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.

Sources:

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

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

George Phorr 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 Phorr’s story.

George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson

Based on accounts that were confirmed by soldiers in both armies, George Phorr, 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 Phorr, 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 Phorr’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.

Sources:

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Waynesboro,_Virginia

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.

Sources:

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/

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/jedediah-hotchkiss

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.

“https://medium.com/@gauley.david/general-philip-sheridans-special-forces-the-jessie-scouts-ccf926584be9”>https://medium.com/@gauley.david/general-philip-sheridans-special-forces-the-jessie-scouts-ccf926584be9

http://www.jessiescouts.com/JS_Overview.html

https://www.shenandoahatwar.org/the-shenandoah-valley-and-united-states-colored-troops/

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

Sources:

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_L._Rosser

Siren of the Shenandoah

By Peter and Cynthia Dalton

Belle Boyd photo

Belle Boyd

It was about 1:00 o’clock on the afternoon of May 23, 1862, when a young servant entered the parlor where eighteen-year-old Belle Boyd was reading to her grandmother in her home in Front Royal. The young man was in a state of great excitement. He shouted: “Oh, Miss Belle, I t’inks de revels am a-coming; for the yanks are a-makin orful fuss in de street.”

Belle rushed outside and stopped a federal officer who was just then passing by. She queried him as to what the commotion was all about. The captain replied: “The Confederates were approaching the town in force, under Generals Jackson and Ewell, that they had surprised and captured the outside pickets, and had actually advanced within a mile of the town without the attack being even suspected.”

Belle hastened upstairs, grabbing her opera glasses, and took just enough time to lock the “Special Correspondent” to the New York Herald, a Mr. Clark, in his room. It was her desire that he might be apprehended by General Jackson and spend some quality time in Libby Prison.

Hurrying on to the balcony and, using her binoculars, Belle was able to spot the “advance guard of the Confederates at the distance of about three-quarters of a mile, marching rapidly upon the town.” Boyd knew her father, Benjamin Boyd, was serving as a member of the Stonewall Brigade, and was marching with these troops. She believed she must act swiftly to insure his well-being, as well as that of the entire Rebel Army.

Belle Boyd Cottage

Boyd House in Front Royal

Boyd quickly departed the balcony and passed to the street in front of her grandmother’s house. There several “pro-Confederate men” were standing about. She asked if they would hurry to Jackson to give him valuable information on the disposition of Federal troops inside the town. “Without it I had every reason to anticipate defeat and disaster.” Each of the men she queried, however, replied: “No, no. You go.” And go she did.

Dressed as she was in “a dark blue dress with a little fancy white apron over it; and this contrast of colors, being visible at a great distance, made me far more conspicuous than was just then agreeable.” Grabbing a white sun-bonnet Belle “started at a run down the street, which was thronged with Federal officers and men. I soon cleared the town and gained the open fields, which I traversed with unabating speed, hoping to escape observation until such time as I could make good my way to the Confederate line…”

In her biography Boyd noted that her “escape was providential: for although I was not hit, the rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me, and more than one struck the ground so near my feet as to throw the dust in my eyes.” Additionally, Union soldiers stationed at the hospital turned their attention to Boyd’s exit from town and opened fie upon her as well. Several shots pierced parts of her clothing but “none reached her body.” Certainly, being the target of Federal small arms fire was conceivable, though I question why Federal soldiers would shoot at an unarmed female civilian.

Belle also claimed she was also exposed to “cross-fire from the Federal and Confederate artillery, whose shot and shell flew whistling and hissing over my head.” One of the shells struck the earth “within twenty yards of my feet; and the explosion, of course, sent the fragments flying in every direction.” Boyd was forced to throw herself upon the ground to avoid injury.

Being exposed to artillery “cross-fire” during the 1:00 PM time period is highly unlikely. The first artillery rounds fired were those from Lieutenant Charles Atwell’s Battery E., Pennsylvania Light Artillery’s ten-pounder Parrotts. Lucy Buck, whose parents owned Bel Air manor, reference the artillery “on both sides were carrying on a most animated dialog.” One of the shells is reported to have whistled “over the house and cutting the twigs off the aspen in front of the porch.” One exploded in their barn and another crashed into the Happy Creek Mill just a short walk from her house. By most accounts, however, the shelling did not begin until at least 2:15, more than forty-five minutes after Boyd’s rendezvous with Douglas. Further, Confederate counter-battery fire was not inaugurated until a little after 3:00 PM.

Regardless, Boyd soon came within sight of the 1st Maryland, CSA, and the Louisiana Brigade. She claimed these units “gave her a loud cheer, and without waiting for further orders, dashed upon the town at a rapid pace.” Grateful, Boyd claimed she “sank upon her knees and offered a short but earnest prayer to God.”

General Richard Taylor, commanding the Louisiana Brigade, did himself make note of his encounter with Belle Boyd. He wrote: “There rushed out of the wood to meet us a young, rather well-looking woman, afterward widely known as Belle Boyd.” She relayed that “the town was filled with Federals, whose camp was on the west side of the river, where they had guns to cover the wagon bridge, but none bearing on the railway bridge.” “Convinced of the woman’s statements, I hurried forward at ‘a double’ hoping to surprise the enemy’s idlers in the town.”

It was at this juncture Belle Boyd spotted an acquaintance of hers, Henry Kyd Douglas. In her recollections, though, it is interesting to note she calls him “Harry.” Regardless, after catching her breath she ran to him and told him “to hurry on the cavalry, with orders to them to seize the bridges before the retreating Federals should have time to burn them.”

Henry Douglas recalled the meeting somewhat differently. Douglas recollected seeing “the figure of a woman in white glide swiftly out of town on our right and, after making a little circuit, run rapidly up a ravine in our direction… She seemed when I saw her, to heed neither weeds nor fences, but waved a bonnet as she came on, trying, it was evident, to keep the hill between herself and the village.”

General Richard Ewell suggested that Douglas ride out to meet her. Douglas did so, describing her as a “romantic maiden whose tall, supple, and graceful figure struck” him when he came within sight of her. He was “startled, momentarily, at hearing her call my name. But I was not much astonished when I saw that the visitor was the well-known Belle Boyd whom I had known from her earliest childhood.”

Henry Douglas

Henry Kyd Douglas

According to Henry, when Belle caught her breath, she told him to inform Jackson that “the Yankee force is very small – one regiment of Maryland Infantry, several pieces of artillery, and several companies of cavalry. Tell him I know, for I went through the camps and got it out of an officer. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.” Douglas claimed he delivered the message “speedily” to Jackson. The intelligence provided to Jackson was, unfortunately, information he, for the most part, already knew. It was the reason he had asked, earlier that morning, for the 1st Maryland CSA to lead the attack.

Belle recalled that after Douglas conveyed his report to Jackson, the general rode up to her and asked if she would “have an escort and a horse wherewith to return to the village.” Belle thanked him but indicated she “would go as I came.” Douglas does not mention Jackson making this offer to her. Regardless of the details and accuracy of Boyd’s dash for the Confederate Army, attempting this in the middle of a battle certainly exhibited a great deal of daring and courage on her part.

When Douglas returned to Jackson the 1st Maryland and Louisiana troops were already rushing into Front Royal. Jackson suggested Henry follow the troops into town and try to speak with Belle Boyd one more time and see if he could obtain any additional intelligence. Douglas did so and as he rode up to her “she received me with much surprised cordiality, and as I stooped from my saddle she pinned a crimson rose to my uniform, bidding me remember that it was blood-red and that it was her ‘colors.’”

