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BORN: 1828 in Fauquier County, VA.
DIED: 1862 in Harrisonburg, VA.
CAMPAIGNS: Harrisonburg.
Turner Ashby was born on October 23, 1828, in Fauquier County, Virginia. After receiving a basic education from tutors and his widowed mother, he managed the family farm, "Rose Hill," with his brothers. After John Brown's Raid, Ashby raised a company of volunteer cavalry to patrol the Potomac River to guard against further raids. After Virginia seceded from the United States, Ashby's company became part of the 7th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, and Ashby was soon elevated from a captain to a colonel. After his brother was killed by a Union patrol, Ashby's desire for vengeance inspired him to become a Confederate officer known for personal bravery. Nevertheless, he remained a soft-spoken leader, often criticized for insufficient discipline. He performed a number of scouting duties until the spring of 1862, when General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson put him in command of all Confederate cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley. Two weeks after he was made a brigadier general, he was shot and killed instantly. His last words were, "Forward, my brave men!" Ashby never got married, and wrote few letters. After his death, General Jackson said of him, "as a partisan officer I never knew his superior." Ashby's remains are in the Stonewall Cemetery, in Winchester, Virginia.

Battle of Front Royal

The Battle of Front Royal, also known as Guard Hill or Cedarville, was fought May 23, 1862, in Warren County, Virginia, as part of Confederate Army Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Campaign through the Shenandoah Valley during the American Civil War. Front Royal demonstrated Jackson's use of Valley topography and mobility to unite his own forces while dividing those of his enemies. At a minimal cost, he forced the withdrawal of a large Union army by striking at its flank and threatening its rear. This caused President Abe Lincoln to react by sending General Irvin McDowell's forces that were intended for General George B. McClellan's advance on Richmond, and caused it to come to a halt. [3]

Petitions and Culture Wars

Arguments over Confederate names aren’t new around here. The Staunton City School Board changed the name of Robert E. Lee High School last year to Staunton High School. And fights in Charlottesville over public statues of Robert E. Lee and of Stonewall Jackson escalated into a massive white supremacist riot in 2017 that drew worldwide attention and included a neo-Nazi driving his car into a crowd and murdering Heather Heyer.

Across the country, Confederate nostalgia is getting a critical look. Mississippi just voted to remove the Confederate flag from its state flag. Fairfax County is renaming its Robert E. Lee High School. There’s a debate about the names of Army bases named after Confederate figures.

But public local controversy about Turner Ashby High School is new. It started on June 6 (incidentally, the anniversary of Ashby’s death), when Cate Phillips, a recent graduate of James Madison University with no real ties to TA, put a petition up on change.org to change the name.

While at JMU, Phillips was aware of similar efforts to rename campus buildings, including Ashby Hall, namesake of one Turner Ashby. These efforts are paying off.

After earning two degrees from JMU, Phillips is now home in King George County preparing for graduate school and a career in social work. She’d done an internship at Wilbur S. Pence Middle School — which occupies the original Turner Ashby High School building — and knew there was a high school in the county with the name.

“I thought: This is something that so obviously needs to change,” she said in a recent interview.

She saw the petition as something small she could do to participate in a larger national movement, and put it together in a few minutes.

About 2,800 people have since signed — though some did so “in protest,” not realizing how petitions work. There’s been local news coverage, and a counter-petition to keep the name and “Stop the overlycsensitive [sic] dramatic crap” has received many more signatures.

“After it went up, I got a lot of hate mail and people saying weird things, but I also heard from a lot of alumni who felt that this should have been done,” Phillips said.

Some of those alumni started to organize in response, working to build a public campaign to change the name. There’s a website at renametahs.org.

But it’s not the most popular idea locally. The hate messages to Phillips included the publication of her personal address and phone number on social media, plus calls to a business she runs, texts and more. One private message threatened violence. Other public posts on news coverage attacked her by name.

“At first I was like ‘I feel so upset,’” she said. “It’s depressing. I was wondering if I made a bad choice. But I flipped the switch about that. I thought: if this is what I, as a white person, get in response, what kind of messages do BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] advocates get in their inboxes every day?”

The responses from alumni in support were also immediate, with some telling Phillips they wish they’d raised questions about the name earlier, before a relative outsider brought the issue forward.

Phillips stressed that she does not hate the high school or the people who went there, and that the next steps will need local advocacy from people within the community.

“This should be a deliberate process, not some knee-jerk reaction,” she said.

Trailside: Crossroads Town Harrisonburg, Va.

After the First Battle of Winchester in May 1862, General Stonewall Jackson held about 2,000 Union prisoners at Harrisonburg’s courthouse and jail. Civilians and soldiers often quenched their thirst in the adjoining springhouse. Both structures have since been redesigned.

