Civil War, Cave Dirt, and the Rule of Law

Robert Barton Civil War

Robert Thomas Barton

Robert Thomas Barton was born in Winchester, Virginia, on November 24, 1842, to a life of comfort and security. Robert was one of ten children, consisting of six boys and four girls, born to David and Fanny Barton. Robert’s father prospered from his law practice enabling him to enlarge the size of their residence to accommodate an ever-growing family, as well as numerous slaves and servants.

The Barton residence, itself, was situated on a sizable lot off Market Street which “ran deep, back to the next street providing space for stables and carriage house, the pig sty, coops for birds, laundry house and other outbuildings for vegetable garden and fruit trees.” Located in the center of town, it was a short walk to the courthouse, their father’s law office, and the Episcopal church, which was attended regularly by the family.

Barton Home

Early 20th Century Photo of the Barton House on Market Street in Winchester.

A few miles south of Winchester on the Valley Pike, the family also owned an elegant mansion called Springdale. The splendor of the estate so dominated the neighborhood that the area became known as Bartonsville. Bartonsville was not a town, though, “but a collection of houses around two mills – one near the turnpike, milling wheat, the second, upstream, a woolen factory.” These industries were powered by the waters of Opequon Creek which flowed nearby.


Springdale at Bartonsville

Winchester was a community often described as being “closer to the North than to the South.” As a matter of fact, in 1860 most of the residents would have called themselves “Unionists.” As there were fewer slaves per capita in the Shenandoah Valley than in much of the rest of Virginia, the major issue for the populace was not slavery “but states’ rights and the encroachment of federal authority.”

In less than a year, though, the attitudes of the inhabitants of Winchester would be transformed. With their city in the crosshairs of civil war, the vast majority would become ardent secessionists. They would rally to “the cause”, and support the Confederacy, offering up their wealth, their fidelity, and most significantly, their lives.

In June of 1861, shortly after the commencement of hostilities, Robert Barton volunteered. He was just nineteen years of age when he joined his brother, Strother, in Company F of the 2nd Virginia Infantry. The regiment would be attached to a brigade made up of four other regiments, the 4th, 5th, 27th, and 33rd Virginia, in addition to the Rockbridge Artillery. Following the First Battle of Manassas, the unit would be labeled as the Stonewall Brigade in reverence to its commander, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Shortly after joining the regiment Robert Barton became seriously ill, and was discharged for disability within a few weeks of his muster. He would spend the next eight months recovering from this malady and would not be able to rejoin the war effort again until early March of 1862. This time he would enlist as a private in the Rockbridge Artillery, also known as Poague’s Battery. Robert’s brother, David, was already serving in the unit at the time of his muster. Enrolling in time for duty during the McDowell Campaign, he and his brother would serve together for the remainder of Jackson’s Valley Campaign.

At the Battle of First Winchester, on May 25, 1862, Robert fought in the same brigade as his brothers David, Marshall, and Strother. For Robert, though, it was his first combat, and in the course of the fight he experienced several close calls. First, an enemy shell killed two horses as he was trying to tether them to a tree. Then a second round exploded at his feet. Somehow, Robert escaped unscathed.

All told his battery lost three killed, and eighteen wounded out of the eighty-nine men assigned to the battery. It was the highest percentage of casualties of any Confederate Unit on the field. Following the engagement, he tragically stumbled upon the body of his own brother, Marshall, who had been mortally wounded on a hill about one and a half miles from his parent’s house in Winchester.

Jackson’s Valley Campaign would continue to flow up and down the valley. The battery would next be engaged at the Battle of Port Republic. Robert, who had been gravely ill the night before the battle, could barely walk when he awoke the following morning. By five AM, however, Confederate infantry was on the march crossing the South River on a temporary bridge made of sunken wagons and planks. The surgeon, grasping Robert’s “poor condition,” allowed him to ride in an ambulance which would follow closely behind his battery.

On reaching the field of battle Robert had been “lying on the floor of the ambulance and had to roll out quickly from the rear.” He then “took his place with the guns” as they advanced to their first placement. The weapon immediately came under fire from the enemy’s batteries. Barton noted “the excitement of being under fire, seemed, until the fight was over, to be better medicine for me than any surgeon could have prescribed…”

Robert’s artillery piece was moved several times “under heavy fire, seeking each time to get a better place from which we could do more damage to the enemy.” At one-point Robert was asked to “run ahead of the guns and ask the colonel of an infantry regiment lying behind the shelter of a small hill in front of us to move out and let our battery take position there.” The regiment was the 27th Virginia and the commander, Colonel Andrew Grigsby, soon had his men repositioned to make room for the gun.

Port Republic Map

The Hill Mentioned by Barton is Shown on the Map as well as a Stream Named Little Deep Run in which He Took Cover. (Adapted: Krick, Conquering the Valley)

The Battery soon found itself firing briskly at “a large body of Federal infantry that was bravely advancing to charge us, and we were losing men and horses by their rifles.” At this point a portion of the Stonewall Brigade and General Richard Taylor’s Louisiana Brigade “charged the enemy that was advancing upon us and were repulsed with heavy loss and fell back through our guns, thus stopping our fire for the time.”

The enemy troops were soon upon them. The battery was ordered to retreat but with their horses all dead they were forced to make a stand. Their officer, Cole Davis, “ordered us to stand and fire in their faces.” “We could almost tell the color of the eyes of the enemy before we were ordered to cease firing and fall back, leaving the gun to its fate.”

Barton found himself too weak to retreat from the enemy. “Sick, worn out, in the mud and wheat, I could not even run, so I took to the shelter of an apple tree not far from where the battery stood and lying down, tried to protect myself behind it.” Shot after shot struck the tree.” Later that day he counted seven bullet holes in that sapling.

Realizing his position was untenable Robert sought a safer spot. To his front, and closer to the enemy, Robert discerned a ditch that appeared to offer better cover. He “jumped for it, hoping to tumble in and escape the dreadful fire.” His foot “caught in a dewberry bush and he tumbled head long into the ditch, which proved to be nearly full of cold water, accumulated by recent rains.”

The shock of his sudden emersion into the cold water was powerful. Still, Robert knew “to stay in that water was my only chance for escape, so I stayed with my body under the water and only my face above, while the heavy fire of bullets and of our gun which they had turned on the fugitives, swept over me.” Robert remained there until the firing had diminished. He then arose and advanced to the nearest friendly infantry unit situated to his front.

The regiment he approached turned out to be a West Virginia regiment of the Union persuasion, and he was very fortunate not to have been captured. When he finally reached Confederate lines, he discovered his own battery had gone off in pursuit of the retreating enemy. As he drifted through the battlefield a Louisiana Colonel took him for straggler and ordered him placed in a guard house with a sentinel to watch over him. He was subsequently spotted by Captain Poague, upon his return to the battlefield, and ordered released from captivity.

Port Republic was Robert’s last battle. He was sent to the rear on June 12, due to what was described as a “seriously weakened state.” He would “convalesce at Ivy Depot for nearly a month.” Too ill to continue in active service, however, he was soon discharged for phthisis,” or what is now termed pulmonary tuberculosis.

By October of the same year, Robert was still seeking a way to support the war effort in spite of his affliction. He considered several options but was finally mustered into the Nitre and Mining Bureau where he would serve under his uncle, James F. Jones. This would prove to be a most noteworthy assignment.

In his role at the Nitre and Mining Bureau, Robert was assigned to the Staunton area with the rank of agent and placed in charge of nitre production. We have previously discussed how critical the Shenandoah Valley’s pig iron production was to the Confederacy. What few people know, however, is how indispensable the manufacture of nitre from cave dirt was to the Confederate States. Virginia’s western highlands, and the Shenandoah Valley in particular, had an abundance of nitre, or saltpeter caverns. As a result, the Shenandoah Valley helped lead Virginia, as well as all of the other Confederate States, in its production by supplying nearly thirty percent of the South’s supply of saltpeter.

Robert Barton would have been responsible for managing production, transportation, and for making monetary disbursements to his suppliers. His responsibilities would have included several caverns in the Shenandoah Valley, including Clark’s Cave at Fort Lewis, and Weyer’s Cave near Port Republic. As part of his duties with the Nitre Department Robert would “frequently visit the neighborhood of Weyer’s Cave, near to which I had some men engaged in getting dirt out of a cave and extracting nitre from it.”

During one of his visits to the nitre production facility at Weyer’s Cave, Robert took the opportunity to call on a distant relative of his named Samuel Lewis. Mr. Lewis, a Union man at heart, owned a large plantation there known as Lewiston. The mansion is itself located just below and adjacent to the Coaling. It had played a central role in the Battle of Port Republic by serving as headquarters for Union General Erastus Tyler and Colonel Samuel Carroll. Robert had noted in his journal that he had “observed it during the fight and was in the yard in the afternoon of the battle.”

Samuel Lewis showed some animation when the subject of the battle came up in their discussions. He “showed me where a shell from one of our batteries had penetrated the wall of his house and exploding in his china closet, had utterly destroyed his stock of porcelain ware. From the direction from which the shot came, it was very probable that it was fired by my own battery and I told the General so.” Fortunately, Mr. Lewis did not hold a grudge and the incident served as a “theme for jokes at the table that night.”

The following day Robert took the opportunity to cross the battlefield in company with Samuel Lewis. He detected spots “where the hogs had rooted up the dead, and bones and skulls lay thick around. It was then I found again my friendly apple tree and counted the seven bullet holes in it.” The dead still lay upon the field, victims of the deadly missiles the opponents had hurled at each other.

Robert realized that gunpowder had performed its deadly mission there upon the Battlefield at Port Republic. Now it was he who was responsible for procuring one of the critical elements in the production of this substance. Call it what you might, nitre, potassium nitrate, or saltpeter, it was an essential component in the production of gunpowder, and for the continuation of the war effort.

Niter is the mineral form of potassium nitrate, KNO3, also known as saltpeter. It is commonly detected as “massive encrustations and effervescent growths on cave walls, ceilings, and floors.”  Along with sulfur and charcoal, niter is a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder. Each grain of gunpowder is by composition seventy-five percent potassium nitrate, fifteen percent charcoal, and ten percent Sulphur.

Known as cave dirt, or calcium nitrate, when combined with potash during the manufacturing process, potassium nitrate is produced. Virginia caves are known to have been mined for this compound as early as 1740. They had even supplied the substance during both the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

“The dispersed nature of the caves, and their location in remote areas, kept them relatively safe from Union raiders.” The majority of operations were small and were encouraged to remain so by the Confederate Government. It was “largely a cottage industry — the caves were usually worked by mountain folk from small farms with no slaves and who were only marginally loyal to the Confederacy, resulting in a notoriously unreliable work force where absenteeism and desertion were common”

At the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the Confederate states had no organized gunpowder industry. “Though several regions had long produced the primary ingredients — niter, charcoal and sulfur — the entire South had less than 30 tons of powder and no one source that produced more than a few pounds a day when the war started.”

By employing basic procedures outlined by the war department three men could produce up to two hundred pounds of saltpeter every three days. The War Department published a booklet in 1861 called “NOTES ON MAKING SALTPETRE FROM THE EARTH OF THE CAVES.” Major George W. Rains, who was in charge of the Confederate Gunpowder Department, was its author.

Included in the publication was the following: “ARTICLES WANTED TO MAKE SALTPETRE ON A SMALL SCALE. One ordinary iron pot, for boiling; three or four tubs, pails, or barrels cut off; two or three small troughs; sonic coarse bags or a wheelbarrow to bring the earth from the cave, and four strong barrels with one head in each, empty vinegar, whiskey or pork barrels are very good, are about all the articles required for a small saltpetre manufactory. To these, however, must be added some ash barrels to make potash lye, as it is better that this should be made at the same time and place, the ashes from the fire under the pot for boiling assisting in the production.”

“The actual production of niter from cave earth was a relatively simple process that could be done on a small scale using fairly common implements. Workmen (sometimes called “peter monkeys”) excavated the nitrate-bearing earth (”peter dirt”) using various tools such as shovels, mattocks, wooden scraping paddles, hoe-like scrapers, and chisel-shaped bars, the latter needed to obtain material from ledges and cracks and to serve as pry bars.”

Payment for nitre was also described in the pamphlet: “The Ordnance Department, Confederate States, will pay thirty-five cents per pound for all saltpetre delivered before the first of February, 1862, at any of the following points; Capt. W. G. Gill, Augusta, Ga.; C. G. Wagner, Military Store Keeper, Montgomery, Ala.; Lieut. M. H. Wright, Nashville Tenn.; Capt. W. R. Hart, Memphis, Tenn.; Sandford C. Faulkner, Military Store Keeper, Little Rock, Ark., and at Richmond, Va.”

Providing a production facility was capable of producing four hundred pounds of nitre a week the product would have a cash value of $140.00 in 1861 dollars. In today’s money that would be the equivalent of about $4,235.00. That is a tidy sum no matter how you look at it.