Though there is no mention made of any additional information being conveyed, Bell had been given, “by a gentleman of high social standing,” two packages while visiting Winchester the previous day. One package he said was “of great importance.” The second package he said was a “trifle.” We know from the diary of Julia Chase that among these items, some ”50 letters,” were taken away from her by officers serving under Colonel George Lafayette Beal of the 10th Maine Infantry prior to her departure from Winchester.

In addition to the packages, we know the mysterious “gentleman” had also given Belle a confidential note. She was told it “had to reach General Jackson or his equal.” While confronting Belle Boyd, Colonel Beal had noticed a note partially concealed in her hand. When asked about it, Boyd responded: “What-this little scrap of paper? You can have it if you wish. It is nothing.” The bluff worked as Beal declined to examine the document. If true, it was a significant gaffe on his part. It must be assumed, though, that this part of her mission would have been accomplished during one of her two encounters with Henry Douglas.

Though a great deal of the detail in her 1866 account of the incident does not compare accurately with accepted history, Boyd claimed in her memoirs she “received a thank you note from Jackson.” The note is reputed to have read: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you rendered your country today. Hastily I am your friend, T. J. Jackson, CSA.”

The victory at Front Royal was indeed complete and Jackson’s 6th Virginia Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Flournoy, would indeed serve the fatal blow to Colonel John Reese Kenly’s force. The 6th Virginia Cavalry would provide the coup-de-grass scooping up more than 750 members of the 1st Maryland Union Infantry, the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry, and Atwell’s artillerists.

Belle Boyd would note: “The day was ours; and I had the satisfaction to know that it was in consequence of the information I had conveyed at such risk to myself General Jackson made the flank movement which led to such fortunate results.” “The Confederates, following up their victory, crossed the river by the still standing bridges, and pushed on by the road which led to Winchester.”

Boyd, however, would soon begin to pay the consequences for her profession. On July 29, 1862, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued a warrant for her arrest. Lucy Buck mentions on July 30: “Belle Boyd was taken prisoner and sent off in a carriage with an escort of fifty cavalrymen today. I hope she has succeeded in making herself proficiently notorious today.” Boyd was brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C. and was held there for a month. She was released on August 29, after being exchanged at Fort Monroe.

It is interesting to note Belle Boyd had been born in Martinsburg, West Virginia in 1844. Henry Douglas, on the other hand, was six years her senior, having been born in 1838. He had grown up in a small hamlet called Ferry Hill Place, on the opposite side of the Potomac river from Shepherdstown. The two towns are about eleven miles distant from each other and it would not have been an insurmountable obstacle for him to have known Belle Boyd “from her earliest childhood.” Still, it is interesting to note she could not correctly recall his first name.

Prior to the Front Royal escapade Boyd had previously gained considerable notoriety with Federal officers. On July 4, 1861, a group of Union soldiers had arrived at the Boyd residence in Martinsburg looking for Confederate flags rumored to be stored there. In retribution Union soldiers hung a federal flag outside of the house. One of the combatants made the mistake of cursing at Belle’s mother which so angered her that she pulled out a pistol and fatally injured the soldier. A Federal board of inquiry would eventually exonerate her of the murder charge.

In total Belle was arrested at least six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice. On one occasion she was exiled to Canada, but instead headed for England. Likely more an adventurer than a true Confederate ideologue, Boyd would marry two Union men—first in 1864, Samuel Hardinge, a Union naval officer with whom she had a daughter, Grace. Later in 1869 she would marry John Hammond, a former Union officer. Together they would have four additional children.

Boyd became an actress in England after her husband’s death in order to support her daughter. Later in 1866, she and her child returned to the United States. Boyd assumed the stage name Nina Benjamin and performed in several cities. She subsequently began touring the country giving dramatic lectures on her life as a Civil War spy. She died of a heart attack in Kilbourn City, Wisconsin on June 11, 1900 at the age of 56. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Grand Army of the Potomac as her pallbearers. Her stone would read:

BELLE BOYD

CONFEDERATE SPY

BORN IN VIRGINIA

DIED IN WISCONSIN

ERECTED BY A COMRADE

Boyd Plot

Belle Boyd’s Grave in Spring Grove Cemetery, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

 

Sources:

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

Boyd, Belle. Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. 1998.

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

Douglas, Henry Kyd. I Rode with Stonewall: The War Experiences of the Youngest Member of Jackson’s Staff. The University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill. 1984.

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

Scarborough, Ruth. Belle Boyd: Siren of the South. Mercer University Press. Macon, Georgia. 1997.

Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction.

Percy, Old Boy!

Percy

Percy Wyndham

On the afternoon of June 6, 1862, a detachment of the 1st New Jersey Cavalry trotted into Harrisonburg, Virginia and turned east along the Port Republic Road, probing for General Stonewall Jackson’s rear guard. The unit’s commander, Colonel Percy Wyndham, was tracking General Turner Ashby. Wyndham had sworn, publicly, that he had intended to “bag him” and he was of the opinion that this was the day he would do it.

Turner Ashby, on the other hand, had taken this moment to dismount his command, giving his men and their horses a well-deserved breather. Their mounts had become appreciably worn by Stonewall Jackson’s ongoing campaign, and were in need of a momentary respite. With Ashby were elements of the 6th, and 7th Virginia Cavalry.

As providence would have it, though, it was at this very moment Colonel Wyndham spotted his opponent and ordered his men to make ready for an attack. Wyndham was anxious “to pluck the budding honors on his crest to weave them on his own.”

General Ashby’s command responded quickly to their predicament, remounting their horses, and preparing to repel the assault. Ashby ordered Major Oliver Funsten to make ready, and as he rode past him yelled: “Follow me.”

Ahead of Colonel Ashby and Major Funsten, however, rode Captain Edward H. McDonald. Leading a small detachment of 7th Virginia Cavalry, he too had spotted Federal troopers as they assembled on the hill opposite them. McDonald knew he must act quickly and had done so. He too had hastily instructed his men to remount, and charge the Federal Cavalry.

The Rebel response to the order was quick in coming. Captain McDonald, racing down Chestnut Ridge, recalled “as we approached them in our charge they began to break away from their line and ran.” Only their commander, Colonel Percy Wyndham, and a few of his men had reacted decorously to the command to charge.

Private Holmes Conrad remembered: “After proceeding about a hundred yards I discovered that the Federal officer [Wyndham] was continuing his advance at a rapid gait but entirely alone; his command remained where I had seen it from the top of the ridge. Then too I discovered for the first time that none of those who had been with me on the summit of the ridge had attended me in my charge.” The two men were racing toward each other, unaccompanied.

Conrad

Holmes Conrad

According to Conrad: “The sun was shining full on the advancing officer whose sabre, which he handled with a master’s hand, shown like a circle of light. We each approached the narrow ravine between our respective ridges….A sunken rail fence about 3 rails high in the bottom of the ravine was between us….When each of us was about 8 or 10 feet from this place….I dropped my sabre from my hand and let it hang from the sword knot on my wrist and drawing my pistol held it down by my side. The officer had reached the fence which he for the first time saw and halted.”

“The fore legs of his horse were over it. His sabre was held with the point down. He was peering over the horse’s head down at the fence which had impeded him. I gathered rein tightly in my left hand, stuck both spurs into my horse and in a moment had the muzzle of my pistol against the side of the big red nose of the fiercest looking cavalryman I ever confronted. He had an enormous tawny moustache that reached nearly to his ears; large eyes of the deepest blue and these were fastened upon me with a clear, strong gaze without the lease indication of fear.”

