The First Battle of New Market, May 13, 1864

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

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

New Market Map May 13

Troop Positions May 13, 1864

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

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

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

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

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

Smith Creek ford

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

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

John Imboden

General John Imboden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Market May 13 1

Map Showing Initial troop Movements During the Battle.

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

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

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

Smith Creek fight

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

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

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

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

New Market May 13 2

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

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

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

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

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

Smith Creek

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

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

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

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

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

The losses for the 1st New York were substantial. “The wonder was that the whole of Boyd’s command was not captured. Hemmed in between mountain and river, with superior forces on all sides, it was individual determination that saved those that escaped.” Colonel Boyd lost more than 125 men. The majority of these were captured. Most of the rest were left hiding on the slopes of Massanutten Mountain. Nearly 200 horses were secured, all of which would serve as much needed replacements for worn Confederate mounts.

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

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

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

Stone Church

Bethlehem Stone Church.

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


Maps were made or adapted using Microsoft Paint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Battle of Cedar Creek

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

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

1st Battle of Cedar creek a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Battle of Cedar creek b

Route of Union Cavalry Pursuit to Fisher’s Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Battle of Cedar creek c

Map Showing the Confederate Attack at Cedar Creek

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

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

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

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

Colonel Delany

Colonel Richard Dulany

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

Cedar Creek picture

Area Where the 7th Virginia Cavalry Forded Cedar Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Battle with No Name

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

June 1 Situaltion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ewell photo

General Richard Ewell

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

Mulberry Run Battle

Battlefield at Mulberry Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mulberry Confederate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Official Records. Series I Vol XII, Part III.

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

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

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

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

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



Period Sketch of the Mason Family Home at Selma

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

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

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


Capture of the Trent

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

James Mason

James Murray Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Clarens Estate at Alexandria

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

Mason plot

Mason Family Plot at Christ Church in Alexandria

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

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


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

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

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

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

John Brown’s Body Lies a Mouldering in the Grave

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

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

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

Watson Brown

Watson Brown

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

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

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

Harpers ferry map

1859 Map of Harpers Ferry

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John jr

John Brown, Jr.

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

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

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

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

Browns stone

Marker Dedicated to John and Oliver Brown.


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

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

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

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

The Union Hotel and Unconditional Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunter Mcguire

Doctor Hunter McGuire

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

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

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

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


WINCHESTER, Va., May 31, 1682.

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

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

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

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

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

FRANCIS LELAND, Surgeon, Second Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers.

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

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

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

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


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


WINCHESTER, Va., May 31, 1862.

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


Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding Post.


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

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

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

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

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

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

St Lukes Hospital

St. Luke’s Hospital in Richmond

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

McGuire VA Hospital

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

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

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

McGuires Statue

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


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

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

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


Burn Newtown to the Ground!

Harry Ward Gilmor was born into a life of luxury and affluence on January 24, 1838. He was one of eleven children. Harry and his family lived at “Glen Ellen Castle” in Towson, Maryland. His home was a three-story early Gothic Revival mansion, with towers on three corners, meant to resemble Abbotsford, a Scottish castle owned by Sir Walter Scott. It sported a guest house constructed in the likeness of a Greek temple and a gatehouse that was designed to look like a Gothic ruin.

In harmony with his upbringing, Harry spent his childhood dreaming of knights, noblemen, chivalry, and glory in battle. Much of his early adulthood, however, was spent homesteading in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Still, when the threat of civil war loomed in early 1861, Harry returned to Baltimore to do his duty.

Upon his return, Gilmor joined the newly formed Baltimore County Horse Guards as a corporal. In consequence to the efforts of the residents of Baltimore to prevent the passage of Federal troops through the city, the Horse Guards were given orders to burn several bridges north of the municipality to prevent Northern troop movements through Baltimore.

Harry Gilmor’s activities did not endear him to the Federal occupation troops in Baltimore commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin Butler. Gilmor was one of several individuals arrested and imprisoned in the “Baltimore Bastille,” commonly known as Fort McHenry. Marylanders, suspected of being Confederate sympathizers, were imprisoned there. Most were never charged with a crime and many were never brought to trial. Others were released after pledging not to “render any aid or comfort to the enemies of the Union,” or by taking an oath of allegiance.

Following Gilmor’s release in August 1861, he journeyed south and joined the command of Colonel Turner Ashby. Harry would serve with Ashby in the 7th Virginia Cavalry throughout Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. On several occasions he was even placed on special assignment to General Stonewall Jackson.

General Jackson had always dubbed Turner Ashby’s cavalry command “a mob.” Whereas most cavalry regiments had ten companies, Ashby’s 7th Virginia regiment had twenty-five. On April 24, 1862, General Jackson attempted to divide Ashby’s oversized command into more manageable pieces. Jackson assigned thirteen companies to Brigadier General Charles Winder’s Brigade. Companies A through K were placed under the direction of Brigadier General William Taliaferro. Ashby was to retain command of only a small fragment of his original regiment, and this was only to act in the role of both advance and rear guards.

Colonel Ashby was so outraged by the incident he submitted his resignation. Ashby even considered challenging Stonewall Jackson to a duel. Fortunately, calmer minds prevailed, and Colonel Ashby was allowed to retain his command. Jackson would write to General Robert E. Lee on the subject stating: “Such was Ashby’s influence over his command that I became well satisfied my attempt to increase the efficiency of the cavalry would produce the contrary effect.”

On June 16, 1862, ten days after Turner Ashby’s death, “the long awaited” reorganization of Turner Ashby’s cavalry command took place at Conrad’s Store. Ten companies were retained to constitute the 7th Virginia Cavalry; also known as the 1st Regiment of Ashby’s Cavalry. Ten more companies were designated as the Twelfth Virginia Cavalry, or the 2nd Regiment of Ashby’s Cavalry. Harry Gilmor would be commissioned Captain in Company F of this unit. The remaining five companies would be designated as the 17th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry.

On May 27, 1863, Harry Gilmor was promoted to the rank of Major and asked to raise an independent battalion of cavalry. Before he could complete this assignment, though, the Gettysburg campaign interceded. During the battle, Major Gilmor was assigned command of the First and Second Maryland Cavalry, in General George Steuart’s Brigade. Major Gilmor was delegated the job of Provost Marshal for the town of Gettysburg during its brief occupation.

