The following is a series of articles written by Jennifer Wilt that appeared in The Doddridge Independent
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers
September 20, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
This weekend marks the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Fisher’s Hill near Strasburg, Virginia, which took place on September 22, 1864. To better understand the role that Doddridge County’s Company A, 14th Infantry played in that battle, and other battles in the Shenandoah Valley, I recently attended Civil War Days in Winchester, Virginia. This was a fascinating three-day event in which highly knowledgeable NPS park rangers conducted guided tours of the various battlefields located in the Shenandoah Valley.
Visiting those battlefields, standing on the very ground that our Doddridge County ancestors fought on, gave me a much greater appreciation for the conditions and dangers they faced. By sharing with you what I learned there, I hope that you will gain a similar appreciation of Company A and its courageous service in the Valley Campaign of 1864. Many of the 100-plus in Company A made it back home alive, but at least 23 of them did not. I also want to acknowledge by name many of our soldiers in that Company who died, whether in battle or by disease.
Breadbasket of the Confederacy
The Shenandoah Valley stretches about 200 miles from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to Roanoke, Virginia. The large expansive valley is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west. During the Civil War it was referred to as the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy” because of the vast quantity of food it produced for the Southern armies.
From the outset of the war, the Shenandoah Valley had been a thorn in the Union's side. Rebel forces there were a constant threat to Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., all the while keeping Union forces from advancing on Richmond.
Confederate General Stonewall Jackson knew that whoever controlled the strategically located Shenandoah Valley would ultimately control all of Virginia, including the Confederate capital of Richmond. In the summer of 1862, Jackson led a masterful campaign that successfully repelled a Northern invasion of the Valley.
By 1864 General Jubal A. Early’s Southern army still maintained control over that section of Virginia. That summer Union General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the seasoned General Philip Sheridan to take command of the Army of the Shenandoah and drive the Confederate Army out of the Valley once and for all.
I will get to the Shenandoah Valley campaign soon, but first I want to tell you how our Doddridge men came to be there in the first place.
The 14th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment was comprised of ten companies of men who resided primarily in Doddridge, Marion, Monongalia, Ohio, Pleasants, Preston, Ritchie, Tyler, and Wood counties. Each Company had 100 soldiers, so a Regiment consisted of 1,000 men. Company A of the 14th Regiment consisted of 100 men almost exclusively from Doddridge County. Once a Regiment was formed, they would then be attached to a Brigade, then to a Division, then to a Corps, and finally to an Army. In order to research the history of a Regiment, it’s important to know which Army, Corps, Division and Brigade it was attached to at any given time. There were several Union Armies fighting in different theaters during the Civil War, but I will be focusing mainly on the Army of West Virginia and the VIII Corps. An Army could consist of up to 80,000 men in Regiments from several states spread out over a very large area, but my focus will be specifically on the service of the 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment.
All the companies that made up a Regiment during the Civil War typically traveled and fought together in the same general area. There were some instances when a company or various soldiers were on detached duty somewhere else, but for the most part Regiments stayed intact. That is important to remember because when I talk about the 14th Regiment, which includes Company A, I am talking about our Doddridge County soldiers. To view a list of the original 100 soldiers of Company A, and those who joined that unit throughout the war to replenish casualties and other losses, go to
Formed in West Union
In July 1862 one hundred men of what would later become Company A enlisted in West Union, Doddridge County, most likely at the courthouse. Much of the recruiting and organization was done by Chapman Johnson Stuart, who later became Lieutenant Colonel of the 14th Regiment. Two months later Company A joined the nine other companies of the 14th Regiment in Wheeling, where they were initially attached to the Railroad Department. They were soon sent to perform guard duty at Clarksburg and New Creek.
Company A experienced its first fatality on November 27, 1862 when David R. Finley from the Canton community died of typhoid fever in a Maryland hospital. According to the American Battlefield Trust, for every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease.
Then on January 19, 1863 Joseph N. Thomas from West Union died of typhoid fever at New Creek, Mineral County.
In March 1863 the 14th Regiment was attached to the 5th Brigade, 1st Division, 8th Army Corps. The various companies were assigned to guard duty in Clarksburg, New Creek, Romney and Petersburg.
On April 4, 1863 Chapman J. Stuart was discharged from service because of an “adverse report.” I do not know the circumstances surrounding his termination. George W. Taggart was then promoted to replace Stuart as Lieutenant Colonel of the 14th.
Battle of Greenland Gap
Company A, 14th Regiment saw their first real action at Greenland Gap, Mineral County, W.Va., on April 25, 1863 when Confederate General William “Grumble” Jones led a superior force of 1,500 men through the gap. Waiting for Jones and his troops were soldiers from Company A, 14th W.Va., and a company of the 23rd Illinois Infantry. The following is an excerpt from Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908) by Frederick H. Dyer. It describes the heroic actions of Company A’s Captain Jacob Smith, who was from the Nutters Fork community.
“Many of the company officers performed deeds of heroism that are worthy of record. Capt. Jacob Smith, of Co. A, is deserving a medal for gallantry in the following episode. In the spring of 1863, the captain with his company was ordered to Greenland Gap, W.Va., to reinforce a company of the 23rd Illinois Infantry. The two companies were stationed in two log houses at the cut. The Confederate General Jones, with his command, appeared on the scene. He charged the two companies, and was driven back. He charged again and again, but was as often driven away by the well-directed fire of the two companies, with considerable loss. Jones demanded the surrender. The Illinois captain, who ran short of ammunition, did surrender; he, being the senior officer, ordered Captain Smith to do likewise. But Captain Smith replied, “I have some ammunition left,” and continued to fight. Jones threatened to blow the house to fragments, but Smith was resolute and continued to fight. Under cover of the large chimney, the Confederates approached the house and set it on fire. Still Smith declined to surrender, nor did he until his last cartridge was gone, when the gallant captain and his men left the burning building, now half consumed, stacked arms and gave themselves up as prisoners.”
In that battle, Riley G. Davis of New Milton was shot through the bowels with a musket ball. He later died at a hospital near Greenland Gap. At least 29 men from Company A were captured by the Confederates that day, but were later paroled at City Point, Virginia, a delivery point where paroled prisoners were exchanged.
A Puzzling Death
On May 15, 1864 Pvt. James H. Dennison of New Milton, age 25, died at New Creek, but there is a discrepancy as to the cause and circumstance of his death. According to military documents, James died of typhoid fever at a Regimental hospital. But according to his Lieutenant, Dennison died because of negligent medical care.
In an 1866 deposition, Lt. Elijah Wade testified that on November 15, 1862, James Dennison complained of one of his knees hurting him. Wade took Dennison to the surgeon, but was told that nothing was wrong with him and ordered him back to duty. Dennison remained in pain all winter, sometimes able to perform his duties and other times confined to his tent. Wade took Dennison back to the surgeon on May 1, 1863 because he was still complaining about the pain in his knee. He could move about only with the aid of a cane. Wade took him to the surgeon several times, but was always refused treatment on the grounds that there was nothing wrong with Dennison. Finally the surgeon threatened to report Wade for punishment if he brought Dennison back in for another examination, and Dennison was ordered back to duty. Wade did not make him report for duty, but instead took him back to his tent. Dennison died about 36 hours later. Lt. Wade said that James H. Dennison did not die in the hospital as reported, but rather died in his tent, having received no medical treatment.
On June 15, 1863 James M. Nicholson, also from New Milton, died of disease at Convalescent Camp near Alexandria, Virginia after being released as a POW on May 15, 1863. Nicholson had been captured at Greenland Gap.
More Casualties for Company A
By the summer of 1863, the war had been going on for over two years. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had won a couple of major battles and was making his way further north. However, shortly after the death of Stonewall Jackson in May 1863, things started looking up for the North. Many believe that the Union's victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 marked the turning point in the war. But it was far from over, as Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry, continued to fight and suffer casualties of various sorts.
On August 27, 1863, 7th Corporal John J. Allen died of typhoid fever at his home in McClellan District while on medical furlough.
On September 30, 1863 James S. Smith, brother of Captain Jacob Smith, died of dysentery at Romney, Hampshire County, W.Va.
On November 16, 1863 Rebels attacked a wagon train in Burlington, Mineral County, W. Va. At least two Union soldiers were killed in that skirmish. Benjamin S. Brown from Central District in Doddridge County was wounded there and discharged from duty because of disability. The following entry appears in his military records, "disability because of depression of right side of chest result of G.S. [gunshot] fracture received in battle." Benjamin died January 9, 1867. His wife was awarded a widow’s pension, but it’s unclear whether his death was a result of his battle wound.
Wagon Train Attacked
In December 1863, the 14th Regiment was attached to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division of the Army of West Virginia. On January 1, 1864 a portion of that Army was guarding a wagon train between New Creek and Petersburg when they were attacked by Rebels. An article in the January 8, 1864 issue of The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer described the ensuing skirmish:
"THE TRAIN captured by the rebels the other day between New Creek and Petersburg was guarded by one hundred and fifty men… The rebels rushed down from the hillside woods like an avalanche, and the escort fell back to an elevation and contested the possession of mules with what energy they could, but were finally compelled to yield to superior force, and a large proportion of them were doubtless captured. and are now on their way to Richmond. ...
"The result of the rebel attack was the capture of a splendid transportation train and seventy-five men."
Among those captured and taken prisoner to Richmond was 23-year-old Corporal William Willis from near New Milton. William died less than three months later, on March 14, 1864. His military records state that he died of disease while in the hands of the Rebels.
There is much more to tell, but I must now leave you here in January 1864. Next week I will pick up with the Battle of Lynchburg and Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, as the 14th Regiment gets ready to enter the battlefields of the Shenandoah Valley. But not all went according to plan, as a number of our soldiers were captured by the Rebels and sent to the horrors of the notorious Andersonville Prison, from which some were destined not to return.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 2
September 27, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
This week I continue my story about Doddridge County’s Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry and their service in the Civil War. Using excerpts from Regimental field notes, from service records on file at the National Archives, and from diaries of men in other units who served alongside our Company A soldiers, I will attempt to paint a picture of the heroic deeds of our Doddridge County soldiers.