“Unwilling to betray my own nervousness by a faltering voice I was content to return his stare for a minute in silence and then said to him ‘Drop your saber!’ I did not tell him to ‘return’ I was unwilling that the point of that formidable blade should be removed, even for a second from its earthward direction. He did not instantly obey. I said: ‘If you don’t drop it I’ll shoot.’ He dropped it. I told him then to unbuckle his sabre belt and hand it to me. He did so. I buckled it around me with scabbard and pistol that were on it. I ordered him to dismount which he did and to hand me his sabre which I returned to its scabbard. I then took him back up the hill, he holding to my stirrup leather….”

J.R. Crawford, who was a witness to the event, noted: “Maj. Holmes Conrad, of Gen. Ashby’s staff, rode swiftly, and demanded his surrender; but Sir Percy at first defiantly twirled his sword as though he were ready for combat. But Major Conrad rode close to him, with his pistol ready to pull the trigger, and Wyndham, seeing that Conrad had the ‘drop’ on him, said, ‘I am your prisoner,’ and handed Conrad his handsome sword which Garibaldi had given him. Major Conrad holds that sword as evidence that he alone captured Col. Wyndham….”

A Federal horseman recalled: “This officer was an Englishman, an alleged lord. But lord or son of a lord, his capacity as a cavalry officer was not great. He had been entrusted with one or two independent commands and was regarded as a dashing officer…He seemed bent on killing as many horses as possible, not to mention the men.”

The Englishman who had boasted he would “get” Ashby, failed to achieve his boasted threat. The turnabout capture would cause a considerable stir on both sides. Major Roberdeau Wheat of the Louisiana Tigers, upon spotting Wyndham, embraced the embarrassed captive, exclaiming, “Percy, old boy!” The two of them knew each other, having served together under Garibaldi in Italy.

In the years since the war several men would claim credit for the capture of Percy Wyndham. Some would say Turner Ashby had accomplished the feat himself. Jacob Crisman, a Frederick County farmer and veteran of Ashby’s cavalry, would claim credit for the feat as well. Still, the most accepted account of the event was that of private Conrad.

In the fighting that would take place here later that day, at a battle variously named the Battle of Harrisonburg, Chestnut Ridge, and Good’s Farm, the combat would prove costly for the Confederacy. Though the skirmish would be a victory for the Confederates, with Ashby’s men capturing a battle flag, and more than 60 prisoners, Turner Ashby would have his horse shot out from under him while resisting an attack by a detachment of Pennsylvania Bucktails. Back on his feet he was immediately struck by a bullet and killed. Some said he may even have been the victim of friendly fire. His body would be quickly removed from the battlefield and taken to the home of Frank Kemper in Port Republic.

Goods

Map of the Battle of Good’s Farm or Chestnut Ridge

Wyndham’s stay in Confederate hands would be brief. He was paroled shortly after his capture, but he was not exchanged until mid-August. After Wyndham’s swap he returned to the 1st New Jersey Cavalry where he would lead his regiment at the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap in August, 1862. At 9:30 a.m., on August 28, Wyndham’s troopers encountered Longstreet’s vanguard while attempting to fell trees across the road on the east side of the gap. Though Wyndham dispatched a courier for reinforcements he was forced to meet the Confederate advance alone. Outnumbered and outflanked Wyndham was soon driven from the gap. As a result, Longstreet’s Corps was allowed to join Jackson at 2nd Battle of Manassas.

Later that year Wyndham was promoted to brigade command, which included his own 1st New Jersey, the 12th Illinois, 1st Pennsylvania, and the 1st Maryland Cavalry. In early 1863, while his brigade was headquartered at Fairfax Court House, Wyndham was given the task of running down John S. Mosby’s guerrillas. Wyndham had publicly insulted Mosby by referring to the Confederate partisan’s men as “a pack of horse thieves.”

The accusation incensed the Confederate cavalryman. In retribution, Mosby decided a personal response was in order. When a deserter from the 5th New York Cavalry disclosed the location of Wyndham’s headquarters, Mosby decided he would launch a raid on the town.

On the night of March 9, 1863, Mosby entered the heavily guarded town a little after 2 a.m. in order capture Wyndham. Unfortunately, Wyndham had gone into Washington for the evening and was spared the humiliation of being captured for a second time. Still, Mosby bagged the slumbering Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton, a number of infantrymen, and a quantity of horses.

Subsequently, Wyndham’s application for promotion to Brigadier General was denied. The denial occurred following a fellow officer’s accusation “of disloyalty and of considering transferring to the Confederate Army.” Though Wyndham would continue to draw his army pay for some time, he retired from Federal service on July 5, 1864.

Nevertheless, soldier of fortune Percy Wyndham would prove to be an extremely interesting character in world military history. At the age of fifteen he entered the French navy, serving as a midshipman during the French Revolution of 1848. He then joined the Austrian army as an officer and left eight years later as a first lieutenant in the Austrian Lancers. He resigned his commission on May 1, 1860 to join the Italian army of liberation being led by the famed guerrilla leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. He received a battlefield promotion to major at the Battle of Milazzo, Sicily on July 20, 1860 and was later knighted.

Wyndham took part in a number of ventures following the Civil War. He relocated to Calcutta, India, and later to Rangoon, Burma. On February 3, 1879, his obituary appeared in the London Times. In part it read: “News of a sad accident comes from Rangoon. Colonel Percy Wyndham, a gentleman well known in Calcutta and Rangoon, announced an ascent in a balloon of his own construction. After attaining a height of about 500 feet the balloon burst, and the unfortunate aeronaut fell into the Royal Lake, whence he was extricated quite dead.”

Holmes Conrad would also survive the war. In 1865 Conrad commenced the study of law in his father’s office in Winchester, and on his admission to the Virginia bar in January 1866, joined his father’s practice. In 1878, he was elected to the Virginia legislature, serving until 1882. Over the next few years, he became a prominent member of the Virginia bar and acquired an influential position in the the Democratic Party. In 1893 President Grover Cleveland appointed him Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and in 1895 he became Solicitor General. Following his death in 1915, he was buried in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia.

Sources:

Sherwood, W Cullen and Ritter, Ben. Americas Civil War. November 2006.

Wert, Jeffry. Mosby’s Rangers: The True Adventures of the Most Famous Command of the Civil War. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. New York. 1990.

Winchester Evening Star. Edward H. McDonald. May 1904

http://civilwarcavalry.com/?p=665

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Wyndham_(soldier)

https://cenantua.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/three-conrads-from-winchester/

 

The Battle of Bonnie Doon

General David Hunter replaced General Franz Sigel on May 21, 1864, just six days after the Battle of New Market. General Ulysses S. Grant immediately ordered Hunter to apply scorched earth policies, if necessary, in his advance up the Shenandoah Valley. His instructions were to march through Staunton, Charlottesville, and then on to Lynchburg destroying the Virginia Central railroad such that it was “beyond possibility of repair for weeks.”

Hunter began advancing his army from its camp at Belle Grove, near Middletown, on May 25. By the following day, his army had arrived at Woodstock, and by May 30, Hunter had reached New Market. Here he would, for the most part, cut himself free from his supply line and begin living off the land.

