The First Battle of Wapping Heights

A little more that twenty years ago, while writing a regimental history of the 4th Maine Infantry, I came across an entry in the Official Records of the Civil War indicating the regiment had fought in a battle called “Wapping Heights.” I did not expend a lot of effort researching the engagement when I was writing the book as I assumed it was a minor skirmish. The 4th Maine had, after all, been absolutely devastated just three weeks before while fighting in the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg.  The unit had lost half of its officers and nearly half of its enlisted men there. My research on Wapping Heights indicated the regiment had just one man wounded out of the thirteen officers, and one hundred and sixty-nine sergeants, corporals, and privates left in the regiment. I assumed the fight at Wapping Heights must have been of little significance. I was wrong.

According to the record, early on the morning of July 23, 1863, the Maine regiment saw its first action that day when they were ordered to provide support for the 4th Maine Battery. As the day wore on, however, more work was required of them. When it was discovered that the Confederates had entrenched themselves on the summit of a hill known locally as Wapping Heights, General John Hobart Ward assigned the task of clearing the prominence to the 3rd and 4th Maine Infantry. While the two Maine regiments climbed the hill, out of sight of the Confederates, the 1st and 2nd U. S Sharpshooters “kept up a brisk and accurate fire on the rebels above. As soon as the Maine men reached the crest, they stood, and at once fired a deadly volley which both surprised and routed the enemy. Many of the Confederates were captured, but many more fell dead or wounded from the deadly musket fire. Those that survived were routed and pursued at a brisk pace for more than a mile and a half.”

Wapping Heights new

July 23, Map of the Second Battle of Wapping Heights, or Manassas Gap.

This was all that I knew about the Battle of Wapping Heights. I later learned Union troops had labeled the contest the Battle of Manassas Gap. I never once thought of the fracas as being significant. After all, only one 4th Maine man had been wounded there. Further, if I had been asked, I would have sworn the 4th Maine had never visited, nor had it fought in, the Shenandoah Valley. Once again, I would have been wrong on all counts.

Though it had always been my understanding that the Battle of Wapping Heights was considered to be the last engagement in the Gettysburg Campaign, I did not know the skirmish was actually fought in two segments over a three-day period. I suppose the fight the 4th Maine had been involved in on July 23 could have been called the Second Battle of Wapping Heights. What one might label the First Battle of Wapping Heights was actually fought two days earlier on July 21. It is with that day’s contest that this story is dedicated.

For the Confederates the first day’s combat at Wapping Heights mainly involved one regiment, the Seventeenth Virginia Infantry Regiment. The Seventeenth Virginia had been mustered into service in May of 1861. The unit had seen action in nearly all of the major campaigns and battles fought by the Army of Northern Virginia from First Manassas to Fredericksburg.

At Antietam the 17th Virginia marshalled just fifty-six combatants. Undaunted by its size its commander, Montgomery Corse, led the regiment in a heroic attack that captured two Federal colors. When the contest was over only its commander and seven other fighters were left standing. The regiment would endure but it would miss the conflict at Chancellorsville while they were on detached service with General James Longstreet while his Corps was operating independently near Suffolk, Virginia.

When Robert E. Lee began his invasion of the north in June of 1863, one of General George Pickett’s Brigades, the one the 17th Virginia belonged to, was left behind to guard the Virginia Central Railroad near Gordonsville. Its new brigade commander, Montgomery Corse, was very disappointed that he and his brigade had been excluded from the Gettysburg campaign. When news reached Richmond of Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, though, the brigade was ordered north to Winchester to reinforce Lee’s Army.

Corse

General Montgomery Corse

When Corse’s Brigade was ordered to rejoin Lee’s Army, it included the 15th, 17th, 29th, 30th, and 32nd Virginia Infantry Regiments, and numbered some twelve hundred men. The brigade would march more than one hundred miles in less than five days in order to rejoin their old division. With General Pickett’s battering during his famous charge at Gettysburg his division was in critical need of these reinforcements.

Simpson

Major Robert H. Simpson

The commander of the 17th Virginia Infantry at this time was Major Robert H. Simpson. Simpson was an 1845 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. Most recently he had worked as an educator at Front Royal Male and Female Academy. In 1859 he had helped organize a militia company in that same community which became known as the Warren Rifles. In early 1860 the unit was officially attached to the 149th Regiment of Virginia Militia.

The second contender in the First Battle of Wapping Heights was a Federal cavalry brigade commanded by Brigadier General Wesley Merritt. Merritt was an 1860 graduate of West Point. Currently he commanded the Reserve Brigade, 1st Division, Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Merritt had been slightly wounded at the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863. Three weeks later he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers for his “gallant and meritorious service” there. He was one of a diminutive number of Union officers promoted directly from captain to brigadier general.

Merritt

General Wesley Merritt

On July 20, 1863, Cavalry Division commander General John Buford, was assigned the mission of trying to penetrate the Blue Ridge Mountain Range and to cut off Robert E. Lee’s route of retreat from Gettysburg. At five PM that day, while located at Piedmont, General Buford divided his command into three segments. Brigadier General Wesley Merritt’s Reserve Brigade, accompanied by Battery K, 1st US Artillery, was ordered to advance on Manassas Gap some fourteen miles distant. By early evening Merritt had arrived at a point one mile east of the gap where he bivouacked for the night.

The following morning General Merritt dispatched a detachment from the 1st US Cavalry toward the western exit of Manassas Gap. Their instructions were to “penetrate as far as practicable toward Front Royal.” “This unit rode to within two miles of Front Royal and reported back that they had not detected any enemy.” Merritt conveyed the information back to General Buford stating he could “gain no further information up to this time.”

On July 21, Corse’s Brigade and Read’s Battery began their day camped at Cedarville, just nine miles distant from Manassas Gap. Corse had ordered his command rousted just before dawn. “After allowing time for a hurried breakfast, the general put his brigade on the road about daylight.” The march from Cedarville to the banks of the Shenandoah River was about four miles.

Unfortunately, when the brigade arrived opposite Front Royal the pontoon bridges had not yet been laid across the Shenandoah River. The brigade was ordered to ford the river which they did at great danger to themselves.  The south fork of the river was running exceptionally high due to recent rains. Several of the men were swept downstream and lost. The remaining members of the 17th regiment, some two hundred and seventy soldiers strong, stubbornly persisted and completed the crossing by nine AM.

Nelly and Lucy Buck

Nellie and Lucy Buck

Twenty year old Lucy Buck, one of six hundred inhabitants of Front Royal, found herself on the streets of town that morning cheering as the waterlogged members of the 17th Virginia Infantry marched into town. Much attention was paid to Company B, the town’s own Warren Rifles. Lucy’s spotted two acquaintances which she described as “poor worn, dirty fellows, dusty and bronzed by the sun.” The two of them fell out of the ranks to speak to her but “were so hurried they could only exchange greetings before they ran back to rejoin their company.” She watched their “receding figures gradually lose themselves in the throng of martial forms.” Lucy “looked after the regiment as long as it could be seen through tears” and then returned to her home.

The majority of Corse’s brigade, including the 30th, 29th, 32nd and 15th Virginia, were ordered south toward Chester Gap. The 17th Virginia, on the other hand, was ordered to march east where they were to guard Manassas Gap. By nine thirty AM the 17th Virginia was marching upward toward the western end of ravine. Their objective was the small hamlet of Linden. Here they would set up a defensive line along a prominence known as Wapping Heights.

Wapping Heights derived its name from the nearby home of John and Sarah Hansbrough. Their residence was known locally as the Wapping House. “The dwelling had stood as a relay station for the stagecoach before the war.” It was known as an “ordinary which was a business that provided food, liquor, and lodging for passengers traveling through Manassas Gap.”

Determined to avoid any surprises, and realizing the capture of Front Royal would cut off the retreat of General Lee’s Army, Major Simpson began to lay out his plan to defend Manassas Gap. First Simpson detailed Companies B and C, numbering some sixty-three men, “to take the mountain road to Wapping and watch out for the regiment’s left flank.” He then detailed Companies A, E, and G, about fifty-five combatants strong under the command of Captain James Stewart, to perform picket duty out in advance of the main line. The remaining companies’, one hundred and fifty men total, would setup in the woods just off the main road.

Merritt’s 1st U. S. Cavalry soon spotted the three companies of the 17th Virginia that had been sent out as pickets. The cavalrymen formed line and quickly charged the Confederate infantry putting them to flight. Of the fifty-five Virginia infantrymen Major Simpson had placed on picket duty the Yankee cavalrymen quickly captured some twenty of them, including four officers.

As the charge continued on the threat of the approaching attack trickled back to the remaining members of the 17th Virginia. As the riders approached the Confederates they unleashed a volley which emptied the saddles of several of the Union riders. Captain Eugene Baker of the 1st U. S. Cavalry was determined to carry the position, however, and drive on to Front Royal. Baker would make several additional attempts to dislodge the Confederates, all of which were unsuccessful.

Major Simpson quickly realized the gravity of the situation. Private Edgar Warfield was dispatched on horseback to find General Pickett and request reinforcements. When word finally reached Pickett of the crisis at the gap, he ordered Major Joseph R. Cabell, who commanded what was left of Lewis Armistead’s brigade, to assist the 17th Virginia. Pickett realized the survival of Lee’s Army was at stake.

The sounds of the fighting in Manassas Gap could be plainly heard in Front Royal. Lucy Buck heard “rumors of the advance of the Yankees into town.” Lucy’s father reported to his family shortly after noon that the “17th had engaged the enemy near Mr. Armistead’s and ‘twas reported they were surrounded and would be captured unless Pickett’s division, which was expected, should arrive in time to relieve them.” The discharge of musketry “which was ever and anon heard” terrified the townspeople. Everyone wanted to know was if their “poor boys were safe.”

Frustrated by his inability to shove the Rebels out of his way, Captain Baker called upon General Merritt for assistance. Merritt responded by sending the 2nd US Cavalry to join in the fighting. The arrival of these reinforcements produced another round of combat during which the 17th Virginia had two of its color bearers shot. Once again, however, the Federal attack was repelled.