By the Spring of 1864, Harry Gilmor was assigned to independent command in the Shenandoah Valley. Gilmor recognized that in order for his 2nd Maryland Cavalry to survive in occupied territory he needed the support of local citizens. Without safe hiding places, and other means of support, Gilmor’s effectiveness would be severely weakened. It was during the month of May that Harry found himself operating behind enemy lines in the region outside of Winchester near Newtown, or what is now Stephens City, Virginia. It is the second oldest town in the Shenandoah Valley, trailing only behind Winchester.

In his memoir, written forty-one years after the war, John M. Steel characterized the wartime situation of the town as being “between the lines. Newtown became a no-mans-land for much of the war. It was close enough to suffer the effects and disruptions to daily life that came with the Federal troops’ occupation of Winchester and the surrounding region, but distant enough to return to limited Confederate control after nightfall.”

Harry Gilmor

Harry Gilmor

An incident that had occurred in Newtown on May 30, 1864, threatened the continued existence of the town. Major Gilmor had received a report on the 29th that Lieutenant Colonel Augustus Root of the 15th New York had left Martinsburg, West Virginia, southbound, as part of an escort detail for sixteen Union supply wagons. Noted Winchester diarist Mary Greenhow Lee had observed the passage of these wagons through town on the afternoon of May 30. Someone passed this information on to Gilmor, who decided an attack on the wagon train was essential. Newtown, with its narrow main street, was the perfect place for an ambush.

Gilmor and his men concealed themselves in the woods near Bartonsville, just north of Newtown. As the train of wagons passed, Gilmor and a detachment of his 2nd Maryland Cavalry Battalion pounced on the rear of the formation, and charged south along Main Street. Gilmor hoped the unexpected attack would cause the wagons to stampede and neutralize any soldiers that might have been concealed in the wagons.

Surprised, Root’s men retreated south through town and setup a defensive position behind the house belonging to Dr. McLeod. In the process two of the wagons upset and blocked the bridge across Steven’s Run along the Valley Pike. Several of the wagons, however, were still able to race on toward Middletown.

Gilmor Map

Region of the Shenandoah Valley in which Gilmor Operated.

In the assault, Gilmor’s horse bolted in the excitement and carried him down the pike in the direction of the lead wagon. As he passed through the wagon train in his mad dash, several members of the 15th New York Cavalry took the opportunity to swing their sabers in his direction. Though Gilmor received several saber cuts he was not seriously wounded. Fortunately, all of the pistol shots directed at him missed as well.

When Gilmor reached the lead wagon he swung his sword at the lead horse and was able to disable it, causing the wagon to bound off the pike. All of the wagons following it were forced to abort their dash toward safety. Having stopped the train and having regained control of his horse he jumped the stone wall that paralleled the Valley Pike and headed back into town.

Gilmor’s men had fared very well. They had skirmished with members of the 15th New York and routed them. The defenders, having gathered near Dr. McLeod’s home, had been defeated as well and many men in blue had been captured. The Confederates pilfered everything of value from the wagons and then proceeded to set them on fire. After tending to the dead and wounded, Gilmor retreated with four wagons, forty prisoners, and seventy horses.

Newtown fight

As Gilmor rode out of town with his bounty, a train of sixty wagons escorted by six hundred infantry rolled in. Mary Greenhow Lee apparently entered town on the heels of this second wagon train. She was passing through the community in order to attend a funeral at the Barton’s home at Vaucluse. She noted: “Four miles from town there was a cry of Yankees ahead. As we approached, we found it the advance guard of a double wagon train – about 200 wagons & an escort of 500 men. We passed the houses Hunter had burned last week, & then saw some horsemen ahead of us; I saw at a glance they were Confederate & we stopped to talk to them. Told us Gilmor had captured the whole wagon train that had passed through yesterday evening.”

As the group continued through town one of the Confederate soldiers stopped them and informed them they had captured a Union soldier in the act of burning a local house. He was caught “firing a house … in retribution for Mosby’s shooting at the wagons.” The ladies, not wishing to witness the act, scooted through town and on toward their destination..

Mrs. Lee noted as they “passed out of Newtown, we drove by 16 wagons burning on the road; several dead horses &, to my infinite horror the bodies of two dead Yankees who had been shot this morning; involuntarily I covered my eyes that the sight might be excluded.”

Major General David Hunter, commanding Union forces in the area, had previously ordered three houses burnt in Newtown in retaliation for the attacks that had taken place earlier in the week. Hunter was informed of the second attack in Newtown that same evening. General Hunter, tired of the repeated assaults on his supply trains in the area, determined something had to be done right away.

Newtown Burning

                       Sign Noting the Orders to Burn Newtown, now Stephens City.                         Major Stearns Last Name is Misspelled on the Sign.

On the 30th General Hunter dispatched Major Joseph Stearns and a detachment of 200 men from the 1st New York Cavalry Regiment from his army at New Market. Their orders were to “proceed to Newtown tomorrow morning at 3 o’clock, for the purpose of burning every house, store and out-building in that place.” He was only to spare “churches, and the dwelling of Doctor Owens, who had been kind to the Federals.”

As the cavalrymen trotted north along the Valley Pike, they could not help but notice the exposed graves of the Union dead on the New Market Battlefield; a contest that had taken place just two weeks before. It was evident many of the “confederate burial details were tired, and the ground was muddy from all the rain. Some of the dead had only been covered with a few inches of dirt. The rains had washed what little soil had been scuffed over them. The smell of decaying bodies was overwhelming.”

As the New Yorker’s neared Newtown, Major Stearns revealed their mission to his troopers. “The men became sullen and talked of refusing to obey the order. The children and elderly of the town, aware of Hunter’s threat, helplessly stood in their doorways. Major Stearns met with the elders of the town, who protested that they had no control over the Confederate raiders and that they had cared for Federal wounded from the attack.”

In addition, Major Stearns spotted a note which had been posted as a warning to General Hunter. The note advised him not to burn the town. Gilmor promised to retaliate by hanging “thirty-five men and six officers and send their bodies to him in the valley.”

