The Battle of Piedmont: Account by Adjutant Caldwell, 12th West Virginia Infantry

On the 18th of May, our regiment and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts with two pieces of artillery moved from Cedar Creek, five or six miles up the Valley to Fisher’s Hill, and occupied it as a picket. Gen. Sigel came out to our camp there. The next day the two regiments fell back two or three miles to Strasburg and occupied an old fort there built by Gen. Banks. We received today mail – always a welcome receipt to the boys, the first since leaving Winchester, ten days before. In the evening the Thirty-fourth band came to the headquarters of the Twelfth to give us a serenade. Speeches were made by Col. Curtis, Adjt. Caldwell and Capt. Smiley of our regiment.

 

On the 2nd, Gen. Sigel was relieved from command here and Gen. Hunter assigned to his place. Three days later we were reinforced at Cedar Creek by three more regiments of infantry, the Second Maryland, the Fourth Virginia and the One Hundred and Sixtieth Ohio, and about this time, or a little later we were further reinforced by the Fifth New York Heavy artillery.

 

On the 25th, we drew ten days’ rations of coffee and sugar and three days’ rations of hard bread. The troops from Cedar Creek came up, all having had marching orders. We were now about to start on the memorable campaign against Lynchburg. Hunter had issued his famous order announcing to his troops that they were about to enter on an explosion of hardships, in which they would have to live off the enemy, and if need be to eat mule meat. The infantry were required to carry each man 80 or 100 rounds of ammunition. A little after noon of this day the great march began of what was known as Hunter’s raid. We camped in the evening near Woodstock. On the way the cavalry burned a house and barn, by orders of Gen. Hunter, the owner having been engaged in bushwhacking.

 

On the 29th we resumed our march passing through Edinburg and Mount Jackson, crossing the Shenandoah here on a bridge newly built by the Rebels to replace the one burnt by Sigel and camped near New Market and the ground of the battle of two weeks before. Some members of the regiment looked over the battle field. They found that our dead had been buried in a heap where some stone had been quarried out. The dead of the enemy that had not been taken to their homes, had been buried in the cemetery at New Market. The enemy had left 31 of our wounded at this town and vicinity, who it had appeared had been quite well taken care of. This night our regiment went on picket on the bridge over the river in our rear. The second day after our arrival here, two companies of the Twelfth I and K were detailed to fill in with stone the wodden abuttments of the bridge, and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts went out foraging; thus making a beginning of living off the enemy.

 

We remained here until June 2nd, when we marched at 5 o’clock A. M. our regiment in the rear of the wagon train, arriving at Harrisburg in the evening, our advance having driven Imboden out of town. The Rebels left some sixty of our wounded and thirty of theirs here, brought up from New Market. Distance marched this day 24 miles.

 

On the 4th, we marched from here taking the pike leading to Staunton, but Hunter finding Imboden posted about seven miles ahead at Mount Crawford after examining this position, turned to the left taking a side road leading via Port Republic. Seven miles from Harrisburg we came to Cross Keys where the forces of Fremont and Jackson fought on June 8th, 1862, and a little farther on to where the Rebel Col. Ashy was killed. At Port Republic on the south branch of the Shenandoah our pioneers put a pontoon bridge over the river on which we crossed and marched about one mile on the road leading to Staunton.

 

Early in the morning of the 5th, we resumed our march, but did not go far until our cavalry began skirmishing with the Rebels, driving them and capturing a number of prisoners. It may be well to say here that an Irish woman, who accompanied the First New York cavalry was noticed helping tenderly to bury some of the killed “my (her) boys” of that regiment that morning.
Seven miles from Port Republic we found the Rebels in force, consisting of the commands of Generals Vaughn and Imboden, and a number of militia, numbering in all, as learned from prisoners, between 8,000 and 9,000 men, all under the command of Gen. W. E. Jones. Hunter’s command consisted in all of 8,500 men, the infantry in two brigades the First commanded by Col. Moor, and the Second by Col. Thoburn. The cavalry were under command of Gen. Stahl, the infantry under Gen. Sullivan.

 

The enemy were posted on either side of the pike their right drawn back somewhat. They had breastworks of rails extending at least from the pike to the Middle river on their left, several hundred yards distant. Hunter made disposition for battle at once, and the engagement that followed is known as the Battle of Piedmont. The First Brigade was formed on the right of the pike, and the Second Brigade on the left. The opposing forces faced each other from either side from the edge of woods, with several hundred yards of cleared land between.

 

The battle began. It was opened by the artillery from each side. The Twelfth and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts of Thoburn’s brigade were ordered forward through the woods, on the left of the pike with a view to charging some of the enemy’s artillery; when being discovered they were vigorously shelled by the enemy. After awhile they were brought back to the point where they had entered the woods. While waiting here for the coming of the balance of their brigade Colonels Thoburn and Curtis and Adjt. G. B. Caldwell with their orderlies, rode out into the open ground forming a group, for the purpose of watching the effect of the artillery fire. They were discovered by the Rebels, who threw a shell right into their midst, which exploding took off the fore-leg of the Adjutant’s little mare. That group immediately dispersed.

