John Singleton Mosby and Mosby’s Rangers

Perhaps, the best-known Confederate partisan cavalry unit was John Singleton Mosby’s Rangers. The unit was formed in January of 1863 by Mosby and named the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry. This was later expanded into Mosby’s Command, a regimental-sized unit of partisan rangers operating in Northern Virginia.

The 43rd Battalion operated officially as a unit of the Army of Northern Virginia, subject to the commands of Robert E. Lee Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, but its men (1,900 of whom served from January 1863 through April 1865) lived outside of the norms of regular army cavalrymen.

The Confederate government certified special rules to govern the conduct of partisan rangers. These included sharing in the disposition of spoils of war. They had no camp duties and lived scattered among the civilian population. Mosby required proof from any volunteer that he had not deserted from the regular service, and only about 10% of his men had served previously in the Confederate Army.

John Singleton Mosby did not fit the part of the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy. He was a rather slim, spare man who would not attract much attention in a crowd. A native Virginian, he was born on December 6, 1933 in Powhatan County into an old family of English origin.

John S. MosbyMosby’s family moved to Albemarle County near Charlottesville in 1840 where he attended elementary and secondary school. He entered the University of Virginia in 1949 where he took Classical Studies. In his third year he was involved in a duel with a notorious bully who he bested. However, he was arrested, tried and convicted two serious felonies. Sentenced to a prison term he used the time wisely by studying the law.

Mosby was pardoned on December 23, 1853 by the governor. He continued his law studies and was admitted to the bar. In 1857 he married Pauline Clarke in Nashville, Tennessee. The couple settled in Bristol, Virginia which was close to the bride’s hometown in Kentucky.

Mosby expressed opinions that were opposed to secession but joined the Confederate Army as a private at the start of the war. He initially served in the Washington Mounted Rifles under William “Grumble” Jones. Jones was instructed to enlarge the unit by Confederate authorities. He did as instructed and the unit was renamed the Virginia Volunteers with two mounted companies and eight companies of infantry. He did not like the lack of congeniality in the enlarged unit and asked for a transfer. It was denied. The unit participated in the Battle of First Manassas.

J.E.B. Stuart realized Mosby’s skill at gathering intelligence, promoted him to first lieutenant and him assigned him to his scouts. He was with Stuart during the famous “Ride Around the Union Army” during the Peninsula campaign. At one point he was captured by Federal cavalry and imprisoned in the Old Capital Prison in Washington for ten days. He was exchanged after a brief ten-day incarceration.

Mosby impressed Robert E. Lee by personally reporting his observations from a brief stopover at Fort Monroe while he was being transferred to Washington. He had observed the movement of Ambrose Burnside’s troops by ship up to Northern Virginia to reinforce John Pope’s army there.

In January 1863 Stuart, seconded by Lee, instructed Mosby to form the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Known variously as Mosby’s Command, Mosby’s Rangers and Mosby’s Raiders, they carried out a combination of reconnaissance missions, raids to Union supply lines and Union headquarters.

Mosby became famous for carrying out a daring raid far behind enemy lines at Fairfax Courthouse in March 1863. In a nighttime action he ledMosby's Raid in Fairfax, Virginia 29 of his men and captured Union Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton, two captains, 30 enlisted men and 58 horses. All without firing a single shot.

By September 1864 he had been wounded twice but had quickly returned to duty. Mosby’s rangers were causing severe disruption to the Federal supply lines and Lt. Gen. Ulysses Grant ordered Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan,“When any of Mosby’s men are caught, hang them without trial.”

Subsequently, seven of Mosby’s men were hung by the Union army. In retaliation, Mosby ordered 7 captured Union soldiers to be hung in Rectortown, Virginia on November 6, 1864. Eventually, 3 men were hung. The others either escaped or were wounded after being shot and survived.

Mosby sent a personal letter to Sheridan pointing out the fact that he had captured and released far more Federal soldiers than they had lost. Sheridan and the Union army complied and no more prisoners were executed by either side.

John S. Mosby by Matthew BradyHe took a near-mortal wound on December 21, 1864 when he was hit in the abdomen by a soldier of the 13th New York Cavalry while eating dinner at Rector’s Crossroads, Virginia. He recovered and returned to duty in about two months.

On April 21, 1865 Mosby simply disbanded his unit after Lee’s surrender. Some of his men obtained paroles from the Federal army but Mosby and several of his men set out to join the remaining Confederate army of Joseph E. Johnston. They read about Johnston’s surrender in a newspaper.

Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock had put a $5000 reward on him but he eluded capture until General Grant intervened and issued him a parole. Mosby’s war had finally come to an end.

After the war this most partisan of Confederates became a Republican and supported Ulysses Grant for the Presidency. Grant thought highly of him commenting, “Since the close of the war, I have come to know Colonel Mosby personally and somewhat intimately. He is a different man entirely from what I supposed. He is able and thoroughly honest and truthful.”

Mosby suffered greatly for his support of Grant. He was threatened, his boyhood home was burned downed and he was nearly assassinated. Grant appreciated his support and appointed him as the U.S. Consul to Hong Kong from 1878 to 1885. After that he worked as a lawyer for the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco followed by positions in the Departments of the Interior and Justice.

John Singleton Mosby did not approve of slavery but nevertheless he fought for the South for four long years. He explained why in a 1907 letter.  “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery—a soldier fights for his country—right or wrong—he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in … The South was my country.”