Backtracking just a bit to the Battle of Greenland Gap (Mineral County, W.Va.), which I described for you last week, I want to share with you a diary entry that contains a dramatic account of a perilous situation involving Company A. The focus was actually on one particular soldier, John R. Bogard, who later died at Andersonville Prison and has many descendants still living in Doddridge County.
Close Call for John R. Bogard
On April 25, 1863 a contingent from Company A, with their Captain Jacob Smith of Nutters Fork, was holed up in a log cabin in Mineral County trying to fight off a superior Confederate force. A fire set by the Rebels eventually forced the contingent to abandon the cabin and surrender. The following excerpt from the diary of Pvt. Jesse Tyler Sturm of Company H, 14th W.Va. Infantry, tells of an incident that occurred as Company A was fleeing the cabin:
"There was a man in Smith's company, John Bogard by name, who was noted for his courage and impulsive disposition. John was the first man to emerge from the smoke and fire to surrender. As he reached the door, gasping for breath, he was met by a rebel soldier who addressed him thus, ‘Give me that gun you blank blank son of a blank,’ when Bogard said, ‘Well, take it, blank blank you,’ and threw the gun with all his might into the rebel’s face, killing him instantly. The act was seen by no one on account of the smoke.
“When General Jones went to receive the surrender, he refused to receive them as prisoners unless Captain Smith produced the identical man that had killed his soldier after the surrender. This Captain Smith could not do, and Bogard would not give himself away, and as most of the guns were thrown back into the fire, the man could not be identified by the gun lying in the churchyard. An unforeseen circumstance came to their relief, however. Jones had been foiled in his attempt to surprise Mulligan and would not dare to attack him. Therefore he had to change his plan. He was now compelled to move rapidly if he succeeded at all, and he, being Cavalry, could not move his infantry prisoners with his command, and he had no men to spare to take them a long distance to the rear and was thus compelled to parole them. Thus Bogard escaped a very close call."
Bogard may have avoided certain summary execution, but he was still sent to Richmond, Virginia as a POW. He was paroled a few weeks later at a prisoner exchange and returned to his unit.
Court Martial of Simon Cumberledge
Last week I left off in January 1864 when Company A was overrun while guarding a wagon train between New Creek and Petersburg. One Company A soldier who was not at that wagon train was Simon Cumberledge, about whom I found an entry describing his court martial trial on January 26, 1864. This brought to mind a November 1863 entry in Flavius Josephus Ashburn’s diary that I shared with you a few months ago. Flavius said in his diary:
“I received a letter from Amaziah stating that Simon Cumberledge had got intoxicated and shot a man and killed him and that he was then in the guard house in Petersburg awaiting his trial. And he requested George Cumberledge to come out there and aid him in procuring his release if possible.”
All I was able to glean from Ashburn’s diary was that he and George were not successful in freeing Simon. I knew nothing beyond that. Finding this court martial entry in his service records answered most of my questions.
“...he [Simon Cumberledge] was arraigned before a Genl. C.M. [General Court Martial] which convened at Petersburg, W.Va., Jan 25, 1864 and tried for 'murder.' Specifications in this that ××× did on or about Nov 10, 1863, in Hardy Co. W.Va. willfully shoot, kill and murder George Reed a citizen of said County: found not guilty of murder, but guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to be confined in some military prison for the term of one year and to forfeit all pay for and during his term of confinement. ... the military prison at Wheeling, W.Va. being designated as the place of confinement, where he was received May 2, 1864. He rejoined his company from confinement May 4, 1865.”
That prison sentence marked the end of Simon Cumberledge’s participation in the Civil War.
Jacob Smith’s Field Notes
Field notes may be described as a military officer’s official diary, providing valuable details of a unit’s day-to-day activities, and giving us a feel for what was done between battles. The following are from the field notes of Company A’s Captain Jacob Smith for March-April 1864. Camp Piatt was located in Kanawha County at Belle, about 15 miles south of Charleston.
“Camp Piatt, West Virginia
April 2, 1864 marched from Burlington, West Virginia to New Creek, West Virginia, a distance of 14 miles. Same evening proceeded by railroad to Webster, West Virginia, distance of 84 miles. April 21st proceeded by railroad to Parkersburg, West Virginia, distance of 100 miles. April 22nd proceeded by steamboat down the Ohio River and up Kanawha River to Camp Piatt, West Virginia, distance of 144 miles.”
On April 17, 1864, Eastburn Davis died in Webster County from an axe wound he received while building a shelter. Eastburn was from Doddridge County's Greenbrier community and was the brother of Riley G. Davis, who was killed in action at Greenland Gap a year earlier.
General Crook, VIII Corps
From the spring of 1864 until the close of the war, the 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment was under the command of General George Crook with the VIII Corps. Crook’s campaign was only one part of Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond. After participating in several skirmishes, the 14th Regiment was getting ready to face their first real battle of the Civil War in May 1864 at Cloyd’s Mountain in Pulaski County, Virginia.
The following is taken from Captain Jacob Smith’s May-June 1864 field notes:
“Marched from Camp Piatt, West Virginia April 30th through to Virginia & Tennessee Railroad and whipped the enemy at Dublin Depot. Burnt the railroad bridge across New River (900 feet long) and marched to Meadow Bluff, West Virginia, distance of 254 miles in 19 days. ..."
The phrase “whipped the enemy” is a very understated synopsis of a bloody battle of hand-to-hand combat that ultimately took the lives of several of Captain Smith’s men.
Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain
On May 1, 1864 the 2nd Brigade, to which the 14th was attached, marched from Fayetteville to Princeton and pushed a contingent of Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge’s army towards Dublin Station in Pulaski, Virginia. From the diary of Jesse Tyler Sturm, Co H, 14th W.Va. Infantry:
"We were called upon to make the hardest days march we ever made. We were very heavily loaded, heavier than ever we were after that. We were carrying full camp and cooking outfit, 100 rounds of ammunition, extra suit of clothes, including shoes, and three days rations."
The 2nd Brigade was placed on the mountain to the left of the gap. Company H’s Sturm writes:
"While we were lying in a hollow in the woods and our skirmishers out in front in a heavy skirmish with the enemy we heard footsteps in our rear and saw Gen. Crook's adjutant general approaching our Colonel [Daniel D. Johnson], and these words are ringing in my ears yet: ‘Colonel, the General directs that you move your regiment forward and open the ball; you shall have support.’ We all rose to our feet, our hearts in our throats, and were ordered 'Forward.' We soon reached our skirmish line and there lay a man I knew belonging to Company A breathing his last. The regiment went forward in splendid style and soon received a withering fire from the enemy's works, but it never checked us for a moment and we were soon right up to the breastworks."
The efforts of the 2nd Brigade on the left and Rutherford B. Hayes’ 1st Brigade on the right allowed the 3rd Brigade to sweep down through the gap and collectively defeat the Rebels. So, as Jacob Smith said, they did whip the enemy, but not without heavy casualties.
The man who Sturm saw “breathing his last” was most likely Grove Tucker from Doddridge County, who died that day from wounds received in battle. Less than two weeks later James O. Duckworth from Greenwood and Richard Weekley from Tyler County died from their wounds. Company H’s Sturm goes on to say:
"On the 10th of May we spent in destroying property. We burned acres of cordwood, 9 miles of railroad track and burned vast supplies stored in the warehouses. ... Ammunition was getting low and rations still lower and having accomplished the object of the expedition we turned back toward our base of supplies. The rebels with a brigade in our front impeded our march as much as possible by cutting timber in our road, etc. etc. The roads became almost impassable from heavy rains, and streams were out of banks. The smaller streams were crossed by one means or another, but when we came to Greenbrier, a formidable stream, we were compelled to camp several days waiting for it to recede. We finally had to throw down some buildings and build a boat to cross the men and wagons. The horses and mules we undertook to swim across, partially succeeding as to the horses, but nearly all the mules were drowned, leaving barely enough to haul our empty wagons to Meadow Bluff, where we got rations and went into camp for a two-week rest and to accumulate rations for expedition into East Virginia with Lynchburg as our objective."
At least fourteen soldiers from Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry, were captured by the Confederates at Cloyd’s Mountain and sent to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. As prisoners of war they endured the most hellish of conditions, from exposure to starvation to disease. John R. Bogard, Uriah B. Duckworth, John Hutson, George M. Morris and John Weekly died at Andersonville Prison from starvation and disease between July and September 1864. All five soldiers are buried at Andersonville National Cemetery.
One Andersonville survivor, Amaziah Ashburn, was a physician and a brother of minister Flavius Josephus Ashburn of Piggin Run. The following is a transcription of the eulogy that Amaziah Ashburn delivered in Andersonville Prison in September 1864 for his friend and fellow soldier, George M. Morris. Amaziah also acknowledges three other of his Doddridge County comrades who lost their lives at Andersonville.
“To see my best friend, my most beloved prison companion dying in this torturous manner --- dying from the effects of literal starvation, with its intense misery aggravated by the annoyance of swarms of flies and mosquitoes preying upon his sun-blistered flesh until the skin was sloughing in places from his body --- dying a prisoner in an enemy’s land, without a relative near to lend a helping hand, speak a comforting word or shed a sympathizing tear; no mother to smooth his dying pillow…
“John Hutson also passed triumphantly into the eternal bliss of the great beyond. U. B. [Uriah] Duckworth suffered untold agonies, but abiding steadfastly in the faith, until the summoner announced to him, ‘It is enough, come up higher.’
“John Weekley winged his flight to the paradise of God, having exemplified his unwavering faith and trust to the last moment.
“Since these holy men of God have gone from labor to reward, a lonely pallor seems to rest on this gloomy prison, and it appears as though we shall never smile again."
