Tomb of the Known, and Unknown

In his official report on the Battle of Front Royal, which took place on May 23, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson recounted the events of that day. “About 2 PM the enemy’s pickets were driven in by our advance, which was ordered to follow rapidly. The First Maryland Regiment, supported by Wheat’s battalion of Louisiana Volunteers, and the remainder of Taylor’s brigade, acting as a reserve, pushed forward in gallant style, charging the Federals, who made a spirited resistance, driving them through the town and taking some prisoners.”

Colonel John R. Kenly, of the 1st Maryland Union, commanded Front Royal’s meager defense force. Attending him were nearly a thousand infantrymen, a small cavalry detachment, and a two-gun section of rifled artillery. With this small force he had been tasked with defending General Nathaniel Banks’ left flank, the town of Front Royal, the Manassas Gap Railroad, and the bridges over the Shenandoah River. It was a tall order for so small a band of combatants.

General Jackson’s army actually outnumbered Kenly’s by nearly fifteen to one. Unfortunately, though, when the battle began the majority of his forces was strung out along narrow, winding roads for more than ten miles. The main body of Jackson’s legion would approach Front Royal from the south along the very constricted Gooney Manor Road. As a result, Jackson was forced to add weight to his attack, piecemeal, as regiments materialized. Stapleton Crutchfield’s role in the success of Jackson’s attack would be critical.

Stapleton Crutchfield was born in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on June 21, 1835. He had attended Virginia Military Institute at Lexington where he studied under Thomas Jackson. Graduating in 1855, Crutchfield stayed on at VMI as an instructor of mathematics and tactics and early in the war served as interim superintendent. It was here that Jackson and Crutchfield had cemented their friendship. On April 21, 1862, Stapleton was asked to serve on Stonewall Jackson’s staff as chief of artillery.

As artillery chief, Colonel Crutchfield had watched as the 1st Maryland Infantry, Southern, began pushing its way through the streets of Front Royal. Union forces had fallen back quickly to the high ground north of town along Richardson’s Hill. Crutchfield knew he had to bring his artillery to bear quickly and searched to find an elevated position from which to provide support. It did not take him long to select Prospect Hill.

crutchfield

Stapleton Crutchfield

Singling out one of General Richard Ewell’s batteries, Crutchfield ordered it to follow him to the top of Prospect Hill. On arrival, however, he discovered the battery he had selected was not adequate for the job. Unfortunately, each of the guns lacked the range to reach the Union artillery position on Richardson’s Hill, which was more than a mile and a half away. Crutchfield noted in his official report: “It so happened that the first of our batteries which reported to me consisted of smooth-bore 6 pounder and 12-pounder howitzers, and had therefore to be ordered aside.”

Crutchfield needed rifled guns to reach a target at this range. The problem was he had no idea where to find them. Colonel Crutchfield had known all morning that Ewell’s Division was going to lead the attack and yet he made no attempt to find out what type of guns he had at his disposal. One might ask what he was doing during that five-hour delay instigated by General Jackson while he waited for the 1st Maryland Infantry, Southern, to march from the rear of the army to the front so they could lead the attack on Front Royal?

Colonel Crutchfield “at once sent back to order up all the batteries of Major-General Ewell’s division, which was in front, while I proceeded in person to reconnoiter the ground to the left of the enemy’s position, with a view to planting our own guns. The division of Major-General Ewell had only joined us a day or so previous, and I was, therefore, unfamiliar with the composition of his batteries, which I afterward found to contain but three rifled guns in all. Guns of this kind were necessary, on account of the nature of the approaches to the enemy’s position, and also because their guns were found to be rifled.”

Front royal artillery

Map of the Battle of Front Royal Showing the First and Second Artillery Positions

This lack of initiative by Crutchfield on researching the tools available to him would have a major impact on the fighting. “The next battery which came up, that of Captain Courtney, contained but one rifled gun, which was put in position, under charge of Lieutenant Latimer, and exchanged shots with the enemy, though it was, of course, unequal to the task of silencing their guns.” General Jackson himself finally ordered “up every rifled gun and every brigade of the army.”

