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In the Valley of Virginia, the glory of two men outshines that of all others; two figures were tallest, best beloved, and today are most bitterly mourned. One was Jackson, the other Ashby. The world knows all about Jackson, but has little knowledge of Ashby. I was reading a stupid book the other day in which he was represented as a guerilla-almost as a robber and highwayman. Ashby a guerilla!-that great, powerful, trained, and consummate fighter of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, in the hardest fought battles of the Valley campaign! Ashby a robber and highwayman!-that soul and perfect mirror of chivalry! It is to drive away these mists of stupid or malignant scribblers that the present writer designs recording here the actual truth of Ashby's character and career. Apart from what he performed, he was a personage to whom attached and still attaches a neverdying interest. His career was all romance — it was as brief, splendid, and evanescent as a dream-but, after all, it was the man Turner Ashby who was the real attraction. It was the man whom the people of the Shenandoah Valley admire, rather than his glorious record. There was something grander than the achievements of this soldier, and that was the soldier himself.

Ashby first attracted attention in the spring of 1862, when Jackson made his great campaign in the Valley, crushing one [61] after another Banks, Milroy, Shields, Fremont, and their associates. Among the brilliant figures, the hard fighters grouped around the man of Kernstown and Port Republic at that time, Ashby was perhaps the most notable and famous. As the great majority of my readers never saw the man, a personal outline of him here in the beginning may interest. Even on this soil there are many thousands who never met that model chevalier and perfect type of manhood. He lives in all memories and hearts, but not in all eyes.

What the men of Jackson saw at the head of the Valley cavalry in the spring of 1862, was a man rather below the middle height, with an active and vigorous frame, clad in plain Confederate gray. His brown felt hat was decorated with a black feather; his uniform was almost without decorations: his cavalry boots, dusty or splashed with mud, came to the knee; and around his waist he wore a sash and plain leather belt, holding pistol and sabre. The face of this man of thirty or a little more, was noticeable. His complexion was as dark as that of an Arab; his eyes of a deep rich brown, sparkled under well formed brows; and two thirds of his face was covered by a huge black beard and moustache; the latter curling at the ends, the former reaching to his breast. There was thus in the face of the cavalier something Moorish and brigandish; but all idea of a melodramatic personage disappeared as you pressed his hand, looked into his eyes, and spoke to him. The brown eyes, which would flash superbly in battle, were the softest and most friendly imaginable; the voice, which could thrill his men as it rang like a clarion in the charge, was the perfection of mild courtesy. He was as simple and “friendly” as a child in all his words, movements, and the carriage of his person. You could see from his dress, his firm tread, his open and frank glance, that he was a thorough soldier-indeed he always “looked like work” --but under the soldier, as plainly was the gentleman. Such in his plain costume, with his simple manner and retiring modesty, was Ashby, whose name and fame, a brave comrade has truly said, will endure as long as the mountains and valleys which he defended.



The achievements of Ashby can be barely touched on herehistory will set them in its purest gold. The pages of the splendid record can only be glanced at now; months of fighting must here be summed up and dismissed in a few sentences.

To look back to his origin — that always counts for somethinghe was the son of a gentleman of Fauquier, and up to 1861 was only known as a hard rider, a gay companion, and the kindesthearted of friends. There was absolutely nothing in the youth's character, apparently, which could detach him from the great mass of mediocrities; but under that laughing face, that simple, unassuming manner, was a soul of fire — the unbending spirit of the hero, and no less the genius of the born master of the art of war. When the revolution broke out Ashby got in the saddle, and spent most of his time therein until he fell. It was at this time --on the threshold of the war — that I saw him first. I have described his person-his bearing was full of a charming courtesy. The low, sweet voice made you his friend before you knew it; and so modest and unassuming was his demeanor that a child would instinctively have sought his side and confided in him. The wonder of wonders to me, a few months afterwards, was that this unknown youth, with the simple smile, and the retiring, almost shy demeanour, had become the right hand of Jackson, the terror of the enemy, and had fallen near the bloody ground of Port Republic, mourned by the whole nation of Virginia.

