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.


The Confederate Yankee: Zebulon York

zebulon york1

State of Maine Native, General Zebulon York, CSA

To say that General John Gordon’s Confederate division of some twenty-six hundred souls showed up at the Third Battle of Winchester just in time is, by every standard, an understatement. Gordon’s men appeared in the Second Woods just as the 19th Corps, under the command of Major General William Emory, 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.

Nineteenth Corps commander, Major General William Emory, placed General Cuvier Grover’s Division on the front line. Grover, who was a native of the State of Maine and a graduate of West Point, positioned Colonel Jacob Sharpe’s Brigade on the left, and Henry Birge’s on the right. As soon as they were in place, he ordered them to advance.

Cuvier grover

Brigadier General Cuvier Grover of Maine

As Gordon’s brigades readied themselves for battle at the edge of the Second Woods, army commander General Jubal Early took time to consult with Generals Gordon and Rodes. Early remembered it as “a moment of imminent and thrilling danger.” Believing a good offense at this moment was better than a good defense, Early ordered his division commanders to counter-attack the advancing Union line.

Jubal Early then rode to Zebulon York, as he was finishing deployment his men, and ordered him to meet Sharpe’s Brigade “half way.”  York’s Louisiana Brigade of approximately six hundred and fifty men soon found themselves counter-charging the rapidly advancing blue line. Captain William Seymour of the 6th Louisiana Infantry remembered a “beautiful and rare sight was presented of two opposing lines charging at the same time.”

By 11:40 these two opposing lines came crashing into each other, fighting furiously. The clash was called murderous. The first to blink, though, was Colonel Sharpe’s Brigade. In combination with heavy Rebel artillery fire on their right flank from Major James Breathed’s cannons, and that from their front from Major Carter Braxton’s guns, the area became a killing field. Add to this the effects of heavy musketry fire from Gordon’s men in their front, both Birge and Sharpe were both forced to retire.

3rd Winchester 1

Map Showing Troop Deployment and Position of 1st Maine Battery at 11:40 am.

Gordon’s troops continued their pursuit of both Birge’s and Sharpe’s Brigades. Captain William Seymour of York’s command remembered that “though the Yankees fought unusually well, they could not withstand the impetuosity of our fellows and they were forced back upon their original line which was strongly guarded by artillery.” According to most accounts, it was the opportune appearance of the 1st Maine Battery, at the boundary of the First Woods, that forced the Confederates to reconsider their quest. It is poignant to think that it was a Maine battery which stopped the advance of General York’s Brigade. What is ironic, though, is the fact that General York received a serious wound to his left arm during the charge of his brigade. According to York’s obituary “his left arm was shattered by a charge of grape.” In all likelihood, then, it was this Maine battery which, when brought to bear on the charging Confederates, inflicted the wound on their fellow Mainer, Zebulon York.

York’s injury to his left arm was the most serious he would receive during the war. York was taken to a field hospital where his “frazzled arm” was amputated. “A friend whose elegant home was in Winchester affectionately endeavored to persuade York to remain in the hospital and suffer himself to be captured so as to be cared for at this gentleman’s house.” Zebulon eyed the man and replied: “No, thank you, sir. All that the enemy will ever capture of me is that remnant of an arm before us.”

As soon as his limb was dressed, York mounted his horse and rode out of town. Still bleeding, Zebulon rode horseback from Winchester to Fisher’s Hill, a distance of more than twenty miles. Here he transferred to an ambulance for the journey to Staunton. At Staunton he boarded a train for Richmond where his arm was attended to by a close friend, Dr. Beverly Welford. Recovery, though, would be slow.

What kind of soldier was it that could have his arm sawed off one minute and then mount his horse and ride out of town the next? Well, this Rebel fighter was actually a State of Maine native, born in the town of Avon to Zebulon and Zylphia York on October 10, 1819. The town of Avon is located in the northwestern corner of the state, which is a lot closer to the border between Canada and the United States than the Mason-Dixon Line. Named after the River Avon in England, the town was founded in 1781 and incorporated in 1802. Fruits, grains, and vegetables grew abundantly in the fertile soils along the banks of the Sandy River. At the time of the Civil War the population numbered eight hundred and two people. The current inhabitant count is little more than half of that number.