General Hunter would remain at New Market until June 2nd, at which time he broke camp and headed for Harrisonburg. Along the way he met with very little resistance from Confederate forces. Hunter’s scouts informed him on June 4, however, that General John Imboden’s forces were dug in on the south side of the North River at Mount Crawford. Imboden had concentrated his forces there, intent on obstructing a direct approach to Staunton. To avoid a frontal assault across the river, Hunter decided he would move east around Imboden’s right flank by passing through Port Republic. He would employ a pontoon bridge there to force a safe crossing of the South Fork.

Reacting to Hunter’s move, General Imboden shuffled his headquarters from Mount Crawford to the Mount Meridian area so that he could continue to contest the advance of Hunter’s Army. With him he took Harnsberger’s Old Man and Chrisman’s Boy Cavalry Companies. These forces were now operating under the command of Captain T. Sturgis Davis. They were to stay out in front of Hunter’s army in order to resist his continued advance up the valley. Meanwhile, John Mosby and other rangers would strike Hunter’s flank and rear.

On June 4 the 18th Virginia Cavalry set up camp near Mount Meridian, six miles south of Port Republic. A second contingent went into bivouac that same day a mile to their south on the Bonnie Doon Plantation. The estate was situated on readily defended high ground. Here Chrisman’s Boy Company, and Harnsberger’s Old Men were joined by Sturgis Davis’s Marylanders, and John Opie’s and Henry Peck’s mounted reserves from Augusta County.

Bonnie Doon Plt

Field in the foreground is spot where Rebel Cavalry camped at Bonnie Doon.

The following morning the 1st and 21st New York Cavalry were up early and moving by 4 am. The weather was foggy, with a drizzling rain, as Union troopers trotted south toward the settlement of Mount Meridian. The 1st New York was leading the march with the 21st trailing some distance behind.

After two hours on the road Federal scouts spotted “the enemy in force.” They had collided with the 18th Virginia Cavalry. The New Yorkers quickly formed line and prepared to attack. “Skirmishers were thrown out in front and flankers to the right and left.” Major Timothy Quinn pushed Company C into line in the woods on the right and Company A to the left. The remaining companies were deployed into column in the center.

Bonnie Doon Map

Hotchkiss Map showing the region between Port Republic and Piedmont.

The attackers were soon slowed by a wooden rail fence which obstructed their path. Troopers were forced to dismount and tear down the impediment. When they remounted, they were surprised to “see immediately in front of them a broad rounded hill filled with the enemy.” The spectacle spawned a momentary pause on the part of the assailants.

The New Yorkers, remounting their horses, pressed forward once more. Regrettably, they were “forced to halt once again and became a mark for the Confederates on the hill. They were taken at a disadvantage.” Lieutenant Isaac Vermilya was presently shot and fell from his horse. “There seemed to be no one just there to give the command to deploy and charge.” Instead, “they held their ground and promptly and continuously returned the enemy’s fire.”

An unnamed Confederate officer reacted quickly. “Charging with uplifted sabre (he) led a charge down the slope of the hill with such vigor that these companies were forced back into the woods.” There was complete chaos on the field of battle. In the “fierce saber fight” that ensued the New Yorkers were repulsed.

The 1st New York was not ready to give up. They quickly regrouped and initiated a counterattack. The pursuit of the retreating Confederates was swift. The 1st New York’s Lieutenant Edwin Savacool’s horse got out of control and bolted into the Confederate lines. Fortunately for the Lieutenant he was wearing his rubber coat. Reflexively he began to mingle with the enemy and, as a result, remained unobserved. He later gained his freedom in the midst of a second attack by his regiment.

The fire from the 18th Virginia was devastating to the 1st New York. “Sergeant Buss, George Mason, and twenty or more of other companies were wounded in probably less than five minutes. Lieutenant Clark Stanton was shot in the thigh.” Thomas Gorman while attempting to jump a rail fence fell with his horse and was trapped under the weight of it. A couple of Confederates captured Gorman, only to be forced to release him moments later due to the Union counterattack.

Fortunately for the Union cause, Colonel William Tibbits’ 21st New York Cavalry Regiment arrived at this moment with four hundred additional troopers. Tibbits was quick to react, throwing his men immediately into the melee. Once again, the fighting became close and deadly. It was “saber to saber.”

Colonel Tibbits, finding himself in the middle of this savagery, had a very close call while he was riding his beloved war horse “Old Bill.” In the close fighting he received a wound to his “saber hand.” Forced to pull his revolver, he began to trigger it at the enemy at close quarters. Presently, Tibbits was attacked by a Confederate swinging a saber directly at him. Tibbets attempted to fire his gun and though the cap flashed the powder did not ignite. “As the rebel cavalryman swung his sword Tibbits threw himself over on one side of Bill’s neck and gave him the spur.” Old Bill leapt over a fence leaving the rebel cutting air with his sword.

Bonnie Doon East Road

The 21st New York, Chrisman’s Boys and Harnsberger’s Old men collided at the base of the hill in the distance.

As the 21st New York renewed its assault, the 18th Virginia’s line broke and they began retreating toward Bonnie Doon. The 1st New York was in close pursuit to the west while the 21st New York was pounding up the road toward the farm on the east. Most of the 18th Virginia “made the leap over the plank fence on the north side of Bonnie Doon Lane only to find they did not have room enough to get momentum to clear the fence on the south side.” These men were trapped, as troopers from the 1st New York galloped up to the fence and began to pour fire into the milling Confederate horsemen.

Bonnie Doon Map Battle

Sketch of the Battle at Bonnie Doon. (Author Microsoft Paint)

Imboden quickly realized that he must call out his reserves. Next up were Chrisman’s Boys, a cavalry company made up of  16- and 17-year-old teenagers. With little or no training this would be their second call to combat in less than a month. Also available was Harnsburger’s Old Man Company, a cavalry band consisting of men 45 to 50 years of age. This would be their first fight.

Spread among these two companies were many young adults and seniors, each with lives to live and stories yet to tell. John Hooke was one of them, a member of Chrisman’s Boy Company. He had grown up in the hamlet of Cross Keys where he had celebrated his seventeenth birthday just one month prior. Two of John’s older brothers had already perished from injuries suffered at the Battles of 1st and 2nd Bull Run. John’s 46-year-old father, William, too old to join the regular army, had recently attached himself to Harnsberger’s Old Man Company. Both sat astride their horses on that rainy June morning, undoubtedly stealing glances at one another, each wondering if either of them would live to embrace each other, or see their home, ever again.

The moment had come, and Captain Davis ordered his reserves into the fray. The combatants were now called upon to aid in the 18th Virginia’s escape from the fenced in enclosure surrounding Bonnie Doon. The 21st New York, pounding south along the East Road, was threatening to pass to the rear of the 18th. If successful it would trap these men, allowing them to be either captured or killed.

Chrisman’s Boys and Harnsberger’s Old Men “thundered down the road in a ‘reckless thrust’ and hit the head of the New York Column with a crash.” “It was hand to hand combat with sabers and pistols.” Captain Harnsberger was quickly shot in the left leg and arm. In short order more than half of the men from both companies were dismounted in the brutal fighting.

cavalry charge

A Cavalry Charge (Edwin Forbes)

Chrisman’s Boys were crushed by the impact of the assault. The youngsters were in a stand up fight against veteran New York cavalrymen. The sabering was horrific and the young men were at a major disadvantage. Though better armed than they had been in their first fight at New Market on May 13, many still did not have pistols or swords. Colonel Chrisman, witnessing the carnage, quickly inserted himself into the melee, firing his revolver repeatedly. Though he made a quick work of two of his opponents, he too was disabled by a shot to the right hand.