With heavy losses at Cloyd's Mountain in May 1864, Company A limped back to camp to prepare themselves for the battles that still lay ahead. Next week I’ll tell you about Doddridge County’s heroic contributions to the battles at Lynchburg and Fisher’s Hill and a grueling expedition that left our boys of the 14th Regiment on the brink of starvation.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 3
October 4, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
Last week I left off on May 9, 1864 at the Union’s victory at Cloyd’s Mountain in Pulaski, Virginia. What remained of Co. A, 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment and the rest of Gen. Crook’s army fell back to their supply camp at Meadow Bluff in Greenbrier County. Here they awaited further orders from General Ulysses S. Grant. On May 30th they left Meadow Bluff enroute to Eastern Virginia.
Since I am now in the third week of my series about Doddridge County’s Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry, I want to remind you that I am reporting here only those events that Company A was involved in while under the higher command of Gen. Crook. I’ve drawn on many primary sources to piece their story together, and I will be quoting directly from many of them.
March into Eastern Virginia
By the time Company A left camp on May 30th, their ranks had been reduced from the original 100 recruits to fewer than 50 soldiers fit for service. Fifteen were sick in hospitals in Cumberland, Parkersburg and Charleston, fourteen had been captured at Cloyd’s Mountain and sent to Andersonville, one was a POW in South Carolina, four were either AWOL or had deserted, five had been discharged because of disability, one was on furlough (sick with diabetes), two were on detached duty as a nurse and in the Ambulance Corps at Charleston, one was imprisoned for manslaughter, and twelve were already dead.
Resupplied and rested, Gen. Crook and his men set out from camp, destination Staunton, Virginia. There they would join Gen. David Hunter’s army, which was approaching Staunton from a different direction.
As Hunter’s army was marching toward Staunton, they encountered a Rebel force near Piedmont in Augusta County, Virginia. Hunter sent word to Gen. Crook to come and reinforce him. When Crook received Hunter’s message, his men, including the 14th Regiment, were busy destroying several miles of railroad tracks at Jacksonborough, Va., in an attempt to disrupt Confederate communications and logistics. In his diary, Pvt. Jesse Tyler Sturm of Company H, 14th W.Va. Infantry, described their work as saboteurs: “We were having all sorts of fun heating rails and twisting them around trees.”
Although Gen. Crook’s army immediately left to reinforce Hunter’s unit, he met with significant setbacks along the way that prevented his troops from reaching Hunter in time to help. Hunter’s unit was engaged in what would come to be called the Battle of Piedmont. The date was June 5, 1864. A highly descriptive account of Crook’s logistical problems appeared in the July 15, 1864 issue of The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer:
“Gen. Crook would have been up on time to have rendered good service in the battle between Gen. Hunter and the rebel [William “Grumble”] Jones, but for the miserable, stinking, rotten condition of his transportation. Think of mules, one and two years of age, and colts four only, drawing wagons across ‘mountains without roads, and streams without fords,’ and do not wonder that Gen. Crook was not able to join Hunter in time to capture the whole rebel force under Jones; especially as he was delayed some eleven days at Meadow Bluff for the want even of sucking mules and colts to transport his supplies of provisions and ammunition.”
March on Lexington
After the Union’s victory at the Battle of Piedmont, Hunter and Crook’s armies met up in Staunton, where they were joined by Brigadier General William W. Averell’s cavalry unit. This combined force left Staunon on June 6th. Their journey to Lynchburg was later reported in the July 15, 1864 issue of The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer in an item submitted by an unidentified witness:
“On the 10th [June] the command left Staunton - General Crook's division taking the Lexington pike by way of Middlebrook, and come upon [Confederate] Gen. McCausland, commanding some 2,000 men, three miles out of town. The skirmishing was very heavy all day, but we marched 24 miles and camped at Brownsburg. We lost 3 killed and 6 wounded, the rebels losing more than three times as many. ...
“At 10 a.m. on June 11th, the command arrived opposite Lexington, having marched 12 miles since 5 o'clock. ...
“The rebels opened upon us in a spirited manner with both artillery and musketry, which continued for five hours without the least cessation. But when they observed that the 2nd brigade had succeeded in crossing the river on our right, some distance above the town, the rebels beat a hasty retreat, leaving everything in our hands. ...They burnt the bridge over North river on the pike, and fought us from the town, thinking, no doubt, that the ‘principles of civilized warfare’ would prevent us from ‘throwing shell and canister’ amongst them, but we ‘shot it to them’ upon the principles of good gunnery, smashing up their houses, breaking their bones, and driving them from their ‘own dunghills’ of which we took possession at 5 o'clock p.m., and went into camp in sight of Stonewall Jackson's tomb, at the head of which stood a pole stripped by traitors’ hands of the emblem of treason, as we entered the place.”
Virginia Military Institute
The next day, June 12th, Hunter and Crook’s men torched the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. Jesse Tyler Sturm describes the encounter in his diary:
“The rebel force and the cadets at the institute made a determined stand. It was almost certain death for any of our men to expose themselves owing to the accuracy of the fire of those cadets, who had measured the distance to every exposed position and with their long practice in the use of improved firearms, their aim was unerring. Gen. Hunter, by flank movement, compelled the enemy to evacuate and we took possession without a general battle. We gutted the military school, but did not destroy the building, although by all the rules of War we had a perfect right to, as they had made it a place of offense and defense.”
Battle of Lynchburg
The article in the July 15, 1864 issue of The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer goes on to tell us what happened after Crook’s army left Lexington and as they attempted to take Lynchburg.
“On the 16th [June], having ascertained that there was nothing serious to be apprehended from Breckinridge just then, we set out at 5 A.M. and arrived at Liberty [Virginia] at 10 o'clock, where we found three hospitals filled with Lee's sick and wounded. Here we pitched into the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, and tore up the track for 12 miles, piling the rails on and across the ties, and burning them when they were worth burning. We burnt a number of culverts and pieces of trestle work, besides several bridges, one of which was upwards of 700 feet long, and camped that night on Wilks' farm, eleven miles from Liberty, on the Fount road, in the direction of Lynchburg. This work of destruction was all done by Crook's division. The rebels destroyed the bridges on every road and built barricades without number, but on we moved.
“On the 17th at 5 o'clock Crook's division started, and travelling the Forrest road, came into the main road about 8 miles from Lynchburg precisely at 10:25, hated for the rear to come up. I must here remark, not altogether incidentally, that Crook has the faculty of marching troops more rapidly than any other general within my knowledge. On this march we burnt Forrest depot and committed some other acts of ‘vandalism’ perfectly monstrous in the minds of the rebs. Gen. Hunter came up at 3 p.m. and the command moved off within an hour after his arrival. Here we may say the fighting commenced, for the skirmishing was very heavy indeed. - Crook's division drew the enemy from point to point - from position to position, until he reached his ranks, and from there he was driven after a fierce resistance, leaving in our hands 4 pieces of artillery. But just while things were going along, night come upon us and thus Lynchburg, we all feel, was lost - for all night along the trains were coming in with reinforcements to the enemy, and next morning found us not confronted with 10 or 12 thousand men, made up of granddads and babies, and the mother of Grachi, but with an army of veterans from 30,000 to 40,000 strong.
“The next morning we fought them, but it was really in self defence. The day before our last rations were issued, our ammunition was getting scant. The enemy was reported to be missing on our flanks; our supplies were exhausted; and since the hour for the capture of Lynchburg had passed, and there being no equivalent for the risk of a battle with a very largely superior force, General Hunter and Crook thought it proper to retire.”
In his diary, Jesse Tyler Sturm paints a sobering picture of the retreat, reflecting in just a few words the grim effects of the defeat on his unit: "We loaded our empty wagon-train (having issued the last rations the night before) with wounded and established a hospital for the seriously hurt and started on our long retreat with a victorious enemy at our heels."
After the loss at Lynchburg, Hunter and Crook started their retreat back to basecamp as the enemy chased after them. Anticipating another attack, Gen. Crook’s men were sent to confront the enemy, but mercifully, the Confederates did not attack. The article from The Daily Wheeling Intelligencer reports this last non-engagement in the most heroic of terms:
"... Gen. Crook was again ordered to the most dangerous and responsible, but at the same time most honorable and complimentary position; he was sent to the front; proudly he went; more proudly and haughtily still his brave boys followed him. But the enemy made not his appearance.”
Although Company A lost no soldiers in the above skirmishes and battles, James H. Russell of New Milton was wounded at the Battle of Lynchburg. He was sent to a hospital in Charleston, where he quickly recovered. He was back with his unit by July to participate in upcoming battles.
And here I must close for now. I had hoped to get a little further in the story, but unfortunately I am out of space. Next week I will pick up at Crook’s retreat from Lynchburg and the grueling march that left his men exhausted and emaciated. Lurking ahead for them was the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, a hard-fought Union victory which would prove to be a fateful engagement for some of Company A’s Doddridge County soldiers.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 4
October 11, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
This week I pick up after the Civil War’s Battle of Lynchburg on June 18, 1864. Once again I will be relating only those events involving Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment, which was comprised almost exclusively of Doddridge County recruits. By the summer of 1864, as part of Gen. George Crook’s VIII Army Corps, the 14th Regiment was sent to the Shenandoah Valley with the mission to wipe out Gen. Jubal Early’s Confederate Army of the Valley. Early’s army had established the Shenandoah Valley as a base from which to run incursions into Washington D.C., Maryland and West Virginia.
Retreat from Lynchburg
After being defeated by the Confederates at Lynchburg, Gen. Crook and his army, including our men from Doddridge County, started their retreat to Meadow Bluff in Greenbrier County, W.Va. As they fled Lynchburg, with the enemy hot on their heels, their rations were extremely low. After many skirmishes with the rebels, the infantrymen under Crook reached Meadow Bluff, only to find that all the food and ammunition left there under the protection of a volunteer regiment had been stolen by the enemy. Exhausted and emaciated, they abandoned Meadow Bluff and marched 40 miles over mountainous terrain to Gauley Bridge, where they were fully re-supplied. From there they continued their march to Camp Piatt near Belle, W.Va., 15 miles south of Charleston.
The following is an excerpt from Col. Daniel D. Johnson’s Regimental Report, written on Christmas Day 1864 from Opequon Bridge in Winchester, Virginia, retelling the horrors of that grueling journey. Johnson was himself wounded at Opequon. After the war, he served in the West Virginia State Senate, representing Tyler County.