Crutchfield’s selection of favorable ground for the positioning of artillery proved to be deficient as well. Target distance, even with descending fire, was just too extreme. Lieutenant Samuel J. Simpson, a native of Front Royal, soon signaled Crutchfield that he knew a more favorable position much closer to their target. “Simpson was familiar with a path, concealed by woods, that would lead them around the western end of town to an elevation much closer to Federal lines.” The ridge to which he directed the Confederate artillery was the high ground upon which Randolph Macon Academy currently stands. By 3:30 in the afternoon a section of Confederate rifled cannons was finally positioned and ready for use.

Colonel Crutchfield described the positioning of these guns in his report. “After a short time, Captain Brockenbrough’s battery came up, and two of his guns having been planted and opened on the enemy, a brisk cannonade of some ten or fifteen minutes was kept up, with no injury to ourselves and no apparent damage to the enemy. At the end of this time the opposing battery drew off and the enemy began his retreat.” Southern artillery had finally pulled its weight.

“Both of the guns of the enemy, with their two caissons, were captured by our cavalry together with seven battery horses and three sets of artillery harness. The harness was turned over to Captain Cutshaw. One gun and caisson were given to Captain Poague in lieu of a 4-pounder rifled gun belonging to his battery, and the remaining gun and caisson to Captain Brockenbrough, to replace one of his Blakeley 12-pounder guns, which had an assembling-bolt in the cheek broken by the strain on its carriage during the firing. Both the captured pieces were 10-pounder Parrott rifles.”

Opinions of Crutchfield’s performance, both on this battlefield as well as many others, varied. Lieutenant Campbell Brown, who was an aid to General Richard Ewell, thought him “competent but lazy”. A recent writer has opined that “Jackson tolerated Crutchfield’s tendency to sleep late because of his abilities.” Crutchfield’s “abilities” were not always evident, however, and were certainly lacking during the Battle of Front Royal.

It was fortunate for General Jackson that his mounted troops were equal to the task of tackling the 1st Maryland Infantry. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy, commanding four companies of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, would charge Kenly while he was in process of retreating. Kenly’s command would be decimated with nearly all of his men being either killed, wounded, or captured. In total six hundred and ninety-one of his men were apprehended.

Front Royal 2

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy’s Attack on Kenly at Fairview Plantation.

At Midnight on the 23rd Captain Thomas Saville of Company B, 1st Maryland Infantry, reported to General Banks that “Colonel Kenly is killed. Lieutenant-Colonel, adjutant, and all the rest of commanding officers First Maryland Regiment taken prisoners. Regiment cut to pieces and prisoners.”

Most of what Saville reported was true. Colonel Kenly was critically injured. Reports of his death, however, were incorrect. John Reese Kenly would be captured by his attackers, but would survive his injuries. Following his exchange and subsequent recovery, he would rejoin the army and be promoted to Brigadier General.

Prospect Hill Cemetery

The Soldier’s Circle at Prospect Hill

Though there were no known Confederate casualties on Prospect Hill, the site has always been considered hallowed ground. On November 7, 1868 the Ladies’ Warren Memorial Association was chartered. It would be their mission to collect the remains of Confederate dead that had been buried in various locations throughout Warren County. The ladies would then rebury these soldiers in a circular lot atop Prospect Hill which would soon be known as the “Soldier’s Circle.” The chore of finding and transporting the bodies required a great deal of labor and expense, and money was especially difficult to acquire during the post war era in the Shenandoah Valley.

The remains of two hundred and seventy-six soldiers, representing every state in the Confederacy, were buried on the uppermost crest of the hill. Ninety soldiers were identified and placed in separate graves. Each of these graves was bedecked with a marble headstone in the “Soldier’s Circle.” The remains of one hundred and eighty-six unknown soldiers were interred in a common grave in the center of the ring. On Aug. 24, 1882, fourteen years after the effort was begun, an eighteen-foot-high monument was erected over them.

These soldiers here lie in peace, both known and unknown, upon the edges of a battlefield once part of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign. As the “known” are remembered so are they all. A memorial service is held on May 23rd of each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Front Royal, to honor the sacrifice of these soldiers.

