Star Fort at Winchester – Kudos to the Shenandoah Valley Foundation and Tom Munford’s Virginia Cavalry

This past weekend, Childs Burden of the Mosby Heritage Area Association allowed me to lead his group on a tour of the Second Battle of Winchester. One of the most interesting sites in Winchester that we visited was the Star Fort just off Route 522 immediately northwest of town. Most people in the group had not been there before. Those that had didn’t recognized the place. The Shenandoah Valley Foundation has done a wonderful job along with the Friends of Star Fort in clearing out the overgrown vegetation and turning this into a site that can be easily visited by Civil War tourists. And tour it they did, and enjoyed every minute of it. Denman Zirkle and Terry Heder up at the “Valley Foundation” have done a wonderful job. Keep it up. Civil War Battlefield Preservation is the lifeblood of the SVBF.

My only quibble is with the historical marker for the Third Battle of Winchester. It places Wickham’s Brigade under the command of Col. Tom Munford in Star Fort and has them driven out by Col. James Schoonmaker’s Union cavalry. It is a historical fact that Schoonmaker was awarded the Medal of Honor in the 1890′s for leading a charge on Star Fort. However, we should not denigrate the reputation of Munford and his Virginians to elevate the reputation of a second tier Federal cavalryman. Munford’s Virginians are among the best cavalryman of the war, and they were not driven from Star Fort by Schoonmaker. In fact, they were never in Star Fort and repulsed Schoonmaker when he attempted to follow up his attack against the next heights closer to Winchester.  Here is what Munford has to say about what happened:

“Off we went at a trot, and when we reached the left things looked very ugly for us. General Breckinridge and his staff were exerting themselves to rectify our infantry lines.  We could see our cavalry were moving up to meet a very large force who were coming down the pike….  Averill sent a mounted regiment to take Fort Hill to the North of Winchester. Generla Early had no idea of allowing him to hold it, as that covered the pike below, and sent orders to me to take it and hold it.  Up the hill we went and at them, followed by two guns of our horse artillery. We drove them from the hill, ran the two pieces into the fort, dismoutned the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Virginia Cavalry, giving the 3rd Virginia the protection of the horses, and we had just gotten into the fort when Averill charged to recapture it; but we gave them a rough welcome, and sent them back faster than they came. A second charge was made with the same result during which time our two guns had been doing splendid services.”

Thomas T. Munford, “Reminiscences of Cavalry Service,” SHSP, 13:449-451.

The fort to which Munford refers is Fort Jackson, which he clearly idendified to Jed Hotchkiss, who made notes of his discussion with Munford and drew a sketch of the action. Fort Jackson is on the next heights south of Star Fort. Modern US 522 runs through the low ground between the two heights. Image

Munford left Star Fort after covering the retreat and was not driven out by a cavalry attack. When his brigade came under heavy fire from three Union batteries concentrating on Fort Jackson, Munford ordered them out. He actually had to charge and drive off some of Wilson’s cavalry division which was coming up south of Winchester as Munford withdrew. Munford’s action’s probably saved thousands of Early’s men from capture, and if there was a medal given out to Confederates that day, Tom Munford certainly should have been a recipient.

The overall Star Fort site as stated previously is fantastic, with excellent information on the construction of the fort and its role in the Second Battle of Winchester. It was also a great weekend to spend some time with fellow historians and and old friends such as Eric Wittenberg, Bob O’Neil, Horace Mewborn,Scott Mingus, the gang from Roanoke Sarge Wheeler and Clive Rice, Terry Yount, Hal Jesperson, Johnnnie Pearson and a host of other wonderful folks and fine historians.

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The 151st New York, Third Division, Sixth Army Corps in the Shenandoah Valley