The quick response made by the reserves delayed the advance of the 21st New York long enough to allow most of the trapped members of the 18th Virginia to escape from the fenced-in confines of Bonnie Doon. Their intervention also allowed the 23rd Virginia Cavalry time to add their weight to the Confederate assault. These men came charging down the road and joined in the resistance offered by the boys and old men.

The 18th Virginia Cavalrymen, able to extricate themselves safely, were able to retreat and reform. The timely arrival of the reinforcements had, however, saved the Virginians from capture or death. The intervention of the Boy Company and the Old Men had saved the day for Imboden and the Virginia cavalrymen.

The Confederate cavalry force was finally obligated to retreat to a point where they could reform once again. This they would do time and time again. Imboden’s cavalry would “deploy at every hill” leading to the defensive position chosen by General William Jones at Piedmont.

Chrisman’s Boy Company had suffered heavily in the fighting. Less than one month before they had numbered eighty souls. Major Chrisman would indicate he had brought forty-five of the sixteen and seventeen-year-olds into the fight at Bonnie Doon. He later noted that they had “made a desperate stand,” along the East Road, outnumbered, and fighting against the skilled veterans of the 21st New York Cavalry. In this brief episode they had lost thirty members of their company; two thirds of their numbers.

Remarkably, John and William Hooke survived the encounter. Both would outlast the war and return home a year later. John did not remain in Cross Keys, however, but decided to head west to California. He would marry Emma Van Lear and raise two children to adulthood there. He would die at his home in Pomona California in 1923. His dad would pass away shortly after the war and is buried in the Cross Keys Cemetery.

Later that day a major battle would take place at the village of Piedmont with General William “Grumble” Jones commanding. Outnumbered, the battle would go badly for the Confederates. In the intense fighting General Jones was killed and the Confederates routed. Before the battle General Imboden had assigned a 4 foot 10-inch-tall private, named Joseph Altaffer, to Jones as a courier. He was the shortest member of the Boy Company. He was at General Jones’s side when he was struck in the head and killed by a Union bullet. Altaffer would be one of just two of the original members of the Boy Company who would live to surrender at Appomattox Court House. Though the bravery of the boys would, deservedly, “spread through the Valley,” most would not survive the war. Their courage and sacrifice was absolute.

The neighing troop, the flashing blade

The Bugles stirring blast

The Charge, the dreadful cannonade

The din and shout are past.

Anonymous

Sources:

Beach, William H. The First New York Lincoln Cavalry: From April 19, 1861 to July 7, 1865. The Lincoln Cavalry Association. New York. 1902.

Bonnell, John C. Jr. Sabres in the Shenandoah: The 21st New York Cavalry, 1863-1866. Burd Street Press. Shippensburg, Pa. 1996.

Heatwole, John L. “Remember Me is All I ask:” Chrisman’s Boy Company. Mountain Valley Publishing. Bridgewater, Va. 2000.

War of the Rebellion, Official Records. Union and Confederate Armies. Series I. Volume XXXVII.

The First Battle of New Market, May 13, 1864

On May 11, 1864, Colonel William Boyd and three hundred members of the 1st New York Cavalry were dispatched into the Luray Valley. Riding with them were detachments from the 15th New York and Colonel Henry Cole’s Maryland Cavalry. Boyd had been ordered to cover the army’s left flank as General Franz Sigel pushed his nine thousand-man army up the Shenandoah Valley. It would be Boyd’s job to secure Luray Gap and then rejoin Sigel’s Army at New Market.

Meanwhile, General Sigel’s advance along the Valley Pike had reached Woodstock by 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 11. Sigel’s overly cautious attitude, however, would bring his advance to a halt, even though he had intercepted telegrams indicating that Confederate General John Breckinridge’s army was still at Staunton, nearly seventy miles away. Sigel informed his commanding officer, General U. S. Grant, that he planned to hold at Woodstock until such time that the Confederate Army should begin an advance down the valley. At that juncture he would intercept the Confederates “at some convenient position.”

New Market Map May 13

Troop Positions May 13, 1864

Unaware of General Sigel’s halt at Woodstock, Colonel Boyd continued pushing toward his planned rendezvous at New Market. By mid-afternoon on May 13, Colonel Boyd had departed Luray and began driving toward Luray Gap. As the party approached the peak several Confederates were spotted on the high ground. Numerous attempts were made to apprehend them. Each endeavor, however, resulted in failure. One New Yorker noted: “On account of the superior condition of their horses they kept within a tantalizing distance ahead of the advance guard, defying every effort to run them down.”

Colonel Boyd soon “manifested a little impatience.” “Boyd rode to the head of the column and asked why these men had not been captured.” When told it was because of the quality of their horses Boyd challenged Lieutenant Edwin A. New, who was leading the advance. Lieutenant New responded to his Colonel stating: “You have a race horse, colonel, suppose you and I try it.”

Boyd accepted the challenge and the two of them initiated the chase. Galloping on as fast as their horses could carry them, they were soon able to intercept the enemy, managing to capture several of the “rangers.” Lieutenant Edwin New was still not satisfied, however, and pushed on alone after one of the elusive Confederate troopers. “This man was a brave fellow who made a desperate resistance until he had been shot through the body.” “New was about to saber him” when the mortally wounded trooper slipped from his horse.

Colonel Boyd’s command soon reached the summit of Massanutten Mountain. “From a height of a thousand feet looked down upon a magnificent scene. The valley, with New Market in the foreground, lay spread before them. Just above New Market they could see troops encamped, and farther up the valley toward Staunton they could see a baggage train and a herd of beef cattle.”

Sixteen-year-old Private David Crabill of the 18th Virginia Cavalry had been deployed on picket duty along the Luray Gap Road earlier in the day. Late in the afternoon he spotted movement up at the top of the mountain. Private Crabill quickly reported his observations his to his lieutenant: “Sir, I see men riding through the gap.” From this distance it was hard to tell if they were friend or foe. Regardless, Crabill’s “sharp eyes had given the Confederates time to arrange a reception.”

Smith Creek ford

Ford at Smith Creek used by the 18th Virginia and McClanahan’s Artillery

As it turned out Boyd’s men were being simultaneously observeded from several distinct locations. There were reports from the top of Shirley’s Hill, an eminence just south and west of New Market. Even Imboden’s men, located several miles away at Rude’s Hill near Mt. Jackson, spotted Boyd’s command as they descended Massanutten Mountain.

John Imboden

General John Imboden

Brigadier General John Imboden commanded Confederate forces stationed in the region surrounding New Market. Assuming the worst, he ordered Colonel Robert White with his 23rd Virginia Cavalry, along with Captain George Chrisman’s Reserve Cavalry, to ride for New Market. One young boy, Elon Henkel, a resident of New Market, recalled seeing the 23rd Virginia Cavalry and Chrisman’s Boy Company “thundering down Main Street and ‘giving the rebel yell’ before turning left at the Strayer Hotel.”

Chrisman’s Boy Company had only recently been organized. Three weeks before, on April 26, General Imboden had issued orders calling out “the reserves of the Valley of Virginia from Shenandoah County in the north to Craig County in the south.” In addition to men over the age of 45, he also summoned all boys “between 17 and 18 into the service immediately.” It was these youngsters that would constitute Chrisman’s unit.