Prospect Hill from Satelite

Satellite view of Prospect Hill

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PART I.-Reports, ETC.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PART III.-CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Campaigns and Commanders Series). University of Oklahoma Press.

 

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

Banks’ Fort or Folly

By early April of 1862, shortly after the First Battle of Kernstown, General Nathaniel Banks was finally of the opinion that his army was ready to go on the offensive against his opponent, Stonewall Jackson. Banks was a very cautious man, a lot like his boss General George McClellan. During this interim period supplies had been scarce and his men had been forced to live on half rations. Many of his soldiers had not even been supplied with proper shoes. Conditions had steadily improved, however, and the Union commander finally felt he was ready to move his twenty-thousand-man army up the Shenandoah Valley in pursuit of his foe.

Nathaniel Banks

Major General Nathaniel Banks

In his elevated state of cautiousness General Banks continued to stress over the idea of being able to make a strong defense if necessitated by circumstance. The further Banks advanced into the Shenandoah Valley the more he pondered the idea of having a strong fallback position should his offensive fail. Fortunate or not, there were other people on his staff who were feeding his caution.

While Banks was headquartered at the Hupp House in Strasburg, Captain Edward B. Hunt, who was an engineer in Banks command, informed Banks that it was his “opinion that a strong defense would be appropriate as well.” Hunt explained that he had examined maps of the Shenandoah Valley and that “only two positions need to be occupied by defenses, viz, the hill north of Strasburg and the most eligible point northwest of Front Royal.” These were just the things the general wanted to hear.

Hunt went further to state: “The hill north of Strasburg has so effective a command over the roads, the railroad, and town, and would afford so much security to a depot of supplies, &c., at Strasburg, that I have staked out the lines of a field fort on it, and have indicated to Captain Mason and to Mr. Douglass (who is engaged to report to you for its construction) all the essentials for making it what is needed.” The construction at Strasburg, of what would be known as Banks’ Fort, was soon begun.

Hupp House

The George Hupp House at Strasburg.

A copy of the layout of the fort, and associated defenses, exists and is in safekeeping at the Strasburg Museum at 440 East King Street. The museum does not open for the season until May 1, but is well worth a visit to see these plans, as well as their many other exhibits. In lieu of a copy of the actual plans, the best description of Banks’ Fort comes from the Official Records. “The earthworks rose between a creek and road due north of Strasburg, one thousand feet west of the Valley Pike. Directly across the east side of the pike from Banks Fort were General Banks’s quarters at the George Hupp house.”

The Hupp house had been built about 1755, and was the home of one of the first settlers in the Shenandoah Valley. The limestone structure had been used as a fortress against Indian attacks early on in its history. The one-hundred-year-old house would serve as military headquarters several times during the Civil War housing such leaders as Stonewall Jackson, James Shields, Philip Sheridan, and, of course, Nathaniel Banks. Portions of the original structure still stand today.

It had taken him twenty-five days, but by April 17 General Banks and his army were ready to begin their offensive in earnest. Banks’ army had reached Mount Jackson by seven AM that morning and in a matter of hours, they had captured the town and the bridge over the Shenandoah. Soon his troops had crossed the river and were formed into line, preparing to assault General Jackson’s Army who were entrenched along Rude’s Hill. About noon he advanced his men only to find that Jackson had abandoned the position without a fight.

Banks Advance

Banks Advance to Mount Jackson Through April 17, 1862.

General Banks continued his slow advance to Harrisonburg while Jackson withdrew his army south and then east. Stonewall crossed the South Fork of the Shenandoah along the bridge at Conrad’s Store and then continued on to Swift Run Gap. Here he dug in. With his back to the pass over the mountain, he was able to maintain a strong defensive position while at the same time protecting an emergency escape route.

Banks would remain at New Market for five days. By the 19th he had sent a notification to Secretary Stanton stating “Jackson had left the valley.” He reported he had left “by way of the mountain, from Harrisonburg toward Stanardsville and Orange Court-house, and Gordonsville” all of which was confirmed by his scouts and prisoners.

