The Movement into the Shenandoah Valley - Stationed at Winchester Under Gen. Milroy - Moved to Berryville - The Capture of Capt. Lapole - Joke on Sergt. Porter - From Berryville to Clarksburg - The March Through Charlestown.
At Moorefield the Twelfth was assigned to Gen. Cluseret's brigade of Milroy's
division, and on the 17th Gen. Cluseret started on an expedition to Strasburg,
Va., the Twelfth being part of his command. We marched 26 miles the first day,
camping on Lost River, four miles from Wordensville. That night was cold and
stormy. The wind blew so that it made the soldiers' blankets flap as they lay
under them trying to get a little sleep, and it was so cold that in some cases
they had to get up in the night to go to the large fires they had made to get
warm. That night it froze so hard that the creek was frozen so as to bear up a
horse, but not quite the artillery. There was some difficulty in getting it
over the creek. It was to this bleak and inhospitable place that the eccentric
genius, "Barney" Wiles of Company D, alluded when he spoke of
"the place where fire froze and turkeys chewed tobacco."
(60) The second day the command marched through Wordensville to Capon Springs, 18 miles, encamping there for the night in the Mountain House, a magnificent building of 410 well finished rooms, situated right in the midst of rather a dense forest. Owing to the torturous mountain roads we were close to this building before observing it. Making a sharp turn in the road, its grand proportions flashed upon us suddenly, as if by magic. The water in these springs is quite warm, and much steam was arising from it that cold weather.
(61) We had good quarters that night, having nice mattresses on which to sleep. But we had to get up very early in the morning to resume our march to Strasburg. Surgeon Bryon of the Twelfth, in a half-jocular and half-earnest way, protested against getting up so early, saying "It's not the ideal thing, and I don't believe in it - this thing of getting up at midnight to stuff victuals and start out on a Rebel hunt."
(62) After "stuffing victuals" we pushed out for Strasburg, a distance of 18 miles, where the Rebel Gen. Jones was, with a small force, which retired before the advance of Cluseret's brigade, leaving only his rear-guard to skirmish with the advance, as it entered the town.
(63) Gen. Cluseret was a spirited, dashing Frenchman, who afterward figured prominently in belligerent affairs in Paris, after its evacuation by the Prussians, in the late Franco-Prussian War. And it was a picturesque sight to see him in his corduroy pantaloons, on nearing the town, dashing ahead of the infantry with a very small body-guard, while some skirmishing was going on with the cavalry. Some prisoners were taken here.
(64) On nearing Strasburg we got our first sight of the far-famed Shenandoah Valley, which had already been the scene, so far in the war, of some bloody battles, and was destined to be the scene of some far more bloody. And at the same time we got our first view of the no less famed Blue Ridge.
(65) We camped at Strasburg that night. This was a small town of quite ancient appearance, situated on the north bank of the North Branch of the Shenandoah River, and at the base of the Massanutten Mountain, lying to the south. The next day the command marched six miles to Middletown. We remained here untill the 24th.
(66) Our movement from Moorefield had been a rapid one, and all subsistence and camp equipage had been left behind, except what the men could carry. So we had, in part, while at Middletown, to live off the country, regular foraging details being sent out for the purpose of getting subsistence, which were fairly successful. And we had to extemporize such quarters as best we could, while staying at Middletown. We built up rail-pens, filling them in and covering them over with straw for quarters. They answered very well for that purpose, as the weather was then quite fine for that season of the year.
(67) On the 24th the command marched to Winchester, Va. For a little while, until our tents arrived, we occupied the abandoned Rebel winter quarters at that place made of cedar brush. It appeared that when the Johnnys vacated their quarters they were not entirely abandoned - we found other occupants of them. It was here that we made our first acquaintance with "grey-backs." We found them companions whose acquaintance was hard to cut. They seemed to be no respectors of persons. It was not an uncommon sight to see a Colonel with his shirt off looking industriously for the little enemy, just the same as though the said Colonel were a fellow of low degree. As Artemas Ward would perhaps have said, he, the "grey-back," was a "little cuss," who seemed to love war against the human species for its own sake, not caring a continental whether he attacked a Union soldier or a Reb.