"We were now entering a barren mountainous country almost out of rations in forage and a very limited supply in the country through which we were to pass and we must travel nearly 200 miles before we could reach supplies. The command was without bread for eight days. The suffering endured from hunger and fatigue was intense, yet they bravely met the trial and marched almost continually day and night. There were many poor fellows who laid down by the roadside and died, but the 14th Regt lost none in this way."
Harassed by an Implacable Foe
Another account of the ordeal can be found in a July, 1864 issue of the Gallipolis Journal (Ohio), describing the “endurance, courage and heroism” of Crook’s infantry, of which Doddridge County’s Company A was a part:
“Gen. Crook left Meadow Bluff [for Lynchburg] with 180,000 rations, less than half the number he should have had. His men marched on foot over 200 miles, participated in several battles and skirmishes and finally when outnumbered at Lynchburg, started on their return, without any supplies whatever. Harrassed by an implacable foe, these brave and gallant men marched steadily forward night and day, without food or rest, under a burning sun, parched with thirst, half naked, many without tents or blankets until they reached the point whence they started a month previous.
“No description can give an adequate idea of the fatigue and suffering of these brave infantry regiments. Many dropped by the wayside from sheer exhaustion and starvation. The accounts furnished us by those who safely got through justify the belief that for terrible suffering from hunger, thirst and fatigue in marching so far on foot, the infantry engaged in this raid have earned a reputation for power of endurance, courage and heroism, unsurpassed in the annals of this war.”
Fourth of July at Pomeroy
On July 4th, the 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment, under the command of Col. Daniel D. Johnson’s 2nd Brigade, left Camp Piatt on a steamer headed for the Shenandoah Valley. The route was a circuitous one. They first traveled up the Kanawha River to Point Pleasant and Gallipolis, where the Kanawha empties into the Ohio River. From there they traveled, again by steamboat, up the Ohio River. Private Jesse Tyler Sturm of Co. H, 14th W.Va. Infantry, describes in his diary what they found upon reaching Pomeroy, Ohio:
"The city was in gala attire in honor of the nation's birthday. Buildings were decorated, flags flying and gaily dressed women and children crowded the wharf when they heard a regiment of soldiers had arrived. They brought chicken, pies, cakes, lemonade and all the goodies collected for their celebration dinner. This was an exhibition of patriotism and hospitality that we were entirely unused to. We were reluctant to have our old boat pull away from the wharf."
From Pomeroy they traveled up the Ohio River to Parkersburg, W.Va., where they boarded a train on the Northwestern Virginia Railroad and headed by rail to Clarksburg. That stretch of railroad is now known as the North Bend Rail Trail and passes directly through Doddridge County. I have to wonder what our boys from Company A were thinking as they were whisked by their homes and loved ones, after having experienced the horrors of war and not knowing what battles and privations lay ahead in the Confederate stronghold of the Shenandoah Valley.
Lomax Abandons Bunker Hill
The 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment left Clarksburg and proceeded by rail to Martinsburg in Berkeley County, W.Va., where on July 12, 1864 they joined the other brigades of Gen. Isaac H. Duval’s 2nd Division. However, Confederate Brig. Gen. Lunsford Lomax and his unit of mounted infantry kept them from advancing to Winchester.
Duval’s 2nd Division helped drive Lomax back to Bunker Hill, W.Va., where Lomax took command of a mill race and several buildings in the town. However, Union skirmishers flanked the mill race and the Confederates fled without a fight.
If the name Lunsford Lomax sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve written about him before (https://www.doddridgecountyheritageguild.com/jones-imboden-raid-in-doddridge-cou.) Then a Colonel, Lunsford Lomax with his men of the 11th Virginia Cavalry attacked Smithburg and West Union on May 6, 1863 during the Jones-Imboden raid on the Northwestern Virginia Railroad (later the B&O). That raid proved to be the only military engagement in Doddridge County throughout the Civil War.
Battle of Carter’s Farm
After leaving Bunker Hill on the Valley Turnpike, the 2nd Division marched south toward Stephenson’s Depot, Virginia. Once there they were confronted by Confederate Gen. Ramseur's Division, which had been encamped at a place called Carter’s Farm, also known as Rutherford’s Farm. Col. Daniel D. Johnson of the 14th Regiment explains the events of that day in his Regimental Report:
"On the 20th day of July we resumed the march [from Bunker Hill]. Arriving at Stephenson's Depot we found the enemy in our front. The Brigade was formed in line as follows, the 14th and 19th West Va. and 91st and 34th Ohio from right to left in the order named. When within 600 yards of the rebels we charged upon them, completely routing their whole force, capturing 4 pieces of artillery, 250 prisoners and about 1,000 stand of small arms. When it is remembered our little Brigade, Col. (now General) I. H. Duval commanding, only 1,350 men, and that the rebels Division opposed to us, commanded by the rebel General Ramseur, number 5,600 men, and that we charged upon them in their closer position, completely routing them. I think it will not be denied that this is one of the most brilliant victories of the war. ... We fell back that night two miles for water, the Cavalry holding the battlefield. The next morning we marched into Winchester."
In his diary, the 14th Regiment’s Jesse Tyler Sturm tells of the aftermath:
"In this battle our regiment had taken more prisoners than the regiment numbered before it went into battle. There were more dead rebels in front of my company than we numbered after the battle and that included two rebel generals, for be it remembered that Gen. Lilly died the next day. I saw him a few minutes before he died and sat under the same apple tree with him. He was waiting his turn to have his arm and leg amputated and when the surgeons did so he died."
Second Battle of Kernstown
After their victory at Carter’s Farm, the 2nd Division was sent to Winchester to meet up with the rest of Gen. Crook’s army. On July 24, 1864 Confederate Gen. Jubal Early left Strasburg, Virginia and moved his 14,000 troops toward Winchester, where he hoped to drive Gen. Crook's Union army out of the Shenandoah Valley. Crook had advanced on Winchester with 10,000 soldiers, putting his Army at a serious disadvantage.
After almost an hour of heavy fighting, the Union line collapsed under the might of the much larger Confederate force. Crook's army suffered approximately 1,200 casualties, while Early's had only 600.
Death of Lafayette Swiger
There is confusion in the records as to the exact location of the 14th Regiment during the battle. It appears that the various companies within the Regiment were split up prior to the engagement. The one thing we know for sure is that Company A’s Lafayette Swiger, a Doddridge native from Pike Fork, McClellan District, died during or in the immediate aftermath of the Second Battle of Kernstown. The following story, written by Dennis W. Kellison of Winchester, gives us the most plausible explanation of Swiger’s death. Kellison is a distant relative of Lafayette Swiger and has done an immense amount of research on him. Kellison writes:
“Sunday, July 24, 1864, dawned hot and sultry. As troops from the 14th West Virginia, part of Colonel Daniel Johnson’s brigade, prepared breakfast in camp on a piece of low ground in Winchester northwest of Bowers Hill, the sound of small arms fire rolled into the Union camp. Whether Private Swiger remained in camp or attended religious services offered by the regiment’s chaplain on the front portico of Willow Lawn near the Valley Pike is uncertain. Throughout the morning what first started as ragged small arms fire from the direction of Kernstown grew into a more consistent fire. Corporal Jesse Tyler Sturm, one of Swiger’s comrades in the 14th, wrote that ‘we heard ominous sounds in the direction of Kernstown… The battle was now plainly nearing us. We were listening to the sermon with one ear and to the battle with the other.’
“As Confederate general Jubal Early’s army forced General George Crook’s Army of West Virginia from the field at Kernstown that afternoon and pushed to the southern outskirts of Winchester, the 14th West Virginia was summoned, as one member of the regiment noted, ‘to cover the retreat of our army, who were rapidly giving way all along the line.’ The regiment, originally informed that it would be held in reserve because of the significant losses it suffered at the Battle of Rutherford’s [Carter’s] Farm four days previously, now along with the rest of Johnson’s brigade, had to slow Early’s onslaught. The effort ultimately proved futile. The 14th’s veterans, along with the rest of Crook’s command, retreated ‘first at a quick step, next on a double quick and then almost a run.’ During that retreat a Confederate bullet struck Swiger in the head and killed him....
“As Crook’s army retreated north toward Martinsburg, Private Swiger’s body remained on the field. More than likely his body was buried in a mass grave and perhaps later moved to the unknown section in the Winchester National Cemetery. But the final whereabouts of his remains can never be known for certain.”
Lafayette Swiger was Company A’s only fatality of the Kernstown engagement, but not its only casualty. Pvt. Lewis M. Dennison of New Milton’s Coldwater community was severely wounded in the neck by a musket ball while guarding the Union’s retreat from Kernstown. He was later able to return to duty and served for the remainder of the war.
Repercussions of Kernstown Defeat
The Confederate victory at Kernstown left Crook's army no choice but to flee the Shenandoah Valley, meaning that Gen. Jubal Early was once more free to march on Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.
President Abraham Lincoln was now more determined than ever to destroy Early’s Army of the Valley. He vowed to once more push the rebels from the Valley and lay waste to the Confederacy's fertile "bread basket." To this end, he put the entire Shenandoah Valley area, including Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry, under the command of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Next week we’ll rejoin our Doddridge boys at the first battle of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, the success of which was vital to the outcome of the war.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 5
October 18, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
Last week I left off with the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Kernstown on July 24, 1864. Union forces, including the 14th Regiment of which Doddridge County’s Company A was a part, immediately retreated toward Harpers Ferry, W.Va., allowing Confederate Brig. Gen. John McCausland’s troops to advance on Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Up to this point, civilians and towns had remained relatively safe from invading armies. There appeared to be a mutual understanding that cattle, food and supplies were fair game, but that local residents and their homes were not to be harmed or destroyed. Once in a while, an official’s home or holdings would be torched or ransacked, but never a wide-scale destruction of civilian property.