Banks at Harrisonburg

Map Showing Banks and Jackson’s Positions on April 23, 1862.

The general it seemed had been deceived. None of what Banks was describing was true. It was Jackson’s intent to remain at Conrad’s Store and thereby threaten Banks’ left flank. If his army should continue to push up the valley toward Staunton Jackson could easily attack him in the rear. In keeping with his cautious nature, Banks decided holding his current position at Harrisonburg was his best option.

General Banks spent the next several days making himself comfortable at Harrisonburg. On April 27, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent a message to the Major General asserting concern that his army was “pushed too far in advance of your support, so as to receive a surprise or sudden blow.” General Banks advance was at Mount Crawford which was a few miles north of Staunton. At the time of the communication Banks had two brigades posted at Harrisonburg in addition to six hundred cavalry and two artillery batteries.

While Jackson had secured his army across a pass in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Swift Run Gap, General Banks was of the opinion that he was “waiting for reinforcements and planned to make a stand there.” In reality Jackson was devoting his time to resolving disciplinary issues with his cavalry commander, Turner Ashby, and trying to determine what his army should do next. It was always Jackson’s aim to assume the offensive.

On the following day Secretary Stanton transmitted a second message to General Banks. He asked him to “consider whether you are not already making too wide a separation between the body of troops under your immediate command and your supporting force. It is possible that events may make it necessary to transfer the command of General James Shields to the Department of the Rappahannock.” At the time of the communiqué General Shields’ division was located about half way between Harrisonburg and New Market. His division was positioned so as to protect the army’s rear should the Confederates attempt to press through New Market Gap, thereby cutting the Union army’s supply lines and avenue of retreat.

General Banks had posted two infantry regiments and roughly one hundred cavalry along the road to Conrad’s Store to act as scouts. General John Hatch, Banks’ cavalry commander, utilized this force in an attempted reconnaissance in force in that direction on the 27th. This “resulted in obtaining a complete and satisfactory view of the enemy’s position. Two of our own men were wounded by accident, one mortally. Five of the enemy were killed and 5 wounded in the skirmish.”

On the 28th of April Banks notified Stanton that the “enemy is in no condition for offensive movements and nothing can prevent our troops from joining the main body in safety if attacked.” Further, “a negro employed in Jackson’s tent came in this morning, and reports preparation for retreat of Jackson today.” “You need have no apprehensions for our safety.”

In a second message sent that very same day General Banks informed Stanton: “If Jackson retreats from his present position there is no reason for our remaining longer in this valley. If he does not we can compel his retreat or destroy him.” “If no force is in the valley except at Strasburg the enemy will not return. The whole of my command can move from New Market to Madison by the mountain road, which is the best turnpike in Virginia, at three days notice, from which we can occupy Culpeper Courthouse, Orange Courthouse, or Gordonsville, joined by General Abercrombie. The enemy will then be expelled from the whole of this region.”

Early on the morning of the 30th Colonel Turner Ashby, himself, led an advance on the Union army at Harrisonburg. Ashby’s movement included “infantry, cavalry, and artillery.” From an observation post high above the Shenandoah Valley on Massanutten Mountain Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s famed map maker, watched Ashby’s advance and noted: “We saw plainly the enemy’s encampments around and below Harrisonburg but no movement was made to meet our advance.”

On the same day as Ashby’s reconnaissance Banks expressed the opinion, based on consultation with his officers, that “there is nothing more to be done by us in the valley. Nothing this side of Strasburg requires our presence. Fortifications, now finished, were planned by Captain John Hunt to protect our lines below with a small force.” The movement there “will enable you to concentrate our forces there whenever you desire.” “I am now satisfied that it is the most safe and effective disposition possible for our corps.” Banks’ Fort at Strasburg had been completed.

Nathaniel Banks was also certain the situation in Jackson’s army was extremely desperate. He told Stanton that rebel forces at Gordonsville “were far less than represented in newspapers – not more than 20,000 at outside. Jackson’s army reduced, demoralized, on half rations. They are all concentrating for Richmond.” This intelligence was also incorrect and, as such, would have a major impact on Jackson’s Valley Campaign and upon the Union Army itself.