(68) When the regiment started on the raid by way of Strasburg, a part of it was left behind at Moorefield. This detail of about 75 men, and about the same number of the Tenth West Virginia Infantry, the latter under command of Capt. Darnell of the latter regiment, and the whole under command of Capt. J. W. Moffatt of Company G of the Twelfth, struck tents and started for Winchester with a wagon train of supplies for Cluseret's command, leaving Moorefield the 28th. At Wordensville, four miles out, they were attacked by Rebel cavalry. The Wheeling Intelligencer of June -, 1865, in a sketch of the history of the Twelfth, said of this affair: "They were attacked by about 300 of Imboden's cavalry, and, notwithstanding the largely superior force of the enemy, Capt. Moffat repulsed them handsomely, driving them several miles, and conducted the train safely to Gen. Cluseret at Winchester."
(69) The Intelligencer's statement regarding this affair is not strictly correct, for the Rebels captured 52 horses from the train. No blame attaches to Capt. Moffatt, however, as he was a brave and faithful officer.
(70) After this attack and repulse Capt. Moffatt and his train-guard had no further trouble. On the route they crossed the south branch of the Potomac, passed through Romney, crossed Lost River, passed through Blue Gap, crossed Capon River, and on the fifth day out, January 1st, 1863, arrived at Winchester, the train-guards of the Twelfth rejoining here their regiment. This was the day on which the President's Emancipation Proclamation was to take effect, but strange to say the colored people of Winchester seemed utterly ignorant of the fact that there was such a thing as any proclamation of freedom.
(71) One was struck with the number of colored people in this town with white blood in them. They were of all shades of color, from, say half white to nearly white. An incident in this connection is perhaps deserving of a place. After we had been in Winchester for some time, and had begun to get a little acquainted, Surgeon Bryan of the Twelfth one day got into a conversation with a lady of the city, and, pertinent to the subject of the conversation, remarked that he could scarcely distinguish the negroes from the whites.
(72) "How is that," inquired the lady, "are the white people so dark?"
(73) "Oh, no;" he replied, "it is not that the whites are so dark, but that the blacks are so white."
(74) To go back a little, some skillful maneuvers by Gen. Cluseret, shortly after his arrival at Winchester from Strasburg, should be mentioned. One day there seemed to be some signs of an attack by Gen. Sam Jones. And it appeared as though our General wished to avoid, at that time, an attack from the enemy; so he moved the bulk of his brigade, consisting in all of about 2,500 men, over a ridge to the north, a half mile distant, out of sight; then he brought them in view again, on the ridge several hundred yards to the right, marched them along the southern slope of the ridge, and passed over it out of sight, at the same place as before. Thus making it appear that two columns had crossed the ridge instead of one.
(75 ) This maneuver was calculated to deceive the enemy if he viewed it from a distance, for some of our own men looking on from a distance, thought we were getting reinforcements. Some of the citizens of the town remarked afterward, it was said, that they thought that Gen. Cluseret's strategic handling of his brigade on that occasion was well done.
(76) Winchester at the time of our occupancy of it was a rather pretty old town pleasantly situated, and of about 6,000 inhabitants. It was a place of historic associations, among which may be named the fact that it was the burial spot of Gen. Daniel E. Morgan of Revolutionary fame, and it was destined to have still further historic associations.
(77) The citizens were almost universally disloyal; and the women especially took particular pains, on our coming among them, to show their hostility toward, and aversion for, the Yankees, by pulling their veils over their fates on passing the men on the street, and other like demonstrations. But time and association have their influence, and after awhile these manifestations of dislike and enmity almost entirely ceased. In fact, on entering their houses the women would treat you courteously, and in some instances, it is remembered, that they used, in a half pleasant, half tantalizing way, to sing for and at us their Rebel songs, such as "The Bonny Blue Flag," etc., and then apologetically ask us to not be offended at their doing so.