 

The other regiments having come up, Col Thoburn moved his brigade forward in the open ground into a slight hollow, within 200 yards of the enemy for the purpose of making a flank charge upon him. While the infantry were moving forward into this position, the artillery on each side opened up a heavy fire, and the Rebel band played “Dixie,” while ours played “Yankee Doodle.” Just before the charge that gallant young officer Capt. Meigs, of Hunter’s staff rode backward and forward along the line encouraging the men to do their duty on this charge, and the day would be ours, that they must not hesitate or falter but go right through, that we were now a hundred miles from our lines, and that defeat would be disastrous. The First Brigade had made three charges right in the face of the Rebel front and had been repulsed. But we will let Adjt. G. B. Caldwell of the Twelfth tell the story of the battle in his graphic and enthusiastic way, as it came red hot from his pen a few days after for the Wheeling Intelligencer; or more particularly of the part taken in the engagement by the Twelfth. The letter was written from the headquarters of the regiment at Staunton and is as follows:

 

This regiment moved from camp at Port Republic at 6 o’clock A. M., June 5, 1864. Our forces marching forward towards Staunton some four miles, our cavalry became engaged and drove the enemy a distance of one and a half miles, suffering a loss of thirty, killed and wounded. Capt. Imboden a brother of the general’s was taken here. The ball then opened by the loud mouthed artillery bellowing forth, both Union and Rebel in hellish dialogue of the death answering each other’s thunderous salutations. Post the crackling and roaring of Rebel woolen factories, consumed by flames kindled by the land of Union retributive justice; past the roaring batteries; past Carlin’s braves stripped to the shirt sewing out iron vengeance to traitors, the Second Brigade, our fearless, cool and sound-judging Col. Joe Thoburn commanding, marched a mile to the very front, forming the left of our force. The position was 150 yards from the Rebel lines drawn tip behind a fortification of fence rails, so arranged as to make perfect protection against musketry. Here for one hour and a half in a woods at one and one-half miles range, the two twenty pounder Parrott guns of the enemy were served entirely against us with all possible rapidity and great precision, amid the tremendous explosion of shell, the profuse of rain of case shoe the fall of trees and limbs, amid wounded and dying among all these combinations of horror, with not a gun fired by us and no excitement to cause a wild carelessness of danger, our line never wavered.

 

The first Brigade (our right) being heavily pressed moved us in retreat perhaps half a mile undetected by the enemy. This manouver was admirably masked in the woods like our advance before in the morning. A wide hollow whose descending sides were open fields stretched between the First and Second Brigades. Across this we must go. Our batteries open their fiercest fire, from hill to hill leap the ponderous black messengers of destruction, the reverberations of half a hundred, guns, on both sides, brought into action by the endeavor our batteries make to attract the attention of the enemy’s ordnance, make earth tremble, and the air roar while we run the fiery gauntlet to reinforce our right. With unbroken lines we march over with steady tread.

 

The Rebels occupy a woods in whose edge they have as on their right, an admirably impromptu fence barricaded. Up we go to within 100 yards, lie down, fire and draw the Rebel fire. Men are struck all along the line. Most of the enemy’s rifles are empty. Springing to their feet and cheering wildly the men rush forward and over the parapet. Our color bearer plants that banner of holy hopes and hallowed memories right where the sheet of Rebel flame runs crackling along, and mounting up cries, “Come on boys here’s where I want you.” Gloriously forward we go right into the woods our flag the first our regiment the foremost, the Rebels contending in a hand to hand struggle. Prisoners stream to the rear by the hundreds. Other regiments come to our support.

 

The character of the conflict is attested by bayoneted Rebel dead. The emblematic rags of treason their battle flags, a few minutes before planted in the dirt. They flee in utter rout and one wild shout of “Victory is ours!” runs along for more than a mile through infantry, artillery, cavalry, through stragglers and wagon trains, till the very wounded in the hospitals cheer again and again. The conduct of the men cannot be too much praising. Often a soldier would press forward so furiously as to be enclosed single-handed among a mass of Rebels, surrendering to be recaptured instantly by his advancing comrades. The whole Rebel force having fled, we camped for the night in the woods among the Rebel dead, too numerous to be buried till the morrow.

 

Thirty ambulances constantly running with the attendants, cannot collect all the wounded into hospitals, even in the long hours of this summer afternoon and evening. They have from two to three to our one in killed and wounded, and 1,000 able bodied prisoners, 60 officers, four or five colonels, Brig. Gen. Jones, their commanded killed, 1,700 stand of arms, four or five stand of colors and last and best Staunton grace our triumph.

