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Chapter 4:

On August 3, 1861, Rosecrans had assigned General Kelley to the special military district of Grafton, embracing the Baltimore & Ohio railroad from Grafton to Cumberland, and the Northwestern Virginia from Grafton. Under his command nearly 4,000 men were stationed at Grafton and along the railroad. In September, Col. Angus W. McDonald, a leader in the Confederate cause in the lower Shenandoah valley, was stationed at Romney with his cavalry regiment, the Seventy-seventh militia regiment under Col. E. H. Mc-Donald, the One Hundred and Fourteenth militia under Col. A. Monroe, and one gun under Lieutenant Lionberger, in all about 600 men. Upon this command an attack was made from New Creek Station, or Keyser, by Kelley's soldiers, September 23d. The advance pickets being driven in, the enemy attempted to force their passage through the Mechanicsburg and Hanging Rock passes, of the South Branch mountain, toward Romney, but were repulsed at the first by Major Funsten, while Capt. E. H. Myers and Col. E. H. McDonald, with a few men, defeated the attack at Hanging Rock in true mountaineer style, by rolling rocks down upon the road as well as using their rifles, before which attack the Federal cavalry fell back in confusion, riding down the infantry and leaving some dead upon the road and in the river. Later the enemy advanced in force and gained the two passes, and after some brisk skirmishing the Confederates abandoned [49] Romney and fell back toward North River mountain, fearing to be cut off from Winchester. The next morning Funsten's cavalry and the artillery successfully attacked the enemy at Romney, making a daring charge under heavy fire. The Federals began a retreat, and were pursued nearly to New Creek.

On October 22d, General Kelley was assigned to command of the Federal department of Harper's Ferry and Cumberland. On the 25th he massed a still more formidable force at New Creek, and marched against Romney, while Colonel John's Maryland cavalry regiment moved from Patterson's creek to strike the Confederates in the rear. Passing Mechanicsburg Gap without resistance, they found the Confederates on the 26th in position on the cemetery hill at the town, where the little band made a gallant resistance for an hour or more. It was only after an assault by overwhelming numbers that McDonald's command retired, withdrawing their artillery and making another stand east of town, from which they were again compelled to retreat. General Kelley reported the capture of artillery and baggage train and small-arms, but no prisoners. Colonel John's cavalry, mentioned above, was met at South Branch bridge, near Springfield, by Colonel Monroe, and defeated with considerable loss. A Federal force was stationed at Romney, while Colonel Monroe encamped 15 miles east, at the town of Hanging Rock. About two months afterward there was a considerable engagement between some of Kelley's troops and the Confederates, at Blue's Gap, about 15 miles east of Romney, in which the Confederates were victorious. Kelley's men on this march destroyed by fire a group of houses known as the village of Frenchburg, as well as the residences of some of the best people of the county.

On the 4th of November, Thomas J. Jackson, with the immortal battle-name of ‘Stonewall,’ earned at Manassas, and the rank of major-general, returned to the valley [50] and assumed command of that district, his only regret at the assignment being that his Stonewall brigade was not ordered at first to accompany him. This separation was so painful as to cause him to say, ‘Had this communication not come as an order, I should instantly have declined it and continued in command of the brave old brigade.’

Jackson was a descendant of a sterling western Virginia family, which first settled in Hardy county and then moving across the Alleghany ridge made their home in Buckhannon. He was born at Clarksburg, and his mother's grave is in the soil of the new State. The spot where reposes the venerated woman who gave this hero birth is thus described:

On the top of a wooded hill near the mining village of Anstead, Fayette county, W. Va., is an old graveyard still used as a burying place by the dwellers in this mountainous region. It is greatly neglected, and many graves are scarcely to be found, though a few are protected by little pens of fence rails The location is so beautiful and the view it commands is so extensive and exquisite that it is worthy of being well cared for. Among those who lie buried here is the mother of that Christian soldier, Thomas Jonathan Jackson. The grave, or spot, for the grave is scarcely to be recognized, has been kindly cared for by Stephen M. Taylor, formerly of Albemarle county. But no stone was erected until a gentleman of Staunton, Capt. Thomas D. Ransom, one of his old soldiers, seeing the neglected condition of the grave, had prepared a simple but suitable monument: a tall slab of marble with an inscription giving the dates of her birth and death, and adding that it is ‘a tribute to the mother of Stonewall Jackson by one of his old brigade.’