An article published in the Staunton Spectator regarding the boys stated “it would seem that the ‘seed corn’ of this section is being sent immediately to the mill to be ground up.” The youngsters that were called up would be recruited as cavalry. They would be commanded by Captain George Chrisman. They were “composed mostly of seventeen-year-olds with a few sixteen and eighteen years-old” mixed in.

While Chrisman’s Boy Company had been hastily organized, they were even more hastily armed. Most of the teenagers had “brought whatever weapons they could get from home including outdated flintlocks and old shotguns.” As most of the boys reported for duty riding white horses, the company was given the nickname the White Horse Company. Unfortunately, most of their mounts were better suited pulling plows than for carrying men into battle. On May 13, with little or no training, these young men were ordered into combat for the first time.

As General Imboden rode through New Market he ordered Chrisman and the 23rd Virginia Cavalry to deploy on the rise overlooking the bridge at Smith’s Creek. He also dispatched the 18th Virginia Cavalry under Colonel George Imboden, the general’s brother, and a section artillery commanded by Captain John McClanahan. They were ordered to cross the creek at the ford south of the bridge. Imboden believed these units could be brought into action without being detected. Hopefully they would be able to cut off the retreat of the Federal Cavalry.

From their lofty perch on Massanutten Mountain Colonel Boyd convened a meeting of his officers. “Everyone except Colonel Boyd expressed the opinion that the army they saw was the enemy. He insisted they were our men, even when it was represented to him how absurd it would be for Sigel to place his wagon train between his army and the enemy. His attention was also called to the fact that our army had no herd of cattle.”

It was decided a scouting party would advance down the mountain to discover exactly who occupied the town. Lieutenant New was detailed to lead the band. The intelligence acquired would help determine what actions Boyd and his men would take.

On his approach to the bridge, however, New’s detachment was fired on by Confederate pickets who immediately fell back towards town. New observed “Confederate troops in position in his front and near the bank of Smith Creek on his right.” The lieutenant quickly turned his men about and sprinted back up the mountain to inform their commander of the situation. The detail had traveled less than a hundred yards, however, when they met Colonel Boyd and the rest of his command heading their way. New was “stunned and bewildered” by Boyd’s action.

New Market May 13 1

Map Showing Initial troop Movements During the Battle.

Following a short interchange, it was decided the Cavalry detail would continue on down to the bridge. Boyd’s men had gone but a short distance when they observed cavalry crossing Smith’s Creek on their left. It was evident that their intent was to cut off their retreat. Captain New turned to Colonel Boyd and shouted: “We will have to fight now.” Boyd replied: “Yes.” New then yelled: “Left into line.” This brought the cavalrymen into a position facing Smith’s Creek with the enemy less than “a third of a mile distant.”

Lieutenant William Beach of the 1st New York described the backdrop for the battle. “Back of our line, probably a little more distant, was the mountain. The side of the mountain was very steep and covered with timber and huge bowiders, and scored with ravines. The timber extended with varying distances from the base of the mountain into the plain.”

For the young men of Chrisman’s Boy Company emotions must have been running high. Here they stood, along with veteran cavalrymen, ready to receive their first charge. Their weapons were largely antiquated guns. Their opponents, on the other hand, veteran cavalrymen, carrying Spencer repeating carbines. Most of the boys did not even have a sword. The only advantage they had was the sun, which was setting over their shoulders. Hopefully this would blind their enemy, making targeting more difficult.

Smith Creek fight

Spot where the 1st New York, 23rd Virginia and Chrisman’s Boys Collided.

Lieutenant New requested permission to take a detachment and drive the Confederates back from the stream. His appeal granted, he immediately ordered a charge across Smith’s Creek “taking about eighty men he gave the order to unsling carbines, and advancing rapidly meet the approaching enemy. Seeing that the fire from his men was ineffective, when about a hundred yards from the opposing line he ordered his men to sling carbines and draw sabers.”

The 23rd Virginia Cavalry and Chrisman’s Boys, in turn, charged down from their perch, racing toward the New Yorkers. Most of the shots from Union carbines missed their targets. Private John Henton, though, remembered having a plug of tobacco in his hand when the charge was called. When the Federals opened fire, a bullet, which was meant for him, ripped the tobacco from his hand. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured.

Lieutenant New was now forced to order his men to fall back. Lieutenant Beach of the 1st New York recalled: “They had got about half way to the woods when a large force of infantry reached the bank of the creek and opened a galling fire upon them.” The fire originated, not from infantry, but from the 23rd Virginia Cavalry and Chrisman’s Boys.

New Market May 13 2

Charge of the 18th Virginia Cavalry and the Rout of the 1st New York Cavalry

The time for the 18th Virginia to add its weight to the assault had come. A member of the regiment remembered: “Before the charge, and while we were in line, the command to dismount was given, when our noble chaplain sang a hymn and then prayed, the whole regiment kneeling. It was a solemn and impressive sight just on the eve of the battle.” “The chaplain prayed that if it should please God we might scatter our enemies…” Scatter them they did.

Colonel Boyd had done his best to hold his men in position until Captain John McClanahan’s artillery section opened up. The guns launched grape and canister and with the range so short several of Boyd’s “men and horses were struck down.” Sensing his position “untenable”, he ordered his men to retreat toward the mountainside forest. “Before entering the woods, the line was thrown into confusion by a rail fence through which the men had to pass under heavy fire, and after getting into the woods, the rough nature of the ground separated and scattered them so that organized resistance was impossible.”

In the midst of his retreat Lieutenant New abruptly realized Colonel Boyd and his men had disappeared. Instead there was a “heavy column of rebel cavalry moving rapidly along the foot of the mountain, threatening to cut them off from the woods.” “Realizing their only hope of escape from capture was to reach the woods before the rebel cavalry cut them off, now pressed their horses to their utmost speed, and passed into the woods and part way up the mountain, almost side by side the rebels.”

Lieutenant J. Potts of the 18th Virginia cavalry remembered that as they pressed their charge, they were able scatter their opponent. Most of them began to make a break for the cover offered by the trees and bushes on the side of the mountain. One man in the New York regiment noted: “Our men were seen running in all directions on foot.”

Smith Creek

Smith’s Creek in Foreground Showing the Field the 18th Virginia Charged From.    McClanahan’s Artillery would have been Positioned in this Field as Well.

As the opposing lines closed and mingled the fighting became close and deadly. A member of the 1st New York reported: “With a force many times more numerous than that of Boyd’s, they were able to surround our men on all sides. Even the crest of Massanutten Mountain was carefully picketed and patrolled, as was found by some of our men.”

The intensity of the rebel fire was noted by several of the New Yorkers. Lieutenant New avowed a bullet passed through his cap, knocking it off his head. A second gunshot cut off a button from his coat, while a third cut his stirrup strap. A fourth struck and passed through his blanket roll.

Charles R. Peterson of the 1st New York was stubbornly intent on damaging the enemy as much as possible while trying his best to escape. “While urging his horse to the utmost along the mountain side, he would now and then turn in his saddle and, giving a loud and peculiar war whoop, give his pursuers shot after shot from his carbine.” Peterson would eventually be captured after running out of ammunition.

Other problems soon emerged. “Because the girths were slackened by the day’s march, many saddles slipped, the riders were thrown to the ground and the excited horses could not be caught. Other riders were swept from their horses by limbs of trees and other obstructions.” The situation was desperate and chaotic and was soon ended by the surrender of most of Boyd’s men.

The losses for the 1st New York were substantial. “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.

