A Georgia Volunteer!

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marker for the Unknown Soldiers at McDowell, Virginia

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

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

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

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

Ed Beyers painting of Stribling Springs 1858

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

Mary Ashley Townshend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Protective Structure for the fount at Stribling Springs.

A Georgia Volunteer

Far up the lonely mountain-side

My wandering footsteps led;

The moss lay thick beneath my feet,

The pine sighed overhead.

The trace of a dismantled fort

Lay in the forest nave,

And in the shadow near my path

I saw a soldier’s grave.

The bramble wrestled with the weed

Upon the lowly mound;

The simple head-board, rudely writ,

Had rotted to the ground;

I raised it with a reverent hand,

From dust its words to clear,

But time had blotted all but these–

“A Georgia Volunteer!”

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

I saw the toad and scaly snake

From tangled covert start,

And hide themselves among the weeds

Above the dead man’s heart;

But undisturbed, in sleep profound,

Unheeding, there he lay;

His coffin but the mountain soil,

His shroud Confederate gray.

Yet whence he came, what lip shall say–

Whose tongue will ever tell

What desolated hearths and hearts

Have been because he fell?

What sad-eyed maiden braids her hair,

Her hair which he held dear?

One lock of which perchance lies with

A Georgia Volunteer!

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!

What mother, with long watching eyes,

And white lips, cold and dumb,

Waits with appalling patience for

Her darling boy to come?

Her boy! whose mountain grave swells up

But one of many a scar,

Cut on the face of our fair land,

By gory-handed war.

What fights he fought, what wounds he wore,

Are all unknown to fame;

Remember, on his lonely grave

There is not e’en a name!

That he fought well and bravely too,

And held his country dear,

We know, else he had never been

A Georgia volunteer.

Roll, Shenandoah, proudly roll,

Adown thy rocky glen,

Above thee lies the grave of one

Of Stonewall Jackson’s men.

Beneath the cedar and the pine,

In solitude austere.

Unknown, unnamed, forgotten, lies

A Georgia Volunteer!




Official Records of the Civil War.

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

Blue Eyed Child

Brigadier General William Taliaferro commanded some 1,800 Confederates inside the fort with units from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. Union artillery from shore batteries, and cannons from Rear Admiral John Dahlgren’s fleet had pounded the Confederate stronghold for hours in preparation for the assault.  Notwithstanding the intensity of the shelling, only a small number of defenders had been neutralized during the “nine-thousand shell bombardment.”

Attacking the fort, however, meant advancing up a narrow strip of land so slender only one regiment could attack at a time. The topography would prevent Union forces from effectively employing their superior numbers. The approach also lacked cover, making any attacking force an easy target for the guardians. In addition to the defender’s rifles, the fortress also had artillery positioned to repel a ground attack and added weapons support was available from nearby battlements.

More than five thousand Union Army soldiers began marching toward Battery Wagner in the early morning hours of July 18, 1863. The effort was spearheaded by a black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, and supported by the 6th Connecticut, 9th Maine, 3rd New Hampshire, 48th New York, and 76th Pennsylvania. Putnam’s and Stevenson’s Brigades were to provide additional support if needed.

The 54th approached the fort in the late afternoon and stayed out of range for a night assault. When the time came Robert Gould Shaw led his men into battle, shouting “Forward, Fifty-Fourth, forward!” “The 54th crossed the moat and scaled the muddy hill of the outer wall. With the cessation of the naval bombardment the largely intact Confederate garrison left their bomb-proofs and resumed their positions on the walls. In the face of heavy fire, the 54th hesitated. Shaw mounted a parapet and urged his men forward but was shot through the chest three times.” “Witness testimony of the unit’s Color Sergeant noted that his death occurred early in the battle, and he fell on the outside of the fort.”

Assault on Fort Wagner (Kurz and Allison 1890)

A reporter with the Salem Register wrote… “the men moved steadily amid a buzz and whirl of shell and solid shot, until within some three hundred yards of the fort. We could notice the ominous silence that preceded the storm; for a moment Wagner, Sumter, and Johnson were silent – then bang – zip zip – thud – crack went the most terrific discharges of musketry, grape, canister, solid shot, and every description of ammunition into our ranks, over our ranks, and through our ranks.”

Upon reaching the top, Confederate soldiers engaged the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. “In these climatic moments, the 54th suffered roughly 42% casualties. Of the 600 men engaged, 270 were killed, wounded, or captured during the engagement. Col. Shaw was killed, along with 29 of his men; 24 more later died of wounds, 15 were captured, 52 were missing in action and never accounted for, and 149 were wounded.” Fighting continued for several hours but Union troops were only briefly able to enter Fort Wagner itself. In the early hours of July 19, Federal troops withdrew, and the fierce mêlée was over.

Heroics exhibited by Shaw and his black troops were of course the subject of a 1989 movie called Glory. The movie would receive four academy awards including Best Supporting Actor for Denzel Washington. The battle for Fort Wagner, however, was not Shaw’s first fight. Robert had initially volunteered as a member of the 7th New York Militia and had rushed off to Washington to aid in the defense of the city. On May 28, 1861, however, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Company H of the 2nd Massachusetts’s Infantry. Over the next year and a half, Shaw would fight with his fellow Massachusetts soldiers at the Battles of 1st Winchester, Cedar Mountain, and Antietam. He would serve both as a line officer in the field and as a staff officer for General George H Gordon. 

Robert Gould Shaw

In late February 1862 Union troops moved into the Shenandoah Valley for the first time. On the morning of March 12, General Nathaniel Banks’ army forced Confederate soldiers under the command of General Stonewall Jackson out of Winchester. Local diarist Cornelia McDonald noted that she “tried to be calm and quiet, but could not, and so got up and went outside the door. Sure enough that music could not be mistaken, it was the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ that was played.” The Yankees had taken the town and barely a shot had been fired.

Coincidentally, Winchester native Cornelia McDonald, lived next door to the James Mason residence known locally as Selma. Early one March morning she observed “a U.S flag streaming over Mr. Mason’s house. Found out it was occupied as headquarters by a Massachusetts regiment.” The unit identified was the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry and Robert Gould Shaw would have bivouacked nearby with his men.

Period Sketch of the Mason Family Home at Selma

The Mason residence would have been an interesting choice of headquarters for the regiment. The home owner, James Murray Mason, had served in the United States Senate during the period leading up to the Civil War and had pushed his states’ rights agenda of separation. His authorship of the Second Fugitive Slave Law, however, would be the regulation for which he would be most remembered by northern soldiers and for which he would suffer a great deal of retribution. With the coming of the war James’ was delegated as the South’s diplomat to Europe and would be famously involved in what would be known as the Trent Affair. Within a year Mason’s home, Selma, would be completely destroyed by occupying Union Soldiers.

It is certain Robert Gould Shaw would have known Mason’s story. As Shaw’s early writings make almost no mention of slavery or abolition, it is certain his exposure to the institution would have been negligible. Still, while traveling in Europe in 1851 he had read Uncle Tom’s Cabin which had sculpted his opinion on the subject. By the time he joined the war effort in 1861, however, he had not had any significant contact with the institution.

While in Winchester, though, the custom of slavery would have been on display all around him. On Sunday March 23, while Shaw’s regiment and division was in process of being shifted east to join with General McDowell, their progress was delayed by a damaged bridge. It was, perhaps, on this expedition through Snicker’s Gap that Robert Gould Shaw may have had his most noteworthy interaction with enslaved people.

On the same day the Battle of Kernstown was being fought Robert Gould Shaw and his regiment were at Snickersville (now Bluemont) waiting for a bridge to be repaired. Shaw and about a dozen others chose to listen to an outdoor oration which he claimed, “was a real sermon.” While they were “lying in the sun on the side of a hill… 4 or 5 negros who had come up in their Sunday clothes to see the soldiers passed along. Among them was a white man with two curly headed boys – all these as handsome people as you would find.” One of Shaw’s’ friends pointed out: “That’s a white slave so we called to him & asked what his trade was.” “Nothing sir, said he “but working in the field under another man.” “There he stood in front of us & talked for two hours, as eloquently as any educated man I know.”

Winchester’s Courthouse.

Following the First Battle of Kernstown the 2nd Massachusetts was recalled to Winchester. Shaw wrote home noting the 2nd Massachusetts surgeons, Dr. Francis Leland and Lincoln Stone, both close friends, “went immediately to work and the medical director says, did more good than all the Ohio and Pennsylvania surgeons together.” Shaw recorded in a letter to his mother: “I went to the Court-house where Dr Leland was, and out of about 40, there were very few who were not seriously wounded. In the entry there were about 20 dead men laid out, with the capes of their overcoats folded over their faces. We looked at many faces to see if there might not by chance be some college-acquaintance among them. It was strange to see the dead & wounded Ohio men & Virginians lying there side by side.” This was Shaw’s first exposure to the tragic aftermath of combat.

Within days Banks’ Army marched in pursuit of Stonewall Jackson’s legion. They trooped through Strasburg, New Market, and on as far as Harrisonburg. Here they remained until May 5, when Banks became convinced Jackson was heading south to oppose McClellan’s drive on Richmond. Banks immediately began a retrograde movement to Strasburg, arriving there on May 13. He would remain there for the next nine days.

Robert Morris Copeland

While based in Strasburg Major Robert Morris Copeland, General Banks aide-de-camp, was tasked with traveling to Washington to lobby the war department to send reinforcements to the Shenandoah Valley. Copeland had a proposal of his own in mind, though, and petitioned Captain James Savage, and Lieutenant Robert Shaw to accompany him. They were so moved by his enthusiasm to raise a black regiment they decided to journey with him to make their case.

Copeland used his position with General Banks to get leave for Savage and Shaw. The threesome trekked to Washington DC to lay out their plan with Secretary of War Edward Stanton. According to Shaw “the Secretary of war wouldn’t allow it to be done.” Their scheme was quickly rejected and, equally significant, they were only able to influence the war department to send four companies (A, D, H, and K) from the 10th Maine Infantry to Winchester as reinforcements.

“Copeland’s views on abolition and his advocacy of raising black regiments played a role in irritating his superiors and the matter raises questions as to the possible biased treatment of abolitionist officers by their superiors and peers who disagreed with their views. Copeland would eventually be dismissed from the army for his advocacy.” Shaw, once inspired though, would persist in the quest.

Shaw arrived back in Winchester on May 24 and rejoined his regiment as it retreated from Strasburg in the face of the advance of Stonewall Jackson’s sixteen-thousand-man army. Two miles south of Newtown, along the Valley Pike, the 27th Indiana had deployed across the Valley Pike near the home of the Crisman family. The 2nd Massachusetts, 28th New York, and two sections of artillery were sent to support them long enough for the wagon train to complete its journey to Winchester. The mission was completed successfully.

Shortly after the fight at the Crisman Farm the 2nd Massachusetts retreated alone to a hill just north of Bartonsville and Opequon Creek. Here the men in the regiment recalled that “no sooner had they setup a defensive position than Confederate cavalry attacked from across the Opequon. From across the run someone yelled…Charge.” “Company I had just gone down to the creek when the charge was announced. Its commander put his men into square and quickly repulsed the attack.”

Adapted Hotchkiss map showing the dispositions of the 2nd Massachusetts on May 22.

Following the skirmish at Opequon Creek the regiment retreated another mile north to the hamlet of Kernstown. It was here that Lieutenant Shaw caught up with his regiment. Major Dwight had chosen the Mahaney house as a temporary hospital for their wounded. Unfortunately, he had not had time to position his troops for defense. Dwight soon realized his mistake and quickly deployed his four companies. Outgunned, the regiment was forced to withdraw leaving their wounded and a physician, Dr. Leland, behind.

The 2nd Masachusetts continued its retreat to Winchester. Lieutenant Shaw noted: “At nearly every stone wall between Bartonsville and Milltown a company or two dropped back to deliver a volley at their pursuers. At 2 A.M. the 2nd Massachusetts stumbled into Winchester, the last Federal to enter the town that night.” Shaw reported he “was on outpost Saturday night” and “we were firing at intervals all night long.”

“The night was cold and the ground wet” and most Union troops had not eaten in more than twenty-four hours. At first light on May 25, though, picket fire opened the battle. The first Confederate attack occurred against the Union left flank at Camp Hill. Shortly thereafter Jackson turned his attention to Banks’ right flank atop Bowers Hill. The 2nd Massachusetts had been placed in line on the far-right flank of the Union line. To their immediate left was the 3rd Wisconsin, the 29th Pennsylvania and then, finally, the 27th Indiana. Two sections of the 1st New York Battery M had been placed to their rear.

Shaw remembered that when he had returned to the regiment he had done so without a weapon of any kind. It was sometime after the fight began on Sunday that he was able to “get a little sword from a drummer boy. It was little better than a toy-sword, but you get so accustomed to having one in your hand when on duty, that until I got it I felt as if I had no right to give an order.”

The morning mist had been lighter on the Union right flank and the fight had opened early with skirmishing and counter battery fire from both sides. Colonel Andrews of the 2nd Massachusetts pushed his skirmishers out seeking “new targets with deadly accuracy.” Two of the regiment’s companies provided artillery support on Bower’s Hill. According to General Winder their concerted fire caused “much execution” in the ranks of Confederate artillerymen.  

Around 7:30 a.m. a flank attack led by General Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade dislodged Federal defenders. As this attack developed the 24th Pennsylvania and 27th Indiana was deployed to the 2nd Massachusetts right flank. Despite this Banks’ line crumbled under the pressure of Jackson’s assault. Union soldiers fled north through the streets of Winchester.

Shaw recalled the battle and retreat through Winchester: “The fight began immediately and continued for about two hours when we were ordered to retreat. The rebels had a much larger force and actually got into the town before we did. We lost a great many men in the streets of Winchester. The inhabitants did their share from the windows – women as well as men.” “I hardly remember anything about it, for just at that moment we were busy with the men, as Colonel Andrews halted the regiment in the street and formed the line, so that every officer had his hands full keeping the men steady.” “I hope that town will be destroyed when we go back there. We had time to burn part of it while the fight was going on.”

Map of the Battle of 1st Winchester, National Park Service Map

It was during this period that Shaw was hit. “The watch was in the pocket of my vest, though I almost always carry it in my fob. I felt a violent blow and a burning sensation in my side, and at the same moment a man by my side cried out, “O, my arm!” “So when I felt the blow on my side & found my watch had stopped the ball, the first thing I thought of was how you all would have felt if I had been left on that infernal pavement and it seemed as if I could see you all standing on the piazza just before I came away.” “I had just time to wonder why I wasn’t lying on the ground, when the order came, ‘Right face, double-quick, march,’ and off we went…” “Never the less we managed to make 34 miles after the fight, though, to be sure, a good many stragglers were taken.”

Shaw remembered that there were fifty men in his company when they went into battle at Winchester. “There were one killed, eight wounded, and two taken prisoners and carried off by the rebels when they retreated. Nine killed and wounded out of fifty is a large proportion. Our wounded were left in Winchester and paroled and also several men were left as nurses in the hospitals.”

One of the major casualties for the 2nd Massachusetts was the regiment’s second in command, Major Wilder Dwight. Dwight had stopped while he was retreating through Winchester to help a wounded soldier to a house so he could be tended to. As he exited the house he was captured by “butternut soldiery.” Escorted to the Taylor House Major Dwight noted that the courthouse, once utilized as a hospital, was now being employed as a prison. Confederates were now making use of it’s fenced in courtyard as a penitentiary for captured soldiers.