(78) The women here were notably handsome and fine looking, so much so as to be the subject of remark among our soldiers to that effect. A little incident may be here pertinently given. There was an old colored woman in the town, who used to work for the boys. On one occasion there was an allusion by some of them, in her presence, to the fact that there was a general concurrence of opinion among both officers and men that the white women of Winchester were quite handsome. The old colored woman did not quite relish this compliment to the white women, and said that if they were handsome in appearance they were not pretty in disposition, adding, "Indeed, honey, they could just cut your hearts out." Perhaps it was not without reason that this negress entertained this opinion.
(79) There were more than 1,000 Rebel dead buried here, many of whom had been wounded at the Battle of Antietam, and died of their wounds at this place.
(80) This post was destined to be our winter quarters for the remainder of the winter. We spent the time here in guard, picket and fatigue duty, the latter duty being in part, work on the fortifications; and in drilling, target practice, and an occasional scout, filling in the interims growling, playing cards, corresponding, reading the papers, and occasionally talking on politics and disputing about the Emancipation Proclamation. Something about this last matter will be mentioned further along.
(81) The arrival of the mail was always looked forward to with especial anxiety and interest by the boys. So eager were they to hear the news from home, some of the men in some of the companies, who could not write, inducing others to help them in their efforts, so applied themselves to learning to write that they were enabled to do their own corresponding, before the war was over. The army was in this particular, as well as in some others, a good school for some of the boys.
(82) Citizens used to come into camp at this place to sell pies, cakes, etc., to the soldiers, and the boys would sometimes cheat them shamefully. In one instance at least, a soldier passed a label taken from a bottle of Perry Davis's Pain-killer for money. Where a peddler of pies could not read and the boys paid in scrip they, in making change, would very likely take more money than they gave. It is not to be wondered at, in view of the simplicity and lack of intelligence on the part of many of the whites of the South, that they manifested the ignorance they did, implied in the question "What are you alls coming down here to fight we alls for?"
(83) Even the citizens of apparently general intelligence seemed to have very hazy ideas of the real nature of the war. On one occasion a lady of Winchester, who did not seem to be of the ignorant class, asked the question, "How long do you intend to carry on the war against us?" and when told that the war would be prosecuted until the people of the South submitted to the authority of the United States, she seemed to regard the idea with horror and repugnance, and as a thought not to be entertained for a moment, throwing up her hands and exclaiming "Oh! Oh!"
(84) Possibly this lady's conception of the war, and that of thousands of others in the South, was that it was a fight to satisfy a spite or grudge, and after a sufficient revenge should be taken the war would stop. They seemed to have very little idea of the deep devotion to the old flag, on the part of the Union soldiers, and the loyal citizens generally, that made them willing to stand by it at any sacrifice; and perhaps no understanding of the demands of the future welfare of the nation, requiring the maintenance of the Union, and appealing to all Unionists to fight the war to a successful issue, if it was among human possibilities.
(85) Our present occupancy of Winchester continued for three months. During that time little of important interest took place. The cavalry here had some brushes with the Rebel cavalry. On one or two occasions some Pennsylvania cavalry (either the Twelfth or Thirteenth) was sent down the valley from the direction of Strasburg, pell-mell into Winchester by the Rebel cavalry, some of the former, in one instance at least, losing their hats in their hasty retreat.
(86) A reference to a diary kept by one of the boys, under date of February 27th, says that on that day our cavalry had an engagement with the Rebel cavalry ten miles out on the Strasburg road, in which our force was rather worsted, losing about 200 men.
(87) During March we received some reinforcements, three regiments and a twelve-gun battery of Regulars. On March the 17th the voters of the West Virginia troops marched to the nearest point of that proposed State, to vote on the question of the adoption of the constitution.