Zebulon York’s family touted a strong military heritage. His maternal grandfather, Sylvester, was an aid-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Sylvester was present with General Washington when Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Zebulon’s own father had been an army officer during the War of 1812.

York received his elementary education in a one room school house in his home town of Avon. Later he attended Maine Wesleyan Seminary, now known as Kents Hill School, for his secondary education. “Here he proved to be a great reader and such a lover of history and biography that he long cherished the desire of taking part in a battle…”


Maine Wesleyan Seminary, now Kent’s Hill School in Maine.

At the age of sixteen Zebulon’s father sent him to study at Transylvania University in Kentucky. He graduated with honors from the school. Having acquired “a taste for Southern life”, though, he moved to Louisiana after graduation and began the study of law at the offices of Stacey and Sparrow in Vidalia. In due time he moved to New Orleans to study law at Louisiana University, or what is now Tulane. Once again, he graduated with honors and then moved back to Vidalia to establish his own law practice.

In the 1850’s “any man who was anybody invested his money in plantations and, necessarily, negros.” In partnership with a close friend, Mr. Elias J. Hoover, York purchased “six magnificent plantations.” “Together they paid more in realty taxes than any other party in Louisiana.” Collectively they owned more than fifteen hundred slaves and produced more than forty-five hundred bails of cotton each year.

In York’s obituary it is stated: “A better master to a slave never existed than the gentle and tender-hearted York. Never was an overseer known to strike them without severe admonition, and in most cases a blow to a slave was quickly followed by the discharge of the guilty overseer. Today old slaves meet the general at almost every turn and there is yet to be found one who says anything but that” he “was sure good to us…” He “never ‘loud no one to beat us.”

Following the presidential election of 1860 Louisiana held a convention to decide Louisiana’s stance on secession. Elected representatives were sent to Baton Rouge. Zebulon was chosen unanimously to represent the Concordia region of the state.  York did his duty, traveled to the convention, and voted in favor of secession. On January 26, 1861, the convention passed an Ordinance of Secession by a vote 113 to 17. From this date until February 4, Louisiana was an independent country. It was on that date that the state joined the Confederate States of America.

Following the Secession Convention, York went directly home to Concordia and began to organize an artillery company. The plan was foiled when it was discovered that there were not enough artillery pieces in the South to go around. The unit was forced to transition to a rifle company, which was financed completely by York and his business partner Mr. Hoover. The company was “mustered in for the war” as the 1st Regiment, Polish Brigade. Later it was later merged into the 14th Louisiana Infantry as Company F. The regiment would be commanded by Colonel Valery Zulakowski.

The regiment’s first assignment was in the trenches of Yorktown. The 14th Louisiana was heavily engaged in the Battle of Williamsburg. While helping lead his men Major York was injured in the left arm and left breast by a single bullet which created three separate wounds.

York recovered quickly and returned to his regiment as a newly promoted lieutenant-colonel. He appeared in time to participate in the Seven Days Battles. Once again, his regiment was heavily engaged in most of the fighting. At the Battle of Gaines’s Mill Zebulon led the 14th Louisiana in a bold charge on a Union artillery battery. The battery was taken at a cost to his regiment of one hundred and twenty-seven casualties. Once again York received a minor wound, this time to his right arm, caused by a bursting artillery round.

Shortly thereafter, the 14th Louisiana was transferred to Stonewall Jackson’s Corps. At Second Bull Run York led his command in a charge to seize a railroad embankment held by General James Nagel’s Brigade. The attack was successful but Zebulon received a much more serious injury, “the ball passing through the neck and under the spine, thus threatening paralysis.”

This time York was forced to return home to Louisiana to recover from his injury. During his recuperation he attempted to recapture some of his investments by renting four plantations and planting large crops of sugar and cotton. Unfortunately, Union troops confiscated his crops before they could be marketed, costing him more than three million dollars.

Having been promoted in his absence to Colonel, York returned to the war effort in time to fight with his regiment during the 1864 Overland Campaign. Following the Battle of the Wilderness, with the wounding of General Harry Hays, and the death of General Leroy Stafford, the two brigades were combined into one. The newly promoted Brigadier General, Zebulon York, took charge of the unit. His promotion would date from June 2, 1864.