 

 

Corp Joseph Halstead, 12th West Virginia Inf. W. B. Curtis Collection, WVU

Corp Joseph Halstead, 12th West Virginia Inf.
W. B. Curtis Collection, WVU

And here let me pause to pay a tribute to the memory of one of our own country’s martyrs in our holy cause, our color bearer Corporal Joseph S. Halstead. A braver spirit never bore the banner of beauty and glory forward amid the bursting shells and the leaden rain of death. With comrades falling all around him he went ahead of the bravest, ahead of his brigade. The head and front of that terrific charge into the jaws of death, he rushed forward and planted our flag on the very parapet sheeted with flames from the enemy’s rifles. Then over and forward again goes our banner into the hand to hand conflict in which that glorious day’s fate was decided. He falls at last, but if there be consolation in such an hour, and to a Christian and one so wholly a soldier as he, he has it to the full a knowledge of his country’s glory and his own. In the moment of victory with a broken and dispirited enemy flying before us with the shouts of comrades drunk with the enthusiasm of the hour rendering the very sky, with the valor of our arms attested by the piles of grey-clothed dead and hurt around him with the deep heart-felt admiration of all, attracted by his surpassing daring, with his comrades standing around him in speechless and tearful sympathy, with prisoners streaming or crowding to the rear, colonels and subordinates in traitor regalia, their perjured leader stricken dead by loyal vengeance, he fell at the very acme of our triumph, battling the flag which be had borne so royally to glory and to victory, with blood as noble as ever coursed through patriot veins. Poor Halstead among the brave the choicest spirit of them all, long will his memory be cherished and his valor in that, hour of carnage and triumph be the theme of the bivonac talks of his comrades.

 

Col. William B. Curtis 12th West Virginia Inf W. B. Curtis Collection WVU

Col. William B. Curtis
12th West Virginia Inf
W. B. Curtis Collection
WVU

Col. Curtis had the pleasure of receiving the sword of a Virginia regiment’s colonel, whose surrender he demanded. One of our Marshall county boys had the honor of bringing a Rebel colonel “to time.” He, the Marshall county boy is a young fellow of about 17. Another from Hancock county, I. N. Cullen, (Comp.) had a grey header Confed bring a musket to his breast with an order to surrender. He threw the musket aside and twisted it out of the old fellow’s hands, then kicking him over the parapet and out of the woods saying, “Old man you’re too old for me to bayonet.” Another Ohio county boy mounted the parapet in the charge and looking down on the Rebs, says “Lookout Johnnys we’re coming down on you like a thousand of brick” That was funny at such a time – It was “in the cool.”

 

In the morning before the fight, Gen. Jones drew his men tip and told them that we were going to avenge Fort Pillow, that to surrender would be to die; and such stuff for an hour. If anything was wanting to prove the superior humanity of the Union soldiers or the barbarism induced in the South by slavery here it might have been found. First Sergeant Hart Marks, of Company K, accepted the surrender of a Rebel lieutenant and passed on to the front. The Rebel drew a revolver from under his coat and shot him, fortunately slightly, in the back, yet our boys spared him. I know of more such cases, several. Marks shortly afterwards received two wounds, one in side, and one in the shoulder, the last having passed through a twisted blanket, while charging the woods, the Rebels being behind the trees. Another of our regiment, the eccentric Barney Wyles, pressed ahead too far and was surrounded; he surrendered but his captor shot at him after surrender, with a revolver, cutting his clothes. Our men rushed on him, wrested the revolver from him, and then spared him. All evening could you see Union soldiers feeding wounded Rebels, and food was scarce with us then, having to come all in the shape of forage. In every regiment a number of instances can be given of such treachery as above. Could any contrast be greater?


For more on the battle of Piedmont see:

197.0 Piedmont Battle

 

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May 31, 1864: Major Joseph Stearns, 1st New York Cav., Defies Hunter’s Order to Burn Newtown (Stephen’s City)

     In the spring of 1864, Confederates from Maj. Harry Gilmor’s 2nd Maryland Cavalry Battalion and Col. John S. Mosby’s Rangers repeatedly waylaid Union wagon trains in the village of Newtown, Hunter warned the townspeople that he would burn the town if they did not see to it that the attacks stopped. When the report of yet another attack on a Union wagon train being attacked in Newtown reached Hunter when his army was at New Market, he became enraged and determined to make good on his promise to burn Newtown.

     “Black Dave” ordered Major Timothy Quinn to detail two hundred men from his 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry and “proceed to Newtown tomorrow morning at 3 o’clock, for the purpose of burning every house, store and out-building in that place, except the churches and houses and out-buildings of those who are known to be loyal citizens of the United States.” Hunter exempted the home of Dr. Owens of Newtown, who had treated wounded U. S. soldiers with compassion after Gilmor’s attack. The Federal commander ordered Quinn not to burn homes belonging to Confederates if such action endangered a loyal citizen’s property.

     Quinn detailed the morbid task to Major Joseph Stearns. The New Yorkers promptly rode out of camp well before dawn on May 31. Only a few officers knew the true purpose of their mission. Most troopers simply speculated on the latest move. Major Stearns’ battalion covered the forty miles between New Market and Newtown in one day and bivouacked for the night on the Stickley farm at Cedar Creek.

