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

The Battle with No Name

At 3 A.M., on the morning of May 31, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson called Jedediah Hotchkiss to his headquarters and briefed him on the situation at hand. The Confederate army was stretched out along the Valley Pike for miles. General Nathaniel Banks was to their north. General James Shields’ Army was at Front Royal presumed to be pushing west for Strasburg. General John Fremont’s Army was at Wardensville thrusting east with the same target in his sights. If Jackson’s retreat was cut off, he was convinced there would be a battle somewhere between Winchester and Strasburg.

June 1 Situaltion

Situation Map, May 30 to June 1 (Blue and Gray Magazine)

Jackson assigned Hotchkiss the job of returning to Harpers Ferry to update General Charles Winder of the Stonewall Brigade with this intelligence. He was to guide the isolated brigade back to the main body of the army along the Valley Pike. If the 1st Brigade was to become isolated, they would need the mapmaker to help them get back to Jackson’s army. Should the pike become cut, Hotchkiss was instructed to bring them back to safety through the Allegheny Mountains if necessary.

Private John Worsham, a member of Company F, 21st Virginia Infantry, estimated the traffic jam on the Valley Pike was more than eight miles long. There were hundreds of supply wagons, army elements, and more than 2300 prisoners of war. Worsham would note, with regard to the prisoners, that “they had no place to put them, and they are in the way. I wish now they had been paroled. Most of them were now confident that they would soon be released or they would be retaken by the armies closing in on Strasburg.”

By the end of the day on May 31, the van of the army had reached the northern outskirts of Strasburg. Most of these men were part of General William Taliafero’s Brigade. The rain had been coming down in torrents all day and there were no shelters of any kind. Exhausted soldiers were forced to spread their blankets out upon the muddy ground and repose in sopping wet misery for the night. Most regimental commanders reported more than half of their members were still straggling far behind.

Winder’s Stonewall Brigade had started from Harpers Ferry about midday. The 2nd Virginia had to first re-cross the Shenandoah River to rejoin the brigade. Once on the road to Winchester, though, the men were able to keep up a steady pace in spite of the heavy rain and not having eaten for two days. All in all, these soldiers would march thirty-five miles before they would be allowed to rest for the night. They too would collapse into a bed of mud, some two to three inches deep, near the hamlet of Newtown.

On the evening of the 31st Jedediah Hotchkiss rode into Jackson’s headquarters at the Hupp house just north of Strasburg. He informed Jackson that the Stonewall Brigade was about ten miles north of them on the Valley Pike. The two came to the conclusion if Jackson’s Army was to avoid being cutoff in its line of retreat something was going to have to be done to keep Fremont from pulling into Strasburg first. Ewell was ordered to get his men moving early. They were march west along the Capon Road to intersect Fremont’s Army. Orders were to delay Fremont without bringing on a general engagement.

General Richard Taylor had received orders to march for Strasburg early on the 31st as well. He and his men would themselves cover some thirty miles that day. That evening Taylor would also meet with Jackson at the Hupp House. Here he found Jackson in a rare “talkative mood.” The two of them also discussed the current situation and the peril they believed the army was currently in. Consequently, Jackson ordered Taylor to rejoin Ewell’s Division to help him fend off General Fremont the following morning. It was their “only way to safety.”

Ewell photo

General Richard Ewell

Early on Sunday morning, June 1, General Ewell began moving remnants of his exhausted division out along the Capon Road. News soon came to him that the Confederate outpost, which had been placed about four miles out along that road, had been attacked that morning by Fremont’s men and routed. Ewell hurried his men forward in search of appropriate high ground from which his men could make a stand. He knew full well that Fremont’s Army greatly outnumbered his and resisting its advance would be risky.

Mulberry Run Battle

Battlefield at Mulberry Run

General Ewell pushed his men through the town of Clary, and on toward the elevation overlooking Mulberry Run. Here he received reports that federal pickets were advancing in their direction. Ewell pulled his men off to the side of the road and put Elzey’s and Taylor’s Brigade in line along some readily defended high ground. Trimble’s men were placed in reserve.

Two confederate batteries were brought to the crest and were soon dueling, counterbattery, with Fremont’s guns. The cannon fire became intense. Jackson became so concerned from the sound of the battle that he sent Taliaferro’s and Patton’s men out along Capon Road for support. It looked like that general engagement Jackson so feared would soon become a reality.

With General Richard Taylor’s arrival at the front he observed: “Our lines had been early drawn out to meet him, and skirmishers pushed up to the front to attack. Much cannonading, with some rattle of small arms, ensued. The country was densely wooded, and little save the smoke from the enemy’s guns could be seen. My brigade was in reserve a short distance to the rear and out of the line of fire.”

To confer with General Ewell, General Taylor found “it was necessary to pass under some heavy shelling, and I found myself open to the reproach visited previously on my men.” While awaiting orders Taylor informed Ewell: “Whether from fatigue, loss of sleep, or what there I was nervous as a lady, ducking like a mandarin.” When he mentioned his nervousness, Ewell laughed and told him: “Nonsense! Tis Tom’s strong coffee. Better give it up.” Tom was Taylor’s body servant whom he had press-ganged to serve with him during the war.

In speaking of Tom, General Taylor noted: “Many slaves from Louisiana had accompanied their masters to the war…” During the fighting that took place that morning, “scores had assembled under a large tree, laughing, chattering, and cooking breakfast. All of a sudden, a shell burst in the tree top, rattling down leaves and branches in fine style, and the rapid decampment of the servitors was most amusing.” Even Tom was not above running for his life.

The cannon fire continued for several hours. James Shields actually reported hearing the firing from Front Royal which was more fifteen miles away. Shields believed that it had originated from a skirmish with General Nathaniel Banks’ army which he believed to be following along in Jackson’s rear. Such was not the case. Banks was actually much closer to Martinsburg than to Strasburg.

