By the 17th of December, 1863, Federal progress was… not very progressive. William Beach, of the 1st New York remembered that “it was raining hard and freezing”. Despite the weather, Boyd’s main body moved up the pike, with the 1st taking the Back Road, to Columbia Furnace. There’s an anecdote in Beach’s book that mentions a little more… but nothing much other than small encounters.
Meanwhile (sometime in the days before the 17th), Harry Gilmor thought there was a good opportunity to swap his horses for some larger farm horses, that were tucked-away in the stables at a place known as Burner’s Springs (now known as Seven Fountains). Even more interesting, Gilmor appears to have thought it might be fun going to Burner’s, just to clean out the refugees that were holding-up there. Knowing that the refugees had heard the Federals were in the area, Gilmor devised a plan. He doesn’t specify why, exactly, but he had ten of his men dress in blue overcoats.
The road comes in sight half a mile from the buildings, and the refugees were all out, wondering who we were. I made a feint as though we were going up the mountain, then suddenly wheeled to the left, gave a yell, drew pistols, and charged for the buildings. Every man, black and white, broke off and ran for the mountains near by, and we took quiet possession, turning all the horses out into the meadows, and putting our own in their places to eat the blue-grass hay with which their racks were filled. Some of these men staid out in the mountain all night, and came back in the morning almost frozen, but mad as hornets at our innocent little ruse.
Soon after we arrived, a negro hid in the hay crawled out, and, seeing none but friends about, called out to his companions, and soon we saw twenty or more coming from under the barn, and every imaginable hiding place. I immediately sent all the men to the fires in the cabins and put the negroes to work unsaddling and cleaning the horses.
Gilmor doesn’t say if these folks were slaves of the refugees or free, and refugees themselves.
Among civilians… I see that Winchester Unionist Julia Chase writes (December 16 and 17) of Federals captured, rumors of the Federals reaching Staunton (false rumors), and of news from… way down at Morris Island, in South Carolina, that Confederates were “working very hard on Sullivan’s Island, increasing their works there & shelling Forts Wagner and Gregg.” She mentioned hope that Charleston might fall by Christmas.”
Meanwhile, in Staunton… the place where Federals were rumored to be, but they weren’t… one of the newspapers carried developing news regarding the repeal of the enlistment of substitutions, in the Confederate army, and… this piece regarding abuses by the Confederate Quartermaster and Commissary Department, of its own citizens…