The Secretary of War went further stating: “Military commanders are directed and officers of the Niter Bureau are authorized to seize niter in the hands of private individuals who either decline to sell it or ask more than 50 cents per pound for it. Records from the Nitre and Mining Bureau reported that “through 1864 Virginia produced 505,584¼ pounds of niter, accounting for about 29% of the total Confederate domestic supply.”

Cave tally marks

Tally Marks on the Wall of a Shenandoah Valley Cave

One of the unusual facets of saltpeter caves is a feature known as tally marks. At least one of the Shenandoah Valley caves is known to have these designs. Though nobody is certain, “the marks may have been a record of the number of days worked or one man’s production in bags of peter dirt.”

As a point of interest, there were times during the war when saltpeter production from cave dirt slumped due to war related events. A Southern chemist, however, named Jonathan Harrelson, figured out how to craft nitre by extracting it from human urine. I can find no indication that this process was performed in the Shenandoah Valley, but women in some of the South’s larger cities were urged to collect urine from their bedpans. The fluid would then be poured “into a huge truck pulled by a horse around town and they would make potassium nitrate out of it.”

The Selma Sentinel published the following article on the subject on October 1,1863.

The ladies of Selma are respectfully requested to preserve all their chamber lye collected about their premises for the purpose of making Nitre. Wagons with barrels will be sent around for it by the subscriber.
(signed) Jno Haralson
Agent Nitre and Mining Bureau

Southern Belle

Southern Belle \ Yankee Killer

As you can imagine the idea of collecting women’s urine became the subject of a great deal of amusement. Several poems were written poking fun at the practice. Following is the only poem I found which was deemed suitable for reprinting. Several others of a more questionable nature are available on line.

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, you are a wretched creature,
You’ve added to this war a new and awful feature,
You’d have us think while every man is bound to be a fighter,
The ladies, bless their pretty dears, should save their p** for nitre,

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, where did you get this notion,
To send your barrel around the town to gather up this lotion,
We thought the girls had work enough in making shirts and kissing,
But you have put the pretty dears to patriotic pissing,

John Harrelson, John Harrelson, do pray invent a neater
And somewhat less immodest mode of making your saltpeter,
For “tis an awful idea, John, gunpowdery and cranky,
That when a lady lifts her skirt, she’s killing off a Yankee.

Robert Barton 1900

Robert Barton about 1900.

The critical nature of Robert Barton’s new posting can be easily recognized. He would resign his position at the Nitre and Mining Bureau, however, on August 26, 1863, due to his continuing medical condition. Robert would return home following the death of his father, David R. Barton, “to assume family duties and to continue with his recovery from consumption.” He was present at the family residence during the Third Battle of Winchester and was driven from the community during the Confederate retreat. In mid-October of 1864 he traveled to Baltimore where he lived with his sister’s family in order to continue his recovery.

Following the war Robert Barton returned to Winchester and studied law under Richard Parker, the judge that had presided over the trial of John Brown. Robert was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1865. He became one of Virginia’s leading lawyers, serving one term as president of the Virginia Bar Association. He also authored several textbooks on law and its practice.

Robert Barton had a political life as well. He would be elected Mayor of Winchester and serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. He also completed several terms as president of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Winchester. Robert died on January 18, 1917, at the age of seventy-four having lived a life of principle, public service, and self-sacrifice. He is buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in his hometown of Winchester.

Colt, Margaretta Barton. Defend the Valley. A Shenandoah Family in the Civil War. Orion Books. New York, N. Y. 1994.

Krick, Robert K. Conquering the Valley: Stonewall Jackson at Port Republic. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, N. Y. 1996.

Rains, George W. Making Saltpetre from the Earth of the Caves. Daily Delta Job Office. New Orleans, La. 1861.

Winchester’s Civilian Heroes

Stonewall Jackson seemed undaunted by his defeat. Trotting south along the Valley Pike, just north of Middletown, Virginia, General Jackson passed a group of soldiers preparing their evening meal. Having built a campfire made of fence rails, one of the men called to the General and invited him to join them for their repast. Jackson accepted their offer and sat down with the men to consume the first nourishment he had taken all day.

One of the young men boldly asked: “General, it looks like you cut off more tobacco today than you could chew.” Stonewall turned to the young man and replied, “Oh, I think we did very well.” Strategically, of course, he “did very well.” With his defeat on the battlefield Jackson would succeed in drawing large numbers of troops away from the Union advance on Richmond, and this was exactly what the Confederacy needed at this moment.

Sandie Pendleton, an officer on the staff of General Jackson, declared Kernstown “was a harder fight than Manassas.” Frank Paxton of the Stonewall Brigade wrote home saying: “We had a severe fight to-day and are pretty badly whipped.” Even Jackson knew he had been sternly punished. In less than two hours he had lost one quarter of his army. The fatalities were so severe they would closely parallel the percentage of Confederate losses suffered during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Hotchkiss map Kernstown

Jedediah Hotchkiss’s Map of the First Battlefield of Kernstown.

Union soldiers, who held the field in victory, were ordered to “lay on their arms.” Campfires were prohibited and the misery was compounded when temperatures dipped into the thirties. Cold and wretched, the joyful yells of triumph were quickly drowned out by the mournful cries of the wounded, and the dying, on both sides of the field.

With the rout of Confederate troops, Union ambulances and attendants were tasked with removing the injured from the battlefield. Some Union regiments detached their own search parties to assist with the mission. These men would carry the wounded and maimed, of both sides, from the battlefield and pile them into the wagons. Once completed they would return to the battlefield, locate more of the injured, and retrace their route. Unfortunately, as darkness diminished, the morning light would reveal ever more of the wreckage of war.

The inhabitants of Winchester would similarly make their own observations on the Battle of Kernstown. Cornelia McDonald, who was one of several distinguished Winchester diarists, did just that. On Sunday, March 23, Cornelia noted “the usual annoyance of the enemy in the distance, but as the day wore on it thundered louder and louder and came near and nearer. All the troops left town, and we soon became aware that a battle was being fought very near us.”


Cornelia McDonald

Cornelia noted sometime after “two o’clock in the afternoon the cannon ceased, and in its place the most terrible and long continued musketry firing, some said, that had been heard since the war began, not volley after volley, but one continued fearful roll, only varied in its distinctness by the swaying of the battle.”

Two of Cornelia’s sons, Harry and Allan, received permission in the early morning to go to the top of a nearby hill to ascertain what the commotion was all about. Cornelia had given her consent “thinking of no danger other than occurred every day.” She soon regretted her decision. Cornelia fretted all day fearing for their safety. The boys did not reappear until nine that evening. When they did return “they seemed not like the same boys, so sad and unnatural was their expression.”

To the civilians of Winchester the sounds of the battle were terrifying. Mrs. McDonald’s two boys related many of the details of the battle which they had witnessed. They were “grave and sorrowful; disappointed, too as we had lost the battle, and they had been compelled to see the Southern troops sullenly withdraw after the bloody struggle.” “When the boys told of the retreat their mortification found relief in tears, but they were tears of pity when they told of the wounded.”

Mary Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee

Mary Greenhow Lee, likewise a Winchester resident and diarist, also chronicled her fear and apprehension over the day’s events. She noted: “I could not doubt my own ears, when I heard the din of battle; nor could I believe but that that there were numbers of immortal souls, being hurried into eternity, & that, most probably, some of them were our own soldiers, it might be, friends and acquaintances.” “All sorts of rumors are afloat, amongst the Yankees; some say Turner Ashby is killed, others that he is wounded, & others that Jackson is in full retreat.”

The night was long and most of the residents experienced profound bouts of sleeplessness. Many feared members of their own family had been killed or wounded. “No eyes closed during those nights for the thought of the suffering pale faces turned up under the dark sky, or for the dying groans or helpless cries of those they were powerless to relieve.”

Laura Lee, a Market Street resident, was awakened early on the 24th by her neighbor. Mrs. Barton, with news that the confederates had lost the battle and that many of their neighbors were dead, wounded or prisoners. The women scampered about their homes gathering makeshift bandages, food, and other nourishments. They then scurried off, attempting with varying success to present these items to their brave soldiers.

“Wagons and ambulances filled with the wounded had been coming in all night and all the morning.”  It was noted every available space in Winchester had been converted into a hospital. “The courthouse was full, the vacant banks, and even the churches.” The Farmer’s Bank, and the Frederick County Courthouse next door were filled to overflowing with the injured, the dying, and the dead.

Court House

Drawing of the Frederick County Courthouse.

Cornelia McDonald went to the courthouse herself that morning and observed “the porch was strewed with dead men. Some had papers pinned to their coats telling who they were. All had the capes of their great coats turned over to hide their still faces; but their poor hands, so pitiful they looked and so helpless; busy hands they had been, some of them, but their work was over.”

By mid-day on Monday many of the deceased had been borne away from the courthouse so that others could take their place. Cornelia had gone to the courthouse to provide “refreshments” for the Confederate wounded; not for the Yankees. Still she noted a “long line of blue clad uniforms lay on each side” of her as she passed through the building. One Union soldier regarded her with “sad looking eyes.” Among the items she had brought with her was a pitcher of lemonade. She took the container and “poured it into his mouth with a tablespoon.” He told her: “It is a beautiful drink for a thirsty man.” When Cornelia returned the following day, she would arrive in time to witness the young man’s passing.

Many of the patients at the courthouse were “dreadfully mutilated.” Amputations were being performed on a table beneath the judge’s platform. One of the men Mrs. McDonald was asked to aid had been struck by a ball “on the side of the face, taking away both eyes, and the bridge of his nose.” “The surgeon asked me if I could wash his wound. I tried to say yes, but the thought of it made me so faint that I could only stagger towards the door.” As she exited the building her “dress brushed against a pile of amputated limbs heaped up near the door.” The sight brought Cornelia to her knees.

Laura Lee, who also maintained a diary, stated that before the war “we 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.” Together with Mary Greenhow Lee they visited the Union Hotel that afternoon 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.”

By two PM all of the prisoners that were healthy enough to walk were marched down Market Street on their way to the train station. Amongst the prisoners were several close friends and family. Included were Willie and Ranny Barton of the 33rd Virginia Infantry, Robert Burwell of the 2nd Virginia Infantry, and Robert Bell of the Rockbridge Artillery, all Winchester residents. “They were bright & joyous as if they were in a triumphal possession; every one came out to tell them good-bye, & to cheer them, & I found myself hurrahing, with the Loring men for Jeff Davis, in spite of the Yankee Officers by their sides, who heard every word we said to them.” “They had more life & spirits, though prisoners, than any of the Yankees who have been here.” The boys were then transported to prison in Baltimore where they would remain for some time.

That evening Mary Greenhow Lee, a woman who admitted she could barely stomach the sight of Yankees, went once again 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.” Mary soon discovered that Union soldiers were very “grateful & humble, & surprised at our taking care of them.”

Mary would be kept awake that night, and for many nights to come, by the scenes she had witnessed. The following day she returned to the Union Hotel. “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 were.

Mary Greenhow Lee 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 thoughts would preoccupy her that night and for many nights to come.

Care for the wounded would continue, seemingly without end. A week after the battle Laura Lee was still reporting multiple 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 end any time soon. Mary Greenhow Lee would asserted 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. The municipality would change hands more than seventy times during the course of the war, and would earn the reputation of being the “shuttlecock of the Confederacy.”

The Winchester region, itself, would continue as an active theater of war for the next three years. The near constant clashes with the enemy would change the psyches of both the combatants, and the noncombatants. The lives of the Winchester civilians would be forever transformed, and war would not treat them kindly. Though lives would be taken, families broken, prosperities lost, and buildings destroyed, the city would endure. For the survivors, however, their animations would never again reclaim the normality of the antebellum era. They would fight the good fight but, in the end, they would lose all that had been precious to them; except their humanity.

Ecelbarger, Gary. We are in for It! The First Battle of Kernstown, March 23, 1862. White Mane Publishing Company Inc.  Shippensburg, Pa. 1997.

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

Robertson Jr., James I. The Stonewall Brigade. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, La. 1963.

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

How an Overindulgence of Applejack Saved Jackson’s Valley Campaign


May 30, 1862, had been a stressful day for General Stonewall Jackson. With one Union army closing in on his east flank and one on his west flank, the General had taken a room at the hotel in Winchester to plan his next move and get some needed rest. It was a little after ten that night when Colonel Alexander Boteler came to the general’s room offering a late-night whiskey toddy. Jackson’s reply to the offer: “No, Colonel, you must excuse me, I never drink intoxicating liquors.” “I know that General, said I, but though you habitually abstain as I do myself, from everything of the sort, there are occasions, and this is one of them, when a stimulant will do us both good; otherwise, I would take it neither myself nor offer it to you. So, you must make an exception to your general rule, and join me in a toddy to-night.” Jackson, took the beaker and began to drink its contents. After partially emptying the glass, he said: ” Colonel, do you know why I habitually abstain from intoxicating drinks?” When Boteler replied in the negative Jackson stated: ” Why, sir, because I like the taste of them, and when I discovered that to be the case, I made up my mind at once to do without them altogether.”