      Early the next morning (June 1), Stearns revealed the purpose of the mission to the men. The sullen troopers rode toward Newtown, “more like a funeral procession than a marching army.” Elderly citizens and young children stood in the door-ways of houses “with an expression of mute helplessness on their faces.” The enlisted men of the 1st New York spoke only of not obeying Hunter’s order to burn the town.

     The people of Newtown had been “in great anxiety expecting to be burned out” ever since Gilmor’s attack. Major Stearns and his officers rode into the village and conferred with the leading citizens of Newtown. The townsmen informed the understanding Major that they had no control over the Confederate forces that made the attack. They explained how they had nursed U. S. soldiers wounded in Gilmor’s attack.

     After talking to the men and hearing the mournful prayers of the tearful women, Stearns courageously determined to face Hunters wrath and saved the innocent people of Newtown from “Black Dave’s” fiery vengeance. In return, the townspeople took an oath of allegiance to the United States. The New Yorkers then turned around and marched back to the army. In the end, Hunter verbally lambasted Stearns, but allowed his actions to stand. Stearns’s heroism was a different sort than we commonly think of relating to the Civil War, but he displayed a valor the prevented the ruination of the lives of scores of innocent resident of Newtown, now Stephen’s City, Virginia.

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John D. Imboden: Misrepresenting History and Southern Soldiers Who Fought at Piedmont

Gen. John D. Imboden wrote about the battle of Piedmont to protray himself as a victim and the Confederate Forces who fought there as being incapable of victory. Unfortunately, he misrepresented the truth about the composition of the Confederate forces at Piedmont. In the process, thousands of regular Confederate soldiers were denied their place in history, because Imboden’s widely circulated writings have been overly relied upon by historians. In the following text, where Imboden is quoted, his false assertions will appear in italics.

Gen. John D. Imboden

In his post-war writings on the campaign, Imboden recalled organizing the troops sent him from Southwest Virginia on June 3 and wrote of the troops who joined him:
To my dismay, I learned from officers in command of the detachments arriving that no large organized body of troops was on its way to join me except Vaughan’s small Tennessee brigade of cavalry. Jones had cleaned out the hospitals from Lynchburg to Bristol of convalescents, and gathered them together with the depot guards along the railroad, aggregating all told less than 2,200 men. The largest organization was no more than a battalion, not a single complete regiment was coming on, except as stated, Vaughan’s brigade of about 800 men. Mostly they were in companies, and parts of companies.
This statement contained several misleading assertions which short-changed the Virginians, Tennesseans and North Carolinians who bore the brunt of the coming battle. General Imboden left the impression that his assertions applied to the army as a whole. Unfortunately, this post-war account appeared in the widely read Confederate Veteran and heavily influenced future interpretation of the battle of Piedmont.
Imboden’s statement that no unit larger than a battalion is an outright fabrication. In reality, General William E. Jones generously sent Imboden several organized infantry regiments. The 36th, 45th and 60th Virginia Infantry regiments numbered a minimum of five hundred men each. The Thomas Legion contained 390 men. The 45th Virginia Battalion numbered only 150 men but consisted of only five companies. These men were not Valley soldiers, however, they resided in Southwest Virginia and Counties that became West Virginia in 1863 and were not part of the usual Valley armies prior to June 5, 1864.

When Imboden’s account appeared in a Staunton newspaper, word of it filtered back to a veteran of the 45th Virginia. The veteran took Imboden to task and informed the paper’s editor of his oversight in leaving out the Virginia infantry. Jones also sent approximately five hundred dismounted cavalrymen from his own brigade to the Valley, but these proved the exception rather than the rule, as Imboden implied in his narrative.
Imboden also claimed that he appointed the acting brigadiers and organized the brigades. Most reinforcements already belonged to existing organizations. The 36th and 60th Virginia, the 45th Battalion and Bryan’s Lewisburg Battery belonged to an officially recognized brigade, formerly commanded by Colonel John C. McCausland. This brigade retained its organization under the command of Colonel Beuhring Jones at Piedmont, and Imboden clearly played no role in its creation and organization.

Imboden possibly organized the 45th Virginia, General William E. Jones’ dismounted men and the Thomas Legion into a brigade com-manded by Colonel William E. Browne. On the other hand, the 45th Virginia and the Thomas Legion had formed part of the Saltville garrison which Browne had previously commanded.