Robert Gould Shaw’s fame is well known especially with regard to the exploits of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. His involvement in Jackson’s Valley Campaign is an unknown for most though. Even fewer are aware of the impact the adventure would have on him for the remainder of his life. In addition to 1st Winchester, Shaw would fight at Cedar Mountain, and at Antietam. Here would receive a wound to his neck at Antietam while fighting in the Cornfield.

Following the battle at Fort  Wagner commanding Confederate General Johnson Hagood returned the bodies of the Union officers who had died, but left Colonel Shaw’s corpse buried in a mass grave with his black soldiers. Hagood told a captured Union surgeon that “had he been in command of white troops … he would have returned Shaw’s body, as was customary for officers, instead of burying it with the fallen black soldiers.”

Although Hagood’s gesture was intended as an insult, Shaw’s acquaintances believed it was an honor for him to be buried with his men. As substantial “efforts had been made to recover Shaw’s body” Robert’s father publicly proclaimed that “he was proud to know that his son had been buried with his troops, befitting his role as a soldier and a crusader for emancipation.”

In a letter to the regimental surgeon, Lincoln Stone, Shaw’s father wrote: “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers. … We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has!”

Morris Island is smaller than 1,000 acres and has been subject to extensive erosion from the sea. “Much of the site of Fort Wagner has been eroded away, including the place where the Union soldiers were buried. By the time that had happened, the soldiers’ remains were no longer there because soon after the end of the Civil War, the Army disinterred and reburied all the remains, including presumably those of Shaw, at the Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina.” Here, in the quiet and shade of the Magnolia trees his gravestone may lie marked as “unknown.”

Afterthought: If you recall from earlier in this essay, I noted Lieutenant Shaw had been struck by a bullet and was astonished that “he had not been knocked off his feet and surprised further that he had not just been killed.” “The ball undoubtedly would have entered my stomach,” he wrote, “and as it was, bruised my left hip a good deal.” One might wonder what would have happened if this pocket watch had not stopped that “enemy ball.” The positioning of this timepiece, unbeknownst to Shaw or any other man on the Battlefield at 1st Winchester, would go on to shape history and launch a nationwide recognition of an entire race of people held in bondage. Lieutenant Shaw would send the watch home to his family as a memento of the battle and, unknown to his family, a token to the history of enslaved people. The location of the watch is currently unknown.

Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Memorial in Boston


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

Dwight, Wilder. Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, Lieut-Col Second Massachusetts Mass Inf. Vols. Ticnor and Fields. Boston. 1866.

McDonald, Cornelia Peake. A Woman’s Civil War: A Diary with Reminiscences of the War, from March 1862. Gramercy Books. New York. 1992.

Phipps, Sheila R. Genteel Rebel: The Life of Mary Greenhow Lee. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, La. 2004.

Robert Goud Shaw, edited by Russell Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1992). Pages 203-210


Colonel John Francis Neff: Hero and Excommunicant

On the morning of August 28, 1862, while his brigade reposed under the cover of some trees near the Brawner Farm at Groveton, Virginia, Colonel John Neff and the 33rd Virginia Infantry lay “in line of battle, anticipating an attack.”  The regimental surgeon approached Colonel Neff and, “examined his pulse, and told him that in his condition he should not entertain the idea of doing any service that day.” The physician failed, it should be noted, to extract a promise from him that he would not participate. “It was but a short time ere the brigade was ordered to charge, and Colonel Neff, as he was wont to do, sprang to his feet, and repeated, in his clear, sonorous voice, the word of command which came ringing down the line. It was with a shout such as the Stonewall Brigade was famous for that the charge was made. On approaching a fence, amid a terrific fire of artillery and small-arms, Colonel Neff stopped in an exposed position, and Captain David Walker, in passing him, inquired if he had any orders to communicate.” Neff replied: “None; go to the fence and do whatever you may regard as necessary to be done.” Those were, most likely, his final utterances.

Battle of Brawner’s Farm, August 28, 1862


Following the battle, the inquiry was made, “Where is Colonel Neff?” “No one could respond satisfactorily to it. Strange to tell, was the exclamation, that he was not, as was his habit, moving among his troops and cheering them on to duty and victory. A match was struck and a candle lighted, and he was found in the icy embrace of death just at the spot where the writer (Captain Walker) had passed him. The fearful mystery was solved. Though many had fallen, and there were many expressions of regret, for none of the fallen heroes of that hour were there more heart-felt expressions of sympathy and regret than for Colonel John F. Neff.”

“A promise made him, and which was mutual in its character, when contemplating the uncertainties of life, had to be fulfilled then and there. The living image of her who was nearest his big heart must be secured, and the ring which she had placed upon his finger had to be taken off and conveyed as sad mementos to her of a love and plighted faith which could only be quenched or removed by the king of terrors. His remains were removed to a grassy spot in the woods from which he had made his last charge with his command, and there interred, in a carefully-marked spot.”

This notable military commander, John Francis Neff, was born September 5, 1834, at Rude’s Hill, on the banks of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Mt. Jackson, Virginia. He was the son of John Neff and Catherine Wine. His home, located just across the Shenandoah River west of Rude’s Hill, was a modest red brick house which had been built in 1847. His residence on the North Fork was within view of Meem’s Bottom and Mount Airy.

Neff Family Home at Rude’s Hill

The Neff family name is a common last name in the Shenandoah Valley. It is said “the name is the synonym of honesty, industry, and hospitality.” John’s father was a deacon in the Church of the Brethren and was said to be “a man of pacifist leanings.” The church, “correctly called the German Baptist Church, practices total triple immersion. Hence, its members are known as Tunkers or Dunkers, which has been corrupted to Dunkards.” In times of war, the Brethren encourage their children to resist direct military participation, yet dutifully serve their country in the role of a Conscientious Objector. During the Civil War members of this religious group differed significantly with Confederate officials in Richmond regarding their conscientious status and the bearing arms.

Cedar Grove Church of the Brethren which was attended by John and his family.

Southern conscription laws were more stringent than those of the North due to the scarcity of able-bodied men. “Some Dunkard’s were drafted into the army under protest, with the understanding among themselves that they would not shoot.” This no-shooting pledge was practiced by enough Dunkard’s and Mennonites, for example, to cause General Stonewall Jackson to say: “There lives a people in the Valley of Virginia that are not hard to bring to the army. While there they are obedient to their officers. Nor is it difficult to have them take aim, but it is impossible to get them to take correct aim.” General Jackson recognized this and recommended allowing pacifists to generate supplies or to serve as non-combatants.

Not all Dunker’s and Mennonites, however, refused to fight. Those that did battle for the Confederacy faced many challenges. Most were excommunicated by their church. One Brethren from the Shenandoah Valley noted: “In 1861 I was acquainted with a young brother who afterward enlisted in the army. He was excommunicated from the church…He died on the battlefield fighting for his country. He died as a patriot, which from the standpoint of the world is the noblest death a man can die, even though an excommunicated member—excommunicated because he was disobedient to the teachings of the Son of God.”

It is recorded that John Neff “applied himself well at a nearby country school and when the time came, he expressed an interest in higher education. As most schools included some military training in their curriculum his father was against the idea.” John appealed to General John Meem, a neighbor, who was a member of the Board of Visitors at the Virginia Military Institute. General Meem made several unsuccessful attempts to secure a state scholarship for him. “When these attempts failed John entered the bedroom of his sleeping father and removed $200 from the latter’s pocketbook, for which he substituted his personal note in that amount at 6% interest.” John took the money and headed south.

Not long after John’s departure, though, he received a letter from his father. “Who can imagine the joy which swelled the breast and beamed in the sunny countenance of the young adventurer upon the reception and perusal of a letter from his father bidding him come home, and assuring him that the necessary means would be furnished to enable him to take the regular course at the Virginia Military Institute?” “John returned to the home which he had forsaken, assured of his father’s ability to perform the promise made him.” “It was but a short time before young Neff was where he had longed to be, enjoying the advantages of one of the best institutions of the kind in the South, and within the moulding influence of men who have since shed a lustre upon the page of their country’s history which will be undimmed by the lapse of time.”

John graduated fourth in a class of nineteen from the Virginia Military Institute in 1858. One of his instructors there, and one of his forthcoming commanders, would have been Thomas Jackson. After graduating from VMI, he remained in Lexington and began a new career. There he entered the law-class of Judge J. W. Brokenbrough and obtained a license to practice law. John did not solicit his newfound occupation in Virginia but did so in the City of New Orleans. Later he traveled to Baton Rouge, and finally to Memphis, Tennessee. Here he formed a business association with James H. Unthank and continued with him until the commencement of the Civil War.

With the coming of war, John returned to Virginia, where he obtained from Governor Letcher, a commission as a drill-officer, and was ordered to report for duty to General Thomas Jackson who commanded the army at Harper’s Ferry. “He lingered but a day or two at home on his way to Harper’s Ferry, and then, with other graduates of the Virginia Military Institute, engaged in the important work of drilling the patriotic officers and men with reference to the mighty conflict which was at hand.”

The 33rd Virginia Infantry Regiment was organized during the early summer of 1861 with men from Hampshire, Shenandoah, Frederick, Hardy, Page, and Rockingham counties. John would join this regiment serving as its adjutant. Arthur C. Cummings would be its first colonel. “Cummings had served in the Mexican War rising to rank of Brevet Major. He had also been a member of the Virginia State Militia obtaining the grade of Colonel. Prior to the war he had practiced law in Washington County Virginia.”

The 33rd Virginia Regiment, served in what would soon be known as the Stonewall Brigade, and was active at the Battle of First Manassas. It is recorded that Neff’s conduct at Manassas “epitomized his conduct and bearing in every subsequent engagement in which he participated. He did not seem to partake of that wild enthusiasm which seized and possessed almost every other individual in his command. Cool, calm, and collected, he discharged the duties of his position very much after the style with which he discharged them in the camp or bivouac He had too much pride of character to shrink from danger, and this is, after all, the sum total of courage.”

Wartime Photo of Colonel John Neff

Sergeant Major Randolph Barton recalled the attack of the 33rd at Manassas. “The shrill cry of Colonel Cummings was heard, ‘Charge!’ And away the regiment went, firing as they ran, into the ranks of the enemy.” The rest of Jackson’s Brigade soon followed and before long the enemy was in full retreat. Barton credited Cummings as having “turned the tide of battle at First Manassas,” and added, “I should think to Colonel Cummings the circumstance would be of extraordinary interest, and that he would time and again reflect how little he thought, when he braced himself to give the order to his regiment, that he was making a long page in history.”

On March 21, 1862, news from Turner Ashby’s cavalry scouts suggested that Federals, were reducing their strength in Winchester to reinforce Union operations against Richmond. Stonewall Jackson launched an attack against Union forces situated at Kernstown, a few miles south of Winchester, on March 23. “The 33rd played a large role in holding a stone wall against overwhelming numbers, until being ordered to retire as their ammunition was expended.” John Neff escaped injury, but the regiment suffered 23 killed, 12 wounded and 18 captured out of the 275 engaged.

1st Battle of Kernstown


Following Kernstown Colonel Cummings resigned his commission to serve in the Virginia legislature. Neff was elected to Colonel on April 22, during the reorganization of the 33rd Virginia. At twenty-seven, he was the youngest regimental commander in the Stonewall Brigade. “The determination of Colonel C. momentarily cast a gloom over his command, and all eyes were turned upon Colonel Neff as the most suitable person to take his position as commandant of the regiment. This circumstance of itself speaks volumes, when it is remembered that Colonel Neff, though among the youngest officers in the command, was thought to be the man for a position which had been so conspicuously filled by a veteran soldier and officer. Election-day came, and with scarcely a dissentient voice he was elevated to the position. Colonel Neff did not seek the position; it sought him.”

John would lead his regiment throughout the remainder of Jackson’s Valley Campaign. Though not actively engaged at McDowell and Front Royal, Neff had his first experience commanding men in battle at 1st Winchester on May 25. The 33rd Virginia was posted on the right of Jackson’s line not far from the Valley Pike. “Early on in the fight General Jackson came to Colonel Neff and pointing to the high ground at Bower’s Hill shouted: ‘I expect the enemy to bring artillery to occupy that hill, and they must not do it! Do you understand me sir? Keep a good lookout, and your men well in hand, and if they attempt to come, charge them with bayonet and seize their guns. Clamp them, sir, on the spot!’” When the final attack was ordered Colonel Neff led his soldiers to victory.

Battle of 1st Winchester May 25, 1862


Following the 1st Battle of Winchester, the Stonewall Brigade would advance to Harpers Ferry. They would arrive on the 28th and would remain for just two days. At noon on the 30th Jackson ordered his army to retreat to Winchester out of concern that his band would have its retreat cut off by two converging Union legions. Winder’s Brigade, including the 33rd Virginia, was directed to stay behind and skirmish along Bolivar Heights to screen Jackson’s withdrawal. It was not until mid-morning of the 31st that the Stonewall Brigade, and the overlooked 1st Maryland, would begin one of the longest marches of the war. By midnight of that day, they had walked and sprinted, most without food, more than thirty-five miles in just sixteen hours, all the way to Newtown (now Steven’s City). This triumph would empower his men to claim the moniker of “Jackson’s foot cavalry.”

Position of the 33rd Virginia on the Morning of June 9 during the Battle of Port Republic

Neff’s regiment retreated to Port Republic with the rest of Jackson’s Army. While the Battle of Cross Keys was in process the 33rd Virginia was sent to guard the fords below Port Republic to ensure Shields soldiers could not cross the Shenandoah and join up with Fremont. “Colonel Neff was ordered to take his regiment and guard the several fords of the Shenandoah a few miles below Port Republic. It was a responsible position, but entrusted to one who, though young in command, had won the confidence of his superiors, and who, if occasion had required, would have demonstrated, as he had done before and as he did subsequently, that he was the right man in the right place.”

General Shields did not make a second attempt to cross the Shenandoah. Colonel Neff, late in the evening on June 8, was ordered to join with his brigade at Port Republic. “He did so, but after nightfall was ordered to reoccupy the position which he had held during the day. It was late at night before he made such disposition of his troops as promised freedom from surprise and successful attack.”

“The sun was shining brightly the next morning when he awoke, and he at once inquired, ‘No marching orders yet?’ and upon being told that none had been received, he replied that General Winder had certainly forgotten him and his command. He communicated with him and found the fact to be as he supposed. Learning that his brigade was marching, with orders to engage the enemy when he met him, on the opposite side of the river, with the greatest promptitude he collected his troops and set out to join it.”

Neff “found General Ewell’s troops crossing the foot bridge which had been thrown across the river. Not willing to wait on said troops, he asked and obtained permission to cross his troops contemporaneously. He crossed first, having ordered his troops to follow as rapidly as possible. When the last were thus crossed over, Colonel Neff having personally superintended their alignment, the regiment moved off at a double-quick step.” Unfortunately, by the time the 33rd regiment arrived on the field the battle had been won.

Neff and his command would subsequently fight in the Seven Days Campaign. In the interim between its conclusion and the Battle of Cedar Mountain he was assigned to court martial duty following Jackson’s relocation to Gordonsville. “I was president of the court martial called by General Jackson,” wrote Neff to his parents, “and was therefore excused from other duties, but General Winder insisted that I still should attend to my other duties, some of which it was impossible for me to do and I determined to test the matter, knowing I was right to obey the command of superior before an inferior officer.”