Burning of Chambersburg
But all that changed when McCausland, following Gen. Jubal Early’s orders, torched the entire town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania when its citizens could not pay his ransom of $500,000, or $100,000 in gold. According to Scott C. Patchen, author of Shenandoah Summer, 278 homes and businesses, 98 farm buildings and 173 outbuildings were consumed by flames. “The major part of Chambersburg - its chief wealth and business, its capital and elegance - were laid in ruins. Ten squares of buildings were burned and two thousand human beings were made homeless, and many of them penniless … from this disaster, the majority never recovered.”
McCausland’s troops proceeded on to Hancock, Maryland where they continued to harass civilians. They then marched to Cumberland, Maryland, where McCausland once more demanded a ransom from the residents. But before Cumberland could be torched, Union troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley won a tactical battle against the Confederates, saving the town of Cumberland. Through heavy skirmishing McCausland and his troops marched to Romney, W.Va. where they rested for a short while, then continued on to destroy portions of the B&O Railroad and bridges at New Creek in Mineral County. Here McCauland, once more defeated by Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Kelley, was forced to retreat to Moorefield. On August 7, 1864 at the Battle of Moorefield, Union troops under the command of Gen. William Averell forced McCausland and his men to fall back to Virginia.
Lincoln Desperate for Victory
Despite their eventual success against McCausland, at this point in the war, things were generally not going well for President Abraham Lincoln and the Union. With no recent Federal victories and feeling the sting of McCausland’s Confederate raids in Union territory, the war-weary North was losing confidence in Lincoln’s ability to win the war. Fearing he would not be re-elected, Lincoln and his commander of all Union armies, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, devised a three-pronged plan to destroy the Confederacy by decimating their economy and burning their fertile lands.
As part of the plan, Grant sent Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac to fight against Confederate Robert E. Lee's army in Richmond. Secondly, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was sent to attack the Confederate army of Tennessee at Georgia. And thirdly, Gen. Philip Sheridan’s army, of which Doddridge County's Company A was a part, was sent to destroy Jubal Early's Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley. This was essentially a so-called “scorched earth” strategy. As Grant told Sheridan, “if the war is to continue another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.”
Our Doddridge County soldiers of the 14th Regiment did not participate in the earlier fighting at New Creek or Moorefield. Instead they were marching as part of Gen. Crook’s 8th Army Corps enroute to the Shenandoah Valley. The 8th Army Corps joined forces with the 6th and 19th Army Corps, as well as three cavalry divisions, to form Gen. Philip Sheridan’s newly created 39,000-man Army of the Shenandoah. By early August 1864 Sheridan’s army and Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s army were both ensconced in the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley between Cedar Creek and Fisher’s Hill, near Winchester. Clearly, something had to give.
Skirmish on Massanutten Mountain
A prominent geographical feature looming over both armies was the Massanutten Mountain, rising almost 3,000 feet above the valley. The rebels had placed an observation point and signal station there that allowed them to follow the movements of both armies. The tactical advantage of controlling that location was attractive to the Union as well, who sought to secure it for their own use.
Col. Daniel D. Johnson of the 14th W.Va. Infantry documented their failed attempt to do so, writing in his Regimental report, "On the 15th day of August the 14th Regt. was ordered to assist in establishing a signal station on the top of Massanutten Mountain. They made the attempt and marched to the top of the mountain and skirmished heavily with the rebels, losing two killed and two wounded. The rebels being a strong force, the regiment was compelled to withdraw."
Doddridge County’s Company A, 14th Regiment, participated in this march up Massanutten Mountain. The following is an excerpt from the diary of Jesse Tyler Sturm, who served in Company H of the 14th Regiment:
"We got to the top of the mountain in rear of the enemy about 10 o'clock [am]; by that time our water was all gone. We formed our line of battle and moved forward, but soon encountered a heavy line of skirmishers which we drove back. ... It was soon discovered that the enemy far exceeded us in numbers and that it was not prudent to advance further. ... As we descended the mountain it was so steep in places that we had to hand the wounded from one set of men down to another. Finally after dark we reached a farmhouse at the mountain's base, where we dressed the wounds of the wounded and left them. We crossed the river and the men drank water and vomited and drank more and did the same thing over. About midnight we arrived at our camp more dead than alive. To this day I do not take a drink of water when I am right thirsty but my mind reverts back to Massanutten mountain... From the mountain top that day I saw a grand sight - two armies in repose. The rebel army occupied the plain north of Strasburg, while Sheridan's force lay just north of Cedar Creek."
Action at Halltown, Virginia
After the failed attempt to take Massanutten Mountain, Sheridan’s large army fell back to Harpers Ferry in Jefferson County, W.Va. Thanks to the diary of Jesse Tyler Sturm, we know exactly what our Doddridge County men of the 14th were doing at that time:
“We were enjoying this camp as only men can after our long hard marches in the heat and dust, when one day we heard the long roll beating. I happened to be not far away and when I reached camp the order was to be ready to march at a moment's notice. ... Heavy firing indicated that Early was bearing down upon us with his whole army. We took position in front of Charlestown and went to intrenching. ... night came on and firing died down, and when it was thoroughly dark we fell back and took a new position with Halltown on the battle line. ...
"The next day our brigade, commanded by Gen. Duval, was ordered out on a reconnaissance in force. I always dreaded them; they are generally the hardest kind of fights, with little honor attaching. We are expected to drive in the picket line and all advanced forces and make the enemy uncover his strength along our whole line. It is during this uncovering process we are apt to be roughly handled. We moved out by our left front. Our course lay through a heavy timber to within 500 yards of the enemies main works. ... When we struck the enemy they seemed completely surprised and did not make a strong resistance. We soon drove their skirmishers back and then opened furiously on the brigade. They could not stand it long and fell back to their main works.
“Now, as I said, here is where trouble comes in, in a reconnaissance in force. We had to develop the whole line and to do so had to move close enough to their works to draw their fire, and when they opened on us it was with so many guns that we suffered severely before we could get back out of range. As soon as their first cannon was fired the object of our reconnaissance was accomplished; but we could not let loose; hence I say I never learn to like them. ...”
That day, on August 26, 1864 at Halltown, Company A’s Arnold Childers Snider, 24, from New Milton, was shot through the calf of his left leg with a musket ball. Three days later he was transferred to the US General Hospital in Frederick, Maryland. On October 28 he was transferred to Mower US General Hospital at Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia. From there he was sent to a hospital in Parkersburg, W.Va., where he remained until the end of the war.
The intensity of the skirmishes on Massanutten Mountain, and the nature of the 14th’s retreat under fire, were described at length by Jesse Tyler Sturm. Unable to carry all their dead back down the mountain for proper burial, they instead placed several of them in crevices of rock and rolled other rocks over them. Jesse Tyler Sturm continues:
“The following day we spent in burying the dead, caring for the wounded and replenishing our ammunition. That day a detail came to our company for two picked men to serve in an independent company to operate against Mosby. The company was to be made up of two from each company until they had 100 men, to be placed under command of Captain [Richard] Blazer of the 91st Ohio."
Presumably two men were selected in this manner from Company A to join Captain Blazer's scouts, but I have been able to verify only one of them. Nineteen-year-old Solomon Williams from Doddridge County joined Blazer in his expedition to take down Confederate Ranger John S. Mosby’s men who were disrupting Sheridan’s supply line. I will be writing more about that later in this series.
Battle of Berryville
On September 3rd, Gen. Sheridan's army left Jefferson County, W.Va. on various roads enroute to Berryville, Virginia. The following article, appearing in the September 6, 1864 issue of The Baltimore Sun, describes what took place at Berryville. When reading this account, remember that our men of Company A, 14th Regiment, are under the command of General Crook.
“The infantry, consisting of Crook's command, the 6th and 19th Corps, broke camp at four o'clock yesterday morning and moved in three parallel columns towards Berryville. Crook's command was on the left, the 19th Corps in the center, and the 6th on the right.
“Crook's command reached Berryville first, about twelve o'clock in the morning, and rested in line of battle, with arms stacked, for a couple of hours, while pickets were being posted on the different roads leading from Berryville. The 23d Ohio was sent on the Snicker's Ferry road, and the 38th Ohio on the Winchester pike, running to the right from Berryville.
(Note: An advance outpost or guard for a large force was called a picket, their purpose being to provide reconnaissance and early warning. They formed a scattered line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance.)
“After the pickets were established about a mile from Berryville, Crook's command went into camp, and had just finished pitching their tents, which was about 4 o'clock, when heavy skirmishing was heard on the picket line. The whole command was rapidly turned out and formed, and moved to the support of the pickets, who had been driven from behind some entrenchments which they had occupied.
“The 36th Ohio and 9th [West] Virginia were formed, and engaged the enemy, driving them back out of the entrenchments. A desperate struggle now ensued, the rebels being determined, if possible, to regain possession of these entrenchments. With this object in view they massed two full divisions of their command, and hurled them with their accustomed ferocity against our gallant little band, who were supported by both Duval and Thoburn's divisions. They were handsomely repulsed every time they charged, the conflict lasting long after the sun had set, and artillery firing being kept up until nine o'clock. The whole army had been busily engaged all night, digging entrenchments and throwing up breastworks, and now occupy a very strong position.
“The whole of the fighting so far has been done by Crook's command, who captured fifty prisoners and a stand of colors [i.e., the flags carried by a military unit]. Our loss will be about three hundred killed and wounded, whilst that of the enemy is at least one-third greater.”
As morning dawned, the Confederates saw that Sheridan’s army was firmly entrenched, so they withdrew to the other side of Opequon Creek, resulting in a nominal victory for the Union.
Another Doddridge County soldier was wounded in battle on September 3, 1864, when Zadock Stout, age 33, of Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry, was shot in the head at the Battle of Berryville. His military records describe the wound as “GSW [gunshot wound] carrying away a small fragment of right temporal ridge.” Zadock Stout was sent to the US General Hospital in Baltimore, but returned to his unit sometime in November or December.
The Union victory at Berryville set the stage for the upcoming battles at Winchester, which marked the beginning of the end for Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s dwindling army, and which also was the setting of several more Doddridge casualties. That is where we’ll pick up again next week.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 6
October 25, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
Last week I left off at the nominal Union victory at Berryville, Virginia, on September 4, 1864. After that battle, Doddridge County's Co. A, 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment was left with only 42 soldiers. Over half of the original 100-man company were either dead, prisoners of war, on detached service elsewhere, or not present due to sickness or injury. After several losses to Jubal Early’s Confederate Army, things were finally looking up for Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah, of which Company A was a part.