The Orleans American.
Thursday Morning. Oct. 13, 1864.
Interesting Letter from the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia.
September, 17, 1864.
BRUNER BROTHERS:— We are in camp on or near Clifton Farms. We know very little about the place, but suppose it to be one of the great, broad possessions of Virginia aristocracy. We came here the 3d inst. This is the longest rest we have had since the pulling up of camp near Culpepper, May 3d. Here there is no firing oftener than once in two or three days. Day before yesterday there was a reconnaissance by the Cavalry supported by the 2d Division of the 6th Corps. Yesterday morning they brought in an entire regiment of South Carolina prisoners.
Since you heard from us at Buckeye-stream, Md., there has been a continued active campaign. We were put on the cars at Monocacy Junction, our old battle-field, the next morning and came directly to Harper’s Ferry, and thence to Bolivar Heights. The army of the Middle Department, well organized under Gen. Sheridan, a brave and accomplished soldier, advanced up the Valley as far as Strasburg; and then back again to Hoeltown, near Bolivar; out again beyond Charlestown; back again to near Harper’s Ferry; and, after a season, another forward movement as far as this place. During the time there has been several little skirmishes but with small loss to the 3d Division. The morning we were ordered from Monocacy Gen. Grant was there. He was at Gen. Hunter’s head-quarters near by the railroad, and as the troops passed by they cheered him grandly. The movements that have been made since then have taught us what he knew then and we did not. Now this morning the Corps Officer of the Day has passed along and reported that Gen. Grant had arrived and was now at Gen. Sheridan’s headquarters.
Inspections are prevalent, and affairs begin to assume a shape that indicates active operations again.
It is singular how soon after an engagement soldiers forget their sorrow for loss of friends; forget their hardships and trials and suffering. After getting in camp and rested, all hands are jubilant. All the little amusements and sports that can be invented, are indulged in. They are very innocent, and certainly beneficial and desirable. Such sports as pitching quoits, playing duck, jumping, cock-fighting &c. We go into a battle and perhaps one sees his best friends cut down by his side. This is grievous and cannot be blotted from the memory in an instant, but it does no good to brood in a melancholy mood over the matter. The hopeful and cheerful spirit is everywhere prevalent in the army. One regiment of our Brigade goes home one week from today. The 87th Pa. are brave soldiers and have done three years good service. We are rejoiced to see so many left to go home. The Brigade is having some recruits, conscripts and substitutes sent to it. Substitutes are usually poor soldiers, however. This Valley is an excellent country, but it should be entirely cleaned out and not a citizen be allowed to stay in it at present. The armies here are using up the substance of this section most effectually.
Occasionally there is a letter published in the Northern Rebel papers reported to be from soldiers. Do not believe this. There was one the other day quoted as being from a soldier in the 151st and dated at Strasburg, the 26th ult. The author ought to be a little more careful in regard to dates. We were not at Strasburg, at all at that time. Seymour, Vallandigham, Pendleton & Co., need not flatter themselves that the army is disloyal, or even partisan. Occasionally, to be sure, a sour, selfish misanthrope may talk venomously, but as a general thing the great mass speak, and will vote for Union and the suppression of the Rebellion by force of arms. The only safe Platform before the people is that of the Union. The nominees of the Baltimore Convention are satisfactory. Everything looks bright and promising.
Wise men told us, even in the days of greatest gloom and doubt, that all would be well. Gen. Grant is rapidly bringing the campaign to a successful and satisfactory consummation. We are all anxiously looking forward for the end of this awful war. But, be assured, none in the army are anxious to have it close till it is done honorably and effectually. The 8th Artillery are really unfortunate. It is sad to see so large a regiment cut down so rapidly. You may remember that out term of service expires Oct., 22d 1865. We trust, by the kind protection of God, to come home safely and honorably.
HARRISONBURG, Va. Sept. 26th.
Since I wrote the above there has been no mail; and there has been so much greater events that all else is made insignificat; nevertheless you have it.
We received marching orders the next day, (Sunday 18th,) but after getting packed up the orders were countermanded. At night, however, about ten o’clock, orders came to march at 2 o’clock, Monday morning. After marching about seven miles in the direction of Winchester we met the enemy. A battle ensued, the first of two great engegements and Victories during last week. The details of these battles are probably already familiar to you. A Cavalry fight occurred in the morning, and then infantry skirmishing till 11:40. At this time a grand charge was made of all the line. The enemy were driven and bitterly punished, but under his withering fire our forces were obliged to fall back a little. This was owing in a great measure to an accidental halt in our lines. But it was only for a short time, and our boys again recovered all the ground the had taken and held it by persistent fighting for four or five hours. The lines were again formed to good order and another charge made which night alone ended. The enemy were driven and dispersed and hosts of prisoners captured together with several cannon.
Our forces occupied Winchester and camped that night on the south side of the town. The 151st were on the skirmish line in the forenoon and consequently did not have to go forward in the first charge, and their loss is not so severe as that of other regiments. The greatest loss was in the first onset. Cannonading was kept up during the brisk skirmishing in the forenoon and many were killed and wounded. Capt. Williams was wounded while skirmishing. He is a very brave officer. Col. Emerson, commanding Brigade, and Lieut. Col. Fay, commanding the Regt., have acquitted themselves gallantly. They have had many narrow escapes. The loss of the regiment is only about 25. That of Brigade 289. This is out of about 900 or 1,000 fighting men. Our in prisoners is nothing. I inclose a list of casualties among the Orleans Co. boys. The lost some of its finest field officers. Major Dilingham the 10th Vt., son of the Lieut. Governor of that State, and Maj. Medenburgh of the 14th N. J., are both among the killed. Both these officers were commanding regiment. Gen. Russell commanding the 1st Division of the 6th Corps was killed early in the engagement.
Tuesday morning this army marched forward up the Valley, reaching Strasburg the same day, and found the enemy in his old intrenched position. The following day our Corps moved to the right and advanced on the enemy, but darkness coming on suspended further operations. During the night fortifications were built, but not used, for early the next day skirmishing began, and an advance was made. The 3d Div. of the 6th Corps was legitimately in reserve, but actually in front. Orders were given that the 8th Corps should take the main works while the 3d Div. of the 6th were to carry a certain crest. But as soon as the charge was ordered, the whole army pushed irresistibly and frantically forward carrying everything before them. Darkness ended the charge but it did not end the exultation—cheers, huzzas and yells. A constant and heavy fire was kept up all day and caused some occasional loss, but it was trifling in comparison with the great achievement. The enemy were behind strong works and a great slaughter was expected if not a repulse, but by the superior strategy of Gen. Sheridan the “Johnnies” were completely routed and lost at least 21 guns, and hosts of prisoners. Gen. Sheridan has made himself everywhere conspicuous during the recent engagements, riding up and down the lines in the hottest of the fire; infusing his troops with the greatest enthusiasm. Officers and soldiers were wild in their pursuit of the retreating foe, but the rebels run so like sheep it was impracticable for infantry to continue further. So cavalry and flying artillery followed as well as they could in the darkness.