General Winder arrested Neff for dereliction of duty. “I shall have a trial by court martial and feel sure I will come out all right.” Still under arrest on August 9, as Jackson’s army approached Cedar Mountain, Colonel Neff prepared to meet the enemy as an unarmed member of the regiment. Being under arrest John was not allowed a weapon. “His presence with the men under such circumstances,” wrote Captain David Walton of Company K “inspired them with an ardor and enthusiasm which, perhaps, they never manifested before in so eminent a degree. It requires the most genuine courage to withstand a deluging shower of leaden rain and iron hail without arms.”

Colonel Neff was restored to command following the death of General Winder. However, long marches and lack of sleep had prostrated Colonel Neff” by the time of the Battle of Brawner’s Farm. John ignored the advice of the regimental surgeon and chose to fight with his men. John Neff had not yet reached 28 years of his age. “He was in command of his regiment – the 33rd- when he was killed. He fell pierced by a ball which entered the lower part of the left neck bone, and came out near his right ear, producing instantaneous death. He was killed after dark, while gallantly leading his regiment in a charge upon the retreating enemy.”

John’s father retrieved his sons remains from the battlefield at Brawner’s Farm. As John’s church felt he had violated their conviction that Brethren should resist direct military participation it resisted the idea of allowing John’s body to be buried in the church cemetery. Instead, he was buried in the family graveyard with his parents. It was not until the 1890’s that the religious community reconsidered and allowed John Neff’s corpse to be buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery on the summit of Rude’s Hill. John’s body, one whom had offered up the ultimate sacrifice for a cause he believed in, had finally ended its journey. His obituary is particularly fitting.

Final Resting Spot for Colonel John Neff.

Obituary : ROCKINGHAM REGISTER – Harrisonburg, VA
Friday Morning September 10, 1862
“The late Colonel Neff”
“Col. John F. Neff, who was killed in the battle of Manassas Junction on Thursday the 28st of August, was the son of Rev. John Neff of Shenandoah county, and had not yet reached the 28th year of his age. He was in command of his regiment – the 33rd- when he was killed. He fell pierced by a ball which entered the lower part of the left neck bone, and came out near his right ear, producing instantaneous death. He was killed after dark, while gallantly leading his regiment in a charge upon the retreating enemy. His body was brought home for burial, and now rests in the FAMILY GRAVEYARD not far from Mt. Jackson. He was a single man and had served his country faithfully up to the hour of his death. He leaves many friends to lament his early death. Peace to his memory.”


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

Tanner, Robert, Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. Stackpole Books. 2002.




The Long Journey to Freedom

According to Professor Jonathan Noyalas at Shenandoah University, more than six hundred African Americans, all originating from the Shenandoah Valley, many of them freed and escaped slaves, served in a military organization known as the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War. The deeds of these men have in most cases become obscured by time and memory. I would like to offer for your consideration the sacrifices of just one of these African Americans.

Edward, was at the time of the Civil War, living in Winchester, Virginia. Edward had been born in Jefferson County in 1827 and at the age of seven was brought to Winchester and sold into slavery. For the next thirty years he would abide as the chattel property of another human being. At the time of the war this man, known only as Edward, as slaves were not allowed to have surnames under Virginia law, waited for an opportunity to seek freedom for himself and his family. His mate, Ellen, could not even be identified as his wife, as marriage was also illegal among enslaved peoples in Virginia.

Near the end of 1863, however, Edward seized the opportunity to alter the situation under which he and his family lived. He decided he would do it by fighting for his freedom. In late 1863 Edward escaped his Winchester master, possibly under the cover of darkness on some cold winter’s day, and headed for Benedict, Maryland. He left his son Charles, and spouse Ellen behind, alone and abandoned to an uncertain future. Edward made his way to Camp Stanton in Maryland where he joined the 30th U. S. Colored Troops, which was organized in February and March of 1864. His unit would be attached to the 1st Brigade, Ferrero’s 4th Division, 9th Corps, Army of the Potomac.

Charles County Maryland Wayside Marker

Much of what allowed Edward to take this action was the result of a law passed by the U. S. Congress in July of 1862 called the Second Confiscation and Militia Act. This decree freed slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army. Two days later, though, slavery was abolished in all of the territories of the United States, and on July 22, 1863, President Lincoln presented the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet.

After the Union Army turned back Lee’s first invasion of the North at Antietam, Maryland, and the Emancipation Proclamation was subsequently announced, black conscription was pursued in earnest. Recruitment was slow at first until black leaders such as Frederick Douglas “encouraged black men to become soldiers in order to ensure their eventual full citizenship.” Two of Douglass’s own sons volunteered to join the war effort. Other volunteers soon began to respond, and in May 1863 the Government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the growing numbers of black soldiers.

Black troops, however, faced far greater peril than white soldiers, especially when captured by the Confederate Army. In 1863 the Confederate Congress threatened to punish officers of black troops severely and to enslave black soldiers if they were captured. As a result, President Lincoln issued General Order 233, threatening reprisals on Confederate prisoners of war for any mistreatment of black troops. Although the threat generally restrained Confederates, black prisoners were usually treated more harshly than white captives. In perhaps one of the most heinous examples of abuse, Confederate soldiers shot to death black Union soldiers captured at Fort Pillow, Tennessee in 1864. A second, less storied instance, occurred that same year at a battle known as “the Crater.”

The month of July had seen a Rebel Army under Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early drive north through the Shenandoah Valley and threaten Washington itself. General Early would finally decide Washington could not be taken without losses so severe that it did not warrant the attempt. Still, General U. S. Grant was compelled to send reinforcements to Washington which he had planned to use against Petersburg.

To counter Early’s perceived threat, it was decided a major offensive against Petersburg needed to be pressed. Grant would have to take advantage of other opportunities. One of those prospects would come in an unusual form. Along the Petersburg front, the 48th Pennsylvania held the apex of “the Horseshoe,” a forward projection of the Union trenches that came within a hundred yards of a Confederate strong point known as Elliott’s Salient. “Lieutenant Colonel Henry Clay Pleasants, commanding the 48th, had been an engineer in civilian life, and had designed and constructed numerous long tunnels for coal mines and railroads. In mid-June Pleasants suggested a plan for tunneling across the no-man’s-land between the Horseshoe and Elliott’s Salient, planting explosives below the strong point, and blowing it up.”

Pleasants’ believed the mine explosion would create a wide breach in the Confederate line, through which Federal infantry could attack. “Beyond Elliott’s Salient was open ground which rose gradually to the low north-south ridge along which ran the Jerusalem Plank Road. If Union infantry could seize and hold that high ground its artillery would command the town of Petersburg, splitting the Confederate army in two.”

Unfortunately, General Ambrose Burnside’s operational plan began to fall apart the day before the attack, when General Meade forbade the use of the “Colored Division” as the spearhead. Meade did not think blacks were suitable soldiers, and he feared political repercussions if he gave them so important and dangerous a mission. If they failed with heavy losses, Republicans in Congress would condemn him for “using Negroes as cannon fodder.” Democratic politicians would condemn him no matter what happened. 

Lieutenant-colonel Henry Pleasants’ plan involved having his miners dig a sloping tunnel 500 feet long that would end in a large chamber. Once complete they then proceeded to fill the chamber with 320 kegs, or about four tons of gunpowder. The resulting explosion would be the largest intentional explosive detonation of the Civil War.

The fuses were lit on schedule but there was no explosion. Two volunteers from the 48th Regiment, Lieutenant Jacob Douty and Sergeant Harry Reese, crawled into the tunnel. After discovering the fuse had burned out at one of the splices, they merged a length of new fuse and relit it. “Finally, at 4:44 a.m., one hour behind schedule, the charges exploded in a massive shower of earth, men, and guns.” A crater 170 feet long, 120 feet wide, and at least 30 feet deep was created.

“The earth below the Rebel strongpoint bulged and broke, and an enormous mushroom cloud, full of red flames, and carried on a bed of lightning flashes, mounted towards heaven with a detonation of thunder.” “Clods of earth weighing at least a ton, and cannon, and human forms, and gun-carriages, and small arms were all distinctly seen shooting upward in that fountain of horror.” The explosion immediately killed 278 Confederate soldiers of the 18th and 22nd South Carolina. As a result, the stunned Confederate troops were unable to direct any significant rifle or artillery fire at the enemy for several minutes.

Period drawing of the mine explosion at the Crater.

Ledlie’s untrained division was not prepared for the explosion, and reports indicate they waited 10 minutes before leaving their own entrenchments. Eventually hundreds of white Union soldiers were pushed into the breach. Colonel Stephen M. Weld of the 56th Massachusetts recalled the ground was “filled with dust, great blocks of clay, guns, broken carriages, projecting timbers, and men buried in various ways . . . some with their legs kicking in the air, some with the arms only exposed, and some with every bone in their bodies apparently broken.”

Footbridges were supposed to have been placed to allow attackers to cross their own trenches quickly. Because they were missing, however, the men had to climb into and out of their own trenches just to reach no-man’s land. “Once they had wandered to the crater, instead of moving around it, as the black troops had been trained, they thought that it would make an excellent rifle pit in which to take cover.”

Ledlie’s troops moved down into the crater itself and realized too late that the crater was much too deep and exposed to function as a rifle pit and quickly became overcrowded. Confederates, under Brigadier General William Mahone, quickly gathered as many troops together as they could for a counterattack. In about an hour, they had formed up around the crater and began firing rifles and artillery down into it in what Mahone later described as a “turkey shoot.”

The plan had failed, but Burnside, instead of cutting his losses, sent Ferrero’s Colored Troops in to bolster the attack. Three hours after the initial attack Edward and his comrades were sent into this maelstrom. After several hours of fighting, though, all the advantages of surprise and shock were gone. Nevertheless, “the USCT assault accomplished far more than could have been expected. Lieutenant Colonel H. Seymour Hall and Colonel Delavan Bates, commanding the two leading regiments in the first brigade, improvised a pincer attack that drove the Rebel defenders back, and captured 150 prisoners and several battle-flags.”

About 10:30 a.m. General Burnside decided to abandon his plan and left it to the officers in the crater to extricate themselves. The troops were “dispirited and caught in an indefensible position.” “Between eight hundred and a thousand men were packed into the bottom of the crater, without food or water, in oven-like heat, unable to fight but vulnerable to mortar-fire.” A thin line of riflemen defended the crater shoulder and the trenches to either side. Officers who commanded in the crater testified that “Black troops were the mainstay of this last-ditch defense.” Private Bird of the 12th Virginia gave them the accolade: “They fought like bulldogs and died like soldiers.” 

Then at 2:30 p.m. the Confederates made their final assault. Two of Mahone’s brigades were joined by the rallied survivors of Elliott’s South Carolinians and Ransom’s North Carolina Brigade. The attackers chanted, “Spare the white man, kill the nigger.” Major Matthew N. Love of the 25th North Carolina wrote, “such Slaughter I have not witnessed upon any battle field any where. Their men were principally negroes and we shot them down untill we got near enough and then run them through with the Bayonet . . . we was not very particular whether we captured or killed them the only thing we did not like to be pestered berrying the Heathens.”

Major John C. Haskell of the North Carolina Branch Battery observed: “Our men, who were always made wild by having negroes sent against them . . . were utterly frenzied with rage. Nothing in the war could have exceeded the horrors that followed. No quarter was given, and for what seemed a long time, fearful butchery was carried on.” Some of the officers tried to stop the killing, “but [the men] kept on until they finished up.”

The killing went beyond the excesses that occur in the heat of battle. “Many Black wounded and POWs under escort were shot, bayonetted or clubbed to death as they went to the rear. Confederate Captain William J. Pegram thought it was “perfectly” proper that all captured Blacks be killed “as a matter of policy,” because it clarified the racial basis of the Southern struggle for independence. He found satisfaction in the belief that fewer than half of the Blacks who surrendered on the field “ever reached the rear . . . You could see them lying dead all along the route.”

The performance of the black troops had been superior to that of any of the other engaged units. “They seized more critical ground, captured more enemy troops, advanced further and suffered heavier losses than any other units. Ledlie’s white division, which was engaged for nine hours, suffered 18% casualties. The Fourth Division, engaged for less than half that time, lost 31%; and because so many of their wounded were murdered, their ratio of killed to wounded was more than double that of any Federal unit.”


23rd U.S. Colored Infantry74115121310
29th U.S. Colored Infantry215647124
31st U.S. Colored Infantry274266135
43rd U.S. Colored Infantry148623123
30th U.S. Colored Infantry1810478200
39th U.S. Colored Infantry139747157
28th U.S. Colored Infantry11641388
27th U.S. Colored Infantry9469075
19th U.S. Colored Infantry22876115

Edward would survive the crater assault and would go on the participate in both of the bloody assaults on Fort Fisher during the Carolinas Campaign. He would also be present for the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his army in 1865. The 30th would see duty as occupation troops at various points in North Carolina until December. Edward continued to serve in the 30th USCT regiment until he suffered a devastating injury in March 1865 at Morehead City, North Carolina, when a haybale fell on his back while loading a ship.

After the war Edward would work as a contract “gardener and day laborer” under a system buoyed by the Freedman’s Bureau. In the end, due in part to his own struggle for freedom, Edward was able to legally claim a surname. He chose Hall. The Cohabitation Act of 1866, passed by the General Assembly on February 27, legalized the marriages of formerly enslaved people in Virginia and declared their children to be legitimate. As a result, Edward Hall would have been able to marry Ellen and declare Charles his lawful son.

Soldiers who were disabled because of their service were eligible for pensions; the amount depended on their rank and their injury. Supposedly, “the Civil War pension system was color blind in that there was nothing in the application process that required applicants to be white.” “Still, the fate of black veterans’ applications was decided by white bureaucrats who found it easy to turn them down without fear of retribution.” Fortunately, Edward would later in life receive a pension of $27 a month for his service and his injury. (Note: “The last Union pensioner was Albert Woolson who died in 1956, but that was not the end of Civil War pensions. The last known widow died in 2008 and there were still at least two dependents receiving benefits in 2012.”)

“Although the Shenandoah Valley’s African Americans who served in the Union army and navy during the conflict proved an important element in ensuring that one day all of this nation’s citizens, regardless of race, could enjoy freedom, liberty, and equality, those USCT veterans never lived in a world where that existed. Despite slavery’s constitutional destruction and federal laws granting voting rights in the Civil War’s aftermath, oppressive black codes and Jim Crow segregation created a world which emulated antebellum America. Sadly, as one Shenandoah Valley native, John Brown Baldwin observed, around the time of Sergeant Hall’s death: “While slavery has been abolished in the sense of property interest, the negro is in all those personal characteristics… as much a slave today as he was before the Civil War. He still struggles.”

Edward Hall died on August 24, 1915, and was buried in Winchester’s Orrick Cemetery. Edward’s veterans stone has only the company designation of which he was a member. The portion of the stone that would have named his regiment is missing, perhaps the victim of weather or vandalism over the years since his death. The land upon which this cemetery sits was donated by the Reverend Robert Orrick, a former slave himself. It was intended for use by African American families who, because of racism and segregation, were excluded from both public and private cemeteries.