Virginia was his first and last love. When he went to Harper's Ferry in April, 1861, with his brother Richard's cavalry company, some one said: “Well, Ashby, what flag are we going to fight under — the Palmetto, or what?” Ashby took off his hat, and exhibited a small square of silk upon which was painted the Virginia shield — the Virgin trampling on the tyrant. “That is the flag I intend to fight under,” was his reply; and he accorded it his paramount fealty to the last. Soon after this incident active service commenced on the Upper Potomac; and an event occurred which changed Ashby's whole character. His brother [63] Richard, while on a scout near Romney, with a small detachment, was attacked by a strong party of the enemy, his command dispersed, and as he attempted to leap a “cattle-stop” in the railroad, his horse fell with him. The enemy rushed upon him, struck him cruelly with their sabres, and killed him before he could rise. Ashby came up at the moment, and with eight men charged them, killing many of them with his own hand. But his brother was dead — the man whom he had loved more than his own life; and thereafter he seemed like another man. Richard Ashby was buried on the banks of the Potomac-his brother nearly fainted at the grave; then he went back tb his work. “Ashby is now a devoted man,” said one who knew him; and his career seemed to justify the words. He took command of his company, was soon promoted to the rank of a field officer, and from that moment he was on the track of the enemy day and night. Did private vengeance actuate the man, once so kind and sweet-tempered? I know not; but something from this time forward seemed to spur him on to unflagging exertion and ceaseless activity. Day and night he was in the saddle. Mounted upon his fleet white horse, he would often ride, in twenty-four hours, along seventy miles of front, inspecting his pickets, instructing his detachments, and watching the enemy's movements at every point. Here to-day, to-morrow he would be seen nearly a hundred miles distant. The lithe figure on the white horse “came and went like a dream,” said one who knew him at that time. And when he appeared it was almost always the signal for an attack, a raid, or a “scout,” in which blood would flow.

In the spring of 1862, when Jackson fell back from Winchester, Ashby, then promoted to the rank of Colonel, commanded all his cavalry. He was already famous for his wonderful activity, his heroic courage, and that utter contempt for danger which was born in his blood. On the Potomac, near Shepherdstown, he had ridden to the top of a crest, swept by the hot fire of the enemy's sharpshooters near at hand; and pacing slowly up and down on his milk-white horse, looked calmly over his shoulder at his foes, who directed upon him a storm of bullets. He was now to give a proof more striking still of his fearless [64] nerve. Jackson slowly retired from Winchester, the cavalry under Ashby bringing up the rear, with the enemy closely pressing them. The long column defiled through the town, and Ashby remained the last, sitting his horse in the middle of Loudoun street as the Federal forces poured in. The solitary horseman, gazing at them with so much nonchalance, was plainly seen by the Federal officers, and two mounted men were detached to make a circuit by the back streets, and cut off his retreat. Ashby either did not see this manoeuvre, or paid no attention to it. He waited until the Federal column was nearly upon him, and had opened a hot fire-then he turned his horse, waved his hat around his head, and uttering a cheer of defiance, galloped off. All at once, as he galloped down the street, he saw before him the two cavalrymen sent to cut off and capture him. To a man like Ashby, inwardly chafing at being compelled to retreat, no sight could be more agreeable. Here was an opportunity to vent his spleen; and charging the two mounted men, he was soon upon them. One fell with a bullet through his breast; and, coming opposite the other, Ashby seized him by the throat, dragged him from his saddle, and putting spur to his horse, bore him off. This scene, which some readers may set down for romance, was witnessed by hundreds both of the Confederate and the Federal army.

During Jackson's retreat Ashby remained in command of the rear, fighting at every step with his cavalry and horse artillery, under Captain Chew. It was dangerous to press such a man. His sharp claws drew blood. As the little column retired sullenly up the valley, fighting off the heavy columns of General Banks, Ashby was in the saddle day and night, and his guns were never silent. The infantry sank to sleep with that thunder in their [65] ears, and the same sound was their reveille at dawn. Weary at last of a proceeding so unproductive, General Banks ceased the pursuit and fell back to Winchester, when Ashby pursued in his turn, and quickly sent intelligence to Jackson, which brought him back to Kernstown. The battle there followed, and Ashby held the turnpike, pressing forward with invincible ardour, flanking the Federal forces, and nearly getting in their rear. When Jackson was forced to retire, he again held the rear; and continued in front of the enemy, eternally skirmishing with them, until Jackson again advanced to attack General Banks at Strasburg and Winchester. It was on a bright May morning that Ashby, moving in front, struck the Federal column of cavalry in transitu north of Strasburg, and scattered them like a hurricane. Separated from his command, but bursting with an ardour which defied control, he charged, by himself, about five hundred Federal horsemen retreating in disorder, snatched a guidon from the hands of its bearer, and firing right and left into the column, summoned the men to surrender. Many did so, and the rest galloped on, followed by Ashby, to Winchester, where he threw the guidon, with a laugh, to a friend, who afterwards had it hung up in the Library of the Capitol at Richmond.