Among the valleys and hills of this romantic part of the Old Dominion, Jackson passed his boyhood and the greater part of his life until appointed to a cadetship at West Point. After his military life in Mexico he was elected to a professorship in the Virginia military institute, situated in the splendid valley which reposes in beauty and [51] grandeur between the Blue ridge and the Alleghany mountains. There a ten years service, from 1851, allied him again with the western portion of his native State, identified'him with its interests, and explains his ardent desire to hold it as a part of the ‘Old Dominion’ forever.

General Jackson was accustomed to speak of western Virginia as ‘our section of the State,’ and no one deplored more than he the divisions among its people which exposed them to special severities during the war. After the brilliant victory at First Manassas, his thoughts turned to the reverses which the Confederates were suffering in his home country. Learning that Lee had been sent there, he expressed his wish to ‘go and give my feeble aid as an humble instrument in the hands of Providence in retrieving the down-trodden loyalty of that part of my native State.’ In August he wrote to Colonel Bennett, first auditor of the Virginia commonwealth:

Should you ever have occasion to ask for a brigade from this army for the Northwest, I hope mine will be the one selected. This is, of course, confidential, as it is my duty to serve wherever I may be placed, and I desire to be always where most needed. But it is natural for one's affections to turn to the home of his boyhood and family.

When General Jackson arrived at Winchester, he had at his disposal only the militia brigades of Boggs, Carson and Meem, McDonald's cavalry and Henderson's mounted company. Jackson began upon his arrival the important work of organizing, recruiting and drilling these troops, and was soon reinforced by his Stonewall brigade. The disasters which had occurred in the western counties were so dispiriting to the desolate people of that section, and their numerous and urgent appeals for relief and protection were so great that he felt the necessity of a vigorous campaign even in the midst of winter. His spirit was stirred within him as he heard of the rapid advances of the invasion over the land of his boyhood, and thus [52] moved to begin military operations without delay, he petitioned the secretary of war to send the entire command of General Loring to reinforce him at Winchester for the purpose of making an immediate attempt to capture the Federal forces at Romney, commanded by General Kelley. He stated to the secretary of war that it was of great importance to occupy northwestern Virginia at once, and that while the enemy was not expecting attack, during the severity of winter, was the Confederate opportunity of achieving success.

Jackson's plan, as outlined in his letter of 1861, covered a campaign which included a general battle with McClellan, who was to be defeated, and the preoccupation of the northwest counties and the Kanawha valley. The proposed campaign was undoubtedly hazardous, but the ardent spirit of Jackson saw that the chances of a great success were on the Confederate side.

The eagerness of Jackson to be striking a blow against the enemy somewhere would not suffer him to wait for a decision which seems to have been delayed in a too cautious consideration of obstacles. Believing that even his small command could be made effective, before the arrival of the army of the Northwest, and as a good exercise in the chilly December, he moved upon Dam No. 5, on the Chesapeake & Ohio canal, which was being used by the Federals in forwarding troops and supplies. The expedition involved more hardship than danger. Though Banks, with a large force, was near the opposite bank of the Potomac, Jackson deceived that Federal officer easily by making a diversion with Virginia militia toward Williamsport.

Early in December, Taliaferro's brigade of the army of the Northwest—the First Georgia, Third Arkansas, Twenty-third and Thirty-seventh Virginia regiments, arrived, and a few weeks later more of the same army reported, under General Loring, consisting of Col. William Gilham's brigade—the Twenty-first, Forty-second [53] and Forty-eighth Virginia, First battalion, and Marye's battery—and Gen. S. R. Anderson's Tennessee brigade. After Loring's arrival, though Jackson had the general direction of the projected operations against Bath, Hancock and Romney, Loring retained command of his army by the orders of the war department. The leader of the cavalry was the brave Lieut.-Col. Turner Ashby, whose fame was already foretokened by chivalrous exploits in the campaigns of the summer.