It is obvious that General Thomas Jackson was the quintessential teetotaler. One should also know that Jackson was once quoted as saying he was “more afraid of King Alcohol than of all the bullets of the enemy.” There is one occasion, though, when the veracity of this testimonial might come into question. The issue would arise on April 19, 1862, and would involve two celebrated members of his staff, Jedediah Hotchkiss and Colonel Turner Ashby.

Jedediah Hotchkiss is a character we have referred to on several occasions but we have never really explained who he was. Hotchkiss was born in the town of Windsor, New York on November 30, 1828. His father was a businessman involved in lumbering and farming. As a young boy Jed worked on the family farm helping to harvest the crops that would provide income to the family. In spite of these demands Jed still found time for academics. As a child he studied Greek, Latin, and even Italian. Math and science were high on his priority list as well.

hotchkiss photo

Photo of Jedidiah Hotchkiss.

When Jed turned seventeen he elected to embark on a bold adventure. With the permission of his parents he set off for the South. He trekked down the Cumberland Valley, through Pennsylvania, and into Harpers Ferry. From there he continued on into the Shenandoah Valley. Like most people, to experience the Shenandoah Valley is to love the Shenandoah Valley. He marveled at the Shenandoah River, Weyer’s Cave and the natural bridge. He was captivated by the grandeur that surrounded him.

In Augusta County he came into contact with a man named Henry Forrer who lived in the small town of Mossy Creek. The two men became friends and Jedediah was soon offered the opportunity of becoming a private teacher for the Forrer family. Hotchkiss jumped at the chance and soon discovered that he loved the teaching profession. He was so proficient at it that several of the families in the area agreed to build a school for him which became known as Mossy Creek Academy. Jed would teach there for several years.

While instructing at Mossy Creek Jed Hotchkiss developed a new interest in the science of surveying and engineering. Topography became an obsession and he began drawing maps of the region. He had a natural eye for landscape features. It was a skill that he would nurture and profit from for the rest of his life.

In 1859 Jedediah opened his own boarding school for boys in the nearby town of Churchville. He embarked on this enterprise in partnership with his brother Nelson. They would name the institution Loch Willow Academy and it would become their passion. Jed and his wife, Sara Ann, handled instruction and management of the facility. Nelson was responsible for the boarding of students and for managing their nearby farm.

Less than two years later, however, when Civil War came to the valley, Jedediah Hotchkiss was forced to close Loch Willow. Jed’s brother Nelson was a “Union man” and could not change his loyalties. Jed was forced to make his own decision as to which side he would champion. Complicating the decision was the fact that both he and his wife still had family in the North.

Jed’s wife, children, and business interests, though, were firmly entrenched in the Shenandoah Valley. Needless to say, Jed determined he would buttress the Confederacy. On March 10th, 1862, Governor John Letcher called out all of the militia in the Shenandoah Valley. “This included the county of Augusta in which I resided. The militia were ordered to report at once to Gen. T. J. Jackson at Winchester.” Jed answered the call.

March 17, 1862, found Jedediah Hotchkiss marching north along the Valley Pike in company with some four hundred other men set on joining Jackson’s Army of the Valley. Nine days later, on March 26, General Thomas Stonewall Jackson reinforced Hotchkiss’s decision to volunteer by retaining him as his official mapmaker. Jackson ordered him to “make me a map of the valley, from Harper’s Ferry to Lexington, showing all the point of offence and defense in those places.”

By April 17, Jedediah Hotchkiss had firmly installed himself as a trusted member of Stonewall Jackson’s staff. The rebel army had that day found its position at Rude’s Hill challenged by General Nathaniel Banks Union forces due to Colonel Turner Ashby’s failure to burn the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah. As a result, Banks’s army had been able to cross the river unopposed. Stonewall soon recognized Banks’s intention of making a direct assault on his position. When he was also “advised that a flanking column was moving up the western side of North River to intercept us at New Market he slowly fell back up the Valley.” “We formed a line of battle at New Market where we remained for a time, then fell back and halted for a while.”

rudes hill map

Map of General Nathaniel Banks Planned Attack on Jackson’s Army at Rude’s Hill.

When his army was not immediately challenged by Banks at New Market, Jackson continued his retreat up the valley to the town of Sparta where he parked his army for the night. Jackson and his mapmaker continued on, spending the night just two miles away at the Lincoln Inn in the town of Lacey Springs. Ironically, the inn at which they dined and slept was actually owned by a second cousin of President Abraham Lincoln. (This event was the subject of a previous narration and is still available for review on this blog.)

Well-fed and rested, the “General and staff were up at an early hour and rode rapidly 12 miles to Harrisonburg.” The army was awake early as well, marching south to Harrisonburg and then turning east toward Peale’s. Here they bedded down once again. Much of the supply wagon train was diverted here, and sent on to Staunton. This would accord the army greater maneuverability.

The Rebel army was up once again at two A.M. the next morning, and soon found themselves trudging on toward McGaheysville. The rain had fallen heavily during the overnight and, without the benefit of tents, the troops had found very little rest. Hotchkiss noted “the roads are badly cut up by the army train and became very muddy.” The movement of the army was slow and torturous.

Midst all of this commotion, General Jackson came to Jedediah Hotchkiss and ordered him “to go and burn the ‘Red’ and the ‘Columbia’ bridges, across the South Fork of the Shenandoah, on the roads leading from New Market eastward, if they were not already held by the enemy.” Jackson knew if Banks were to cross the South Fork at any of these three points, he could easily flank Jackson and compromise his army. The order also included the destruction of White House Bridge, which was the northernmost crossing, connecting New Market to Luray in the Page Valley. Hotchkiss was instructed to take with him “all the cavalry I could find on the way to those bridges.”

Jedediah Hotchkiss was chosen for this mission, first, because of his familiarity with the region. Secondly, and what Jed may not have known, Jackson had placed him in command of the operation due to a waning confidence in his own cavalry commander, Turner Ashby.

One must be made aware at this point that Hotchkiss was a civilian topographer. As such, he had not, and would never be, conscripted into the Confederate Army. He would always have acted in the capacity of a noncombatant. This means he never wore a military uniform, and he never carried a weapon. Still, Jackson had great confidence in him and would make frequent use of Hotchkiss’s skills to lead operations such of these.

shenandoah map jackson extended

The Valley Army’s Route is in Black. Hotchkiss’s Route to Burn the Bridges is in Red.

Hotchkiss grabbed his associate, S. Howell Brown and headed east to Conrad’s Store and then North toward Summersville, which was where Red Bridge was located. On their way they interrupted their trek by stopping at Shenandoah Iron Works. “We found the cavalry at the Shenandoah Iron Works, many of them under the influence of apple-jack.”

For those of you that are not familiar with applejack, and I am not saying that I am, you might be interested in how it is brewed. First, of course, apple cider is produced from apples and is allowed to ferment. Then the cider is placed outdoors as winter weather sets in. A process known as freeze distillation is used to concentrate the alcoholic content. The cider is allowed to freeze and the ice chunks are removed periodically. As alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than water, when the water, or ice, is removed the alcohol content could increase to forty-five per cent or more. The end product would be a very potent drink.

“After a short halt at Mr. Henry Forrer’s, at the Iron Works, we went on down the river.” At this point there were some one hundred and fifty cavalrymen in the detail. On reaching Red Bridge, Hotchkiss left “Brown with Lieut. Mantaur’s company to get the ‘Red’ Bridge ready for burning, but directed him not to fire it until I should have time to reach the other bridge, to which I rode on with the companies of Capt. Macon Jordan and Capt. Sheets to Honeyville, near Columbia bridge whence I sent Capt. Sheets to reconnoiter.” Hotchkiss noted that he “had much trouble with Jordan’s men, some of which, as well as him were drunk.”

A short time later the detail returned and reported that there were no Union troops at the bridge. “I gave permission to feed the horses and let the men get out of the deluge of rain that was then falling.” “Captain Sheets and some 50 men went to burn the ‘Columbia’ Bridge, about a mile away down the river, at the same time sending a squadron, under Lieut. Lionberger, to burn the White House bridge, still further down the river on the road from New Market to Luray.”

Hotchkiss reported “the horses were hardly fed when Capt. Sheets and a few men came dashing back, at full gallop, pursued by the enemy. They had attempted to set fire to Columbia bridge “when a column of the enemy appeared and fired a volley and their dragoons charged.” Jed “succeeded in getting Capt. Jordan’s men into the road and ready to meet the attack, but at the first fire they ran away and scattered and could not be stopped. Many of the men were drunk, as was also Capt. Jordan himself.”

The enemy “pursued us three miles but captured only a few of our cavalry as they had at once taken to the woods.” Hotchkiss was lucky to evade apprehension and sped back “to ‘Red’ Bridge and got Lieu. Mantaur’s company deployed to meet the enemy, but they did not come on.” Brown was successful in burning Red bridge but the other two bridges would remain intact.


Marker Commemorating the Burning of Red Bridge on the South Fork.

Jed Hotchkiss was indeed fortunate to escape from the clutches of Union troopers. “The cavalry that had not stampeded came back to Shenandoah Iron Works, and late in the day, having ridden many miles through rain and mud, I reported to the General at Hd. Qrs., at Capt. Asher Argenbright’s near Conrad’s Store.” “I never saw a more disgraceful affair, all owing, no doubt, to the state of intoxication of some of the men and to the want of discipline among them.”

The incident involving the capture of fifty of Ashby’s men at Columbia Furnace, the failed attempt to burn the bridge at Mount Jackson, as well as those on the South Fork, troubled General Jackson greatly. Incidents involving alcohol and his troops were always taken very seriously. On April 24, Jackson ordered all of Turner Ashby’s cavalry companies, some twenty-seven in number, to be divided into two regiments. Half would report to General Taliaferro and the rest to General Winder. Colonel Ashby would command the “advance guard of the Army of the Valley when on an advance, and the rear-guard when in retreat.” Ashby would have to apply for troops from these two commanders “whenever they may be needed.”

Colonel Ashby was mortified, realizing he had been stripped of his command. He immediately sent his resignation to Jackson. Ashby was so angry that he even considered challenging General Jackson to a duel. Short of that, Ashby decided that he was going to quit Jackson’s Army and organize a new cavalry regiment. Most of the current members of the 7th Virginia Cavalry would have undoubtedly abandoned their current companies and transferred into the new one. In light of this revelation, Stonewall was forced to reconsider his pronouncement. This was one of the few times that Jackson would actually back down from one of his decisions. Ashby would be allowed retain his command.

Few are the times when you relate a story such as this that you find yourself compelled to narrate the beneficial consequences of a failure in command. As you recall from earlier in this story, Hotchkiss’s bridge burning foray had failed to burn two of the three bridges they had been assigned. That failure, however, overshadowed by intoxication, was about to turn into triumph.

Early on the morning of May 21st, Jackson’s soldiers marched down Congress Street into New Market. When they reached Cross Street Stonewall motioned his men to tramp eastward. The army continued its march into New Market Gap. “Late on May 21 the Valley Army wound down the Massanutten Mountain, crossed the Shenandoah’s South Fork and bivouacked near Luray.”

new market to luray map

Jackson’s Route to Front Royal Over New Market Gap and White House Bridge.

Jackson had just taken advantage of his own failure. The army had crossed the South Fork of the Shenandoah over White House Bridge. This would have been impossible had Jedediah Hotchkiss, and his cavalry contingent, succeeded in burning this crossing back on April 19. The whole valley campaign, and history itself, would have transpired in a significantly different manner. With this bridge destroyed, and the river unfordable, the army would have been unable to reach Front Royal via this route. Their only option would have been capturing Strasburg. This would have required a deadly direct assault upon well prepared battlements, including Banks’s Fort.

Hotchkiss’s failure to destroy their objectives may well have been one of those rare cases where failure fostered success.  Capturing Winchester by way of a fortified Strasburg would have been very difficult and very bloody. Perhaps this is a case where an overindulgence of alcohol, or Applejack in this case, may have been good for the overall success of the campaign. Maybe he should have been less “afraid of King Alcohol than all of the bullets of the enemy.”


Col. A.R. Boteler in the Philadelphia Weekly Times; as quoted in ” Sparks From the Campfire,” Southern Historical Society Papers, x ( June, 1882 ), 287

Gwynne, S. C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. New York. 1973

Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil war Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. 1973

The Empty Sleeve

Ira Gardner was born in Patten, Maine. The record states the event occurred “about 1843.” The Patten into which he was born was very much a frontier town, located as it was on the northern fringes of Penobscot County. The town itself was incorporated in 1841. Its first church opened its doors that same year, and in 1848 Patten Academy was established to educate its children. Ira would have been one of its first students.