After the troops were reorganized and had cooked coffee they moved deliberately forward to Woodstock, 12 miles, where we made breakfast. After a few hours rest we went “onward” again, to Edinburg. The next morning early, marched again, overtaking the enemy at Mt. Jackson. But they were readily shelled out, and after that during the day their rear was constantly in sight. We marched with a skirmish line in front and the “Johnnies” were obliged to skirmish what they could with us in face of our artillery, all the afternoon, continually retreating. Finally, just before dark they made a strong stand about three miles this side of New Market, when night came and we camped. Yesterday the army marched to this place and have remained here to day. The enemy appear to have divided and a portion gone the other side of the mountains. This is most disgraceful retreat any army ever made. Several of their hospitals have fallen into our hands. There are four in this place.

The army, at least our Division, is well supplied with tobacco here. The soldiers are nearly subsisting off the country. This is a pleasant, fertile and fruitful section. The weather is excellent. We are some distance away from our base of supplies, and had hard work getting here, but who says we have not done a successful week’s work?
Yours truly, HOLLEY.

Note from Scott:  The 151st New York Infantry was armed with breach-loading Sharps rifles. Because of this, they usually served on the skirmish line for the Third Division, Sixth Army Corps.

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The Army of West Virginia at the Battle of Opequon Creek (Third Battle of Winchester)

The following is a letter from a staff officer of the Army of West Virginia detailing that command’s critical role in the Union victory at Opequon Cree on September 19, 1864.

Fisher’s Hill

October 10, 1864


Editors Intelligencer:


            In your paper of September 26, I find what purports to be an account of the battle near Winchester on the 19th of that month. The article was copied by you from the New York World and was maliciously written with the sole object of glorifying a single officer, who although never so gallant and brave, was, on that occasion, only one of a number of heroes whose noble and devoted efforts brought success o our arms in a complete and glorious victory.