Imboden did indeed organize the convalescents from the hospitals and the Maryland Line into a battalion, organized a medical department and called up a regiment of local reserves before any rein¬forcements arrived. Quite clearly, General Imboden organized some of the troops, but he misled his audience when he de-scribed the nature of the troops from the Department of South-western Virginia and East Tennessee.
Imboden also stated that the troops at Piedmont were strangers to one another and had never fought together before. To some limited extent this held true, but the infantry which did the bulk of the fighting had much shared experience. The 45th Virginia previously had fought side by side with McCausland’s Brigade at Cloyd’s Mountain. Before that, the Virginians fought together in several Western Virginia campaigns. Some familiarity definitely existed in the Confederate ranks at Piedmont.
Imboden further exaggerated the situation when he described the “heterogeneous materials” which composed the Confederate army at Piedmont. He wrote that the Southern soldiers “touched elbows with strangers, and obeyed orders from, to them, unknown and unfamiliar lips.” While Vaughn’s brigade, the Virginia Infantry and Imboden’s cavalry had not fought together as an army previously, the units within each brigade were well acquainted with each other. The companies and regiments had been together for most of their service, and the officers who commanded them at Piedmont knew their men well. Imboden’s exaggerations por-trayed the Confederate Army at Piedmont as one which had little chance to achieve victory. In truth, General Jones had assembled a formidable force of infantry and dismounted cavalry given the exigency of his situation. And he did so in a remarkably short period at a time when the Confederacy was hard pressed across all fronts.

Jones and the men who did most of the fighting at Piedmont deserved better than Gen. John D. Imboden gave them.

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The Battle of Piedmont: Casualty Comparison to more Famous Valley Battles

This analysis will focus on the killed and wounded of a number of Valley battles that occurred during the Civil War. Excepting Last Winchester and Cedar Creek which saw 9,000 and 8,000 casualties respectively and were fought by significantly larger armies, this analysis looks at all of the Valley battles and compares the men who were killed and wounded as a gauge of the intensity of the combat at Piedmont relative to the other battles. Some battles had large hauls of prisoners which were the result of brilliant maneuvers, but did not have the same level of combat intensity. The number shown is a total of soldiers killed and wounded.

Battle                                Killed and Wounded   /  # Engaged / % Loss

Opequon Crk  US: 4,680  CS: 2,404  Total: 7,084/55,500/12.76%

Cedar Creek   US:  4,104  CS: 1,860  Total: 5,964/47,000/12.68%

Piedmont         US: 805  CS: 565  Total 1,370/11,700/11.70%

New Market    US: 616  CS: 575   Total: 1,191/10,365/11.49%

Port Republic  US: 428  CS: 623  Total: 1,051/9,500/11.06%

1st Kernstown   US: 568  CS: 455  Total: 1,023/9,900/10.33%

2nd Kernstown  US: 719  CS: 177   Total:  887/22,300/3.97%

Cross Keys          US: 557  CS: 272   Total: 829/17,300/4.79%

2nd Winchester US: 443  CS: 252  Total: 695/19,500/3.56%

McDowell             US:  254  CS: 436  Total: 690/9,500/7.26%

1st Winchester   US: 205   CS: 397   Total: 602/22,500/2.68%

Front Royal          US:  83      CS:  36    Total: 119/4,000/2.98%

A note on sources, I have used various sources to include reports where available, Official Records War of the Rebellion, the NPS Battlefield Study, and applicable modern battle studies. For New Market I used Charlie Knight’s total for CS and William C. Davis’s for the US since his was higher and I wanted to make sure that I had the largest estimate for comparative purposes. These casualties show clearly just how heavy the combat was not only at Piedmont but also at New Market. These battles shared many similarities at the outset of the ’64 campaign. So you see, more men were killed and wounded at the battle of Piedmont than any single battle of Stonewall Jackson’s famous 1862 Valley Campaign, but yet it is a largely forgotten battle.

Some further thoughts on these numbers and reveal that 1st Winchester, 2nd Winchester, and 2nd Kernstown were highly successful battles for Stonewall Jackson, Dick Ewell, and Jubal Early respectively. Each of these commanders utilized maneuver, flanking attacks and cutting off lines of retreat to secure victories that netted a large haul of prisoners in addition to the killed and wounded. Ewell and Early especially excelled at minimizing their casualties.

Let’s remember those who fought, died and sacrificed there this year on the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Piedmont so that they will never again be forgotten.

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The Battle of Piedmont: Reluctant Leader, C. S. Brig. Gen. William E. “Grumble” Jones – A Long Promised Biography

 

Gen. William E. Jones

Gen. William E. Jones

The Confederate high command in Richmond desperately sought a suitable replacement for Breckinridge in the Department of Western Virginia. The ranking officer in that department, Brigadier General William E. “Grumble” Jones, remained uncertain of his position. On May 20, at his headquarters near Abingdon, Virginia, Jones received a telegram from General Samuel Cooper ordering the retention of Brigadier General John C. Vaughn’s Tennessee cavalry brigade in the Department. The tone of the order implied Jones to be the acting commander of the De­partment, but failed to enumerate. Perplexed, Jones telegraphed Gen­eral Cooper in Richmond, “Must I assume command of the Department of Western Virginia?”[i] No response came, so on May 23, Jones again telegraphed Cooper:

No order has reached me merging the Department of East Tennessee and Western Virginia, though telegrams have reached me which would imply such had been done. I was di­rected by General Bragg to watch the enemy coming from Ka­nawha, and in cooperating with General Jenkins I found my­self in the Department of Western Virginia. Now my com­mand is in both departments, and I will continue to command both until further orders, or the arrival of a superior officer.