Yadkin River Bridge

Painting of the Yadkin River Bridge

As mentioned at the beginning of this story, General York would fight with his brigade at the Third Battle of Winchester where he was seriously wounded and would have his left limb amputated. Even though his arm had not completely healed, General York was ordered in early 1865 to take his brigade to North Carolina. Here he was tasked with holding the Yadkin River Bridge. It is said that York’s force consisted of about twelve hundred men, including some two hundred “galvanized Irish” that were “recruited from the Federal prisoners.” The remaining men were “invalid soldiers gathered from the hospitals, junior reserves, local citizens, and even a few non-military Confederate government employees.”

The Battle for the Yadkin Bridge would take place on April 12th, 1865, three days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. York would successfully defend the bridge while opposed by an equal number of troops under the command of General George Stoneman. The contest was a Rebel victory and one of the last in the eastern theater. The high ground he defended would be forever known as Fort York. (Note: Fort York was listed for years as one of the twenty-five most endangered Civil War sites. The land, which included much of Fort York, was finally purchased for preservation in 2015.)

Following this final clash, General York began to make his way back home. He was captured by troops under General Sherman and paroled on May 6. 1865. With his servant by his side the two made their way home to Vidalia, arriving on May 27th. To his dismay his residence was occupied by Union troops and would remain so for an additional year. When his domicile, the Buck Ridge Plantation, was finally vacated, the occupiers would take with them every piece of furniture and object of value in the household.

Zebulon did attempt to restore his life style once again after the war. With all of his plantations destroyed, he commenced running a boarding house in Natchez which was known as the York House. York would eventually acquire five small steamboats that plied the Black River, in nearby Louisiana, “delivering goods, people and livestock to and from rural areas.” “During the floods of 1882 York led relief efforts for back water people in Louisiana. Sam Clemens even rode one of his little steamboats during one of his many trips into the Black River region and mentions it in his book Life on the Mississippi.”

York became ill in January of 1900. He lingered on for several months, passing away on August 5th of the same year. His funeral took place at St. Mary’s Basilica and he was buried in the Natchez City Cemetery. The Times Picayune ran a two-part story on his life on August 6, 1900. Following the war “he returned to his Mississippi home to rebuild his fortunes and died honored and beloved.” His burial plot contains his old business partner, Mr. Hoover, and York’s wife whom he married in 1895. The newspaper proclaimed simply: “Another Hero Passes Away.”

Zeb York stone

York’s Memorial Stone at Natchez City Cemetery in Mississippi.


Early, Jubal. Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early C. S. A: Autobiographical Sketch and Narrative of The War Between the States. University of Michigan Library. 1912.

Jones, Terry L. The Civil War Memoirs of William J. Seymour. Reminiscences of a Louisiana Tiger. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. 1991.

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

Sheeran, Rev. James B. Confederate Chaplain, A War Journal. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company. 1960.,_Maine


The Lincoln Connection

Following the Battle of Kernstown, on March 23, 1862, Stonewall Jackson’s tiny Valley District army switched to retreat mode, seeking some of the maneuvering and defensive advantages offered by the upper Shenandoah Valley. During this time the army’s cavalry screen, commanded by Colonel Turner Ashby, skirmished frequently with Nathaniel Banks’s army. Time, however, worked in Jackson’s favor. In the span of less than thirty days, Stonewall’s army grew in size from three to nearly six thousand men.

Turner Ashby on Tom Telegraph

A Sketch of Turner Ashby on his Favorite Horse Tom Telegraph

April 17, dawned bright and clear, with no sign of rain. Jackson’s small army had situated itself on the south side of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on Rude’s Hill.  The prominence was titled after a Danish Lutheran minister named Anders Rudolph Rude. Situated on this high ground, about a mile south of Mount Jackson, the Rebels had dug in along the crest, endeavoring to secure themselves from the threat posed by General Banks’s army.

By 7:00 am on that April day, Union Cavalry were sweeping through Mount Jackson. Banks’s two infantry divisions were following closely behind. What they discovered upon entering the town, however, were “burning supplies and equipment the rebel army had left behind.”

Jackson had anticipated Banks’s plan and was ready for him. He ordered that anything of military value left behind in the town should be destroyed. He also required that the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River be burned in order to isolate Union troops, and keep them from entering the upper valley.

Continuing on through Mount Jackson, Union troopers made a rush for the crossing over the North Fork. Turner Ashby was caught in the act of trying to torch the bridge. There was a scuffle with Ashby and several of his men. Outnumbered, Union cavalry quickly dispatched him before he could complete his assignment. Failure to burn the bridge was a serious breach of strategy, placing Jackson’s army in significant jeopardy.