The Gray Ghost died on May 30, 1916 in Washington, D.C. He is buried in his beloved Virginia at Warrenton, Fauquier County in the middle of what is today officially known as the Mosby Heritage Area. The Gray Ghost will be remembered forever in the hearts of all Virginians, especially those who live in what is known as Mosby’s Confederacy.

I live about two miles from Mosby’s boyhood home and the sites of his schools in Albemarle County, Virginia. Although not a native Virginian, I am proud to say that I live in Mosby’s Confederacy.


John Hunt Morgan and Morgan’s Raiders

John Hunt MorganJohn Hunt Morgan and his unit skirted the dividing line between the regular army and partisan rangers. At times they were part of the Confederate States Army as their service at the Battle of Shiloh would indicate. At other times they served as raiders whose goal was to bring Kentucky into the Confederacy and damage the Union war effort.

Morgan was born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1825. Among his ancestors was John Wesley, Hunt an early founder of Lexington, Kentucky, and one of the first millionaires west of the Allegheny Mountains. After his father’s pharmacy went into bankruptcy, the Morgans moved to Lexington where his father managed one of his father-in-law’s sprawling farms.

In 1846 Morgan joined the United States Army during the Mexican War where he rose to the rank of second lieutenant. After the war he entered the business world and married. But after his wife’s leg was amputated, he lost interest in his marriage.

In 1852, he formed a local militia artillery unit but it was disbanded by the state legislature in 1854. In 1857, Morgan raised an independent infantry company known as the “Lexington Rifles,” and spent much of his free time drilling his men.

Like many other Kentuckians, Morgan was opposed to secession and was willing to give Abraham Lincoln. Morgan was a slaveowner and was known to have hired out his slaves or sold them. He wrote to his younger brother Tom:

 Our State will not I hope secede[. I] have no doubt but Lincoln will make a good President at least we ought to give him a fair trial & then if he commits some overt act all the South will be a unit.

But by the middle of 1861 Morgan had decided to take his militia unit across the border to Tennessee and join the Confederate States Army. Morgan soon raised the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment and became its colonel on April 4, 1862. He led his unit at the Battle of Shiloh where it is listed as a squadron and Morgan as a captain.

On July 4, 1862, Morgan began his first raid through Kentucky. He led almost 900 men and over a three week period they swept through Kentucky, deep in the rear of Major General Don Carlos Buell‘s army. He reported the capture of 1,200 Federal soldiers, whom he paroled, acquired several hundred horses, and destroyed massive quantities of supplies.

His raid was the primary reason for the Confederate Heartland Offensive led by Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith later that fall. They assumed that tens of thousands of Kentuckians would enlist in the Confederate Army if they invaded the state. However, Kentuckians didn’t respond and the campaign was a failure.

Morgan was promoted to brigadier general, effective December 14, 1862. In December and January he raided Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans’ rear area supply lines causing considerable damage for which he received the thanks of the Confederate Congress on May 1, 1863.

By the middle of 1863, the Confederates were conducting the defense of Vicksburg and the invasion of Pennsylvania. Morgan planned the most ambitious raid of his career in an effort to divert Union attention from the two other operations.

The raid would ultimately cover 1,000 miles from Tennessee, up through Kentucky, into Indiana and on to southern Ohio. This would be the farthest north any uniformed Confederate troops penetrated during the war. Morgan led 2,460 handpicked Confederate cavalrymen, along with 4 artillery pieces.

The raid began on June 11th and lasted until July 26th. It began in Sparta, Tennessee and proceeded into Kentucky where the goal was to draw off the Army of the Ohio from attacking any Southern forces in the state. At the same time, the hope was that Southern sympathizers would join the Confederate cause.

Morgan’s ride through Kentucky included a number of minor engagements with some small successes. At Lebanon, his younger brother Thomas was killed during the final charge. He captured and paroled hundreds of Union prisoners.

Morgan had been expressly forbidden to cross the Ohio River into Indiana by General Braxton Bragg. By July 8th, Morgan met up with his advance scout who had already crossed into Indiana at Brandenburg, Kentucky. Here, he seized two steamboats and ferried his now reduced 1,800 men across to Indiana.

News of Morgan’s invasion spread fast and the local militias began to coalesce. While Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside organized the regular army to cut off Morgan’s retreat back into Kentucky, local home guards fought delaying actions across southern Indiana. Morgan’s Raiders caused a vast amount of property damage along the way.

In Dupont, Indiana the burned the warehouses and took 2,000 hams which they eventually discarded, leaving a trail for the Union Army yo follow. In Salem, they took possession of the town. His cavalrymen burned the large brick depot, along with all the railcars on the track and the railroad bridges on each side of town.

They left Indiana at Harrison but by now Union cavalry was on their trail. The Confederates entered Ohio on July 13, destroying bridges, railroads, and government stores. Morgan’s Raid spread terror across southern and central Ohio, and wild rumors persisted as to his destination. Harper’s Weekly, a leading Northern newspaper, reported:

The raid of the rebel Morgan into Indiana, which he seems to be pursuing with great boldness, has thoroughly aroused the people of that State and of Ohio to a sense of their danger. On 13th General Burnside declared martial law in Cincinnati, and in Covington and Newport on the Kentucky side. All business is suspended until further orders, and all citizens are required to organize in accordance with the direction of the State and municipal authorities. There is nothing definite as to Morgan’s whereabouts; but it is supposed that he will endeavor to move around the city of Cincinnati and cross the river between there and Maysville. The militia is concentrating, in obedience to the order of Governor Tod.