Cooper responded by issuing an order for Jones to assume command of the Department of Western Virginia. With his old army appetite for direct orders quenched Jones set about to fulfill his duties.[ii]

Born on the middle fork of the Holston River on May 9, 1824, Wil­liam Edmondson Jones grew to manhood in Washington County, Virginia, near the Tennessee border. During the American Revolution, his Edmondson forebears had been “Overmountain” men who turned the tide of that conflict at the battle of King’s Mountain in 1780. Jones grew up learning the tough ways that allowed the Appalachian pioneers. At the same time, he received an extensive education at Emory and Henry College before attending West Point. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1848, ranked twelfth out of forty-eight cadets. After spending three years in Oregon as a Lieutenant, the young officer re­turned home to marry Miss Eliza Dunn. On the return trip, the young couple sailed from New Orleans. A violent storm wrecked the ship which carried them. When they attempted to land in a lifeboat, a wave swept Eliza from the small vessell. Only the heroism of Thomas B. Edmondson, the Lieutenant’s cousin, saved him from the same fate. The whirling waters washed away William’s dreams and hopes of a long and happy life together. Eliza’s body was recovered and buried at Glade Spring Presbyterian Church back in Virginia. Stunned by his tragic loss, Jones returned to his post with a heavy heart. The young widower immersed himself in his duty in order to avoid the pain of his loss and became “embittered, complaining and suspi­cious.” He eventually became known as “Old Grumble Jones” and could be “a disagreeable customer when crossed.” It is likely, however, that some of these qualities existed even before Eliza’s death given the rugged background of the Jones’ family. Finally, in September 1856, he resigned from the army and returned to his estate on the Holston River. In 1857, Jones visited Europe on mili­tary business for the state of Virginia.[iii]

Politically, Jones believed in Southern society and in the rights of the individual states. He saw slavery as an economic necessity beneficial to both master and slave. When John Brown raided Harper’s Ferry in an attempt to stimulate a slave insurrection in 1859, Jones urged Virginians to revitalize and reorganize the Commonwealth’s ability to defend itself through a military means. “It is as much our duty to prepare for the coming dangers,” declared Jones, “as to defend our assailed rights and none but the obstinate blind can fail to see the dangers great and most horrible in our future.”[iv]

When the war broke out in 1861, Jones raised a company of cavalry from Washington County known as the Washington Mounted Rifles, and became its first captain. The company joined Colonel James E. B. “Jeb” Stuart’s 1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment, and took part in the First Battle of Manassas under Jones’ able guidance. He ultimately rose to the rank of colonel, but in April of 1862, Jones fell out of favor with Stuart, and the regiment voted him out of office due to his harsh disciplinary practices and embittered attitude. With compe­tent officers in short supply, Jones received an appointment as the colo­nel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry in July 1862, replacing the the fallen Turner Asby. Jones instilled discipline in Ashby’s rowdy horseman and displayed aggressive the aggressive streak that Stonewall Jackson admired. In early August, Jones encountered and attacked a vastly superior force at Orange Court House. “No time could be afforded for inquiries-to fight or run were the only alternatives; I chose the former…”[v]

By September, Confederate authorities promoted him to brigadier general at the request of Stonewall Jackson. The latter had Jones placed in command of the Valley District but his personality and military ways elicted complaints from local civilian leaders. In May 1863, the crotchety Virginian led his brigade on a raid into Union held West Virginia in a joint mission with Imboden. This highly successful raid destroyed sixteen railroad bridges and two trains, seized 1,000 head of cattle and 1,200 horses, and captured seven hundred pris­oners. Additionally, Jones ravaged the oil works at Burning Springs, destroying 3,000 barrels of oil and all production facilities. Robert E. Lee com­plimented General Jones on the raid’s sagacity and boldness.

Upon returning to Virginia, Jones and his brigade rejoined Stuart’s cavalry with the Army of Northern Virginia near Culpepper Courthouse. On June 9, his vigilance at Brandy Station while Stuart conducted a dress parade saved the cavalry from defeat. Jones’ command withstood repeated Union assaults and played a decisive role in preventing disaster there. However, His icey relations with Stuart continued. When Jones warned Stuart of approaching Union troopers, the Cavalry chief replied, “Tell General Jones to attend to the Federals in his front, and I’ll watch the flanks.” When Jones received the reply, he snarled, “So he thinks they ain’t coming, does he? Well, let him alone, he’ll damned soon see for himself.”[vi]

Jones attempted to resign from the service instead of serving under Stuart, but General Lee withheld the resignation. Nevertheless, Jones continued his consistently dependable efforts throughout the Gettysburg Campaign. Although Stuart purposely assigned the capable Jones’ rear echelon duty, he effectively led his brigade in several combats throughout the campaign, including actions at Upperville and Fairfield. His command twice crossed swords with the 6th U.S. Cavalry during the campaign. After inflicting 242 casualties upon that regiment and defeating it on two separate occasions, Jones reported, wryly “The Sixth U.S. Cavalry numbers among the things that were.”[vii]