At the time of the Civil War the majority of Patten’s men were employed as farmers or lumbermen. The farmers cultivated potatoes commercially and drove them long distances to market. The lumbermen devoted themselves to harvesting the mature growths of timber that dominated the region. As the majority of Maine’s sawmills were located significantly downstream on the Penobscot River, the town’s convenient access to the East Branch of that same waterway, made Patten a major center for originating log drives.

When the village of Patten decided to organize an Independent Rifle Company in 1858, Ira, who was only fifteen years old at the time, joined the unit. The tiny militia group drilled every week, especially when the weather was favorable and the “blackflies were scarce.” Gardner quickly discovered that he fancied the “soldier’s life” and his enthusiasm soon occasioned a promotion to orderly sergeant. Ira “studied Infantry Tactics” and would later find the “experience and knowledge to be of great value” in his military career.

When Civil War came to the country in April of 1861, Abraham Lincoln made his first call for seventy-five thousand volunteers. Maine’s Governor, Israel Washburn, immediately sent out a plea for volunteers. Due to Patten’s geographic isolation, located more than one hundred miles north of Bangor, the notification took two days to reach the town. By the time the men of the settlement responded, the rolls had been filled, long before the men could reach the rendezvous point at Bangor.

When the second call was made in July, the town’s militia company quickly departed for the front. These volunteers would become Company B of the 8th Maine Infantry. As Ira was an only son, he was “not allowed to go with them.” His parents said he was needed around the home to help with planting, harvests, and daily chores.

Ira persisted though, and continued to nag his parents. “As a boy eighteen years of age with a large share of my comrades at the front, my presence at home became to my parents so uncomfortable that by the month of December they consented for me to enlist and I did so.” Ira’s life would be forever changed.

gardner ira

Captain Ira Gardner

In company with forty other men from his area, Ira left home on December 4th, 1861, making the long journey to the State Capitol in Augusta. Here Gardner was assigned to Company F of the 14th Maine Volunteer Infantry. James Hill was elected Captain of the Company and Ira was appointed, once again, Orderly Sergeant. The regiment’s colonel was Franklin Nickerson of Swanville, Maine. Franklin had been appointed to the position after distinguishing himself at the 1st Battle of Bull Run as an officer in the 4th Maine Infantry.

The 14th Maine was assigned to the XIX Corps of General Ben Butler’s New Orleans Expeditionary Corps. Following an arduous voyage on “the old sailing vessel North America,” the regiment arrived at Ship Island on the Mississippi River on March 8, 1862. When New Orleans fell to Union troops the regiment was ordered to the city and instructed to make camp at Lafayette Park. They would remain encamped there for the next two months. Due to the favoritism shown the unit by the commanding general, however, the regiment would become known as “Butler’s Pets.”

Coinciding with the extreme change in climate, the regiment was quickly devastated by disease. Some three hundred of the Mainers were sent north suffering from a variety of ailments. The places of these men “were filled with paroled rebel soldiers, many of whom has served in the U. S. regular army and some in the English army. They were acclimated and as a rule good soldiers, but some of them were bad characters.” None of them were from Maine.

These Maine infantrymen would spend the next two years “fighting in the bayous.” The unit took part in several expeditions including the ones to Ponchatoula, Sabine Pass, Amite River, and Bonnet Carre. The regiment would also fight at the Battle of Baton Rouge on August 5, 1862. Here the 14th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment would be memorialized as the focal point of the poem, “On the Men of Maine Killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” written by Herman Melville. They would also participate in several deadly assaults during the Siege of Port Hudson between May 24, and July 8, 1863.


On the Men of Maine Killed in the Victory of Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Afar they fell. It was the zone
Of fig and orange, cane and lime
(A land how all unlike their own,
With the cold pine-grove overgrown),
But still their Country’s clime.
And there in youth they died for her–
The Volunteers,
For her went up their dying prayers:
So vast the Nation, yet so strong the tie.
What doubt shall come, then, to deter
The Republic’s earnest faith and courage high

Poem by Herman Melville


The regiment would remain in the deep South until July of 1864. During that month two divisions of the XIX Corps, one of which included the 14th Maine, were ordered to the Bermuda Hundred region on Virginia’s Peninsula. They remained there in the trenches until July 28, when the regiment was sent north in reaction to General Jubal Early’s attack on Washington. Following the Union loss at Second Kernstown, and the burning of Chambersburg, the Maine men were dispatched to support General Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah.

There was much skirmishing in the months that followed. On the afternoon of September 18, 1864, while at their camp near Berryville, Virginia, Ira busied himself packing all of his personal baggage onto his “old horse” for safe keeping. He placed responsibility for these possessions in the hands of his trusted body servant, Nathan. Nathan was an ex-slave whom he had brought with him from Mississippi. Ira instructed Nathan to be sure to remain with the regiment’s chaplain as he believed when they bumped into General Early there was going to be a fight. The contest would turn out to be the largest battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley.

General Philip Sheridan’s Army began their march on Winchester early on the morning of September 19th. Their advance along the Berryville Road was slowed by the Sixth Corp, who preceded them, and by a natural constriction along their path known as the Berryville Canyon. Sounds of fighting could be heard in the distance and as they reached Opequon Creek the army’s wounded began to pass through their ranks. Everyone knew what was about to transpire.

When the Nineteenth Corps commander, Major General William Emory, reached the battlefield he began funneling his men off to the right of the Sixth Corps. He placed General Cuvier Grover’s Division on the front line. Grover, who was also a native of the State of Maine, positioned Colonel Jacob Sharpe’s Brigade on the left, and Henry Birge’s on the right. The 14th Maine, which was part of Birge’s Brigade, found themselves in the center of the line. As soon as his troops were in place, Birge ordered them to advance.

3rd winchester map gardner

Map showing Area Ira Gardner’s Brigade Deployed and Where He was Shot.

General John Gordon’s Confederate division of some twenty-six hundred combatants arrived at the Third Battle of Winchester just in the nick of time. Gordon’s men appeared in the Second Woods just as the 19th Corps finished their deployment and began their advance out of the First Woods. Gordon had three brigades in his division. He deployed General Edmond Atkinson’s Brigade on the left of the line, General William Terry’s in the center, and General Zebulon York’s Louisiana Brigade on the right.

3rd winchester birges brigade

Placement of Birge’s Regiments at First Woods.

Gardner wrote: “In Charging across the field we were exposed to heavy fire from the rebel line in the edge of the woods. I had felt all morning that I should be hit, perhaps killed; I had crossed the field, the rebel line had retreated and had gone perhaps fifty feet into the woods, when I was hit.” Ira was leading his company and “was about twenty feet in advance of the line and, expecting some of the men to halt and load their muskets, I turned around and called on them to come on; I was back to the enemy when the bullet struck me.”

When Ira regained consciousness he found “Sergt. Dick Ashton tying a handkerchief around my arm trying to stop the blood. I started to the rear supporting my injured arm by the wrist and had to recross the field over which we had charged, but being in so much agony I almost wished that some of the shells would make an end of me.” “The assistant Surgeon of our regiment about this time met me and taking my left arm, started to assist me to the rear, but after going a short distance the position was so dangerous that he left me and ran.”

bradbury picture

Captain Albert Bradbury of the 1st Maine Battery (Photo: Nicholas Picerno)

Moving on alone Captain Gardner came across the 1st Maine Battery who were currently shooting over the heads of their own troops. “Captain Bradbury came to me as I passed around the battery, gave me a swallow of whiskey and I went on alone.” Soon Ira came to a field hospital which was located near a mill on the banks of Opequon Creek. It was the home of Charles L. Wood.

charles wood house ira gardner

Current Day Photo of the Charles L. Wood Home. (Photo Terry Heder)

The doctor examined Ira and quickly determined that his right arm needed to be amputated. Ira pleaded with the doctor not remove his limb. The doctor responded: “I think I shall have to in order to save your life.” With help of a few drops of chloroform, Ira was out. When he awoke, he impulsively yelled: “Doctor, don’t you take that arm off.” The doctor replied simply: “It’s off.”

Ira spent the night suffering “intensely.” He vomited all night. “The lady of the house came quite often and watched my pulse.” The Captain remembered that that he “bled so much that the bedding under me and my clothing about my right shoulder were wet with blood.” Due in great part to the care Mrs. Wood had given Ira, when the ambulance came for him the next day Ira was able to “walk out through the yard, get into an ambulance and after riding three miles to Winchester, walked up two flights of stairs in an old warehouse” and lay down on an old straw tick on the floor. Before he left the house, though, Ira gave Mrs. Wood a five-dollar gold piece for her kindness.

Ira Gardner’s suffering was not over. It would continue for several months. Ira would eventually be transferred to the Camden Street Hospital in Baltimore to continue his recovery. Here Ira’s mother and father, both of whom had been searching for him for weeks, finally caught up with him. “My mother did not think of her own safety or comfort in a strange city, traveling night and day to reach me and when she did find me, did everything possible for me.”

Ira’s black servant, who had “always been faithful and willing,” came to his bedside while he was recovering in Baltimore. “Massa Cap’n, I don’t tink I wil go Norf any more. I find a culle’d girl who will hab me and I tink I will stay wid her.” Ira knew the time had come to let Nathan go. Ira “bade him good luck and never saw him again.” Nathan, once a slave, then a servant, was free at last.

Following his return home, Ira received a letter, endorsed by Benjamin Butler, notifying him that he had been breveted to Major for his distinguished gallantry at Baton Rouge. In addition, he had been also been breveted to Lieutenant-Colonel for meritorious service at Winchester. A double brevet was an honor and a rarity for a Union soldier.

Life was good to Ira and he profited from his works at home. Like most of his fellow veterans, Ira joined the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR. The GAR was a fraternal organization composed of Union Army veterans. The organization linked men through their experiences in the Civil War. It was one of the first advocacy groups in American politics, “supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, helping to make Memorial Day a national holiday,” In Captain Gardner’s case he was a member of Patton Maine’s E. S. Rogers Post Number 114.

patten gar

1908 Photo of the Members of the E. S. Rogers GAR Post N0. 114 in Patten Maine. Ira Gardner is the Man with the Empty Sleeve, Second from the Left.

For a member of the GAR one of the greatest honors was to become a delegate to one of the organization’s national conventions. For Ira the distinction was offered to him near the thirty-seventh anniversary of his wounding at Third Winchester. More than 30,000 Civil War Veterans would attend the 35th Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in Cleveland, Ohio between September 12 and 13, 1901. The attendees would witness one of the “greatest Military Parades in the history of the city.” Among the many attendees were seventy Civil War veterans from Maine, and amongst those was a fifty-eight-year-old veteran named Ira Gardner.

clevelan gar

1901 Grand Army of the Republic Convention in Cleveland, Ohio

Ira spent a couple of extra days in Cleveland and then, in company with his fellow Mainers, took the train for Washington D.C., arriving there on September 16. Early on the morning of the 18th Ira and his wife Helen boarded a train at Union Station bound along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for Harper’s Ferry. A quick transfer and they were on their way to Winchester, Virginia. The two of them, in company with Captain John Saylor, who had been a member of the 5th U. S. Cavalry, all secured rooms at the Taylor House Hotel for the night.

There would be very little rest for Ira, though, as he lay in restless anticipation of the coming day’s adventure. It was said of Ira that he was “spurred by that peculiar desire that comes upon all who have similarly suffered, to again see the spot where death was narrowly missed, Captain Gardner took the first opportunity that came to again visit Winchester.” Accompanied by Captain Saylor, the party awoke early and headed off to examine the battlefield.

taylor house

Taylor House Hotel in Winchester

The three adventurers mounted a buggy and proceeded to the hallowed ground where so many of Ira’s friends had fought. Seven members of the 14th Maine had been killed there, fifty-two had been wounded, and three were never seen again. “An unerring instinct guided Captain Gardner to the house in which he lay that memorable night and he met the same lady who was so kind to him. It Was Mrs. Charles L Wood, and not knowing who her visitors were and being asked to talk of the fight Mrs. Wood related among others the very incident in which the Captain figured and spoke of him as the only one who ever gave her anything.”

Mrs. Wood stated “during the war over three hundred wounded soldiers were put into the house and during their occupancy everything in the house was used or destroyed.” Imagine her surprise when Captain Gardner identified himself to her. Once recovered from the shock, she invited them into the front hall where Ira had lain for the night after his arm was amputated. Ira remembered his “arm had bled very much” and in the morning when he awoke, he found the comforter on which he had lain was “saturated with blood. “There upon the floor, thirty-seven years afterward, the blood stains still shown plainly, having changed the color of the wood so much that the lady said although she had made many attempts to do so, she had been unable to erase them.”