Shields also reported that he “would have occupied Strasburg, but dare not interfere with what was designed for Fremont.” Still Shields had sent a cavalry detail in the direction of Strasburg early that morning. Jackson, out of concern for that flank, had dispatched Lieutenant Boswell along that same road traveling in the opposite direction. Two miles out he ran into that Union cavalry detail. Boswell rushed back to Strasburg to report the incident but could not find Jackson. Fortunately, Turner Ashby reacted the news on his own and sent a portion of his own command to block the road.

Meanwhile, back at Mulberry Run, Ewell was mystified by the lack of activity on the part of Fremont’s soldiers. Knowing he was not supposed to bring on a general engagement, Ewell was growing more anxious by the minute. “I can’t make out what these people are about, for my skirmish line has stopped them. They won’t advance, but stay out there in the wood, making a great fuss with their guns; and I do not wish to commit myself to much advance while Jackson is absent.” Taylor noted: “With this, he put spurs to his horse and was off, and soon a brisk fusillade was heard, which seemed gradually to recede. During Ewell’s absence, surrounded by my staff, I contrived to sit on my horse quietly.”

Ewell pushed his skirmishers forward and was surprised that his opponent retreated. On his return he remarked to Taylor: “At this rate my attentions are not likely to become serious enough to commit anyone.” It was at this point General Richard Taylor offered to try to get around the Union left flank. “I suggested that my brigade might be moved to the extreme right, near the Capon road, by which Fremont had marched, and attempt to strike that road, as this would enable us to find out something.” Ewell answered: “Do so; that may stir them up, and I am sick of this fiddling about.”

Taylor put his Louisianans into motion and swiftly struck the Union left flank. As they did so the enemy disappeared. “It was nothing but a walkover. Sheep would have made as much resistance as we met.” “Men decamped without firing, or threw down their arms and surrendered, and it was so easy that I began to think of traps.” Those that were taken prisoner were German immigrants most of whom did not speak English.

Taylor would later admit his attack was “rash and foolish.” Still the further his men advanced the more the enemy retreated to avoid combat. At the same time Taylor began to take casualties; not from Fremont but from their own skirmishers unaware of the Rebel attack. They were the only losses Taylor would suffer in the course of the assault.

Fremont, on the other hand, was convinced that the attack was strongly reinforced. He believed he was being assaulted by more than fifteen thousand combatants, which is why he retreated so quickly. Ewell’s bluff was all that was needed to spook the Pathfinder. He was simply not in the mood for a fight.

Mulberry Confederate

Confederate position on the high ground in the distance near Mulberry Run

Meanwhile, Winder’s men, back on the Valley Pike, had resumed their march at 5:30 A.M. The Stonewall brigade reached Middletown at about the same time the artillery fire had commenced to their west. As the battlefield is located almost due west of Middletown, Winder became convinced that his flank had been turned. With all of the rumors of disaster floating about there was a good deal of panic among his men.

As Fremont would not stand still long enough to bring on any type of engagement, Ewell broke off the fight about noon. By this time Winder’s men had passed safely through Strasburg. Ewell would withdraw all but Taylor’s Brigade following the engagement, leaving him to act as rearguard. By dusk on June 1, however, even Taylor’s unit found itself safely streaming south along the Valley Pike in retreat.

Shields would write to President Lincoln the following day: “Jackson passed through Strasburg Saturday and Sunday. Fremont has not been heard from yet. There was firing at Strasburg yesterday—supposed to be Banks in the rear. My poor command were without provisions twenty-four hours. We would have occupied Strasburg, but dare not interfere with what was designed for Fremont. His failure has saved Jackson.”

It is noteworthy that in exactly one week these same troops, Union and Confederate, would face off against each other once again at the Battle of Cross Keys. There the fighting would go pretty much the same way. This time, however, General Fremont would call it quits at about the same time as his attack was gaining momentum. Once again, Ewell’s outnumbered forces would claim victory.

Note: This has been a time-consuming investigation. As there is no on-site historical marker, I have spent the last three weeks trying to locate this battlefield. Based on information provided in the official records, and other sources, I was able to fix, with a moderate degree certainty, the location of the battlefield. With documentation that General Ewell had passed through the town of Clary to the high ground beyond, Mulberry Run seems a logical border between the two armies. Still, even with more than 16,000 troops maneuvering on the battlefield, nothing conclusive could be determined. Even the folks at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation are not one hundred percent certain of the battlefield’s location.

What is even more interesting, as far as I can determine, there has never been an official name assigned to the battle. As the encounter took place near the town of Clary southern forces would have named it the Battle of Clary. Union forces probably would have christened it the Battle of Mulberry Run for the stream that flows nearby. I have to say the latter has a much better ring to it. Still, until someone more authoritative than me makes a final determination, we will need to refer to this confrontation as “the battle with no name.”

Sources:

Jones, Terry. Lee’s Tigers: The Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, La. 1987.

Official Records. Series I Vol XII, Part III.

Parrish, T. Michael. Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1992.

Pfanz, Donald C. Richard Ewell: A Soldiers Life. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1998.

Schreckengost, Gary. The First Louisiana Special Battalion: Wheat’s Tigers in the Civil War. McFarland and Co. Jefferson, N. C. 1966.

Sharpe, Hal F. Shenandoah County in the Civil War: Four Dark Years.

Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Civil War. Capo Press. New York. 1995.