(All Images by Melissa A. Winn Unless Noted Otherwise)

Melissa A. Winn

Both Union and Confederate soldiers brought suffering to this Shenandoah valley hamlet

Trailside is produced in partnership with Civil War Trails Inc., which connects visitors to lesser-known sites and allows them to follow in the footsteps of the great campaigns. Civil War Trails has to date 1,552 sites across five states and produces more than a dozen maps. Visit civilwartrails.org and check in at your favorite sign #civilwartrails.

In the spring of 1862, Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson understood all too well the strategic importance of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Its proximity to Washington, D.C., and its navigable transportation and supply routes made it valuable to both armies. The Valley’s fertile ground made it the most important wheat-growing region in the South and, coupled with plentiful cornfields, orchards, and herds of cattle, sheep, and hogs, earned it the nickname “The Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Rebel troops were fed from the land for years.

“If the Valley is lost,” Jackson declared, “Virginia is lost!”

During his Valley Campaign (March 22–June 9, 1862), Jackson marched his 17,000 troops 650 miles through the Valley and pitted them against three Union armies in five battles and numerous skirmishes.

In 1863, Robert E. Lee’s troops used the Valley as an avenue to advance north during the Gettysburg Campaign. And in 1864, Union General Philip Sheridan won a series of battles in a campaign that wrested control of the Valley away from the Confederates and left stretches of the region in ruins.

Located at the crossroads of two key highways through the region, Harrisonburg was almost constantly affected by the war, housing military prisoners, wounded soldiers, and even playing host to a skirmish on June 6, 1862, that claimed the life of beloved Confederate cavalry hero Turner Ashby.

The city, today still nestled amid scenic mountain views, is recognized as the home of the acclaimed James Madison University. The 40-block district of historic downtown retains its Civil War–era charm and celebrates its connections to the war with guided tours, a Civil War Orientation Center, several area museums with displays highlighting local involvement in the war, monuments, a soldiers’ cemetery, and a half-dozen Civil War Trails signs scattered across town.

As the Rockingham County seat, Harrisonburg has always had a large number of hotels for travelers to the area. Visitors can consider themselves among famed, historic company, including Confederate spy Belle Boyd, who reportedly spent a few nights in town in early June 1863. – Melissa A. Winn

Confederate General Hospital

345 S. Main St.
Several buildings in Harrisonburg were used as temporary hospitals during the Civil War, most notably the Harrisonburg Female Academy on Main Street, now the site of a Harrisonburg municipal building. The academy building was converted to hospital use in 1861, and Harrisonburg physician Dr. W.W.S. Butler was appointed surgeon in charge. The building became an official Confederate General Hospital in October 1862. As troops retreated from Gettysburg in 1863, there were so many sick and wounded in Harrisonburg, the hospital couldn’t hold them all. “Only a little time elapsed…before the building used as a school house in days of peace was converted into a hospital, and from that time until the summer of 1865 it was never without the sick and wounded,” one local woman recorded.

Turner Ashby’s Death Site

1164 Turner Ashby Lane
General Turner Ashby was mortally wounded near this spot atop Chestnut Ridge during the Battle of Harrisonburg June 6, 1862. A monument to Ashby marks the spot. During the skirmish, Pennsylvania Bucktails under Colonel Thomas Kane were defeated by the 58th Virginia and the 1st Maryland Infantry CSA. After Ashby’s horse was shot from under him, he rose up and ordered his men to use the bayonet, yelling, “Charge, men! For God’s sake charge!” A Union bullet penetrated his side and passed through his chest. He fell dead, while his men cleared the Federals from the woodline, which is clearly visible today in the small park that remains at the site.

Hardesty-Higgins House Visitor Center

212 S. Main St.
Home to the town’s first mayor, Isaac Hardesty, this house was briefly used as headquarters for Union Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks as he tried to corner Stonewall Jackson in 1862. A must-see for visitors to the area, it now houses a Civil War Orientation Center that offers the stories of individuals, battles, and campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley through film and interpretation. The house also holds the Valley Turnpike Museum, which highlights the historical importance of Route 11, including during the Civil War.

Woodbine Cemetery

212 Reservoir St.
Chartered in 1850, Woodbine Cemetery was developed as Harrisonburg’s main cemetery. The deaths of soldiers at nearby engagements and of the wounded soldiers treated at Harrisonburg’s Confederate General Hospital prompted a city merchant to donate an extra acre for a soldiers’ cemetery here. Eventually, about 250 Confederate soldiers were buried in the cemetery, including Joseph Latimer, the “Boy Major.” In 1876, the Ladies’ Memorial Association erected a 23-foot high monument “in grateful remembrance of the gallant Confederate soldiers, who lie here.”

The War for Slavery, Woke Style

What people see and hear today from their woke peers, teachers and parents, they believe, is gospel truth – especially if they’re young and easily influenced. There is an incessant race to get woke before enough grown ups find out it’s really Marxism.

The Woke generation’s symbol of revolution is quite removed from anything remotely American.