Finally, Jones’ feud with Stuart boiled over as Lee’s army returned from Gettysburg. Jones took exception with something Stuart did and wrote his commander “a very disrespectful letter.” In spite of their differences, Stuart had considered Jones “the best outpost officer” in the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart recognized that Jones’ “watchfulness over his pickets and his skill and energy in obtaining information were worthy of all praise.” Stuart’s praises for Jones were matched only by his desire to have him removed from his command. When he received Jones’ letter, Stuart promptly relieved Jones of his command and placed in “close arrest.” This incident resulted in a court martial and ended Jones’ service with the Army of Northern Virginia.[viii]

In the aftermath of the court martial General Lee wrote Confederate President Jefferson C. Davis:

I consider Jones a brave and intelligent officer, but his feelings have become so opposed to General Stuart that I have lost all hope of his being useful in the cavalry here… he says he will no longer serve under Stuart and I do not think it would be advantageous for him to do so, but I wish to make him useful.[ix]

As a result of Lee’s recommendation, the Confederate War Department assigned Jones to the Department of Western Virginia. There he received command of a brigade of undisciplined Virginia cavalry regiments. Jones instilled these men with discipline and drastically improved their performance on the battlefield. In November, Jones routed a Union force at Rogersville, Tennessee, capturing 700 prisoners with their wagons and equipment. On January 2, 1864, Jones captured 385 men and three pieces of artillery by surrounding a Federal force at Jonesville, Virginia. During February, his troopers de­feated the 11th Tennessee (U. S.) Cavalry at Wyerman’s Mill and appre­hended 265 Union soldiers, eight wagons and one hundred horses. The Richmond Whig declared General Jones to be the “Stonewall Jackson of East Tennessee.” In early May, Jones combined with General John H. Morgan in the successful defense of Wytheville and Saltville against General William W. Averell’s blue coats.[x]

Jones’ experience as a cavalry commander justified his assignment to command the Department of Western Virginia. His reputation had been built upon the utmost vigilance and the ability to use scouts and patrols to obtain accurate information on enemy movements. When “Old Grumble Jones” learned where the enemy was, he did not allow them to sieze the initiative. Instead, Jones aggressively went on the offensive and hoped to catch his opponents with their guard down. From Orange Courthouse to Wyerman’s Mill, Jones had done just that. Most of the time, his efforts were rewarded with success and outright failure was unkown. In the Shenandoah Valley, Jones would be called upon to put his ability to the ultimate test. No longer would he be leading a brigade or two of cavalry. Now he would lead a combined force of all arms against rejuvenated opponent intent on victory.

 

[i] OR, 37:pt.1:745.

[ii] OR, 37:pt.1:746-747.

[iii] Thomas W. Colley, “Brigadier General William E. Jones,” Confederate Veteran, 6:266-267; Personal Reminiscences of a Maryland Soldier in the War Between the States 1861-1865., 81.

[iv] William E. Jones Papers, Library of Virginia.

[v]OR, 12:2:112.

[vi] Thomas A. Lewis, The Civil War: Gettysburg, Confederate High Tide. Time-Life Books, 1985, 20.

[vii] OR, 27:2:754.

[viii] Warner, Generals in Grey., pp. 166-167; Colley, CV 6:266-267; Andy Maslowski, “Burning Springs, Va.,” America’s Civil War, Sept. 1988, pp. 8, 65-66.

[ix] OR, 29:2:771-772.

[x] Colley, p. 267; Warner, p. 166-167; Jeffrey C. Weaver, 64th Virginia Infantry. (Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1992), p. 86.

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The Battle of Piedmont: Breckinridge Gives Grant a Second Chance in the Shenandoah

After New Market, Confederate operations in the Valley ground to a halt, contrary to the wishes of General Robert E. Lee. The day after New Market, Lee telegraphed Major General John C. Breckinridge:

Spotsylvania Court House
May 16, 1864
12 ¼?

I offer you the thanks of this Army for your victory over Genl. Sigel. Press him down the Valley, and if practicable follow him into Maryland.

R. E. Lee

Later that day Lee sent Breckinridge a second dispatch:

Guiney’s Station
May 16, 1864

If you [do not deem] it practicable to carry out the suggestion of my dispatch of this morning to drive the enemy from the Valley & pursue him into Maryland, you can be of great service with this army. If you can follow Sigel into Maryland, you will do more good than by joining us. If you cannot & your command is not otherwise needed in the Valley or in your department, I desire you to prepare to join me. Advise me whether the condition of affairs in your department will admit of this movement safely, & if so, I will notify you of the time & route.
R. E. Lee.