Selma

Selma

Period Sketch of the Mason Family Home at Selma

The USS San Jacinto had been constructed in 1852 as an experimental frigate, designed to test steam powered screw propulsion. She had experienced varied success with the new technology, but had always had sail to fall back on. In August of 1861 command of the vessel passed to Captain Charles Wilkes. Early that month Wilkes had set sail for Cuba in hopes of replenishing his supply of coal. It was here, in the coastal city of Cienfuegos, that Captain Wilkes inserted himself and his ship into the sphere of international intrigue.

Captain Wilkes departed Cuba on November 8, 1861, and stationed his ship at a narrow point in the Old Bahama Channel, about 230 miles east of Havana. About noon he spotted a British steam powered mail packet named the Trent headed his way. An intercept course was quickly plotted and the USS San Jacinto bounded away on its mission to seize the vessel.

Captain Charles Wilkes “sighted the Trent and ordered one warning shot followed by a second shot across the bow. With this the Trent hove to.” Wilkes ordered his executive officer, Lieutenant Donald McNeill Fairfax, to board the British vessel with a contingent of armed marines. His instructions were to seize the ship and declare it “a prize to be taken to a prize court for adjudication.” Fairfax, however, came away with the subjects of his assault, the two Confederate commissioners, John Slidell and James Murray Mason. Their secretaries were also nabbed.

trent

Capture of the Trent

Captain Wilkes immediately set course for Boston where he surrendered his captives to local authorities. The two prisoners were sent to Fort Warren where they were merged with other Confederate detainees. It did not take long for news of this diplomatic insult to reach London, however, over the newly laid Atlantic cable. The capture of Southern Diplomats, Mason and Slidell, quickly became a full-fledged international incident.

James Mason

James Murray Mason

As soon as November 28, British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston was aware of the incident and called an emergency meeting of his cabinet to discuss the situation. Palmerston was outraged and began the meeting by declaring: “I don’t know whether you are going to stand this, but I’ll be damned if I do!” War Secretary George Cornwall Lewis felt conflict was inevitable. “On November 29, Lord Palmerston outlined to Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell his requirements for a peaceful resolution—a formal apology and the release of the envoys.”

“On the day after Christmas Seward informed Lyons that the commissioners and their secretaries would be surrendered. On January 1, they were released and transferred to the British warship Rinaldo. Their transatlantic voyage, however, was interrupted once again. This time a winter storm caused the ship to reroute to Saint Thomas. From there they finally managed a successful voyage to Britain, arriving in London at the end of January.”

The two envoys the Confederacy had selected were national figures with extensive resumes, much of which would be a cause for alarm for northerners. James Murray Mason of Virginia had served in the United States Senate during the decade leading to secession and had pushed his states’ rights agenda of secession from the Union. His authorship of the Fugitive Slave Law, however, would be the proposal for which he would be most remembered by northern soldiers and for which he would soon suffer retribution.

Northerners were equally familiar with John Slidell of Louisiana. John had been sent as President James Polk’s special envoy to Mexico City in 1845 in a failed attempt to prevent war with Mexico. Like Mason, Slidell had also served in the Senate in the 1850s where he too had established himself as a “southern anti-Union extremist.”

James Mason would choose Winchester, Virginia, as the place to raise his family and to practice law. By 1828 Mason would achieve considerable success as an attorney which allowed him to purchase a “large stone house, built in 1828 for Judge Dabney Carr, about a mile from town.” They would call it “Selma.”

A description of the interior of the Mason home is attempted in the book Genteel Rebel. The author writes: “The rooms at Selma were smaller than those in more prominent houses, yet Eliza Mason decorated the room in the style that their budget could afford, using pieces she had brought with her from home as well.” Here, on outer Amherst Street, John and his wife Eliza, would raise their eight children.

Meanwhile, James Mason’s political career had begun to blossom. James was elected as a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention in 1829, and to the State house of delegates from 1826-1832. He was selected as a Jackson Democrat to the Twenty-fifth Congress in March 1837. In 1847 he was chosen to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Isaac S. Pennybacker in the United States Senate. He was reelected to this office in 1850 and 1856. Mason served in this capacity until March 28, 1861, when he was expelled from the Senate for backing the secession of Southern States.

With the coming of the war, James’ was selected as one of the South’s diplomats to Europe. As a result, James Mason was forced to leave Winchester. At the time most of his friends urged Mason to take his family with him to London. Mason disregarded these suggestions, however, and instead left his family to fend for themselves. By March of 1862 his family was forced to leave Winchester as well. In all likelihood they traveled to Eliza’s family home in Pennsylvania and then on to Canada. Selma was left vacant and forced to fend for itself.

On Tuesday March 11, 1862, Mary Greenhow Lee would make her first diary entry and speak of Selma and the missing Mason family. On that evening she and Laura Lee would go to the Mason home to see to the safety of the residence and the items contained within. In the process of recording her thoughts she determined to whom she would direct her diary entries and observations. She wrote: “Now I know who I am writing to – this must go to one of the dear Masons, as I know they would want to know of the last visit to Selma, it may be for a long, long time.” The two of them “collected articles worth preserving, for their owners.” It was on this very day that the residents of Winchester learned General Thomas Jackson was surrendering Winchester to General Nathaniel Banks’ Union Army.

Diarist Cornelia McDonald lived next door to the Mason residence in a dwelling they had named Hawthorn. Early one May morning she noted “a U.S flag streaming over Mr. Mason’s house. Found out it was occupied as headquarters by a Massachusetts regiment.” This was undoubtedly the 2nd Massachusetts infantry. Later that same month she would note Selma had been re-occupied, this time by the 10th Maine Volunteer Infantry.

On June 8, 1862, the very day the Battle of Cross Keys was being fought, Cornelia McDonald noted: “Senator Mason’s house being next to ours, and that its ground being the next one to ours, the soldiers, who I suppose having heard of the Trent Affair, and the Commissioners Mason and Slidell, always connect the two. As that was Mr. Mason’s house, they fancy this is Mr. Slidell’s, and often stop and ask if it is.”