Today, all of us see and hear about the altering of names, places, descriptions – basically our written and spoken language. Words are being “updated”. Narratives are being “corrected”, and context “added”.

The “American Civil War”, named so by the victors in the North, will be re-named too. No, the wokesters haven’t succeeded in its renaming yet, but you see the signs and attempts to re-define and re-label the meaning of the war everywhere. How about we just rename it ourselves, shall we, how about… The War for Slavery. That is, white southerners were fighting a war for slavery. The white northerners were fighting a war against slavery. That’s what they want you to swallow. That’s what the re-written history books will say. It’s all about fighting over blacks, right?

Simple. Drop the mic. Everyone can go home now. It’s all settled. Nothing more to see here. Move along. Take your test online and get an easy ‘A’. Just another re-naming effort, but this time, the “civil war”, wrongly named in the first place, is on the chopping block, so even northern Americans will get a taste of wokeness and the eradication of their precious “civil war” victory.

Marxist ideology such as “Critical Race Theory”, the � Project”, the “BLM Movement” and many other pop-up manifestations of historical re-wiring, are in full push. Almost every public school system and university campus (warning: scary link) has been taken over by the woke ‘religion’, the cult that preaches everything is the fault of white people.

States’ legislatures and woke school boards are injecting it into their curricula. So, it appears, it’s only a matter of time before “The American Civil War” will be ousted and The War for Slavery shamed upon us. And yes, a “civil war” reference-removal project is underway. Just last year the president of Oregon State University, Ed Ray, said changing the name “civil war” was overdue, as “it represents a connection to a war fought to perpetuate slavery.” Full story.

MSNBC Host Joy Reid recently tweeted a narrative that defends Critical Race Theory, and went even further to claim “Confederate Race Theory” was being taught in schools. (Courtesy: MSNBC, FoxNews)

Southerners believed the war was not a “civil war” at all. Southerners believed then, as most do now, the war was about fighting (and defending against) an invading federal Army who came into their States. That federal Army was ordered to do so by its Commander in Chief. In 1861, the American people did not rise up to overthrow another group of American people, or to overturn the U.S. government, and they were not seceding as a result of a coup – all of which would have been civil war by definition (Google: Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970 Nigeria’s Constitution did not allow for secession). You see, southerners believed in the right to secede, as laid out in the Constitution which guarantees to states all rights not delegated to the federal government. Sending troops into their states was a violation of those principals.

On the ground, the average Confederate soldier-farmer (95% of whom did not own slaves) believed in protecting his family, his farm, his property, and his native state where his people lived. The name “civil war” was conveniently anointed after the fact by the victors.

It was true that some states in the south and elsewhere had no problem with slavery expanding to newly-formed western states. It is also true that this disagreement was not settled by the time southern states decided to secede. Irrespective of the morality of the slave issue – no matter which side you were on at the time – the matter should have been argued and decided by representative government. In fact, Union should have been preserved, as Robert E. Lee declared in his early 1861 letter to his son Custis, “I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.” Lee would change his mind, not on secession, but on a specific action, the one that saw a federalized Army invade his native Virginia. For Lee, there was never any mention of going to war or defending Virginia over slavery.

Rather, Lee saw a fatal flaw in judgment had been forced upon him. As we know, Lincoln took the next step — a step that would cost 650,000 lives. With his 75,000-man invasion, Lincoln had violated something sacred in Lee’s mind, and in the mind’s of many that reasoned, “… Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…”, even despite the warning in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that to move forward with revolution over “light and transient” reasons was a mistake because “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable”. But Lee looked to God, and to him, Lincoln had violated a sacred principal of unalienable rights that come from “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. And slavery? Neither Lincoln or Lee had this on their mind. Only later would Lincoln use slavery emancipation as a political weapon to rally the waning support in northern states for the war.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Lee had thought long and hard on this before deciding to defend his native Virginia and her rights. He must have pondered the words “Governments long established”, for the United States, at 80 years, was barely out of diapers.

The seceding states had other grievances, in fact, there was a whole laundry list. Representative government, bound by the rule of law and by the Constitution, should have settled the matter, if not in 1860, then over the natural course of time. But it did not. By 1861, Abraham Lincoln decided to push the issue and bring the states back into the Union by force. He did not agree with the 10th Amendment on the issue of states’ rights. This was the cause for war it was Lincoln’s calculation. An appalled South raised their own Confederate States Army in response to that decision. And slavery? It was not prominent on the grievance agenda, and it was certainly not a major reason to go to war, in the north or south.

And now, what does this have to do with today? Let’s just look at what the modern-day victors are doing. Just as the northern victors coined a War Between the States as a “civil war”, the neo-Marxist woke theorists are seeking to rename it expressly based on their desire to make it about slavery. But this time, like the last time, it’s a sham, another example of language shape-shifting. The American way of life, its culture, and constitutional government will be the casualty. Sadly, southerners say “we told you so.”