At this point General Merritt decided to send additional help in the form of Captain Julius W. Mason’s 5th U. S. Cavalry. It was decided they would try to outflank the Southern line on their left flank by way of the Mountain Road. Fortunately, Major Simpson had anticipated this move. Companies’ B and C had been dispatched there previously to guard against this actuality. A quick volley from this small detachment knocked down just one man but put the remaining Union cavalrymen to flight.

About 4:00 PM “the beleaguered Virginians heard the sound of drums beating behind them. This time, however, their hopeful glances were rewarded with what one man described as the “glorious sight” of a Confederate battle flag drifting over a “long gray line of veterans” rushing to their assistance. Cabell had formed Armistead’s brigade into line west of Wapping Heights before he began his final advance toward Manassas Gap. The Union cavalrymen were quickly pushed aside and fighting was concluded for the day. Wapping Heights and, more importantly, Front Royal still remained in Confederate hands.

About six PM Merritt reported to his commander “I am occupying the Gap” having been ordered to do so “at any and every cost.” “Have made frequent reports to headquarters through General Buford. Find the enemy in strong position at the west end of the Gap. Had two small fights yesterday, and have been skirmishing more or less all day. Used the artillery freely this morning. The enemy show no disposition to advance, save by turning my flanks. Columns of cavalry are reported moving down the Valley to Front Royal from Winchester, and large wagon trains have been seen on same road.”

Lucy Buck would record in her diary “the 17th had succeeded in repulsing a body much larger than their own of dismounted cavalry – old U. S. regulars. Huzzah! Bless our glorious 17th! How they have longed ever since the war for a brush with the foe in the Valley and near their homes, and now that wish has been gratified, they’ve whipped them bravely.”

On the same day that the 17th Virginia was fighting for its life at Wapping Heights, Robert E. Lee had set up his tent for the night among the soldiers of the Second Corps two miles south of Winchester. Unknown to him two hundred and seventy soldiers of the 17th Virginia had held off the advances of a full Federal cavalry brigade at Manassas Gap. Their stand there had prevented Union forces from taking Front Royal and allowed Lee’s engineers to complete a pontoon bridge across the Shenandoah River.

About two in the afternoon of July 22, A. P. Hill Corps reached Front Royal and began crossing the Shenandoah River. There would be no fighting that day while General Merritt awaited the arrival of reinforcements. William Buck, Lucy’s father, was currently in town watching the battered vestiges of the Army of Northern Virginia cross over the pontoon bridges. It was a little before four o’clock when William spotted General Robert E. Lee and his staff and quickly invited them to his home for refreshments. General Lee gratefully accepted the invitation.

Bel Air

Post War Photo of Bel Air Which was Owned by the Buck Family.

Lucy Buck was at home when General Lee and his officers arrived at Bel Air. Lucy remembered how the men tried to “stretch their cramped limbs and drink fresh buttermilk. I shall never forget the grand old chief as he stood on the porch surrounded by his officers; a tall commanding figure clad in dusty, travel-stained gray but with a courtly, dignified bearing.” Lucy and her sister Nellie played the piano and sang a “rebel song” at General Lee’s request. For a few moments the war was forgotten. It was an event that would not soon be forgotten by the general or the residents of Bel Air.

Refreshed, General Lee remounted Traveler and was soon well on his way to Chester Gap. A large part of Lee’s Army, however, was still strung out along the road between Winchester and Front Royal. As we mentioned earlier, an additional days fighting would take place on July 23rd in Manassas Gap between elements of the Union Armies’ III Corps and a small segment of Lee’s Army.

Lucy Buck remembered the shooting continued all afternoon on the 23rd. She recalled how they “could distinctly see the flash of the cannon, see the smoke, and see the shell when it exploded – see the troops moving about the pieces.” “Toward dusk the firing gradually ceased and now all is calm.” When the last shot was fired that day the Confederates still held the gap. And with that last discharge so too would end the Gettysburg Campaign, all within the confines of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Robert e lee button

Robert E Lee’s Button at the Warren Museum.

As an interesting side note, several years after the war, when Robert E. Lee was president of Washington College in Lexington, Lucy wrote a letter to him requesting a “personal memento” of his 1863 visit. Lee “responded with a kind note enclosing a uniform button that, he said, had ‘accompanied him in all his Virginia campaigns.’” Both the note and the uniform button have been preserved and are on display at the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum on Chester Street in Front Royal. For those of you interested in viewing this rare item I suggest a visit to the museum. The collection housed there is well worth your time. The museum is currently closed until April 15.

Warren Rifles Museum

Warren Rifles Museum on Chester Street in Front Royal

 

Baer, Elizabeth. Shadows on My Heart: The Civil War Diary of Lucy Rebecca Buck of Virginia. University of Georgia Press. Athens, Ga. 1997.

Dalton, Peter. With Our Faces to the Foe: A History of the 4th Maine Infantry in the War of the Rebellion. Union Publishing. Union, Maine. 1997.

Hunt, Jeffrey. Meade and Lee After Gettysburg: The Forgotten Final Stage of the Gettysburg Campaign, from Falling Waters to Culpeper Court House, July 14-31, 1863. Savas Beatie. El Dorado Hills, Ca. 2017

Official Records, Part III-VOL. XXVII, CORRESPONDENCE. pp 730-756.

Official Records, Part III-VOL. XXXIX, CORRESPONDENCE. p. 510.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wesley_Merritt

The Money is in the Bank at Buckton Station

In the early morning hours of May 21, 1862, Lieutenant James K. Boswell was ordered to climb to the top of Signal Knob, at the northern end of Massanutten Mountain, to determine General Nathaniel Banks troop strength at Strasburg. Boswell would spend several hours there counting Union soldiers. Unfortunately, arithmetic was not one of Boswell’s strengths. The numbers he provided would inflate Union troop strength to nearly double what they actually were. Boswell’s ineptness would directly impact the Valley Campaign and force General Jackson to reevaluate his overall strategy.

In spite of the information provided by Boswell, Stonewall determined he would continue with his plan to attack the force General Banks had assigned to protect his own left flank at Front Royal. Fortunately, Jackson had been accurately informed that the Federal detachment located there numbered a little more than a thousand men, in addition to two artillery pieces. The Commander, Colonel John R. Kenley, and his 1st Maryland Volunteer Infantry, were to be his first mark.

Jackson’s vanguard spent the night at Bentonville, about twelve miles south of Front Royal. General Richard Ewell’s Division had camped there and had been given orders to begin their march at five AM. Company H of the Sixth Virginia Cavalry would lead the column, with General Jackson and General Ewell trailing immediately behind. Marching four abreast the procession extended more than ten miles, stretching all the way back to Luray.

McCoys Ford

Route Taken by Turner Ashby’s Cavalry Can Be Traced in Red from McCoy’s Ford, Bottom, to Buckton Station in the Upper Left of the Map. (Map: Jedediah Hotchkiss)

In an effort to protect his own flank, and cut communications between the two Union commanders, Jackson detached a cavalry force under Colonel Turner Ashby. He assigned Ashby the mission of crossing the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and attacking Buckton Station. Buckton was located on the Manassas Gap Railroad, midway between Front Royal and Strasburg. The Strasburg – Front Royal Road crossed the rail line there in two places, once on the east side and once on the west side of Passage Creek. This small stream then emptied directly into the North Fork of the Shenandoah River just a few yards to the north.

Front Royal Map Story

Map showing the Location of Buckton Station Relative to Strasburg and Front Royal and the Movements of Opposing Forces on March 23.

The small Union force assigned the task of guarding the depot and the railroad bridge at Buckton Station was under the command of Captain William Hubbard of the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry. His detachment consisted of approximately one hundred and fifty soldiers, including Company G of his own 3rd Wisconsin, and Company B of the 27th Indiana. Company G protected the west side of the railroad bridge while Company B covered the east side, including the depot.

Colonel Ashby crossed McCoy’s Ford on the South Fork about mid-morning and proceeded north on the road to Waterlick Station, which was located about a mile west of Buckton. With him were fewer than three hundred Virginia cavalrymen selected from five companies of his own 7th Virginia Cavalry. His remaining troopers were scattered all about the Shenandoah Valley on detached duty.

When Ashby’s force arrived at Bell’s Mill, he detailed Sergeant Marcus Richardson and four other men to scout the road leading to Strasburg. Richardson, who was a native of Front Royal, was very familiar with the area surrounding Buckton Station. It would be his job to intercept and delay any Union troops sent to relieve the outpost.

The next chore was to reconnoiter the area around the depot. Once again Ashby selected a local boy. Sergeant John Jenkins had literally grown up in in the shadow of Buckton Station. His family actually owned the home adjacent to the depot. Certainly, there was nobody more qualified to coach Colonel Ashby.

Ashby and Jenkins advanced to the boundary of a dense wood thicket. From the edge of the copse of trees they viewed an expansive wheat field directly to their front. On the far edge was an elevated train track where Union forces appeared dug in. In the direction of the depot a number of tents had been setup to accommodate the troops. The depot building itself appeared to have been reinforced with sandbags and had “loopholes through the depot walls.” Except for the creek, which divided the field, it was a perfect defensive position. The element of surprise would be critical, though, if Ashby’s troopers were to have any success in securing the position.

Buckton Station Map Story 1

Map of the Battle of Buckton Station Taken from Blue and Grey Magazine.

Colonel Ashby went about organizing his cavalrymen along the edge of the woods. It was about two o’clock when Ashby felt satisfied with their dispositions and shouted the order to charge. Edwin Bryant of the 3rd Wisconsin remembered how the Rebel cavalry “charged across the wheat field, with a whoop and yell, two or three officers in front swinging their sabers, toward the camp of the companies.”

Union troops were completely surprised. Most of the Federal pickets were scooped up. The rest hurried back to their lines trying their best to avoid capture. “Hubbard with his Company G, and the brave Indianans did not flinch. It might well shake the nerve of veterans to see so solid a column of cavalry bearing down upon them in the momentum of full gallop; but the Indiana boys gave the advancing host a volley.”