— Harper’s Weekly, July 25, 1863

Heading across southern Ohio with Union forces closing in on him, Morgan was finally corned on July 18th. The following morning his forces were defeated at Battle of Buffington Island in West Virginia. His force was severely diminished with 52 killed and 750 men captured, including his brother Col. Richard Morgan and noted cavalryman Col. Basil W. Duke.

Morgan attempted to cross 20 miles upriver but was again forced to turn back. However, Col. Adam “Stovepipe” Johnson and over 300 raiders did escape into West Virginia and safety. Turning north, he led his now dwindling force in several more engagements, losing yet more men. At this point he had about 400 men.

Eventually, he was corned once again and defeated at the Battle of Salineville. They were imprisoned in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus rather than to a prisoner-of-war camp. The general and six officers made a daring escape on November 27 by tunneling from an air shaft beneath their cells into the prison yard and scaling the walls.

Only two of Morgan’s men were recaptured, and he and the rest soon returned to the South. Morgan was killed less than a year later in Tennessee by a Union cavalryman after refusing to halt while attempting to escape.

During his daring raid, Morgan and his men captured and paroled about 6,000 Union soldiers and militia, destroyed 34 bridges, disrupted the railroads at more than 60 places, and diverted tens of thousands of troops from other duties. He spread terror throughout the region, and seized thousands of dollars worth of supplies, food, and other items from local stores, houses, and farms.

In Ohio alone, approximately 2,500 horses were stolen and nearly 4,375 homes and businesses were raided. Morgan’s Raid cost Ohio taxpayers nearly $600,000 in damages and over $200,000 in wages paid to the 49,357 Ohioans called up to man 587 companies of local militia.


White’s Battalion

Elijah V. WhiteWhite’s Battalion, more formerly known as the 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, was also known as White’s Rebels and White’s Comanches. It was formed in DEcember 1861 by Elijah V. White in Loudon County, Virginia. They were initially formed as border guards along the Potomac River to protect the area from Union incursions.

The units was made up of six companies of cavalry, five from Virginia and one from Maryland. It was never able to recruit enough manpower to reach the size of a full regiment.

Elijah Viers White, the unit’s commander, was born in Poolesville, Maryland in 1832. He migrated to Missouri to fight in the Kansas-Missouri border wars in 1855. His stay in the Midwest was brief because the following year he returned east and bought a farm in Loudon County near Leesburg.

White joined a Confederate cavalry unit at the start of the war where he soon rose to the rank of corporal. In June 1861 he joined Company C in Lt. Col. Turner Ashby‘s 7th Virginia Cavalry. After the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, during which he served as a scout, White was commissioned as a captain and given permission to raise a company for border service.

By March 1862 White had recruited enough men to form a battalion of cavalry. Although they were raised for local border service the unit also aided the commands of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill in Leesburg and Lt. Gen. Stonewall Jackson in Winchester.

When Hill’s command was evacuated from Leesburg to Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign, the 35th briefly joined the 2nd Virginia Cavalry based in Fauquier County, frequently raiding the Union garrisons in Loudoun, before being assigned to Jackson, where it took part in his famous Valley Campaign. In late 1862 the 35th was briefly put under the control of Maj. Gen. Jeb Stuart.

The unit served with the regular Confederate Army on and off during its history but was also involved in the bitter partisan warfare that took place in Loudon County throughout the war. On many occasions they were detached from the regular army to return home for remounts and recruits. While there they engaged in engagements against the pro-Union militia and partisan cavalry in the area.

Their best-known fight took place at Waterford, Virginia against their nemesis, the Loudon Rangers. On August 27, 1862 the two units with about 50 men each clashed in the pro-Union town. Eventually, the Rangers were forced to seek refuge in the Waterford Baptist Church. After a furious fight and with the Rangers out of ammunition, they surrendered. During the surrender a member of the Rebels, William Snoot, rushed into the church and attempted to kill his brother, Charles, who was serving with the Rangers, but was disarmed before accomplishing his task.

In the spring of 1863 J.E.B. Stuart began to collect the widely-scattered cavalry units that were spread across Virginia. The 35th Battalion was assigned to the brigade of William E. “Grumble” Jones. At the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9 it formed a key part of the defensive position near St. James Church early in the battle, helping to fend off a series of charges by Union cavalry. Later, the battalion made a key counterattack on Federal troops on Fleetwood Hill, helping stabilize the Confederate line.

The unit played an important role in the Confederate advance through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. White led a daring attack on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad depot at Point-of-Rocks, Maryland, in which he routed his old nemesis, the Loudoun Rangers, seized and burned supply wagons, and captured a trainload of supplies intended for the Union garrison at nearby Harpers Ferry.

After entering Pennsylvania on June 23, Ewell assigned the 35th to the division of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, which reached Gettysburg on June 26. White’s men routed Union militia and home guard cavalry near Marsh Creek and became the first Confederate troops to enter the borough.

The 35th was assigned by Early to accompany a separate expeditionary force under the command of Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon that departed Gettysburg forYork County, Pennsylvania, with a goal of capturing the town of York and seizing important Susquehanna River crossings. White’s battalion destroyed scores of railroad bridges and conducted a successful raid that seized the important railroad and telegraphic center at Hanover Junction.

