A Georgia Volunteer!

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

The 12th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment was raised in the spring of 1861 but did not complete its organization until it reached Richmond in June of the same year. Sent to western Virginia it participated in operations there, becoming part of Brigadier General Edward Johnson’s command. Major Willis Hawkins commanded the unit. The regiment fought with Johnson at Greenbriah River and the Battle of Allegheny Mountain. By the beginning of May, though, Johnson’s small army had retreated to Fairview, a few miles west of the rail station at Staunton.

Meanwhile, General Thomas Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate troops had spent the first few days of May slogging through the mud on their way to Port Republic while General Richard Ewell’s division was slipping over the Blue Ridge Mountains through Swift Run Gap to take Jackson’s place at Conrad’s Store. Jackson would cross the Blue Ridge at Brown’s Gap on his way to Meacham River Station on the Virginia Central Railroad. Stonewall would spend May 4, riding horseback to Staunton, while his troops followed by train or on foot.  He would setup his headquarters at the Virginia Hotel in town.

With the army reinforced by three thousand troops from General Edward Allegheny Johnson’s Army of the Northwest, Jackson’s legion would number some nine thousand men.  From his camp at West View Johnson’s soldiers were staged to act as the army’s vanguard in the coming campaign. Johnson’s men were very familiar with the terrain, having spent the winter retreating through and defending it.

Jackson’s men were up early on May 7th marching to the northwest along the Parkersburg Turnpike. A short time after their departure they ran into a contingent of General Robert Milroy’s small Union Army. Milroy’s force numbered some two thousand men. Sensing he was outnumbered, Milroy concluded he would retreat to the town of McDowell, on the West side of Bull Pasture Mountain. He quickly sent an urgent message to Federal forces at Franklin pleading for reinforcements.

About 10 a.m. on May 8th, General Robert Schenck arrived at McDowell with supports, increasing the number of Union troops to about six thousand. As Schenck was senior to Milroy, he assumed overall command of the Federal force. The Union commander established his headquarters in town at the Hull House and deployed his artillery, consisting of eighteen guns, onto Cemetery Hill. Next, he positioned his infantry in line, about eight hundred yards in width, south along Bull Pasture River. Schenck placed one regiment, the 2nd West Virginia, on Hull’s Hill, east of the river, overlooking the Parkersburg Pike. Three companies of cavalry covered the left flank along the road on the north side of the village.

Meanwhile, on the top of Sitlington’s Hill, which overlooked the town of McDowell, Jackson had begun to assemble Edward Johnson’s troops along the crest. Not expecting to fight a battle so late in the day, Stonewall ordered Johnson to position his troops along the heights and then began to make plans to launch a flank attack the following morning.

Schenk and Milroy had a different idea on how the coming battle would unfold. Milroy got permission from his superior to mount an attack on Sitlington’s Hill before the Confederates could position their artillery on the crest. Milroy assembled some twenty-three hundred troops along the river at the base of the hill and ordered his men forward (upwards).

As Milroy’s men assaulted Sitlington’s Hill they began to exchange fire with troops commanded by General Johnson. The fighting became intense. Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s mapmaker, recorded that “from 4:30 to 8:30 the firing was terrific.” Union troops discharged their rifled muskets into the rebel troops situated on the high ground. The rebels shielded their position with smoothbore muskets accurate out to about one hundred yards.

During the May 8, 1862, Battle of McDowell, the 12th Georgia took position on the left center of the Confederate line. Here they occupied a ridge spur that required the regiment to form line in the shape of an inverted V. The position was exposed to enemy fire from three sides and was the primary reason why the Georgians suffered significant casualties.

Around 4 p.m. in the afternoon a line troops made up of the 32nd and 82nd Ohio, along with the 3rd Virginia, advanced up the hill toward the Confederate center and right. A short time later Colonel Nathaniel McLean stepped forward with one thousand men from the 75th, and 25th Ohio, under Colonel W. P. Richardson, crossed Bullpasture River aiming toward the Confederate left. The 12th Georgia was squarely in their path.

Map made by Jedediah Hotchkiss for the May 8th, 1862, Battle of McDowell. The furthest advance of the 12th Georgia Infantry is shown on the map.

The 12th Georgia, with their .69 caliber muskets, sparred with their adversary, the 75th Ohio, which was equipped rifles. “The 82nd and 32nd Ohio regiments exchanged charges and countercharges with the 23rd Virginia near the Confederate center, the 44th Virginia parried repeated thrusts by the 25th Ohio, and the 12th Georgia clashed with McLean’s 75th Ohio in a desperate fight that would continue intermittently throughout the afternoon.” Colonel McLean recalled being “compelled to make the attack which was entirely destitute of protection, either with trees or rocks, and so steep that the men were at times compelled to march either to one side or the other in order to make the assault.”