By late June, as the connection between James Mason and Selma came to be more widely known, the malicious inclinations of Union soldiers were brought to bear upon the structure itself. Cornelia McDonald would report that “stone fencing is being carried away to aid in the work. They have begun to tear down Mr. Mason’s house. All day axe and hammer are at work demolishing that pleasant, happy home. I saw the roof being taken off today – that roof, the shelter of which was never denied to the homeless, and whose good and gifted owners had never withheld their sympathy from the sad and suffering.” According to Cornelia the wife and children of James Mason were themselves homeless “with no place to call their own, and their home a desolation.”

Hawthorn

Hawthorn

In January 1863 Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation would add urgency to the destruction of Selma. Like it or not the Union Army was now fighting to free slaves. As the author of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Mason home became a visible target of reprisal for the institution. Diarist Cornelia McDonald would write: “To day the walls of Mr. Mason’s house were pulled down; they fell with a crash; the roof had gone long ago. The house has disappeared now, and the place which knew it will know it no more. Every outbuilding is gone… Nothing is left of them all but heaps of logs which the Yankees carry away for firewood; and I, I can scarcely tell it, help them to burn it, for they have taken all our wood and we can get no other supply, but they graciously permit us to share with them, and my boys and the Yankee soldiers stand side by side cutting up the logs from my own hen and turkey houses, I must say I enjoy the cheerful blaze.” “They have taken the stones of Mr. Mason’s house as well as many of our stone fences to build their fortifications.”

Material for Winchester’s forts would come from three locations, Winchester Academy, the Market House, and the destruction of “Selma.” Star Fort in particular would grow from the demolition of Mason’s home. From its ruins would rise a fortification designed as an 8-sided stone and wooden gun platform. The stronghold had ramparts, rifle pits and a sally port. It could hold 1,500 combatants in its rifle pits and up to 8 artillery pieces in its points. The stones from Selma can today still be seen as part of its artillery platforms.

Ultimately, James Mason would fail in his attempts to secure recognition for the Confederacy. As it turned out British affairs on the continent were more troubling to them than a war in the United States. Mason would stay in Britain until 1866, a Confederate without a country. He would then travel to Canada, where his family waited for him. According to his daughter Virginia’s account, they were in “exile from their homeland–the South.” The Mason family, along with other former Confederate leaders and officials, would remain in Canada, however, until they were officially extended amnesty in July of 1868.

In 1869 the Mason family finally returned to Virginia. With their Winchester home completely destroyed they decided to move closer to James paternal home. Mason purchased an estate outside of Alexandria called Clarens. The property adjoined that of his old friend, and former Confederate General, Samuel Cooper. Mason wrote: “I gave for the whole establishment nine thousand dollars in greenbacks.” “The greenbacks were his only remaining money, he confessed, and came from his wife’s family assets held in Pennsylvania through the war.”

clarens

Clarens Estate at Alexandria

Mason decided he would not hire “poor negros” as household servants. Instead he brought “domestic servants (women) from Canada” and he intended to hire whites only. “Negroes,” he believed, were “the great curse of the country.” “The fact that Reconstruction brought black voting particularly offended him; it was, he thought, the rule of the mob and the end of the republic.”

Mason plot

Mason Family Plot at Christ Church in Alexandria

With such deeply seated convictions, Mason lived just two more years, expiring at Clarens in April 1871. He was buried in the churchyard of Christ Church in Alexandria. Many years after the war a second house would be constructed on the foundation of Selma on Amherst Street in Winchester. James Mason and his family had sacrificed everything; their home, their reputation, and their very livelihood for the lost cause of Southern independence. The devotion of these and others are remembered to show the strength and urgency of a peoples convictions, one that required immense sacrifice, and at great personal cost.

My apologies for my delay in posting this blog entry. I have been devoting a great deal of time preparing to teach a class on Jackson’s Valley Campaign at the Lifelong Learning Institute at JMU. My first class in on Wednesday March 18. I am very much looking forward to it.

Sources:

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

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

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

https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/the-trent-affair.html

Sen. James Murray Mason, Black Labor, and the Aftermath of the Civil War

John Brown’s Body Lies a Mouldering in the Grave

John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave,                                                                 John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave,                                                                 John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave,                                                                                      His soul’s marching on!

John Brown’s body may have been “mouldering in the grave,” but in May of 1862 the whereabouts of two of John Brown’s sons was anything but certain. The controversy over the disposition of the bodies of Watson and Oliver Brown, to some extent, still remains. The final resting place of Watson Brown, and its connection to the Shenandoah Valley, however, is the focus of this essay.

Watson Brown was born on October 7, 1835, in Franklin, Ohio. He was one of thirteen children born to John and Mary Brown. It has been said: “John Brown ruled his growing household with a rod in one hand and the Bible in the other. He insisted that his small sons learn ‘good order and religious habits’ and refused to let them play or have visitors on the Sabbath.” One could easily assert his opinion on household discipline was as absolute as his posture on slavery and involuntary servitude.

Watson Brown

Watson Brown

By 1859 John Brown had long been conspicuous in the anti-slavery movement in the United States. He first gained attention by leading an abolitionist group during the Bleeding Kansas crisis of 1856. As an advocate of engagement rather than discourse, John and his radical followers attacked and killed five slavery proponents in the Pottawatomie Massacre in response to the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas. Later, in 1856, he commanded anti-slavery forces at the Battles of Black Jack and Osawatomie.

By October of 1859 John Brown had concluded he would spearhead a slave uprising by leading a raid on Harpers Ferry. He intended to capture the armory and seize the armaments contained within. He would use these weapons to arm escaped slaves. Together, they would fight to establish their own slave-free state. Though Brown would seize the armory at Harpers Ferry, only a small number of slaves would actually join his rebellion.