Elements of the battalion were among the first Confederate troops to reach the Susquehanna at Wrightsville, Pennsylvania, on June 28, skirmishing with the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry before turning westward, where the 35th performed scouting and flank protection duty during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Following the Gettysburg campaign, the unit was reattached to the famous “Laurel Brigade” under the command of General “Grumble” Jones. They were involved in both the Mine Run and Bristoe campaigns in the latter half of 1863. By early 1864 they were back in Loudon County engaged once again in partisan warfare.

By May 1864 they were part of the Army of Northern Virginia’s battles during the Overland campaign. In September 1864, the 35th accompanied Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton on his famous Cattle raid, where they played a key role in driving off the Federal cattle guards and securing the cattle.

After the fall of Petersburg, the 35th Battalion was part of the Confederate rear guard in its retreat to Appomattox. Members of the unit served as couriers from General Lee to General Grant prior to the surrender of the the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lt. Colonel White and the 35th did not surrender with the rest of the army, but instead rode around enemy lines and returned to Loudoun County, where they disbanded.

After the war, White returned to Loudoun County a hero and resumed his farming operations. In 1866 he successfully ran for county sheriff. He served as President of Peoples National Bank of Leesburg for a time and also took over operation of Conrad’s Ferry, changing the name to White’s Ferry, which still operates today. White died January 11, 1907, and is buried in Union Cemetery in Leesburg.


McNeill’s Rangers

John Hanson McNeillEvery independent military force during the Civil War was founded and commanded by a strong leader. McNeill’s Rangers were no exception. Commissioned under the Partisan Ranger Act (1862) by the Confederate Congress, it was commanded by Captain John Hanson McNeill of western Virginia.

McNeill was born near Moorefield, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1848, he moved with his wife and four children to Boone County, Missouri where he operated a cattle business. 

In 1861, he formed and was named commander of a company in the Missouri State Guard, seeing action in BoonvilleCarthageWilson’s Creek, and Lexington. Although captured and imprisoned in St. Louis, he escaped on June 15, 1862, and made his way back to Virginia.

Making his way to Richmond, he asked for permission to form an independent unit that would operate in the western counties of Virginia in order to disrupt Union activities in the area. There was a virtual civil war within a civil war in this area, very similar to the fighting that was taking place in northern Virginia.

McNeill was granted permission on September 5, 1862 and was given command of Company E of the 18th Virginia Cavalry. The unit grew to a 210-man battalion when First Virginia Partisan Rangers (62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry) came under McNeill’s command.

Although McNeill’s Rangers exercised military discipline during their operations, many Union commanders considered them no better than bushwhackers,” not entitled to protection when captured, as was the case with other prisoners of war.

McNeill’s frequent raids on Piedmont, a town in Hampshire (now Mineral) County, West Virginia— and on Cumberland, Maryland — were aimed at disrupting the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad service. It is estimated that over 25,000 troops were diverted by Federal commanders to guard the B&O against McNeill’s force.

Piedmont, a small town at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains, was a frequent target due to its important machine shops and vast stores of railroad supplies. The main line of the B&O passed through a narrow valley at Piedmont. At the time, Piedmont was also the temporary seat of Hampshire County — Romney having been given up as the county seat because of repeated Confederate raids.

McNeill conducted a number of raids against the B&O Railroad before the successful Jones-Imboden Raid that took place in late April and early May 1863. McNeill proposed the plan for the raid. His plan was the destruction of an important bridge of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, which was vital to the Union supply lines through western Virginia.

McNeill’s idea was expanded into a two-prong attack. Gen. Jones was to attack the B&O between Grafton (West) Virginia and OaklandMaryland. Gen. Imboden would attack Union garrisons at BeverlyPhilippi, and Buckhannon. The object of the raid was to secure supplies, disrupt the B&O Railroad, raise recruits and, if possible, cripple the Unionist government in Wheeling.

The raid was extremely successful with a total of 7,000 troops tying down some 45,000 Union troops. In the final tally of the raid, it was estimated that about 30 of the enemy were killed and 700 prisoners taken. Some 400 new recruits were added, as well as a piece of artillery, 1,000 head of cattle, and some 1,200 horses. Sixteen bridges had been destroyed, an oil field, many boats and rolling rail stock.

Also in 1863, McNeill’s Rangers attacked Piedmont and caused great destruction to the railroad yards there.

The President of the B&O, John W. Garrett, reported on to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that “the extensive machine and carpenter shops of Piedmont have been burned. The engine and cars of the east-bound main train and two-tonnage trains have also been destroyed. Five other engines damaged. … The heat of the fire at the wreck of the trains at Bloomington had been too intense to permit much work, but during the night we expect to have the entire road again clear and train running regularly.”

Captain McNeill’s official report to James A. Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War, reads:” …We burned some seven large buildings filled with the finest machinery, engines, and railroad cars; burned nine railroad engines, some seventy-five or eighty burthern cars, two trains of cars heavily laden with commissary stores, and sent six engines with full head of steam toward New Creek. Captured the mail and mail train and 104 prisoners on the train. …”

McNeill’s Rangers continued their operations into 1864 not only conducting raids against Union Army facilities but also against pro-Union irregulars in West Virginia. Northern Pendleton County, in particular, was pro-Union and organized the “Pendleton Home Guards” which frequently confronted the roving Confederate bands.