As the morning wore on, General Banks arrived and pushed his men across the captured bridge. He deployed his men in line of battle on both sides of the Valley Pike with the river at their backs. By mid-afternoon, with muskets at the ready and bayonets gleaming in the sunlight, “Union troops were pounding, under a hot sun, uphill through the muck toward Jackson’s camp at Rude’s Hill.” Soldiers remembered the occasion “as one of the more striking military events of the day.” When Banks’s men reached the heights, however, they discovered Jackson had refused battle and sent his legion packing south along the Valley Pike.

Lincoln Inn Map


Lincoln Inn was Located on the Valley Pike Below Sparta

Jackson’s army retreated throughout the day, passing through New Market and on to the small town of Sparta, or present day Mauzy. A couple of miles up the pike at Lacey Spring was an Inn owned by the Lincoln family. Stonewall and some of his staff, including mapmaker Jedediah Hotchkiss, decided they would seek shelter at the hostel and pass the night in comfort.


Site of the Lincoln Inn at Lacey Spring on the Old Valley Pike

There being no current vestige of the Lincoln Inn remaining in the town of Lacey Springs, the site is presently denoted by a state marker. The structure itself burned down in 1898. The inn had been run by a man by the name of David Lincoln. He had operated out of his home from 1833 until his death in 1849. At the time of the Civil War the establishment was being run by his widow, and, according to Jedediah Hotchkiss, a man named “Abe Lincoln.”

At dinner that evening, while pouring coffee for Stonewall Jackson, Mrs. Lincoln asked if he was related to “Gineril Jackson who used to stop here.” Apparently, President Andrew Jackson had reposed at the inn while sojourning between Washington and his home in Nashville, Tennessee. The town of Mount Jackson had, after all, been named in honor of President Jackson for just this reason.

Stonewall responded that he was “a Democrat and an admirer of ‘Old Hickory’”. He confessed that he did not know if he was related in any way to the President. As a point of curiosity, one would think General Jackson would have been inquisitive regarding the widow Lincoln and whether she was related to the current northern President. There is no record left by Hotchkiss regarding that conversation. Had she been asked; Mrs. Lincoln would have, undoubtedly, shown some embarrassment when she acknowledged that she was related to the northern President by marriage. Her deceased husband, David Lincoln, was the 16th President’s first cousin, once removed.

A short four miles away, as the crow flies, is the town of Edom. A parcel of land had been settled there in 1767 by “Virginia John” Lincoln. John, was born in Freehold, New Jersey, where he married Rebekah Flowers. The two of them parented nine children in Berks County, Pennsylvania. In 1768, he relocated the family to the Shenandoah Valley. Here he had purchased six hundred acres for two hundred and fifty pounds.


The Lincoln Farm in Edom, Virginia

The yellow house pictured above was built in 1800 by the second of Virginia John’s four sons, Jacob Lincoln. Jacob’s oldest son, Abraham, President Lincoln’s grandfather, built a home just down the road from his father’s. Though that house itself was torn down many years ago, Abraham’s youngest son, Thomas, was born there on January 5, 1778.

In 1781 Abraham Lincoln, in company with his wife and five children, moved to the Kentucky territory. Shortly after his arrival Abraham was ambushed by Indians while working on his farm and was killed. Thomas, himself, would have been slain had it not been for the actions of his older brother Mordecai. Thomas recovered from this childhood trauma and went on to marry Nancy Hanks. On Feb. 12, 1809, a son was born to the family whom they named Abraham to honor his grandfather.

On the same side of the road, north of the Jacob Lincoln house, at the top of the hill, is a small Lincoln family cemetery. Five generations of Lincoln’s lay at rest there, in addition to two slaves. The cemetery contains the final resting places of Virginia John, Jacob, and Jacob’s son Abraham.  Members of the Maupin and Pennybacker families are also buried there.


Lincoln Family Cemetery

The President shared much in common with his Virginia relatives during the war, including a familiar generational name with one of his Virginia cousins. Private Abraham B. Lincoln was a Rebel cavalryman who fought in Company F, 1st Virginia Cavalry. Unlike his second cousin, though, he would survive the war and live to the ripe old age of 83. He would be buried at the Lacey Spring Cemetery not far from the site of the Lincoln Inn.