Edward Hall’s Memorial Stone at Orrick Cemetery in Winchester

Was Edward Hall a hero? Certainly. Perhaps more so than other Civil War Soldiers. He certainly had more to risk. There was the constant uncertainty of what would happen to his family when he ran away. Also, remember, Edward had to break the law when he escaped risking punishment and death. If he was captured by Confederate soldiers, he risked immediate torture or demise by execution. Yet despite all these concerns Edward and many thousands of other African Americans assumed these risks and chose to fight. Mark Anthony’s oration at the funeral of Julius Caesar probably states it best when he declares: “The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them; The Good is oft Interred with their Bones.” This Shakespearean quote praises the good deeds of people but notes that the memory of those deeds is fleeting, in stark contrast to evil deeds and their perpetrators. Such may be the case with the triumphs of African American troops during the American Civil War. Still, I choose to see Edward Hall and all of his comrades as a heroes. They offered up everything they had for the object they so desperately desired; freedom.

Note: “By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers. By war’s end, 16 black soldiers had been awarded the Medal of Honor for their valor.”

Ayers, Edward L. Thin Light of Freedom. The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America. W. W. Norton and Company. New York, N. Y. 2017.

Noyalas, Jonathan. Slavery and Freedom in the Shenandoah Valley During the Civil War Era. University Press of Florida. Tallahassee, Fl. 2021.




Blazer’s Boys

Blazer Scouts heading out on a patrol.

On February 8, 1864, General George Crook issued General Order No 2. It stated: “The regimental commanders of this division will select one man from each company…to be organized into a body of scouts… One man from each regiment so selected to be a Non-Commissioned Officer… All these scouts then acting together will be under the command of Commissioned Officers… Officers will be particular to select such persons only as are possessed of strong moral courage, personal bravery, and particularly adept for this kind of service. The men selected who are not already mounted will mount themselves in the country by taking animals from disloyal persons in the proper manner… providing however, that sufficient stock is left these people to attend crops with…”

This assemblage of young males would be composed of ”the best men from the 5th, 9th, 13th and 14th WVA Infantries, 2nd West Virginia Cavalry and the 12th, 23rd, 34th and 36th Ohio Infantries. These hand-picked fellows would play important roles in the Dublin Raid on the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad and in Hunter’s Lynchburg Raid, where they made the front pages of many newspapers with their exploits.”

General Crook singled out Richard Blazer to lead what would be termed a “counterinsurgency” effort. “Blazer’s war was one of foraging, bushwhacking, sudden firefights, frequent ‘no quarter’ and always getting horses by any means necessary.” This organization would be labeled as “division Scouts” and would consist of approximately eighty men and would be charged with “suppressing local guerillas as well as gathering vital intelligence about the surrounding terrain and enemy.” Lieutenant Richard R. Blazer would be commander of this unit which would ultimately be known as “Blazer’s Scouts.”

When General Phil Sheridan took command of Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, he would adapt this body of men to his own devices. On August 20, 1864, he sent a message to the war department. He stated: “I have one hundred picked men who will take out the contract to clean out Mosby’s gang. I want one hundred Spencer Rifles for them. Send them to me if they can be found in Wash.”

Captain Richard Blazer

Richard Blazer, himself, seemed an unlikely choice as a leader of a covert band of combatants. Before the war Blazer had been a coal boatman and “at his time of enlistment was driving a ‘hack’ between Gallipolis and Portland, the first station on the Cincinnati, Washington, and Baltimore branch of the B&O.” While some accounts claim Blazer was a “hardened Indian fighter,” Blazer was only 32 years old when the war began. “Hostile Indians had long since been vanquished from the Ohio Valley and there is no record that Richard ever went further west to confront Indians.”

Blazer surely impressed no one with his martial bearing. “He had a far away look in one eye, and a nearly sleepy look in the other. His vest was not always buttoned straight, nor his coat collar always turned down. If his boots were not made to shine as the picture on the blacking box is represented, he made no racket with his servant, for as like as any way he had no servant, or blacking either. If he undertook to drill his company he would give the wrong command, and at dress parade he rarely placed himself in the exact position required by the adjutant.”

Captain Adolphus “Dolly” Richards

When General Philip Sheridan first assumed army command in the Valley, he initially chose to ignore the guerilla problem. Sheridan “refused to operate against these bands believing them to be substantially, a benefit to me, as they prevented straggling and kept my trains well closed up, and discharged such other duties as would have required a provost guard of at least two regiments of cavalry.” It would not take long for Sheridan to change his mind. Eventually Mosby’s Rangers would be his primary concern and he would devote substantial resources to counter the threat.

John Mosby’s background was quite different from Blazer’s. In October of 1850, while he was enrolled at the University of Virginia, he became involved in a dispute with a man named George Turpin. In the process of settling the dispute he ended up shooting the man. The case was brought to trial and Mosby was found guilty. He was sentenced to a year in prison and fined five hundred dollars. On the positive side the governor pardoned Mosby and the legislature would eventually rescind the fine. While in jail, though, he took the time to study study law. It would become a lifelong passion and career.

John Singleton Mosby

When war broke out Mosby first joined the Washington Mounted Rifles under William “Grumble” Jones. He quickly transferred to the cavalry corps under General J.E.B. Stuart. Before long, however, Mosby determined he would like to form his own command. In January 1863, Stuart approved Mosby’s scheme and gave him a handful of men to begin his operations.

Mosby and his partisan rangers would later be integrated into the regular Confederate army. Their primary function consisted of destroying railroad supply lines between Washington and Northern Virginia, as well as intercepting and capturing Union soldiers, horses and supplies. In time Mosby’s numbers rose from a dozen men to a few hundred by the end of the war. Mosby’s rank likewise levitated steadily; his final promotion to colonel came in January 1865.

Once Blazer’s scouts had secured their mounts, his troopers were ready to begin hunting guerillas. By August of 1864 Lieutenant Blazer and his men had gained a great deal of experience in the science of countering the threat posed by groups such as the ones led by John Mosby and John McNeill. Equipped with Spencer repeating rifles, they challenged Mosby’s bands and defeated them in several pitched battles.

Marker for the Battle of Kabletown

On the evening of November 16, 1864, one of Mosby’s rangers, Richard Montjoy, reported to their leader the results of a raid they had made into the Shenandoah Valley. On his return he had sent half of his raiding force off toward their dwellings in Loudon County. Montjoy had himself continued on with about thirty of his scouts and twenty prisoners. A couple miles shy of the Shenandoah River Montjoy decided to rest his men and were suddenly attacked by some of Blazer’s scouts. Mosby’s men fled eastward and attempted to make a stand at a farm known as the Vineyard. In short order, though, Blazer “recaptured the prisoners and horses, killed two of our men, wounded five others, and galloped away…”

When Mosby got news of the skirmish at the Vineyard he was “furious.” He quickly determined he and Captain Blazer “could not inhabit opposite sides of the Blue Ridge Mountain.” Mosby quickly dispatched one of his most trusted officers, Major Adolphus (Dolly) Richards, to “wipe Blazer out! Go through him!” He warned them if you “let the Yankees whip you? I’ll get hoop skirts for you! I’ll send you into the first Yankee regiment we come across!”

One of the interesting oddities of the operation currently taking place was the comparative uniforms of the two opponents. Mosby and his men would have been at great risk wearing Confederate uniforms since they operated behind Union lines. Most of his men would have dressed in Union Blue. Many of Blazer’s men were said to have worn Confederate Uniforms. Henry Pancake, one of Blazer’s operatives, noted: “We were organized to fight Mosby’s guerillas, and we had to fight them as they fought us, wearing each others uniform was part of the game.”

Early on the morning of November 17, Dolly Richards rode out with two companies of his men in search of Blazer’s scouts. Estimates on the size of Richard’s force vary from 115 to 319 riders. Richard’s rode through, and beyond, Snicker’s Gap, searching in vain for any sign of Blazer’s men. Coming up empty handed, Dolly halted his troopers for the night in Castleman’s Woods, not far from the town of Berryville.

The elements quickly turned against Mosby’s Rangers. The skies opened up and it rained hard all night. Misery was rampant among the men, who were without shelter, and were not even allowed to set campfires for fear of warning the enemy of their presence. During the night, though, Richard’s received notification that Blazer’s men had been spotted in camp in the nearby hamlet of Kabletown.

Richard’s had his men up and moving early the next morning, arriving at the enemy camp well before dawn. Though the fires were still smoldering, the enemy was nowhere to be seen. Two of Richard’s men, Charles McDonough and John Puryear, were selected to try to locate Blazer. The two of them rode into Kabletown and where they were approached “by a small party of horsemen dressed in Grey uniforms.” They were Brazer’s men. They drew their weapons and immediately opened fire on them. McDonough was able to escape but Puryear was captured.

McDonough rode to find Richards, followed by Blazer and a couple of his scouts. McDonough related the earlier incident to Dolly who decided he would set an ambush to try and knab Blazer’s whole crew. Richard’s rode to the home of George Harris about a mile south of town. Here he shifted his cavalrymen into “a hollow of the field on the south side of the road. Richard’s warned everyone not to fire a shot or raise a yell until you hear shooting in the front. Don’t shoot until you get close to them; among them.”

Henry Pancake, one of Blazer’s men, related the story of the hours that led up to the fight at Kabletown. Henry was described as “an affable grocer from Ironton, Ohio when he was interviewed for a series of articles called ‘Close Escapes’ for the Ironton Register in 1886.” Henry’s story is the only known complete account of the final fight between Mosby and Blazer at Kabletown. At the time he was being interviewed for a local audience it was noted that “the only exaggeration may be Henry’s own involvement in the action.”

In Henry Pancake’s account, he recalled: “We had gone down on a scout from the neighborhood of Winchester into Luray valley. We had ridden two days and nights and were returning toward Winchester again. We had crossed the Shenandoah river, at Jackson’s ford, about daylight, and rode into Cabletown [sic], about a mile from the ford, and back on the Harper’s Ferry road a short distance, where we stopped to cook a little breakfast. I was standing near Capt. Blazer and Lieutenant [Thomas K.] Coles, boiling some coffee, when a colored boy came up and said about 300 of Mosby’s Guerillas had crossed the ford and taken position in the woods, half way between the ford and Cabletown, and were watching us. That was only a half mile or so from where we were. The Captain ordered Lieutenant Coles and myself to go to a little hill or mound, about halfway between us and them, and see how many there were and all about them.”

Hotchkiss Map Showing Battlefield Site

“They also saw us as we marched and followed on, no doubt thinking that Richards wished to avoid a fight. Turning off from the road near Myerstown through a little skirt of woods, Richards drew up his men in a hollow in the center of an open field facing the woods, which hid them from the view of those in the road. The Federals followed closely after us.”

Private Pancake recalled: “We proceeded to the hill and got a good view of the rebs… In the meantime, Capt. Blazer had formed his command and proceeded across the fields in the direction of the rebs, and we joined him when he had advanced some distance. We told him there were about 300 of them, that they were in a good position and it wouldn’t do to attack them with our little force, amounting to about 65 men all told. But the Captain told us to fall in, and the way we went. Before we got into position to attack the rebs who were across the road, we had to let down two big rail fences. This we did and filed deep into the field which was skirted by the woods where the rebs were and in plain view of them. It was a desperately daring deed, and we hurried up the job, coming around into line like a whip cracker.”

In spite of Richard’s orders, one of Mosby’s men, David Carlisle “drew his revolver and fired a shot at the head of Blazer’s advancing column.” Incensed by the event Blazer’s men continued to file off the road into a tree line some two hundred yards away. Once the maneuver was completed the Yankees dismounted and sent skirmishers forward to the stonewall.

Map illustrating initial troop placements. (Map made by writer)

At this point Richard’s realized that Blazer had a strong position behind the wall and a frontal attack would be costly. “Seeing Blazer’s men taking down the fence and dismounting, Captain Richards thought their intention was to dismount and fight us at long range, which would give them every advantage, with their guns — they being sheltered by the woods and we being exposed to their fire in the open field.”

The situation on the ground was rapidly evolving. Richard’s called out to Lieutenant Hatcher: “Harry, they are dismounting.” He quickly ordered Hatcher with Company A “to break a hole in the fence to their rear and act as if they were withdrawing. If the Yankees fell for the subterfuge, then Hatcher would turn and charge as soon as Company B attacked.”

Blazer, unable to see Company A “ordered his men to horse and then ordered them to charge. Dolly Richards had chosen his field of battle well. Richard’s felt the depression in the field had done a first-rate job of concealing his men. When Blazer’s men attacked, Richards men surged out of the gully and were among Blazer’s before he knew what had happened. “Company B was still in line, but as we wheeled we saw them charge up to the woods. “

Company A, led by Hatcher, “now swept over the intervening space at full speed and dashed with the fury of a tornado on the flank of the Federal column. “Blazer’s men used their carbines at first, until we got fairly among them, when they drew their revolvers. They fought desperately, but our men pressed on, broke them and finally drove them from the field. The road for a distance of several miles bore evidence of the deadly conflict, as well as the discomfiture of the Federals.”

Map showing Dolly Richard’s deception and the counterattack made by his command on Blazers’s men. (Map made by writer)

Pancake remembered the rebel attack vividly. “The rebs do[w]n on us with ai yell. We fired one volley, and then they were on us, blazing away. To get through the gap in the fence and get out of the scrape, and into the road, was the aim of all. But the rebs were right with us, shooting our boys down and hacking our ranks to pieces. Every fellow was for himself, and when those got into the road who could get out flew in all directions, some across the fields, some up toward Cabletown and some toward the ford.”

Pancake went on to say: “Oh, it was a awful nasty fight! We stood no show at all. We had hardly got into line when every fellow was expected to save himself. I got into the road among the last, the rebs all around me and after me. I had on a rebel uniform and that’s what saved my head, just then. Well, I took down toward Cabletown as fast as my horse could carry me… The balls whizzed all around me. Near the crossroads at Cabletown, Lieut. Coles fell from his horse his head resting on his arm as I passed by. After I passed him, I looked back and the foremost reb, whom I recognized as one of the prisoners (John Puryear) we had when we made the attack, stopped right over him, aimed his carbine and shot Lieut. Coles dead.”

Lt. Thomas Coles

“Blazer used every endeavor to rally his flying followers; but seeing the utter destruction of his command, and being well mounted, he endeavored to make his escape. Onward he dashed, steadily increasing the distance between himself and most of his pursuers, but a young man “named Ferguson,” mounted on his fleet mare ‘Fashion,’ followed close on Blazer’s heels. After emptying his pistol without being able to hit or halt the fugitive, he drove spurs into his horse and urging her alongside the Captain, dealt him a blow with his pistol which knocked him from his horse and landed him in a fence corner. “Boys,” said Blazer, when able to speak, “you have whipped us fairly. All I ask is that you treat us well.”

Twenty-four of Blazer’s men were killed or wounded and many prisoners were taken. “Fifty horses, with their equipments, were captured. Richards had one man, Hudgins, from Rappahannock, mortally wounded, and a number of others wounded, — but not seriously — among them Charles McDonough, Richard Farr, William Trammell, C. Maddux, and Frank Sedgwick.”

Pancake recalled: “The surrender of the Captain stopped them a moment and I gained a little, but on came the rebs mighty soon again and chased me for two miles further. The pursuing party was reduced by ten, and then finally gave up the chase by sending a volley that whizzed all around me. When I looked back and saw they were not pursuing me, I never felt so happy in my life. I rode on more leisurely after this, but had not proceeded more than a mile or so when I saw a man leading a horse along a road that lead into the road I was on. I soon observed he was one of our men. He had been wounded and escaped.”