Watson Brown would himself play a brief but noteworthy role in the drama that played out during John Brown’s occupation of Harpers Ferry. With local residents and militia laying siege to the engine house, John Brown decided he would try to broker a cease-fire. His first attempt failed, however, when co-conspirator William Thompson was captured, along with one of Brown’s hostages, while under a flag of truce. Angered by the failure, one of Brown’s other detainees, acting superintendent of the armory Archibald Kitzmiller, offered to make a second attempt. Brown approved the proposal.

Harpers ferry map

1859 Map of Harpers Ferry

Conspirators Aaron Stevens and Watson Brown volunteered to accompany Kitzmiller under a flag of truce. Stevens and Watson walked out the armory gate, behind their prisoner, and proceeded down Potomac Street toward the Gault House tavern. “Saloonkeeper George Chambers, smashed an upper-story window so he could shoot unobstructed.” He and one other man opened fire on the threesome. Watson was hit in the first volley and went down. Stevens was struck several times and tumbled, insensible, onto the cobblestoned streets. Remarkably, Watson was able to stagger back to the engine house all the while “vomiting blood from a stomach wound.”

Within a matter of hours most of John Brown’s attacking force would be killed or captured. Local residents, militia, and U.S. Marines, under the command of Robert E. Lee, would see to that. Among the slain was Brown’s son, Oliver. Watson, however, would linger on until Wednesday afternoon, October 19. As a result, Watson’s body would not be included with the rest of the deceased assailants. Eight corpses were quickly collected by the citizens of Harpers Ferry and readied for removal.

Armory

US Marines Assaulting John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. (Harper’s Weekly)

As residents did not want these men interred in the local cemetery, they paid James Mansfield five dollars to bury the bodies elsewhere. Mansfield chose a spot along the banks of the Shenandoah river about a half mile from town. “Packing them into two large wooded store boxes,” he hastily entombed them. The bodies would remain in this unmarked grave until 1899 when they were exhumed and transferred to the Brown family farm in North Elba, New York.

Two of the deceased, however, were not buried in the common grave. Watson Brown and Jeremiah Anderson, though fatally wounded, had survived the final assault by Colonel Lee’s marines. When the two of them finally succumbed to their wounds, their bodies were attended to separate from the others. As a result, these two conspirators were not buried in the common grave. Fortunately, a resolution to this omission would soon materialize.

Several medial students from Winchester Medical College had made the journey by train to Harpers Ferry to see if they could take advantage of the carnage. Forced to detrain before they reached the town, the group “happened upon the body of a man.” Determined to be a “fine physical specimen,” the students “put the body in a container and shipped it back to the college. When they examined his papers later, they discovered they had selected one of John Brown’s sons, Watson Brown. Some accounts claim conspirator Jeremiah Anderson’s body was also shipped back to the college.

Watson

Wounded son Watson lying next to Oliver’s dead body.

“Body-stealing was a feature of reality at a time when medical schools had trouble acquiring corpses for anatomy classes.”  The so called “doctor resurrectionists” would nab the dead out of fresh graves. “’Scientists’” then boiled off the flesh or used acid to remove the skin and muscle.” Appropriating the bodies of these two deceased would have been easily accomplished as “nobody wanted them.”

The medical college of Winchester, Virginia had originally been chartered in 1826 as the “Medical College of the Valley of Virginia.” The institution was directed by Dr. John Esten Cooke, Dr. Hugh Holmes McGuire, and Dr. A. F. Magill. The college operated for just two years and was closed. The school did not reopen until 1847 when it was revived and newly chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia as Winchester Medical College. “The College was a red brick structure located on the corner of Stewart and Boscawen Streets. It had a surgical amphitheater, two lecture halls, a dissecting room, a chemical laboratory, a museum, and offices.”

When the med students returned to Winchester Medical College with their newly acquired treasures, Watson’s body had the flesh stripped off and was then “dissected, and the skeleton displayed in the college museum.” “The whole was hung up as a nice anatomical illustration.” It was not a dignified end to a person’s life but it would serve as a valuable tool in the education of future surgeons. The practice would, undoubtedly, help save many lives during the Civil War.

According to an article posted in the Richmond Dispatch, Watson’s body, and perhaps Jeremiah Anderson’s, were not the only ones that were brought back to Winchester Medical College. In December, following the trial of John Brown and his accomplices, “Watson’s body would be joined by the recently hung, buried, and disinterred bodies of convicted African American co-conspirators John Copeland and Shields Green.” “They will be interred tomorrow on the spot where the gallows stand, but there is a party of medical students here from Winchester who will doubtless not allow them there long.” There would be no “mouldering in the grave” for these corpses. The resurrectionists would soon have their way with them.

Prior to the town’s seizure Winchester Medical College was being used as a hospital. During May of 1862, in the midst of the town’s occupation by troops under General Nathaniel Banks, however, the institution came under increasing scrutiny due to one of its most infamous residents; Watson Brown. Unfortunately, the future of Winchester Medical College was itself in doubt.

On the evening of May 16, 1862, Mary Greenhow Lee noted in her diary that she had been “startled by the sound of the fire bell.” “In less than hour there was another alarm, & on opening the door, the flames were ascending somewhat in the direction of Selma, but it proved to be the Medical College which is burnt to the ground; what this is the beginning of, we cannot tell, as we are in the hands of a treacherous foe.” Lee believed the fire was “for the purpose of destroying superfluous government stores and preparatory to an evacuation.”