(88) On the 27th we struck tents and marched to Berryville, about ten miles distant. This was a small town, on the road to Harpers Ferry, and near the Shenandoah River. Two days later two regiments, the Sixth Maryland and the Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania Infantry, reinforced us at this place.
(89) There were guerrillas, whose retreat was just across the Shenandoah River in the Blue Ridge, that were very bold and annoying at this place, frequently firing on the outposts. On the night of April 8th they captured two cavalry pickets and five horses of our command. On the night of the 21st a detail of 40 men under command of Lieut. David Powell of Company H, all of the Twelfth, crossed the river into London County, Virginia, and captured the desperate and dangerous Capt. Lapole and seven of his men of these daring guerillas, bringing them in safe to camp as prisoners, receiving therefore the hearty thanks and commendation of the commander of the post at Berryville.
(90) A comrade tells the story of the capture as follows:
(91) While the Twelfth West Virginia Regiment lay at Berrysville, Va., during the months of March and April, 1863, the pickets, outposts and reconnoitering parties were constantly annoyed and harassed by frequent attacks from guerrilla bands, under command of Capt. Lapole, a noted desperado belonging to Mosby's command. Quite a number of men had been killed by this Captain and his party. To capture them was no trifling undertaking.
(92) Lieut. David Powell of Company H had been made provost marshal of the command. In this position he had an opportunity to quiz and learn from all parties who came to his office the whereabouts of Capt. Lapole and his men. At length a negro man, name forgotten, came and wished a permit to buy some sugar and coffee of the post Sutler.
(93) On inquiry Lieut. Powell learned that he was from the east side of the Shenandoah River, where Capt. Lapole and his men always made their escape after making their attacks. At once the Lieut. suspected that the negro man had been sent to obtain the articles he desired, and took him into a back room to question him. The negro stoutly denied that he had been sent by Lapole or any of his men, but admitted that he knew Lapole and quite a number of his men, and after close questioning said that Capt. Lapole and seven of his men were at his master's home and would remain there for the night.
(94) At this Lieut. Powell told him if he would give such information as would lead to Capt. Lapole's capture he would give him $50. This was increased to $80. by Gen. Milroy. The negro at once acceded to the proposition, and agreed to join in the work of his capture, and admitted that Capt. Lapole and his men had sent him for the coffee and sugar. He was allowed to purchase his articles and return to his home, with the understanding that, if Capt. Lapole and his men remained at his master's he would come to the eastern bank of the river and light three matches in succession. Then someone would cross the river and learn all the facts respecting Lapole and his men. At the appointed time the lights flashed across the river and Lieut Wycoff of the First New York Cavalry crossed the river, and learned that Lapole and his men were there at his masters and would remain all night.
(95) Lieut. Powell accompanied by Lieut. Thos. H. Means of Company H, came to the river, and while there signals were displayed from an upper window of a farm house, which display Lieut. Powell with a part of his command, went to the house to put a stop to. On going to the house he found quite a number of the fair sex collected, and a bounteous supper prepared for the boys on the other side of the river.
(96) Lieut. Powell allowed his men to eat at the first table and then after giving strick orders that no lights should be exhibited from the house that night, he took from the house a negro guide and made for the river again. But on his return, Lieut. Means and his men could not be found, and no one dared to make a noise to call him.
(97) Presently he came across Lieut. Wycoff, who had secured a leaky old boat and was waiting for Lieut. Powell and his men. As soon as Lieut. Powell came he, Wycoff, told him what the negro had done and said. At once Lieut. Powell entered the boat with three other men - Samuel McDaniel and Harvey Haddox (the latter was afterward killed in the assault on battery Gregg, in front of Petersburg, Va.) as rowers of the boat. The other soldier was Elijah McIntosh, all of Company H, (McIntosh died at Winchester, October, 1864, from an overdose of morphine given him by a drunken doctor of the regiment.) Then the oarsmen returned and brought two others over until there were twenty-eight men in all on the east side of the river. With these twenty-eight men Lieut. Powell pushed on to where Lapole and his men were lodging for the night.