Ira remembered that his arm had been amputated in the yard somewhere near the front door. Mrs. Wood admitted she had watched the procedure from her window. “After the operation she took the arm, wrapped it in cloth and her husband made a box for it and buried it in the yard.” Following the dedication of the National Cemetery in Winchester on April 8, 1866, Charles Wood had dug up the arm and “properly buried it in the cemetery.” There it may still lie.

winchester national cemetery

Maine Section of the National Cemetery in Winchester.

As Mrs. Wood was now sixty-seven. and a widower, Ira Gardner decided to make sure she was “made comfortable and to amply reward her for her tender care of me while in her house which may have saved my life.” Ira “gave her his address and a sum of money with the request that she inform me if she should ever need further assistance.”

“Mrs. Gardner and myself were very much affected by the sights of my blood stains on the floor, as it recalled a night when my life hung in the balance with only a Confederate lady to nurse and care for me. May God bless the good lady.”

I am told that though the house is no longer occupied, Captain Ira Gardner’s bloodstains still reside in that house. As far as the disposition of Ira’s right arm, nobody knows if his bones still occupy a place at the National Cemetery in Winchester. One thing that is sure, the story of that boy soldier from Patten, Maine, and his narrative of courage and sacrifice, is precious and was in need of recounting. Ira Gardner died May 12, 1917. The remaining elements of his body are buried in Patten, Maine.

ira grave

Ira Gardner’s Final Resting Spot in Patten, Maine. (Photo: Cynthia Dalton)


The Evening Star, September 19, 1901. Pg. 1. Thanks to Terry Heder of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation for providing a copy of this news story.

Gardner, Ira. Recollections of A Boy Member of Co. I, Fourteenth Maine Vols. From 1861 to 1865. Privately Printed. 1901. Much appreciation to Nicholas Picerno for making a copy of this book available for my research.

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

Tom Telegraph and the Black Knight of the Confederacy

A couple of months ago, while filling up my car at a local gas station, a man approached me after spotting the advertising on the side of my car. He was an elderly man and he asked me several questions about my business. I told him that I specialized in battlefield tours related to Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. Pleased, the gentleman informed me that his great grandfather had been a Civil War veteran. He told me he had fought with the 7th Virginia Cavalry under Turner Ashby. He also advised me that he possessed a few treasured family heirlooms that marked his great grandfather’s service. Among these items was a collection of horsehairs from the mane of Turner Ashby’s stallion, Tom Telegraph. Sadly, I have not had a chance to observe these items for myself. Being familiar with the story, though, I decided to relate an account of the incident in one of my blogs. Please bear with me.

Turner Ashby, to whom I have referred to on several previous occasions, was a native Virginian. He was born on October 28, 1828, near the town of Markham in Fauquier County, which is located outside of the Shenandoah Valley. Ashby preferred wandering the countryside to attending school classes as a youth. In his early twenties he organized a cavalry company known as the “Mountain Rangers.” The troop was repeatedly utilized to put down bouts of civil disobedience, disorder, and wrangles on the part of Irish laborers working on the Manassas Gap Railroad. His rangers even performed guard duty during the trial and execution of John Brown.

Turner Ashby

Turner Ashby

Ashby was widely renowned for his superb horsemanship, and often joined in equestrian tournaments, many of which he won. When war came to the country in 1861, he joined the 7th Virginia Cavalry and was quickly elevated to command. His friend Henry Kyd Douglas once said of him: “Riding his black stallion, he looked like a knight of the olden time, galloping over the field on his favorite war horse.” As his reputation for bravery grew, he quickly became one of the Confederacy’s first heroes. Many would come to refer to him as the “Black Night of the Confederacy.”

On April 1, 1862, with the 2nd Massachusetts in the lead, Colonel George Gordon’s men pushed across Tom’s Brook, driving Turner Ashby’s cavalrymen before them. It was a running fight with Ashby’s men resisting the advance at several places. The line at Narrow Passage Creek, once believed to be impregnable, was quickly broken. The Federal advance drove on, forcing the Confederates up the valley more than nineteen miles, all the way to Edinburg. When Gordon’s troops arrived there, though, the bridge over rain swollen Stoney Creek had been blazing for more than fifteen minutes. No longer traversable, Gordon and Banks’s offensive ground to a halt. Once again Colonel Ashby, though significantly outnumbered, had outsmarted and outmaneuvered his opponent.

The following day General Stonewall Jackson reinforced Ashby’s force on the south bank of Stoney Creek with a number of soldiers from the Stonewall Brigade. The remainder of his command fell back to Rude’s Hill, some two miles south of Mount Jackson. Stonewall’s newly appointed mapmaker, Jed Hotchkiss, had recently endorsed Stoney Creek as an exceptional defensive position for the army. He had also recommended the high ground at Rude’s Hill. Jackson liked the two positions equally and decided to make use of both of them. He determined he would make his headquarters at the base of Rude’s Hill at the home of Reverend Anders Rude. Jackson now had both a secure forward outpost and an easily defendable fallback position.

Rudes Hill Headq.png

Photo of Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters at Reverend Anders Rude Home.

The two adversaries would face off exchanging pyrotechnics for more than two weeks. On one particular day Turner Ashby rode out to reconnoiter the lines with a young aid. The party immediately came under fire from Union troops and his assistant’s horse was shot out from under him. Ashby encouraged the youngster to remove the saddle from his horse and carry it back to their lines. All the while this was transpiring Ashby remained in the saddle under constant enemy fire. Once his aid had concluded his task, Turner turned his mount and trotted back to the safety of his own lines with nary a scratch.

Turner Ashby had a theory about the accuracy of an adversary’s fire. He had always been indifferent to the dangers of enemy musketry, and once told a member of Jackson’s staff “that only stray bullets worried him. He was not afraid of shots aimed directly at him, since Northern riflemen invariably missed their mark. Hence he felt safest sitting quietly in the open.” The question in the minds of his men, though, was how long would this theory hold up in practice?

For some fifteen days the two forces exchanged potshots while glaring at each other across Stoney Creek. The army commander, General Nathaniel Banks, had a plan though, and it was a good one. Colonel Sam Carroll was tasked with taking a one-thousand-man force around Colonel Ashby’s left flank with the objective of getting to Mount Jackson and cutting off the rebel’s retreat. General Shields would thrust his men across Stoney Creek early the following morning and push on to capture the bridges over Mill Creek and the North Fork of the Shenandoah at Mount Jackson. This had to be accomplished before Colonel Ashby could destroy them. The combined forces would then drive on to capture the works at Rude’s Hill with the objective of destroying Jackson’s Army.

Fortunately for the Confederates, Colonel Ashby had become suspicious of the looming Union attack. Jackson’s cavalry, infantry, and artillery had already begun to retire as Banks forces came crashing across Stoney Creek. Jackson had instructed his cavalry commander to fall back if attacked. He had also ordered Major John Harman, his quartermaster, to destroy all train hardware and supplies in Mount Jackson. Ashby had tasked Captain John Winfield, and a dozen of his men, with the job of burning the bridge over the North Fork. If the plot came together as conceived, General Banks and his men would be stranded on the north side of the Shenandoah.

As planned General Bank’s infantry crossed Stoney Creek at three A.M. on April 17th. Ashby’s token force had already begun its retreat up the Valley pike and was helping set fire to the supplies in Mount Jackson.  When Shields’s vanguard reached Mount Jackson at about 7 a.m., his band was playing the National Anthem, and the only Rebels in sight were at the local hospital. The town itself was cloaked in smoke as the railroad cars and engine house were already in flames.

Turner Ashby had kept in front of Shield’s vanguard, and when he reached the bridge over the North Fork, Chew’s Battery and the remaining rebel cavalry were already rattling over the structure to safety. With Winfield’s tiny detail already tearing up the flooring on the bridge, Ashby turned to torching it by setting fire to a pile of tinder and firewood. Everything was properly staged but time was running short.

Rudes Hill.png

Map Showing Turner Ashby’s Ride on Tom Telegraph

Shield’s advance cavalry detachment consisted of four companies, probably a little more than three hundred riders. Captain John Winfield’s force defending the bridge consisted of only a dozen men. Winfield, though, had already formed a defensive line on the south side of the bridge. As Union cavalrymen descended on the crossing Winfield told his men: “Boys, pick your man like a squirrel in a tree and FIRE!”

Several of the Union soldiers were unseated from their mounts but there were far too many of them to be stopped. The two commands collided with each other and fought hand to hand for a brief time. Some of the Union troopers dismounted from their horses and attempted to put out the fire. Their efforts were, by and large, successful.

In the course of the melee, though, four Union cavalrymen charged Turner Ashby who was mounted on his favorite horse, a white charger named Tom Telegraph. There was contact and several pistols were discharged. One of the bullets meant for Ashby grazed his leg and entered Tom Telegraph’s body. The horse remained standing in spite of its wound. If not for the timely appearance of an unnamed rebel trooper, however, who fired a shot than took down one on the Union assailants, and for shots fired by Captain G. W. Koontz and Private Harry Hatcher, Colonel Turner Ashby would have been slain or captured. As it was three of the four attackers were killed while the fourth escaped.

With more Union troopers appearing on the bridge with every passing moment, Colonel Ashby turned his horse in the direction of Rude’s hill, more than a mile in the distance. Ashby spurred his wounded horse and sprinted off at a gallop in the direction of Jackson’s troops on Rude’s Hill. Ashby trailed behind his own retreating troopers and was the last man to escape from the bridge. Union cavalrymen raced after him but were driven off by the discharge of Confederate artillery directed at them from atop Rude’s Hill.  The bridge over the Shenandoah was securely in Union hands; damaged but not destroyed.

Henry Kyd Douglas, who was a witness, would later write about the incident in his book, I Rode with Stonewall. “The bridge was not burned, but where was Ashby? Instantly he was seen to emerge from the bridge and follow his troops. Centaur-like, he and his horse came sweeping over the plain. They were soon with us. Having borne his master with unabated spirit until danger was over, Ashby’s splendid stallion sank to the ground, dappled with foam of heat and suffering; his wound was mortal. The big-hearted Cavalier bent over him, stroked his mane, stooped down and gazed affectionately into his eyes, and the excitement of the last hour was swallowed up in his sorrow for his dying companion. Thus the most splendid horseman I ever knew lost the most beautiful war-horse I ever saw.”


Turner Ashby Mounted on Tom Telegraph.

Turner Ashby was forced to put his horse out of its misery. It was thought the assailant’s bullet that struck him had entered the horse’s lungs. The horse had ridden that last mile on its last breath of air. Rebel relic hunters are said to have plucked the hairs from the mane and tail for souvenirs. Someone even hacked off one or more of the hooves belonging to Tom, one of  which now sits in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. Such was the fate of Tom Telegraph.

Turner Ashby, himself, had a little more than a month and a half left to test his theory on the accuracy of Union rifle fire. The Knight of the Confederacy would perish from its effects on June 6, 1862, at the Battle of Good’s Farm while leading infantry on foot. His last words were “’Charge, men! For God’s sake. Charge!.’” “He was waving his sword when a bullet pierced him in the breast and he fell dead.”

Goods farm

Battle of Good’s Farm June 6, 1862 where Turner Ashby was Killed.

“The hoof from Confederate General Turner Ashby’s white horse, ‘Tom Telegraph’, has been memorialized with an inscription, presumably hand-written by the local druggist, which notes that the animal was shot and killed ‘near New Market, Va. on Valley pike’ during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862. Affixed to the side of the hoof is a romantic rendering of Ashby in cape and plumed hat that captures the general’s nickname, “‘Knight of the Valley.'”

Ashby horse hoof

Tom Telegraph’s Hoof

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

Gwynne, S. C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. New York: Scribner. 2014.

Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Co Inc. 1976.

Christmas Bells: A Yuletide Story

Christmas 1863

Henry was awakened abruptly from his nap by his wife’s screams. By the time he reached Fannie, however, her form was completely engulfed in flames. Henry grabbed a rug and threw it over her to douse the fire. When that failed, he used his own body to smother the blaze. In due course he was able to douse the fire but the injuries to his wife would prove fatal. The next day, July 10, 1861, Fannie would perish from her burns.

Henry was himself severely charred. Burns to his face and extremities were so serious he was not able to attend his wife’s funeral. Henry would soon be forced to grow a beard to cover up his own disfigurements. The physical wounds, however, would be much easier to recover from than the emotional and psychological scars left behind. Henry would never fully recover from those.

Henry’s oldest son Charles, now eighteen years of age, had yearned to join the war effort. He repeatedly appealed to his father to allow him to enlist. Still struggling day to day with grief and depression over the loss of his wife, Henry refused to even consider giving Charles permission to join the army.

Undaunted, young Charles slipped away undetected from his home on March 14, 1863. He left a note behind for his dad informing him of his decision. Charles wrote: “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer.” “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.”

