Civil War anecdotes

Ragged Rebs in Maryland

Confederate Major General A.P. Hill’s infantry division was busy tearing up the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Maryland in the autumn of 1862. Hill ordered Brig. Gen. James Lane’s brigade to move further north than his other brigades, entering a region where a live ‘Reb’ was a curiosity. Lane’s quartermaster had not procured new uniforms to take the place of the worn, tattered, and ragged relics of the recent Maryland Campaign.

One of Lane’s soldiers later wrote, “We were rather ragamuffins, that’s a fact. Tearing up railroads is not a very pleasant business, and we had enjoyed about twenty-four hours, when Captain K went to a house to get something cooked, and got into quite an interesting conversation with the good lady of the house:

Old Lady – You is an officer, isn’t you?

Captain K – Yes madam, I am a captain in the Seventh North Carolina infantry.

Old Lady – Thar, now Betsy Ann, I told you he was an officer. I kin tell an officer whenever I lays my two eyes on ’em. The officers they have the seat of their breeches patched, and the common soldiers doesn’t.”

Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, Volume XXVIII, Jul.-Dec., 1868. Pg. 99.

A number of officers in the 7th NC had the initial K, but this was most likely Capt. John G. Knox of Company A, a pre-war student from Rowan County, NC.  Later in the war, he was captured and sent to Fort Delaware. He was not released until June 16, 1865. His peers described him as a “cool, brave, and popular officer, and a splendid tactician.”

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A Sign from the Heavens?

Most of you regular readers know I am a native of southeastern Ohio (Zanesville to be specific, about an hour east of Columbus). I spent a lot of hours in the state capital over the years and have been interested in regional Civil War history all my life. My parents used to regularly send me newspaper clippings for ACW events and articles. Here is one anecdote I particularly like, which I adapted from a column by John Switzer in the April 17, 1996, Columbus Dispatch.

Camp Chase (named for Salmon P. Chase) was one of Ohio’s largest prisoner-of-war camps. The sprawling camp along today’s West Broad Street was used early in the war as a training grounds for newly recruited Ohio regiments, but sections of Camp Chase had been transformed into a prison once the numbers of Confederate prisoners began escalating.

On June 7, 1862, Federal authorities held a ceremony commemorating the erection of a gigantic flagpole. Two huge trees were spliced together to form a 150-foot high wooden pole that could be seen for quite some distance. A hand-sewn 42’x27′ American flag proudly flew from the lofty pole. Dignitaries, politicians, military officers, and leading citizens were all present, along with Governor David Tod. Bands played patriotic airs, speeches were given, and the mood was light. At last it was time for the camp commander, Col. Granville P. Moody of the 74th Ohio Volunteers, to stand and deliver his speech. The Methodist minister, known affectionately as the “Fighting Parson,” electrified the boisterous crowd with his final comments, “In the name of God and Governor Tod, we’ll follow our flag to Dixie!” The crowd erupted in cheers and applause, except for the penned up Rebel prisoners not far away.

Days later, strong winds toppled the upper portion of the flagpole, causing the huge banner to crash to the ground. Seeing the flag lying ingloriously in the dirt, the entire Confederate population of 9,000 prisoners erupted in their own cheers. Many danced and laughed and pointed at the fallen Old Glory. Shouts of “Hurrah for Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy!” rang out throughout the compound.

Some prisoners proclaimed it was a portent or sign that the North would end up the same way – fallen and disgraced, toppled in wreckage. God was on surely on their side, and “the whirlwind of heaven had joined them in warring against the Stars and Stripes.” Riotous prisoners crossed over lines they had been forbidden to cross within the stockade. Colonel Moody called out the guards, who leveled their muskets at the crowd and threatened to open fire if they did not disperse. After further threats, order was finally restored.

The flagpole was repaired and Old Glory again floated over Camp Chase, much to the chagrin of the Rebels. Ironically, Moody’s wife hailed from Virginia, as did her parents and relatives. Moody’s brother George was a Confederate captain who commanded a Louisiana artillery battery in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. At Gettysburg, Captain Moody’s CSA gunners played a prominent role under E. P. Alexander in the famed artillery bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge.