Celebrating Berryville Victory
Their victory at Berryville boosted the Union’s spirits, as told in an article that appeared in the September 29, 1864 issue of the Rutland Weekly Herald (Vermont):
“Gen. Sheridan, justly elated with his conquest, rode along a portion of the lines, and was vociferously cheered. Gens. Wright, Crook and Emory met with like receptions. The soldiers threw up their hats and hugged each other in joy. The camp fires springing up as the army bivouacked for the night upon the plain, each had its group of shouting, laughing, talking men, congratulating each other over the events of the day. At distances upon the plain, an hour or so after nightfall, the bands of the army played the weary troops to sleep. The moon arose to this music, shedding its white radiance down upon the slumbers of the camps -- upon the sleepless torture of not a few wounded, mostly rebels, who still lay uncared for in the field.”
What struck me the most about this description was the joyful and upbeat picture it paints of the victorious Union camp, juxtaposed with the cold and heartless picture of the suffering enemy lying wounded and ignored nearby.
Rebecca Wright, Quaker Spy
Up to this point, Sheridan and Early had been playing it safe because neither general knew the true size of the other’s army. But according to Scott C. Patchan’s 2013 book The Last Battle of Winchester, Sheridan was able to learn Early’s troop strength from a highly unlikely source. Espionage was called into play when Sheridan employed the help of Rebecca Wright, a Quaker school teacher and abolitionist living in Winchester. Despite being a known Union sympathizer, Wright was still an active socialite in the area and entertained or nursed Confederate officials at her home.
On September 16, 1864 Sheridan sent Tom Laws, a freed black farmer who sold vegetables in Winchester, to deliver a message to Rebecca Wright. The message, wrapped in foil and hidden in his jaw, said:
“I learn from Major Gen. Crook that you are a loyal lady and still love the old flag. Can you inform me of the position of Early and his forces, the number of divisions in his army, and his probable or reported intentions? Have any more troops arrived from Richmond, or are any more coming or reported to be coming? I am very respectfully, you most obedient servant, P.H. Sheridan, Maj. Gen. Commanding. You can trust the bearer.”
Wright’s reply was specific and of great intelligence value: “...The division of Gen. Kershaw and Cutshaw's artillery, twelve guns and men, Gen. Anderson commanding, have been sent away, and no more are expected as they cannot be spared from Richmond. I do not know how the troops are situated, but the force is much smaller than represented."
That simple comunique set the stage for the bloodiest battle of the 1864 Valley Campaign. In describing that battle for you, I will be quoting directly from two primary sources: Col. Daniel D. Johnson’s Regimental Report and the diary of Pvt. Jesse Tyler Sturm of the 14th Regiment.
Preparation for Battle
Encamped at Winchester, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early's army consisted of four infantry divisions and two cavalry divisions, for a total of about 14,000 soldiers. Gen. Philip Sheridan had a much larger army of 39,000 soldiers, including our remaining forty-two Doddridge County men of the 14th Regiment. Having learned from Rebecca Wright that Early’s army was seriously reduced in size, Sheridan decided to strike at the Rebel army with his three infantry corps and cavalry divisions at Opequon Creek in Winchester.
Sheridan sent his 6th and 19th army corps across Opequon Creek on the morning of September 19, 1864. He held in reserve Gen. Crook’s 8th Army Corps, of which the 14th Regiment was a part. By noon that day, the 6th and 19th corps had been engaged in heavy battle with the Rebels and had made two unsuccessful attempts to cross the enemy’s line, so Sheridan ordered Crook’s army into battle.
Before the charge, according to Jesse Tyler Sturm, Gen. Crook ordered his soldiers, “Men, you are expected to do what the other corps have failed to do. You are expected to break the enemy's line. Let no man fall out of ranks to help a wounded man.”
Sturm continues: “On our march to the front we passed our hospital tents stretched in the Opequon Valley. A little further and we met an ambulance train with a load of wounded from the front and still farther met the 6th Corps as it was being shifted to the left. All the wounded who could get off of the field themselves were pouring through our lines in large numbers -- not at all an inspiring sight to men just going into battle.
The Battle Begins
“Our corps moved on in double time and formed line of battle on an open plain. Gen. Crook placed himself in front of his corps in [at] about 100 yards in advance and on foot. He commanded ‘Forward march!’ with his own voice, a thing that I had never heard before and which seldom occurs. As we advanced, the enemy opened on us with 50 cannon. They were on slightly higher ground than we and as we moved rapidly they kept losing their range. … We had now got close enough to charge and the order was given "Go for the battery!" ... With a yell and a rush we sprang forward…”
With the 8th Corps charging furiously, the enemy fell back to behind their main line.
Sturm describes the chaotic scene: “We could now plainly see the rebel works and could also see the line of blue coats between us and the works. We took it that we were going to support them while they led the charge, but when we neared them we found them to be dead men of the 19th Corps. ...
“At the line of dead men our own men began to fall. We received such a withering fire as the 6th Corps had not withstood. We now remembered what was expected of us -- to do what the other corps had failed to do. With a cheer we leaped into the almost impenetrable smoke and did not hesitate a moment.”
At this charge, Col. George W. Taggart, now commanding the 14th Regiment, and Col. Daniel D. Johnson, now commanding the brigade, were shot and lay wounded on the battlefield. After a short advance, the Rebel field batteries opened fire on the 8th Corps, forcing them to lie behind their breastworks.
Sturm writes: “Our line began to crumble. Gen. Duval, who was dismounted, seeing his lines giving way, came down the line on foot waving his sword and pleading with the men to stand their ground. It had a great deal to do with steadying the line, but the brave General only passed me about two rods when he was shot and badly wounded.”
Victory from Jaws of Defeat
Under a reorganized command, the 8th Corps continued to be gunned down by the enemy.
Sturm continues: "We were now begging our officers to let us charge the next line; anything was better than this torture. As our fire seemed to have no effect on the enemy and our ammunition was low, we were each begging the other to stand by us in the charge, which we knew would now soon come, and not to stop to help us if we fell. The welcome word soon came to ‘Charge.’ We were up and off in an instant and in two minutes were over their works and the enemy again in retreat. We were surprised at the ease with which we took those works…. The rebel army was now entering the city [Winchester] on its retreat.
“..Our brigade was the first to enter the town and as we did so our band struck up their music amid the ripping of bullets. I had never known such a thing before and I will venture the assertion that few soldiers have. The brigade marched up the street in columns, the band at the head..”
Another Perspective of Battle
This being the end of Pvt. Jesse Tyler Sturm’s description of the battle, I now want to share with you another version contained in Col. Daniel D. Johnson’s Regimental Report.
"On the morning of the 19th of September, the whole army moved upon the enemy, and Division moved direct to the point where the Winchester and Berryville pike crosses the Opequon Creek. We halted at the creek at 11 o'clock A.M. and remained here until 1 o'clock P.M. In the meantime the conflict was raging terribly in our front. At 1 P.M., Genl Crook's command was ordered to the front. Our Division formed line on the extreme right and advanced upon the enemy. We pushed forward through a storm of shell from the rebel Artillery, and as we came in range, the rebel line of Infantry opened upon us with terrible effect. Our lines returned the fire and pressed eagerly forward. We drove the enemy from their first line, but in crossing a marsh that lay between the contending lines, our lines were considerably broken. Yet we pressed them hotly, close up to their last line, and lay down until our last lines would gather sufficient strength to charge the rebels again. Here Col. D.D. Johnson commanding the Brigade and Lt. Col. George W. Taggart Comd'g the Reg't were both seriously wounded and were compelled to leave the field.
"Now was the crisis of the day, and the fortune of that bloody day depended on our ability to successfully charge that last line. The men who had been delayed in crossing the marsh coming up, Genl Crook ordered the attempt to be made. Our lines raised, and with a yell of defiance, rushed upon the rebel line, and the victory was ours.
"Thus ended the greatest battle that was ever fought in the Valley. In this engagement, the 14th behaved admirably, the troops displaying their accustomed valor, which had been tested on so many bloody fields. ..."
Among Sheridan’s casualties were four men from Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry.
Pvt. Abraham Thomas, age 31, from Greenwood, was killed in this battle. Abraham’s younger brother, Joseph, also had served in Company A, but died in April 1863 at New Creek from typhoid fever.
Pvt. Moses T. Frashure, age 27, from the Big Flint community, was shot in the hand with a musket ball, but still participated in later battles.
Corp. James M. R. Hovey, age 39, from West Union, and Pvt. James Richards, age 22, from Center Point, were also wounded in this engagement.
Opequon Creek Bloodiest Battle
This battle is known as the Third Battle of Winchester, or the Battle of Opequon Creek. According to the American Battlefield Trust, this battle was the bloodiest ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley, producing more casualties than the entire 1862 Valley Campaign. Sheridan lost 12 percent of his army with 5,000 of 39,000 soldiers killed, wounded and missing. Early suffered fewer casualties, but he lost 25 percent of his army.
In this battle, it was the 8th Corps that ultimately sealed the Union’s victory at Winchester. We can be proud that our 42 men from Doddridge County were part of that decisive engagement.
After their resounding victory at Opequon Creek, Sheridan’s army pitched camp a little south of Winchester. Down 5,000 men, Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah will now earnestly pursue the campaign to eradicate Early’s army from the Shenandoah Valley. Next week we’ll pick up at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill, where our West Virginia boys were called upon to make a pivotal maneuver that would secure the Union’s victory in the Valley.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 7
November 1, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
Last week we left off at the Union’s significant victory at the Third Battle of Winchester, also known as the Battle of Opequon Creek, on September 19, 1864. Soundly defeated, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early withdrew his army to Fisher's Hill south of Strasburg. Here a battle would take place in which our Doddridge County men of Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment, were destined to play a significant role. This battle consisted of many integral tactical maneuvers by Sheridan’s 6th and 19th Corps. But it was Gen. Crook’s 8th Corps, of which the 14th Regiment was a part, that played the most pivotal role of the entire battle. By this time, deaths, injuries and other factors had reduced our Company A from the original 100 down to about 35 war-weary soldiers.