Charles Longfellow

Charles Appleton Longfellow

Charles joined the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. His regiment would play a minor role at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May of 1863. In early June, though, Charles came down with “camp fever,” which, by today’s medical standards of terminology, would mean typhoid or typho-malaria. As a result, he missed the Gettysburg campaign, but would return to his regiment following a two-month leave of absence. He arrived just in time to participate in the Mine Run Campaign.

The initial stages of the operation immersed Charles in his first heavy combat missions of the war. Many of these engagements took place near Culpeper, Virginia. Casualties were significant and several of his comrades were victims. In writing home to his father, he avowed “they may talk about the gaiety of a soldier’s life but it strikes me as pretty earnest work when shells are ripping and tearing your men to pieces.” The romanticism of war was wearing thin.

Charles was himself was severely wounded at the Battle of New Hope Church on November 23, 1863. A bullet “entered Charles’ left shoulder, passing through his back and clipping the spine before exiting under the right shoulder blade.” It was thought the wound would prove fatal. A telegram was sent to his father, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, on December 1, 1863, notifying him of the incident. Henry was overwhelmed with anxiety over his son’s well-being.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In company with his son Ernest, Henry took the first train to Washington D.C. to be with Charles. On December 5th the three of them were reunited at a hospital outside Washington. One of the surgeons told Henry “the wound was a very serious one and paralysis might ensue.” A second doctor was more optimistic and said “he will be long in healing” but he will recover.

Within a week the three found themselves aboard a train winding their way back to Cambridge. Charles survived his wounds and would live a full life, but he never again returned to his regiment. Charles Appleton Longfellow was honorably discharged on February 15th 1864.

On Christmas Day, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down at his desk and put to verse a poem that he called Christmas Bells. In writing the rhyme he conveyed the “trouble and anxiety” he had experienced over the course of the last few years. You can feel the darkness and you can witness for yourself Longfellow’s personal reflections on the Civil War. The poem would prove popular and by 1872 it had been adapted into a Christmas Carol. The song would be titled I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Here are the words to the poem.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

It is true this is not a Shenandoah Valley Civil War tale. It is, however, a Civil War story. In many ways it is representative of the experiences of the thousands of families who lost, or nearly lost, loved ones during its course. The next time you hear the song, though, you can truthfully say, “now you know the rest of the story.”

Pete Dalton

Merry Christmas.

Pistols or Broadswords

On the morning March 22, 1862, Colonel Turner Ashby led his 7th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, numbering about three hundred men, north on the Valley Pike toward Winchester. Accompanying him was a mounted artillery battery of three guns under the command of Captain Robert Chew. Colonel Ashby had received intelligence the previous day that Union General Alpheus Williams’s Division had departed from Winchester and was marching east through Snicker’s Gap. Amid rumors the town was currently occupied by only a small infantry brigade, Ashby decided to sweep into Winchester and capture the city before Stonewall Jackson’s small army could arrive.

James Shields

Wartime Photo of James Shields

Late in the morning of the 22nd, as Turner Ashby was approaching Newtown, a young boy approached him with news that Winchester had been abandoned. As he got closer to town this information was confirmed once again by another citizen of the city. Ashby immediately dispatched a courier to General Jackson with this information, which triggered Stonewall to double down and push his infantry even harder on their march.

It was about two P.M. when Turner Ashby’s force passed through Kernstown. The weather was sunny for a change, with the temperature reaching into the mid-fifties. A Federal squad of mounted troops under Major Angelo Paldi, members of the 1st Michigan Cavalry, had been stationed along the Valley Pike about two miles south of Winchester. A small detachment of this unit, while scouting to the front, inadvertently bumped into the advance of Turner Ashby’s Cavalry near Abraham’s Creek. There was a skirmish and the 1st Michigan scouts were quickly repulsed.

After his close call with Ashby’s Cavalry, Paldi rode back to Winchester and notified his commander, Colonel Thornton Broadhead, of the threat. Broadhead commanded four companies of both the 1st Michigan Cavalry and the 46th Pennsylvania Infantry. He quickly dispatched his subordinate, Colonel Joseph Copeland, and his remaining forces south to reinforce Paldi. At the same time he sent a message to both General Nathaniel Banks and General James Shields asking them to send reinforcements.

Taking advantage of the time afforded him, Ashby positioned his men and artillery on the Valley Pike near a spot called Hillman’s Tollgate. Meanwhile, Colonel Copeland arrived opposite him with his small force. Realizing his detachment was insufficient to repel Ashby’s troops, he too sent a request to General Shields requesting assistance. This time Shields responded.

General Shields quickly put his men on the road marching south. Shields, himself, rode at the head of the advancing column accompanied by a company of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry. Immediately behind him was Colonel Nathan Kimball’s Huntington’s Artillery Battery, with the 8th and 67th Ohio Infantry following closely behind them. Other regiments in Kimball’s Division lagged well behind.

Shields map

Map Showing Troop Placement on March 22, 1862

Shields had been skeptical about the need for assistance and had not responded to the first call. As he advanced through Winchester, however, he could hear the sounds of Rebel artillery fire and decided to take charge of the effort to silence them. The General rode directly to Milltown which was situated on a low hill just north of Abraham’s Creek. Here he personally managed the positioning of six rifled artillery pieces. Shields was determined to silence Ashby’s guns.

While arranging the guns on the left of the line, however, James Shields’s luck ran out. A well-placed shot struck the head of one of the battery’s horses and exploded. The horse and the driver were killed instantly. Shell fragments and horse flesh filled the air. One of the pieces of shrapnel struck Shields in the left arm just above the elbow. The bone was shattered and his shoulder and left side were badly bruised.

Milltown Kernstown

1897 Photo Showing Milltown in the Distance Where Shields was Wounded

Shields fell to the ground writhing in pain. The surgeon from the 4th Ohio Infantry was called to his side to attend to him. Attempts to remove him from the field by wagon were thwarted for a time by Chew’s Battery. Eventually they were able to extricate him by ambulance and take him back to Winchester. Command of the division would fall upon Colonel Nathan Kimball. Kimball would have responsibility for fending off Stonewall Jackson’s attack the following day at the First Battle of Kernstown.

Kernstown sketch

Alfred Waud Sketch of the First Battle of Kernstown

James Shields was fortunate as the injury would not require the amputation of his arm. His military contributions to the Civil War, however, would be stunted. Still, he would be credited as the only commander to defeat Stonewall Jackson on any battlefield during the Civil War. In reporting the fight to his superiors, however, he claimed he had intentionally positioned his men north of the city to deceive Stonewall Jackson into thinking he had abandoned Winchester altogether. He also maintained he had responded to Colonel Ashby’s attack on March 22nd with a small force in order that he might prolong the deception. According to Shields it was the combination of these ruses which resulted in the Union victory at Kernstown.

The day after the First Battle of Kernstown, James Shields was promoted to Major General. His political affiliation with the Democratic Party, and perhaps doubt over his claim of the deception he had perpetrated on Stonewall Jackson, did not play well with politicians in Washington. His promotion was “withdrawn, reconsidered, and finally rejected.” The episode would mark the end of Shields’s Civil War military career. Even though Lincoln would offer him command of the of the Army of the Potomac later in the war, Shields would reject the proposition due to the poor relationship he had had with Secretary of War Stanton.

James Shields life, though, would include much more than just military acumen. James was born in Altmore, County Tyrone, Ireland on May 6, 1806. He received his early childhood education there. In 1822 he attempted to migrate to the United States. The ship he was traveling on was caught in a storm and he was shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. He was one of only three survivors. It would take him four more years to complete his emigration to the United States.

On coming to America Shields would busy himself by participating in several different occupations. He would serve as a purser on a merchant ship, a lawyer, and even a fencing instructor. By 1832, though, we find him in Kaskaskia, Illinois practicing law. Here he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1836 and by 1839 he was voted State Auditor. All of these events would set a path for him in the politics of our nation.

In 1842 much of the nation was still suffering from the Panic of 1837. The depression had been harsh on most people and even harder on financial institutions. By August of that year the Illinois State Bank had declared it could no longer accept paper money to pay off debts owed to it. Only gold and silver could be accepted. James Shields, who was a Democrat and the State Auditor, decided it would be better to declare bankruptcy and close the facility, which he did.

Illinois Whigs opposed Shields’s financial plan. One of the opposition leaders, who described himself as a “prairie lawyer,” decided to write an editorial expressing his disagreement. Using the pseudonym “Rebecca”, he wrote a provocative editorial to the Sangamo Journal in which he attacked the political and financial philosophy of James Shields and that of the State of Illinois itself.

Shields photo

1840’s Photo of Illinois State Auditor James Shields

The author of the editorial, a young man by the name of Abraham Lincoln, assumed the persona of an Illinois farmer in his commentary. Lincoln wrote: “’I’ve been tugging ever since harvest getting out wheat and hauling it to the river, to raise State Bank paper enough to pay my tax this year, and a little school debt I owe; and now just as I’ve got it…, lo and behold, I find a set of fellows calling themselves officers of State, have forbidden to receive State paper at all; and so here it is, dead on my hands.’”

Lincoln even went on to mock Shields by writing about his romantic pursuits. “His very features, in the ecstatic agony of his soul, spoke audibly and distinctly–’Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all. Too well I know how much you suffer; but do, do remember, it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.'”

When Abraham Lincoln’s girlfriend, Mary Todd, wrote a second editorial which further belittled him, James found out who the author had been and sent a note to Lincoln demanding he write a retraction. Shields wrote: “I have become the object of slander, vituperation and personal abuse. Only a full retraction may prevent consequences which no one will regret more than myself.”

Lincoln early photo

Photo of Abraham Lincoln Taken in 1846.

When Abraham refused to retract his statements Shields promptly challenged him to a duel. The duel was to take place on Bloody Island on the Mississippi River in Missouri where the practice was still legal. Because he was the one being challenged, Lincoln would have the choice of weapon. He chose broadswords. Lincoln explained: “I didn’t want the d—-d fellow to kill me, which I think he would have done if we had selected pistols.”  For his own part, he did not want to kill Shields, but “felt sure [he] could disarm him” with a blade.

The two men gathered at Bloody Island on September 22, 1842 as planned. Each man chose his weapon and approached their opponent with only a plank separating the two of them. Mr. Lincoln “swung his sword high above Shields to cut through a nearby tree branch.  This act demonstrated the immensity of Lincoln’s reach and strength, and was enough to convince Shields, that he was at a fatal disadvantage.  With the encouragement of bystanders, the two men called a truce.” There would be no duel.

In the history of the United States no sitting President ever fought a duel and only two future Presidents would tempt life and limb. Andrew Jackson was the first to participate in the practice. He is known to have killed a neighbor of his named Charles Dickinson in May of 1806. It is rumored, though, that  he participated in over a hundred others. Abraham Lincoln would be the only other, President to be, to partake of the deadly ritual. What would U.S. and Civil War history have been without him?

The careers of each of these men would diverge at this point, and, strangely enough, they would become friends. James Shields would start to build a military career. Shields would fight in the Second Seminole War, and when hostilities broke out with Mexico in 1846, he went off  to war as a brigadier general in command of a brigade in the Volunteer Division.

James Shields fought at the Battles of Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo where he was severely wounded in the chest by a charge of grapeshot. The wound was so severe that the doctor was able to pass a handkerchief completely through Shields’s body while cleaning the wound. Though the injury was considered to be mortal, Shields would survive, but it would put him out of the conflict for nine weeks.

Shields was back in the saddle and in command of his brigade again at the battles of Contreras and Churubusco. He was wounded once again at the Battle of Chapultepec. Here he had his horse shot out from beneath him, fracturing his arm in the process. In spite of the injury, he continued in the engagement on foot until the contest was concluded. He returned to Illinois in July of 1848 having been breveted to the rank of major general.

Following the Mexican War, and his return to Illinois, he was elected to the U. S. Senate. He served in that capacity until 1855. He was defeated when he ran for reelection so he decided to move to Minnesota. When that state was admitted to the Union, he served in the U.S. Senate from this state as well. Following the Civil War, he was appointed Senator from Missouri for a short time. James Shields is the only person ever to serve in the United States Senate from three different states.

Statesman, Senator, and Warrior; James Shields distinguished himself in everything he attempted, except perhaps dueling. James Shields passed away on June 1, 1879 in Ottumwa, Iowa, possibly from a heart attack. Fittingly, there was a military funeral to honor his passing. Following his death he would be honored by the erection of a statue of his likeness in the United States Capitol.

Shields statue

James Shields Statue in United States Capitol


Ecelbarger, Gary L. We are in for it!: The First Battle of Kernstown. White Mane Publishing Company, Inc. Shippensburg, Pa. 2015.

Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. ’Stonewall’ Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. Doubleday and Company. Garden City, N.J.,_born_1806)

1st Maine Cavalry at Middletown


Guest Blog By Brian Swartz

Troopers assigned to the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment figured they would ride out 12 companies strong after arriving at Washington, D.C. in late winter 1862.

