The Long Journey to Freedom

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

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

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

Charles County Maryland Wayside Marker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Period drawing of the mine explosion at the Crater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Hall’s Memorial Stone at Orrick Cemetery in Winchester

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

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

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

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

Blazer’s Boys

Blazer Scouts heading out on a patrol.

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

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

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

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

Captain Richard Blazer

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

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

Captain Adolphus “Dolly” Richards

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

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

John Singleton Mosby

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

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

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

Marker for the Battle of Kabletown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotchkiss Map Showing Battlefield Site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lt. Thomas Coles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog written by Pete Dalton

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

The Mysterious Stonewall Medallion

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stonewall Brigade Medal

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

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

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

Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

George Phorr Contends with Charles W. Anderson

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

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

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

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

Lee’s Retreat from Gettysburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 13, 1864 Cavalry Clash at New Market

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

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

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

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

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

Modified Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of Waynesboro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Pforr, AKA Charles Anderson

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

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

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

1st Cavalry roster.

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


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

Hotchkiss the Magnificent

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

Little Sorrel at VMI after the Civil War

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

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

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

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

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

Jedediah Hotchkiss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sketch of Fort Edward Johnson on Shenandoah Mountain.

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

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

Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of McDowell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Library of Congress Hotchkiss Map Collection.

Jessie’s Scouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie Scout Arch Rowand in Confederate Uniform

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

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

“Why did you ever begin?”

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

“But why did you volunteer?”

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

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

Major Henry Young

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

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

Sign Commemorating the Shooting of John Hanson McNeill

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

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

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

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

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

Rufus Barringer (cropped).jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Battle at Lacey Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General George A. Custer

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Thomas L. Rosser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotchkiss Map of the Battle of Lacey Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign on Battlefield at Lacey Springs


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

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

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

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

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

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:






Boyd Plot

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



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 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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.