Captain George Sheetz of Company F of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, himself a native of Indiana, attempted to capture one of the Union pickets by himself. Corporal Henry Pittman, who had been out on guard duty, was currently doing his best to get back to the safety of his own lines. Captain Sheetz rode abreast of Pittman and ordered him to surrender. Sheetz “must have imagined that Pittman’s gun was empty.” When Captain Sheetz “was quite near, Pittman shot him dead.” Pittman then seized the officer’s horse and galloped back to his company.

Sheetz

Captain George Sheetz

Ashby’s cavalrymen pushed their charge to the edge of the rail line all the while shooting at the Union infantrymen. The force of the attack soon ebbed, though, due to their “preoccupation with herding prisoners.” Ashby subsequently ordered his men to withdraw to the protection of the woods. While Ashby reformed his men for a second charge Captain Hubbard ordered the Indiana company to fall back to the West side of Passage Creek, joining with the Wisconsin Company.

Ashby now ordered a second charge. This time, however, the enemy was ready for them. On the east side of Passage Creek Captain John Winfield’s company quickly closed in on the depot, which was occupied by a lesser number of Indiana soldiers who were holed up inside.

A rifle shot, emanating from one of the loopholes in the building, took down Winfield’s horse, throwing its rider to the ground. Winfield quickly regained his footing and ordered his men to dismount. Winfield then yelled: “Come on boys.” John quickly “gathered a squad and hacked into the Union fort.” A few minutes passed with “room-by-room fighting and he emerged with a federal banner wound around his arm.” Winfield was able to set fire to the depot and cut the telegraph line. What was left of the 27th Indiana quickly escaped to the west side of Passage Creek taking cover behind the railroad embankment.

There was real anxiety as to whether the Confederates might get in behind the two units and attack them in the flank. As a result the Indiana company took position between the railroad and the Shenandoah River, thus refusing their flank. With the elevated rail line “forming a good breast work, and with the river so close in the rear of our men, the enemy was obliged to make a front attack, if at all, over ground mostly open.”

As the left of Ashby’s attack approached the railroad embankment on the west side of the creek, the 3rd Wisconsin infantrymen stood up and fired a volley at the approaching rebel cavalry. Captain John Fletcher was shot in the arm but still managed to lead his company to the edge of the rail line. Fletcher then received a second wound, this time mortal, and quickly toppled from his horse onto rails. With the momentum of the charge weakened the horsemen retreated, once again, to the safety of the woods.

The 3rd Wisconsin boys remembered:“Both companies then got behind a fill in the railroad, and when the still advancing cavalry came within 100 yards gave them a volley well directed which threw them into confusion, emptying many saddles. Horses fell; others riderless ran in all directions; two or three of the cavalry charged up to the fill or embankment, but were killed before they got back.”

Bridge at Buckton

Trestle Which was the Left of the Union Line on the West Side of Passage Creek 

Ashby’s second charge had nearly breached the Federal line. Several of the soldiers began to fear a third attack might be successful. If effected, capture was a real possibility. Though the incident we now report might appear comical in retrospect, several of the Wisconsin soldiers took their current situation much more seriously. Several remembered that hidden away in their pockets was what might be considered a serious threat to their health and safety.

Several of the 3rd Wisconsin combatants recalled the Confederate government had made it known that any Federal soldier having “imitation money in possession upon capture, would be treated not as a prisoner of war, but as a counterfeiter, and sent to state’s prison.” There had even been threats of execution for this crime. “It happened that the Company G men had their pockets crammed with this paper when the rebels were charging upon them. While waiting between charges, they so gallantly repulsed, the men buried their money in the bank. Every vestige of it was hidden. They meant not to be captured, but they had no notion of wearing stripes in the Virginia prison. They called it ‘putting their money in the bank.’”

Most of these fake Confederate notes had been produced by a man named Samuel Curtis Upham. The bills actually had a notice printed on them stating “Fac-simile Confederate Note – Sold wholesale and retail by S.C. Upham 403 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.” The problem, however, was several cotton smugglers in the south had begun “buying Upham’s novelty notes, trimming off the notice at the bottom and flooding the Confederate economy with the bogus bills.”

The Congress of the Confederacy responded to this deluge of counterfeit bills by legislating a death sentence on convicted counterfeiters. Samuel Upham would later brag “the Confederacy put a $10,000 reward on his capture, dead or alive.” He later wrote: “During the publication of those facsimile notes I was the ‘best abused man’ in the Union. Senator Foote, in a speech before the rebel Congress, at Richmond, in 1862, said I had done more to injure the Confederate cause than General McClellan and his army…”

While the Wisconsin soldiers were dealing with their crisis, Colonel Ashby was dealing with his. Having been repulsed twice, the colonel was still not ready to quit. Ashby rode to the front on his men and yelled “Forward boys.” “We will get every mother’s son of them.” Once again, the attack was renewed.

Hubbard responded by ordering his infantrymen to stand and fire another volley into the Rebel echelons. The Federals “poured a galling fire into the ranks of Ashby’s Cavalry.” Not a single cavalryman reached the railroad embankment. Those still able turned their horses around and, once again, galloped back to the safety of the woods.

Ashby now pondered a fourth charge. Turner rode forward to a slight rise in the wheat field which was in plain sight of the enemy and within range of their muskets. Several Federals fired potshots at Ashby while he sat on his horse. One of the missiles tore though the ear of his horse, narrowly missing its rider.

Ashby, stubborn as always, hesitated. Finally realizing “the federal troops occupied too strong a position,” Ashby called off a fourth attack and “gave the order to return to Front Royal.” Quickly gathering up his prisoners and his troopers he turned east, trotting along the railroad tracks in the direction of the town. Behind he left a small force to disrupt any Union advance.

Captain Hubbard, “after this repulse, called for volunteers to swim the Shenandoah and take a dispatch to Banks. Two men volunteered, ran to Strasburg, and Col. Ruger, with his regiment, at once marched to the succor of the brave outpost. Never was reinforcement more welcome.” Colonel Ruger and his regiment would be ordered back to Strasburg the following morning.

Colonel Ashby’s repeated charges proved costly. Ashby lost two of his best company commanders, Captains George Sheetz and John Fletcher. Thirteen other men were wounded and many more horses were killed or disabled. Ashby would find no further combat for his men that day. He would, however, be embroiled in a skirmish at Middletown on the 24th.

The Battlefield at Buckton Station is unmarked and seldom visited. I always make it a point while giving one of my Jackson’s Valley Campaign tours to stop by. True, there were not a lot of casualties there, but it has always been my belief that as one soldier is remembered so are they all. This is, afterall, hallowed ground. The next time you travel the Strasburg-Front Royal Road take a moment. Stop by and enjoy the peace of the battlefield. Remember, too, all of those rare, counterfeit Confederate paper bills are long gone.

A Member of Company C. The Twenty-Seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion. 1861-1865. 1899.

Armstrong, Richard. 7th Virginia Cavalry. H. E. Howard, Inc. Lynchburg, Va. 1992.

Bryant, Edwin E. History of The Third Regiment of Wisconsin Veteran Volunteer Infantry: 1861 – 1865. Veteran Association of the Regiment. Madison, Wisconsin. 1891.

Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester.  University of Oklahoma Press. Norman, Oklahoma. 2008

Cozzens, Peter. Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. University of North Caroline Press. Chapel Hill, N.C. 2008.

Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, N. Y. 1976.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_C._Upham

Civil War, Cave Dirt, and the Rule of Law

Robert Barton Civil War

Robert Thomas Barton

Robert Thomas Barton was born in Winchester, Virginia, on November 24, 1842, to a life of comfort and security. Robert was one of ten children, consisting of six boys and four girls, born to David and Fanny Barton. Robert’s father prospered from his law practice enabling him to enlarge the size of their residence to accommodate an ever-growing family, as well as numerous slaves and servants.

The Barton residence, itself, was situated on a sizable lot off Market Street which “ran deep, back to the next street providing space for stables and carriage house, the pig sty, coops for birds, laundry house and other outbuildings for vegetable garden and fruit trees.” Located in the center of town, it was a short walk to the courthouse, their father’s law office, and the Episcopal church, which was attended regularly by the family.

Barton Home

Early 20th Century Photo of the Barton House on Market Street in Winchester.

A few miles south of Winchester on the Valley Pike, the family also owned an elegant mansion called Springdale. The splendor of the estate so dominated the neighborhood that the area became known as Bartonsville. Bartonsville was not a town, though, “but a collection of houses around two mills – one near the turnpike, milling wheat, the second, upstream, a woolen factory.” These industries were powered by the waters of Opequon Creek which flowed nearby.

Springdale

Springdale at Bartonsville

Winchester was a community often described as being “closer to the North than to the South.” As a matter of fact, in 1860 most of the residents would have called themselves “Unionists.” As there were fewer slaves per capita in the Shenandoah Valley than in much of the rest of Virginia, the major issue for the populace was not slavery “but states’ rights and the encroachment of federal authority.”

In less than a year, though, the attitudes of the inhabitants of Winchester would be transformed. With their city in the crosshairs of civil war, the vast majority would become ardent secessionists. They would rally to “the cause”, and support the Confederacy, offering up their wealth, their fidelity, and most significantly, their lives.

In June of 1861, shortly after the commencement of hostilities, Robert Barton volunteered. He was just nineteen years of age when he joined his brother, Strother, in Company F of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. The regiment would be attached to a brigade made up of four other regiments, the 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia, in addition to the Rockbridge Artillery. Following the First Battle of Manassas, the unit would be labeled as the Stonewall Brigade in reverence to its commander, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Shortly after joining the regiment Robert Barton became seriously ill, and was discharged for disability within a few weeks of his muster. He would spend the next eight months recovering from this malady and would not be able to rejoin the war effort again until early March of 1862. This time he would enlist as a private in the Rockbridge Artillery, also known as Poague’s Battery. Robert’s brother, David, was already serving in the unit at the time of his muster. Enrolling in time for duty during the McDowell Campaign, he and his brother would serve together for the remainder of Jackson’s Valley Campaign.