Cousin Abraham

Grave of Abraham Lincoln Company F, 1st Virginia Cavalry

So, perhaps surprisingly, the Abraham Lincoln family had its geneses in Virginia in what would become the Confederacy. These roots ran deep. When civil war came to the nation each family member had to choose sides and they served their country, each in their own way. Once again, it was brother against brother, or in this case, cousin against cousin. The key is, we survived this war and became a nation united, once again. I believe if we can survive the divisions of family and of civil war, we can survive anything, even the divisive politics of our current day. Let us learn from our past that we night create a better future.


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

Official Records of the Civil War.

Maryland Brother vs. Maryland Brother

Confederate Brigadier General Richard Taylor, the son of a U. S. President, deployed his brigade in line with his left at Prospect Hill and his right continuing along a long ridge which trailed to the east. The unsuspecting town of Front Royal lay before them. The 1st Maryland Infantry, CSA, along Major Roberdeau Wheat’ s Louisiana Tigers, were placed in the advance to lead the attack. When the order came to move forward, the two regiments bolted for the town.

The companies “commanded by Captain Nicholas, Herbert, and Goldsborough were deployed as skirmishers” to lead the assault. “We approached the town rapidly, and entered the main street before the enemy were aware of our approach. For a minute they resisted our advance, and a sharp exchange of musketry shots ensued. They were quickly driven out, however, with the loss of several in killed, wounded and prisoners.”

Lucy Rebecca Buck, who was the daughter of a property-owner in Front Royal, remembered the initial collision between Union and Confederate troops at Front Royal. “Going to the door we saw the Yankees scampering over the meadow below our house… By this time some scattered parties of Confederate infantry came up and charged their ranks, after firing one volley they wheeled about–every man for himself they scampered out of town like a flock of sheep–such an undignified exodus was never witnessed before.”

Through the smoke and chaos of the fighting, Captain William Goldsborough was well aware that he was fighting against his neighbors and fellow Marylander’s. Up ahead, though, he discerned a Union soldier. William demanded surrender. When the soldier turned towards him, though, he recognized the man. It was his brother Charles. Believing that the situation could have but one acceptable resolution, though, Charles surrendered to his brother.

Front Toyal Map

Map of the Battle of Front Royal. Map By Nathaniel Michler

The Battle of Front Royal is noteworthy in that the 1st Maryland CSA was thrown into combat against fellow Marylander’s of the 1st Union Regiment of Maryland Volunteers. This would be the only time in the military history of the Civil War that two regiments with identical numerical designations, from the same state, engaged each other in battle.

Bradley Johnson, the commander of the 1st Maryland, CSA, during Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign, was a native to the state of Maryland. He had not attended West Point, but had received his education at Princeton. He read law with William Ross of Frederick, and finished his legal degree at Harvard. He was admitted to the bar in 1851.

When the war began Johnson organized and financed a company of soldiers at his own expense. In May 1861 some five hundred Marylander’s assembled at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, under Johnson’s command. These eight companies would become the 1st Maryland Confederate Infantry.

Bradley Johnson

Colonel Bradley Johnson, CSA

When the 1st Maryland Infantry Regiment, CSA, was mustered into service on June 16, 1861, Colonel Arnold Elzey, a career officer in the regular army, would be the first official commander. His executive officer, also from Maryland, was George Steuart. Steuart would later be distinguished as “Maryland Steuart”, to singularize him from the famous cavalry commander, J.E.B. Stuart. At the time of the Battle of Front Royal, however, the 1st was being directed by Colonel Bradley Johnson.

The 1st Maryland Union Infantry’s first commanding officer was Colonel John Reese Kenly. Kenly was a Baltimore attorney who had been admitted into the bar in 1845. He had some combat experience having raised a company of volunteers and served in the Mexican War as a lieutenant. He served with distinction and was later promoted to major.

John Kenley

Colonel John Reese Kenly

With his victory at the Battle of McDowell on May 8, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson was determined to deal decisively with General Nathaniel P. Banks’ army. Having retreated down the valley from Harrisonburg, and having reduced the size of his army by half, Banks was left defending a twelve-mile line, stretching from Strasburg to Front Royal. In an effort to destroy Banks, Jackson decided to strike his weak eastern flank at Front Royal. The town was only defended by about a thousand soldiers commanded by Colonel Kenly.