John McNeill’s final action took place on October 3, 1864 when his unit attacked a detachment of the 8th Ohio Cavalry Regiment guarding a bridge at Meems Bottom near Mount Jackson, Virginia. Although it was a victory for his forces, he was severely wounded in the predawn raid. He was taken first to the Reverend Anders Rude home nearby, then moved to Hill’s Hotel in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

He died there on November 10, 1864. He was first buried in Harrisonburg with full Military and Masonic honors. Several months later his Rangers returned his body to Hardy County for reinterment. He is buried in Olivet Cemetery in Moorefield, West Virginia, next to the Monument to Confederate Dead, surrounded by the graves of other Confederate soldiers.

McNeill’s son, Jesse Cunningham McNeill, took over command of the Rangers and continued the fight. On February 22, 1865, Jesse McNeill and 65 Rangers travelled 60 miles behind enemy lines to Cumberland, Maryland. Without being detected, they captured both Union Major GeneralGeorge Crook and Brig. Gen. Benjamin Kelley from their beds. They evaded pursuing Federal cavalry and delivered the captured generals to Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early who forwarded the prisoners to Richmond.



The Independent Loudon Virginia Rangers

Loudon RangersAcross the South during the Civil War there were a number of partisan units that fought for both sides. Usually, they were located on the fringes of the war in states like Virginia and Missouri.

The Independent Loudon Virginia Rangers was one such unit. Raised by Samuel C. Means, they were from Loudon County, Virginia. They have the distinction of being the only unit raised in present-day Virginia to serve in the Union Army. 

The unit was organized by Means to serve as scouts for the Union Army in the spring of 1862. Means was a gristmiller and businessman from Waterford, Virginia who had business interests both in northern Virginia and southern Maryland at Point of Rocks where he was a stationmaster for the B&O Railroad.

At the start of the war Confederate authorities attempted to convince him to use his mill for their war effort but he refused. Means was a Unionist and would have none of that. They then issued warrants seizing all his property and assets in Virginia, including 28 horses, 42 hogs, 2 wagons, all the flour and meal at his mill. He fled across the Potomac River on July 1, 1861 so as not to be taken into custody.

Union forces under General John Geary invaded Loudon County in March 1862 and Means accompanied them as a scout. As a reward for his services, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton commissioned him a captain with permission to raise a cavalry force for service in Loudon County and across the river in Maryland.

Northern Loudon County was strongly Unionist and became fertile ground for recruits. Means was able to recruit two companies from the Quaker and German farming communities in northern Loudon County. Means himself was a Quaker and many of his fellow Quakers joined units on both sides of the conflict. The Loudon Rangers was mustered into service on June 20, 1862.

Loudoun County was swarming with Confederates. It was the Loudoun Rangers’ job to make periodic raids to harass and capture them. To do so, the Rangers established camps on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. From there they made constant forays into Loudoun, Clarke and Jefferson counties.

Often the Rangers were merged into other commands and sent off to accompany the main army, fighting in such major battles as Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek and Monocacy, as well as in other engagements even farther from their native county. In fact, for Means’ men, the whole war was a constant struggle to maintain their unit’s independence.

At times the struggle in Loudon County devolved into brother against brother. The local Confederate partisan unit, Lt. Col. Elijah V. “Lige” White’s 35th Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, also known as “White’s Comanches.” were raised in the exact same area of the county. The rolls of both units included the same surnames. The following engagement illustrates the nature of the war in Loudon County.

The Rangers were sleeping in the Waterford Baptist Church when they were attacked by White’s men after midnight on August 27, 1862. Surrounded, the Rangers defended their position in the brick church until almost every man was wounded and ammunition was running low. When they surrendered, it was to relatives and to boys with whom they had gone to school.

One of White’s men, William Snoots, loudly insisted on the right to kill his prisoner, and it took several of his fellow Confederates to force him to accept the rules of civilized warfare. The prisoner was Loudoun Ranger Charles Snoots, his brother.

The Loudon Rangers were among the cavalry at Harpers Ferry when it was surrounded by the forces of Stonewall Jackson before the Battle of Antietam. Fortunately, they were able to escape with the rest of the Union cavalry before the surrender. If they had not they may have been hanged as traitors to Virginia. Means already had a price on his head courtesy of Virginia authorities.

The war the the partisan rangers on both sides fought was often on of ambush and counter-ambush. The Loudon Rangers fought most often against “White’s Comanches” and Mosby’s Rangers. Very often soldiers from both sides since they were locals clashed at social events, such as weddings, dances and other social events.

The Loudon Rangers were not as effective as a fighting force due to several reasons. First and foremost, they had next to no military training from the Union Army. Their only training came from one of their own, Charles A. Webster. He had taken that name because his father was a notorious Copperhead (anti-war Democrat). He was able to impart his military knowledge of cavalry drill, discipline and fighting techniques.

Their commander, Samuel C. Means, was not a skilled leader. He had no military background and had originally not wanted to take a stand. Means avoided joining the Union forces at first, he explained, because he had a brother serving in the Confederate Army and did not want to make trouble.

He was constantly at odds with Union Army authorities over the role and location of the unit in their home territory. Means eventually resigned when he was ordered to consolidate his unit with the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Although the ordered was rescinded by Stanton himself, Means had already resigned. He was replaced by Daniel Keyes.

The Loudon Rangers seemed to have a pronounced drinking problem, especially for a unit with so many Quakers. Operating on their home ground they seemed to know where the liquor was. They would pay visits to various local distilleries and cider mills in Loudoun County. If it was a Union sympathizer’s distillery and the liquor belonged to friends, it was drunk in friendship; if it was Confederate liquor, it was treated as spoils of war.