Finally, here is one fitting example that represents how southerners felt then and now. It includes a poignant prediction of things to come. To a ‘rebel’ soldier, Jefferson Smith from North Carolina, who had first-hand knowledge of the war because he was up to his neck in it, the reason for fighting the war for he and his fellow soldiers was clear. It was gospel truth. And for them, it was not about slavery. As it is often said, why would men charge a line of rifle fire and face a double-shot of iron balls and cannister to free slaves? That question applies to soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.

No sir, that is a modern “after-the-fact” convenient construct. The War for Slavery is being injected into our conscience faster than Orwell can say ‘newspeak’. It’s done so in order to steal a nation’s soul for all time.

In 2010, the Charlottesville Daily Progress published the following letter Pvt. Jefferson Smith wrote home to his wife.

My lovely wife. I do so miss you, and the life we have there on the small plot of land God has given us. More and more, it seems that my thoughts are drifting back there to reside with you. Yet, as badly as I desire to be back home, it is for home for which I deem it best for my presence here with these other men.

The proclamation by the Lincoln administration six months prior may appear noble. Were I here in these conditions, simply to keep another man in bondage, I would most certainly walk away into the night and return unto you.

God knows my heart, and the hearts of others here amongst me. We know what is at stake here, and the true reason for this contest that requires the spilling of the blood of fellow citizens. Our collective fear is nearly universal. This war, if it is lost, will see ripples carry forward for five, six, seven or more generations.

I scruple not to believe, as do the others, that the very nature of this country will be forever dispirited. That one day, our great great grandchildren will be bridled with a federal bit, that will deem how and if they may apply the gospel of Christ to themselves, their families, and their communities. Whether or not the land of their forefathers may be deceitfully taken from them through taxation and coercion. A day where only the interests of the northern wealthy will be shouldered by the broken and destitute bodies of the southern poor. This my darling wife is what keeps me here in this arena of destruction and death.

(In 1863, shortly after writing this letter, Jefferson would die)

But now there’s a bigger aim and it’s not just the South, it’s America they want. Our language, our culture and history, our country.

Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to Col. Robert S. Garnett On Supplies and Situation at Harper’s Ferry



O. R. – Series I – VOLUME 2 [S #2] CHAPTER IX, pp. 880-881

Harper’s Ferry, Va., May 26, 1861.

Col. R. S. Garnett,
Adjutant-General Virginia Forces, Richmond, Va.:

Colonel: I respectfully transmit herewith a statement of the amount of ammunition on hand.

The quantity in possession of the troops does not exceed twelve or fifteen rounds, the force in this vicinity being about five thousand two hundred men. The statement includes what is still in the Ordnance Department, and is exclusive of the twelve or fifteen rounds issued. I respectfully suggest the importance of instant measures to send an additional supply as soon as possible. There is scarcely half enough here for an action.

We are observing the river from Williamsport to the Point of Rocks, at least thirty miles. Our force is too small, however, to prevent invasion by an enemy strong enough to be willing to attempt it. To hold this point and observe the river above the Point of Rocks would require fifteen or twenty thousand men. This position can be turned easily and effectively from above and below. After turning it, an enemy attacking in the rear would have decided advantage of ground against so small a force as our present one. Should the enemy cross the river the troops in this vicinity would be best employed in trying to retard his advance into the country. Their utter want of discipline and instruction will render it difficult to use them in the field. I beg to receive the views and instructions of the Commander-in-Chief in relation to the manner in which the troops under my command can best be used. I am procuring wagons to march, if necessary.

Captain Ashby, commanding near the Point of Rocks, was instructed by my predecessor to break the railroad whenever he found such a measure necessary for his defense. Those instructions were repeated by me. Captain Ashby reported this morning that in consequence of intelligence just received he was about to throw a mass of rock upon it, by blasting.

Most respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier- General, C. S. Army.

Memorandum in relation to Harper’s Ferry.

There is no danger of attack in front, but the position is easily turned by crossing the river above or below. The present force is not sufficient for defense against a superior one, attacking from the Virginia side. Relief, in case of investment, could not be furnished. Considered as a position, I regard Harper’s Perry as untenable by us at present against a strong enemy. We have outposts at the Point of Rocks, near the ferry at Williamsport, and the bridge at Shepherdstown, the extreme points being at least thirty miles apart. Our effective force, including those detachments and two others on the opposite heights, is about five thousand men, with one hundred and forty thousand cartridges and seventy-five thousand percussion caps. The only way in which this force can be made useful, I think, is by rendering it movable, and employing it to prevent or retard the enemy’s passage of the Potomac, and, should he effect the crossing, in opposing his advance into the country. This I shall endeavor to do, unless instructed to the contrary. Orders to provide wagons have been given. Cartridges have been made at the rate of four thousand per diem. I have directed increase of the force employed. Bullet-molds and cartridge-paper are wanting, and may not be procured.