Stearns consulted with his troopers and it was decided they would spare the town. Stearns determined he would risk Hunter’s wrath and his own military career rather than burn the homes of civilians. He spared the town on the provision the local citizens would take the Oath of Allegiance. This they did.

Major Stearns returned to face a searing reprimand from General Hunter. It was General Hunter’s Chief of Staff, David Strother, however, who saved Stearns from dismissal for disobeying orders. Hunter let his actions stand and allowed him to retain his command. The historic buildings, which can still be seen in Stephens City today, are a testimony to a different kind of Civil War heroism; the gallant act of compassion.

Harry would go on to distinguish himself with several significant cavalry excursions. His most famous raid, known as the Magnolia Train Raid, occurred later in July 1864, during General Jubal Early’s assault on Washington D.C. During his raid on Baltimore, Gilmor and 135 troopers disrupted telegraph communications, destroyed railroad tracks and trestles, and captured two trains. One of the train passengers, and subsequent detainees, was Major General William B. Franklin. The raid was extremely successful, and Gilmor always claimed he could have captured Baltimore itself if he had desired.

Following the war Harry would return to Baltimore. He would serve as police commissioner for five years and later as the city’s mayor. He died in March of 1883, a war hero, from complications caused by a wartime injury to his jaw. “Gilmor’s funeral was a large local ceremonial event with many dignitaries present to honor this war hero.” Prior to his passing, he wrote and published a war memoir entitled Four Years in the Saddle. It is well worth read.



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

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

Brown, Peter A. Mosby’s Fighting Parson: The Life and Times of Sam Chapman. Willow Bend Books. Westminster, Md. 2001.

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

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

Walker, Gary C. Hunter’s Fiery Raid through Virginia Valleys. Second Edition. A & W Enterprise. Roanoke, Va. 2004.

Civil War, 1861-1865

Stephens City Virginia historical marker

Those Wharf Rats from Louisiana

On May 4, 1863, situated on a rise overlooking the field of battle at Salem Church, Generals Jubal Early and Robert E. Lee stood side by side monitoring Early’s Division as it spearheaded an attack on General John Sedgwick’s 6th Corps. The two were witness as a Brigade of Louisiana Tigers charged into the Federal line.

“The air was fairly hissing with round shot, shell, grape, canister and minie balls.” Still, the Louisiana Tigers pushed forward, seemingly impervious to enemy fire. Soon contact was made and the federal line appeared to crack; and then it collapsed all together. The Tigers swept on to a second line, which similarly buckled. Soon the whole Union position appeared to be crumbling. Jubal Early was so electrified by the outcome he threw his hat to the ground, and yelled: “Those damned Louisiana fellows may steal as much as they please now!” Lee sighed and responded by saying: “Thank God! The day is ours!”

Salem Church map

Charge of the Louisiana Tigers at the Battle of Salem Church

The first commander of these renowned warriors was a southern planter named Richard (Dick) Taylor. Born January 27, 1826, on the family’s Springfield Plantation in Jefferson County Kentucky, he was the only son of Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States. Much of Richard’s early life had been spent in frontier forts as his father was a career military officer. When apart from his dad he spent a good portion of his early life attending private schools in both Kentucky and Massachusetts. He would later pursue academic studies at both Harvard and Yale.

Dick Taylor

Richard (Dick) Taylor

During the Mexican War Richard Taylor would serve, voluntarily, as his father’s aide-de-camp. Forced to leave Mexico due to a bout with rheumatoid arthritis, however, Richard would return home to manage the family’s estate. In 1850 he persuaded his father, then President of the United States, to purchase a moderately sized cotton plantation for him, in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. In so doing Taylor’s connection to that state was established.

When the Civil War broke out General Braxton Bragg asked Dick Taylor to come with him to Pensacola, Florida to assist with the training of Confederate troops. Though Taylor had been opposed to secession, he agreed to do so.

Dick Taylor’s stay there would be brief. When the 9th Louisiana Regiment was organized in early 1861, Taylor was elected colonel of the regiment. Members voted for him in the believe that his connection to President Jefferson Davis would allow them to be rapidly dispatched to a combat zone. Until the time of her death, Davis had been married to Dick Taylor’s sister, Sarah.

The connection seemed to work as the regiment was promptly shipped off to Richmond. The unit would arrive at Manassas on July 21, 1861, on the very day of the First Battle of Bull Run. Unfortunately for them, though, they would arrive too late in the day to participate in the first major clash of the Civil War.

On October 21, 1861, Dick Taylor was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of the Louisiana Brigade. Assigned to General Richard S. Ewell’s Division, this new posting would allow them to become a key element in Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign.

Dick Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade

6th Louisiana Infantry – Col Isaac G. Seymour

7th Louisiana Infantry – Col Harry T. Hays

8th Louisiana Infantry – Col Henry B. Kelly

9th Louisiana Infantry – Col Leroy A. Stafford

Wheat’s Battalion (“Louisiana Tigers”) – Maj C. Roberdeau Wheat

Wheats batallion

Wheat’s Battalion of Louisiana Tigers

The fierce reputation the Louisiana Tigers would soon earn was well deserved. Author Terry Jones would note: “Louisiana probably had a higher percentage of criminals, drunkards, and deserters in its commands than any other Confederate state…” Though it was Major Roberdeau Wheat’s Battalion from which the Louisiana Tigers would get their name, their reputation for “wholesale rioting, looting, and robbery” they earned on their own.

Jackson would rapidly find a use for Taylor’s brigade “as an elite strike force that set a rapid marching pace and dealt swift flanking attacks.” On May 21, 1862, they were attached to General Stonewall Jackson’s command and were destined to be a key component in the Rebel victory at Front Royal. Here they would distinguish themselves by traversing a burning bridge over the Shenandoah River while under enemy fire, and by seizing a large Federal supply train.

By late evening on May 24, General Richard Taylor’s Brigade of Louisianans was exhausted. They had marched, and countermarched, more than twenty miles. They had fought a skirmish at Middletown, and they had looted captured wagons belonging to “Commissary Banks.” Their motion had been constant and they would not settle in to rest until nearly 3:00 a.m. the following morning.