            Justice to others requires that the friends of the officers and soldiers composing the Army of West Virginia should have a candid, truthful statement of the events… that I propose to address myself. It would be superfluous for me to given an account of that portion of the battle prior to the bringing up of the reserve, as it is not necessary to the object proposed. Suffice it to say the engagement had been of several hours duration-that the fighting, though obstinate, had brought us no very decided success-that the 19th corps had been several time repulsed, and wa unable to advance and that when the reserve, or the Army of West Virginia, was brought into the engagement, “the even scales in doubtful balance hung,” or rather preponderated against us.

            We had come to a dead lock, and could move the wheels no further with the means hitherto employed. In this posture of the affair, Gen. Crook disposed his gallant command for going into the

Maj Gen. George Crook

Maj Gen. George Crook

fight. The 1st Division, Col. Thoburn’s, was formed in an open field in the rear of a wood occupied by the line of the 19th corps, in two lines, the first consisting of the 1st brigade commanded by Col. George D. Wells, 34th Mass; the second of the 3rd brigade, commanded by Col. Thomas M. Harris, 10th West Va. The 2nd brigade of the 1st Division, commanded by Col.
Robert S. Northcott, having been detailed to guard the train was not in the fight. The 2nd Division, Col Isaac H. Duval’s, was in a like manner formed in two lines in rear of the 1st Division. Gen Crook went into the battle feeling that the fate of the day depended on the conduct of his command, amost earnestly did he labor, not only to impress his division and brigade commanders, but his whole command with the importance of unflinching courage and indomitable determination on their part; and right well did he succeed in that which is the truest part of a great commander, viz: infusing his own gallant determination into his command. These dispositions having been made, the next step was the deployment of the 2nd Division to the right of the 1st, and the whole command was moved as to throw it to the right of, though slightly overlapping the line of the 19th Corps, the object being to turn the enemy’s left.     

            Gen. Crook accompanied the 2nd Division in its deployment, superintending its movements, which were rendered somewhat difficult from the fact that they had to be made through a dense wood in part. It was further obstructed by a slough or pond, which, though not wide at any point, was in places deep and difficult to cross. In its direction in front, tt bent around to the right so that in the advance of the 2nd Division, its two lines were confronted by this obstacle.[1]

            The lines of the 1st Division having advanced through the woods behind which they had been formed to its opposite edge, which revealed the enemy’s position in our front behind stonewalls and hastily constructed works and in and behind buildings [of Hackwood Farm] and extending into patches of woods on our left. The 1st Division was halted for a time to await the getting into position of the 2nd Division. At length, the cheer from that division was heard, indicating that it had received the order to charge, and at this signal, Col. Thoburn, in conformity with instructions he had received from Gen. Crook, ordered the 1st Division to charge and drive the enemy from his position, a task which had been assayed in vain by the 19th Corps over the same ground.

            With bayonets glittering, the lines moved forward rapidly, the men cheering as only the Army of West Virginia knows how to cheer; over fences, through open grounds and through woods, right forward the line advanced in the face of a most terrible fire which strewed the ground with a dead and wounded. In a very short time, the 1st Division had driven the enemy from and had possession of his very first line of works. But so determined was the spirit of the command, and so unbounded its enthusiasm from this, its first success, that scarcely stopping to breathe, onward it went, driving the enemy from one position to another, until the lines now composed of both brigades, mixed up in the completest confusion, as a result of these various charges came within good range for grape and canister from the enemy’s batteries. The troops took advantage of whatever cover presented itself, and all seemed content for a time with merely holding the ground already gained.

            In the meantime, Col. Duval, in his advance encountered the obstruction referred to and found it so great an obstacle as to effectually arrest the advance of a large portion of his command. It was thus compelled to retrace its steps or rather by a march by the flank recross [Red Bud Run] near where the division had crossed at the onset of its deployment, and then came up in rear of the 1st Division. The Colonel Duval, who sees no obstacles, having affected a crossing, pushed forward with the broken and scattered portions of his command that had gotten over, and with the aid of our cavalry, that at this juncture made a charge which broke and drove back the enemy’s left, he succeeded in forming a junction with Col Thoburn who already held the advanced position.[2]

            The place of difficulty was now on our extreme right, where our line was much exposed in open ground, in good range of the enemy’s guns, as well as of his musketry. Here Colonels Thoburn, Duval, Wells, Hayes and man staff and other officers, labored for an hour and a quarter, under a most murderous fire, and labored successfully, to keep the men from breaking. They advanced them as individuals and in squads from one point to another, wherever the slightest cover presented itself to act as sharpshooters. In this way, a line of sharpshooters was finally established of sufficient strength to produce a manifest impression on the enemy’s fire, especially the artillery. Here Col. Duval was wounded after having his horse killed under him. Col. Thoburn had his horse killed and was standing by Col. Duval in consultation, or was near him when he was struck.