The army under Jackson and Loring, including about 8,000 infantry, besides Ashby's cavalry, moved away from Winchester, January 1st, under a bright, clear sky, with the temperature of the air like that of a crisp, invigorating April morning. The troops, though ignorant of their destination, marched out of quarters with buoyant spirits and springy step, and all went well for the first day, but with unexpected suddenness the sleet and snow fell upon them with increasing severity, the frozen roads became slippery, the wagons were delayed, and the men forced to bivouac without their tents for a dreary night. The severe storm continued for two days, during which the true and tried soldiery braved adversity and struggled on with the leaders who shared with them the hardships of the march. Many were compelled by sickness to return, and some whose courage failed them dropped out of line and straggled to shelter, while the larger number pressed on until after the third day they entered Bath, which the Federals had hastily abandoned, leaving a considerable part of their stores. After only a temporary halt Jackson pushed on after the retreating foe, and driving them into Hancock he sent Ashby under a flag to demand their surrender. Colonel Ashby, on reaching the Federal front, was received and blindfolded, then led into the town, hearing his name often mentioned by the Northern troops as ‘The famous Ashby.’ Many of them had heard that name called out in the charge of Ashby's men as they rode into Bath, and were now eager [54] to look upon the noted cavalry captain of Virginia. Colonel Ashby was conducted to the Federal officer in command, and on hearing his refusal to surrender returned and reported to General Jackson. In a few minutes McLaughlin's Confederate artillery drove the enemy out of Hancock. Thus far the expedition had attained success nearly equal to Jackson's expectations. The only reverse had been experienced by Monroe's militia, which encountered superior forces of the enemy at Hanging Rock, January 7th. Six days had passed since leaving Winchester, during which time the intrepid soldiers had endured great hardships from long marches in the severe cold over rough roads, but on the 7th they were again on the march against Romney, which was reached on the 10th and occupied. The Federals in a panic had fled from the town, abandoning to the Confederates a quantity of tents and supplies.

Loring's command was now put into winter quarters near Romney, while Jackson returned to Winchester and made his report of the expedition, showing his loss in killed only 4 and wounded 28; and describing the general result of the brief affair, he says: ‘Shepherdstown protected from shelling, the railroad communication with Hancock broken, all that portion of the country east of the great Cacapon recovered, Romney and a large part of Hampshire county evacuated by the enemy without firing a gun; the enemy had fled from the western part of Hardy and been forced from the offensive to the defensive.’ It was Jackson's design to advance from Romney on an important expedition, but the enterprise was abandoned temporarily with the view of further aggressive operations in a different direction. He had disposed his forces so as to protect the territory which had been reclaimed. The regiments of Cols. A. Monroe, E. H. Mc-Donald and W. H. Harness were assigned to the region of their homes; Colonel Johnson's regiment was with Harness in Hardy, and three companies of cavalry were left [55] with Loring, one of them ‘the daring company of Capt. George F. Sheetz, which was familiar with all that section of the country.’

But soon after Jackson's return he was directed by the secretary of war to order Loring's army back to Winchester, which he reluctantly obeyed. In consequence of this withdrawal, Kelley reoccupied Romney, and drove the Confederate outpost from Moorefield, February 12th, while General Lander occupied Bloomery Gap two days later, capturing Col. R. F. Baldwin, Thirty-first regiment, and about 50 others. But this last point was reoccupied by Colonel Ashby on the 16th. General Jackson reported that many houses and mills had been burned in Hampshire county by ‘the reprobate Federal commanders.’ On March 3d, Colonel Downey's command of Federal forces occupied Romney. Downey evacuated the place later in the spring, when it was again occupied by the militia of the county. In the summer the town was occupied by the Twenty-second Pennsylvania regiment, and afterward by the Hampshire county militia. [56]

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