At the Battle of First Winchester, on May 25, 1862, Robert fought in the same brigade as his brothers David, Marshall, and Strother. For Robert, though, it was his first combat, and in the course of the fight he experienced several close calls. First, an enemy shell killed two horses as he was trying to tether them to a tree. Then a second round exploded at his feet. Somehow, Robert escaped unscathed.

All told his battery lost three killed, and eighteen wounded out of the eighty-nine men assigned to the battery. It was the highest percentage of casualties of any Confederate Unit on the field. Following the engagement, he tragically stumbled upon the body of his own brother, Marshall, who had been mortally wounded on a hill about one and a half miles from his parent’s house in Winchester.

Jackson’s Valley Campaign would continue to flow up and down the valley. The battery would next be engaged at the Battle of Port Republic. Robert, who had been gravely ill the night before the battle, could barely walk when he awoke the following morning. By five AM, however, Confederate infantry was on the march crossing the South River on a temporary bridge made of sunken wagons and planks. The surgeon, grasping Robert’s “poor condition,” allowed him to ride in an ambulance which would follow closely behind his battery.

On reaching the field of battle Robert had been “lying on the floor of the ambulance and had to roll out quickly from the rear.” He then “took his place with the guns” as they advanced to their first placement. The weapon immediately came under fire from the enemy’s batteries. Barton noted “the excitement of being under fire, seemed, until the fight was over, to be better medicine for me than any surgeon could have prescribed…”

Robert’s artillery piece was moved several times “under heavy fire, seeking each time to get a better place from which we could do more damage to the enemy.” At one-point Robert was asked to “run ahead of the guns and ask the colonel of an infantry regiment lying behind the shelter of a small hill in front of us to move out and let our battery take position there.” The regiment was the 27th Virginia and the commander, Colonel Andrew Grigsby, soon had his men repositioned to make room for the gun.

Port Republic Map

The Hill Mentioned by Barton is Shown on the Map as well as a Stream Named Little Deep Run in which He Took Cover. (Adapted: Krick, Conquering the Valley)

The Battery soon found itself firing briskly at “a large body of Federal infantry that was bravely advancing to charge us, and we were losing men and horses by their rifles.” At this point a portion of the Stonewall Brigade and General Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade “charged the enemy that was advancing upon us and were repulsed with heavy loss and fell back through our guns, thus stopping our fire for the time.”

The enemy troops were soon upon them. The battery was ordered to retreat but with their horses all dead they were forced to make a stand. Their officer, Cole Davis, “ordered us to stand and fire in their faces.” “We could almost tell the color of the eyes of the enemy before we were ordered to cease firing and fall back, leaving the gun to its fate.”

Barton found himself too weak to retreat from the enemy. “Sick, worn out, in the mud and wheat, I could not even run, so I took to the shelter of an apple tree not far from where the battery stood and lying down, tried to protect myself behind it.” Shot after shot struck the tree.” Later that day he counted seven bullet holes in that sapling.

Realizing his position was untenable Robert sought a safer spot. To his front, and closer to the enemy, Robert discerned a ditch that appeared to offer better cover. He “jumped for it, hoping to tumble in and escape the dreadful fire.” His foot “caught in a dewberry bush and he tumbled head long into the ditch, which proved to be nearly full of cold water, accumulated by recent rains.”

The shock of his sudden emersion into the cold water was powerful. Still, Robert knew “to stay in that water was my only chance for escape, so I stayed with my body under the water and only my face above, while the heavy fire of bullets and of our gun which they had turned on the fugitives, swept over me.” Robert remained there until the firing had diminished. He then arose and advanced to the nearest friendly infantry unit situated to his front.

The regiment he approached turned out to be a West Virginia regiment of the Union persuasion, and he was very fortunate not to have been captured. When he finally reached Confederate lines, he discovered his own battery had gone off in pursuit of the retreating enemy. As he drifted through the battlefield a Louisiana Colonel took him for straggler and ordered him placed in a guard house with a sentinel to watch over him. He was subsequently spotted by Captain Poague, upon his return to the battlefield, and ordered released from captivity.

Port Republic was Robert’s last battle. He was sent to the rear on June 12, due to what was described as a “seriously weakened state.” He would “convalesce at Ivy Depot for nearly a month.” Too ill to continue in active service, however, he was soon discharged for phthisis,” or what is now termed pulmonary tuberculosis.

By October of the same year, Robert was still seeking a way to support the war effort in spite of his affliction. He considered several options but was finally mustered into the Nitre and Mining Bureau where he would serve under his uncle, James F. Jones. This would prove to be a most noteworthy assignment.

In his role at the Nitre and Mining Bureau, Robert was assigned to the Staunton area with the rank of agent and placed in charge of nitre production. We have previously discussed how critical the Shenandoah Valley’s pig iron production was to the Confederacy. What few people know, however, is how indispensable the manufacture of nitre from cave dirt was to the Confederate States. Virginia’s western highlands, and the Shenandoah Valley in particular, had an abundance of nitre, or saltpeter caverns. As a result, the Shenandoah Valley helped lead Virginia, as well as all of the other Confederate States, in its production by supplying nearly thirty percent of the South’s supply of saltpeter.

Robert Barton would have been responsible for managing production, transportation, and for making monetary disbursements to his suppliers. His responsibilities would have included several caverns in the Shenandoah Valley, including Clark’s Cave at Fort Lewis, and Weyer’s Cave near Port Republic. As part of his duties with the Nitre Department Robert would “frequently visit the neighborhood of Weyer’s Cave, near to which I had some men engaged in getting dirt out of a cave and extracting nitre from it.”

During one of his visits to the nitre production facility at Weyer’s Cave, Robert took the opportunity to call on a distant relative of his named Samuel Lewis. Mr. Lewis, a Union man at heart, owned a large plantation there known as Lewiston. The mansion is itself located just below and adjacent to the Coaling. It had played a central role in the Battle of Port Republic by serving as headquarters for Union General Erastus Tyler and Colonel Samuel Carroll. Robert had noted in his journal that he had “observed it during the fight and was in the yard in the afternoon of the battle.”

Samuel Lewis showed some animation when the subject of the battle came up in their discussions. He “showed me where a shell from one of our batteries had penetrated the wall of his house and exploding in his china closet, had utterly destroyed his stock of porcelain ware. From the direction from which the shot came, it was very probable that it was fired by my own battery and I told the General so.” Fortunately, Mr. Lewis did not hold a grudge and the incident served as a “theme for jokes at the table that night.”

The following day Robert took the opportunity to cross the battlefield in company with Samuel Lewis. He detected spots “where the hogs had rooted up the dead, and bones and skulls lay thick around. It was then I found again my friendly apple tree and counted the seven bullet holes in it.” The dead still lay upon the field, victims of the deadly missiles the opponents had hurled at each other.

Robert realized that gunpowder had performed its deadly mission there upon the Battlefield at Port Republic. Now it was he who was responsible for procuring one of the critical elements in the production of this substance. Call it what you might, nitre, potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, it was an essential component in the production of gunpowder, and for the continuation of the war effort.

Niter is the mineral form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, also known as saltpeter. It is commonly detected as “massive encrustations and effervescent growths on cave walls, ceilings, and floors.”  Along with sulfur and charcoal, niter is a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder. Each grain of gunpowder is by composition seventy-five percent potassium nitrate, fifteen percent charcoal, and ten percent Sulphur.

Known as cave dirt, or calcium nitrate, when combined with potash during the manufacturing process, potassium nitrate is produced. Virginia caves are known to have been mined for this compound as early as 1740. They had even supplied the substance during both the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

“The dispersed nature of the caves, and their location in remote areas, kept them relatively safe from Union raiders.” The majority of operations were small and were encouraged to remain so by the Confederate Government. It was “largely a cottage industry — the caves were usually worked by mountain folk from small farms with no slaves and who were only marginally loyal to the Confederacy, resulting in a notoriously unreliable work force where absenteeism and desertion were common”

At the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the Confederate states had no organized gunpowder industry. “Though several regions had long produced the primary ingredients — niter, charcoal and sulfur — the entire South had less than 30 tons of powder and no one source that produced more than a few pounds a day when the war started.”

By employing basic procedures outlined by the war department three men could produce up to two hundred pounds of saltpeter every three days. The War Department published a booklet in 1861 called “NOTES ON MAKING SALTPETRE FROM THE EARTH OF THE CAVES.” Major George W. Rains, who was in charge of the Confederate Gunpowder Department, was its author.

Included in the publication was the following: “ARTICLES WANTED TO MAKE SALTPETRE ON A SMALL SCALE. One ordinary iron pot, for boiling; three or four tubs, pails, or barrels cut off; two or three small troughs; sonic coarse bags or a wheelbarrow to bring the earth from the cave, and four strong barrels with one head in each, empty vinegar, whiskey or pork barrels are very good, are about all the articles required for a small saltpetre manufactory. To these, however, must be added some ash barrels to make potash lye, as it is better that this should be made at the same time and place, the ashes from the fire under the pot for boiling assisting in the production.”

“The actual production of niter from cave earth was a relatively simple process that could be done on a small scale using fairly common implements. Workmen (sometimes called “peter monkeys”) excavated the nitrate-bearing earth (”peter dirt”) using various tools such as shovels, mattocks, wooden scraping paddles, hoe-like scrapers, and chisel-shaped bars, the latter needed to obtain material from ledges and cracks and to serve as pry bars.”

Payment for nitre was also described in the pamphlet: “The Ordnance Department, Confederate States, will pay thirty-five cents per pound for all saltpetre delivered before the first of February, 1862, at any of the following points; Capt. W. G. Gill, Augusta, Ga.; C. G. Wagner, Military Store Keeper, Montgomery, Ala.; Lieut. M. H. Wright, Nashville Tenn.; Capt. W. R. Hart, Memphis, Tenn.; Sandford C. Faulkner, Military Store Keeper, Little Rock, Ark., and at Richmond, Va.”