            Here the ground was literally strewed with men and horses, dead and wounded. Here, many gallant officers fell or were disabled and taken off the field.  Lt. Col. John Linton, commanding 54th Penn., Lt. Charles W Kirby, Adjt. 10th W. Va., and Lieut. O. P. Boughner, Adjt. 10th W. Va. And Assistant Adjutant General, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division. At this juncture, our cavalry made its final grand and gloriously successful charge, sweeping over the plain from our right, round to our front; breaking the stubborn lines that were holding us in check, and capturing and bringing out many prisoners. Taking advantage of the confusion produced in the enemy’s ranks by the charge, our whole line advanced promptly, consisting now of the 6th Army Corps and the Army of West Va., the 19th Corps being marched by the right flank now appeared in the form of a reserve in our rear, supporting our right.

            In a very short time, we had possession of the enemy’s guns that had but a few moments before been dealing death to us with an unsparing hand. The enemy was routed. The sun was low in the western horizon, but as the result of these many hours of sharp and deadly conflict, the day was won.

            At the going in of the reserve and during Gen. Crook’s absence with the 2nd Division, Gen. Sheridan gave his personal attention to that portion of our lines formed by the 1st Division of Gen. Crook’s command, as being the point of the highest importance and interest. Sheridan expressed himself to Colonel Thoburn in the most enthusiastic terms of commendation of its conduct in this most arduous and successful charge or rather succession of charges. After the junction of the 1st and 2nd Divisions, Gen. Crook watched and directed the whole in the ablest manner.

            Where the conduct of all was so good, it would be invidious to draw comparisons, or descend to special references. Our glorious success on that ever memorable day was the result of wise combinations, a faultless disposition of our forces and the most sublime display of courage and indomitable determination on the part of the officers and men, and finally to the gallant conduct of the reserve, the Army of West Virginia.



[1] The slough or pond spoken of was Red Bud Run. While it bent somewhat to the right, it became an obstacle more so because Duval’s division wheeled to the left to strike the Confederate flank on the other side of Red Bud Run. Duval’s men were not aware of the nature of the slough until they stumbled upon it in the midst of their attack.

[2] The author of this letter being from the 1st Division is not entirely correct in his recounting of Duval’s advance. The latter’s division bypassed the obstruction by flanking to both the right and left of the miry stretch of Red Bud Run. Some troops attempted to follow Col. Rutherford B. Hayes across the “morass,” but only a handful succeeded. Most marched upstream and crossed at Hackwood a few hundred yards upstream or marched back downstream until they reached a point where the stream was fordable. In addition to encountering the swamp, Duval’s division met heavy resistance from Confederates posted on the south bank of the stream. The advance of Thoburn’s division on the south bank of the run and the Union cavalry farther to the rest forced those Confederates to fall back before Duval’s “straggling advance” as one of his officers termed it.

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Lt. William McKinley at the Second Battle of Kernstown

On July 24, 1864, Lt. William McKinley, later the 25th President of the United States, served on the staff of Col. Rutherford B. Hayes, who later became the 19th President. As the Union lines collapsed, Hayes rallied his brigade on Pritchard’s Hill, which is now preserved by the Kernstown Battlefield Association. Hayes looked around and saw that one of his regiments, Col. William Brown’s 13th West Virginia was standing firm on the east side of the Valley Pike, valiantly battling the overwhelming numbers of John C. Breckinridge’s attacking division. It was apparent that Brown’s regiment would be cut off and captured if it did not withdraw soon. So intent in battling the Confederates in their front, the West Virginians remained unaware of their plight.