Confederate casualties, overall, were light. Though there were no official casualty figures for the Boy Company, extrapolating from a news article interview in a 1908 edition of The Daily News in Harrisonburg, losses can be surmised. It would appear twenty-nine of the young men may have been struck down. Chrisman would praise the boys for their courage. He would declare that “the valor of the boys spread through the valley.”

General Imboden, in his official report, would conclude: “Colonel Boyd, of the First New York Cavalry, with detachments from the Fifteenth New York and Cole’s (Maryland) battalion, came upon me from Luray about sunset. We pitched into him, cut him off from the roads, and drove him into the Massanutten Mountain. Numbers have been captured, together with about half of all their horses. They are wandering in the mountain to-night cut off. When day breaks I think I will get nearly all of theirs. Colonel Boyd was wounded. We have his horse, and he is in the brush.”

That night Chrisman’s Boy Company was sent south along the Valley Pike to the town of Tenth Legion to recuperate from their fight. The boys setup camp at Bethlehem Stone Church. Early on the morning of the 15th, Private James Hillyard, a member the unit, spotted a group of young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute marching along the turnpike. Hillyard and his companions teased them by shouting: “’Where did you leave your mother?’ and other remarks at the passing cadets. ‘The boys never returned a word’, Hillyard recalled, ‘but stepped along in silence’ toward their fate in the battle of New Market.” On this occasion 47 more young boys would be wounded and 10 others would be killed. It was more “seed corn sent to the mill to be ground.”

Stone Church

Bethlehem Stone Church.

Note: Ironically, following the war, James Hillyard would become a deacon at the Bethlehem Stone Church. He would never forget the cruel things he had said that morning to those V.M.I. Cadets.

SOURCES :

Maps were made or adapted using Microsoft Paint.

Beach, William H. The First New York (Lincoln) Cavalry: From April 19, 1861 to July 7, 1865. The Lincoln Cavalry Association. New York. 1902.

Davis, William C. The Battle of New Market. Stackpole Books. Harrisburg, Pa. 1993.

Jenkins, Donald B. The Lost Civil War Diary of John Rigdon King: The Story of an American Civil War Hero. Fothill Media LLC. 2018.

Knight, Charles. Valley Thunder. The Battle of New Market and the Opening of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, May 1864. Savas Beatie. New York. 2010.

Newcomer, Elsie and Ramsey, Janet. 1864, Life in the Shenandoah Valley. The Daily Dispatch. Richmond, Va. 2014.

War of the Rebellion, Official Records. Union and Confederate Armies. Series I. Volume XXXVII.

http://www.researchonline.net/vacw/unit40.htm

The First Battle of Cedar Creek

Winchester diarist Mary Greenhow Lee noted on February 26, 1863, that the weather conditions were “intolerable.” The roads were frozen and icy and “the rain on the deep snow, has made the streets impassible.” In spite of the precarious travel conditions, at 10 p.m. on the evening of February 25, Captain Frank Bond of the 1st Confederate Maryland Cavalry, along with forty men from Company A, and twenty from Company D, rode north from Strasburg along Cedar Grade Road “anxious for some excitement.”

By daybreak on Thursday the 26th, Confederate cavalrymen had advanced to the outskirts of Winchester. When the enemy came into view they “charged through an infantry picket, receiving only a few random shots. At the junction of the Cedar Creek and Staunton roads they were met by a volley of musketry from a house, but it did not check them. They turned up the Staunton road toward home, riding down a third infantry picket.”

1st Battle of Cedar creek a

Route Taken by the 1st Maryland Cavalry to Winchester and Kernstown.

Captain Bond’s 1st Maryland Cavalry detachment galloped south along the Valley Pike. Upon arriving at Kernstown, however, “they found a cavalry picket of 15 men quietly warming themselves in a house.” Bond ordered the house surrounded. The Confederates quickly “captured 7 men and 9 horses, and left several of the enemy dead or wounded in the house.” Triumphant in their foray, they rode swiftly toward Strasburg, “bringing off their prisoners and captured horses with a loss of only 1 man missing.”

During this time period Brigadier General Robert Milroy commanded Union forces stationed in the lower Shenandoah Valley. Milroy had occupied the town of Winchester shortly after General William “Grumble” Jones’ men had withdrawn on December 13, 1862. Notorious for his strict discipline with local civilians, General Milroy believed occupying the town was critical to controlling both the valley and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

General Milroy received a report of the morning’s attack at 4:30 a.m. and reacted promptly. He “immediately sent orders for the whole of the Thirteenth Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry and one company of the First New York Voluntary Cavalry to pursue the enemy with all possible speed.” In spite of his avowed urgency, it was 6 a.m. before designated forces were able to begin their pursuit. Milroy’s cavalry force was commanded by Major Martin Byrne, of the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, assisted by Major Michael Kerwin, of the same regiment. All told there were more than 500 cavalrymen in the taskforce.

Union troopers “pursued the enemy with energy,” in accordance with General Milroy’s orders. They were instructed to go “as far as the cavalry camp on Strawberry Hill, 2 miles beyond Strasburg, and then to return, after learning as fully as possible the position and strength of the enemy.” The terrain feature referred to in Milroy’s orders is what is know locally as Fisher’s Hill.

The squadron of New York Cavalry (also known as the Lincoln Cavalry), numbering forty-five rank and file, was commanded by Lieutenant Passenger. The New Yorkers, and a company of the Pennsylvania cavalry under command of Captain Jacob Dewees, took the advance in the pursuit. Dewees recorded: “About 10 a.m., and about three miles beyond Strasburg, they overtook the rebel force which had threatened my pickets, attacked and dispersed them, recapturing our men and capturing some 25 or 30 of the rebels and a corresponding number of horses.”

Captain Dewees was able to extract information from his prisoners indicating the enemy was “encamped in force between Woodstock and Edinburg.” Emboldened by their success at Fisher’s Hill, Lieutenant Passenger announced he “would pursue the rebels even further in an attempt to kill or capture even more.” Captain Dewees “ordered him to desist” as to continue would be in violation of their orders. “The Lieutenant, however, turned his horse as if he had not heard the Captain’s order, and took off with his men in pursuit of the fleeing enemy.” Dewees was heard to mutter: “Let the bastard hang then.”

General Milroy noted in his official report: “At Strawberry Hill they found the enemy, attacked and drove them, rescuing my captured men and taking 11 prisoners from the enemy. With this the officer in command of my cavalry was not content, but imprudently, and in violation of orders, continued the pursuit of the fugitives to within 2 miles of Woodstock.”

1st Battle of Cedar creek b

Route of Union Cavalry Pursuit to Fisher’s Hill

Captain Dewees, with a portion of his command, returned with the prisoners to Strasburg, while “the remainder of his command and the detachment of New York cavalry, under Lieutenant Passenger, continued the pursuit of the rebels in the direction of Woodstock, not on the regular pike, but by a road which turns to the right some 5 miles beyond Strasburg.”

As Captain Dewees trooped north with his detainees toward Winchester, he intercepted Major Michael Kerwin and the First Battalion of the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Dewees recounted everything that had transpired which seemed to please the major. Expressing concern for the safety of Lieutenant Passenger and his command, Kerwin decided he would ride on to reinforce him. With the Confederates retreating along the Back Road, he decided he would try to intercept them on the Valley Pike this side of Woodstock.