Finally, Union authorities had a deep suspicion of loyal Virginians. After all, many of them were related to the men on the other side. They were not loyal to their own state and for many on both sides it made them turncoats. Once they betrayed their loyalty, why couldn’t they do it again?

During the final years of the war the Rangers were attached to the Union army in the Shenandoah Valley and took part in the Valley Campaigns of 1864 under General Phillip Sheridan. As the war in the valley came to an end, the Rangers returned to their partisan role and were eventually effectively broken up in April 1865 when a detachment of Mosby’s Rangers raided their camp at Castleman’s Ferry and captured the better part of the command. The Rangers were officially mustered out of service the following month.




Breakthrough at Spotsylvania

Battle-of-SpotsylvaniaThe Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864) was the second engagement of Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. Over 31,000 men were killed, wounded, missing or captured during a battle that was considered inconclusive.

The Confederates had constructed an elaborate defensive position complete with earthworks fortifications, abatis, trenches and sharpened timber stakes. In al, the Confederate lines ran for more than four miles with over 50,000 defenders supported numerous artillery batteries.

The Confederate’s major weakness was the exposed salient known as the “Mule Shoe” extending more than a mile in front of the main trench line. This was to be a major area of contention with the Union Army attacking it on two occasions using a new tactical approach. The Union forces were able to attack this exposed position on three sides, subjecting the Southerners to a firestorm of artillery and small arms fire.

The Mule Shoe salient was packed with infantry and artillery which were able to repel conventional infantry attacks with extended lines of soldiers who were subjected to devastating canister fire from the artillery. Colonel Emory Upton came up with a better attack formation.

Emory Upton was a 24-year old West Point graduate who had started the war as a captain in the artillery. Realizing that the artillery was not the speediest path to promotion, Upton was appointed colonel of the 121st New York on October 23, 1862. He commanded this unit until he was promoted to brigade command before Gettysburg.

Upton was a tactical thinker and by 1864 he was pushing for the use of a new kind of tactical advance. Rather than extended lines of infantry spread out across the battlefield, he proposed a tactic wherein columns of massed infantry would swiftly assault a small part of the enemy line, without pausing to trade fire, and in doing so attempt to overwhelm the defenders and achieve a breakthrough.

He finally convinced his superiors to try this new tactic. He was given twelve regiments of about 5,000 men for an attempt to make a breakthrough at the Mule Shoe Salient. On the afternoon of May 19, 1864, Colonel Emory Upton led his brigade forward. Without stopping to fire they charged over the earthwork entrenchments and attacked with the bayonet before firing their muskets.

The attack penetrated to the middle of the salient but Upton was not supported. The Confederate counterattack forced them to retreat to their own lines having suffered at least 1,000 casualties. Two days later Upton was promoted to brigadier general. He had revolutionized infantry tactics for all time.

General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant was so impressed with the tactic that he ordered General George Meade to use an entire corps to attack the salient on May 12th. He told Meade to use Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps for the assault. Hancock had about 25,000 men in four divisions, commanded by Francis Barlow, David Birney, Gershom Mott and John Gibbon. Barlow and Birney led the attack, supported by Mott and Gibbon. Elements of the 6th Corps were also supporting the attack.

At 4:35 AM on May 12th the order to advance was given. Earlier Robert E. Lee had misinterpreted the movement of the Union forces as an attempt by them to slip away from his forces. After all, the Yankees had always withdrew from serious combat. Little did he know that Grant was prepared to fight him all summer: I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

Lee ordered his artillery in the salient to be withdrawn to be ready for a movement to the right. He was completely unaware, of course, that this was exactly the place Grant intended to attack.

Hancock’s men had been moved from the Union right to the area of the salient during the night and therefore had little practical knowledge of the area. It was a miserable night with torrential rain that precluded any view of the area. It was so dark that the attack was postponed from 4:00 to 4:35, when the rain stopped and was replaced by a thick mist.

The initial assault destroyed Jones’s Brigade, now commanded by Col. William Witcher. Confederate Major General Allegheny Johnson and Brig. Gen. George Steuart were captured by soldiers from Barlow’s Division. The Confederates were at a disadvantage because their powder was wet and they had to fight hand-to-hand.

There was one problem with the Union plan, no one had considered how to capitalize on the breakthrough. The 15,000 infantrymen of Hancock’s II Corps had crowded into a narrow front about a half mile wide and soon lost all unit cohesion, becoming little more than an armed mob.

As the Confederates began to react to the crisis on their front, both sides fed more troops into the maelstrom of combat. The heaviest fighting to place at the “Bloody Angle.” Thousands of men on both sides battled in the mud and the rain. Meanwhile, assaults that were supposed to draw off Confederate troops from Hancock’s attack failed. At one point Grant authorized Meade to relieve Corps Commander G.K. Warren, replacing him with Meade’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys.

At 4:00 AM on May 13th exhausted Confederates were ordered to fall back 500 yards to a newly constructed line. The fighting had gone on for 24 hours with little to show for it. The devastation was overwhelming. An example of this can be found in the Smithsonian Museum of American History: a 22-inch stump of an oak tree at the Bloody Angle that was completely severed by rifle fire. There was a frenzy to the carnage on both sides. (I have personally seen this example of the fighting and can attest to the above fact.)

