U S Cavalry on January 11, 1866. He will spend the next twelve years battling Indians in the Desert Southwest and on the Northern Plains.
After twelve years “fighting Native Americans, poor rations, and disease,” he decides he has spent a sufficient amount of time in the army. He writes to his sister, who lives in Staunton, Virginia, and requests she apply to the army for him for a hardship discharge. Her efforts are successful, and Charles receives his discharge on April 4, 1878.
With his absolution in hand, Charles travels to Staunton and to the home of his sister, Mary. Charles decides he will settle in Staunton, and changes his name to George Pforr. That same year, on September 18, he marries Sally Smith Garber. Farmer, and soon father, Pforr sets down roots and becomes a praiseworthy member of his community. He and his wife will raise eleven children to adulthood over the next several years.
In 1905 George determines he would like to apply for a federal pension for time served in the Federal Army. In his application he claims that he was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He admits that when he joined the war effort, he had first enlisted in Captain Jonathan McClanahan’s Confederate Battery. He acknowledges that in February 1864, he deserted his Confederate unit and rode north to where he volunteered to serve in the 1st New York Cavalry. Sergeant James W. Blackburn, formerly of McClanahan’s Battery, confirms Pforr’s story.
Based on accounts that were confirmed by soldiers in both armies, George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson, is awarded a pension in 1906. His name, though, is still listed as Charles W. Anderson according to U. S. army records. His Medal of Honor citation, awarded to him on March 26, 1865, reads: “Capture of unknown Confederate flag.”
Charles W Anderson, also known as George Pforr, died on the 25th of February 1916 at the age of 71, on his farm in Annex, Virginia. He is buried in the Thorn Rose Cemetery in Staunton. Charles was one of seven 1st New York Cavalry soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Civil War. While his memorial marker reads George Pforr, the Medal of Honor plaque located in front of this stone, reads Charles W. Anderson. George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson is, and remains, the only enemy deserter in U. S. military history to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now you know the rest of the story.
1st Cavalry roster.
ANDERSON , CHARLES.—Age , 21 years. Enlisted February 27, 1864, at New York city; mustered in as private, Company K , February 27, 1864, to serve three years; awarded a medal of honor by Secretary of War ; mustered out with company, June 27, 1865, at Alexandria, Va.
Blue and Gray Magazine. The Strangest Hero of All. December 1988. Pg. 26.
One thought on “George Pforr Contends with Charles W. Anderson”
I love this story! Suspected the plot twist while reading about Anderson – his story should be made into a movie.