Ashby, Turner (1828–1862)

Turner Ashby was a Confederate cavalry general who served under Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 during the American Civil War (1861–1865). An expert horseman whose dead mounts were kept as romantic relics, Ashby was arguably the Confederacy’s most renowned combat hero before his death in 1862. His competency for high command and potential for growth are still debated among military historians, but it’s clear that his presence in the Shenandoah Valley was a powerful catalyst to the Confederate military effort there during the war’s first year. Indeed, his presence resonates even now, as many Shenandoah localities celebrate Confederate Memorial Day on June 6, the day of his death.

Turner Ashby was born on October 23, 1828, in Fauquier County. His father, who died when Ashby was young, had fought in the War of 1812, and his grandfather served under George Washington in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Ashby, however, had no formal military training. On the eve of the Civil War, he had settled into an unremarkable life as a merchant and farmer in his boyhood home of Markham. (Little is known about these years, and what is available often comes from eulogistic and exaggerated tales told by entranced biographers.)

Ashby first tasted notoriety in 1859 when, as captain of a volunteer cavalry troop, he led his men to Harpers Ferry in the aftermath of the John Brown raid. Two years later, he returned to Harpers Ferry, this time leading a quasi-official force of Virginians who responded to secession by launching a surprise attack on the federal arsenal there. Such was his popularity in the lower Shenandoah Valley that by June he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry and mustered into Confederate service.

The critical point in Ashby’s life and career was the death of his younger brother Richard, who was mortally wounded in a Union ambush near Kelly’s Island on the Virginia border with Maryland on June 26, 1861. From then on, according to his overheated admirers, Ashby was driven by a grim vengeance that bordered on bloodlust. Stories of his deeds became legends, fancy became fact. Those stories were not all myths—Ashby thrived and even thrilled in combat—and they became the source of a mesmerizing aura that was all the more powerful because it quelled fears while it idealized hopes. Young men began flocking to him, seeking in Ashby’s afterglow something of his cavalier image. To call Ashby the “Knight of the Valley,” as many did in 1861, was simultaneously to obscure the brutality of partisan war on the Maryland border and cast it in familial terms as a chivalric defense of home.

By the spring of 1862 Ashby had superseded Angus W. McDonald as colonel and commander of the 7th Cavalry, which thanks to Ashby’s aura had grown into a loosely organized and undisciplined collection of twenty-six companies. Moreover, Ashby’s cavalry, which operated independently for the first year of the war, was now co-opted into Jackson’s Army of the Valley. By and large, Ashby served Jackson well in the latter’s illustrious Valley Campaign, a stunning masterpiece of deception, movement, and quick striking that is often credited with discomfiting Union general George B. McClellan’s attempt to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond and thus end the war.

Ashby’s fame grew as the campaign unfolded, notwithstanding two incidents that speak to his strengths and weaknesses. The first, a serious mistake in reconnaissance preceding the Confederate defeat at Kernstown in March 1862, suggests Ashby’s limited mastery of formal military operations. Ashby thought of his duty in far too simple terms: he sought out the enemy and fought them. He was neither an administrator nor a disciplinarian. The second incident, that April, found Ashby at odds with Jackson, who tried to correct those problems by removing Ashby from command so that his disorganized troopers could be properly trained. Ashby reacted to Jackson’s impersonal methods by resigning and speaking openly if vaguely about challenging Jackson to a duel. The affair’s resolution says much about Ashby’s inspirational, personal charisma. Ashby’s cavalry would follow no other leader, a fact Jackson recognized by restoring him to command and, according to one observer, “backing square down.” Just a month later, and over Jackson’s strident objections, Ashby was promoted to brigadier general.


Collection includes personal and military papers and records of "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863), general in the Confederate Army. Jackson's official and personal correspondence includes requests for furloughs vouchers descriptions of military movements around Staunton, Virginia, in 1862 the payroll of Turner Ashby's cavalry company raised following John Brown's raid, 1859 a letter, 1855, to Jackson's aunt, Clementine Neal two letters by Jackson's wife a letter, 1861, from Jackson to Colonel James Walkinshaw Allen, requesting permission to allow the Jefferson County soldiers to march to Shepherdstown to vote a letter to General P. G. T. Beauregard concerning captured property a letter, 1862, to S. Bassett French pertaining to religious denominations opposed to war references to enemy movements around Harpers Ferry and appointments of men to office. Official records include the commissary records of Wells J. Hawks (1814-1873), major and chief commissary of subsistence to Generals Jackson, Ewell, and Early, and of William B. Warwick, major and commissary for General Fitzhugh Lee's Cavalry Division the commissary records of John J. Halsey, captain and commissary of subsistence of the 6th Virginia Cavalry and the quartermaster records of William Miller, captain and assistant quartermaster of the 7th Virginia Cavalry.