Providing a production facility was capable of producing four hundred pounds of nitre a week the product would have a cash value of $140.00 in 1861 dollars. In today’s money that would be the equivalent of about $4,235.00. That is a tidy sum no matter how you look at it.

The Secretary of War went further stating: “Military commanders are directed and officers of the Niter Bureau are authorized to seize niter in the hands of private individuals who either decline to sell it or ask more than 50 cents per pound for it. Records from the Nitre and Mining Bureau reported that “through 1864 Virginia produced 505,584¼ pounds of niter, accounting for about 29% of the total Confederate domestic supply.”

Cave tally marks

Tally Marks on the Wall of a Shenandoah Valley Cave

One of the unusual facets of saltpeter caves is a feature known as tally marks. At least one of the Shenandoah Valley caves is known to have these designs. Though nobody is certain, “the marks may have been a record of the number of days worked or one man’s production in bags of peter dirt.”

As a point of interest, there were times during the war when saltpeter production from cave dirt slumped due to war related events. A Southern chemist, however, named Jonathan Harrelson, figured out how to craft nitre by extracting it from human urine. I can find no indication that this process was performed in the Shenandoah Valley, but women in some of the South’s larger cities were urged to collect urine from their bedpans. The fluid would then be poured “into a huge truck pulled by a horse around town and they would make potassium nitrate out of it.”

The Selma Sentinel published the following article on the subject on October 1,1863.

The ladies of Selma are respectfully requested to preserve all their chamber lye collected about their premises for the purpose of making Nitre. Wagons with barrels will be sent around for it by the subscriber.
(signed) Jno Haralson
Agent Nitre and Mining Bureau

Southern Belle

Southern Belle \ Yankee Killer

As you can imagine the idea of collecting women’s urine became the subject of a great deal of amusement. Several poems were written poking fun at the practice. Following is the only poem I found which was deemed suitable for reprinting. Several others of a more questionable nature are available on line.

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, you are a wretched creature,
You’ve added to this war a new and awful feature,
You’d have us think while every man is bound to be a fighter,
The ladies, bless their pretty dears, should save their p** for nitre,

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, where did you get this notion,
To send your barrel around the town to gather up this lotion,
We thought the girls had work enough in making shirts and kissing,
But you have put the pretty dears to patriotic pissing,

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, do pray invent a neater
And somewhat less immodest mode of making your saltpeter,
For “tis an awful idea, John, gunpowdery and cranky,
That when a lady lifts her skirt, she’s killing off a Yankee.

Robert Barton 1900

Robert Barton about 1900.

The critical nature of Robert Barton’s new posting can be easily recognized. He would resign his position at the Nitre and Mining Bureau, however, on August 26, 1863, due to his continuing medical condition. Robert would return home following the death of his father, David R. Barton, “to assume family duties and to continue with his recovery from consumption.” He was present at the family residence during the Third Battle of Winchester and was driven from the community during the Confederate retreat. In mid-October of 1864 he traveled to Baltimore where he lived with his sister’s family in order to continue his recovery.

Following the war Robert Barton returned to Winchester and studied law under Richard Parker, the judge that had presided over the trial of John Brown. Robert was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1865. He became one of Virginia’s leading lawyers, serving one term as president of the Virginia Bar Association. He also authored several textbooks on law and its practice.

Robert Barton had a political life as well. He would be elected Mayor of Winchester and serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. He also completed several terms as president of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Winchester. Robert died on January 18, 1917, at the age of seventy-four having lived a life of principle, public service, and self-sacrifice. He is buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in his hometown of Winchester.

https://civilianmilitaryintelligencegroup.com/12836/that-when-a-lady-lifts-her-skirt-she-shoots-a-horrid-yankee-the-story-of-confederate-womens-urine-and-the-manufacture-of-gunpowder

https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/dgmr/civilwar_niter.shtml

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2005/jul/30/20050730-102307-1080r/

https://www.dmme.virginia.gov/commercedocs/VAMIN_VOL47_NO04.pdf

Colt, Margaretta Barton. Defend the Valley. A Shenandoah Family in the Civil War. Orion Books. New York, N. Y. 1994.

Krick, Robert K. Conquering the Valley: Stonewall Jackson at Port Republic. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, N. Y. 1996.

Rains, George W. Making Saltpetre from the Earth of the Caves. Daily Delta Job Office. New Orleans, La. 1861.

Winchester’s Civilian Heroes

Stonewall Jackson seemed undaunted by his defeat. Trotting south along the Valley Pike, just north of Middletown, Virginia, General Jackson passed a group of soldiers preparing their evening meal. Having built a campfire made of fence rails, one of the men called to the General and invited him to join them for their repast. Jackson accepted their offer and sat down with the men to consume the first nourishment he had taken all day.

One of the young men boldly asked: “General, it looks like you cut off more tobacco today than you could chew.” Stonewall turned to the young man and replied, “Oh, I think we did very well.” Strategically, of course, he “did very well.” With his defeat on the battlefield Jackson would succeed in drawing large numbers of troops away from the Union advance on Richmond, and this was exactly what the Confederacy needed at this moment.

Sandie Pendleton, an officer on the staff of General Jackson, declared Kernstown “was a harder fight than Manassas.” Frank Paxton of the Stonewall Brigade wrote home saying: “We had a severe fight to-day and are pretty badly whipped.” Even Jackson knew he had been sternly punished. In less than two hours he had lost one quarter of his army. The fatalities were so severe they would closely parallel the percentage of Confederate losses suffered during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Hotchkiss map Kernstown

Jedediah Hotchkiss’s Map of the First Battlefield of Kernstown.

Union soldiers, who held the field in victory, were ordered to “lay on their arms.” Campfires were prohibited and the misery was compounded when temperatures dipped into the thirties. Cold and wretched, the joyful yells of triumph were quickly drowned out by the mournful cries of the wounded, and the dying, on both sides of the field.

With the rout of Confederate troops, Union ambulances and attendants were tasked with removing the injured from the battlefield. Some Union regiments detached their own search parties to assist with the mission. These men would carry the wounded and maimed, of both sides, from the battlefield and pile them into the wagons. Once completed they would return to the battlefield, locate more of the injured, and retrace their route. Unfortunately, as darkness diminished, the morning light would reveal ever more of the wreckage of war.

The inhabitants of Winchester would similarly make their own observations on the Battle of Kernstown. Cornelia McDonald, who was one of several distinguished Winchester diarists, did just that. On Sunday, March 23, Cornelia noted “the usual annoyance of the enemy in the distance, but as the day wore on it thundered louder and louder and came near and nearer. All the troops left town, and we soon became aware that a battle was being fought very near us.”

mcdonald

Cornelia McDonald

Cornelia noted sometime after “two o’clock in the afternoon the cannon ceased, and in its place the most terrible and long continued musketry firing, some said, that had been heard since the war began, not volley after volley, but one continued fearful roll, only varied in its distinctness by the swaying of the battle.”

Two of Cornelia’s sons, Harry and Allan, received permission in the early morning to go to the top of a nearby hill to ascertain what the commotion was all about. Cornelia had given her consent “thinking of no danger other than occurred every day.” She soon regretted her decision. Cornelia fretted all day fearing for their safety. The boys did not reappear until nine that evening. When they did return “they seemed not like the same boys, so sad and unnatural was their expression.”

To the civilians of Winchester the sounds of the battle were terrifying. Mrs. McDonald’s two boys related many of the details of the battle which they had witnessed. They were “grave and sorrowful; disappointed, too as we had lost the battle, and they had been compelled to see the Southern troops sullenly withdraw after the bloody struggle.” “When the boys told of the retreat their mortification found relief in tears, but they were tears of pity when they told of the wounded.”

Mary Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee, likewise a Winchester resident and diarist, also chronicled her fear and apprehension over the day’s events. She noted: “I could not doubt my own ears, when I heard the din of battle; nor could I believe but that that there were numbers of immortal souls, being hurried into eternity, & that, most probably, some of them were our own soldiers, it might be, friends and acquaintances.” “All sorts of rumors are afloat, amongst the Yankees; some say Turner Ashby is killed, others that he is wounded, & others that Jackson is in full retreat.”

The night was long and most of the residents experienced profound bouts of sleeplessness. Many feared members of their own family had been killed or wounded. “No eyes closed during those nights for the thought of the suffering pale faces turned up under the dark sky, or for the dying groans or helpless cries of those they were powerless to relieve.”

Laura Lee, a Market Street resident, was awakened early on the 24th by her neighbor. Mrs. Barton, with news that the confederates had lost the battle and that many of their neighbors were dead, wounded or prisoners. The women scampered about their homes gathering makeshift bandages, food, and other nourishments. They then scurried off, attempting with varying success to present these items to their brave soldiers.

“Wagons and ambulances filled with the wounded had been coming in all night and all the morning.”  It was noted every available space in Winchester had been converted into a hospital. “The courthouse was full, the vacant banks, and even the churches.” The Farmer’s Bank, and the Frederick County Courthouse next door were filled to overflowing with the injured, the dying, and the dead.

Court House

Drawing of the Frederick County Courthouse.

Cornelia McDonald went to the courthouse herself that morning and observed “the porch was strewed with dead men. Some had papers pinned to their coats telling who they were. All had the capes of their great coats turned over to hide their still faces; but their poor hands, so pitiful they looked and so helpless; busy hands they had been, some of them, but their work was over.”

By mid-day on Monday many of the deceased had been borne away from the courthouse so that others could take their place. Cornelia had gone to the courthouse to provide “refreshments” for the Confederate wounded; not for the Yankees. Still she noted a “long line of blue clad uniforms lay on each side” of her as she passed through the building. One Union soldier regarded her with “sad looking eyes.” Among the items she had brought with her was a pitcher of lemonade. She took the container and “poured it into his mouth with a tablespoon.” He told her: “It is a beautiful drink for a thirsty man.” When Cornelia returned the following day, she would arrive in time to witness the young man’s passing.