For Granville and George Moody, the Civil War was truly “brother against brother.”

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Rebels read the Bible!?!

During the Gettysburg Campaign, many Pennsylvanians were concerned about the invading Confederates. Wild rumors spread that they were giants, with horns and tails, and were the Devil himself. Tales grew that they were purely evil, and planned to burn houses, destroy property, and even eat children. Several references exist for these stories, both in local PA literature and in the reminiscences of Rebel soldiers. A little girl in one Pennsylvania town exclaimed to her mother as they watched the Rebels march by, “Why mama, they haven’t got horns! They are just like our people.”

One Maryland soldier, Randolph McKim, the adjutant of Johnson’s Division, shocked a merchant in the village of Springfield, Pennsylvania. “At Springfield I bought seven copies of the New Testament for distribution among the men. The surprise of the storekeeper when an officer of the terrible Rebel Army desired to purchase copies of the New Testament may be imagined. Perhaps he thought if the rebels would read the Good Book, they might repent of their wicked Rebellion.”

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A Civil War murder

Various elements of Albert Jenkins’ mounted infantry brigade passed through or stayed in York County, Pennsylvania, on June 28, 29, and 30, 1863. The most prominent of these was the 17th Virginia Cavalry under Col. William French, an officer suffering much during the Gettysburg Campaign from extreme fatigue and exhaustion, to the point where Jubal Early for several days rode with the regiment to personally command it. The 17th was on detached duty from the brigade, but other patrols and squadrons from Jenkins’ main force roamed northwestern York County while the main body was in the Cumberland Valley.

On June 30, a black servant of one of the officers somehow became separated and was walking down a road in Warrington Township (extreme NW York County). He had been spotted riding a stolen horse earlier and was thought to have been instrumental in helping soldiers locate hidden horses in the region. A gang of local farmers came upon him and, angry over his role in the thievery, gunned him down in cold blood in the roadway. They dragged his body to the side of the road and covered it with brush.

Years later, the five farmers, as well as a prominent Wellsville citizen who may have provoked the incident, were finally arrested and tried. However, they were found not guilty of the murder and freed.

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July 3 Gettysburg bombardment heard nearly 100 miles away

Nearly ninety miles south of Gettysburg in Virginia’s verdant Loudoun Valley, Captain Charles O’Ferrall of the 12th Virginia Cavalry laid in an Upperville house, clinging to life after a grievous wound suffered during the June 21 cavalry fight. He and his attendants, including his recently arrived mother, could clearly hear the bombardment that preceded Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.

“As I laid flat on my back in my bed I heard distinctly the roar of the cannon… I did not know where it was, but I knew it was the resounding of cannon, and that a great battle was in progress somewhere beyond the waters of the Potomac. The sound kept me stirred and excited, so Dr. [Thomas] Settle, under the pretense of being afraid I would catch the ear-ache, to which I had been subject before leaving home, stuffed cotton in my ears to deaden the sound.”

It worked. O’Ferrall calmed down and lay still. He eventually recovered and returned home.

Charles T. O’Ferrall, Four Years of Service. (New York and Washington: The Neale Publishing Company, 1904).

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Rebel smugglers – the deception

During the early days of the rebellion, the border state of Maryland was divided in loyalty, with almost as many Southern sympathizers as Unionists in places. The Federal government moved quickly to maintain control, arresting large numbers of openly secessionist leaders. Smuggling became an avid vocation, as clandestine Rebel sympathizers developed clever ways of moving war materials, weapons, ammunition, and goods into Virginia for distribution to the Confederate armies.

            A funeral procession had started in Baltimore and had after some time reached the heavily guarded Long Bridge at Washington leading to Virginia. Everything seemed normal to the sentries – the black hearse carrying the deceased in a sealed coffin, followed by a series of carriages with curtains closely drawn to shield the mourners, the drivers “looking solemn as owls.” The guard at the Washington end readily waved the procession onto the bridge, although it did flash across his mind that perhaps this was another Rebel scheme.  The next guard was much more suspicious and called out, “Halt!” Instantly the look on the hearse driver’s face alerted him that something was wrong. “Open the hearse!” the soldier ordered, his weapon leveled. By now, the rest of the funeral party realized that their chicanery was about to be discovered, and, abandoning their carriages, scrambled back into the city as fast as their legs could take them. Summoning other guards, the Union soldier opened the coffin to find it was packed full of shiny new muskets, a commodity of extreme use to the gathering Confederate army.

