Tag Archives: Gen. William W. Averell

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 Fort Jackson 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 Battle of Moorefield

As part of my Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to stop in Moorefield, West Virginia and films some takes for filmmaker Jon Averill. He is a distant relative of Brig. Gen. William Woods Averell, the Department of West Virginia’s great cavalry raider in 1863 and 1864.

In August of 1864, Brig. Gen. John McCausland’s force of two brigades of Confederate cavalry camped near Moorefield to rest after his infamous raid which resulted in the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. While McCausland had about 2,600 men in his force, Averell tracked him down with no more than 1, 500 Union horsemen, from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.  Averell’s scouts dressed in Confederate uniforms and relieved Confederate pickets and captured a southern patrol heading out of Moorefield early on the morning of August 7. Then they charged into the Confederate camps and routed Brig. Gen. Bradley Johnson’s command encamped around Willow Hall, driving it back across the South Branch of the Potomac River.

At the river the 14th Virginia Cavalry charged out of McCausland’s camp on the south bank of the river and a wild saber and pistol fight occurred in mid-stream. Averell’s horsemen soon put McCausland’s brigade to flight and the entire force was routed. Averell captured more than 400 prisoners and four pieces of artillery. The defeat shattered the core of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Cavalry at the very time that U. S. Grant was sending Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley.

Prior to Moorefield, McCausland’s brigade had rendered good serv

ice at the battles of

Jon Averill, Scott Patchan, Nick Korolev, and Rick Byrd at Reynold’s Gap. Averell’s Cavalry passed through this narrow gap on its way to attack McCausland’s Cavalry at Moorefield. (Photo courtesy of Jon Averill)

Monocacy and Second Kernstown. Johnson’s brigade had previously improved itself under its former commander, Brig. Gen. William E. Jon

es who was killed at the Battle of Piedmont on June 5, 1864. What progress these troops had made, was lost in the demoralizing defeat at Moorefield. I

n many ways, Moorefield was a preview of what was to come in the Shenandoah Valley. There is one significant qualifier – Sheridan’s Cavalry in the Valley

overwhelmed their Southern counterparts through sheer force of numbers. Averell had used stealth and lightning quick strikes to achieve victo

ry not only at Moorefield, but also at Rutherford’s Farm (Stephenson’s Depot) on July 20, where he routed Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur. Ramseur had more

than 4,000 men in his force while again Averell was outgunned, having only 2,600 to take into the fight.

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