(98) McDaniel and Haddox took charge of the boat and started down the river, which was fearfully high and rabid, and the night was so dark that no one could see an object ten feet away. Thus three miles had to be traveled down the river, before coming to the house where the men sought, were to be found.
(99) Before reaching the house the chickens were crowing for day and already the dawn of light was beginning to show above the mountain height. (Blue Mountain.)
(100) The negro guide made a mistake and led to the wrong house, not more than four hundred yards away. The noise here in bursting open the door was loud, but fortunately not loud enough to waken the sentinel, who, not more than twenty minutes before had been permitted by his Captain to lie down and sleep, for he had announced the dawn of day and all quiet.
(101) Lieut. Powell had divided his men into two sections - the first, was to move on to the house, and then open order and quickly move around the house, so as to enclose it. The other section was to rush with all their force against the door, and if possible mash it in upon the men who were sleeping on the floor. The first crash, the door flew from its hinges and fell within upon the now frightened foe.
(102) Without firing a shot, the whole crew cried for quarter. A light was struck and just as the light flamed up, one of the men fled up a stair way. When persued he was found close in by the side of a fat chubby girl who had been sleeping alone upstairs. When requested to come forth, he quickly obeyed and begged for quarter. The girl was heartily seared. Some of the men were for capturing her, but on closer view they decided that she was a woman and ought to be left to finish her morning nap.
(104) All the prisoners, Capt. Lapole and seven men were properly searched, their arms secured, and a rapid fall back upon the river was made, where the two men with their boat was in waiting. Lieut. Wycoff had also secured another boat.
(105) Lieut. Means and his men were on the other side; also, two pieces of artillery were planted to secure a safe crossing of the river, against an attack from Mosby and his men, who were only a mile or so distant.
(106) Lieut. Powell saw all his men and his prisoners safely across, then he the last of all, came across, having with his brave men, accompanied one of the most daring feats of the war. The crossing of the river alone, was one of the most perilous adventures one could undertake.
(107) After crossing the river, and forming his men, Lieut. Powell marched with his prisoners to Berrysville, where he securely placed them in the county jail, under a vigilant guard. He and his men received the complimentary notice of Col. McReynolds, commanding post; of Gen. R. H. Milroy, commanding at Winchester, Va., and of Gen. Robert Schenck, who commanded the northern part of Virginia and of Maryland.
(108) Lapole, the morning after his capture, proposed that if he could be allowed fifty yards, and then a chance for escape, he would allow six or eight men to shoot at him. But when told there were that many men in the command who could kill a deer 100 yards running, he gave up the matter as a dangerous undertaking.
(109) He was afterward tried by a military court at Fort McHenry at Baltimore, and was sentenced to be hung, which sentence was executed on the 8th of May, 1864, one year and one month after his capture.
(110) The negro who informed, was literally shot to pieces afterward, by Lapole's comrades in their guerrilla warfare.
(111) The men who crossed the river and captured Lapole, did their duty nobly. Not one of them failing in a single duty assigned them.
(112) It was a mortification to Lieut. Means, that he did not get to cross the river and to share the danger with others.
(113) The men who participated in the capture of Lapole and his men, were largely volunteers from the several companies of the regiment. There was never any need of a detail when it is known that Lieut. Powell was to command.
(114) A company of the Twelfth, on the night of the twenty-ninth went out from camp a few miles to a house to capture some "bush-whackers" supposed to be there; but they failed to get any.
(115) In this connection may be told a little joke on James Porter, who was of the detachment. There was a beautiful girl at the house, whom the sergeant got to see, and with whose beauty he was it seemed, much impressed. It appeared that the matter rested upon his mind; and the next day, though a quiet man, he referred to her beauty in evident admiration, saying, "Boys that was a mighty pretty girl that we saw last night, and I have a notion to go back there."
(116) Our stay at Berryville now May ninth, came to a close. The regiment at this date received orders to proceed to Clarksburg, W. Va., to protect that place, which was threatened with an attack by a rebel force under Gen. Jones, who was raiding the country about there generally.