By sunrise on May 25, battle seemed imminent. The first soldiers roused and placed into line to oppose General Nathaniel Banks’s Army at Winchester, was General Charles Winder’s Stonewall Brigade. More than fifteen hundred strong, and with little more than two hours rest, these soldiers were ordered to advance and form a skirmish line near Hollingsworth’s Mill along Abram’s Creek. Here two farm lanes pushed off to the west circling around the Federal position at Bower’s Hill. Two sections of Union artillery and seven regiments of infantry had been placed there, and were currently raising havoc with Rebel forces.

1st Winchester map

Map Showing Dick Taylor’s Flank Attack at the 1st Battle of Winchester

By 7 a.m., Jackson had massed fifteen regiments on the west side of the Valley Pike, opposing Colonel George H. Gordon’s 3rd Brigade. Colonel John Campbell and Colonel William Taliaferro’s brigades were soon added to reinforce and extend the Confederate line farther to the left.

It was Brigadier General Charles Winder, commander of the Stonewall Brigade, who suggested the army’s next move. McHenry Howard, aides-de-camp to General Winder recalled: “General Jackson presently came on the scene and asked how the battle was going on. General Winder told him the enemy ought to be attacked on his (the enemy’s) right flank. ‘Very well,’ Jackson said, ‘I will send you up Taylor,’ and rode off.”

McHenry Howard

McHenry Howard

General Taylor’s men had also been awakened by 5:00 a.m. and had been ordered to prepare for battle. Within minutes, however, one of Jackson’s orderlies came riding through the heavy morning fog and told Taylor he must advance immediately. Taylor rode ahead and found General Jackson with his artillery. At that very moment they were “being pounded in a duel with federal guns placed on a hill anchoring the Union right.” “Jackson pointed to the enemy battery and told Taylor he must circle around to the left and silence the guns before they decimated the Confederate artillery.”

Taylor rode back to his brigade and began pushing his men toward the enemy’s guns. Soon General Jackson appeared at his side. The Tigers let out a cheer upon seeing him which was immediately hushed by Taylor so that their position might not be compromised. Instead, the Louisianans lifted their hat in salute, a gesture which was immediately returned by Jackson.

It was soon apparent the commotion had been detected by federal artillerymen as Taylor’s men began to receive cannon fire. Several men were hit by the projectiles which caused many others to duck reflexively. Witnessing this as an act of cowardice, Taylor screamed at his men. “What the hell are you dodging for? If there is any more of it, you will be halted under this fire for an hour.” Most of them straightened themselves up “as if they had swallowed ramrods.” Jackson scolded Taylor saying, “I am afraid you are a wicked fellow.”

With the morning fog serving as cover, Taylor was able to deploy his men unseen. About 7:30 Taylor motioned his men forward which was executed in “a steady walk” and without firing a shot. Suddenly the sun broke through the fog. Off to the left of the line a squadron of 1st Michigan cavalry was spotted. When the cavalry charged, Colonel Kelly’s 8th Louisiana fired a quick volley routing them completely.

John Worsham

John Worsham

Private John Worsham, a member of Company F, 21st Virginia Infantry recalled: “General Taylor rode in front of his brigade, drawn sword in hand, occasionally turning his horse, at other times merely turning in his saddle to see that his line was up. They marched up the hill in perfect order, not firing a shot. About half way to the Yankees he gave in a loud and commanding voice, that I am sure the Yankees heard, the order to charge!”

Rather than redeploying his men to counter the Rebel buildup on his right flank, Union Colonel George Gordon ordered Major Wilder Dwight to go the right to count the enemy. By the time Dwight complied with his orders and reported back to Gordon, it was too late. General Taylor and his Tigers were already pitching into Gordon’s troops.

Henry Kyd Douglas, the youngest member of General Jackson’s staff, was an observer to the assault rendered by the Louisianans. He wrote: “General Taylor threw his brigade into line where directed, and it moved forward in gallant style. I have rarely seen a more beautiful charge. This full brigade, with a line of glistening bayonets bright in that morning sun, its formation straight and compact, its tread quick and easy as it pushed on through the clover and up the hill, was a sight to delight a veteran.”

John Worsham noted “there was all the pomp and circumstance of war about it that was always lacking in our charges; but not more effective than ours which were inspired by the old rebel yell, in which most of the men raced to be foremost.”

Taylor’s charging Louisianans easily overwhelmed the 27th Indiana, and  29th Pennsylvania. This forced Lieutenant Colonel George Andrews to withdraw the 2nd Massachusetts as well. Soon every federal soldier was running for his life. The federals desperately tried to reform their line to resist the attack but it was hopeless. The whole Union force was routed back into the streets of Winchester.

Jackson was surprised by the quick success of Taylor’s men. He turned to Douglas and said: “Order forward the whole line, the battle’s won.” As Taylor’s men came sweeping by, Jackson cried out: “Very Good! Now let’s holler!” Jackson “raised his old grey cap, his staff took up the cheer, and soon from the advancing line rose and swelled a defining roar, which born on the wind over Winchester told her imprisoned people that deliverance was at hand.”

For the troops from the Pelican State, who had sacrificed their lives to free Winchester, their deeds were promptly recognized. Taylor’s Brigade “was the toast of the army.” “Jackson galloped up to Taylor and gratefully shook his hand in a silent gesture, which the Louisianian claimed was worth a thousand words from another.” Taylor wrote: “All the Virginia troops in this Army say that we beat any body they ever saw in a charge and now they say we can stand as long under a murderous fire as any troops in the World.”

Private Worsham noted: “Gen. Jackson captured vast stores: several hundred beef cattle, several hundred wagons with their teams, eleven thousand new muskets in boxes that had never been opened, a large amount of ammunition, and over three thousand prisoners. Jackson lost a very small number of men, but he had led us for three weeks as hard as men could march. In an order issued to his troops the next day, he thanked us for our conduct, and referred us to the result of the campaign as justification for our marching so hard. Every man was satisfied with his apology; to accomplish so much with so little loss, we would march six months! The reception at Winchester was worth a whole lifetime of service.”

Though the battle had taken place on a Sunday, when Jackson and his troops entered Winchester the church bells remained silent. “The streets were lined with people, but not on their way to sanctuaries; they had come to meet their own troops, who soon forgot their fatigue in the joy of their reception.” The residents of Winchester “were in a state of jubilant excitement.”