Civil War [ edit | edit source ]

At Harpers Ferry, Ashby was assigned to the Virginia Militia command of Colonel Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. He was responsible for guarding fords across the Potomac River and bridges from Harpers Ferry to Point of Rocks, Maryland. His command assisted Maryland men with Confederate sympathies to pass into Virginia, and they disrupted railroad traffic on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and interfered with the passage of boats on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Ashby suffered a personal loss when his brother Richard was killed during an engagement with a Union patrol along the Potomac in June 1861. Ashby, convinced his brother had been bayoneted while trying to surrender after he had a chance to examine his corpse, came to hate Northerners and desired revenge.

On July 23, 1861, Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston appointed Ashby lieutenant colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry. Due to the illness of the regimental commander, Ashby had effective control of half of the regiment, which he operated separately. When the commander retired in February 1862, Ashby assumed command of the entire regiment on March 12. Ashby organized the first Confederate horse artillery, named Chew's Battery, as part of this regiment. The 7th did not participate directly in the First Battle of Manassas, but Ashby aided the Confederate cause by screening the movement of Johnston's army to the Manassas area. The Union had hoped that Johnston's forces would be pinned down by Major General Robert Patterson, but Ashby's screen allowed Johnston to move freely without Patterson's interference.

By the spring of 1862, the 7th Virginia had reached the enormous size of 27 infantry and cavalry companies, much larger than a typical Civil War regiment. Stonewall Jackson, in overall command of the Shenandoah Valley, tried to correct the situation by stripping Ashby of his cavalry forces, ordering them to be assigned to two infantry brigades. Ashby threatened to resign in protest and Jackson backed down. Jackson continued to resist Ashby's promotion to brigadier general, due to his formal military training and consequent lack of discipline. Α] Nevertheless, Ashby's promotion came through on May 23, 1862, and he received his promotion and general's star in a ceremony at the Taylor Hotel in Winchester, Virginia. His permanent promotion was later confirmed by the Confederate Congress, before he died in June.

Ashby cut a striking figure, called by many the "Black Knight of the Confederacy". He generally rode horses that were pure white or pure black. A civilian in the Valley named Thomas A. Ashby (no relation) wrote about an encounter with him:

Valley Campaign and death [ edit | edit source ]

Ashby's vigorous reconnaissance and screening were factors in the success of Jackson's legendary Valley Campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862. However, there were instances in which Ashby failed Jackson. At the First Battle of Kernstown, Jackson attacked a retreating Union column that Ashby had estimated to be four regiments of infantry, about the size of Jackson's force. It turned out to be an entire division of 9,000 men, and Jackson was forced to retreat. At the First Battle of Winchester, as Union forces under Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks were retreating, Ashby failed to cut off their retreat because his troopers were plundering captured wagons. It is possible that the Union forces could have been substantially destroyed if it were not for this lack of discipline.

As Jackson's army withdrew from the pressure of Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont's superior forces, moving from Harrisonburg toward Port Republic, Ashby commanded the rear guard. On June 6, 1862, near Harrisonburg, the 1st New Jersey Cavalry attacked Ashby's position at Good's Farm. Although Ashby defeated the cavalry attack, a subsequent infantry engagement resulted in his horse being shot and Ashby charging ahead on foot. Β] Within a few steps, he was shot through the heart, killing him instantly. Γ] (The origin of the fatal shot has been lost to history. Soldiers of the 13th Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry, the "Bucktails", claimed credit, but some accounts blame friendly fire.) His last words were "Forward my brave men!" He had been promoted to brigadier general just ten days before his death.