The work of Ashby then began in earnest. The affair with General Banks was only a skirmish — the wars of the giants followed.

Jackson, nearly hemmed in by bitter and determined foes, fell back to escape destruction, and on his track rushed the heavy columns of Shields and Fremont, which, closing in at Strasburg and Front Royal, were now hunting down the lion. It was then and there that Ashby won his fame as a cavalry officer, and attached to every foot of ground over which he fought some deathless tradition. The reader must look elsewhere for a record of those achievements. Space would fail me were I to touch with the pen's point the hundredth part of that splendid career. On every hill, in every valley, at every bridge, Ashby thundered and lightened with his cavalry and artillery. Bitterest of the [66] bitter was the cavalier in those moments; a man sworn to hold his ground or die. He played with death, and dared it everywhere. From every hill came the roar of his guns and the sharp crack of his sharpshooters, but the music, much as he loved itand he did love it with all his soul — was less sweet to him than the clash of sabres. It was in hand-to-hand fighting that he seemed to take the greatest pleasure. In front of his column, sweeping forward to the charge, Ashby was “happy.” Coming to the Shenandoah near Newmarket, he remained behind with a few men to destroy the bridge, and here took place an event which may seem too trifling to be recorded, but which produced a notable effect upon the army. While retreating alone before a squadron of the enemy's cavalry in hot pursuit of him, his celebrated white horse was mortally wounded. Furious at this, Ashby cut the foremost of his assailants out of the saddle with his sabre, and safely reached his command; but the noble charger was staggering under him, and bleeding to death. He dismounted, caressed for an instant, without speaking, the proud neck, and then turned away. The historic steed was led off to his death, his eyes glaring with rage it seemed at the enemy still; and Ashby returned to his work, hastening to meet the fatal bullet which in turn was to strike him. The death of the white horse who had passed unscathed through so many battles, preceded only by a few days that of his rider, whom no ball had ever yet touched. It was on the 4th or 5th of June, just before the battle of Cross Keys, that he ambuscaded and captured Sir Percy Wyndham, commander of Fremont's cavalry advance. Sir Percy had publicly announced his intention to “bag Ashby;” but unwarily advancing upon a small decoy in the road, he found himself suddenly attacked in flank and rear by Ashby in person; and he and his squadron of sixty or seventy men were taken prisoners. That was the last cavalry fight in which the great leader took part. His days were numbered-death had marked him. But to the last he was what he had always been, unresting, fiery, ever on the enemy's track; and he died in harness. It was on the very same evening, I believe, that while commanding the rear-guard of Jackson, he formed the design of flanking and [67] attacking the enemy's infantry, and sent to Jackson for troops. A brave associate, Colonel Bradley Johnson, described him at that moment, when the bolt was about to fall: “He was riding at the head of the column with General Ewell, his black face in a blaze of enthusiasm. Every feature beamed with the joy of the soldier. He was gesticulating and pointing out the country and position to General Ewell. I could imagine what he was saying by the motions of his right arm. I pointed him out to my adjutant-‘Look at Ashby! see how he is enjoying himself!’ ” The moment had come. With the infantry, two regiments sent him by Jackson, he made a rapid detour to the right, passed through a field of waving wheat, and approached a belt of woods upon which the golden sunshine of the calm June evening slept in mellow splendour. In the edge of this wood Colonel Kane, of the Pennsylvania “Bucktails,” was drawn up, and soon the crash of musketry resounded from the bushes along a fence on the edge of the forest, where the enemy were posted. Ashby rushed to the assault with the fiery enthusiasm of his blood. Advancing at the head of the Fifty-eighth Virginia in front, while Colonel Johnson with the Marylanders attacked the enemy in flank, he had his horse shot under him, but sprang up, waving his sword, and shouting, “Virginians, charge!” These words were his last. From the enemy's line, now within fifty yards, came a storm of bullets; one pierced his breast, and he fell at the very moment when the Bucktails broke, and were pursued by the victorious Southerners. Amid that triumphant shout the great soul of Ashby passed away. Almost before his men could raise him he was dead. He had fallen as he wished to fall-leading a charge, in full war harness, fighting to the last. Placed on a horse in front of a cavalryman, his body was borne out of the wood, just as the last rays of sunset tipped with fire the foliage of the trees; and as the form of the dead chieftain was borne along the lines of infantry drawn up in column, exclamations broke forth, and the bosoms of men who had advanced without a tremor into the bloodiest gulfs of battle, were shaken by uncontrollable sobs. The dead man had become their beau-ideal of a soldier; his courage, fire, dash, and unshrinking nerve had won the hearts of these [68] rough men; and now when they read upon that pale face the stamp of the hand of death, a black pall seemed slowly to descend — the light of the June evening was a mockery. That sunset was the glory which fell on the soldier's brow as he passed away. Never did day light to his death a nobler spirit.