Site of the Battle of Kabletown is actually in Meyerstown, West Virginia.

“We went together until we came to our pickets near Winchester about dusk. There I was captured sure enough, because I had on the rebel uniform, and put in prison. I could not make the pickets or officers believe that I was a union soldier, and wore a rebel uniform because I was ordered to do so, but about 11 o’clock that night, my story was found to be true and I was released.”

Pancake would explain that it was the rebel uniform which made his escape different from that of Captain Blazer. “He could surrender and live; I couldn’t. I had to beat in that horse race or die, and as there were 40 horses on the track after me it looked every minute like dying. There were 16 of us in Blazer’s company who wore rebel uniforms, and I was the only one who got out of that scrape alive.” Federal soldiers dressed in rebel uniforms would, of course, be designated as spies and summarily executed.

A couple of the survivors went down to the battlefield the next day. Twenty-two of Blazer’s men were buried near the road. “The colored people buried them. Lieutenant Coles body was exhumed and sent home and now sleeps in Woodland Cemetery [actually, he rests in Greenlawn Cemetery, in Scioto County, Ohio, near Portsmouth] near Ironton. He was a brave fellow.”

You see, said Henry, “we were organized to fight Mosby’s Guerillas, and as we had to fight them as they fought us, and wearing each others uniform was part of the game. Why, I’ve got in with the rebels and rode for miles without their suspecting I was a union soldier.” That’s the way we had to fight Mosby, and it was part of the regulations that some of us wore gray.

After Blazer’s capture he was sent to Libby Prison where he would spend the next four months until he was exchanged for a Union Colonel. When released Blazer “was presented with his personal effects including his Union cavalry sword” which was arranged by Colonel Mosby. He returned to the 91st Ohio infantry and was mustered out of service on June 24, 1865. He returned home to his wife and five children in Gallipolis, Ohio soon thereafter.

In the summer of 1878, the steamboat, John A. Porter, arrived at Gallipolis. Its passengers and crew had been stricken with yellow fever and had been desperately searching for a port that would take them in. The ships passengers found relief there at the hands of a few volunteers and the acting sheriff, Richard Blazer. Unfortunately, Blazer’s reward for this act of kindness would result in his contracting the disease. He would die from yellow fever on October 28, 1878.

Following the war Blazer and Mosby would become acquainted with one another and broaden their friendship by exchanging letters. Mosby would send his friend the gift of a Mississippi Rifle which it is said he put to good use “hunting squirrels.” It is said what is needed to fight counter-guerilla campaigns is “imagination, daring and ingenuity.” These were qualities both men recognized in each other. Mosby’s respect for his old opponent would extend beyond his untimely death. In a eulogy written for Captain Blazer, Colonel John Mosby would honor his friend, and former adversary, by declaring him his “most formidable foe.” A greater honor could not be written.

Blog written by Pete Dalton

North& South Magazine. Volume 11, No. 2. December 2008. Pg. 54.



The Mysterious Stonewall Medallion

Who would guess that this mustering of volunteers, mobilized from the picturesque Shenandoah Valley, would become so celebrated and legendary? Channeled into five infantry regiments, including the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 27th and 33rd Virginia, as well as the Rockbridge Artillery, together they would form the body of the “First Brigade.” Each of these regiments would be unique, and in time, each would earn its own nickname. There was the “Innocent Second” because they never looted; “The Harmless Fourth” for their good camp manners; “The Fighting Fifth” for bad camp manners; “The Fighting Twenty-Seventh” for its high casualty rate; and “The Lousy Thirty-third” for its habit of acquiring body lice.

This “First Brigade” was destined to become a pugnacious fighting unit. They would clash at the First Battle of Bull Run where their stand on Henry House Hill would prove decisive in the outcome of the conflict. Here they would earn their second nickname, the “Stonewall Brigade.” Their commander, General Thomas Jackson, would receive a similar moniker.

In 1862 they would carry that fervor back to the Shenandoah Valley to battle in Jackson’s Valley Campaign. They would be heavily engaged at First Kernstown in late March, but by the time the brigade marched off toward McDowell, on May 7, 1862, the unit would number some 3681 combatants, averaging some 736 men per regiment. Jackson’s so-called “Foot Cavalry,’ would prove a formidable force to be reckoned with.

Still, time and injury would severely diminish their numbers. By the end of the Second Bull Run Campaign in August of the same year, however, the brigade would have dwindled to just 635 members, averaging some 127 men per regiment. A couple of the companies would have only two or three attending members. Wounds, disease, and death had taken its toll.

That same year the brigade would battle in the Seven Days Campaign, at Antietam, and Fredericksburg. They would winter in camp outside Fredericksburg, while their enemy, the Army of the Potomac, settled in across the Rappahannock River. During that winter the Army of Northern Virginia, according to John Casler, author of Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade, would welcome a distinguished visitor into their camp. Having already been the guest of the Army of the Potomac, this eminent tourist traveled south to spend time with Robert E. Lee’s Army as well. According to Casler, this sightseer was the son of the famous French statesman and general, who had aided the Colonial Army during the American Revolution, the Marquis de La Fayette.

It was claimed that during his stay La Fayette was greatly impressed with General Thomas Stonewall Jackson, the Second Corps, and especially the Stonewall Brigade. The Marquis was so captivated that, upon returning to France, he determined he would honor the unit by designing and crafting a bronze medallion. One side would feature the profile of Stonewall Jackson, while the second would highlight the battles the brigade had fought in up until that time.

The Stonewall Brigade Medal

The story would assert that Lafayette created 5,000 of these medals at his own expense. He intended to have each member of the Stonewall Brigade receive a copy of this coin. In late 1864 the medals were placed on a blockade runner commanded by a Captain Lamar of Savanah Georgia. The shipment would land at Wilmington, North Carolina and then be transported by rail to Savanah where they were stowed safely away to keep them from falling into the hands of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Army.

Truth be told, however, Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, of American Revolution fame, had just one son. His name was Georges Washington Louis Gilbert de La Fayette. George would die in 1849 making it impossible for him to have visited either northern or southern troops during the winter of 1862-63. If it was not the son of Lafayette that had dropped in on the Confederate army then, the question is, who did?

The confusion on the part of author John Casler is, I believe, easily explained. The Stonewall medallion may have actually been commissioned by another individual, a southern gentleman, whose name, Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar, could easily have been confused with that of the French nobleman. It may be this man’s name, and its similarity to that of another, that caused Casler to misidentify the visitor.

Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar

Charles Lamar was a very colorful character, born and raised in Savanah, Georgia. His “general attitude was that a gentleman had the right to do what he pleased even if it was against the law. That philosophy would guide his life.” In 1857 Lamar became interested in a project to reopen the Atlantic Slave trade. The following year he outfitted a slave ship, the Wanderer, and used it to transport 409 blacks from the African Slave Coast to America.

The importation of slaves had been against the law in the United States since 1808, but that did not matter to Charles Lamar. He landed this group of enslaved people on Jekyll Island and was prepared to put them up for sale. “Because of their filed teeth and tattoos, the new slaves, referred to as ‘greenies’, were recognized immediately as Africans.” It was evidence that a ship had recently violated the regulation against the Atlantic slave trade. There had been considerable outrage in the North when rumors of the slave ship and its large cargo were reported. On December 16, 1858, the U. S. Senate passed a resolution asking President Buchanan to share information “in relation to the landing of the barque Wanderer on the coast of Georgia with a load of Africans.”

There were repercussions for Charles’s actions. The following year Lamar was charged with his crime and put on trial. During his prosecution he “challenged one of the witnesses to a duel and bailed out one of the defendants so that he could attend a party.” Lamar was eventually convicted of his crime, fined $500 and placed on 30-day house arrest. The trial, of course, made national headlines.

As Lamar had advocated secession long before it became popular, it was no surprise when he joined the Confederate Army in 1862, forming a mounted rifle unit called the Lamar Rangers. The regiment was assigned to Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and, more specifically, to Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps. Unquestionably, Charles would have come into contact with both the Stonewall Brigade and General Jackson. When his Rangers were later merged with the 61st Georgia Infantry Lamar resigned his commission and returned to civilian life.

Late in 1863 Charles took some time off from his military duties to represent the State of Georgia in France. While in France he learned about the death of Stonewall Jackson from injuries received at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Lamar was determined to mark Jackson’s demise and celebrate the courage of the Stonewall Brigade. He commissioned a Parisian medalist, Armand Auguste Caque, to create the dies and have a thousand medals stuck. Lamar’s plan was to award a decoration to each of the officers and men who had served in Jackson’s “Stonewall Brigade.” As Caque was the official medalist to the French king, though, it was feared this decoration could give the appearance of a “quasi-official sanction” from the French Government. Creation of this coin might indicate the recognition of the Confederacy by France.

Unfortunately, the medals had not been completed by the time Lamar set out for home. They would not be ready for delivery until much later in 1864, and by that time Savannah, Georgia was in Union hands. As we mentioned earlier, the medallions were delivered to Wilmington, North Carolina via blockade runner. From there they eventually found their way into a family-owned cotton warehouse where they would remain for many years. With the death of Charles Lamar in April of 1865, the location, and even the existence of these medals, was forgotten.

Meanwhile, the Stonewall Brigade would continue on in its journey. At Spotsylvania Courthouse, on May 12, 1864, the Stonewall Brigade would brawl on the left flank of the “Mule Shoe” salient, in an area that would be known as the “Bloody Angle.” Early that morning General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps would launch a massive assault. The fighting would be hand to hand and incredibly bloody. All but 200 men of the Stonewall Brigade were killed, wounded, or were among the 6,000 Confederates soldiers captured. Losses were so severe that the Stonewall Brigade was unofficially dissolved and consolidated into a single regiment.

When the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign began there were only 249 men left in the five regiments that had originally constituted the Stonewall Brigade. Company A of the 33rd Infantry, for example, had just one man remaining, and he was on sick leave. To add potency nine other regiments were added to the brigade to bolster its muscle. William Terry, an original member of the Stonewall Brigade, was appointed as its leader.

The Brigade would fight in all the battles of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign under General John Gordon, from Lynchburg to the gates of Washington and back. At the Third Battle of Winchester, they would arrive on the battlefield at a critical moment, just in time to receive and repulse General Cuvier Grover’s assault. Reflexively they responded with their own counterattack. Though Gordon’s men fought savagely, they would soon be overwhelmed.

The Stonewall Brigade was forced to retreat and had barely reached their new defensive line when Federal cavalry slammed into their left flank. The unit’s commander, General William Terry, was seriously wounded and “the brigade was horribly handled.” The 2nd Virginia lost its battle flag and the brigade most of its men. The First Brigade was, once again, forced to give way. Many would blame them for the Confederate loss at 3rd Winchester.

Following their defeats at 3rd Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek, the Stonewall Brigade returned to Lee’s Army. They served there in the trenches during the Siege of Petersburg and, ultimately, during the Appomattox Campaign. When Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia finally surrendered only 219 of the nearly 6000 men that had served in the brigade during the war were present for the surrender. 

The location of the Stonewall Brigade Medallions would lie hidden for nearly thirty years. It was not until 1893, when the old warehouse in which they had been concealed in was being razed, that someone came across a box of these old, corroded medals. The relics were cleaned, polished, and turned over to Mrs. Lamar.

Mrs. Lamar would take upon herself the responsibility of making sure they would get into the hands of the surviving members of the old Stonewall Brigade. By that time, though, it was too late to award them to many of its associates. Most had died during, or in the period following, the war. Those medals that did not find a home were instead donated to the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Confederate Veterans Association. They would sell them for a dollar each with the proceeds used to benefit disabled veterans.

Based on this additional information the mystery over the origin of the Stonewall Medallion has, in all likelihood, been resolved. Casler’s error is easily explained. With the passage of time, however, these medals have taken on a different quality. In addition to honoring veterans they have become a popular collector’s item, receiving a great deal of attention from the numismatic community. These decorations have become highly collectible, with a value that can easily exceed a thousand dollars.

The creation of these pendants was an attempt to honor a specific group of Civil War Veterans. Their creation came at the same time as the introduction of the Kearny Cross and the Medal of Honor in the North. As Memorial Day is fast approaching, we are reminded that each of us should take a moment to remember, not just the members of the Stonewall Brigade, but all those six hundred and twenty thousand plus soldiers that fought and died during the American Civil War. All life is precious, and all veterans who have served their country in time of war deserve to be honored. Be it from combat, accident, starvation, or disease, these men offered up their lives for the doctrines they believed in, and the country they loved. I have always thought that as one of these individuals is remembered so are they all. Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend.


Casler, John. Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade. Lume Books. London, England. 2016.


George Pforr Contends with Charles W. Anderson

In early February 1863, a young Maryland native named George Pforr, journeyed from Baltimore, Maryland to his sister’s home in Staunton, Virginia. Professing Confederate sympathies, he feels drawn to support the Confederate war effort. It was here in Staunton that he encounters a newly formed artillery battery which has been christened McClanahan’s Mounted Artillery. Pforr joins the unit, which is assigned to support the 62nd Regiment of Mounted Rifles, and General John Imboden’s independent cavalry command.

Pforr participated in the famed Jones-Imboden Raid into West Virginia in April and May 1863. Raiders claimed success as they severely damaged several railroad bridges, as well as an oil field, and other critical Union stores. Attackers also captured valuable supplies. General Jones estimated that about 30 of the enemy were killed and some 700 prisoners were taken. Four hundred new recruits were added, as well as an artillery piece, 1,000 head of cattle, and some 1,200 horses. From a political standpoint, however, the raid failed, for it had no effect on pro-statehood sentiment, and West Virginia was still admitted into the Union as the 35th state the following month.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, Imboden’s brigade served under Major General J.E.B. Stuart guarding the left flank for General Robert E. Lee’s Army during his drive north through the Shenandoah Valley. Though his brigade did not participate in Stuart’s foray around the Union Army, it instead raided the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between Martinsburg, West Virginia ,and Cumberland Maryland.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, General Imboden’s men remained in the rear guarding the ammunition and supply trains. Throughout the Confederate retreat, though, Imboden is ordered to escort the army’s wagon trains, with thousands of wounded soldiers, back to Virginia. On July 6, 1863, with the Potomac flooding at Williamsport, Maryland, he found himself trapped with his  wagon train. He puts together an effective fighting force which included McClanahan’s Artillery Battery, and those wounded soldiers who could still manage a musket. This hastily organized force, turned back several attacks from Union cavalry details under both Generals John Buford, and Judson Kilpatrick. His efforts saved the wagon train and thousands of wounded soldiers from capture. Robert E. Lee would praise Imboden for the way in which he “gallantly repulsed” these attacks.

Lee’s Retreat from Gettysburg

General Imboden returned safely to the Shenandoah Valley, bringing thousands of Union prisoners and Confederate wounded with him. The general would continue to fight in the Shenandoah Valley serving as a major distraction to General Mead’s Army in eastern Virginia. George Pforr, and McClanahan’s Battery, would admirably minister to this cause.

It was on February 27, 1864, though, when Charles Anderson, in the midst of one of the most severe cold spells ever to hit the Shenandoah Valley, rode to Kernstown and into the camp of the 1st New York Cavalry. “The slightly built man reins his horse up in front of the regimental headquarters tent. To the soldiers idling in front of the tent he says he wants to enlist.” Though the regiment has its origin in New York City the unit has “members from throughout the Union, with one company from Pennsylvania, and another from Michigan. Since the regiment had been in the field continually since early 1861, it was not uncommon for civilians to walk up and offer to join the regiment.