According to Colonel Oliver Funsten of the Eleventh Virginia Cavalry: “About 11.45 on the morning of the 26th ultimo, he received a dispatch from General Jones, directing me to move my regiment at once toward Woodstock, where a body of the enemy’s cavalry was supposed to be, and which was distant about 6 miles from camp. A large portion of the regiment being on detached service, and without taking time to collect a number who had permission to visit in the immediate neighborhood of camp, I marched, in a few minutes after receiving the order, with 120 men.”

With the 11th Virginia Cavalry now leading the pursuit, General Jones and Colonel Funsten rode together, north along the Valley Pike. Jones informed Funsten “he had no intention of allowing the Yankees to poke their noses into his tent.” He also stated “that the enemy were a short distance in front, and that, although their force was vastly superior, I might venture an attack.” Once the enemy’s position was “ascertained by scouts, General Jones commanded Colonel Flournoy to sound the attack.”

Colonel Flournoy “accordingly gave the order, and most gallantly was it responded to. The enemy were just beginning to retire, ignorant of our proximity.” “The Confederates charged, bugles blaring and yelling like demons, upon the poor cowardly Pennsylvaninites with pistols, carbines and sabers.” They “dashed past their rear guard, who occupied an eminence near the road, and charged the rear of the column. So sudden and impetuous was the attack that every attempt (of which there were several) made by their officers to rally and form a line was unavailing. We pressed them hotly, using both saber and revolver with good effect, to Cedar Creek Bridge, a distance of about 12 miles.”

In his official report General Milroy wrote: “The other portion of the force composing the expedition was suddenly attacked by re-enforcements from the enemy’s cavalry, stationed near Woodstock. My force immediately began a hasty and confused retreat, which only became the more confounded the longer it was continued. The major commanding succeeding in rallying but once, and then only for a moment and to no purpose, though he and most of his subordinates used the utmost endeavors to quiet the men and give the enemy battle.” It was not until they reached Cedar Creek that Major Kerwin was finally able to persuade his men to contest the enemy advance.

1st Battle of Cedar creek c

Map Showing the Confederate Attack at Cedar Creek

“Not far in the rear of the Eleventh in this mad ride for vengeance thundered the old Seventh.” Colonel Richard Dulany had arrived with 220 men from the 7th Virginia Cavalry. “General Jones here ordered me to move forward rapidly, as the Yankees had halted and reformed on the hill beyond the town. When we reached the high ground beyond Strasburg; we found the enemy had retired, and again formed about 300 yards south of Cedar Creek. About 130 had crossed the creek, and, as near as I could estimate, about 250 had formed to meet us.”

The 11th Virginia Cavalry presently came under accurate fire from the Pennsylvania and New York boys as they neared Cedar Creek. In early September 1862 the regiment had been issued “58 caliber muskets and pistols.” Though the muskets were awkward for cavalry to transport and handle, they could prove deadly for their opponents.

Dulany would note: “As we came in sight of each other, they seemed to advance slowly toward us, but when we got within 200 yards, our sabers drawn, and the charge ordered, their hearts failed them, and, wheeling in beautiful order, they went at full speed to the bridge, crossed, and again, formed to receive us.

“As but 2 men could cross the bridge abreast, they could easily have prevented our crossing with their long-range guns, as their position was very strong and higher than the bridge.” Dulany knew a direct assault would be suicidal. “Changing the direction of our column, we crossed the creek at the ford, some 200 yards below the bridge. As soon as a portion of my command had crossed, the enemy again broke, not waiting for us to close with them.”

Colonel Delany

Colonel Richard Dulany

Colonel Dulany recalled his men and horses were exhausted from their nineteen mile chase and assault. They “rested their horses some ten minutes, and the advantage of a start of a long and steep hill, we could not overtake them until near Middletown. The race now became truly exciting. It was a helter-skelter chase, the fastest horses in our column taking the lead. As we came up with the rear, not a man that I saw offered to surrender until driven back by the sabers of my men or shot.”

Cedar Creek picture

Area Where the 7th Virginia Cavalry Forded Cedar Creek

The fighting at Middletown was “hand to hand.” Lieutenant Granville of Company A led the 7th Virginia’s charge. He “personally wounded four men with his saber.” “Some, finding we were overtaking them, slipped from their horses and sought refuge in the houses along the road, and many had thrown their pistols away when captured. We captured about 70 prisoners—5 of them were too nearly dead to move or parole, and 2 others were left on the roadside, being broken down and unable to travel—53 horses, and a large number of arms.”

By 4.30 in the afternoon, General Milroy had learned from fugitives, the true scope of the disaster. He “immediately ordered forward to the theater of action the First New York Cavalry, with directions to advance until they got in rear of our fugitives and in sight of the enemy, if the enemy were still pursuing. If the enemy were in formidable numbers, this regiment was instructed to fall back until it received the support of a regiment of infantry and a section of a battery, which I advanced simultaneously with it. The New York cavalry, Major Adams commanding, advanced until it gained the rear of our fugitives, and as far as 3 miles beyond Strasburg, when, observing nothing of the enemy, in pursuance of my orders it fell back. From the above statement it will be seen that the disaster occurred in consequence of a gross violation of orders, more censurable in this particular instance from the fact that the enemy was known to be encamped in force between Woodstock and Edinburg.”

General Grumble Jones would report: “The First New York Cavalry and the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry attacked my pickets this -morning and drove them into Woodstock. I fell on them with the Eleventh and the Seventh Virginia regiments of cavalry; cut them up badly. We have about 200 prisoners, and killed and wounded many more. We carried them at a charge of full speed from 5 miles below Woodstock to Newtown. Lieutenant-Colonel [O. E.] Funsten and his regiment behaved with conspicuous gallantry.” He cited Lieutenant Granville for his courage as well.

General Milroy was enraged by the performance of his cavalry. He would write, simply: “The conduct of my cavalry, except the New York and Pennsylvania companies that left the Valley road beyond Strasburg, was disgraceful and cowardly.” John Keenan of the 13th Pennsylvania would note: “More than twenty percent of the regiment was lost in a mere skirmish with a force of less than half our size.” In addition, the regiment was “accused of cowardly behavior and gross neglect of orders.”

Meanwhile, back in Winchester Mary Greenhow Lee would note the arrival of “the remnants of the 13th Pa Cavalry.” They “came dashing in town, in miserable plight.” “No more than a dozen of the 300 who went out this morning, are left to tell the tale.”

According to widespread rumors General Milroy was so upset he decided “he was going to shell the town.” Fortunately, this did not happen, though the treatment of local citizenry would not improve as a result of the incident. Only its liberation by General Lee’s Army in June of 1863 would accomplish that.

It is interesting to note little has been written about the conflict in the Shenandoah Valley between the time of the Union occupation of Winchester in December of 1862 and the Second Battle of Winchester in June of 1863. As you can see, though Confederate forces were greatly outnumbered, there were lots of opportunities for clashes. In many cases Confederates forces were not only successful in distracting their enemy, they were able to defeat them decisively. With the natural defensive advantages offered by Cedar Creek, there would be frequent clashes in this area in the future.

Sources:

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

Musick, Michael. 6th Virginia Cavalry. H. E. Howard. Lynchburg, Va. 1990.

Official Records of the Civil War. Series I – Vol XXV – Part 1.

Sharpe, Hal. Shenandoah County in the Civil War: Four Dark Years. The History Press. Charleston, S.C. 2012.

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

Sudell, William B. Though All the World Betrays Thee. J. M. Santarelli Publishing. Glenside, Pennsylvania. 1999.

Washington, Bushrod. A History of the Laurel Brigade. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Md. 2002.

https://www.loc.gov/collections/hotchkiss-maps