Many of the patients at the courthouse were “dreadfully mutilated.” Amputations were being performed on a table beneath the judge’s platform. One of the men Mrs. McDonald was asked to aid had been struck by a ball “on the side of the face, taking away both eyes, and the bridge of his nose.” “The surgeon asked me if I could wash his wound. I tried to say yes, but the thought of it made me so faint that I could only stagger towards the door.” As she exited the building her “dress brushed against a pile of amputated limbs heaped up near the door.” The sight brought Cornelia to her knees.

Laura Lee, who also maintained a diary, stated that before the war “we thought nothing would induce us to enter the hospitals, but we have never thought of having our own troops and their wounded and dying together.” Together with Mary Greenhow Lee they visited the Union Hotel that afternoon and “found everything there in utter confusion. The Yankees had taken over the facility shortly after midnight and converted it into a hospital. It was said the “shrieks & groans had been awful.” Mary located a close friend, George Washington, who had just had his leg amputated. Mary admitted there “was little hope of his recovery.”

By two PM all of the prisoners that were healthy enough to walk were marched down Market Street on their way to the train station. Amongst the prisoners were several close friends and family. Included were Willie and Ranny Barton of the 33rd Virginia Infantry, Robert Burwell of the 2nd Virginia Infantry, and Robert Bell of the Rockbridge Artillery, all Winchester residents. “They were bright & joyous as if they were in a triumphal possession; every one came out to tell them good-bye, & to cheer them, & I found myself hurrahing, with the Loring men for Jeff Davis, in spite of the Yankee Officers by their sides, who heard every word we said to them.” “They had more life & spirits, though prisoners, than any of the Yankees who have been here.” The boys were then transported to prison in Baltimore where they would remain for some time.

That evening Mary Greenhow Lee, a woman who admitted she could barely stomach the sight of Yankees, went once again to the Union Hotel to take care of injured Southern soldiers. “The dead, the dying, the raving Maniac, & agonizing suffering, in its revolting forms, were before us; our men and the Yankees, all mixed together. She found herself “down on the floor, by the Yankees, feeding them.”Mary discovered her humanity in this facility. She found she “could not give to one sufferer, and pass another by in silence.” Mary soon discovered that Union soldiers were very “grateful & humble, & surprised at our taking care of them.”

Mary would be kept awake that night, and for many nights to come, by the scenes she had witnessed. The following day she returned to the Union Hotel. “The poor men are neglected as the doctors are overwhelmed with the numbers of patients they have to contend with.” “The surgeons do not dress their wounds, even once a day, and there is no one to hand them a cup of water, after the ladies leave; they promise things will be better tomorrow;” but they never were.

Mary Greenhow Lee avowed that it “made no difference between Yankees and Rebels, when both were wounded and helpless.” “The dreadful scenes of the day, are before me so vividly, that I fear they will haunt me again to-night.” These thoughts would preoccupy her that night and for many nights to come.

Care for the wounded would continue, seemingly without end. A week after the battle Laura Lee was still reporting multiple daily trips to the Union Hotel. At one point she overheard the surgeons saying “the army has been more demoralized by the kindness which have been shown the wounded than by the battle. They say they are sorry they allowed the women to enter the hospitals.” “When are these horrors to end?”

The horrors would not end any time soon. Mary Greenhow Lee would asserted she was “so tired of the Yankees. They are more unendurable every day & then I so much dread the battle that will have to be fought before they are driven from the valley.”

Unknown to Mary there were many more battles, and unnamed skirmishes, the residents of Winchester would have to endure. The town, itself, would prove to be one of the most contested in the Confederacy. The municipality would change hands more than seventy times during the course of the war, and would earn the reputation of being the “shuttlecock of the Confederacy.”

The Winchester region, itself, would continue as an active theater of war for the next three years. The near constant clashes with the enemy would change the psyches of both the combatants, and the noncombatants. The lives of the Winchester civilians would be forever transformed, and war would not treat them kindly. Though lives would be taken, families broken, prosperities lost, and buildings destroyed, the city would endure. For the survivors, however, their animations would never again reclaim the normality of the antebellum era. They would fight the good fight but, in the end, they would lose all that had been precious to them; except their humanity.

Ecelbarger, Gary. We are in for It! The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862. White Mane Publishing Company Inc.  Shippensburg, Pa. 1997.

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

Robertson Jr., James I. The Stonewall Brigade. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, La. 1963.

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

How an Overindulgence of Applejack Saved Jackson’s Valley Campaign

applejack

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.

hotchkiss photo

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.”

rudes hill map

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.

shenandoah map jackson extended

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.

redbridge

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.”

new market to luray map

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.”

Sources:

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

The Empty Sleeve

Ira Gardner was born in Patten, Maine. The record states the event occurred “about 1843.” The Patten into which he was born was very much a frontier town, located as it was on the northern fringes of Penobscot County. The town itself was incorporated in 1841. Its first church opened its doors that same year, and in 1848 Patten Academy was established to educate its children. Ira would have been one of its first students.

At the time of the Civil War the majority of Patten’s men were employed as farmers or lumbermen. The farmers cultivated potatoes commercially and drove them long distances to market. The lumbermen devoted themselves to harvesting the mature growths of timber that dominated the region. As the majority of Maine’s sawmills were located significantly downstream on the Penobscot River, the town’s convenient access to the East Branch of that same waterway, made Patten a major center for originating log drives.

When the village of Patten decided to organize an Independent Rifle Company in 1858, Ira, who was only fifteen years old at the time, joined the unit. The tiny militia group drilled every week, especially when the weather was favorable and the “blackflies were scarce.” Gardner quickly discovered that he fancied the “soldier’s life” and his enthusiasm soon occasioned a promotion to orderly sergeant. Ira “studied Infantry Tactics” and would later find the “experience and knowledge to be of great value” in his military career.

When Civil War came to the country in April of 1861, Abraham Lincoln made his first call for seventy-five thousand volunteers. Maine’s Governor, Israel Washburn, immediately sent out a plea for volunteers. Due to Patten’s geographic isolation, located more than one hundred miles north of Bangor, the notification took two days to reach the town. By the time the men of the settlement responded, the rolls had been filled, long before the men could reach the rendezvous point at Bangor.

When the second call was made in July, the town’s militia company quickly departed for the front. These volunteers would become Company B of the 8th Maine Infantry. As Ira was an only son, he was “not allowed to go with them.” His parents said he was needed around the home to help with planting, harvests, and daily chores.

Ira persisted though, and continued to nag his parents. “As a boy eighteen years of age with a large share of my comrades at the front, my presence at home became to my parents so uncomfortable that by the month of December they consented for me to enlist and I did so.” Ira’s life would be forever changed.

gardner ira

Captain Ira Gardner

In company with forty other men from his area, Ira left home on December 4th, 1861, making the long journey to the State Capitol in Augusta. Here Gardner was assigned to Company F of the 14th Maine Volunteer Infantry. James Hill was elected Captain of the Company and Ira was appointed, once again, Orderly Sergeant. The regiment’s colonel was Franklin Nickerson of Swanville, Maine. Franklin had been appointed to the position after distinguishing himself at the 1st Battle of Bull Run as an officer in the 4th Maine Infantry.

The 14th Maine was assigned to the XIX Corps of General Ben Butler’s New Orleans Expeditionary Corps. Following an arduous voyage on “the old sailing vessel North America,” the regiment arrived at Ship Island on the Mississippi River on March 8, 1862. When New Orleans fell to Union troops the regiment was ordered to the city and instructed to make camp at Lafayette Park. They would remain encamped there for the next two months. Due to the favoritism shown the unit by the commanding general, however, the regiment would become known as “Butler’s Pets.”

Coinciding with the extreme change in climate, the regiment was quickly devastated by disease. Some three hundred of the Mainers were sent north suffering from a variety of ailments. The places of these men “were filled with paroled rebel soldiers, many of whom has served in the U. S. regular army and some in the English army. They were acclimated and as a rule good soldiers, but some of them were bad characters.” None of them were from Maine.

These Maine infantrymen would spend the next two years “fighting in the bayous.” The unit took part in several expeditions including the ones to Ponchatoula, Sabine Pass, Amite River, and Bonnet Carre. The regiment would also fight at the Battle of Baton Rouge on August 5, 1862. Here the 14th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment would be memorialized as the focal point of the poem, “On the Men of Maine Killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” written by Herman Melville. They would also participate in several deadly assaults during the Siege of Port Hudson between May 24, and July 8, 1863.

————————————

On the Men of Maine Killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Afar they fell. It was the zone
Of fig and orange, cane and lime
(A land how all unlike their own,
With the cold pine-grove overgrown),
But still their Country’s clime.
And there in youth they died for her–
The Volunteers,
For her went up their dying prayers:
So vast the Nation, yet so strong the tie.
What doubt shall come, then, to deter
The Republic’s earnest faith and courage high

Poem by Herman Melville

————————————

The regiment would remain in the deep South until July of 1864. During that month two divisions of the XIX Corps, one of which included the 14th Maine, were ordered to the Bermuda Hundred region on Virginia’s Peninsula. They remained there in the trenches until July 28, when the regiment was sent north in reaction to General Jubal Early’s attack on Washington. Following the Union loss at Second Kernstown, and the burning of Chambersburg, the Maine men were dispatched to support General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah.

There was much skirmishing in the months that followed. On the afternoon of September 18, 1864, while at their camp near Berryville, Virginia, Ira busied himself packing all of his personal baggage onto his “old horse” for safe keeping. He placed responsibility for these possessions in the hands of his trusted body servant, Nathan. Nathan was an ex-slave whom he had brought with him from Mississippi. Ira instructed Nathan to be sure to remain with the regiment’s chaplain as he believed when they bumped into General Early there was going to be a fight. The contest would turn out to be the largest battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley.

General Philip Sheridan’s Army began their march on Winchester early on the morning of September 19th. Their advance along the Berryville Road was slowed by the Sixth Corp, who preceded them, and by a natural constriction along their path known as the Berryville Canyon. Sounds of fighting could be heard in the distance and as they reached Opequon Creek the army’s wounded began to pass through their ranks. Everyone knew what was about to transpire.