Confederate Partisan Rangers

Throughout the Civil War, there existed many bodies of irregular cavalrymen, who, by sudden dashes on the rear and flanks of the Union armies, or in a night attack on the Federal trains, kept the outposts and train guard continually on the alert. As much of the rationing of the Confederate armies was through captured stores, these irregular bands often brought substantial aid to their starving comrades in the shape of Federal provision wagons, captured intact.|
These independent partisan bands were far from being guerrillas, bushwhackers, or "jayhawkers," as were those of the type of Quantrill, who, during his brief career, left a trail of fire and blood through the disputed territory of Kansas and Missouri. The leaders of the best of these partisans were men whose personalities had much to do with their success, and as their fame increased with their annoying operations against the Union armies, the latter had strict orders to kill or capture them at any cost.
Three of these brilliant, fearless, and daring Southern raiders became especially noted and feared, and in the history of the Confederate irregular cavalry, the names of Turner Ashby, John H. Morgan, and John S. Mosby stand in a class by themselves. The first two were killed during the war, but Mosby, whose death or capture was probably more desired by the North than that of either of the others, survived every engagement, fighting stubbornly for the Confederacy, even after Lee had surrendered at Appomattox.
Ashby was a handsome man, a daring soldier, and a superb horseman. At the outbreak of the war, he received a commission as captain of a band of picked rangers, working in conjunction with the main operations of the Confederate armies, but unhampered by specific instructions from a superior. He was rapidly promoted. As colonel of a partisan band he was a continual menace to the Federal trains, and moved with such rapidity as oftentimes to create the impression that several bodies of mounted troops were in the field instead of but one. Failing upon an isolated column of army wagons at dawn, he would strike a Federal camp thirty miles away by twilight of the same day. His men were picked by their leader with great care, and although there is reason to believe that Southern writers surrounded these troopers with a halo of romance, there is no disputing that they were brave, daring, and self-sacrificing.
Ashby himself was looked upon by many officers and men in the Union armies as a purely mythical character. It was said that no such man existed, and that the feats accredited to Ashby's rangers were in reality the work of several separate forces. Much of the mystery surrounding this officer was due to his beautiful white horse, strong, swift, and a splendid jumper. He and his horse, standing alone on a hill or ridge, would draw the Union troops on. When the latter had reached a point where capture seemed assured, Ashby would slowly mount and canter leisurely out of sight. When his pursuers reached the spot where he had last been seen, Ashby and his white charger would again be observed on the crest of a still more distant hill.
Only once during his spectacular career in the Confederate army was Ashby outwitted and captured, but even then he made his escape before being taken a mile by his captors--a detachment of the First Michigan Cavalry.
The Confederate leader was surrounded before he was aware of the presence of the Union troops, and the latter were within fifty rods of him when he saw several of them pushing along a cross-road which afforded the only avenue of escape. Nevertheless, Ashby made a dash for freedom. Vaulting into the saddle, the daring rider raced to beat the foremost Union trooper to the open road. Sergeant Pierson, who was in command of the little body of flankers, rode the only horse which could equal the speed of Ashby's fleet charger, and he and the Southerner reached the road crossing together--Pierson far in advance of his comrades. As Pierson neared Ashby, the latter fired at him with his revolver, but the Union trooper did not attempt to return the fire and Ashby himself replaced his weapon in the holster.
As the two men, magnificently mounted, came together, Ashby drew a large knife and raised it to strike. Pierson was a bigger and stronger man than Ashby, and reaching over, he seized Ashby's wrist with one hand while with the other he grasped the partisan leader's long black beard. Then, throwing himself from his horse, Pierson dragged the Confederate officer to the ground, and held him until the remaining Union troopers reached the scene of the struggle and disarmed Ashby.
The white horse had instantly stopped when Ashby was pulled from his back, and the captive was allowed to ride him back to the Union lines, slightly in advance of his captors, Sergeant Pierson at his side. The detachment had gone but a short distance when the mysterious white horse wheeled suddenly to one side, bounded over the high plantation fence which lined the roadside, and dashed away across the fields. Before the Union troops could recover from their surprise, Ashby was again free, and it was not long before he was once more reported by the Federal scouts as standing on a distant hill, engaged in caressing his faithful horse.
Only a few weeks later, this famous horse, which had become so familiar to the Union troops, was shot and killed by a sharpshooter belonging to the Fifth Michigan, who was attempting to bring down Ashby. Not long after, while leading his men in a cavalry skirmish, at Harrisonburg, during "Stonewall" Jackson's famous Valley campaign, Ashby met his own death, on June 6, 1862. As he fell, his last words to his troopers were: "Charge men! For God's sake, charge!"
Next to the gallant Ashby there was no partisan leader whose death created a greater loss to the South than John Hunt Morgan. He was a slightly older man than Ashby and had seen service in the Mexican War. When the call to arms sounded, he was one of the first to organize a company of cavalry and pledge his support to the Southern cause. He was fearless and tireless, a hard rider, and a man of no mean ability as a tactician and strategist. Morgan's men were picked for their daring and their horsemanship, and until the day of his death, he was a thorn in the flesh of the Union commanders.
Starting before daybreak, Morgan and his troopers would rush along through the day, scarcely halting to rest their weary and jaded horses. When, worn to the very limit of endurance, the exhausted animals refused to go farther, the cavalrymen would quickly tear off saddle and bridle, and leaving the horse to live or die, would hurry along to the nearest farm or plantation and secure a fresh mount.