McKinley 2nd KTHayes saw their plight and sent Twenty-one year old Lt. William McKinley of Niles, Ohio to order Brown to fall back before disaster hit. McKinley mounted his “wiry little bob-tailed horse,” and raced down the hill toward the Mountaineers in the McCardle Orchard. As he neared the bottom of the hill, a rebel shell struck the ground under his horse and exploded, sending dirt, debris and smoke high into the air and hiding “Billy McKinley” from view. Hayes and the crowd atop Pritchard’s Hill thought that they had seen the last of their young favorite, but in a flash McKinley galloped out of the smoke, dashed across the field and successfully warned Col. Brown. Brown fired one last volley, and then the 13th West Virginia fell back down the Valley Pike toward Winchester, stopping every now and then to turn and deliver a volley into the following Confederates.

It is almost comical, but McKinley’s Civil War career has come to be defined by his monument at Antietam which honors his role as a commissary who brought coffee to the 23rd Ohio on the evening of September 17, 1862. He displayed true valor on several battlefields throughout 1864, and his service during the Civil War was honorable in all respects.

Lt. William McKinley @ 2nd Kernstown


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The Staff of Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan

Sheridan and StaffLooking for some help to Identify the men of Sheridan’s staff. So far here is what I have come up with.

Updated thanks to some help from Stefan and JD :) and my own continued detective work. Thanks.

Sheridan’s Staff – June 1864

Top Row Standing on Porch:

Capt. Joseph O’Keeffe,  Capt. Michael V. Sheridan,  Lt. Col. Frederick Newhall, Unknown, Maj. George “Sandy” Forsyth, Capt. Louis Carpenter, Unknown, Capt. James F. Wade

Standing on Top Step:

Might this be Col. C. R. Smith of the 6th PA Cav? Sheridan had him on his staff.

Bottom Row:

Unknown, Capt. Thomas W. C. Moore, Col. James “Tony” Forsyth, Gen. Sheridan

All officers to the right of Sheridan are unknown at this time. Any help you can provide in identifying any of these officers is greatly appreciated. It is interesting to try and figure out and one can go back and forth on id’s. For example, Sheridan’s brother Michael could be one of two men. If you look at a picture of MVS twenty years later, the second man from the left in top row seems to be the proper id. However, it was said that he looked just like Phil. Looking at General S’s photograph as a lieutenant in the Regular Army in the 1850′s, the third man from left on the top row is a convincing choice.


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Stones River: A Wounded Soldier’s Account of the Suffering

I had wanted to share some sources that I have found over the years in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. I’ve not been able to keep up with it, but before we get to far away from the Stones River/Murfreesboro time frame, I wanted to share some accounts that I have on that battle which has always been of much interest to me.  Although I live in Virginia and have done all of my writing on Virginia campaigns and battles, I cut my teeth reading about the Western Theater, so I have a latent interest that needs further cultivation.

Gallipolis Journal, January 22, 1863


Murfreesboro, Tenn., Jan. 5, 1863.

J am compelled to occupy rather a precarious position in writing to you lhat is, on my back. I am in the Hospital at Murfreesboro. Getting along finely. I was wounded on the second day of this month by a cannon ball, or rather a shell bursting on my back and hip, which bruised me badly. I was wounded amidst the hardest of the battle, about five o’clock in the evening and laid on the battlefield till about 10 o’clock that night, unable to move. I waa injured considerably more by the men running over me after I was hurt and aside from all this, the weather was vary cold and raining I thought that I had gone through the flint mill before, but I bad undergone nothing until the present affair, which was the most horrible sight I ever witnessed, or ever expect to.

I think I shall be able to join my regiment in the course of two weeks, or at least I want to in order to get satisfaction out of the rebels. I had my horse shot from under me on the 31st December, and then fell into the hands of the rebels, but escaped from them on New Year’s morning. This was before I was hurl. My flesh is not broken only in one place, which is slight, but my bruise is tolerably bad. Capt. Ross was slightly wounded, and a number more of his Company, of whom I will give the names in my next. Our regiment suffered terribly, the loss being one hundred and seventy-five in killed and wounded- – Every house in Murfreesboro and surrounding neighborhood is used for hospital purposes and I believe all are being eared for as well as could be expected. It would be useless for me at present to attempt to give you an idea of the whole proceedings here during the late hard fought battles, but shall try to give you an abstract idea in my next, which will be soon. You can form so idea how the troops suffered here during the whole affair, which lasted seven days. We were short of rations, or hadn’t time to prepare them, without tents, the rain pouring down in torrents, and were freezing the principal part of the time. I shall rite no more at present, as I think it doubtful If you can read what I have already written. I have no ink, and am compelled to use a pencil.