Lee’s instructions permitted Breckinridge to decide upon his own course of action based on circumstances in the Shenandoah Valley. Clearly, Lee preferred Breckinridge to go on the offensive in the Valley and rattle the northern politicians in Washington as Stonewall Jackson did in 1862. Lee hoped that such action would cause Grant to detach troops from the Army of the Potomac and thereby ease the pressure on the Army of North-ern Virginia. Breckinridge examined his options and determined that pursuing Sigel’s force was not feasible, for the Federals had a running start and had burned the bridge over the Shenandoah River. Regarding the Valley as safe from Federal aggression, the former Vice-President of the United States decided to join Lee in the struggle against the tenacious Grant. The Kentuckian’s departure left only Brigadier General John D. Imboden‘s Brigade and local reserve troops to resist any renewed Federal advance. This decision also surrendered the initiative in the Shenandoah Valley to the Federals. It allowed Grant to replace Sigel with Hunter, who rapidly reorganized his army with no concern of being bothered by Confederate forces. Lee and Breckinridge would now learn the hard way that Sam Grant was a different kind of general. No longer would defeat send Union forces into hibernation, but the pugnacious Ohioan would press on toward final victory.

Breckinridge’s decision later brought criticism upon Lee from the Richmond Press, calling it that “wise order” in the Richmond Examiner of June 13, 1864:

That Wise Orderwise order 2

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The Battle of Piedmont – Overhauling the U.S. Army of the Shenandoah – May 22, 1864

Franz Sigel bequeathed Maj. Gen. David Hunter an army that the former

Maj. Gen. David Hunter

had run into the ground logistically, militarily and morale wise. Yet Lt.

Gen. U.S. Grant expected Hunter to get the campaign going again right away. There could be no excuses as Grant had a war to win and he had already taken a chance on Sigel and lost. To begin the rejuvenation of the Union army in the Valley, Hunter issued the following order on May 22, 1864 to “jump start” the Army of the Shenandoah for the renewed campaign in the Shenandoah.

 

Headquarters Department of West Virginia,

In the Field, Near Cedar Creek

May, 22, 1864

General Orders No. 29

It is of the utmost importance that this army be placed in a situation for immediate efficiency. We are contending against an enemy who is in earnest, and, if we expect success, we, too, must be in earnest. We must be willing to make sacrifices, willing to suffer for a short time, that a glorious result may crown our efforts.

The country is expecting every man to do his duty; and this done, an ever kind Providence will certainly grant us complete success.

I. Every tent will be immediately turned in, for transporta­tion to Martinsburg; and all baggage not expressly allowed by this order, will be at once sent to the rear. There will be but one wagon allowed to each Regiment, and this will only be used to transport spare ammunition, camp kettles, tools and mess-pans Every wagon will have eight picket horses, twodrivers, and twosaddles. One wagon and one ambulance will be allowed to Department Headquarters, and the same to Divi­sion and Brigade Headquarters. The other ambulances will be under the immediate order of the Medical Director

II. For the expedition on hand, the clothes each soldier has on his back, with one pair of extra shoes and socks, are amply suf­ficient. Everything else in the shape of clothing will be packed today and shipped to the rear. Each knapsack will contain one hundred rounds ofammunition,carefully packed; four pounds of hard bread to last eight days; ten rations of coffee, sugar and salt, one pair of shoes and socks, and nothing else.

III. Brigade and all other Commanders will be held strictly re­sponsible that their commands are supplied from the country. Cattle, sheep, and hogs, and if necessary, horses and mules must be taken, and slaughtered. These supplies will be seized under the direction of officers duly authorized, and upon a system which will hereafter be regulated. No straggling or pillaging will be allowed. Brigade and other Commanders will be held responsible that there is no waste; and that there is a proper and orderly division amongst their men, of the supplies taken for our use.

IV. Commanders will attend personally to the prompt execu­tion of this order, so that we may move to-morrow morning. They will see that in passing through a country in this way, depending upon it for forage and supplies, great additional vigilance is required on the part of every officer in the com­mand of men, for the enforcement of discipline.

V. The Commanding General expects from every officer and soldier of the army in the field, an earnest and unhesitating support; and relies with confidence upon an ever kind Provi­dence for the resuLieutenant The Lieutenant General commanding the armies of the United States, who is now victoriously pressing back the enemy, upon their last stronghold, expects much from the Army of the Shenandoah; and he must not be disap­pointed.

In conclusion, the Major General commanding, while holding every officer to the strictest responsibility of his posi­tion, and prepared to enforce discipline, with severity, when necessary, will never cease to urge the prompt promotion of all officers, non commissioned officers, and enlisted men, who earn recognition by their gallantry and good conduct.

By command of Major General Hunter

Chas. G. Halpine, Assistant Adjutant General.[i]

The issuance of this order created a stir in the Army of the Shenan­doah and gave the enlisted men a negative first impression of their new commander. This order differed greatly form anything Sigel would have issued. Sigel had commanded the army in a most benevolent fashion and seldom challenged his men. One staff officer noted, “The troops are very much dissatisfied at losing General Sigel.”[ii]

 

[i] OR, 37:1:517-518.

[ii] Frank S. Reader Diary, West Virginia Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Library. (cited hereafter as WVU)

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