On May 21, Stonewall Jackson’s command marched into New Market. Instead of marching North on the Valley Pike to confront Banks army directly at Strasburg, he dashed east through New Market Gap in the Massanutten Mountain into the Page Valley at Luray.  There he joined with troops under General Richard Ewell. Jackson’s newly reinforced army of nearly seventeen thousand then turned north, marching along the Luray and Front Royal Turnpike.

William Goldsborough

Captain William Goldsborough

Early on the Morning of May 23, General Jackson arrived at Asbury Chapel, three miles south of Front Royal. Here he learned that the town was defended by the 1st Maryland Infantry, USA. Realizing that his army contained the Southern counterpart to this unit, Jackson passed the order to allow this detail the honor of leading the attack on the city. What Jackson did not know, however, was that the members of the regiment were at that moment in open revolt, believing their terms of enlistment had expired. Colonel Bradley Johnson was going to have to give the speech of his life if he was going to get his regiment to obey General Jackson’s order.


Ashbury Chapel on the road to Front Royal

“You have heard the order, and I must confess are in a pretty condition to obey it. I will have to return it with the endorsement upon the back that ‘the First Maryland refuses to meet the enemy’, despite being given orders by General Jackson. Before this day I was proud to call myself a Marylander, but now, God knows, I would rather be known as anything else. Shame on you to bring this stigma upon the fair name of your native state – to cause the finger of scorn to be pointed at those who confided to your keeping their most sacred trust – their honor and that of the glorious Old State. Marylanders you call yourselves – profane not that hallowed name again, for it is not yours. What Marylander ever before threw down his arms and deserted his colors in the presence of the enemy, and those arms, and those colors too, placed in your hands by a woman? Never before has one single blot defaced her honored history. Could it be possible to conceive a crime more atrocious, an outrage more damnable? Go home and publish to the world your infamy. Boast of it when you meet your fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters and sweethearts. Tell them it was you who, when brought face to face with the enemy, proved yourselves recreants, and acknowledged yourselves to be cowards. Tell them this, and see if you are not spurned from their presence like some loathsome leper, and despised, detested, nay abhorred, by those whose confidence you have so shamefully betrayed; you will wander over the face of the earth with the brand of ‘coward’, ‘traitor’, indelibly imprinted on your foreheads, and in the end sink into a dishonored grave, unwept for, uncared for, leaving behind as a heritage to your posterity the scorn and contempt of every honest man and virtuous woman in the land.”

The 1st Maryland responded enthusiastically to Colonel Johnson’s address, answering General Jackson’s call to action. The regiment was situated near the rear of the column, so Jackson had to wait two hours for the regiment to catch up with him at Ashbury Chapel. Upon arrival they were directed to the right, onto a muddy cross road which connected to the Gooney Manor Road. By following this path, they were able to approach Front Royal from a direction that bypassed the Federal pickets posted nearer the river on the Luray Road.

Johnson’s men swept into Front Royal pushing Kenly’s troops through the town to the high ground beyond. Though outnumbered, Kenly put up a stubborn defense. With the arrival of rebel reinforcements, however, Johnson’s Marylanders were finally able to charge up Richardson’s Hill,  capturing several prisoners while crossing the bridge over the South Fork. Advancing another four hundred yards along the road, they were stopped cold by Kenly’s new line atop Guard Hill, and by the burning North Fork Bridge.


The Thomas McKay House where Kenly’s Forces were Destroyed.

The Marylander’s were soon joined by General Taylor and his Louisiana regiments, who had crossed the South Fork. Kenly withdrew along the Winchester turnpike through the town of Cedarville with Colonel Thomas Flournoy’s newly arrived cavalry following closely behind. General Jackson rode ahead with the cavalry as Confederate infantry began to cross the two rivers.

Upon reaching the Thomas McKay House, about one mile north of Cedarville, Colonel Kenly was forced to make a stand and face his pursuers. Deploying his remaining infantry across the turnpike, he braced for impact. Flournoy’s Confederate cavalry swept around both of the Union flanks. Panic ensued as Colonel Kenly fell wounded, and the Union defense collapsed. More than seven hundred Union soldiers capitulated.