Lorenzo D. Carter

Lt. Co. I, 18th Ohio Volunteer Infantry


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The Battle of Cool Spring, July 18, 1864: Perspective of Col. Joseph Thoburn, Commander of U.S. Forces on the Ground

I received a mailer today from the Civil War Trust announcing its effort to preserve 1,500 acres of what is to me one of the most pristine and beautiful battlefields in Virginia. The battlefield is best known as Cool Spring but it is also referred to as the Battle of Snicker’s Gap or Castleman’s Ferry. This field is nestled among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and christened by the sparkling waters of the Shenandoah River as it meanders toward Harper’s Ferry, the serene setting of this evocative field takes visitors back in time to July 18, 1864 to experience that “Right smart little fight” as the soldiers called it where Jubal Early repelled an attempt by U.S. Generals Horatio Wright and George Crook to damage Early’s rear guard. As always, the men in the ranks paid the price. To help spread the word about this preservation opportunity and to increase awareness of the battle itself, I thought that I would share

Ch 18 Thoburn

Col. Joseph Thoburn, 1st West Virginia Infantry.

the journal entry of Col. Joseph Thoburn, the combat leader of the U.S. forces that crossed the river in hopes of surprising Early’s rearguard but instead found themselves surprised in turn by Maj. Gen. Robert E. Rodes’ crack division. Thoburn’s casualty figures are skewed but the account is terrific. Actual losses were about 400 on either side.

From the Journal of Col. Joseph Thoburn:

Snickers Gap, Va.

July 19th,    Moved forward through the Gap yesterday about 1 P.M.  I was put in command of Sullivan’s old Division and the 3rd Brigade of Crook’s, and was directed by Gen. Crook to proceed by a circuitous and hidden route to a fording, one and a half miles down the river and effect a crossing, move up the other side and drive the enemy from the upper ford on the Berryville Road. The impression then was that the main body of the enemy had retreated leaving only a rear guard to dispute our passage of the river. On reaching the fording we round the enemy occupying the opposite bank with a strong picket of about 150 or 200 men. By making a rapid dash across the river the picket was driven away without loss to us. We captured a Capt. and eleven men. The captain was a staff officer on Gen. [Armistead] Long’s staff.

From the prisoners, information was gained that 2 divisions of Early’s army were within one mile of the ford and the remainder of the command not farther than 4 miles distant. This news was sent back to Genl. Crook and a position was taken near the river bank and a strong skirmish ‘line was sent forward about half a mile. A line of rebel skirmishers surrounded ours a half mile farther out. In this manner we lay for about one hour when their skirmish line advanced in very heavy force and our line fell back. Behind their skirmish line a heavy column advanced upon our right flank.

About one thousand of the dismounted Cavalry broke and ran across the river. A panic was created by this and a great portion of several regiments fol­lowed them in wild disorder. A portion of the line towards the right was entirely deserted and for a short time we were on the verge of disaster. But two regts [116th and 123rd Ohio] from the left were double quicked to the right and the enemy were checked and finally driven beck. Two other attempts were made to dislodge us, but both were repulsed.

About dusk I rec’d. orders to recross the river which was done in good order. Our loss was comparatively light considering the character of the contest which was very stubborn and determined. The men were protected by the embankment of a road that ran along the river bank and under a large bluff. The total killed and wounded will not exceed perhaps 200. The loss of the enemy is much greater, probably three times as much. We are resting today very quietly. The 6th Army Corps and a portion of the 19th is here.  No attempt is being made to cross again to the other aide of the river.  What the enemy is doing, we know not. The way is open for him to again destroy the railroad at Martinsburg. If they are disposed to do this it will not be difficult to accomplish for our force at that place and Harpers Ferry is not large. Genl. Crook has added the 3rd Brigade of his old Division to Sullivan’s Division and has given me command of the whole. This arrangement will probably not last longer than the present pursuit of the rebels for after that Genl. Crook may be returned to the Kanawha with his old command.

For more details on the Battle of Cool Spring and Jubal Early’s Summer Campaign in the Shenandoah Valley see my book Shenandoah Summer: The 1864 Valley Campaign.

Shenandoah Summer

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