However, rather than keep the unit intact, the War Department assigned companies A, B, E, H, and M to a “Railroad Brigade” guarding the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on Saturday March 29, 1862. The regiment’s seven other companies trotted off to a camp in northern Virginia.

After spending several weeks garrisoning various posts along the B&O in what would become West Virginia, the five companies received orders from Col. Dixon S. Miles (overall commander of Union troops in the northern tip of the Shenandoah Valley) on May 9 to “March forthwith via Winchester to New Market” and “wait for nobody, but be in haste.” The company captains must leave “sick men and disabled horses” behind and take “plenty of ammunition.”

Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and his army lurked in the Shenandoah. Afraid that Jackson’s men might erupt from the Valley to swoop upon Washington, federal officials assigned Major General Nathaniel Banks and his V Corps to bottle up Jackson in the Valley.

Banks needed more cavalry, hence the May 9 orders hurrying the 1st Maine to Winchester.

Banks moved V Corps up the Valley, and his cavalry regiments picketed and scouted as directed. Lieutenant Colonel Calvin Douty commanded the five 1st Maine companies, skirmishing hither and yon with Confederates out beyond Woodstock.

Calvin Douty

Calvin Douty 1st Maine Cavalry

Then Jackson slipped his troops undetected through the Luray Valley and attacked and all but annihilated an isolated Union garrison at Front Royal on Friday, May 23. From there Jackson intended to march north, capture Winchester, and trap all Union troops between there and Strasburg.

Learning about the Front Royal debacle, Banks ordered his men to march for Winchester and told Brigadier General John Porter Hatch and his cavalry to guard the army’s rear. In their camp near Tom’s Brook, the 1st Maine Cavalry troopers received orders to march at 2 a.m., Saturday; saddling up, the men rode north in Saturday’s rainy pre-dawn darkness.

Hatch halted his cavalry at Middletown, from where the Crop or Chapel Road ran 7½ miles east to the Front Royal Pike. The road interested the pike at Cedarville.

John Hatch

Brigadier General John Porter Hatch

Uncertain as to their location and strength, Banks told Hatch to find Jackson and his troops. Hatch assigned the mission to Douty, his five companies, and two 1st Vermont Cavalry companies.

Riding east on the Chapel Road, the Union troopers ran into Confederate soldiers about 1½ miles west of the Front Royal Pike. Turner Ashby commanded the Confederate infantry, artillery, and cavalry, sent by Jackson to take Middletown and cut the Valley Pike. Pistols flared, Ashby pushed hard, and Douty executed a slow retreat through the rain, which gradually ended.

1st Maine Cavalry Map

Map Showing Route of 1st Maine Cavalry (Wikipedia)

A warm sun quickly dried the roads.

Accompanied by Jackson, Ashby marched west and deployed his men along the east side of the Valley Pike just north of Middletown. Through a Banks miscommunication, Union cavalry stayed too long in the village, suddenly shelled by Confederate artillery.

Douty ordered Major William Collins and his two 1st Vermont companies to form “by fours” on the Valley Pike, just behind John Porter Hatch, his bodyguard troopers, and the 1st Maine Cavalry’s Co. H.

Douty’s Co. E, Co. M, and Co. A formed behind the Vermonters in that order. Douty came last with Co. B. Their horses kicking up dust, Hatch and his caravan trotted north “some distance in advance of … Douty’s battalion,” noticed Maine trooper Edward Parsons Tobie, riding with Co. H.

Just north of Middletown, troopers suddenly spotted Confederate cannons looming near the Valley Pike, “which at that point was narrow, with a high [stone] wall on each side,” Tobie said. Reinforced by Louisiana infantrymen, Turner Ashby had plugged the Yankees’ escape route by shelling and shattering several Union wagons on the pike.

Realizing the danger, Hatch and his entourage “turned off on a road leading to the left” and escaped “along a parallel road,” and the 1st Maine’s Co. A followed, said Tobie.

Lined in column of fours, cavalrymen in the two 1st Vermont Cavalry companies and three 1st Maine Cavalry companies “drew sabers, and put our horses into a gallop,” recalled Pvt. Clifford N. Mayo of Co. A, 1st Maine. “The horses raised the dust so that we could not see the men ahead of us; of course, we could not see the enemy, but they could see just where we were.”

“In the dust and smoke we could not see that the head of our column had turned to the left, and broke for the woods,” said Capt. George M. Brown of Co. M, 1st Maine. “Companies A, E and M charged straight down the pike under a murderous fire.”

Survivors estimated that they had ridden about 100 yards when, firing at extremely close range, enemy cannons eviscerated the cavalrymen. Brown watched horrified as “a section of fours in front of me was destroyed in an instant by a cannon ball.”

As Co. A troopers rode along “the narrow road between two stone walls,” the Louisiana infantrymen stood up behind the stone wall and fired a volley from 20-30 feet away. “They shot down our horses that were in front, and the rest of us … rushed right upon them,” Mayo described the developing horror.

That volley “killed and wounded horses and men” and also devastated the Vermont companies and the 1st Maine’s Co. E. Troopers at “the head of the column” were “instantly stopped,” Tobie said, “and the men next, unable to halt their horses … and in turn pushed forward by the horses” behind them, “rushed on.”

Mayo and his Co. A comrades rode until “our horses lost their foothold, and fell down.” He could not avoid the bloody roadblock caused where, “for a number of rods” along the turnpike, “men and horses were piled up two and three tiers deep.”

From his vantage point, “Stonewall” Jackson observed how “in a few moments the turnpike, which had just before teemed with life, presented a most appalling spectacle of carnage and destruction. The road was literally obstructed with the mingled and confused mass of struggling and dying horses and riders.

“Among the surviving cavalry the wildest confusion ensued, and they scattered in disorder in various directions,” said Jackson.

The ambush destroyed the two 1st Vermont companies and three 1st Maine companies. Douty brought what was left of his command to Williamsport, and survivors trickled into camp for at least two weeks.

The so-called “Middletown Disaster” generated headlines and copious ink in Maine newspapers, but Nathaniel Banks ultimately insulted his sacrificial cavalrymen by not even acknowledging their epic slaughter at Middletown.

Adapted from Maine at War blogs, available at

Our guest blogger this week is Brian Swartz. Brian lives in Maine and is a Civil War buff, author, and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Brian writes and maintains his own Civil War Blog called Maine at War. I am proud to call him my friend.

Sources: Eve Anderson, A Breach of Privilege: Cilley Family Letters 1820-1867, Seven Coin Press, Spruce Head, Maine, 2002, p. 433; Capt. George M. Brown, letter to wife, Daily Whig & Courier, Monday, June 2, 1862; Pvt. Clifford N. Mayo, Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, June 5, 1862; Edward Parsons Tobie, “History of the First Maine Cavalry, 1861-1865,” First Maine Cavalry Association, Emery & Hughes, Boston, 1887; Thomas J. Jackson, Official Records, Series I, Vol. 12, Part I, Chapter XXIV, No. 59, p. 703

Shenandoah Valley’s “Iron Plantations”

Turner Ashby’s cavalry, in conjunction with elements of Stonewall Jackson’s infantry, had held the defensive line at Stoney Creek for sixteen days. Major General Nathaniel Banks had a plan, though, to break the stalemate. He would initiate his scheme on April 15, by putting a small scouting party in motion, marching southwest along Senedo Road. It was their job to test the left anchor of Jackson’s defensive line at Columbia Furnace.

Shenandoah Map Jackson

Map showing Jackson’s Defensive Line along Stoney Creek.

Elements of the 1st Squadron, Pennsylvania Cavalry, and portions of Colonel Alpheus Williams 1st Brigade, which included details from the 14th Indiana, 5th Connecticut, 28th New York, and 46th Pennsylvania Infantry, arrived at their objective sometime before dawn. There were about one hundred and twenty combatants that gathered that morning on the heights overlooking Columbia Furnace. The smell of burning limestone and charcoal lay heavy upon the air.

Company H of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, currently under the command of Captain Addison Harper, had been posted at Columbia Furnace for the last two weeks. They were there to guard the river crossing and to protect Jackson’s left flank. The men were part of Colonel Turner Ashby’s cavalry regiment. Unfortunately, the troopers had become complacent, believing Nathaniel Banks’s Army would not confront them at their current outpost. The entire company went to bed that night, inside Union Church, without posting sentinels. The decision would prove calamitous.

Columbia Church

Union Church at Columbia Furnace where Ashby’s Men were Captured

Union infantry and cavalry forces trooped up to Union Church unobserved, surrounded the house of worship, and demanded the rebel command surrender. At the time of the raid the Rebels were “holed up in two churches, trying to escape the rain and cold, when the Yankees fell upon them just after midnight.” The attackers noted that the “cavalrymen were well mounted and armed with sabers, Colt revolvers, together with some kind of rifle or gun for longer range shooting or carbine service.” “They were well uniformed in grey, and were native Virginians, about the best-looking Rebel soldiers that we came in contact with.”

According to General Nathaniel Banks’s official report: “An entire company, more than 60 men and horses, Ashby’s cavalry, were captured this morning at Columbia Furnace, about 17 miles from Mount Jackson, by our cavalry and infantry. The capture includes all the officers but the captain.”

With his left flank in jeopardy, and the enemy planning a frontal attack the next morning, Jackson withdrew his army up the valley. Over on his left flank, however, the Union force that had scooped up so many of Ashby’s cavalry retreated back, unmolested, to Banks’s main body with their captives. The combatants were uninformed as to the strategic importance of the facility they had stumbled upon at Columbia Furnace and they left it unharmed.

It would take some time for the North to learn that in addition to being the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy,” the Shenandoah Valley was also one of the most important iron producing locations in the Confederacy. The iron generated here was being sent directly to Richmond and the Iron Works at Tredegar.

As the threat of Civil War loomed, Tredegar was the third largest iron manufacturer in the United States. Iron from Columbia Furnace, as well as from numerous other producers located in the Shenandoah Valley, had helped fabricate the ten-inch iron mortar that had fired the first shot of the war at Charleston. It had also helped provide iron plates for the CSS Merrimack, famed for it historic fight with the USS Monitor. Shenandoah iron would allow the Confederacy to build locomotives, steam engines, artillery, artillery projectiles, rifles, and all of the other vital necessities of war.

Tredegar Iron Works in 1865

1865 Photo of Tredegar Iron Works

In 1850 there were thirty-four operating cold-blast furnaces in Virginia. By 1860, however, the number of production facilities had dropped to just sixteen. The annual value of the product had also dropped to nearly half of what it had been just ten years before. By the time of Jackson’s Valley Campaign in 1862, Tredegar’s iron production had also dropped to about one third of its capacity.

Blast Furnace

Cold Blast Furnace Setup Like Those in the Shenandoah Valley

On May 21, 1862, Jackson’s topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, spent the night at Columbia Furnace. Hotchkiss reported that “the owner has deserted and gone North; because his sons have proved traitors to the South.” A little more than a month later, Tredegar’s owner, Joseph Anderson, commented: “Everything must stop unless we go into the mountains and purchase and operate blast furnaces to make pig iron.” One of the blast-furnaces the Confederacy would target for takeover would be Columbia Furnace in Shenandoah County. Columbia was, after all, one of the most productive furnaces in the entire valley.

Columbia Furnace 1

Ironmaster’s Home at Columbia Furnace where Jedediah Hotchkiss Slept.

There were several reasons why the furnaces in the Shenandoah Valley were so important to the Confederacy. When the war started Tennessee and Virginia were the only major pig iron producing states in the south. Due to a large Union presence in Tennessee, supply there was cut off early in the war. Virginia was, therefore, left as one of the only major providers of iron to the Confederacy.

Iron resources

Map of Pig Iron Manufacturing Resources During the Civil War in Virginia

Fortunately, the valley itself offered accessibility to all the critical components in the manufacture of pig iron. The primary one, of course, was iron. There were two kinds of iron ore found in the valley, hematite and limonite. “Iron ore in the Great North Mountain area was found in scattered deposits along the Virginia-West Virginia border and was concentrated in the area roughly defined by Shenandoah County.” Columbia Furnace was located in Shenandoah County.

Columbia Furnace 2

Iron Ore Mining Location Near Liberty Furnace in Shenandoah County

A second vital ingredient in the production iron was coal, or in this case charcoal. Virginia did not have coal deposits so the only alternative was to produce charcoal. Charcoal is made from wood and the Shenandoah Valley offered abundant timber resources. As the years had passed, however, many of the forests in the valley had been stripped of mature timber. When war came much of the valley landscape, though nearly barren in many spots, still had ample supplies of the resource.

The furnaces, themselves, consumed huge quantities of charcoal. “An average furnace consumed 600-800 bushels of charcoal per day. This required 30-40 cords of wood from trees 25-30 years old.” Facilities like the one at Columbia Furnace could devour more than an acre of trees each day. That meant more than three hundred acres of woodland were deforested each year per furnace. Over time this would have a major impact on the ecology of the valley, one that would require each harvested acre twenty-five to thirty years to recover from.