The cost of the victory to the troops from Louisiana was profound. Fourteen men were dead and eighty-nine wounded. Several officers were included in these numbers. Major Arthur McArthur of the 6th Louisiana was killed, and Lieutenant Colonel Francis would lose his left arm to amputation when his elbow was shattered by a minae ball.

Courage and obstinance in battle would be part of the legacy left behind by the Louisiana Tigers. In less than a month they would be the ingredient whose costly charge enabled the capture of the Coaling and secured victory at Port Republic. There would also be numerous other Confederate victories over the remaining three years of war in which the Tiger’s would play a pivotal role.

During the course of the war over three thousand Louisiana soldiers were killed in battle. Their mortality rate was nearly twenty-five percent. Their sacrifice was great. When the two Louisiana Brigades, ten regiments in all, finally surrendered, there were only 373 men left in the ranks. The 10th Louisiana had just sixteen men present at the surrender while the 9th had only sixty-eight.

“They were a rough and tumble lot – eager to fight, even more eager to drink and play. Cursed and branded as devils by civilians, welcomed as a godsend by cornered generals, the Louisiana Tigers contributed a colorful chapter to that era of American history known as the Civil War.” General Dick Taylor would play a major role in that legacy.


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, N.C. 1968

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

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

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

Taylor, Richard. Destruction and Reconstruction. Da Capo Press. 1995

Worsham, John H. One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry, his Experience and what he saw During the War 1861-1865. Wentworth Press. 2016

Stonewall Back in Town

Battling Along the Back Road

burning of Valley

Custer’s Division Retiring from Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley, October 7, 1864, by Alfred R.Waud (Library of Congress)

Between September 26 and October 9, 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s agricultural production and processing capacity was targeted and demolished. Author Jeffry Wert would note: “Americans had never before seen such demolition, executed with such skill and thoroughness.” The event, which would become known as “The Burning,” would be a methodical two-week crusade to destroy the Shenandoah Valley as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Crops, barns, farm buildings, mills and even dwellings would be incinerated. Stores of grain, crops, and livestock would be destroyed or appropriated for the use of the Union Army. This was “total warfare” brought to the doorsteps of a civilian population.

General Ulysses Grant advised Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck to see to it that General Jubal Early’s Army was shadowed by “veterans, militia men, men on horseback, and everything that can be got to follow,” with explicit orders to “eat out Virginia clean and clear as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their own provender with them.”

On October 6, George Custer’s 3rd Division broke camp at Dayton, Virginia near dawn, and proceeded in a northerly direction along the North River until they reached the Back Road in the town of Spring Creek. Here fiery destruction was expected to begin in earnest. The targets, however, were to be the “farms inhabited by peaceful Mennonites and Dunkards.” General Custer was sympathetic to the plight of these people and there is no indication that he allowed any of their farm buildings to be torched. Only the grist mills were targeted.

Once Custer’s men crossed the Dry River, however, having left the farms of the Mennonites and Dunkers behind them, the burning began in earnest. Custer’s troopers pushed on gathering livestock of every variety; slaughtering those they could not secure. Union troopers were told “to take all the stock, and to destroy all the supplies on the back road.”

Back Road

Map Showing the Back Road and the Battlefields of Brock’s Gap and Mill Creek.

Cavalry leader General Thomas Rosser commanded the Laurel Brigade, as well as that of General Williams Wickham’s. Evidence of the magnitude of Custer’s efforts would begin to show itself shortly after sunrise. It did not take long for Rebel troopers to mount up and commence their pursuit of Union cavalry. Private Beverly Whittle of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry was involved in the chase. As he progressed along the Back Road he noted: “All along our route were burning barns houses the very air is impregnated with the smell of burning property.” The “Fertile Valley of Virginia is one vast cloud of smoke.”

Newton Burkholder had, early in the war, been a Confederate soldier and later, since January of 1863, a telegraph operator in Harrisonburg. When Union occupation had forced his office to close, Newton had joined a group called the “Winfield’s Guerillas.” As a result, Newton would be a witness to the destruction that was unfolding in the valley. On October 6, 1864 he noted: “Now the whole vale is red with fire mile on mile, and enveloped in smoke high overhead, twisting and writhing, dissolving. See! Yonder goes right at Broadway, John J. Bowman’s mill, Sam Cline’s great stone barn! A sense of our powerlessness oppresses us. Stupidity lays hold on the mind, succeeding consternation. Is the world being set on fire?”

Scores of the men in Rosser’s force had property and family in this part of the Valley. The further they rode the more incensed they became. Confederate troopers were “understrength, underfed and in many cases mounted on horses past their prime.” Enraged, these men were eager to close on the enemy and seek revenge. It did not take long for an opportunity to arise.

James Taylor, who was an artist with Leslie’s Illustrated News, was currently riding with General Custer’s men. In addition to his drawings, Taylor described engagements ascribed to Federal cavalrymen as they burned farm buildings in the Shenandoah Valley. “The main body in columns of fours was in the rear detaching parties to the right and left to burn every mill, barn and haystack to be seen… When the enemy pressed too close, the men would halt and face about, a brisk fullisade would last a few moments, when the graycoats would be off, then trotting on, the rear guard would halt at the edge of the next hill or belt of woods to repeat the operation.”

Battle of Brock's Gap

Map of the Battle of Brock’s Gap

Late in the day on October 6, the 18th Pennsylvania and 5th New York Cavalry had gone into camp near Cootes’ Store at Brock’s Gap. This is the spot where the North Fork of the Shenandoah River pushes through North Mountain at Gap Rock. Here a lane also leads east toward Broadway and New Market. Custer’s men had been held up here for a bit while attempting to drive hundreds of heads of cattle and other livestock across the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. As a result of the delay, Union and Confederate troopers would come into contact.

About 3:30 in the afternoon, troopers in the 2nd Virginia Cavalry were ordered dismounted by Colonel Thomas Mumford and flung against Union cavalrymen who had been posted as skirmishers near Key’s Mill, southwest of the river. When the 4th Virginia Cavalry was added to the attack the Union line began to waver. According to Private Beverly Whittle, as the fighting intensified, the Yankees “broke + ran in confusion.”