Adapted from Mara L. Pratt, American History Stories, Volume IV (Boston: Educational Publishing Co., 1891).

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A little humor for a sunny Thursday

A colonel in the Texas Brigade was bragging to the locals along the line of march about his men’s virtues and finer qualities. Just then, one of his men passed by, toting a large turkey slung over one shoulder. The embarrassed officer called out, “Where did you get that turkey?” Without breaking stride, the soldier replied, “Stole it, sir.” The colonel seized on the opportunity, turned to the civilian, and uttered, “Ah, as you see, my boys may steal, but they don’t lie.”


Harold B. Simpson, Hood’s Texas Brigade: Lee’s Grenadier Guard. (Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1970).

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Buried treasure of the Gettysburg Campaign?

          On June 27, Rebel raiders under Lt. Col. Elijah White visited Hanover, a bustling railroad town in southwestern York County. They procured horses, food, liquor, supplies, and any thing else of interest, usually paying in worthless Confederate scrip. A number of merchants and shopkeepers had wisely taken their most valuable merchandise into hiding. However, some procrastinators were still in town when White’s men rode into the center square. Hanover jeweler William Boadenhamer, after a late start, was frantically leaving Hanover on theYork Road.. Gun-toting cavalrymen overtook his carriage about a mile from the town and stole a large box of retail goods. Resting in the shade of a tree near Samuel Mumma’s grist mill, the Rebels opened the chest and found to their delight that it contained nearly one hundred watches and jewelry. They distributed part of the loot among themselves, and, in nearby Jefferson, a soldier passed along a brooch to a little girl he encountered on the street. It is one of the few jewelry pieces known to have been recovered from the entire inventory Boadenhamer lost to the raiders. What happened to the rest?

In a 1906 letter, Elijah White informed former fellow cavalry officer John S. Mosby that, on his way to sacking the railroad depot at Hanover Junction, “Nothing occurred on the way of any consequence, except I captured a wagon load of jewelry. After supplying ourselves, we buried the balance.” For many years, eager treasure hunters have vainly sought White’s buried treasure, if, indeed, he had truly ordered the bulk of an entire jewelry store’s inventory to be stuck in the ground somewhere in the vicinity of Mumma’s old mill along meandering Oil Creek. 

By the way, it’s private property today, so don’t trespass with those metal detectors!!!

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The Ruse

Here is an advance abstract from my new manuscript I am currently working on (Volume 2 of Human Interest Stories of the Gettysburg Campaign). This will be published by Colecraft Industries as a part of this continuing series of popular books.

Confederate horsemen under Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins, a former Democratic U.S. Congressman from the hill country of western Virginia, scouted the south-central Pennsylvania area. His troopers raided farms and homesteads for horses, livestock, and other items of interest to the mountaineers. Jenkins departed Carlisle on Sunday, June 28, with some 250 soldiers and rode through Mechanicsburg towards northern York County, intent on raiding the prosperous town of Dillsburg. Near the hamlet of Williams Grove, his men spotted a large, brightly colored U.S. flag waving atop a nearby low mountain. 

Entering the village, Jenkins encountered a civilian named Lee Welty, who lied and calmly informed the Virginian that the impressive banner marked the vanguard of the oncoming Union Army. Jenkins temporarily halted his advance and splashed back across Yellow Breeches Creek to regroup. The fluttering flag was a deliberate ruse, having been planted on the mountaintop by some local boys. Dillsburg residents used this brief respite to hide their valuables and horses in nearby woods. Hotelkeepers stashed their liquor, and pharmacist George Shearer secreted his wooden barrel of “medicinal whiskey” in his barn. After General Jenkins finally figured out there no Yankees in the area, he occupied Dillsburg, but found little to procure except forage and food.

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