When the Nineteenth Corps commander, Major General William Emory, reached the battlefield he began funneling his men off to the right of the Sixth Corps. He placed General Cuvier Grover’s Division on the front line. Grover, who was also a native of the State of Maine, positioned Colonel Jacob Sharpe’s Brigade on the left, and Henry Birge’s on the right. The 14th Maine, which was part of Birge’s Brigade, found themselves in the center of the line. As soon as his troops were in place, Birge ordered them to advance.

3rd winchester map gardner

Map showing Area Ira Gardner’s Brigade Deployed and Where He was Shot.

General John Gordon’s Confederate division of some twenty-six hundred combatants arrived at the Third Battle of Winchester just in the nick of time. Gordon’s men appeared in the Second Woods just as the 19th Corps finished their deployment and began their advance out of the First Woods. Gordon had three brigades in his division. He deployed General Edmond Atkinson’s Brigade on the left of the line, General William Terry’s in the center, and General Zebulon York’s Louisiana Brigade on the right.

3rd winchester birges brigade

Placement of Birge’s Regiments at First Woods.

Gardner wrote: “In Charging across the field we were exposed to heavy fire from the rebel line in the edge of the woods. I had felt all morning that I should be hit, perhaps killed; I had crossed the field, the rebel line had retreated and had gone perhaps fifty feet into the woods, when I was hit.” Ira was leading his company and “was about twenty feet in advance of the line and, expecting some of the men to halt and load their muskets, I turned around and called on them to come on; I was back to the enemy when the bullet struck me.”

When Ira regained consciousness he found “Sergt. Dick Ashton tying a handkerchief around my arm trying to stop the blood. I started to the rear supporting my injured arm by the wrist and had to recross the field over which we had charged, but being in so much agony I almost wished that some of the shells would make an end of me.” “The assistant Surgeon of our regiment about this time met me and taking my left arm, started to assist me to the rear, but after going a short distance the position was so dangerous that he left me and ran.”

bradbury picture

Captain Albert Bradbury of the 1st Maine Battery (Photo: Nicholas Picerno)

Moving on alone Captain Gardner came across the 1st Maine Battery who were currently shooting over the heads of their own troops. “Captain Bradbury came to me as I passed around the battery, gave me a swallow of whiskey and I went on alone.” Soon Ira came to a field hospital which was located near a mill on the banks of Opequon Creek. It was the home of Charles L. Wood.

charles wood house ira gardner

Current Day Photo of the Charles L. Wood Home. (Photo Terry Heder)

The doctor examined Ira and quickly determined that his right arm needed to be amputated. Ira pleaded with the doctor not remove his limb. The doctor responded: “I think I shall have to in order to save your life.” With help of a few drops of chloroform, Ira was out. When he awoke, he impulsively yelled: “Doctor, don’t you take that arm off.” The doctor replied simply: “It’s off.”

Ira spent the night suffering “intensely.” He vomited all night. “The lady of the house came quite often and watched my pulse.” The Captain remembered that that he “bled so much that the bedding under me and my clothing about my right shoulder were wet with blood.” Due in great part to the care Mrs. Wood had given Ira, when the ambulance came for him the next day Ira was able to “walk out through the yard, get into an ambulance and after riding three miles to Winchester, walked up two flights of stairs in an old warehouse” and lay down on an old straw tick on the floor. Before he left the house, though, Ira gave Mrs. Wood a five-dollar gold piece for her kindness.

Ira Gardner’s suffering was not over. It would continue for several months. Ira would eventually be transferred to the Camden Street Hospital in Baltimore to continue his recovery. Here Ira’s mother and father, both of whom had been searching for him for weeks, finally caught up with him. “My mother did not think of her own safety or comfort in a strange city, traveling night and day to reach me and when she did find me, did everything possible for me.”

Ira’s black servant, who had “always been faithful and willing,” came to his bedside while he was recovering in Baltimore. “Massa Cap’n, I don’t tink I wil go Norf any more. I find a culle’d girl who will hab me and I tink I will stay wid her.” Ira knew the time had come to let Nathan go. Ira “bade him good luck and never saw him again.” Nathan, once a slave, then a servant, was free at last.

Following his return home, Ira received a letter, endorsed by Benjamin Butler, notifying him that he had been breveted to Major for his distinguished gallantry at Baton Rouge. In addition, he had been also been breveted to Lieutenant-Colonel for meritorious service at Winchester. A double brevet was an honor and a rarity for a Union soldier.

Life was good to Ira and he profited from his works at home. Like most of his fellow veterans, Ira joined the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR. The GAR was a fraternal organization composed of Union Army veterans. The organization linked men through their experiences in the Civil War. It was one of the first advocacy groups in American politics, “supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, helping to make Memorial Day a national holiday,” In Captain Gardner’s case he was a member of Patton Maine’s E. S. Rogers Post Number 114.

patten gar

1908 Photo of the Members of the E. S. Rogers GAR Post N0. 114 in Patten Maine. Ira Gardner is the Man with the Empty Sleeve, Second from the Left.

For a member of the GAR one of the greatest honors was to become a delegate to one of the organization’s national conventions. For Ira the distinction was offered to him near the thirty-seventh anniversary of his wounding at Third Winchester. More than 30,000 Civil War Veterans would attend the 35th Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Cleveland, Ohio between September 12 and 13, 1901. The attendees would witness one of the “greatest Military Parades in the history of the city.” Among the many attendees were seventy Civil War veterans from Maine, and amongst those was a fifty-eight-year-old veteran named Ira Gardner.

clevelan gar

1901 Grand Army of the Republic Convention in Cleveland, Ohio

Ira spent a couple of extra days in Cleveland and then, in company with his fellow Mainers, took the train for Washington D.C., arriving there on September 16. Early on the morning of the 18th Ira and his wife Helen boarded a train at Union Station bound along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for Harper’s Ferry. A quick transfer and they were on their way to Winchester, Virginia. The two of them, in company with Captain John Saylor, who had been a member of the 5th U. S. Cavalry, all secured rooms at the Taylor House Hotel for the night.

There would be very little rest for Ira, though, as he lay in restless anticipation of the coming day’s adventure. It was said of Ira that he was “spurred by that peculiar desire that comes upon all who have similarly suffered, to again see the spot where death was narrowly missed, Captain Gardner took the first opportunity that came to again visit Winchester.” Accompanied by Captain Saylor, the party awoke early and headed off to examine the battlefield.

taylor house

Taylor House Hotel in Winchester

The three adventurers mounted a buggy and proceeded to the hallowed ground where so many of Ira’s friends had fought. Seven members of the 14th Maine had been killed there, fifty-two had been wounded, and three were never seen again. “An unerring instinct guided Captain Gardner to the house in which he lay that memorable night and he met the same lady who was so kind to him. It Was Mrs. Charles L Wood, and not knowing who her visitors were and being asked to talk of the fight Mrs. Wood related among others the very incident in which the Captain figured and spoke of him as the only one who ever gave her anything.”

Mrs. Wood stated “during the war over three hundred wounded soldiers were put into the house and during their occupancy everything in the house was used or destroyed.” Imagine her surprise when Captain Gardner identified himself to her. Once recovered from the shock, she invited them into the front hall where Ira had lain for the night after his arm was amputated. Ira remembered his “arm had bled very much” and in the morning when he awoke, he found the comforter on which he had lain was “saturated with blood. “There upon the floor, thirty-seven years afterward, the blood stains still shown plainly, having changed the color of the wood so much that the lady said although she had made many attempts to do so, she had been unable to erase them.”

Ira remembered that his arm had been amputated in the yard somewhere near the front door. Mrs. Wood admitted she had watched the procedure from her window. “After the operation she took the arm, wrapped it in cloth and her husband made a box for it and buried it in the yard.” Following the dedication of the National Cemetery in Winchester on April 8, 1866, Charles Wood had dug up the arm and “properly buried it in the cemetery.” There it may still lie.

winchester national cemetery

Maine Section of the National Cemetery in Winchester.

As Mrs. Wood was now sixty-seven. and a widower, Ira Gardner decided to make sure she was “made comfortable and to amply reward her for her tender care of me while in her house which may have saved my life.” Ira “gave her his address and a sum of money with the request that she inform me if she should ever need further assistance.”

“Mrs. Gardner and myself were very much affected by the sights of my blood stains on the floor, as it recalled a night when my life hung in the balance with only a Confederate lady to nurse and care for me. May God bless the good lady.”

I am told that though the house is no longer occupied, Captain Ira Gardner’s bloodstains still reside in that house. As far as the disposition of Ira’s right arm, nobody knows if his bones still occupy a place at the National Cemetery in Winchester. One thing that is sure, the story of that boy soldier from Patten, Maine, and his narrative of courage and sacrifice, is precious and was in need of recounting. Ira Gardner died May 12, 1917. The remaining elements of his body are buried in Patten, Maine.

ira grave

Ira Gardner’s Final Resting Spot in Patten, Maine. (Photo: Cynthia Dalton)

 

The Evening Star, September 19, 1901. Pg. 1. Thanks to Terry Heder of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation for providing a copy of this news story.

Gardner, Ira. Recollections of A Boy Member of Co. I, Fourteenth Maine Vols. From 1861 to 1865. Privately Printed. 1901. Much appreciation to Nicholas Picerno for making a copy of this book available for my research.

Patchan, Scott. The Last Battle of Winchester. Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign. El Dorado Hills, Ca. Savas Beatie. 2013.