Colonel Mumford continued to press his advantage. Custer’s men were soon forced back across Dry River and then across the Shenandoah itself. Some of the New Yorkers panicked and some seventy of them fled to the protection of North Mountain. Rebel horsemen appeared to be on the verge of a significant victory.

Fearing the worst, however, General Custer sent a request to his artillery commander for support. Captains Charles Pierce and Dunbar Ransom brought up their “artillery and posted it on a high hill.” With Union artillery added to the mix, Custer’s retreat was quickly halted and order was soon restored. Even the New Yorkers, who had fled westward into the hills in panic, soon return to the ranks. As Confederate cavalry had no artillery support available, they too withdrew.

The following morning General Rosser continued to nip at the heels of Custer’s troopers as they continued to burn the farms along the Back Road. Custer was now operating in Shenandoah County. The further the men of the Laurel Brigade rode, the more complete the destruction became.

Most of the mills, excluding Zerkel’s Mill at Forestville, were soon consumed by fire. The owner, Samuel Hockman, anticipating impending destruction “ran to the top floor of the mill, leaned out a window under the eaves of the structure, and nailed a United States flag to the peak of the roof.” By acting quickly, and by welcoming Union Cavalry, he was able to save the structure.

Zirkel mill.png

Current Photo of Zerkel’s Mill in Forestville.

Colonel James H. Kidd of Custer’s brigade described the scene as they continued to set fire to Valley structures: “What I saw there is burned into my memory. The anguish pictured in their faces would have melted any heart not seared by the horrors and ‘necessities’ of war. It was too much for me and at the first moment that duty would permit I hurried from the scene.”

Rosser’s men continued to pursue the enemy. George Pond believed the Confederate “zeal was due in part to the excitement of his men at seeing their farms and homes in flames; for many of Early’s cavalrymen were from the region. Their eagerness to extract retribution brought upon them double mortification and suffering.”

Battle of Mill Creek

Map showing Troop movements During the Battle of Mill Creek.

About 3:00 in the afternoon of October 7, the Laurel Brigade reached Mill Creek along the Back Road in the area known as Mount Clifton. Here he found Custer’s men on the opposite bank, once again, stalled just north of the ford by hundreds of heads of livestock, and human refugees. Still lacking artillery support, Rosser quickly ordered Colonel Richard Dulany to take Elijah White’s Battalion of the 35th Virginia, and the 7th Virginia Cavalry downriver to the lower ford and attack Custer on his left flank. Dulaney, encountering Union scouts as soon as he crossed Mill Creek, continued to push on. He quickly ordered the 7th Virginia, with 220 troopers, to charge.

Lieutenant Colonel John Bennett’s 1st Vermont Cavalry, about four hundred strong, were there to greet the charging Virginians. Many of these Green Mountain boys were raw replacements, newly arrived from Vermont. Though a request was sent out for reinforcements only a small detachment from the 8th New York and the 1st New Hampshire Cavalry answered the call. Though the odds were in Federal’s favor, enthusiasm and the desire for revenge was on the side of the Confederates.

While Captain Dan Hatcher led the 1st Squadron of the 7th Virginia Cavalry on its flank attack, Delaney conferred with Captain Frank Myer of White’s Comanches. Myer’s asked for orders, but due to the noise and confusion of the moment, it was impossible to understand each other. Myer’s returned to his men and would act on his own impulses.

On his return, Union troopers were putting up a heavy rifle fire with their Spencer and Henry repeating rifles. “Knowing that his men could not remain in that position a minute longer, Myer’s gave the order to charge, which was performed in the most brilliant style. This he did “with his customary dash.” Just as Hatcher began his attack, General Rosser ordered the 11th and 12th Virginia to charge directly across the stream.

The Comanches now numbered less that two hundred men. “In a very brief space the battalion was among the Yankees. Neutralizing their superiority in numbers and carbines by a very free use of their pistols and sabers.” Custer’s men “put forth a feeble resistance and quickly fell back to their main force.” Though the Confederates “could not get within sword’s distance of their enemy”, the Federals could not withstand the power of the attack.

Custer was soon forced to withdraw north and west along Mill Creek. The fighting would continue until nightfall when Rosser’s men drew back. Overwhelmed, Custer’s troopers retreated under cover of darkness. Casualties were light for both sides. The 7th Virginia had two men killed and one captured. The Comanches “had several men wounded, among them Captain Myers, but none were killed or very badly hurt.”

Mill Creek Sign

State Sign for Battle of Mill Creek.

Rosser would recapture several hundred head of sheep and cattle following the Battle of Mill Creek. He would attempt to return the livestock to the locals. The effort was well received by the residents of the Valley. They would label General Rosser the “Savior of the Valley” as a result of his efforts. It was a brand Rosser would savor for the rest of his life.

Late on October 7, Sheridan would report to Grant: “I have destroyed over 2,000 barns filled with wheat, hay and farming implements; over 70 mills, filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep.”

Mill Creek Battlefield

Current Day Photo of Mill Creek Battlefield.  Mill Creek Runs Left to Right Just Beyond the Trees at the End of the field.

On the morning of October 9, 1864, General Custer and six thousand cavalrymen would sit opposite General Rosser’s thirty-five hundred troopers at Tom’s Brook. Many of these men were posted along the borders of the Back Road. Battle was imminent. Private George W. Hunt of the 15th New York Cavalry watched as General Custer rode beyond his line and addressed his opponent. “In plain view of both armies…Sweeping off his broad-brimmed hat, he threw it down to his knee in a profound salute to his foe.” “Custer replaced his hat, turned to his line of men and the next moment the 3rd Division was sweeping on at a trot, the flaming neck tie and bright curls of Custer before all…” Rosser’s cavalrymen were quickly routed. As a result he battle would be dubbed “Woodstock Races.”

Toms Brook Map

Battle of Tom’s Brook or Woodstock Races

Following the war, General Rosser would divulge his feelings about the enemy and the burning of the Valley. “The soldiers who were required by Gen. Sheridan to lay waste the beautiful Shenandoah Valley with the torch were brave, good men, and were blameless in the part they took, for they only did as they were ordered, and every prisoner seemed heartily ashamed such a cowardly means had been employed in the endeavor to crush a brave people who never declined battle. And who could at all times have been met on the field under the rules and customs of civilized war.”