Mere animal courage is a common trait. It was not the chief glory of this remarkable man that he cared nothing for peril, daring it with an utter recklessness. Many private soldiers of whom the world never heard did as much. The supremely beautiful trait of Ashby was his modesty, his truth, his pure and knightly honour. His was a nature full of heroism, chivalry, and simplicity; he was not only a great soldier, but a chevalier, inspired by the prisca fides of the past. “I was with him,” said a brave associate, “when the first blow was struck for the cause which we both had so much at heart, and was with him in his last fight, always knowing him to be beyond all modern men in chivalry, as he was equal to any one in courage. He combined the virtues of Sir Philip Sidney with the dash of Murat. His fame will live in the valley of Virginia, outside of books, as long as its hills and mountains shall endure.”

Never was truer comparison than that of Ashby to Murat and Sidney mingled; but the splendid truth and modesty of the great English chevalier predominated in him. The Virginian had the dash and fire of Murat in the charge, nor did the glittering Marshal at the head of the French cuirassiers perform greater deeds of daring. But the pure and spotless soul of Philip Sidney, that “mirror of chivalry,” was the true antetype of Ashby's. Faith, honour, truth, modesty, a courtesy which never failed, a loyalty which nothing could affect-these were the great traits which made the young Virginian so beloved and honoured, giving him the noble place he held among the men of his epoch. No man lives who can remember a rude action of his; his spirit seemed to have been moulded to the perfect shape of antique courtesy; and nothing could change the pure gold of his nature. His fault [69] as a soldier was a want of discipline; and it has been said with truth that he resembled rather the chief huntsman of a hunting party than a general-mingling with his men in bivouac or around the camp fire, on a perfect equality. But what he wanted in discipline and military rigour he supplied by the enthusiasm which he aroused in the troops. They adored him, and rated him before all other leaders. His wish was their guide in all things; and upon the field they looked to him as their war-king. The flash of his sabre as it left the scabbard drove every hand to the hilt; the sight of his milk-white horse in front was their signal for “attention,” and the low clear tones of Ashby's order, “Follow me!” as he moved to the charge, had more effect upon his men than a hundred bugles.

I pray my Northern reader who does me the honour to peruse this sketch, not to regard these sentences as the mere rhapsody of enthusiasm. They contain the truth of Ashby, and those who served with him will testify to the literal accuracy of the sketch. He was one of those men who appear only at long intervals-a veritable realization of the “hero” of popular fancy. The old days of knighthood seemed to live again as he moved before the eye; the pure faith of the earlier years was reproduced and illustrated in his character and career. The anecdotes which remain of his kindness, his courtesy, and warmth of heart, are trifles to those who knew him, and required no such proofs of his sweetness of temper and character. It is nothing to such that when the Northern ladies about to leave Winchester, came and said, “General Ashby, we have nothing contraband about usyou can search our trunks and our persons;” he replied, “The gentlemen of Virginia do not search ladies' trunks or their persons, madam.” He made that reply because he was Ashby. For this man to have been rude, coarse, domineering, and insulting to unprotected ladies — as more than one Federal general at Winchester was — that was simply impossible. He might have said, in the words of the old Ulysses, “They live their lives, I mine.”