As the northern General was penning this dispatch, however, General Jackson’s army had been tasked with a mission and could be found slogging through the mud on their way to Port Republic. Their final destination, however, was known to only one man, and that was Stonewall Jackson himself. Jedediah Hotchkiss recorded in his diary that the “rain was falling in torrents and the mud was very deep.” “Many of the army wagons, following them, mired in the mud and quicksands.” There was nothing that could deter Jackson when he had decided on a course of action, not even bottomless roads of mud.

General Banks opinions apparently carried some weight. On May 1, he received instructions, communicated through Edwin Stanton, that “the president directs that you fall back with the force under your immediate command to Strasburg, or such other point near there as will be convenient for supplies and enable you to hold the passage along the valley of the Shenandoah. General Shields will receive orders within a day or two to pass with his division into the Department of the Rappahannock.”

By May 4, Banks had been made aware that General Jackson was moving his army in the direction of Port Republic. He was a full four days late in this discovery though. They believed his destination to be either Staunton or Waynesboro. Banks assumed if Jackson was headed to Staunton then his plan was to join General Edward Johnson and attack Milroy. In this assumption he was exactly correct. One is left to wonder, however, why he did not take the opportunity to attack his outnumbered opponent.

The following day Banks began to have second thoughts about dividing his army. He wrote: “I do not think it possible to divide our force at this time with safety. The enemy is largely re-enforced by Ewell’s division. He has three brigades of infantry and one of cavalry, estimated at 12,700. It is probably less, but still a very material increase. He is near the bridge; Jackson 5 miles above, near Port Republic.”

On May 6, General Banks withdrew his army to New Market. Banks had received information that General Ewell was moving his army north on the east side of Massanutten Mountain to attack Columbia Bridge. Banks noted he had taken precautions to prevent that movement.

On the day after Jackson’s victory at McDowell, May 9, General Banks received a reminder from Secretary Stanton that his position at New Market was not compatible with the orders he had received. “New Market seems somewhat distant to fall within the meaning of the order.”

General Banks lingered at New Market for several more days. On May 10, he reported to Secretary Stanton that he was going to remain at New Market until the twelfth. General Shields, who had been ordered to join General McDowell, had requested the army remain united until he was ready to march. Banks did say he would “reach Strasburg Tuesday morning, or immediately if required.” Both of the commanders believed there was safety in numbers.

Union army forces divided on the morning of the twelfth. General Shields’s division departed for Catlett’s Station, while Banks, with the remaining force, departed for Strasburg. By the end of the day Banks had reached Woodstock. At the time he very accurately estimated that Jackson’s army, when combined with General Richard Ewell’s Division, would number about seventeen thousand combatants. He was wrong, though, in reporting that Jackson was at Stanton. Jackson was actually at McDowell, having called off his pursuit of General Milroy’s forces following his victory there.

By nine P.M. on May 13, Banks was convinced Jackson was at Harrisonburg. Jackson would not actually reach that location until six days later. The intelligence Banks was in receipt of was obviously inaccurate. Still, the general would reach Strasburg on this very morning and slide into his prepared defensive position. Banks had left his rear guard at Woodstock to watch for the anticipated advance of Jackson’s Army.

Banks Fort Map

Map showing Position of Banks’ Fort at Strasburg.

Confederate forces began to press on the Federal Army’s rear almost immediately. Turner Ashby reported on May 16 that he had three companies below Mount Jackson. In a communication written that day he “thought it best not to leave this road until I had followed down their column as far as Strasburg, so as to cause them to believe you were behind them upon this road.” This would give General Banks the impression that Jackson intended to attack Strasburg directly along the Valley Pike. In actuality no firm decision had been made as to when or where he would attack.

By the 16th Jackson had communicated with Ewell. “It may be necessary for me to follow you through Luray and cross the Shenandoah at Front Royal, but this cannot be determined upon until we know what the enemy is doing. See whether you can get enough boats, &c., to build a bridge at Front Royal.” In Jackson’s characteristically secretive way, he told Ewell; “Do not breathe this plan to any one.”