(117) We started on our march to Clarksburg in the afternoon, to go by way of Harper's Ferry to take the cars there, to the former place. We marched through that old town of Charlestown, W. Va., near Harpers Ferry, which old town is destined to be historic, and a noted place for long years to come, because of its association with the name of John Brown, of Osawatomie, whose memory is world-wide. As showing the extent of the name and fame of John Brown, an incident is here given in substance, as related some years ago by the late Thomas Hughes, "Tom Brown of Rugby," then ex-member of parliament.
(118) It was after our late Civil War that he, Thomas Hughes, was one day walking along in London, not far from London bridge, when he heard a sound of voices that arrested his attention. He listened and soon discovered that the sound proceeded from a regiment of British soldiers crossing the bridge singing, "John Brown's body lies mouldering in the tomb," etc. In writing about this occurrence he indulged in this reflection. That when such men as he should be forgotten, the name of John Brown would still be remembered.
(119) It was perhaps between nine and ten o'clock at night - that night in May - when we passed through the old town. The lights were out, the streets deserted, the citizens apparently had retired for the night; and the town seemed wrapped in slumber. There was nothing to disturb the quiet of the night, and the solemn stillness of all about, but the monotonous tramp, tramp of the soldiers as they marched; when suddenly the quiet was broken; Company A, at the head of the regiment struck up the song of "John Brown," and other companies taking it up soon all were singing.
(120) Pretty soon windows were hoisted, shutters were thrown open and lights flashed out on the streets. It seemed as if the citizens of the old town were startled! Possibly they thought the spirit of John Brown had come back from the spirit world to haunt them.
(121) A few years before the soldiers of Virginia was here to see that John Brown should be hanged, that human servitude in the land might be made more secure. Then the moral atmosphere of our land was murky with greed, selfishness and prejudice. Men's understandings were perverted; they called wrong right, and preached it as a holy thing. It was almost true, that he had no friend, that dared proclaim the fact, and that none were so poor as to do him reverence. Then, too, there were distant rumblings of a coming storm, but the cloud on the horizon was no larger than a man's hand.
(122) Today the storm of war had burst upon the land with threatening fury. The whole country was turned into a field of war. There were other soldiers on duty now. They were fighting to maintain the Union of their fathers, "shouting the battle cry of freedom," and every step they took was leading to the doom of slavery.
(123) The thunder and lightning of war was clearing the moral atmosphere. Men saw things differently now; and while the men of the old Twelfth, like many others, gave a sort of superficial disapproval of the conduct of John Brown, deep down in their hearts, in these perilous times which were anew trying men's souls, they felt an admiration for the old hero who died bravely in an insane attempt to free from bondage a despised race; and hence, they sang with gusto the John Brown war song, as they marched through that town in the Valley which will suggest his name for generations to come.
(124) Considering the wonderful contrast between the spectacle of this regiment's then singing the battle hymn whose refrain is, "But His Soul Goes Marching On," and that which was to be seen there only a few years before, the incident was a most extraordinary and impressive one.
(125) On the eleventh, we arrived to within five miles of Clarksburg, where the enemy had destroyed a railroad bridge. We got off the cars here, got our dinner and marched the same day to Clarksburg. The Rebel Gen. Jones made no attack on the place. During this stay at this place, Mr. Nathaniel Wells, of Brooke county, brought tickets out from Hancock county, for the soldiers of the latter to vote.
(126) We remained at this place doing picket duty, and drilling nearly every day, with nothing particular occurring, until June second, when we had orders to march, taking a freight train for Grafton on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, where we were paid on that day two months pay. The next morning we took the cars at this place for Martinsburg, arriving there the following night; and in the morning following, we started on the march up the Valley Pike for Winchester, more than "Twenty miles away" arriving on the fifth at that place. We camped on the southwest of the town. Here at this time we drew sheter tents. This appeared like getting down to business-looked like stripping for a fight.