Such was the private character, simple, beautiful, and “altogether lovely,” of this man of fibre so hard and unshrinking; of dash, nerve, obstinacy, and daring never excelled. Behind that [70] sweet and friendly smile was the stubborn and reckless soul of the born fighter. Under those brown eyes, as mild and gentle as a girl's, was a brain of fire — a resolution of invincible strength which dared to combat every adversary, with whatever odds. His intellect, outside of his profession, was rather mediocre than otherwise, and he wrote so badly that few of his productions are worth preserving. But in the field he was a master mind. His eye for position was that of the born soldier; and he was obliged to depend upon that native faculty, for he had never been to West Point or any other military school. They might have improved him — they could not have made him. God had given him the capacity to fight troops; and if the dictum of an humble writer, loving and admiring him alive, and now mourning him, be regarded as unreliable, take the words of Jackson. That cool, taciturn, and unexcitable soldier never gave praise which was undeserved. Jackson knew Ashby as well as one human being ever knew another; and after the fall of the cavalier he wrote of him, “As a partisan officer, I never knew his superior. His daring was proverbial, his powers of endurance almost incredible, his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.” The man who wrote these words-himself daring, enduring, and heroichad himself some sagacity in “divining the purposes and movements of the enemy,” and could recognise that trait in others.

The writer of this page had the honour to know the dead chief of the Valley cavalry — to hear the sweet accents of his friendly voice, and meet the friendly glance of the loyal eyes. It seems to him now, as he remembers Ashby, that the hand he touched was that of a veritable child of chivalry. Never did taint of arrogance or vanity, of rudeness or discourtesy, touch that pure and beautiful spirit. This man of daring so proverbial, of powers of endurance so incredible, of character so heroic, and of a sagacity so unfailing that it drew forth the praise of Jackson, was as simple as a child, and never seemed to dream that he had accomplished anything to make him famous. But famous he was, and is, and will be for ever. The bitter struggle in which he bore so noble a part has ended; the great flag under which he fought [71] is furled, and none are now so poor as to do it reverence. But in failure, defeat, and ruin, this great name survives; the cloud is not so black that the pure star of Ashby's fame does not shine out in the darkness. In the memories and hearts of the people of the Valley his glory is as fresh to-day as when he fell. He rises up in memory, as once before the actual eye — the cavalier on his milk-white steed, leading the wild charge, or slowly pacing up and down defiantly, with proud face turned over the shoulder, amid the bullets. Others may forget him-we of the Valley cannot. For us his noble smile still shines as it shone amid those glorious encounters of the days of Jackson, when from every hill-top he hurled defiance upon Banks and Fremont, and in every valley met the heavy columns of the Federal cavalry, sabre to sabre. He is dead, but still lives. That career-brief, fiery, crammed with glorious shocks, with desperate encounters-is a thing of the past, and Ashby has “passed like a dream away.” But it is only the bodies of such men that die. All that is noble in them survives. What comes to the mind now when we pronounce the name of Ashby, is that pure devotion to truth and honour which shone in every act of his life; that kind, good heart of his which made all love him; that resolution which he early made, to spend the last drop of his blood for the cause in which he fought; and the daring beyond all words, which drove him on to combat whatever force was in his front. We are proudleave us that at least — that this good knight came of the honest old Virginia blood. He tried to do his duty; and counted toil, and danger, and hunger, and thirst, and exhaustion, as nothing. He died as he had lived, in harness, and fighting to the last. In an unknown skirmish, of which not even the name is preserved, the fatal bullet came; the wave of death rolled over him, and the august figure disappeared. But that form is not lost in the great gulf of forgotten things. Oblivion cannot hide it, nor time dim the splendour of the good knight's shield. The figure of Ashby, on his milk-white steed, his face in “a blaze of enthusiasm,” his drawn sword in his hand — that figure will truly live in the memory and heart of the Virginian as long as the battlements of the Blue Ridge stand, and the Shenandoah flows.

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