Charles Goldsborough

Post war photo of Charles Goldsborough

Captain William Goldsborough of the 1st Maryland, CSA, would claim that he captured his own brother. Since the 1st Maryland, CSA, did not advance to the Thomas McKay House, the capture of Charles by his brother could not have taken place at Cedarville. Charles’ apprehension must have taken place during the regiment’s sweep through the town, or at the time of the collapse of the Union lines on Richardson’s Hill.

According to Goldsborough: “nearly all recognized old friends and acquaintances, whom they greeted cordially, and divided with them the rations which had just changed hands”. Regardless of where William captured his sibling, this occurrence is truly the embodiment of one of the war’s most popular themes; “brother against brother”. It was an incident where armed siblings faced off directly against each other in battle. Fortunately for the family, the outcome was much less tragic than it might have been.



Official Records of the Civil War.

Goldsborough, J. J., The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, Butternut Press, Maryland (1983).

By Michler, Nathaniel; United States. War Department –, Public Domain,

McDowell’s Honored Dead

Tomb of unknown

Marker for the Unknown Soldiers at McDowell, Virginia

General Thomas Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate troops had spent the last several days slogging through the mud on their way to Port Republic while General Richard Ewell’s division had slipped over the Blue Ridge Mountains through Swift Run Gap to take Jackson’s place at Conrad’s Store. Jackson would then cross the Blue Ridge at Brown’s Gap with his army on his way to the Meacham River Station on the Virginia Central Railroad. Stonewall would spend May 4th, riding horseback to Staunton, while his troops followed by train or on foot.  He would setup his headquarters at the Virginia Hotel in town.

With the army reinforced by nearly three thousand troops from General Edward Allegheny Johnson’s Army of the Northwest, Jackson’s army would now number some nine thousand men.  From his camp at West View, which is about five miles west of Staunton, Johnson’s men were staged to act as the vanguard in the coming campaign. Johnson’s men were very familiar with the terrain, having spent the winter defending it.

Jackson’s men were up early on May 7th marching to the northwest along the Parkersburg Turnpike. A short time after their departure they ran into a contingent of General Robert Milroy’s Union Soldiers. Milroy’s force numbered about two thousand men. Sensing he was outnumbered, Milroy decided to retreat back to the town of McDowell, on the West side of Bull Pasture Mountain. He immediately sent an urgent message to Union forces at Franklin pleading for reinforcements.

About 10 a.m. on May 8th, General Robert Schenck arrived with supports, increasing the number of Union troops to about six thousand. As Schenck was senior to Milroy, he assumed overall command of the Federal force. The Union commander established his headquarters in town at the Hull House and then deployed his artillery, consisting of eighteen guns, onto Cemetery Hill. Next, he positioned his infantry in a line, about eight hundred yards in length, south along Bull Pasture River. Schenck placed one regiment, the 2nd West Virginia, on Hull’s Hill, east of the river, overlooking the Parkersburg Pike. Three companies of cavalry covered the left flank along the road on the north side of the village.

Meanwhile, on the top of Sitlington’s Hill, which overlooked the town of McDowell, Jackson had begun to assemble Edward Johnson’s troops along the crest. Not expecting to fight a battle so late in the day, he ordered Johnson to position his troops and then began to make plans to launch a flank attack the following morning.

Union Troops had a different idea on how the coming battle would unfold, however. Milroy got permission from Schenck to mount an attack on Sitlington’s Hill before the Confederates could position their artillery on the crest. Milroy assembled some twenty-three hundred troops along the river at the base of the hill and ordered his troops onward and upwards.

As Milroy’s men assaulted Sitlington’s Hill they began to exchange fire with the rebels under General Johnson. The fighting became intense. Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s mapmaker, recorded that “from 4:30 to 8:30 the firing was terrific.” Union troops would discharge their rifled muskets into the Rebel troops situated on the high ground, perfectly silhouetted with their backs to the setting sun. The rebels would defend their position with smoothbore muskets accurate out to about one hundred yards.

McDowell Map1

Map made by Jedediah Hotchkiss for the May 8th, 1862, Battle of McDowell.

Casualties in the brief fight were significant. Union forces lost thirty-four killed, two hundred and twenty wounded, and five missing. Confederate losses were much greater with one hundred and sixteen killed, and some three hundred wounded. Four were missing. It was one of the few instances in the war where the attackers experienced significantly fewer casualties than the defenders.