The following day Mary noted: “The explanation of the burning of the college is that a skeleton of Oliver Brown (John’s son) was there, they buried in the yard what they supposed were his bones, but the genuine ones, had been removed by Hunter McGuire, thus foiling their malicious design.” Mary’s assertion that the body was that of Oliver, and not Watson, adds more ambiguity to the deed. It is very possible the body referred to by Mary was actually that of Jeremiah Anderson.

There are some errors, however, in Mary’s statement. First, is the first declaration that Oliver’s body was at the college. Most would argue the body was actually that of Watson. Second, if Hunter McGuire had removed the body buried in the yard, he would have had to have completed the task prior to March 12, when Nathaniel Banks troops first occupied Winchester. McGuire could not have returned to the town until after the 1st Battle of Winchester on May 25, nine days after the burning of the college.

There is also some contention as to who ordered the burning of the school. According to Winchester resident, John Peyton Clark, it was Colonel George Beal of 10th Maine that ordered Brown’s remains recovered and the college burned. True or not, there is no mention of this incident in the 10th Maine’s regimental history. Still, the Maine unit could be held accountable as they were responsible for the military occupation of town at the time of the blaze.

A second story, involving Dr. Jarvis Jackson Johnson of the 27th Indiana Infantry, claims that he was responsible for the retrieval of Watson’s remains. Johnson declared “that while serving as commander of a military hospital in Winchester, he acquired Watson Brown’s body from the museum of the medical college, then shipped it on a train to Franklin Indiana, the nearest railroad depot to his home in Indiana.”

Following the war, it is said Johnson kept the bones on display in his medical office. Twenty years after their acquisition, however, an article appeared in the Indianapolis Journal, on September 11, 1882, claiming Dr. Johnson had obtained the remains of Brown “immediately after the evacuation of the place by the Confederates.” Upon entering the medical college, he observed “an admirably preserved body, and obtained permission from General Banks to ship it home.”

According to Johnson the “anatomical preparation of the body was perfect, and it was for this reason, an exceedingly valuable piece of property for the physician and the physiologist. Dr Johnson was moved by no desire to get possession of it because it was the body of one of John Brown’s sons, but because it would be of practical value to him.”

According to the Indianapolis Journal: “The body has received careless treatment during the last few years. It has been carted about from place to place, and has been doing duty in all the anatomical exhibitions about town. During the first few years it was in the possession of Dr. Johnson it was in a remarkably fine state of preservation, but ill-usage has ruined it. For several years, it has been lying in the Knights of Pythias hall, and, it is whispered, was used in the mystic ceremonies of the order. The best of care had not been bestowed upon it, and it was infested with worms and insects.”

John jr

John Brown, Jr.

Though John Brown, Jr. was not one of the conspirators that had attacked Harper’s Ferry, his father had sent him there on a scouting mission prior to the raid in 1858. During the war he was a Captain in Company K of the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. John Jr. would survive the war and in September of 1882 he was living in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, raising grapes for a family owned wine business. When John learned his brother’s body was being stored in Martinsville, Indiana he took the opportunity to visit the town to see if he could identify the remains.

After picking up and poring over skeletal fragments and examining the shape of a half-missing skull John pronounced: “Gentlemen, if it is either of my brothers, I am now inclined to think that it is Oliver”. Yet the more he looked, the more he came to think he was looking at his other brother, Watson.

On closer examination “A large bullet hole in the muscles of the back, beside the spinal column, is visible in a front view, but the course of the ball was not directly through. This coincides with the wounding of Watson Brown, who was shot in the region of the lower part of the stomach. The wound is below this organ, but was evidently received while in a stooping posture, and the exit of the ball bears out this conclusion.”

Twenty years after its capture, Dr. Johnson turned the body of Watson Brown over to his brother John. In October 1882, “Watson Brown’s strange post-mortem odyssey had finally come to an end.  On an autumn day in the Adirondacks, he was laid to rest in a patch of soil near his famous father, who — as the old Union song put it — had long lain ‘mouldering in the grave.’” Watson’s journey had finally ended.

Browns stone

Marker Dedicated to John and Oliver Brown.

Sources:

Horwitz, Tony. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. Henry Holt and Co. New York, N.Y. 2011.

Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown. University of Massachusetts Press. 1984.

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

Redpath, James, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown. Thayer and Eldridge. Boston, Ma. 1860.

https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/a-skeletons-odyssey-the-forensic-mystery-of-watson-brown/

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/137/john-brown

http://www.youseemore.com/handley/contentpages.asp?loc=568

The Union Hotel and Unconditional Release

By the summer of 1861, as secession and the anticipation of war overtook the town of Winchester, the communal divide deepened over the name of one of its most prominent guesthouses. Located in the northeast corner of Market (Cameron) Street and Fairfax Lane, the “Union Hotel” had come under scrutiny. “Many residents, who had been unsure about secession, became caught up in wartime enthusiasm.” The Union Hotel’s crest was seen by most as an embarrassment. The town’s citizens determined that the name had to be revised. Soon the sign on the front of the building “was modified removing the U and the N, making it the ION Hotel.”

Following the 1st Battle of Kernstown, several of Winchester’s prominent structures were designated as hospitals and were soon teeming with wounded from both sides. It was soon apparent, however, that the town’s temporary medical facilities were being overwhelmed. They were simply unable to handle the volume of injured soldiers. The women of Winchester soon found themselves being drawn to these facilities to assist with critical care.

Noted “demon diarist” and resident of Winchester, Laura Lee, soon discovered the magnitude of this medical crisis. Laura had stated before the war that she “thought nothing would induce us to enter the hospitals, but we have never thought of having our own troops and their wounded and dying together.” Accompanied by Mary Greenhow Lee, the two women visited the Union (ION) Hotel on the afternoon of March 24, 1862, and “found everything there in utter confusion. The Yankees had taken over the facility shortly after midnight and converted it into a hospital. It was said the “shrieks & groans had been awful.” Mary located a close friend, George Washington, who had just had his leg amputated. Mary admitted there “was little hope of his recovery.”