 Major Hawkins and General Johnson “had thrown the 12th Georgia forward of the main line to a ‘large hilly old field’ on a spur of Sitlington’s Hill. Wheeling by company into line of battle, the 12th opened and took fire simultaneously.” More than an hour after the firing began “a minie bullet pierced the head of Orderly Sergeant Asa Sherwood.” He was the regiment’s first fatality. Captain Rogers noted “it was trying to a captain’s heart to see his brave men shot down all around him… I still had to suffer the fall of my friend and officer Lt. W. A. Massey. For two hours he had been in the thickest of the fight, cheering the men by deed and words.” “He had just given a cheer to Jeff Davis, when he fell by my side, shot through the side.”

“As evening fell, the Georgians found themselves silhouetted against a clear sky to the east, making them fine targets. Finally, as losses mounted, the 12th’s officers ordered their men to pull back to a less exposed position; the men refused, and the next day, one member of the regiment explained ‘we did not come all the way to Virginia to run before Yankees.’”

Casualties in the brief fight were significant. Union forces lost thirty-four killed, two hundred and twenty wounded, and five missing. Confederate losses were much greater with one hundred and sixteen killed, and some three hundred wounded. Four were missing. It was one of the few instances in the war where the attackers experienced significantly fewer casualties than the defenders. In the 12th Georgia their bravery cost them dearly. Entering the battle with 540 men, the 12th saw 52 killed and 123 wounded, a loss of nearly 35%. This amounted to some 42% of overall Confederate casualties.

Marker for the Unknown Soldiers at McDowell, Virginia

Across the street from the Presbyterian Church in McDowell lies a modest sized graveyard. Many of the stones belong to members of the Sitlington family upon whose property the battle had been fought. Here Union and Confederate troops lie buried together in a common grave. The size of the lot is small, maybe four hundred square feet, so there are certainly not hundreds of soldiers buried there, but there could be a dozen or more. Maybe it is just those men who were pronounced as missing or those killed on a battlefield so far from home. Nevertheless, this spot serves as the tomb of the unknown soldier. The identities of the men buried here are nameless. Chances are good, since nearly half of the Confederate losses were from the 12th Georgia, there may be a Georgia boy or two interred there.

After the battle, the small village of McDowell was inundated with dead and wounded. Among those who helped bury the dead and care for the injured were the VMI Cadets who had been dispatched to assist Jackson. As Stonewall began his retreat to the Shenandoah Valley, though, many of the wounded were transported with them. One of the stops in their withdrawal was Stribling Springs Resort. The facility, which was already being employed as a hospital, was quickly assigned a new batch of patients, including members of the 12th Georgia.

There had already been several 12th Georgia patients who had resided at Stribling Springs, prior to the Battle of McDowell. We know Private Houston Todd of Company D died there from measles on May 8, 1862, the very day the Battle of McDowell was being fought. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery at Lynchburg. At least four other members of that company, including Privates Dennis Moody, Alexander Norwood, Jonas Pancer, and Bennett Duke, had expired there either prior to the Battle of McDowell or sometime shortly thereafter. One, Dennis Moody, would perish there in February of 1863. At least one unidentified member of that regiment, however, during the course of the war, would be interred on the Stribling Springs property. His presence would have been completely forgotten, though, if not for the determination of one woman.

In the summer of 1870 Mary Ashley Townshend, and her husband Gideon, visited Stribling Springs Resort for some rest, relaxation, and for the “taking of the waters.” The Stribling’s property was rich in alum, chalybeate and sulphur springs. “For centuries, Native Americans, early European explorers, and visitors from around the world have flocked to natural hot springs to bathe in the healing waters. ‘Taking the waters’ through a soak or a sip, was believed to cure almost any ailment.”

Ed Beyers painting of Stribling Springs 1858

On one of Mary’s walks around the estate, she had come across a half wooden marker which was rotted almost to the ground. Mary noted: “I raised it with a reverent hand, from dust its words to clear, but time had blotted all but these–“A Georgia Volunteer!” It was evident one soldier of Georgia’s 12th Regiment, one who had been mortally wounded at McDowell, or on some other battlefield, had been buried there on the estate. His grave had no stone, just a wooden marker that bore the words, “A Georgia Volunteer.” This happenstance would prove the inspiration for Mary to put pen to verse.

Mary Ashley Townshend

Mary Ashley Van Voorhis (Townshend) was born on September 24, 1832, in Lyons, New York. She married Gideon Townhend of New Orleans, and she began to write for publication about 1856 using numerous pennames. These included Mary Ashley, Crab Crossbones, Michael O’Quillo, Henry Rip, and “Xariffa.” Mary was both a poet and a writer, and had “published a series of humorous papers that appeared in the New Orleans Delta and were widely copied by the southern and western press.”