Limestone, which was equally abundant in the Shenandoah Valley, was also an important component in iron manufacturing. The pulverized limestone was dumped into the furnace along with the iron ore and charcoal. With intense heat the calcium in the limestone “served to flux the iron from the ore.” Fluxing allowed the ore to melt at much lower temperatures, thus increasing furnace production and efficiency.

Furnace 2

Waterwheel at Neighboring Liberty Furnace

Running water was also a critical component in the process. Dams were built in the streams and a water wheel was added to muscle the bellows which pumped air into the furnace. Increased air flow intensified the heat from the charcoal. Without it, it would be impossible to extract the iron from the ore. The Shenandoah Valley was laced with creeks and streams which were exceptionally suited for the task.

Lastly, an ample and robust labor force played a critical role in iron production. All of the furnaces needed manpower, especially at a time when most of the white labor force had been impressed into military service. All of the Shenandoah Valley’s “Iron Plantations” had traditionally utilized slaves in one fashion of another. “They were utilized to mine iron ore, produce charcoal, procure and prepare limestone, and for properly mixing the ingredients, tapping the furnace and forming the pigs.”

Traditionally, the term “peculiar institution” is almost exclusively associated with common work-hands, laboring on Virginia’s mostly agrarian plantations. Iron production, however, required a unique system of “industrial slavery.” Yes, Virginia’s “iron plantations”, required common laborers. The difference with “industrial slavery,” however, was that slaves with “technical skills” were also a necessity. In the Shenandoah Valley “the negro slave was depended on not only for his muscle but for his skill.”

In many cases “iron plantations” used what was called an “overwork” system. The slaves were assigned quotas, which was a realistic measure of the production that needed to be accomplished each day. The scheme offered financial rewards to slaves if they exceeded these quotas. This stipend could be used to acquire commodities and other comforts to supplement their home life. In some cases, when income was accumulated over time, it could even be used to purchase their freedom.

So, in the Shenandoah Valley, all of the elements required in the production of pig iron came together exactly where they were needed. By the mid-1830s Columbia Furnace supported more than two hundred workers and included “a store, hotel, mills, doctor’s office, school, and both private and furnace-owned houses.” By 1855 it was producing more than eight hundred and fifty tons of iron yearly.

There were three other productive furnaces in Shenandoah Country during the war. They were named Caroline, Liberty, and Fort Furnaces, and all were under nearly constant threat during the Civil War. Columbia was burned three times, once each in 1863, 1864 and 1865. Each time, though, they were able to reestablish production. Liberty and Caroline Furnaces were burnt in 1864. The culprit was General Phil Sheridan. The destruction which took place during this period is known to valley residents as “the burning.” Fort Furnace survived the first three years of the war but was finally destroyed by Sheridan’s men following the Battle of Cedar Creek.


Remains of Neighboring Henrietta Furnace at Alum Springs

There was a fourth furnace, located about ten miles to the west of Columbia, which was identified as Henrietta Furnace. The owners of this facility, Samuel and John Myers, shut the furnace down in 1861 and volunteered to fight in the Civil War. The two men became members of the Shenandoah Rangers, which was Company C of the 7th Virginia Cavalry. Samuel died late in the war, in January of 1865, from typhoid fever. John served as a courier for General Jackson during the 1862 Valley Campaign, but would die from wounds received two years later at the Battle of the Wilderness. Henrietta furnace would never again operate, either during or after the war.

Sam Myers

Major Samuel Myers, 7th Virginia Cavalry

In so much as food produced in the Shenandoah Valley was critical to the war effort, equally as important was maintaining the ability to fashion the implements of war. Not only was the valley the breadbasket of the confederacy, it was the also the iron producing capital of the Confederacy. The North would eventually come to recognize this and would eventually act to destroy both.

The next time you drive down the Valley Pike, or zip down Route 81, and you see fields bursting with crops, and beef animals of every variety, remember the valley’s shadowy secret. It was Shenandoah iron that allowed the Confederacy to produce the countless weapons needed to prosecute the war and to defend their homes. The war could not have continued as long as it did without it.


Armstrong, Richard L. 7th Virginia Cavalry. H. E Howard. Lynchburg, Va. 1992. Thanks to Nick Picerno for risking his copy of this book for my research purposes.

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

Official Records. The Union Army, vol. 6, p. 311 Columbia Furnace, Va. Oct. 7, 1864 3d Cavalry Division, Army of the Shenandoah.

Scott, Norman H. Shenandoah Iron: A History 0f Mining, Smelting, and Transporting Iron in the Virginia Counties of Clarke, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah, and Warren. Self-Published. 2017.

Confederate E.R. and R.I.P. at Mount Jackson

Sandy Pendleton recorded that the combat at First Kernstown “was a harder fight than Manassas.” In two hours of fighting a quarter of Stonewall Jackson’s army became casualties in one form of another. In addition to the two hundred and sixty-three that were captured, and the eighty were killed, three hundred and seventy-five were wounded. Many of the injured would have been left behind as the Confederates were forced to relinquish the field. It would have been the walking wounded, and those receiving assistance from comrades, that would have been able to escape the battlefield.

In his book, Stonewall in the Valley, Robert Tanner wrote that “by dawn on March 24, after all Confederate wounded were on their way to the rear” the Valley Army started their retrograde movement. The wounded were, quite naturally, given priority and were already proceeding in the direction of the nearest aid station. This was as it should be.

Fortunately for Stonewall Jackson, the wounded had the advantage of walking, or being transported along the best road in the Shenandoah Valley. Further, the Valley Pike passed right by the front doorstep of the only Confederate military hospital in the lower Shenandoah Valley. In addition to the best road, Mount Jackson also served as the western terminus of the Manassas Gap Railroad. As long as the rail line or the Valley Pike were free from Union occupation, it was a logical place to build a hospital. Sick and wounded soldiers could easily be directed toward the facility by foot, by ambulance, or by rail.

Hospital plaque

Sign Marking the Location of the Confederate Hospital at Mount Jackson

In September 1861, shortly after the First Battle of Manassas, the Confederate Medical Department had ordered a hospital be built in the town of Mount Jackson. That same month, Doctor Andrew Russell Meem, a resident of the town, was contracted to design and construct an infirmary there. The facility would consist of “three, two story buildings which were one hundred and fifty feet in length.”

The hospital was designed to accommodate some five hundred patients. The staff would include “Dr. Meem, two assistant surgeons, five stewards, ten nurses, eight cooks, and five laundry workers.” Dr. Meem, himself, was a well-respected area resident who was a graduate of both Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania Medical College. The doctor had been the head surgeon for the town of Mount Jackson before the war.


Plaque Showing the Design of the Mount Jackson Hospital

The parcel the hospital was built upon was donated by another Mount Jackson native, Colonel Levi Rinker. The building materials, though, were contributed by the Meem’s family. The Meem’s resided on a twenty-five-hundred-acre plantation they called Mt Airy. The residence survives today and is located just south of the North Branch of the Shenandoah River. The Meem’s had traditionally farmed their acreage with the aid of more than a hundred slaves and were among the wealthiest families in the valley.

Mt Airy

Photo of Mt. Airy Plantation in Mount Jackson

The Meem’s household was renowned for their hospitality and on many occasions hosted Civil War Generals and other wartime celebrities. Jedediah Hotchkiss, Stonewall Jackson’s mapmaker, spent some time there waiting with other recruits while Jackson attacked Nathaniel Bank’s troops at the First Battle of Kernstown in March 1862. On March 20th he noted they had “marched to ‘Mount Airy’ the celebrated Meem estate.” “Our men found quarters in the large barns and the officers in the house of Gen. Gilbert C. Meem.”

It was noted that the infirmary “was in continual use throughout the war, aside from six months in 1862 when the hospital was not in active use.” There are several interesting considerations regarding why the building was not in continual use. For example, on April 17, 1862, General Nathaniel Banks’ troops drove Jackson’s forces out of Mount Jackson. At the same time, a Massachusetts soldier noted in April of 1862 that the hospital “buildings were admirably contrived and constructed. He stated they were “perfected ventilated, and yet warm.” He also noted the “hospital flags were still flying, but the 500 sick Rebels convalescing there had been removed ten days previous.” Having done so this would have isolated the now empty hospital behind Union lines.

Additionally, in early June of the same year, Stonewall’s Army was driven back up the valley and through Mount Jackson by General John Fremont’s Army. Once again, the town of Mount Jackson would fall to a Union legion. Following Jackson’s victories at Cross Keys and Port Republic, Stonewall abandoned the valley completely, crossing over the Blue Ridge at Brown’s Gap, on his way to reinforce Robert E. Lee’s army during the Seven Days Campaign.


Soldier’s Statue at Our Soldiers Cemetery in Mount Jackson

The Mount Jackson facility had always been intended as a “wayside hospital.” Is was not designed to be a “permanent treatment facility for the badly wounded.” As a result, early in the war the hospital was mainly used to treat diseases. The hospital would tend to the sick and wounded from Jackson’s Valley Campaign of 1862. as well as casualties from the Battle of Antietam later that same year. It is reported that the “hospital treated at least one hundred patients almost every month for the first two years of the war.”

Following the Battle of Gettysburg some “8500 wounded Confederate soldiers, plus 4000 Union prisoners” passed by the doors of the Mount Jackson Hospital. In July the five hundred bed facility had collected some 667 patients. More that two hundred of these were there for gunshot wounds. Without adequate medical supplies, though, the hospital was operating far beyond it limitations. Still. in the month of July, 1863, just thirteen patients perished at the facility.

In the wake of his defeat at the Battle of Third Winchester, in late September 1864, Jubal Early withdrew his army back through the town of Mount Jackson as well. When General Phil Sheridan’s Army appeared in the town it was noted that the hospital was “filled with Confederate wounded.” Sheridan ordered that the third building, which was vacant at the time, be burned. Following the war, the two remaining buildings would be disassembled by members of the 192nd Ohio Infantry Regiment. They would use these building materials to construct a barracks for occupation forces at Rude’s Hill, just south of the town.



Entrance to the Our Soldiers Cemetery

Mortality rates were always high at the facility mostly due to the lack of medical supplies. Recognizing that not all patients could be saved from their illnesses or their wounds, Colonel Rinker had also donated land on the opposite side of the Valley Pike for two cemeteries. In the first, which was placed adjacent to the Valley Pike, some four hundred war dead, from eleven southern states, would find their final resting place.

Mount Jackson casualties

Plaque Memorializing Confederate Soldiers Who Died at Mount Jackson Hospital

Dr. Andrew Meem, himself, would become ill in February 1865. Andrew was taken south to the Harrisonburg General Hospital where medical supplies were more readily available. Treatment failed, though, and the doctor soon expired at age forty-one. The doctor’s wife, Ann, who had served as his assistant at the hospital, would return to Mount Jackson. Here she helped to organize the Ladies’ Soldiers and Aid Organization which provided food, clothing, and supplies to Confederate soldiers.

On May 10, 1866, the third anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death, a “Memorial and Decoration Day” celebration was organized by that same Soldiers and Aid Organization of Mount Jackson. As part of the ceremony a service was conducted in a local church. Here Henry Kyd Douglas, a surviving member of Jackson’s staff, made an address to commemorate the occasion. Following the church observance “ladies, gentlemen, and children as well as many ex-Confederates, all marched to the cemetery ¾ of a mile north of town to place those wreathes on each of the 400 graves.” Today a ceremony takes place with the placement of Confederate Battle flags on each of the graves on Veteran’s Day each year.

Initially the Confederate dead had had their final resting place denoted in various ways, including boards stuck in the ground with the soldiers’ names, units, and death dates scratched upon them. By the time the United Daughters of the Confederacy were able to construct a monument at Our Soldiers Cemetery in 1908 only three of the original markers still stood, all of whom were undoubtedly Gettysburg related casualties. A list of the majority of the casualties was generated and commemorated. Some one hundred and more are still unknown.

Mt Jackson Cemetery2

Confederate Veteran’s Day 2018 at Our Soldiers Cemetery in Mount Jackson

Mr. Rinker was also responsible for the creation of a second cemetery located across the railroad tracks and adjacent to Our Soldiers Cemetery. This site would provide a final resting spot for African Americans and ex-slaves. Over the years many of the markers were lost and the identity of many of the occupants vanished. In 2004 a new memorial marker was placed denoting the names of all of the individuals that could be recovered. Here they dedicated a new memorial, retaining the cemetery’s traditional name, “The Mount Jackson Colored Cemetery”.

colored cemetery

African American Memorial in Mount Jackson

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

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

Tanner, Robert G. Stonewall in the Valley: Thomas J. ’Stonewall’ Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Spring 1862. Doubleday and Company. Garden City.

Many of the photos were provided by Brian Swartz.