“Nothing can describe the confusion, the savage, blood-curdling yells, the murderous faces, the awful curses, and the grisly horror of the melee.” May 12th was the most intensive day of fighting during the battle, with Union casualties of about 9,000, Confederate 8,000; the Confederate losses included about 3,000 prisoners captured in the Mule Shoe.

In the days following the grand assault Grant ordered Meade to circle his army around the Confederate right. Eventually, both armies ended up facing each other with Grant to the East and Lee to the West. Their orientation was totally opposite their previous one.



July Fourth during the Civil War

Fourth of July at Fortress Monroe

During the American Civil War July 4th was celebrated by both sides with different meanings. Each side saw Independence Day from a different perspective.

In the North it was a reminder to the citizens about what their soldiers were fighting for and to the heritage of their young nation. Union soldiers celebrated with parades, reviews and artillery salutes.

On July 4th 1862, Sgt. Thomas D. Christie of the 1st Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery wrote a letter home to Minnesota. His letter was written in Corinth, Mississippi, where is unit was stationed. 

We have had a celebration here today that has convinced the citizens at least that we have not forgotten the Birthday of our Nation. The Batteries of our Division fired a National Salute of 34 guns at noon amid the cheers of the assembled Infantry.

The Confederates connected to their “founding fathers” and separated themselves from a government that they did not agree with. The Southern sentiment was made known in the Richmond Examiner in July of 1861. The Examiner wrote an article on how the South could celebrate July 4th.

We are happy to see many proofs in our Confederate exchanges, that the 4th of July is to be generally observed throughout the Southern Confederacy. We are glad of this because of the association of the day itself, and of the grand event of which it is the anniversary. Let us never forget that when our fathers were oppressed, and when expostulation and remonstrance and warning proved vain, they manfully assumed a separate existence, and boldly drew their trusty swords to make their independence good. It is well for their sons ever and anon to read the bright record anew, and drink in the spirit of those virtuous and heroic days.

The Fourth of July of 1863 would begin an association between two generals whose careers would become intertwined until the end of the war: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

Lee who led the Army of Northern Virginia, an army that he thought was invincible, would be defeated by George Meade and the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg. Lee’s army would be bled white after a catastrophic charge on the Third Day of the battle. Retreating to his native Virginia, Lee would fend of Meade’s army until the following spring.

Ulysses S. Grant was a rising star in the Western Theater who commanded the Army of the Tennessee. In May 1863 he began to maneuver around the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi seeking to cut off its supplies. After a series of maneuvers and battles he succeeded in putting the city under siege. Eventually, the Confederate commander General John C. Pemberton surrendered his 33,000-man army on July 4th, 1863.

Grant became the hero of the hour and by the following he was named overall commander of all Union armies. From May 1864 until April 1865 the two master generals bloodied the Virginia landscape until Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Four bloody years of war ended after three July Fourth celebrations.

 The city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the Fourth of July again until 1907, a 43-year hiatus.


The Civil War is still with us

America vs AmericaWilliam Faulkner wrote in Requiem for a Nun:  “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” For those who think that the Civil War was over some 149 years ago, need to look around and listen to political commentators and the federal laws that still exist.

Most recently, Mississippian Chris McDaniels was described by the New York Times as a Tea-Party tinged candidate with Confederate tendencies. All because he once spoke to a Sons of Confederate Veterans group. Does that make those of us who belong to Civil War Roundtables warmongers who yearn for the 19th century?

Are Civil War re-enactors in the same category? Are they all yearning for the cotton fields back home? I think not. We are simply people who see the study of the Civil War as an opportunity to understand what happened in America 150 years ago and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

It is only in the last year that the Supreme Court has found that parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were no longer necessary despite howls of opposition from the left who wished to keep the states of the old Confederacy under their thumb.

Those on the left in American politics see all of this as an opportunity to frighten African-Americans, low-information voters and others into believing that we have been saving our Dixie cups because the South will rise again. The only thing that will rise will be our ire as the left tries to change an America that we love.

The American Civil War forever divided history in the United States. Everything before 1860 was Act I. After Act I ended in 1865, a new act began for the United States. However you want to divide the following 150 years everything before was forever changed.

Slavery and the massive distortion that it caused to our national life was wiped out. Yes, remnants of slavery remained. Sharecropping, Jim Crow Laws and segregation were practices that have taken over 100 years to erase from our national life. It’s been a long road from Appomattox to today.

Along the way there have been many martyrs, black and white, who fought and died for full and complete freedom. Lynchings, murders and assassinations took place along a bloody road to freedom for all. And never once did the oppressed refuse to defend their country. Maybe because they believed in the promise of the United States.

We’ll never be a perfect society. There are those who don’t like black people and there are black people who don’t like white people. That’s just the way it is. But if we keep working at it the scars and pain of a war that took over 700,000 lives will gradually recede. All that will remain is the pride in ancestors who fought for something that they believed in.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in his book The Passing of the Armies said it the best:

Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? 


The Union Recruitment System: The First Call to Arms

NY Mounted Rifles Recruiting PosterThe Civil War was the first American war that utilized mass enlistments in the hundreds of thousands. Previous American wars had utilized a small federal force that was supplemented by state militia forces. The Union Army started in a similar fashion but as the war grew the armies expanded to unprecedented sizes.

On April 12, 1861 Fort Sumter was fired upon. The following day Major Robert Anderson, the fort’s commander, surrendered and withdrew his small force by sea. On the 15th President Lincoln, in the absence of Congress, called for 75,000 volunteers to serve three months.