Gibraltar of the Valley
Fisher's Hill was called the Gibraltar of the Valley because of its superior defensive position near Winchester at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. Fisher's Hill is located at a relatively narrow point between Little North Mountain on the west and the looming Massanutten Mountain on the east. The distance from mountain to mountain is approximately four miles, with Fisher’s Hill in the middle.
After heavy losses at the Third Battle of Winchester, Early’s Rebel force was down to only about 9,500 men. He did not have enough soldiers to adequately fortify the four miles of the valley that extended between the two mountains. With his army so thinly stretched, they were vulnerable to a flank attack.
Plan of Attack
Sheridan knew that Fisher’s Hill could be impervious to attack if Early had his soldiers positioned correctly. He also knew that a frontal attack could prove unsuccessful and would produce high casualties for his army. So he sent for his corps commanders to help him formulate a plan of attack.
The commanders of the 6th and 19th Corps suggested that they attack Early’s right line-of-defense near Massanutten Mountain. Gen. Crook thought that was a risky venture because the Rebels had a look-out and signal station on Massanutten Mountain that could track and report their every move. Crook suggested that his corps attack the Rebels’ far left line by climbing the steep and rugged Little North Mountain where they could approach the enemy's line at the base of the mountain under the cover of trees and darkness. Crook’s plan was backed by brigade commander Rutherford B. Hayes, future president of the United States.
Horatio G. Wright, commander of the 6th Corps, did not like that his unit would play only a supporting role while Crook’s 8th Corps made the decisive move. However, Sheridan’s final decision was that Gen. Crook’s army, formerly the Army of West Virginia, would lead the charge against Early’s left flank because Crook’s men were more suited to traversing rugged terrain and had already fought several mountainous battles.
Putting Plan into Action
On the night of September 20th, 1864, Crook started moving his men south toward Little North Mountain, all the while trying to stay out of sight of the signal station on Massanutten Mountain.
On September 21st and 22nd, Sheridan's 6th and 19th Corps moved to the north of Fisher's Hill and seized a piece of high ground. In an attempt to distract the enemy and keep them from discovering Crook's position, Union forces repeatedly probed Early's front line.
At 5:00 a.m. on September 22, 1864, Sheridan ordered Crook to move his men to a tree-covered position to the right-rear of the 6th Corps and Little North Mountain, where they arrived by mid-morning. At 11:30 Sheridan ordered the 19th Corps to press the enemy in front while Crook moved into position
By 4:00 p.m. Crook’s two divisions, one led by Joseph Thorburn and the other by Rutherford B. Hayes, were ready to charge Early’s left flank. The 14th Regiment was in the division commanded by Rutherford B. Hayes, with Company A on the front line of the formation.
14th Regiment Advances on Enemy
In his diary Jesse Tyler Sturm, a soldier in Company H of the 14th Regiment, describes Crook’s march to the base of Little North Mountain and the moments leading up to the attack:
"On the morning of the 20th we started up the valley on 'The secret march,' our corps bringing up the rear as we had the day before. The day's march was uneventful. The enemy had fallen back to Fisher's Hill. We were placed in camp in a heavy timber near Middletown and were not allowed to make light by night nor smoke by day, Sheridan intending to so conceal Crook as to deceive the enemy as to his whereabouts. There was many a little fire built and a blankets held over it to hide the light while the boys made their cup of coffee and quick little fires in daytime for the same purpose, all of which were against orders.
"We lay there all day on the 21st, but when night came we started south, and after crossing Cedar creek we wandered around all night, doing nothing and getting nowhere. Next morning we were not five miles from our camp of the day before, while we had not had a wink of sleep and no coffee, the men were all in a bad humor, indeed, … In the afternoon we were moved well over to the base of North Mountain, where we piled our knapsacks, formed a line of battle and moved through a dense thicket toward the enemy's works.
"Our progress was slow, for we kept a perfect line. We finally got through the thicket and came to the edge of an opening across which and not far away we could see the enemy's works. The heaviest abbatis [a defensive obstacle formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy.] I had ever seen stared us in the face. We had built some good ones ourselves, but nothing approaching these. We had the battle of three days before with its terrible death-list fresh in our memory and it looked like certain death to have to clear away that abbatis under close artillery and musketry fire and scale those works. ...
"Our shift to a position on the rebels' flank and on higher ground was so successfully executed that we were well within their lines when we were discovered by the enemy while we were in a slight opening in a thicket. They had to put the wheels on their gun carriages, but they soon got one section (two guns) to bear on us.
"Presently the joyful order came ‘Left face! Charge!’ We made a dive into a dense thicket between us and the foot of the mountain and the enemy's works a short distance below us. ..."
Crook’s army, including our Doddridge men, drove down on Early’s left flank at Fisher’s Hill so viciously that it immediately began to collapse. The Rebels started retreating south as Crook pushed further into Early’s center line. As Crook was attacking from the left, the 6th and 19 Corps were making a frontal assault. Early’s Confederate army could not withstand Sheridan’s coordinated attack, and they quickly started their chaotic retreat.
Tough as Nails
This past summer I had the opportunity to visit the Fisher’s Hill battlefield on a tour led by an interpretive park ranger. We went to the exact place in the woods where Crook made his attack. The battlefield is so well preserved that you can actually picture our men emerging from the woods, taking Early’s men by complete surprise because they never expected an attack from such a formidable position. In the words of the park ranger, “Sheridan chose the tough-as-nails West Virginia boys to make the attack.”
The following article in the October 11, 1864 issue of The Times (London, England) vividly describes the charge orchestrated by Crook. Reading between the lines, it also illustrates the key role played by our “tough-as-nails” boys.
“...The 8th Army Corps, under General Crook, was to move to the right towards North Mountain, the extreme left of the rebel line, and attack the rebel left flank, and, if possible, gain their rear. ...On Wednesday afternoon, about half-past 3 o'clock, Crook, after a rapid and difficult march, struck the rebel left flank, and threw one of his divisions in their rear. By a magnificent charge, the men cheering as they advanced on the double quick, the rebel left wing was driven in confusion on the centre, which at the same time was charged by the 6th and 19th Corps in front. This combined attack in front, flank, and rear was more than rebel flesh and blood could stand. Their left and centre became confused and disorganized, and the whole rebel army broke and ran, abandoning artillery, caissons, horses, small arms, in fact everything that could possibly impede them in their retreat. Their route was most complete. ...The rebels were evidently taken by surprise by the assault on their left, which they deemed impregnable to attack.”
Doddridge County Casualties
Twenty-five year old Pvt. Snoden S. Kinney from Nutters Fork was shot at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill. His military records state, “Severely wounded in back by fragment of shell." Kinney was sent to a hospital in Philadelphia where he quickly recovered and was back with his unit by November.
The Regimental Report of Col. Daniel D. Johnson underscores the success of the battle and identifies two other casualties: “Our army followed up the retreating enemy and on the 22nd fought the brilliant battle of Fisher’s Hill, in which the 14th bore a conspicuous part. In this fight, Lieut. Robt. N. Hess, Co H, was killed and Lt. Wm. P. Green, Co A, mortally wounded.”
Shot in the foot at the Battle of Fisher’s Hill was Lt. William P. Green, who had enlisted in West Union in 1862. As a result of this wound, his foot had to be amputated, but the amputation did not stop the infection. William died November 1, 1864 at the Regimental Hospital in Winchester, Virginia.
Five months before his death, on April 3, 1864, William P. Green wrote the following letter from Webster County to his mother in West Union:
My Dear Mother,
"I propose to drop you a few lines to inform you that I am still on the land and among the living and enjoying good health. I left Burlington, W.Va. on the morning of the 2nd and come to New Creek and from there on the Cass to Webster, this side of Grafton. I expect we will go to Beverly or some other place up in the mountains. I will write to you soon again.
I remain your devoted son,
Wm. P Greene, Lieut."
The following entry about William P. Green’s death is from the diary of teacher and minister Flavius Josephus Ashburn of Piggin Run:
“On Sunday the 6th [November] I attended the funeral services of Lieut. William Green. He died on the 1st day of this month from a wound received in battle and his body was embalmed and sent home to West Union. He was there placed in a highly finished coffin and conveyed to the meeting house while Bro. Lyon (a Methodist minister and Chaplain in the army) preached his funeral. After which amidst the outbursts of grief and mournful lamentations of his mother and other relations he was interred in the silent tomb.”
William P. Green’s “silent tomb” is located in the old Seventh Day Baptist section of Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. When the West Union chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic was formed by local veterans in February 1870, it was named in his honor.
The battle at Fisher’s Hill opened the door for Sheridan to carry out Ulysses S. Grant’s edict for “..the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.” Next week I will wrap up my series about Company A’s heroic actions and how their service impacted the outcome of the Civil War.
The Historic Trail of Our Civil War Soldiers - Part 8
November 8, 2019 issue of The Doddridge Independent
Last week I told you about the Battle of Fisher’s Hill and the Union’s victory there on September 22, 1864. From Fisher’s Hill, Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Union army, including the 14th Regiment, pursued the rebels sixty miles south to Harrisonburg, Virginia. Early’s Confederate army withdrew even further south, to Brown’s Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Union armies, knew that defeating the enemy on the battlefield alone would not end the war. They felt the quickest way to defeat the Confederate States was to declare war against its supporters — the men, women and children who contributed food, money and supplies to the rebel cause. To that end, Grant told his commanders to wage Total War on Confederate lands and people. Philip Sheridan and William T. Sherman’s armies were ordered to destroy Southern war-supporting industries, burn their barns, mills and farmland, and starve the residents into submission.