The regiment’s Sergeant Major greets Charles. With the weakened state of the cavalry regiment, all of the companies in the unit desperately need replacements. Here was “a healthy-appearing young man who even has his own mount.” Charles claimed that he was born in New Orleans on March 15, 1841. He is 5’ 7” with grey eyes and black hair. “He says he is a local farmer who has stayed out of the war until Rebels foraged through his land, stealing crops and livestock. Now he wants revenge.”

The sergeant Major was suspicious of the recruit. “It is obvious the man’s hair is dyed and he doesn’t sound like he is from Louisiana. Still, he extends his hand and says; ‘Welcome to the 1st New York.’” Sign on the dotted line my friend. Charles Anderson is quickly registered and assigned to Captain Edwin F. Savocool’s Company K.

For the next year Private Anderson and his 1st New York Cavalry spar with Confederates up and down the Shenandoah Valley. “Anderson proves himself a competent, able soldier. Not foolhardy, he none the less pushed boldly forward while others hold back. He quickly develops a well-deserved reputation for coolness under fire.”

On May 13, Private Anderson and his comrades experience a disastrous encounter at New Market. Among the Confederate units on the field is McClanahan’s Battery. The confrontation for Colonel William Boyd’s New Yorker’s is ruinous and losses are significant. “The wonder was that the whole of Boyd’s command was not captured. Hemmed in between mountain and river, with superior forces on all sides, it was individual determination that saved those that escaped.” Colonel Boyd lost more than 125 men. The majority of these were captured. Most of the rest were left hiding on the slopes of Massanutten Mountain. Nearly 200 horses were secured, all of which would serve as much needed replacements for worn Confederate mounts. Charles Anderson was fortunate to escape.

May 13, 1864 Cavalry Clash at New Market

The fighting was nearly constant throughout the remainder of 1864. During the 3rd Battle of Winchester Charles fought in General William Averell’s Division and was part of the largest Cavalry charge of the Civil War. During the burning of the Valley, he helped destroy farms in Page Valley from Port Republic to Front Royal. He was also present for the last major battle in the Shenandoah Valley at Cedar Creek.

On February 27, 1865, however, General Philip Sheridan decides he will shift his army from Winchester, south, with the intention of joining General Grant at Petersburg. It is Sheridan’s goal to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad as well as the James River Canal. Opposing him were the remnants of the Army of the Valley District under General Jubal Early.

On March 2nd, with General George Custer’s Cavalry leading the van of the army, Custer comes into contact with videttes from Early’s Confederate forces at Fisherville. Custer quickly disperses this contingent and pushes them back into Waynesboro. Here General Early has determined he will make his stand.

Early has chosen his defensive position poorly. Custer pushes on into Waynesboro and orders an immediate assault without even waiting for a reconnaissance of the enemy position. Custer sends three regiments, including the 1st New York, into the woods on the Confederate left flank. His other two brigades faceoff directly opposite General Early’s main battle line.

At 3:30 pm, the signal to attack is given. “A section of Custer’s horse artillery rolled into action and engaged the attention of the Confederates. Minutes later, Pennington’s flanking force, led by the 2nd Ohio, dismounted and armed with Spencer Carbines, rushed out of the woods and rolled up the startled Confederates’ left flank.” “Just as the Confederates were reforming to face this new threat, Wells’ and Capehart’s brigades rushed the Confederate center. In a matter of minutes, Early’s army was thrown into panic.”

Modified Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of Waynesboro

Among the men charging in on the Confederate left flank is Private Charles Anderson. “Riding hard through the rain soaked timber Anderson spurs his horse onward. He bears down on a Rebel colorguard, gives a yell, and fires his revolver into the air. Anderson grabs the enemy flag. He pulls it toward him. A brief tug-of war ensues. Anderson wins. He quickly stuffs the Confederate flag into his shirt and rejoins his comrades in rounding up enemy stragglers.”

Jubal Early and his forces are stunned by the weight of the attack. The Confederate line breaks and runs. In the fighting that ensues more than 1800 men are captured, along with 200 wagons, 14 artillery pieces, and 17 Confederate battle flags. While Jubal Early is able to escape, his small army is destroyed. The victory is complete. Jedediah Hotchkiss calls this battle “one of the most terrible panics and stampedes I have ever seen.”

The following week, the cavalrymen who had captured battle flags at Waynesboro were sent to Washington, D.C. On March 19, they are allowed to present their battle trophies to Secretary of War Edward Stanton. It is the largest quantity of battle flags ever captured in a single engagement. As a reward for their bravery each man is given a thirty-day furlough as well as the Medal of Honor.

When Charles Anderson finally rejoins the 1st New York, General Robert E. Lee has already surrendered his army at Appomattox. A few days later the 1st New York is sent to Washington for mustering out. “On June 27, 1865, with a Medal of Honor in his pocket, Charles receives an honorable discharge. He determines he will trek to Baltimore to seek employment.

Anderson finds job hunting very discouraging. Without any employment prospects on the horizon he decides he will return to the occupation he knows best. He impetuously enlists in Company M of the 3rd U S Cavalry on January 11, 1866. He will spend the next twelve years battling Indians in the Desert Southwest and on the Northern Plains.

After twelve years “fighting Native Americans, poor rations, and disease,” he decides he has spent a sufficient amount of time in the army. He writes to his sister, who lives in Staunton, Virginia, and requests she apply to the army for him for a hardship discharge. Her efforts are successful, and Charles receives his discharge on April 4, 1878.

With his absolution in hand, Charles travels to Staunton and to the home of his sister, Mary. Charles decides he will settle in Staunton, and changes his name to George Pforr. That same year, on September 18, he marries Sally Smith Garber. Farmer, and soon father, Pforr sets down roots and becomes a praiseworthy member of his community. He and his wife will raise eleven children to adulthood over the next several years.

In 1905 George determines he would like to apply for a federal pension for time served in the Federal Army. In his application he claims that he was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He admits that when he joined the war effort, he had first enlisted in Captain Jonathan McClanahan’s Confederate Battery. He acknowledges that in February 1864, he deserted his Confederate unit and rode north to where he volunteered to serve in the 1st New York Cavalry. Sergeant James W. Blackburn, formerly of McClanahan’s Battery, confirms Pforr’s story.

George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson

Based on accounts that were confirmed by soldiers in both armies, George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson, is awarded a pension in 1906. His name, though, is still listed as Charles W. Anderson according to U. S. army records. His Medal of Honor citation, awarded to him on March 26, 1865, reads: “Capture of unknown Confederate flag.”

Charles W Anderson, also known as George Pforr, died on the 25th of February 1916 at the age of 71, on his farm in Annex, Virginia. He is buried in the Thorn Rose Cemetery in Staunton. Charles was one of seven 1st New York Cavalry soldiers to be awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Civil War. While his memorial marker reads George Pforr, the Medal of Honor plaque located in front of this stone, reads Charles W. Anderson. George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson is, and remains, the only enemy deserter in U. S. military history to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now you know the rest of the story.

George Pforr’s Memorial Stone
Charles Anderson’s Medal of Honor Stone (See AKA at bottom of stone)

1st Cavalry roster.

ANDERSON , CHARLES.—Age , 21 years. Enlisted February 27, 1864, at New York city; mustered in as private, Company K , February 27, 1864, to serve three years; awarded a medal of honor by Secretary of War ; mustered out with company, June 27, 1865, at Alexandria, Va.


Blue and Gray Magazine. The Strangest Hero of All. December 1988. Pg. 26.


Hotchkiss the Magnificent

General Thomas Jackson awoke early on the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 1862, in his room at the Virginia Hotel in Staunton, Virginia. Sporting a new haircut, he dressed himself in a “full new suit of Confederate grey.” He ate a light breakfast and strolled outside where he found his horse saddled, awaiting his employment. Christened “Little Sorrel” the mount was a Morgan horse captured by his men at Harper’s Ferry in 1861. Initially it was meant as a gift for his wife. “After riding the horse Jackson found the animal’s gait so pleasing, he determined to keep it for himself.” Jackson later commented: “A seat on him was like being rocked in a cradle.”  

Little Sorrel at VMI after the Civil War

Mounting his warhorse Stonewall gave the beast a gentle kick and was off. Riding alone, along the Middlebrook Road toward Lexington, Jackson soon found a “byroad” and, bearing off to the north, headed back toward West View and the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. Jackson’s staff, however, traveling some distance behind him “were so totally ignorant in reference to the movements of the army, that upon the report of some one that the General had taken the Lexington road, they also started that way, but learning he had turned off they followed after him, but only overtook him, after a ride of 25 miles from Staunton to Roger’s Toll Gate in Ramsey’s Draft.”

The Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike would serve as the avenue over which General Robert Milroy’s Federal Army would be confronted during this segment of Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. The road featured first-rate construction standards and employed an advanced Macadam style of paving. This revolutionary mode of construction rendered roads more durable and greatly enhanced travel under nearly all weather conditions. Although the surveys for this toll road had begun in the early 1830s, actual construction had not begun until 1838. This 220-mile-long road was built by local laborers with each team taking responsibility for a 20-mile segment of the highway. The work had started simultaneously in Parkersburg and Staunton with the last section being completed between Buckhannon and Weston in 1845.

Route of Jackson’s Army from West View to Fort Edward Johnson along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike.

Jackson’s staff, which had been so misled by his secretive intentions, was by all other standards quite exceptional. There were “three present or future doctors of divinity, eleven holders of master’s degrees or higher, four attorneys, and nine educators; and hardly any of them older than 30.” One of Stonewall’s most treasured staff members, however, was his topographical engineer Jedediah Hotchkiss.

Born in 1828, Jedediah Hotchkiss was a native of Windsor, New York. Following graduation, Hotchkiss spent a year teaching school in Lykens Valley, Pennsylvania. When the school year ended in the Spring of 1848, “he and a friend decided to take an extended walking tour of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.” During this journey, he met Henry Forrer of the Shenandoah Iron Works. Henry invited him to Mossy Creek to meet his brother Daniel “who was looking for a young scholar to tutor his children.” That fall he schooled the Forrer family at Mossy Creek. Hotchkiss’ success over the next several years resulted in the establishment of Mossy Creek Academy in 1853. He would serve as a teacher and its principal for the next five years.

Jedediah Hotchkiss

In 1858 Hotchkiss resigned his position at Mossy Creek to establish his own school at Churchville in Augusta County. This institute, christened Loch Willow School for Boys, blossomed over the next three years until the outbreak of the Civil War. It was in the Spring of 1861 when students began to leave “Loch Willow in droves.” While “older students volunteered for military duty, the younger ones were anxious to be with their families at this uncertain time.” Hotchkiss was left with little choice; “The school really closed itself.”

In late June of 1861, in spite of the lack of formal training, Hotchkiss offered his services to the Confederate Army as a mapmaker. General Richard S. Garnett quickly tasked him as his topographical engineer and on July 2, 1861, he was assigned to duty under Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Heck on Rich Mountain. He was immediately ordered to initiate a survey of Camp Garnett and vicinity.

On July 11, 1861, the Rebel position on Rich Mountain was attacked by General George McClellan’s troops. A sharp two-hour fight ensued in which Confederate forces were split in two. Seeking to escape capture, Colonel Heck left Camp Garnett at 1:00 a.m. on June 12 with most of the remaining Confederate soldiers. “Hotchkiss, who was known as Professor Hotchkiss, led the way, followed by Captain Robert Doak Lilley’s company of the 25th Virginia.” During a heavy downpour, “Hotchkiss, serving as adjutant on the retreat, led the troops over mountains and through swamps to safety.”

Hotchkiss’ early service, however, was cut short due to a bout with typhoid fever. The illness forced him to return home to Loch Willow to recuperate. By March of 1862, though, Hotchkiss considered himself fit for duty once again. When Governor Letcher called out the militia that month, Jed decided he would return to the military hopeful he could get an appointment as an Army Engineer.

Hotchkiss would get his wish on March 25, when Major General Thomas Stonewall Jackson engaged Hotchkiss to prepare “a map of the Valley, from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offence and defense in those places.” The resulting topographic map would prove instrumental to Jackson’s success in the 1862 Valley Campaign.

When Jackson’s nine-thousand-man army began its advance along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike on their way to McDowell, they soon came into contact with Union Troops near Ramsey’s Draft. At the junction of the Parkersburg Turnpike and the Harrisonburg-Warm Springs Road, elements of the 52nd Virginia collided with Company L of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry under Captain Jacob Shuman. A sharp but ephemeral skirmish ensued in which the Confederates “killed and wounded several of the enemy, captured stores, etc.”

Subsequent to the skirmish at the crossroads, the vanguard of the army pushed on to Rogers’ Toll Gate. It was believed “the main body of the enemy’s advance, had retreated up Shenandoah Mountain but is supposed to still be holding our ‘Fort Johnson’ at the pass on the top.” Here Generals Jackson and Johnson were joined by mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss and a plan was soon formulated to seek out the enemy.

Detail Map showing Skirmish location, Rogers’ Tollgate, and Fort Johnson.

With a probable combat situation looming on the heights above them, Jackson selected his unarmed mapmaker, Jed Hotchkiss, to lead a team of skirmishers to the top of Shenandoah Mountain to determine if Union forces were holding Fort Johnson. Hotchkiss recalled: “The General ordered me to go up the spur of the mountain on our right, preceded by a line of skirmishers, and ascertain whether the enemy had left the top of the mountain, Col. Williamson doing the same thing on the left. We had a hard scramble up the steep slope of the spur but finally reached the top only to find the enemy all gone but seeing their rear guard on the top of Shaw’s Ridge, the next one beyond us. We returned to Wm Roger’s at the Toll Gate, where Hd. Qtrs. were established for the night.”

Hotchkiss’s combat assignment would resume the following day. Early on the morning of May 8, the army pushed on across Shaw’s Ridge meeting no opposition from General Milroy’s troops. General Jackson sent Jed Hotchkiss along ahead to lead the army’s advance. Hotchkiss remembered he was “in advance, with skirmishers, up the winding turnpike road along an eastward spur of Bull Pasture Mountain, and when, at each turn of the road, I found the way clear I waved my handerchief, then he came on with the main column. So doing we soon reached the gap at the summit two miles from Wilson’s and three miles back from McDowell, as our progress was unopposed.”

Sketch of Fort Edward Johnson on Shenandoah Mountain.

Upon reaching the summit of Bull Pasture Mountain Jackson and Hotchkiss rode out “to the right of the gap to the end of a rocky spur overlooking the Bull Pasture Valley and showed him the enemy in position near McDowell. At the same time, he looking on, I made him a map of McDowell and vicinity, showing the enemy’s position, as in full view before us.”

Returning to their origin atop Bull Pasture Mountain, Hotchkiss remembered that he and Jackson “with great difficulty rode up a steep, rough way, along a gorge, to the cleared fields on the top of the mountain to our left, called Sitlington’s Hill, where Gen. Jackson had already taken his command and placed it in concealment and was studying the enemy’s position.” Here Hotchkiss, Johnson, and Jackson rode to the crest of the mountain to survey the town. “The Federals soon discovered the party, and believing they were trying to place artillery, fired on them with their skirmishers from their concealed position on the slope below.” The party was forced to retire to the woods in their rear.

Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of McDowell.

Hotchkiss withdrew from the soon to be battlefield and rode back to the home belonging to John Wilson on the Cow Pasture River. As it appeared there would be no hostilities that day, Jed helped himself to dinner. While he was dining, though, he soon heard the echo of cannon fire in the distance. He quickly mounted his horse and rode to the sound of the guns where he found Jackson at the top of Bull Pasture Mountain “all alone in the road in the gap. He at once sent me down the road towards McDowell to see what was going on; he had already sent back to Shaw’s Fork for the Stonewall Brigade and seemed very anxious for it to arrive.”

The Battle of McDowell, having begun about 4:30 in the afternoon, was over by early evening. Though a Confederate victory, in that short time-period 532 Confederate soldiers had fallen as had 259 Union troops. Even General Edward Johnson would be removed from the field with an ankle wound. That evening, before Jackson retired, he instructed Jed to return to the mountain about 3 a.m. the next morning to “see about opening a road up to Sitlington’s Hill, where we had been engaged in the fighting, for taking up artillery and must ascertain whether the enemy had left McDowell.”

As instructed, at 3 a.m. precisely, Hotchkiss rode to the top of Sitlington’s Hill to establish a pathway to push artillery to the top of the ridge. In the process he “learned from the pickets that the enemy had retired from McDowell, so sent word to Gen. Jackson and then rode to examine and sketch the battle-field on Sitlington’s Hill.

In the aftermath of the fighting, it was determined that the army was “’too tired’ to begin a pursuit of the enemy on May 9. Instead, Jackson took up headquarters in the Phoenix Hull house. Jackson’s men descended upon the town and spent the day cooking rations for the continuation of the campaign. The pioneers and a contingent of cadets from VMI would dedicate their day to burying the dead “in the bend of the road near the mouth of our path ravine by which we went to the Battlefield.”

Hull House, Jackson’s and Milroy’s Headquarters at McDowell.

Jackson’s men were up early and in pursuit of the Union Army on the morning of the 10th. After the throng had moved some ten miles toward Franklin, however, General Jackson called Hotchkiss to his side once more. He had one more mission for his mapmaker to undertake. Hotchkiss was ordered “to ride back, with all possible dispatch, and blockade the roads leading through North River and Dry River Gaps, from the Franklin Road into the Valley, riding by way of Churchville and taking as many of the cavalry encamped there, under Maj. Jackson.” Hotchkiss informed Jackson that the major was a drunkard, and he instead asked permission to use Captain Frank Sterrett’s Company to assist him with his mission.

Hotchkiss arrived back at his home at Lock Willow that very evening. At 3 a.m. the following morning he departed Churchville with his cavalry escort “by way of Stribling Springs across to James Todd’s and blockaded North River Gap road by falling trees into it and obstructing it in other ways.” They then rode to “Dry River Gap and blockaded the Harrisonburg and Franklin Road in the gap beyond Rawley Springs.” With the sudden appearance of Union Cavalry near their location, however, they “procured axes and crowbars from citizens near the entrances to the gaps from the valley and by sending details far up into the gaps…and cutting down trees and large rocks into the road as we withdrew we made a very effectual blockade.”

Following the war when speaking to a General Thomas, “an assistant General of the Federal Army during the war,” he reported that during late May 1862 General Freemont had been ordered by President Lincoln to march from Franklin to Harrisonburg to cut off Jackson’s retreat through the region. “Freemont had replied that the road was blockaded and he could not do it.” Hotchkiss had in fact done such a good job obstructing the pathway that it would not be reopened until well after the conclusion of the Civil War.

Dry River, Briary, and North River Gaps Blocked by Jedediah Hotchkiss.

On May 18, Jackson would receive one more invaluable assist from Hotchkiss as he was scrambling to find a way to cross his army over the North River at Bridgewater. Stonewall had himself ordered the burning of the bridge earlier in the campaign. When asked by the army commander how he could traverse the river Hotchkiss “suggested a wagon bridge, telling him how numerous the four and six horse wagons were in the area. He adopted my suggestion and ordered Cp C.R. Mason with his negro pioneers and the quartermaster to carry it out.” The scheme was a resounding success.

As we have witnessed Jackson would often ask Hotchkiss to lead his columns, even in combat situations. Jackson did this because he believed Hotchkiss was dependable and would complete his assignments successfully. This trend would continue throughout the remainder of the Valley Campaign including an assignment to burn bridges on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, and even leading an assault on the Coaling at Port Republic. 

Hotchkiss’s knowledge of the Valley and its inhabitants proved helpful in numerous situations. “The Hotchkiss-Jackson collaboration bred success, especially for the general’s lightning strikes which depended heavily on making the most of the terrain.” Hotchkiss’s topographic maps were instrumental to Jackson’s overall success in the 1862 Valley Campaign and beyond.

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, it was Hotchkiss who discovered the route for Jackson’s dramatic flank attack.  After Jackson’s mortal wounding, to which Hotchkiss was a witness, Hotchkiss continued as a topographical engineer with the Confederate Army, frequently working directly for General Robert E. Lee. Maps produced by Hotchkiss would also directly benefit General Jubal Early during the 1864 Valley Campaign.

After the war, Hotchkiss opened an engineering firm and taught school in Staunton. In October 1865, “a Federal detective confronted Hotchkiss with a military order to confiscate his map collection.” Hotchkiss flatly declined to obey the mandate and despite Federal pressure, was able to retain ownership of all his charts. In the end C. Vernon Eddy, a librarian at the Handley Regional Library in Winchester, “made arrangements for the listing and safe-keeping of the maps in specially-made aluminum tubes, before they were finally given to the Library of Congress in 1948.”

“The Jedediah Hotchkiss Papers are currently available in the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives Room through the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society at Handley Regional Library.” Hotchkiss would go on to publish a number of scientific articles about the flora and fauna of Virginia and pursued a successful postwar career as both a geologist and an engineer. Hotchkiss died on January 17, 1899 at the age of 71. He is buried at Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton.

Lets hope for prosperous and healthy new year for us all. God Bless.


Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Southern Methodist University Press. Dallas, Texas. 1973.

Roper, Peter W. Jedediah Hotchkiss: Rebel Mapmaker and Virginia Businessman. White Mane Publishing Company. Shippensburg, Pa. 1992.

Library of Congress Hotchkiss Map Collection. https://www.loc.gov/collections/hotchkiss-maps/articles-and-essays/the-hotchkiss-collection-of-confederate-maps/


Jessie’s Scouts

Early on Sunday morning, April 2, 1864, soldiers from the 19th United States Colored Troops marched out of Harper’s Ferry bound for Winchester, Virginia. The unit passed through Berryville and soon found themselves marching west along the Berryville Turnpike. The regiment was on a mission. They were out to recruit African American soldiers from the Shenandoah Valley.

As the 19th USCT plodded along the pike several musket shots rang out. “Captain James H. Rickard of Company G recalled that for a moment some confusion prevailed, as it was expected we were intercepted by a rebel force.” The 19th quickly regained its composure and shifted into line along a wooded area on the south side of the pike. The men loaded their muskets and primed themselves for the impending mêlée.

“One of the regiment’s officers noted that the 19th USCT returned the fire and did not flinch.” Subsequent to one of their volleys one of the 19th’s officers “was sent forward to ascertain the cause of the firing.” To everyone’s surprise they discovered that they had been fired upon by “Jessie Scouts.”

As it turned out these Jessie Scouts were out to test the mettle of these black troops, to see if they “would stand” when fired upon. As a result of the exchange one member of the regiment, Private Benjamin Curtis, was wounded. A bullet from one of their opponents struck this man in the forehead and punched out a “piece of his skull as large as a silver half dollar.” Curtis would lose sight in his left eye but would survive his injury.

With the altercation along the Berryville Pike resolved, the 19th United States Colored Troops continued their march toward Winchester. Entering town, they proceeded to Market Square, behind the courthouse, and set up camp near the Bell House. “The residents were shocked to see blacks dressed in Union blue uniforms and when these troops began to shout orders at the civilians to clear the street” the citizens of Winchester were horrified.

Mary Greenhow Lee noted: “I was in my room and hearing the sound of horses feet looked up and saw a white Yankee officer and to my inexpressible horror, a company of negro infantry following him; I was near fainting and more unnerved than by any sight I have seen since the war… there is nothing I have dreaded so much during the war… as being where negro troops were garrisoned.”

Julia Chase logged in her diary on April 3: “We have witnessed a sight today that I never expected to see. A Negro regiment came into town this noon, have just passed by. Their object in coming we learn is to conscript all the able bodied negroes/men in the county. This causes great excitement among the whites and the blacks. I don’t know how we will get along, shall have no one to do anything in the way of cutting wood, tilling the ground, & c. We shall expect anything after this.”

During the 19th USCT’s recruiting drive in the lower Shenandoah Valley the regiment recruited only two men, Henry Woodbury and John Douglas. Most would call the enlistment drive a dismal failure, though it had created a great deal of excitement in Winchester. One thing that the regiment had inadvertently accomplished, however, was the detection of a secret band of Union soldiers known as Jessie Scouts.

Jessie Scouts were, undoubtedly, one of the first embodiments of special forces in the United States military. The troop, itself, had been the brainchild of General John C. Fremont and named in honor of his wife, Jessie Benton Fremont. The initial company was formed in St. Louis, Missouri, early in the war and was part of a plan to create independent reconnaissance units. The first man to command these scouts was Charles C. Carpenter. 

During their assorted covert missions Jessie Scouts wore Confederate uniforms, many times with a white handkerchief over their shoulders to signify their allegiance to the Union cause. When Fremont was assigned to his post in West Virginia in 1862 he brought his Jessie Scouts with him. Soon after Fremont resigned his command, though, the scouts were transferred General Robert H. Milroy’s command. Later they became part of General William W. Averell’s Fourth Separate Brigade, which was composed of various West Virginia regiments.

While clothed in enemy apparel, these volunteers were constantly placing their lives in jeopardy. “The commonly applied rules of war defined his presence within the opposition’s lines.” Wearing the wrong uniform was defined as an act of espionage, punishable by death. Their clandestine service to their country involved hazardous undertakings any one of which could lead to a summary execution if apprehended.

Jessie Scout Arch Rowand in Confederate Uniform

One of the more famous volunteer Jessie Scouts was Archibald Rowand, Jr. He was born in Philadelphia on March 5, 1845. Arch was a Quaker and spent time in South Carolina with his family where he acquired a noticeable southern accent. When war came, he was too young to enlist but managed to join a company in the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry captained by his uncle Thomas Rowand. With an enlistment date of July 17, 1862, Arch was only seventeen.

After the war Rowand attempted to explain why he made his decision to become a scout during an interview with a Harper’s Weekly reporter.

“Why did you ever begin?”

“It was as I told you – Company K [1st West Virginia Cavalry] had been on detached service – scout duty – for some time. When the company was drawn up in line, and the captain called for volunteers for ‘extra dangerous duty,’ I looked at Ike Harris and Ike looked at me and then we both stepped forward. They took us to headquarters and gave us two rebel uniforms – and we wished we had not come.”

“But why did you volunteer?”

 “I don’t know! We were boys – wanted to know what was the ‘extra dangerous duty,’ and – chuckling to himself at a hidden recollection, when we found out, we hadn’t the face to back down.” And that’s how it all began.

Soon after the battle of Third Winchester, Sheridan adopted these Jessie Scouts as his headquarters troop and grew it into a “full scout battalion.” He assigned its command to Major Henry Harrison Young, an officer from the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. Sheridan made Young his “Assistant Aide de Camp,” a cover title to permit his chief scout to operate more freely. “Assuming that his Winchester camp was fully penetrated by Confederate spies, Sheridan set the size of his ‘scout battalion’ at five hundred men, an act that was designed to magnify the actual number of scouts, which was never more than sixty men.”

Major Henry Young

General Sheridan soon began to explore some creative uses for his “scouts.” It appears the general helped developed a secret plan to target partisan chief Hanse McNeil during this period. McNeil had become a significant thorn in Sheridan’s side, conducting major raids against the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. McNeil had been allowed to remain active with his partisan rangers, along with John Mosby, when the Confederate Congress had ordered some of the other partisan ranger units disbanded.

In October 1864, McNeil was shot in the back by one of his own men while leading an attack on a bridge across the North Fork of the Shenandoah River at Mount Jackson. The man who shot McNeil, George Valentine, had lately been chastised by his commander for stealing chickens. Valentine was later identified as a “Jessie Scout” after the shooting of McNeil. The question remains: “Was Valentine a scout at the time of the shooting, infiltrating the unit to kill McNeil, or did he become a Jessie Scout after killing his commander?” The answer may never be known.

Sign Commemorating the Shooting of John Hanson McNeill

A similar operation, led by Arch Rowand, was conducted against Colonel Harry Gilmor on February 4, 1865. Gilmore, who had commanded the 1st and 2nd Maryland Cavalry, had been ordered to Hardy County to strike the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Once his headquarters had been discovered at the Randolph House in Moorefield, a raid was quickly planned to capture him. Rowand gathered a party of Jessie Scouts, accompanied by an escort of about two hundred cavalrymen. In the middle of the night, “Gilmor and his cousin, Hoffman, were rudely awakened by armed scouts and escorted back to Winchester.” Gilmor was ultimately taken to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor where he was incarcerated for the remainder of the war.

Jessie Scouts, under Henry Young’s direction, would continue to operate in Sheridan’s command for the remainder of the war. Sheridan would later note that “there was little that he did not know about the enemy within fifty miles of his base because of the actions of his scouts.” They were to play a major role in the Shenandoah Valley in early 1865 as Sheridan prepared to move against Jubal Early’s Army. This endeavor would culminate in Early’s defeat at the Battle of Waynesboro on March 2, 1865.

Prior to the action at Waynesboro, General Sheridan had been given discretionary orders to join General Grant at Petersburg. To do so Sheridan would need to maneuver around General Lee’s rear and flank. The attraction of joining with Grant’s army was irresistible, though, and when Sheridan reached Charlottesville, he decided he would ride on. Doing so required he inform Grant of his intentions. To accomplish this Sheridan determined he would send messengers through Confederate lines. Several Jessie Scouts were selected to perform this dangerous mission.

Arch Rowand and Jim Campbell were given messages, wrapped in tin foil, which were to be swallowed if they were captured. These two men headed out on horseback with the goal of crossing Confederate lines and notifying General Grant of Sheridan’s intentions. “To insure the message got through two more Jessie Scouts, Dominick Fannin and Frederick Moore, were placed in a row boat and ordered to float downstream to Richmond.” They were to “walk on to Petersburg where they were to enter the Confederate trenches to fight against Grant’s army. They were ordered to desert at the first opportunity and deliver their message to Grant.” Rowand and Campbell would, however, arrive at Grant’s headquarters first.

True to his dispatch, Sheridan soon arrived with his giant cavalry force at White House, east of Petersburg. After refitting and resupplying his troopers he was ordered back into the field. Before long he found himself attempting to find Lee’s right flank at Five Forks. His arrival would force a breach in Lees lines denoting the beginning of the end for the Army of Northern Virginia. During the final stages of the Battle of Five Forks, Young and some of his men “rode up to a Confederate officer, General Rufus Barringer, and reported that they had located a camp for him and his staff for the night. Once the Confederate general and his staff was separated from their brigade, these scouts pulled pistols and captured all of them.”