The question then is what would have happened to the dead and mortally wounded? According to General Milroy his men wanted to continue the battle and were “anxious to hold on and sent for more ammunition.” Milroy, instead, decided to “draw them down to camp, which was done in good order, bringing off all of our dead and wounded.” According to official casualty reports, however, five infantrymen were still reported as missing.

According to Alvid Lee of the 82nd Ohio, however, not all of the deceased were recovered. Lee stated “the wounded had all been retrieved but there lay the dead, and it seemed too bad to leave them behind. So, two of us picked up one of the bodies and endeavored to bear it away with the retreating line.” “The slain soldier was a young German that had been shot in the head and was left behind.” Finding themselves too exhausted to carry him down the mountain, they had left him “by the stump of a tree, his face upturned to the moonlight.”

Colonel Thomas Williamson, of Jackson’s staff, seems to corroborate this report when he indicated he had observed “only one dead federal when riding over the battlefield the next morning, a boy of fifteen or sixteen years of age.” This could easily have been the “young German” referred to by Mr. Lee.

Jedediah Hotchkiss, on the other hand, indicated that he had revisited the battleground “to examine and sketch the battle-field on Sitlington’s Hill.” He visited the spot where their “men were posted during the engagement, cut into splinters by the bullets of the enemy, a good many of whose dead were still lying about.” It sounds like some soldiers were found near the crest of the hill would have been some distance from where the “young German” was found.

Jed Hotchkiss

Post War Photo of Jedediah Hotchkiss

A Union council of war was held shortly after the battle ended and, within six hours, Schenck’s force was on the move, retreating back to Franklin. The question regarding the removal of the dead is, therefore, somewhat indeterminate. With the battle ending in darkness it seems as though gathering the dead would have been problematic considering the proximity of the enemy. Schenck’s soldiers would have had a great deal of work to accomplish in order to prepare for their retreat and very little time to do it.

So, undoubtedly, several Union dead that were left behind, as mentioned by Hotchkiss, probably finding their final resting place at the cemetery in the center of town. The question is what was the final resting spot for the one hundred and sixteen Confederate dead? Hotchkiss noted that all of the Confederate dead “had been carried down to the turnpike at the mouth of the ravine by which we had gone up and been laid in a row along a grassy place beside the road.” This must have been a temporary resting place as the spot he mentions can be easily visited and there is no indication that it is a current grave site. Certainly, the spot would have been honored by a marker of some sort.

On May 10th, while riding along the road from McDowell to Churchville, Jedediah Hotchkiss noted that he “met many citizens going to look for friends and relatives who had been in the battle.” Additionally, on May 12th, just four days after the fight, while Hotchkiss was riding through the village of Mossy Creek, he took note that the townspeople were “burying the remains of Frank Eruitt and of Harmon who were killed at McDowell.”

Temporary burial duties on the battlefield would have undoubtedly been the responsibility of the Corps of Black Pioneers. These men would have been under the command of Jackson’s staff engineer, Captain Claiborne Maison. Backing them up were four companies of VMI cadets, about two hundred in number, who, in addition to the guarding of prisoners, would have been responsible for supervision of the burial of bodies. They were definitely not employed in combat roles.

It seems as though local citizens were helping with the dispositions of bodies. As with combat casualties, some of the dead would be identifiable and some would have been so badly mangled that their identity could not be determined. Perhaps these are the Confederate soldiers that are buried with the Union Dead in McDowell.

Except for a young “German boy”, the identities of the Union soldiers buried here are unknown. Union and Confederate troops, mortal enemies, are entombed together. The size of the lot is small, maybe four hundred square feet, so there are certainly not hundreds of soldiers buried there, but there could be a dozen or more. Maybe it is just those men who were pronounced as missing. Nevertheless, the spot in this peaceful cemetery is the tomb of the unknown soldiers. The identities of the men buried there are, as far as I can determine, unknown. The hints we find are just that; hints. Still, the burial site is a must see at McDowell. As we gaze upon this hallowed ground we are reminded that though these unidentified combatants are gone, they are not forgotten in their common ossuary.

The battle of McDowell was fought on May 8, 1862. It was the second battle in General Thomas Stonewall Jackson’s famous Valley Campaign and it would register as his first victory.



Official Records of the Civil War.

McDonald, Archie P., Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss. Dallas, Tx. 1973.