Sheridan stopped pursuing Early’s army at Harrisonburg, Virginia on September 25, 1864. From there, Sheridan ordered his army to systematically torch fields, barns and mills, and to slaughter all cattle and sheep they found. This Total War expedition, known as The Burning, left thousands of women, whose husbands were either dead or still serving in the Confederate army, with no food or means to provide for their families. There are stories of unnecessary cruelty to these defenseless women at the hands of Union soldiers. All the horrors of war were being visited upon the Shenandoah Valley.
While Sheridan’s cavalry was responsible for the burning, it was his infantrymen who did most of the slaughtering. The 14th Regiment would have been right there with them as they carried out Grant’s command to make the Shenandoah Valley a barren wasteland.
Sheridan reported to Gen. Grant, “In moving back to this point the whole country from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain has been made untenable for a rebel army. I have destroyed over two thousand barns filled with wheat, hay & farming implements, over seventy mills filled with flour & wheat, have driven in front of the army over 4,000 head of stock and have killed and issued to the troops not less than 3,000 sheep… Tomorrow I will continue the destruction of wheat, forage Etc., down to Fisher’s Hill. When this is completed the valley from Winchester up to Staunton, 92 miles, will have but little in it for man or beast."
Prior to visiting the Shenandoah Valley this summer, I had no idea that our soldiers were involved with anything so… what? Here I struggle to find the appropriate word. Was is “epic” since it hastened the end of the war? Or was is “barbaric” in all its cruelty? Maybe it was both.
The reason I was not aware of the 14th Regiment’s participation in The Burning is because the Captains and Regimental officers made no mention of it in their reports or field notes. Nor did some of the brigade and division commanders. Those omissions, given the great detail in which all else is described, speak volumes on how they felt about the acts they were ordered to commit. They were no different than McCausland who had been ordered by Jubal Early to burn Chambersburg.
In his field notes, Company A’s Captain Jacob Smith of Doddridge County simply said:
“Followed them up the valley and fought them again on the 22nd at Fishers Hill, still follow them up the Valley. Got to Harrisonburg on the 25th. Fell back to Cedar Creek..”
The Burning continued until early November when Sheridan's army returned north to Cedar Creek, Virginia. But while the Union army was busy destroying the Shenandoah Valley, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early's army was licking their wounds and receiving reinforcements from Gen. Robert E. Lee. “Old Jube” was not going to surrender the Valley as quickly as Sheridan had hoped.
Battle of Cedar Creek
Once Sheridan’s army was encamped at Cedar Creek, he sent his 2nd Brigade, including the 14th Regiment, on a reconnaissance mission. Pvt. Jesse Tyler Sturm of Co H, 14th Regiment, writes in his diary:
“We continued our march without further molestation to Cedar Creek, where on the 13th of October our brigade was called out to make one of those dreaded reconnaissances in force, Col. Coats of the 91st Ohio in command. We were marching in column along a ridge near Cedar Creek when the Colonel halted the brigade and he and his staff rode up the hill and with their field-glasses were looking at some rebel officers who seemed to be busy passing between a low hill and a piece of woodland. Presently we saw three white puffs of smoke belch from that timber, and knowing so well what it meant, we lost no time in dropping off of that ridge to lower ground, and none too soon, for they had the exact range and their shells, which were quickly followed by three others, raked the hill where we had been standing a moment before. Company G, Capt. Reitz's company, sought refuge in a depression just to my left. One of the shells struck and burst in their midst, killing and wounding sixteen men. The general threw his men in line of battle and thrust out a heavy skirmish line and fighting continued until nightfall, when we fell back to our camp fully satisfied that Early's whole army was in our midst.”
Although Sheridan knew that Early’s army was once more in the area, he did not feel that his own army was in any immediate danger, so he left Cedar Creek for a brief War Meeting in Washington. During the pre-dawn hours of November 19th, with the returning Sheridan still ten miles away in Winchester, Early attacked the Union army while most were still asleep in their tents. Among those in their tents that morning were the infantry units of Gen. Crook’s 8th Corps, including our Doddridge County men of Co A, 14th Regiment. Taken by surprise, the 8th Corps was forced to flee and abandon their camp. Sturm writes of this attack in his diary:
“There was more or less heavy fighting until the 19th, when early the next day we heard a small volley out on our right front where the first division of our corps lay. Soon the firing became a continuous roar. We sprang from our beds and threw our clothes on, caught up our guns, and without orders ran for the parade ground where we formed line, realizing that it was a battle, as the enemy was pushing into our camp and pouring a deadly fire into our ranks. The whole division was in action in the time I am writing this and Gordon's three lines of battle were beating against us.”
During the morning hours the Rebels forced the Union troops back over three miles. When Sheridan reached Winchester on his return trip from Washington, he heard the battle taking place and rushed on horseback toward Cedar Creek. He encountered his retreating army along the way and ordered them to return and form a counterattack. On the brink of defeat, but once more under the command of their capable leader, Sheridan's Army of the Shenandoah turned back toward Cedar Creek and completely routed Early's Confederate army. There are reports that Early’s army was so easily defeated because his men, still starved from having little food on their journey back to Cedar Creek, had stopped at the Union’s abandoned camps to eat their food.
Col. Daniel D. Johnson of the 14th Regiment wrote this perspective of the battle in his Regimental Report:
“...On the 19th day of October, the rebels attacked the left wing of our army (Genl Crook's command) at daylight and drove our lines back some three or four miles, where the rebels were checked. Our lines were reformed and attacked the rebels, drove them across the creek and completely routed their whole force, making very heavy captures in artillery and prisoners. The 14th West Va. bore a gallant part in this action, losing (28) twenty-eight in killed and wounded.”
Sheridan lost about 5,500 of his 31,000 men at Cedar Creek, while Early lost just 3,000 of his 22,000 men. But nearly all of Early's artillery was captured.
The Battle of Cedar Creek was the last major battle fought between Philip Sheridan and Jubal Early. The Confederate army was never able to organize a serious attack again in the Shenandoah Valley. Later that month, Union Gen. William T. Sherman followed Sheridan’s lead and burned his way through Georgia on his infamous March to the Sea.
Pvt. James Welch from West Union was captured at the Battle of Cedar Creek. He was first sent to Richmond, Virginia and then to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. In February 1865, because of overcrowding at the prison, James was among 1,420 prisoners that were transferred back to Richmond. On March 10, 1865 James was paroled in a prisoner exchange at Cox’s Wharf, near Richmond, and sent home to Doddridge County with advanced typhoid fever and suffering from starvation and exposure.
On April 1, 1865 Dr. Samuel Walker was called upon to attend James at his home in West Union. Dr. Walker later attested that he found James “in the last stage of typhoid fever presenting a picture of the most squalid wretchedness” and that “there was then no hope for his life.” James Welch died three days later on April 4, 1865 and is buried in the same cemetery as Lt. William P. Green, on Blockhouse Hill in West Union.
Twenty-year-old Pvt. Eli F. Davis from New Milton was wounded at Cedar Creek and taken to a hospital in Winchester, where he died on November 11, 1864.
The 14th Regiment was not involved in any more major expeditions after their service in the Shenandoah Valley. They continued on with their mission of guarding the B&O Railroad until the end of the Civil War.
Capt. Blazer’s Scouts
I made mention in Part 5 of this series about several men from Gen. Crook’s army being chosen to join Capt. Richard Blazer’s mounted scouts. Capt. Blazer had hand-picked 100 of Sheridan’s best men to fight John S. Mosby’s guerilla forces in northern Virginia. Mosby, also known as the Gray Ghost, repeatedly attacked Union supply lines and harassed Union couriers. One of those chosen to join Blazer’s Scouts was Solomon Williams of Company A from Doddridge County.
On November 18, 1864 near Kabletown in Jefferson County, W.Va., Blazer's Scouts were attacked by Mosby's Rangers. Henry Pancake, one of Blazer's scouts, later wrote about the attack:
"Just as we got into line, here came the rebs do[w]n on us with a yell. We fired one volley, and then they were on us, blazing away. To get through the gap in the fence and get out of the scrape, and into the road, was the aim of all. But the rebs were right with us, shooting our boys down and hacking our ranks to pieces. Every fellow was for himself, and when those got into the road who could get out flew in all directions, some across the fields, some up toward Cabletown and some toward the ford. Oh, it was a awful nasty fight! We stood no show at all. We had hardly got into line when every fellow was expected to save himself."
Twenty-one year old Pvt. Solomon Williams was not able to “save himself” and was shot and killed that day at Kabletown alongside eighteen of his fellow scouts. According to Blazer’s Scouts historian Robert Moore, most of these men, including Solomon Williams, are buried in unmarked graves at the Winchester National Cemetery in Virginia.
End of Series
This ends my series about our Doddridge County soldiers of Company A, 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment, which played a significant role in the Shenandoah Valley theater of the Civil War. Their service, and that of Sherman’s forces in the southern theater, completely crippled the Confederate army, which finally surrendered on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant marked the official end of the bloodiest war in America’s history.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Doddridge County’s role in the Civil War. I’ve put my heart and soul into researching this series, but I have shared with you only a fraction of what I’ve learned. I intend to put together a comprehensive work concerning the 14th Regiment, but I still have a lot more research to do.
This series was not meant to be politically one-sided. My only purpose was to document our military involvement in the Civil War. Although we had a few southern sympathists and Confederate volunteers, Doddridge County was predominantly pro-Union. I personally do not have any ancestors who fought for the Union that I am aware of. As a matter of fact, one of my direct ancestral grandfathers fought for the Confederacy and another was hanged for killing who he thought was a Union soldier.
If you are interested in the Civil War, no matter what your sentiment, I encourage you to go to eastern and southern West Virginia and Virginia, visit the battlefields and historic sites, and listen to their stories. They are vastly different from ours. Until recently, I thought that all of what is now West Virginia was supportive of statehood, but I was wrong. Several of our current counties wanted to remain a part of Virginia but were forced to join the new state through strong-armed political tactics.
Nonetheless, we are now a unified state and fiercely proud of our differing histories. We must not let those histories be perverted and erased. With the current movement to label all things Confederate as offensive and racist, we are in danger of re-writing and perpetuating a false history. As Santayana’s and Churchill’s oft-repeated and paraphrased admonition tells us, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. We must not let that happen.