On March 25, just two days after the battle, Mary Greenhow Lee, a woman who had repeatedly acknowledged she could barely stomach the sight of Yankees, went to the Union Hotel to take care of injured Southern soldiers. “The dead, the dying, the raving Maniac, & agonizing suffering, in its revolting forms, were before us; our men and the Yankees, all mixed together. She found herself “down on the floor, by the Yankees, feeding them. Mary discovered her humanity in this facility. She found she “could not give to one sufferer, and pass another by in silence.”

Mrs. Lee would return to the hotel the following day. She observed: “The poor men are neglected as the doctors are overwhelmed with the numbers of patients they have to contend with.” “The surgeons do not dress their wounds, even once a day, and there is no one to hand them a cup of water, after the ladies leave; they promise things will be better tomorrow;” but they never are.

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

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

The horrors would not conclude any time soon. Mary Greenhow Lee would assert she was “so tired of the Yankees. They are more unendurable every day & then I so much dread the battle that will have to be fought before they are driven from the valley.” Unknown to Mary there were many more battles, and unnamed skirmishes, the residents of Winchester would have to endure. The town, itself, would prove to be one of the most contested in the Confederacy. It would change hands more than seventy times during the course of the war.

Following the 1st Battle of Winchester, on May 25, 1862, the town fell, once again, into Confederate hands. This time the senior Confederate surgeon was Doctor Hunter McGuire. McGuire was a native of Winchester, having been born there on October 11, 1835. He had spent a great deal of his youth accompanying his dad, who was one of the town’s foremost practicing physicians and educators, on many of his medical errands. After graduating from high school, Hunter decided to study medicine at the Winchester Medical College.

When war visited the Shenandoah Valley, however, McGuire returned to Winchester from Tulane University in New Orleans, where he had been schooling future surgeons. Here he joined the Winchester Rifles as a private, prepared to fight for the confederacy. The unit would later become Company F of the 2nd Virginia Infantry.

It was soon obvious that Hunter McGuire’s services were more valuable as a surgeon and he was soon ordered to report to General Thomas Jackson in that capacity at Harper’s Ferry. Far more skillful than his age would have signaled, within a year he was promoted to chief surgeon in Jackson’s Valley Army.

Shortly after the victorious Rebel throng entered Winchester, Private John Worsham, a member of Company F, 21st Virginia Infantry, noted: “Gen. Jackson captured vast stores: several hundred beef cattle, several hundred wagons with their teams, eleven thousand new muskets in boxes that had never been opened, a large amount of ammunition, and over three thousand prisoners.”

Hunter Mcguire

Doctor Hunter McGuire

In addition to all of the supplies mentioned by Private Worsham, a huge store of medical provisions had also been captured by the Confederate Army. Jackson’s medical director, Hunter McGuire, was suddenly in receipt of more medicinal provisions than he “had seen in one place since the beginning of the war, maybe even in his entire lifetime.” Additionally, seven Union doctors, all of whom had been treating the sick and wounded at the Union Hotel, also found themselves captives of the Confederate Army.

Doctor McGuire soon began to ponder the issue of how captured doctors should be treated when prisoners of war. McGuire felt that the skills these individuals possessed should require them to be handled differently from detained combatants. He began to think the situation “presented an opportunity to help define how captured military doctors and nurses should be treated, ensuring more consistent care for the sick and injured.”

Dr. McGuire decided the plight of these individuals needed to be resolved. He connected with General Jackson, and Dr. Daniel S. Conrad of the Stonewall Brigade, to settle the issue. In the course of their deliberations the three men decided they would attempt to set a precedent which they hoped would be adopted by the U.S government as well. Together they authored a document outlining the conviction that “doctors should be regarded as noncombatants, and ought to be released as soon as possible that they might continue saving lives.”

The seven captured doctors agreed to Doctor McGuire’s proposal and signed the document. A copy of the agreement is presented below.

——————–

WINCHESTER, Va., May 31, 1682.

We, Surgeons and Assistant Surgeons United States Army, now prisoners of war in this place, do give our parole of honor, on being unconditionally released, to report in person, singly or collectively, to the Secretary of War in Washington City, as such; and that we will use our best efforts that the same number of medical officers of the Confederate States Army, now prisoners or who may hereafter be taken, be released on the same terms.

And, furthermore, we will, on our honor, use our best efforts to have this principle established, viz.: The unconditional release of all medical officers taken prisoners of war hereafter.

  1. BURD. PEALE, Surgeon, First Brigade, BLENKER’s Division.

T.E. MITCHELL, Surgeon, First Maryland Regiment.

J.J. JOHNSON, Surgeon, Twenty-seventh Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, Gen. WILLIAMS’ Division.

FRANCIS LELAND, Surgeon, Second Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers.

PHILIP ADOLPHUS, Assistant Surgeon, U.S.A., in charge of Fourth Artillery.

LINOT B. STONE, Assistant Surgeon, Second Massachusetts Volunteers.

JOSIAH F. DALY, Jr., Assistant Surgeon, Tenth M.E. Regiment Volunteers.

EVELYN L. BISSELL, Assistant Surgeon, Fifth Connecticut Volunteers.

Approved. HUNTER McGUIRE,

Medical Director, Army Valley, Va., C.S.

HEADQUARTERS OF THE POST,

WINCHESTER, Va., May 31, 1862.