Banks fort market

Marker at Strasburg Dedicated to Banks Fort.

On May 20th General John Freemont, whose army was located in the mountains west of the valley, notified Banks that Jackson had passed the “Shenandoah Mountain and is reported going toward your front.” In reality Jackson had reached Tenth Legion, south of New Market on the Valley Pike. He was currently in the process of combining two Rebel armies into one. His objective was not any particular town, but the destruction of Banks’s Army.

General Joseph Johnson notified General Ewell that “if Banks is fortifying near Strasburg the attack would be too hazardous. In such an event we must leave him in his works. General Jackson can observe him and you come eastward.” In fact, General Banks was spending his time at Strasburg improving his defenses. The cavalry activity in his front gave every indication that his position would soon be directly challenged. Very little thought was given to his other vulnerabilities.

Front Royal Battle

 

Situation on May 22, as Jackson was Poised to Attack Front Royal.

On May 22nd General Banks once again reported that he was aware that Jackson’s army numbered about sixteen thousand men. Banks himself had five thousand infantrymen, sixteen hundred horse soldiers, and sixteen cannons. Banks complained, “We are compelled to defend at two points, both equally accessible to the enemy.” One thousand of his men were at Front Royal, the first of the defense points, along with a few cavalry.  A few of his infantry battalions were scattered along the railroad between Front Royal and Strasburg. The bulk of his forces, however, were dug in at Banks Fort.

On the twenty-second, Banks informed Secretary Stanton he believed Jackson was closing in on him and was within twenty-five miles at New Market. He also maintained that General Ewell, however, was still at Swift Run Gap, nearly sixty miles from his Front Royal garrison. Banks would soon learn how erroneous his intelligence was.

Banks Fort.png

Post War Photo of Banks Fort

The daytime hours of May 23rd created a great deal of uncertainty in the Union commander’s mind. As early as 4:00 PM a rider from the 5th New York Cavalry had notified Banks at Strasburg of the ongoing action at Front Royal. At first Banks believed that the fighting there was a feint. He believed the main attack was yet to befall him at Strasburg.

By early evening, though, Banks had received information demonstrating that Colonel Kenly’s command at Front Royal had been destroyed. Indications were that General Jackson’s whole command had compromised his left flank. Banks had been outgeneraled and outflanked. He was left with no choice but to order a retreat to Winchester.

Banks’ retreat along the Valley Pike would be seriously contested by Jackson’s Army on May 24. Early on the morning of the 25th, though, following a brief fight on the outskirts of the town, the contest would go badly for the Union army. Union forces were soon retreating through the streets of Winchester and north along the Valley Pike toward Martinsburg. His fight at the First Battle of Winchester, and subsequent retreat, would cost General Banks more than one third of his command.

Banks had inhabited his fort for just ten days. Jackson’s attack on Front Royal had forced him to abandon Strasburg, and his garrison, without a fight. Though the defensive works there would be manned periodically by both Union and Confederate troops during the war, the stronghold would never witness any serious combat. One hundred and fifty-six plus years later close examination of the hill, however, still shows evidence of its construction. It must be stated though, its remains are a monument to General Nathaniel Banks’ caution and Stonewall Jackson’s superior tactics and aggression.

Modern Banks Fort

Current Photo Showing Hill Where Banks’ Fort was Positioned.

 

Sources:

 

Ecelbarger, Gary. Three Days in the Shenandoah: Stonewall Jackson at Front Royal and Winchester (Campaigns and Commanders Series) (p. 22). University of Oklahoma Press.

 

Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Southern Methodist University Press. Dallas, Texas. 1988.

 

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. SERIES I—VOLUME XII—IN THEEE PARTS. PARIT III.-CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Two Weeks in the Valley

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee

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

Fillebrown

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

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

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

Beal1

Colonel George L. Beal (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

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

10th Maine Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical College

Winchester Historical Panel Marking the Location of the Medical College

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

Julia Chase

Sketch of Julia Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

first winchester

Map of the Battle of 1st Winchester

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

Gould

John Mead Gould (Collection of Nicholas Picerno)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winchester National Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.