At night, far from their starting-point, the dust-covered troopers threw themselves, yelling and cheering, on the Union outposts, riding them down and creating consternation in the camp or bivouac. Then, with prisoners or perhaps captured wagon trains, the rangers rode, ghostlike, back through the night, while calls for reenforcements were being passed through the Federal lines. By dawn, Morgan and his weary horsemen would have safely regained their own lines, while oftentimes the Union troops were still waiting an attack at the spot where the unexpected night raid had been made. Morgan's famous raid through the State of Ohio exerted a moral and political influence which was felt throughout the entire North.
On their raids, Morgan's men were usually accompanied by an expert telegraph operator. They would charge an isolated telegraph office on the railroad communications of the Union army, and, capturing the operator, would place their own man at the telegraph key. In this way they gained much valuable and entirely authentic information, which, as soon as known, was rushed away to the headquarters of the army.
At other times, Morgan's operator would "cut in" on the Federal telegraph lines at some distant point, and seated on the ground by his instrument, would read the Union messages for many hours at a time. This service to the Confederate leaders was of inestimable value, and creating a feeling among the Union signal-men that even cipher messages were not entirely safe from Morgan's men.
As Morgan was promoted from grade to grade, and the size of his command increased accordingly, he became more and more of an annoyance and even a terror to the North. His troopers were no longer mere rangers, but developed into more or less trained cavalry. Yet even then, his command showed a partiality for sudden and highly successful attacks upon Union outposts and wagon trains. The death of Morgan occurred near Greeneville, Tennessee, on September 4, 1864, when, being surrounded, he was shot down in a dash for life.
Colonel John S. Mosby, with his raiding detachments of varying size, was probably the best known and the most anxiously sought by the Union forces of any of the partisan leaders. Mosby's absolute fearlessness, his ingenious methods of operating, as well as his innate love of danger and excitement, all combined to make his sudden descents upon the Federal lines of communication spectacular in the extreme.
His almost uniform success and the spirit of romance which surrounded his exploits, drew thousands of recruits to his leadership, and had he desired, he could have commanded a hundred men for every one who usually accompanied him on his forays. But he continued throughout the war using small detachments of from twenty to eighty men, and much of his success was probably due to this fact, which permitted sudden appearances and disappearances. From beginning to end of the war, Mosby's raiders were a constant menace to the Union troops, and the most constant vigilance was necessary to meet successfully his skillfully planned stratagems.
On March 8, 1863, Mosby performed one of the most daring and effective feats of his career. In this case, as well as in others, it was the supreme boldness of the act which alone made it possible. Even with their knowledge of Mosby's methods, the Union officers could hardly conceive of such an apparently rash and unheard-of exploit being successful.
With a small band of carefully picked men, Mosby rode safely through the Union picket-lines, where the sentries believed the party to be Federal scouts returning from a raid. Upon reaching the vicinity of Fairfax Court House, Mosby entered the house used as headquarters by General Edwin H. Stoughton, woke the general, and demanded his surrender. Believing that the town had surrendered, the Union leader made no resistance. Meanwhile, each trooper in Mosby's little command had quietly secured several prisoners. Stoughton was forced to mount a horse, and with their prisoners Mosby and his cavalcade galloped safely back to their lines.
It was with similar strokes, original in conception and daring in execution, that Mosby kept thousands of Federal cavalry and infantry away from much-needed service at the front. After he became well established as a partisan ranger, his men were never organized as a tactical fighting body, and never had, as with other troops, an established camp. Through his trusty lieutenants, the call would be sent out for a designated number of men "for Mosby." This was the most definite information as to their mission that these volunteers ever received. In fact, they always moved out with sealed orders, but at the appointed time and place the rangers would assemble without fail. That Mosby wanted them was sufficient.
Many of these men were members of regular cavalry regiments home on furlough, others were farmers who had been duly enlisted in the rangers, and were always subject to call, still others were troopers whose mounts were worn out, and whose principal object was to secure Northern horses. The Union cavalry always claimed that among Mosby's men were a number who performed acts for which they were given short shrift when caught. Of course, the nature of the service performed by these rangers was subversive of discipline, and it is quite possible that many deeds were committed which the leader himself had absolutely nothing to do with and would not have sanctioned. But this is true with all warfare.
Mosby's expeditions often led him far within the Union lines, and the command was often nearly surrounded. On such occasions Mosby would give the word and the detachment would suddenly disintegrate, each trooper making his way back to his own lines through forests and over mountains as best he could. Frequently his men were captured. But Mosby seemed to bear a charmed life, and in spite of rewards for his capture and all manner of plans to entrap him, he continued his operations as a valuable ally to the main Confederate army.
Of course much of his success was due to the fact that he was ever operating in a friendly country. He could always be assured of authentic information, and wherever he went was certain of food, fresh horses, and means of concealment.
In 1864, Mosby was shot during one of his forays, and was left, apparently dying, by the Union troops, who failed to recognize him, in the house where he had been surprised. Learning soon after that the wounded Confederate was the famous leader of Mosby's rangers, the troops hastily returned to capture him or secure his dead body. But in the meantime, Mosby's men had spirited him away, and within a short time he and his men were again raiding Federal trains and outposts.
Until the very end of the war he kept up his indefatigable border warfare, and it was not until after the surrender at Appomattox, that Mosby gathered his men about him for the last time, and telling them that the war was over, pronounced his command disbanded for all time.
Source: "The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume 2" Article by Charles D. Rhodes, Captain, General Staff, United States Army

This Page last updated 02/10/02

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