Townsend was best known and widely praised for her poetry. “It reflects her wide diversity of interests; much of it is of a moral or religious nature.” She was asked to write poems for many special occasions, which she did. Her most popular poem was “Creed,” first published in 1868, and reprinted many times. It is included in Xariffa’s Poems published in 1870. In the summer of 1870, however, Mary visited Stribling Springs Resort and having unearthed the vanishing grave of a Georgian soldier, she would be inspired to write a poem. She would memorialize the unknown Confederate soldier in her rhyme, “A Georgia Volunteer.” “The poem was later included in John Wayland’s work, ‘Stonewall Jackson’s Way,’ in which he tells the story behind the poem.” It has also been adapted into song format by a group known as the Rebelaires.

Augusta Springs, as it was first named, was the brainchild of Erasmus Stribling (1784-1858), one of Staunton’s prominent citizens. Stribling was a successful attorney and had served as the town’s mayor on two ocasions. In 1817 Stribling decided to capitalize on the public’s widespread belief in the healthful benefits of “taking the waters” by building a resort on his property.

Although Stribling’s original acreage consisted of 460 acres, only 12 of them served as the core of the resort. “He built an inn and surrounded it with cottages, pavilions, bath houses and even a casino, all thoughtfully placed within a manicured lawn. Stribling’s wife, Matilda, was instrumental in helping him develop and manage the property.”

 The resort quickly became one of Virginia’s leading destinations, known not only for its waters but for its amusements including “theatrical productions, and its high-quality food and drink.” “People from all over the country and Europe descended upon the springs, often staying for months at a time, especially in the days when travel was difficult. The springs were served by a line of stagecoaches three times a week. Visitors in 1858 could expect to pay $2 a day for a stay of less than a week, $10 for a week’s stay and $30 for a month of four weeks. Special rates were available for an entire season.”

When the Civil War erupted, the springs continued to operate, although on a much different footing. Ten days after the May 8, 1862, Battle of McDowell, a portion of “Stonewall” Jackson’s army bivouacked there. Jackson is said to have slept in one of the cottages. A preserved letter written by Private Lancelot Minor Blackford, a member of the Rockbridge Artillery, dated May 18, 1862, was written from the springs to his mother and serves as proof of the army’s visit. Jackson’s headquarters was said to be in a house near the inn, “a structure that still stands to this day.”

After the war the inn fell into disrepair as the fortunes of the springs diminished. Kinney was forced to sell the property in 1878. In the early 1980s, “a treasure trove of artifacts from Jackson’s encampment was discovered on the grounds. They included musket balls that had been chewed by human teeth and surgical tools – grim remnants of field surgeries on wounded Confederate soldiers.”

Remaining buildings at Stribling Springs once occupied by Stonewall Jackson and his staff in May of 1862.

My wife and I visited the site in November of 2022. The dwellings are located near the hamlet of Tunnel Hollow in Augusta County near the intersection of routes 730 and 738. The two remaining buildings appear to be in good shape. The mineral spring itself has a gazebo like structure which protects the waters from falling leaves, limbs, and the elements. As far as the location of the grave of the Georgia Volunteer, I am afraid attempting to pinpoint that site would have required permission from of the property owners. That may be a project for one of our readers.

NOTE: A medical issue has arisen in my life and I am afraid this may be my last publication for some period of time. Hopefully the issue is resolved quickly and we will be back communicating with you once again. Best regards to you all and thanks very much for your readership and your support. Pete

The Protective Structure for the fount at Stribling Springs.

A Georgia Volunteer

Far up the lonely mountain-side

My wandering footsteps led;

The moss lay thick beneath my feet,

The pine sighed overhead.

The trace of a dismantled fort

Lay in the forest nave,

And in the shadow near my path

I saw a soldier’s grave.

The bramble wrestled with the weed

Upon the lowly mound;

The simple head-board, rudely writ,

Had rotted to the ground;

I raised it with a reverent hand,

From dust its words to clear,

But time had blotted all but these–

“A Georgia Volunteer!”

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

I saw the toad and scaly snake

From tangled covert start,

And hide themselves among the weeds

Above the dead man’s heart;

But undisturbed, in sleep profound,

Unheeding, there he lay;

His coffin but the mountain soil,

His shroud Confederate gray.

Yet whence he came, what lip shall say–

Whose tongue will ever tell

What desolated hearths and hearts

Have been because he fell?

What sad-eyed maiden braids her hair,

Her hair which he held dear?

One lock of which perchance lies with

A Georgia Volunteer!

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

What mother, with long watching eyes,

And white lips, cold and dumb,

Waits with appalling patience for

Her darling boy to come?

Her boy! whose mountain grave swells up

But one of many a scar,

Cut on the face of our fair land,

By gory-handed war.

What fights he fought, what wounds he wore,

Are all unknown to fame;

Remember, on his lonely grave

There is not e’en a name!

That he fought well and bravely too,

And held his country dear,

We know, else he had never been

A Georgia volunteer.

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!




Official Records of the Civil War.

McDonald, Archie P., Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss. Dallas, Tx. 1973.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s