Rufus Barringer (cropped).jpg

General Rufus Barringer, Captured by Jessie Scouts at Namozine Church on April 3, 1865.

Significantly, Jim White, another one of Young’s Jessie Scouts, helped ensure General Lee’s defeat at Appomattox. On April 8, “White had captured one of Lee’s couriers with a telegram ordering trains to move from Lynchburg with rations to meet the army near Appomattox. White kept the telegram and intercepted the first train, impersonating Lee’s courier, and told the train engineers to follow him down the tracks where all four trains were captured by cavalry under General Custer. This also placed Custer, and the rest of the Union cavalry, solidly in front of the Confederate advance.” Lacking food and supplies and with his route to safety blocked, Lee chose to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia.”

As we all know wars require the movement and disposition of large armies. The development of the strategies needed to orchestrate large campaigns, however, requires extensive knowledge of the plans and goals of opposing forces. In order for generals to formulate such operations during the Civil War, the intentions of their opponent were constantly required. This work involved spies, espionage, and a great deal of pluck. It required willing, covert partners, recruited from the Union Army, to operate behind enemy lines. Men serving as Jessie Scouts helped fill this void and shortened the war appreciably.

Ackinclose, Timothy. Sabres & Pistols: The Civil War Career of Colonel Harry Gilmor, C.S.A. Stan Clark Military Books. Gettysburg, Pa. 1997.

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

Patchan, Scott. The Last Battle of Winchester. Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign August 7 to September 19, 1864. Savas Beatie. El Dorado Hills, Ca. 2013.

Strader, Elois C. The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee of Winchester Virginia. Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society. Winchester, Va. 2011.




The Battle at Lacey Spring

George Armstrong Custer, and Thomas L. Rosser, Senior, had been roommates at West Point. Their close relationship, however, would be severed on April 22, 1861, when Rosser left West Point, two weeks prior to graduation, to join the Confederate Army. On opposite sides in the Civil War, Generals Custer and Rosser would cross paths numerous times, often fighting in the same battles, and frequently encountering each other face to face. 

A happenstance of this type had occurred at the Battle of Tom’s Brook (also known as Woodstock Races) in October 1864. In this instance Custer defeated his schoolmate, forcing him to retire quickly from the field. In the process he managed to capture Rosser’s wardrobe wagon. Rosser quickly responded to his defeat by sending Custer a note and a gift.

Dear Fanny. “You may have made me take a few steps back today, but I will get even with you tomorrow. Please accept my good wishes and this little gift – a pair of your draws captured at Trevillian Station.”    Tex.    (Note: The battle at Trevillian is also known as Custer’s First Last Stand.)                                                        

Custer later responded to this gesture by shipping a gold lace Confederate grey coat to Rosser’s wife.

Dear Friend, “Thanks for sending me up so many new things, but would you please direct your tailor to make the coat tails of your next uniform a trifle shorter.”   Best Regards G. A. C.

These two rivals were destined to confront each other once again in the winter of that same year. At 7 A.M. on the morning of December 19, 1864, Brigadier General George Armstrong Custer’s division had departed from Kernstown. With him were two brigades of cavalry. The 1st Brigade was commanded by Colonel Alexander Pennington. The second was led by Brigadier General George H. Chapman. The cavalrymen carried with them three days rations and one day’s forage for their horses. When these provisions ran out, they intended to live off the land. Their assignment was to sever the Virginia Central railroad lines at the south end of the Shenandoah Valley.

Meteorological conditions, though, were working against Custer and his men. Heavy rains and snow had turned the roads into a muddy soup. Winchester diarist Cornelian McDonald had reported as early as July 1863 that even the Valley Pike was “something to be avoided. It had originally been a beautiful macadam turnpike, but three years of heavy traffic of both armies had cut through the road metal until it was impassible. So the wagons, cannon, caissons, cavalry, and foot soldiers made roads on either side, and as soon as they got too bad, new ones were made.”

Upon arriving at Strasburg General Custer learned that a force of about fifty Confederate Cavalry, having ridden in from Front Royal, had passed through Strasburg and continued on up the valley. When they were within six miles of Woodstock two enemy scouts were detected ahead of their advance. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to affect their capture. Custer believed “they continued in sight of the column until the command had reached Woodstock, when, my impression is, they conveyed the intelligence of our approach to the force stationed near New Market, from which point the report was forwarded by telegraph to Staunton and Waynesborough.”

While in Woodstock Custer learned “there was no force of the enemy north of Staunton, except a picket force of three companies, which were posted so as to watch the three roads—pike, Middle and Back roads the right of the line resting near Edinburg, the left extending to Little North Mountain.” With so lean a force opposing him Custer believed the path to his objective was clear.

General George A. Custer

At daylight on the morning of the 20th Custer’s command continued its advance into Woodstock. “A small force of the enemy continued to annoy the advance, but without causing any damage to be inflicted.” From the information ascertained by his troopers, Custer believed the enemy had retired all his forces beyond Staunton. He believed if the enemy permitted his “command to reach Staunton without serious opposition, I could, with reasonable hope of success, continue my movement to Lynchburg, trusting to the supplies in the country beyond Staunton upon which to subsist my command.”

Somewhere near the town of Mt. Jackson General Custer halted his division, and drawing them up close to him, disclosed that “Maj Gen. George H. Thomas was thrashing the rebels in the West and Jefferson Davis had attempted suicide as a result of the dire straits facing the Confederacy.” His men erupted with “three cheers” and the advance was continued toward Harrisonburg.

General Custer’s command, after leaving Woodstock at daybreak, “moved without serious molestation to Lacey’s Springs, nine miles from Harrisonburg,” where they camped for the night. The encampment was at the junction of the roads leading to Keezletown in the east, and to Timberville in the west. It was a prudent choice for a bivouac, and one readily defended.

“Pennington’s brigade encamped in front, and on the left of the pike, one regiment, the Third New Jersey, was posted one mile and a half in advance on the pike to picket in the direction of Harrisonburg. Another regiment of the same brigade, the First Connecticut, was sent out on the road leading to the Keezletown road and picketed the country to the left of the pike. The First New Hampshire, of General Chapman’s brigade, was posted on the Timberville road to picket in the direction of the latter point. One battalion of the Fifteenth New York, about 200 strong, was ordered to its support. The Eighth New York picketed the country in front and between the Timberville road and the pike, while the two remaining battalions of the Fifteenth New York, numbering upward of 400 men, were posted on the pike about one mile and a half in rear of the camp of the division.” In his defense of what would happen at Lacey Springs Custer related: “It will thus be seen that of the nine regiments composing my command five were on picket.”

General Custer established his headquarters at the Lincoln Inn in the center of the small hamlet of Lacey Springs. The establishment, over the war years, had hosted several distinguished commanders, both North and South, including General Stonewall Jackson in April of 1862. The owners of the establishment shared a common ancestry with President Abraham Lincoln and were, by now, used to the intrusion of the war into their lives.

Mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss reported in his diary that the weather on the night of December 20, had taken a turn for the worst. The day “was quite chilly and before midnight a severe storm began of sleet, hail, and snow.” Five inches of snow covered the ground and more was still accumulating.

General Thomas L. Rosser

General Thomas Rosser, and the Laurel Brigade, had been camped at Timberville. On the morning of December 16, they had relocated to Swoope’s Depot which was seven miles west of Staunton. When word was received of Custer’s expedition General Rosser was ordered to move “to the front with all the cavalry he could collect.” Taking “what could be mounted of his own and Payne’s Brigade,” he pushed on to deflect the advance on the Virginia Central Railroad.

A large number of the men in Rosser’s Laurel Brigade were “either on furlough, on horse detail, or without leave.” Still, General Rosser drove on in the rain and mud toward Harrisonburg, arriving about 10 P.M. on the evening of the 20th. “Three hours later the bugle called the sleepy troopers to horse. Mounting their half-starved and jaded horses, the Laurel Brigade rode in search of the enemy.”

General Custer retired on the evening of the twentieth in an optimistic mood. He had sent a message to headquarters which Phil Sheridan had forwarded on to General Grant. In it he detailed that Custer “was in fine spirits, and says he will, he hopes, spend his Christmas in Lynchburg.” Christmas in any part of the upper Shenandoah Valley, however, would prove to be an optimistic goal for this or any other Union troop.

Hotchkiss reported on the morning of the battle “the weather to be a blinding storm, cold and biting, but most of the men in a good humor, though in no plight for a battle.” Still, General Rosser had his cavalrymen up and moving with just three hours rest. He had every intention of wreaking revenge upon Custer, in retaliation for his recent embarrassment at Tom’s Brook.

Rosser, ever anxious to do battle with Custer, felt there “was nothing to do but to have it out before morning.” The roads his men were traveling on, “muddy from recent rains, was rendered more so by additional showers; a cold wind blew and the rain froze as it fell. The hats and clothes of the troopers soon became stiff with ice; while the horses were enveloped in frosty garments; the small icicles hanging from their bodies rattled as they staggered along. The roads soon became icy smooth, and the horses not being rough shod, traveled with much difficulty.”

Custer had notified his brigade commanders, soon after reaching camp, that “reveille was ordered at 4 o’clock and the command was to move promptly at 6.30, Chapman’s brigade taking the advance. In conformity with these instructions, General Chapman called in his pickets at the proper time and the Eighth New York, the regiment farthest in advance in the direction of the Middle road, having formed in columns of squadrons and mounted, had begun to move off by fours.”

“Not fearing any enemy activity in such inclement weather,” Federal soldiers went about their morning assignments at a leisurely pace before daybreak on the twenty-first.  Some of the men saddled their horses while others prepared breakfasts over the campfires. Some even attempted to get a few extra minutes of sleep.

It was about 5:30 AM, just as Custer’s men were beginning to form up, when “the shots and whoops” of Rebel Cavalrymen “coming from the north side of the division” could be heard. Custer recalled: “A brigade of the enemy (Payne’s) which, under cover of the darkness and the withdrawal of our pickets, had advanced to within a very short distance of the regiment, charged in the direction of the camp-ground of the Second Brigade. The attack was heard by the entire command, and although Pennington’s brigade was the rear in the order of march, it was at once mounted and placed in position to receive the enemy.”

Rosser’s men, outnumbered five to one and shivering from the cold, came charging in upon the rear of Custer’s command with sabers swinging and the rebel yell upon the lips of every cavalryman. Their attack came in just as many of the Federal troopers were eating breakfast. They quickly overwhelmed the Federal picket which had been posted about three hundred yards from the Union camp. Chapman’s brigade was completely surprised, as Rosser pushed his attack south toward the remaining units.

One account indicates that “when the Rebel brigades struck the Second Brigade they encountered only one vedette some three hundred yards from the main body.” It is apparent Custer did not ensure his pickets were alert and ready while so deep inside enemy territory, even though he knew his advance had been detected. There are indications that pickets had been pulled in sometime after reveille at 4 A.M. and before they were scheduled to depart at 6:30. True or not, Custer’s official report would state that “many of his troopers were in the saddle at the time of the attack.”

Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of Lacey Springs

General Custer was himself just rising when the Confederates attacked. Luck was with him, though, as he narrowly escaped capture. Perhaps it was the darkness and poor visibility which contributed to his escape, or possibly it was just plain luck. “Only half dressed and riding a bandsman’s horse” Custer was able to join the struggle sporting only a pair of socks to protect his feet.

Gregory J. W. Urwin actually asserts that: “Custer made his escape from the inn by wearing a Confederate officer’s coat, captured from Brigadier General Thomas L. Rosser at the earlier battle of Tom’s Brook.” He supposedly discarded the coat as soon as he was able to find a horse and rejoin his troopers. If this is true then it is proof that Custer was, as always, quick to think on his feet, demonstrating he “was always best in combat situations such as this.” His presence on the battlefield helped to rally the scattered troopers of his division, averting a Union disaster.

The Eighth New York, although somewhat astounded by this attack, behaved well under the circumstances and opened an effective fire upon the enemy. “At the same time an attack was made upon the First New Hampshire, which regiment was mounted and had a line of skirmishers in advance. The enemy did not attempt to engage either of the regiments with determination, but acted as if the intention was to surprise a sleeping camp. Charging past the Eighth New York and First New Hampshire, they moved at the top of their speed in the direction of the pike and to our rear.”

Custer reported that “the enemy, after his first attack upon the Eighth New York and First New Hampshire, was completely bewildered and acted as if his only object was to get safely away. He did not attempt to engage any of my troops, although by the cheering kept up by my command he could easily have determined their locality. One regiment, the Sixth Virginia Cavalry, charged Pennington’s brigade, but was met by one of his regiments which was already advancing and repulsed, with little or no fighting, in which Pennington suffered no loss, while the enemy suffered a loss of several in killed, wounded, and missing. Ten of the enemy were left dead on the ground. Chapman attacked the enemy wherever he could be found, and with one regiment, the First Vermont, drove him over a mile in the direction from which the attack had come.”

Jed Hotchkiss would re-count that the attack resulted in the capture of “35 prisoners and getting their wagons and ambulances, but they rallied on their third brigade and (Rosser) had to fall back, but at once retreated down the valley. Rosser did not get all his men up in time for the attack.” Federals were able recapture the wagon train, undoubtedly saving Custer from some future embarrassment with regard to his wardrobe.

General Custer would report his “loss in prisoners, although not officially reported to me yet, will not, I think, reach twenty. I have thirty-two of the enemy taken in the fight. My loss in wounded is twenty-two; most, if not all, are saber cuts, as the enemy had orders to charge with the saber. As my men used the carbine alone, and at short range, I am confident, from the number of dead left on the ground by the enemy, and from the verbal reports of brigade and regimental commanders, that the enemy’s loss in wounded was more than treble my own. I do not think that more than one or two of my command were killed.”

The bulk of this story is based on the official report submitted by General Custer. Word has it, though, that Custer’s reports were usually a little one sided, always showing his actions in a favorable light. James Harvey Kidd wrote after the war that: “No one could be more willing than myself to suspect that General Custer was the man to wittingly do an injustice to any command that served under him. Yet, there are in his official reports many inaccuracies, not to employ a stronger term.” Kid was a member of the 6th Michigan Wolverines and fought closely by Custer’s side throughout the war.

Rosser testified “the firing at the first camp roused the rest of Custer’s command and a sharp engagement followed. The Federals were forced back and Rosser pursued a short distance.” Though the battle was a Union victory, as they held the ground after the fight, strategically, the incident caused Custer to retire back down the valley.

General Custer was never able to celebrate Christmas, or any other holiday, at Lynchburg. The fighting here in the Valley was destined to go on until March 2, 1865, ending with the Battle of Waynesboro. This story, however, including Custer’s remarkable escape from capture, may go a long way in explaining his request of Rosser that the “coat tails of your next uniform” need be “a trifle shorter.” He was, after all, able to extricate himself from a tight situation on the “coat tails” of someone else.

Sign on Battlefield at Lacey Springs


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

Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley. The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Southern Methodist University Press. Dallas, Tx. 1973.

Landis, Steven E. Custer at Lacey Spring: Custer’s failure to consider Confederate intentions cost him victory at Lacey Spring. Columbiad: A Quarterly Review of the War Between the States. Winter 1999.

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Series I – Volume XLIII Part 1. Pg 674 to 677 and pg. 588.

McDonald, William N. A History of the Laurel Brigade. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Md. 2002.