Warfare in the Shenandoah Valley would soon terminate following the decisive Battles of Tom’s Brook and Cedar Creek. The families, and their descendants, however, would long remember the acts perpetrated by General Sheridan’s troopers. The scars are still evident. Some of the ruins are still visible. In the end, total war, though seldom executed prior to the Civil War, would, regrettably, become the standard for modern armies.

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

Barringer, Sheridan. Custer’s Grey Rival: The Life of Confederate Major General Thomas Lafayette Rosser. Fox Run Publishing. Burlington, N.C. 2016.

Burkholder, Newton. The Barn Burners: A Chapter of Sheridan’s Raid up the Valley. Southern Historical Society Papers. Volume XXVIII. Richmond, Va. 1900.

Miller, William J. Decision at Tom’s Brook: George Custer, Thomas Rosser, and the Joy of the Fight. Savas Beatie. El Dorado Hills, Ca. 2016

Myers, Frank M. The Comanches: A History of White’s Battalion, Virginia Cavalry. Kelly, Piet & Co., Publishers. Baltimore, Md. 1871.

Taylor, James E. With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley. Morningside House, Inc. Dayton, Oh. 1989,

Death and Carnage at the Coaling

Battery H.png

Members of Battery H, 1st Ohio Light Artillery

Their line of battle was being shredded by a “fierce fusillade.” Captain Daniel Wilson of the 7th Louisiana noted that Union cannon “belched forth one incessant storm of grape, canister and shell, literally covering the valley, so that the work of attack on our part seemed almost hopeless.” Still, these soldiers marched resolutely on “across the low grounds, right after the battery. From its mouth now, with renewed violence, poured streams of shell and shot, mowing down our men like grass. The earth seemed covered with the dead and wounded.”

Gazing out upon the fields on that warm June morning, Union cannoneers had a nearly unobstructed view to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River to their right. To their front they could see more than a mile over open grasslands. The rooftops of the structures in Port Republic were clearly visible. With Confederate troops swiftly overrunning these open meadows, the acreage to their front was quickly becoming a target rich environment. Over the next few hours it would become a virtual killing field.

Seven Union artillery pieces had positioned themselves on “the edge of a spur, on a plateau that had once served as a coaling, a shallow pit used for making charcoal.” The Samuel Lewis family had used this resource to power their blacksmith shop and the family’s nearby iron furnace at Mount Vernon. Here, seventy-five feet above the surrounding plains, artillery pieces were adeptly positioned to sweep “the wheat fields with blasts of deadly grapeshot.”


View from the Coaling Toward the Battlefield at Port Republic. (Brian Swartz)

Captain James F. Huntington, who had charge of Battery H, 1st Ohio Light Artillery, noted that the artillery pieces were placed “on a low ridge near where it began to descend to the brook – Clark’s Battery in the coal pit, and a 12 pounder howitzer of Robinson’s in the space between the coal-pit and the road; my left piece in the road itself, and the others extended in the field on the right. The infantry was concealed in the woods along the main ridge to the rear.”

With Jackson’s infantrymen arriving “under cover of the wood on the right as if intending to attack from that direction,” General Erastus Tyler redeployed his thin blue line, into the wheat field to their front, parallel to Lewiston Lane. The right of the line now extended “nearly to the river.” Huntington noted “three of Clark’s and two of my pieces” went with them. Only the 66th Ohio would remain with the artillery for support some fifty yards to the rear. “A few less than 100 men deployed as skirmishers in the woods on the left practically without support.”

Battery H had mustered in at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio on November 7, 1861. It consisted of six rifled brass ten pounder cannons. The unit had been assigned to General James Shields’ 2nd Division of Banks’ V Corps, and the Department of the Shenandoah until May of 1862. They were then reassigned to Shields’ Division, Department of the Shenandoah through June of 1862.

Captain Huntington noted the final Union “line of battle, so far as we had one, was formed into two distinct and unconnected parts – on the right the infantry and five guns; then a vacant space; the remaining guns were on the extreme left and really held the key of the position.”

Coaling Map Topographic new

Union Artillery and Infantry Placements (Map Sketch: Peter Dalton)

One of the men manning the guns for Battery H was a thirty-six year old laborer from Cincinnati named John Harrison. Born in Westmoreland County, England, Harrison had emigrated to Boston around 1849 where he met and married a young Irish immigrant, named Anastasia Heffernan. At the time of his enlistment John had fathered three children. One can be sure when John migrated to this country, he never thought he would find himself manning an artillery piece, let alone hammering away at Rebel infantry; and yet, here he was.

By six a.m., John’s commander, Captain Huntington, observed some of Jackson’s infantry and artillery as they began to arrive on the battlefield. “An artillery duel ensued, greatly to our advantage, for although our guns were on higher ground, most of the enemy’s shot passed over us, while our shells exploded among them with deadly effect.”

Schenkl artillery shell 2

As it turned out Huntington’s Battery may have been tardy in firing its first rounds. Their artillery pieces discharged what was known as a Schenkl shell. The sabot, which encapsulated part of the projectile, was designed to ensure the correct positioning of the shell in the barrel of the artillery piece. In this case, however, the sabot on the shells were constructed of papier-mâché. Due to all the rain and moisture, the papier-mâché had swollen and some of the shells could not be rammed into the barrels of the guns.

Captain Huntington reported that the rainy weather “has so swelled these sabots that about every other shell would stick in the muzzle of the gun.” Huntington was forced “to set all who could be spared from other duty at paring down the sabots with jack-knives. The artificers and forge drivers were thus employed, and so taken away from the forge they would have otherwise have looked after.”

Meanwhile, General Jackson had dispatched General Charles Winder’s Stonewall Brigade directly into the center of the attack. On the right he forwarded the 2nd and 4th Virginia into the trees along a spine of the Blue Ridge. Their assignment was to dislodge Union artillery situated on the high ground at the Coaling. Though they would mount a direct assault on the position, they would fail in achieving their goal.