 

https://case.edu/ech/articles/g/grand-army-of-the-republic

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/360006563945984995/?lp=true

https://bangordailynews.com/2011/12/12/living/neither-a-sinking-ship-nor-attempted-murder-could-stop-ira-gardner/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_Maine_Volunteer_Infantry_Regiment

https://stonesentinels.com/less-known/3rd-winchester/battle-maps/1140-am/

http://www.online-literature.com/melville/3761/

Tom Telegraph and the Black Knight of the Confederacy

A couple of months ago, while filling up my car at a local gas station, a man approached me after spotting the advertising on the side of my car. He was an elderly man and he asked me several questions about my business. I told him that I specialized in battlefield tours related to Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. Pleased, the gentleman informed me that his great grandfather had been a Civil War veteran. He told me he had fought with the 7th Virginia Cavalry under Turner Ashby. He also advised me that he possessed a few treasured family heirlooms that marked his great grandfather’s service. Among these items was a collection of horsehairs from the mane of Turner Ashby’s stallion, Tom Telegraph. Sadly, I have not had a chance to observe these items for myself. Being familiar with the story, though, I decided to relate an account of the incident in one of my blogs. Please bear with me.

Turner Ashby, to whom I have referred to on several previous occasions, was a native Virginian. He was born on October 28, 1828, near the town of Markham in Fauquier County, which is located outside of the Shenandoah Valley. Ashby preferred wandering the countryside to attending school classes as a youth. In his early twenties he organized a cavalry company known as the “Mountain Rangers.” The troop was repeatedly utilized to put down bouts of civil disobedience, disorder, and wrangles on the part of Irish laborers working on the Manassas Gap Railroad. His rangers even performed guard duty during the trial and execution of John Brown.

Turner Ashby

Turner Ashby

Ashby was widely renowned for his superb horsemanship, and often joined in equestrian tournaments, many of which he won. When war came to the country in 1861, he joined the 7th Virginia Cavalry and was quickly elevated to command. His friend Henry Kyd Douglas once said of him: “Riding his black stallion, he looked like a knight of the olden time, galloping over the field on his favorite war horse.” As his reputation for bravery grew, he quickly became one of the Confederacy’s first heroes. Many would come to refer to him as the “Black Night of the Confederacy.”

On April 1, 1862, with the 2nd Massachusetts in the lead, Colonel George Gordon’s men pushed across Tom’s Brook, driving Turner Ashby’s cavalrymen before them. It was a running fight with Ashby’s men resisting the advance at several places. The line at Narrow Passage Creek, once believed to be impregnable, was quickly broken. The Federal advance drove on, forcing the Confederates up the valley more than nineteen miles, all the way to Edinburg. When Gordon’s troops arrived there, though, the bridge over rain swollen Stoney Creek had been blazing for more than fifteen minutes. No longer traversable, Gordon and Banks’s offensive ground to a halt. Once again Colonel Ashby, though significantly outnumbered, had outsmarted and outmaneuvered his opponent.

The following day General Stonewall Jackson reinforced Ashby’s force on the south bank of Stoney Creek with a number of soldiers from the Stonewall Brigade. The remainder of his command fell back to Rude’s Hill, some two miles south of Mount Jackson. Stonewall’s newly appointed mapmaker, Jed Hotchkiss, had recently endorsed Stoney Creek as an exceptional defensive position for the army. He had also recommended the high ground at Rude’s Hill. Jackson liked the two positions equally and decided to make use of both of them. He determined he would make his headquarters at the base of Rude’s Hill at the home of Reverend Anders Rude. Jackson now had both a secure forward outpost and an easily defendable fallback position.

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Photo of Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters at Reverend Anders Rude Home.

The two adversaries would face off exchanging pyrotechnics for more than two weeks. On one particular day Turner Ashby rode out to reconnoiter the lines with a young aid. The party immediately came under fire from Union troops and his assistant’s horse was shot out from under him. Ashby encouraged the youngster to remove the saddle from his horse and carry it back to their lines. All the while this was transpiring Ashby remained in the saddle under constant enemy fire. Once his aid had concluded his task, Turner turned his mount and trotted back to the safety of his own lines with nary a scratch.

Turner Ashby had a theory about the accuracy of an adversary’s fire. He had always been indifferent to the dangers of enemy musketry, and once told a member of Jackson’s staff “that only stray bullets worried him. He was not afraid of shots aimed directly at him, since Northern riflemen invariably missed their mark. Hence he felt safest sitting quietly in the open.” The question in the minds of his men, though, was how long would this theory hold up in practice?

For some fifteen days the two forces exchanged potshots while glaring at each other across Stoney Creek. The army commander, General Nathaniel Banks, had a plan though, and it was a good one. Colonel Sam Carroll was tasked with taking a one-thousand-man force around Colonel Ashby’s left flank with the objective of getting to Mount Jackson and cutting off the rebel’s retreat. General Shields would thrust his men across Stoney Creek early the following morning and push on to capture the bridges over Mill Creek and the North Fork of the Shenandoah at Mount Jackson. This had to be accomplished before Colonel Ashby could destroy them. The combined forces would then drive on to capture the works at Rude’s Hill with the objective of destroying Jackson’s Army.

Fortunately for the Confederates, Colonel Ashby had become suspicious of the looming Union attack. Jackson’s cavalry, infantry, and artillery had already begun to retire as Banks forces came crashing across Stoney Creek. Jackson had instructed his cavalry commander to fall back if attacked. He had also ordered Major John Harman, his quartermaster, to destroy all train hardware and supplies in Mount Jackson. Ashby had tasked Captain John Winfield, and a dozen of his men, with the job of burning the bridge over the North Fork. If the plot came together as conceived, General Banks and his men would be stranded on the north side of the Shenandoah.

As planned General Bank’s infantry crossed Stoney Creek at three A.M. on April 17th. Ashby’s token force had already begun its retreat up the Valley pike and was helping set fire to the supplies in Mount Jackson.  When Shields’s vanguard reached Mount Jackson at about 7 a.m., his band was playing the National Anthem, and the only Rebels in sight were at the local hospital. The town itself was cloaked in smoke as the railroad cars and engine house were already in flames.

Turner Ashby had kept in front of Shield’s vanguard, and when he reached the bridge over the North Fork, Chew’s Battery and the remaining rebel cavalry were already rattling over the structure to safety. With Winfield’s tiny detail already tearing up the flooring on the bridge, Ashby turned to torching it by setting fire to a pile of tinder and firewood. Everything was properly staged but time was running short.

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Map Showing Turner Ashby’s Ride on Tom Telegraph

Shield’s advance cavalry detachment consisted of four companies, probably a little more than three hundred riders. Captain John Winfield’s force defending the bridge consisted of only a dozen men. Winfield, though, had already formed a defensive line on the south side of the bridge. As Union cavalrymen descended on the crossing Winfield told his men: “Boys, pick your man like a squirrel in a tree and FIRE!”

Several of the Union soldiers were unseated from their mounts but there were far too many of them to be stopped. The two commands collided with each other and fought hand to hand for a brief time. Some of the Union troopers dismounted from their horses and attempted to put out the fire. Their efforts were, by and large, successful.

In the course of the melee, though, four Union cavalrymen charged Turner Ashby who was mounted on his favorite horse, a white charger named Tom Telegraph. There was contact and several pistols were discharged. One of the bullets meant for Ashby grazed his leg and entered Tom Telegraph’s body. The horse remained standing in spite of its wound. If not for the timely appearance of an unnamed rebel trooper, however, who fired a shot than took down one on the Union assailants, and for shots fired by Captain G. W. Koontz and Private Harry Hatcher, Colonel Turner Ashby would have been slain or captured. As it was three of the four attackers were killed while the fourth escaped.

With more Union troopers appearing on the bridge with every passing moment, Colonel Ashby turned his horse in the direction of Rude’s hill, more than a mile in the distance. Ashby spurred his wounded horse and sprinted off at a gallop in the direction of Jackson’s troops on Rude’s Hill. Ashby trailed behind his own retreating troopers and was the last man to escape from the bridge. Union cavalrymen raced after him but were driven off by the discharge of Confederate artillery directed at them from atop Rude’s Hill.  The bridge over the Shenandoah was securely in Union hands; damaged but not destroyed.

Henry Kyd Douglas, who was a witness, would later write about the incident in his book, I Rode with Stonewall. “The bridge was not burned, but where was Ashby? Instantly he was seen to emerge from the bridge and follow his troops. Centaur-like, he and his horse came sweeping over the plain. They were soon with us. Having borne his master with unabated spirit until danger was over, Ashby’s splendid stallion sank to the ground, dappled with foam of heat and suffering; his wound was mortal. The big-hearted Cavalier bent over him, stroked his mane, stooped down and gazed affectionately into his eyes, and the excitement of the last hour was swallowed up in his sorrow for his dying companion. Thus the most splendid horseman I ever knew lost the most beautiful war-horse I ever saw.”

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Turner Ashby Mounted on Tom Telegraph.

Turner Ashby was forced to put his horse out of its misery. It was thought the assailant’s bullet that struck him had entered the horse’s lungs. The horse had ridden that last mile on its last breath of air. Rebel relic hunters are said to have plucked the hairs from the mane and tail for souvenirs. Someone even hacked off one or more of the hooves belonging to Tom, one of  which now sits in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Such was the fate of Tom Telegraph.

Turner Ashby, himself, had a little more than a month and a half left to test his theory on the accuracy of Union rifle fire. The Knight of the Confederacy would perish from its effects on June 6, 1862, at the Battle of Good’s Farm while leading infantry on foot. His last words were “’Charge, men! For God’s sake. Charge!.’” “He was waving his sword when a bullet pierced him in the breast and he fell dead.”

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Battle of Good’s Farm June 6, 1862 where Turner Ashby was Killed.

“The hoof from Confederate General Turner Ashby’s white horse, ‘Tom Telegraph’, has been memorialized with an inscription, presumably hand-written by the local druggist, which notes that the animal was shot and killed ‘near New Market, Va. on Valley pike’ during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. Affixed to the side of the hoof is a romantic rendering of Ashby in cape and plumed hat that captures the general’s nickname, “‘Knight of the Valley.'”

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Tom Telegraph’s Hoof

Cozzens, Peter. Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 2008.

Gwynne, S. C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. New York: Scribner. 2014.

Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Co Inc. 1976.

https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/media_player?mets_filename=evm00001631mets.xml

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turner_Ashby

https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/civil-war/confederate-cavalryman-turner-ashby/