This is to certify that I, BURD PEALE, Surgeon First Brigade, BLENKER’s Division, T.E. MITCHELL, Surgeon First Indiana Regiment, J.J. JOHNSON, Surgeon Twenty-seventh Indiana Regiment, FRANCIS LELLAND, Surgeon Second Massachusetts Regiment, PHILIP ADOLPHUS, Assistant Surgeon U.S.A., L.R. STONE, Assistant Surgeon Second Massachusetts Regiment, J.F. DAY, Jr., Assistant Surgeon Tenth Maine Regiment, and E.L. BISSELL, Assistant Surgeon Firm Connecticut Regiment, having given their parole of honor to report themselves to the Secretary of War, in Washington, as prisoners of war, and to use their best endeavors to effect an exchange for a like number of surgeons and Assistant-Surgeons now held by the United States, are permitted to go at large. It is further understood that the above-named surgeons and assistant-surgeons are to endeavor to make this a principle for exchange of medical officers in the future.

R.H. CUNNINGHAM, Jr.,

Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding Post.

——————–

The agreement was successfully transferred to the U. S. Government and the results were almost immediate. On June 6, 1862, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issued Special Orders No. 60 which “immediately and unconditionally” freed all Confederate doctors held prisoner. “Robert E. Lee and George B. McClellan communicated officially, regarding the release of captured doctors during the Peninsula Campaign. This proposal would become the rule regarding prisoner doctors, assistants, and nurses throughout the remainder of the Civil War.” Some elements of this agreement can even be found in the current version of the Geneva Convention’s agreement on the Treatment of Prisoners.

As a result, the Union, or Ion Hotel, in Winchester would prove to be a major contributor to the conduct of civilized warfare. The facility itself would, over the next two years, be constantly utilized as both a Union and Confederate hospital. As mentioned before, soldiers from both sides would even be treated simultaneously in this facility.

Unfortunately, in spite of its historical significance, the Union Hotel’s days were numbered. Between the eighth and thirteenth of December, 1864, more than a foot of snow had fallen in Winchester. Temperatures had tumbled well below freezing as well. On the 16th “the impact of snow building up upon a dilapidated building’s roof” came to the forefront.” Mary Greenhow Lee chronicled: “There has been a fall this evening which has been disastrous to the Yankees; the poor old Union Hotel fell down and seven Yankees were crushed in the ruins. It is said 25 are suffering a righteous retribution.” The facility was never rebuilt.

McGuire would continue his services as a physician throughout the course of the war. As chief medical surgeon in Jackson’s 2nd Corps, it fell upon Dr. McGuire to treat General Stonewall Jackson following his wounding at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. It was he who amputated Jackson’s left arm in an attempt to save his life. The endeavor was in vain, though, as Stonewall would soon succumb to pneumonia. Dr. McGuire would be by his side when he expired, though, and would record Jackson’s famous last words: “Let us cross over the river and sit beneath the shade of the trees.” McGuire was a pallbearer at the General’s funeral.

As for Dr. Hunter McGuire, his proposal on the treatment of surgeons as non-combatants would serve him well in the final days of the war. Having been captured at the Battle of Waynesboro in March of 1865, Doctor McGuire was taken to General Philip Sheridan’s headquarters. Here McGuire found that his reputation had preceded him. Sheridan treated him courteously and offered him an immediate release and a two-week parole. The doctor accepted the offer and spent his two weeks of liberation in Staunton. Some say he spent the time courting his future wife. Regardless, he rejoined the Confederate army just in time for its surrender at Appomattox Court House.

The legacy of Doctor McGuire was very much venerated following the war. Most viewed McGuire as “the foremost leader of medical progress in Virginia and in the nation.” Late in his life Hunter McGuire founded St. Luke’s Hospital in Richmond. It would become one of the leading schools for instructing nurses in the nation. McGuire would also help found the Medical Society of Virginia.

St Lukes Hospital

St. Luke’s Hospital in Richmond

When President Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address in March of 1865, “he the laid the cornerstone of what would become the largest healthcare organization in the country; a system solely dedicated to serving Veterans.” Following World War II, the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center was built and dedicated in Richmond, Virginia. As such, it is committed to the healing of men and women who have served their nation in the military. Naming the facility after Doctor McGuire perfectly acknowledges and celebrates the values he had championed during his life.

McGuire VA Hospital

Hunter Homes McGuire V. A. Medical Facility in Richmond, Va.

If you look around Richmond you will find even more evidence of McGuire’s contributions to medicine and humanity. American sculptor William Couper “immortalized Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire with a statue, placed on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in 1904, two blocks from his beloved hospital.” The inscription upon the monument proclaims: “Hunter Holmes McGuire, M.D., L.L.D. President of the American Medical and of the American Surgical Associations; Founder of the University College of Medicine, Medical Director, Jackson’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, An Eminent Civil and Military Surgeon and Beloved Physician. An Able Teacher and Vigorous Writer; A Useful Citizen and Broad Humanitarian, Gifted in Mind and Generous in Heart, This Monument is Erected by his Many Friends.”

Hunter McGuire’s dedication to humankind and its welfare continues to service the lives of the public and those dedicated to the protection of our country. Certainly, his, was a life well lived. Like his close friend, Thomas Jackson, Hunter Holmes McGuire would die from pneumonia. McGuire passed on September 19, 1900, on the 36th anniversary of the 3rd Battle of Winchester.

McGuires Statue

Hunter McGuire’s Statue at the State Capitol in Richmond.

Sources:

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

Bonnell Jr., John C. Sabres in the Shenandoah. The 21st New York Cavalry, 1863-1865. Burd Street Press. Shippensburg, Pa. 1996.

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

https://www.hollywoodcemetery.org/hunter-h-mcguire

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4d19/ca1d522aa22431c7c3d54d9f9a6da4a4b00b.pdf

https://rvahub.com/2016/10/10/rva-legends-st-lukes-hospital/