Earlier that morning, General Richard Taylor’s Brigade of Louisianans had crossed over a temporary footbridge in Port Republic and gone into camp so they might prepare breakfast. Recognizing that the fighting was intensifying, Taylor rode out ahead of his men in search of General Jackson. “Taylor witnessed the stunning spectacle of the enemy’s artillery working in tandem with the oncoming blue-clad infantry.” Winder’s Brigade “was suffering cruelly. And its skirmishers were driven in on their supporting line.” Taylor realized “it would be no easy matter to defeat such troops…Jackson found he had met men of like metal to his own,”

Upon locating General Jackson, the two men exchanged pleasantries and a measured amount of “ironic humor.” Jackson initially asked Lieutenant Robert English to serve as a guide for Taylor and his brigade. He assigned the Louisianans the task of backing up the troops he had already assigned the mission of seizing the Coaling. General Taylor acknowledged his orders, saluted, and hurried back to get his men moving.

Shortly after Taylor’s departure, though, Jackson’s mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss, appeared. Jackson realized Hotchkiss had an “accurate knowledge of the area” so he also assigned him the task of guiding Taylor’s Brigade. “Take Gen. Taylor around and take those batteries. Pointing to the enemy’s batteries near Gen. Lewis house, which were making sad havoc among our men.”

Jed Hotchkiss noted: “Gen. R. S. Taylor was just then coming up; so I met it and led it, in line of battle, with skirmishers in front, to the right through the woods, until nearly opposite the Gen. Lewis house, when the brigade advanced and charged upon the battery and took it, after being repulsed several times.” “Gen. Wm. B Taliaferro’s Brigade came up, along the western edge of the woods, in time to give the enemy a volley or two by a flank fire. We routed them completely; took at one point a battery of five guns…”

Port Republic map4.png

Final Moments of the Fighting at the Coaling

Back at the Coaling, Captain Huntington was examining the seeming success of Union infantry in their assault on the right. His attention was distracted, however, by the appearance of a new Rebel battery. These guns may have belonged to Captain Robert Chew. Huntington was surveying this activity “through a glass when from the woods on our left rushed forth the Tigers, taking the line in reverse and swarming among Clark’s guns. His Cannoneers made a stout but short resistance, as pistols and sponge staffs do not count for much against muskets and bayonets.”

Clark’s three guns and Robinson’s howitzer were quickly captured. Huntington promptly concluded if his guns were to be saved, they would need to be withdrawn immediately. Huntington ordered his first gun limbered up and directed it to the rear. This piece was successfully extracted.

Huntington then shifted his attention to his second gun. “As the team of the next came up, two of the drivers fell, badly wounded, from their saddles. The remaining driver could not control the frightened animals, they broke away and dashed off with the limber, and the piece was abandoned.”

It is probable Private John Harrison had been assigned to this gun. According to pension records, while John was “riding the lead horse of the piece his horse sunk down in the mud and the saddle horse of the swing team fell on him.” As a result, John experienced a spinal injury which caused his left leg to be partially paralyzed. Incapacitated, John was captured by Confederate infantry.

Huntington now directed his consideration to the third piece. “It was under cover and the drivers were loth to leave it. By that time a force had broken out of the woods in our front, and yelling like demons came pouring up the road, straight for our remaining gun.” The force of which he speaks was the 6th Louisiana Infantry. The gun, which had been loaded previously, was discharged by one of the artillerists. “This opened a lane and checked the onset of that particular lot of Tigers for an instant, in which we limbered up the piece, the cannoneers jumped on, and the drivers lost no time getting away with it to the rear.”

The remaining guns on the Coaling would exchange hands three times before they were finally secured by Taylor’s men. One of the Louisiana soldiers stated they had been met with “a terrific fire.” “When they were driven for the third time they were not disheartened, but wiped out.” Five artillery pieces were captured and Federal troops had been routed. Though victorious, Jackson’s men had paid a harsh price for their prize.

Captain Huntington, himself, was left in the dust of his retreating guns. He “felt rather at a loss what course to take.” His “first impulse was to lie down and surrender, as there seemed to be a very poor prospect of reaching cover with a whole skin. But having a wholesome dread of Southern hospitality as dispensed at that period, I concluded to take the chances and was lucky enough to slip out between the bullets.

Private John Harrison, ensnared by Confederate infantry, was one of more than four hundred and fifty Union soldiers captured. Following the battle, Private Harrison was taken to Lynchburg and then on to Belle Isle Prison at Richmond. John was later paroled at Aiken’s Landing on September 13, 1862.  He was sent on to Camp Banks in Alexandria, where he was discharged for disability on January 31, 1863. John returned home to his family in Cincinnati shortly thereafter. The debilitating effect of his injury, however, would afflict him for the rest of his life.

The retreat of Federal Troops became wide-ranging. Captured Federal artillery pieces were turned on the fleeing enemy. Colonel Samuel Carroll noted the blow put “the rear of our column in great disorder, causing them to take to the woods, and making it for the earlier part of the retreat apparently a rout.”

Jackson’s forces chased Union troops for more than three miles. In addition to the troops that were captured some eight hundred muskets were picked up as well. Huntington recalled the retreat continued all the way to Conrad’s Store where they discovered General Shields lingering with the other two brigades of the division. They rested here briefly and then resumed their retreat to White House Bridge and Luray.

Losses on both sides were substantial. Huntington reported his loss “had been heavy in killed, wounded and missing. In my battery for example, we lost nearly one third of the men actually under close fire.” Tyler lost more than a thousand men in his army. Jackson’s casualties amounted to over eight hundred. As a result, this battle was the costliest of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign.

With the fighting over, Stonewall ordered Jedediah Hotchkiss to guide the army to Mount Vernon Furnace on the road to Brown’s Gap. Here they “encamped on the side of a mountain where it was so steep, we had to pile rocks and build a wall to keep from rolling down when asleep.” In addition, heavy rain fell, soaking everyone and adding further to their misery. Such was the price of victory in Stonewall Jackson’s Army.

Thanks very much to Mike Andrew, Great-Great Grandson of John Harrison, for his contributions and his efforts at maintaining accuracy in this dialog.

Browne, Jr., Edward C. Battery H 1st Ohio Light Artillery: 1861-1865. 2012.

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

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

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

Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts: The Shenandoah Campaigns of 1862 and 1864 and the Appomattox Campaign 1865. Boston. 1907.

Pension file of John Harrison, National Archives.