Some observers wonder why he called for such a small number for such a short time. In the case of the Union government, the numbers and length of service were all that was allowed absent an act of Congress according to the Militia Act of 1795.

The original call for volunteers covered the entire country, even the Southern states who had not yet seceded from the Union. Secretary of War Simon Cameron’s call to arms read in part:

The quota to each state is as follows: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, one regiment each; New York 17 regiments; Pennsylvania, 15 regiments; Ohio, 13; New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, four regiments each; Illinois and Indiana, six regiments each; Virginia, three regiments. It is ordered that each regiment shall consist of an aggregate of officers and men of 1,780 men.

In April 1861 the Regular Army of the United States of America consisted of approximately 16,000 officers and soldiers organized into ten regiments of infantry, four of artillery, two of cavalry, two of dragoons, and one of mounted rifles. These regiments were mostly posted in small forts of company-sized detachments, the majority posted West of the Mississippi River.

Several Southern governors reacted against the call:

Governor Isham Harris of Tennessee stated in a telegram to Lincoln, “Tennessee will furnish not a single man for the purpose of coercion, but fifty thousand if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers.”

Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky declared that they would not send volunteers to a Northern army intent on subjugating their Southern brethren.

Governor John Letcher of Virginia, whose state had been requested to furnish three regiments totalling 2,340 men and officers, had stated in the past his intent for his state to remain neutral. He replied to Lincoln that since the latter had “chosen to inaugurate civil war, he would be sent no troops from the Old Dominion.”

Governor Henry Rector of Arkansas stated, “The people of this Commonwealth are freemen, not slaves, and will defend to the last extremity their honor, lives, and property, against Northern mendacity and usurpation.”

In May, Lincoln called for an additional 42,000 volunteers. On May 3 President Lincoln issued a further call for United States Volunteers to serve three years, with regiments to be organized by the state governments, unless sooner discharged. He increased the regular US army by 22,714 men and called for 42,034 more volunteers to enlist for three years. In July 1861, the U.S. Congress sanctioned Lincoln’s acts and authorized 500,000 additional volunteers.


The Personal Costs of Destructive War

NY State monument at AntietamWe all know the costs of destructive war in the abstract: up to 750,000 dead, millions wounded, homes and farms destroyed, a way of life forever changed. But what about the personal costs of destructive war?

During the course of the American Civil War the nation as a whole lost tens of thousands of potential leaders on the battlefield or in military hospitals. From general officers down to privates their loss would be felt throughout the growing nation for decades to come.

Leaders tend to lead from the front and the front is the most dangerous place on the battlefield. It stands to reason, therefore, that leaders suffered the most casualties and the facts bear this out.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was wounded six times in the service to the Union. On June 18, at Rives’ Salient, Chamberlain was shot through the right hip and groin, the bullet exiting his left hip. Despite the injury, Chamberlain withdrew his sword and stuck it into the ground in order to keep himself upright to dissuade the growing resolve for retreat.

He told his aide that he did not want his men to see him fall. He stood upright for several minutes until he collapsed and lay unconscious from loss of blood. The wound was considered mortal by the division’s surgeon, who predicted he would perish. Fortunately for Maine and the nation he survived and was elected to the governorship of Maine four times.

John Brown Gordon was wounded eight times in the service of the Confederacy. Yet, he survived to lead troops until the surrender at Appomattox Court House where he surrendered the Confederate infantry to Chamberlain who ordered his troops to salute their defeated foe. He returned to Georgia where he was elected to both the U.S. Senate and the governorship of Georgia.

But how many potential leaders did not come home? Isaac E. Avery was mortally wounded leading his brigade at Culp’s Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg. Unable to speak from his mortal wound and with his right hand useless from the paralysis, Avery with his left hand scribbled a simple note and gave it to Tate. It said: “Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy. I. E. Avery.” Colonel Avery was 34 at the time of his death.

Or Stephen Dodson Ramseur who was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek on October 20, 1864. The 27-year old Confederate major general died the next morning at Belle Grove, the Union headquarters, surrounded by his West Point classmates who all wore blue.

Then we have the classmates who manned artillery on either side: Maj. John Pelham and Capt. Alonzo Cushing. Pelham, the 24-year old Alabaman, was killed on March 17, 1863 near Culpeper, Virginia. His classmate died commanding his battery at the stone wall at Gettysburg while firing on George Pickett’s advancing waves. He was 22 at the time of his death.

We have the great cavalier, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart who was Lee’s ‘eyes and ears’ until his mortal wounding at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. Stuart died in Richmond the next day. He was 31 years of age.

Union Maj. Gen John Sedgwick was killed by a sharpshooter at Spotsylvania Court House after opining: They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance. The corps commander was killed instantly.

Union General John Buford who selected the ground on which the Battle of Gettysburg was fought died prematurely on December 16, 1863 possibly from typhoid. After his death at 37, this poem was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

No more to follow his daring form
Or see him dash through the battle’s storm
No more with him to ride down the foe
And behold his falchion’s crushing blow
Nor hear his voice, like a rushing blast
As rider and steed went charging past … Buford is dead!

For every Isaac Avery, J.E.B. Stuart or John Buford, there were thousands who’s lives were snuffed out in the holocaust of war. Every life is important. But lives must be weighed in the balance. Were they thrown away or did these men die for a reason? Each of us must make that decision on their own.
I remember seeing a monument at Antietam that had inscribed on it: To our brave sons who died here. It still gets an emotional response from me.