While some folks might be focusing on some larger events that cover the next few days, 150 years ago, I highly doubt a small incident in my home county will gain much attention, between today and tomorrow. Yet, to the folks who lived in Page County, it must have been big… and to me, with the majority of my Civil War era ancestry there, it’s enough to strike a chord in my personal Sesqui thinking.
By Saturday, April 19, Stonewall Jackson had, by forced march to Harrisonburg, eluded the efforts of Gen. Nathaniel Banks to get between him and Gen. Richard Ewell. As Jackson pulled his army in around Conrad’s Store (Elkton), the Valley to the north was still in the path of Banks’ force. Would Banks continue south to New Market, or cross the Massanutten to take a more immediate approach to Conrad’s Store?
No doubt, that’s what had some folks buzzing in Luray on the morning of the 19th.
In an effort to see if the Federals were even approaching New Market Gap, two men set off that morning from Luray. Being Confederates, however, it set the stage for a rather dangerous effort. In fact, Doc William Miller, of Co. D, 7th Va. Cav., had been home from exchange not too terribly long, having been captured in the fight at Romney, in October. Samuel Jacob Forrer, on the other hand, appears to have been in Luray on a quick furlough… whether official or not, it’s unclear, but his unit (Co. K, 10th Va. Inf.) was with Jackson at Conrad’s Store. I’ve mentioned what eventually became of Forrer in a post just over a year ago.
Making their way to New Market Gap, Miller and Forrer found no evidence of an approaching force. Before heading back to Luray, the two figured that would pause for a bit in a cabin. It’s unclear whether a third person – 19-year-old Charley Wheat – accompanied them initially or was trying to catch up with the pair, but… so enters Charley Wheat into the story…
As Charley’s brother, Joseph, later recalled… and apparently as related to him by Miller and/or Forrer… while the two were resting in the cabin, they heard gunfire just outside, and between them and Luray. Realizing that they had apparently slipped passed what may have been the advance elements of the Union force, they likely didn’t give much more thought to the particulars of their predicament, and made a hasty escape, “getting away by jumping over a fence and going down through the trees and out of range of the bullets.” Wheat’s fate (again, was he part of the party, or did the two even realize he was there?) would not be made clear until the following day.
Meanwhile… on that same morning… wanting to better secure his position at Conrad’s Store, Jackson tasked Jedediah Hotchkiss with burning the bridges along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River… to include three bridges in Page County. So, with his assignment made clear, Hotchkiss… likely before the event in New Market Gap… made his way to Shenandoah Iron Works to join the cavalry companies with which he was to complete his assignment.
What he found follows in the next post…