Sesqui’fying April 19, 1862 – Hotchkiss’ challenge in the Page Valley

Posted on April 19, 2012 by


The stage being set in yesterday’s post, which was supposed to be this morning’s post… this is where I get to inject a little light-hearted commentary, into the seriousness of the day…

When Hotchkiss arrived at Shenandoah Iron Works, he found his cavalrymen… two companies of the 7th Virginia Cavalry… “in a state of drunkenness”.**

Now, what’s funny here, is that one of those companies was under the command of Capt. Macon Jordan… Jordan’s company having been organized of Page County men. In fact, in that company there was many a relative of mine, including (at that particular time) a second great grandfather (two more gg grandfathers joined the company later in the war… one in ’63 and another in ’64). Whether my gg grandfather was among the inebriated, I can’t say with any certainty… but I will say, being Page County boys in Page County… there was certainly those who knew where to go to secure the apple jack.

So, just how does one with ancestors in such a situation tap dance around this? Well, one shouldn’t… it’s history. For me, there’s no need to tap dance… it’s just good stuff… they were human, and young, probably bored, and looking for mischief. O.K., back to the story…

In addition to the boys of Co. D (the Massanutten Rangers), there was also Company F… and yes, also in a drunken state.

Not only was Hotchkiss bent out of shape at finding these fellows in such shape (and rightfully so), he was particular disturbed that Macon Jordan was commanding one of the companies… Macon having been one of his students before the war, at Mossy Creek Academy, in Augusta County.

Still, a job had to be done… so Hotchkiss ordered the men to mount and ride a few hundred yards to the residence of Henry Forrer, where he held hope that some of the men might sober up a bit. I have doubts as to just how sober they got, but… in time, the two companies resumed the trek north, along the old Luray to Staunton Turnpike, finally arriving at the first bridge… Red Bridge… near Grove Hill. Sergeant S. Howell Brown, a cartographer and aid to Hotchkiss, was left here, along with a company of men under a lieutenant. Of course, Hotchkiss didn’t want the men to set fire to this bridge just yet. He wanted to make sure they waited long enough for him to reach the other bridge… Columbia Bridge… near the little village of Alma. So, for now, the party at Red Bridge was simply to remove the planking, and prepare to set fire to the stringers.

Hotchkiss and the rest of the troopers continued along the river road to the village of Honeyville (where, I might add, I spent many happy days, at my grandparents’ house, and thought often of troops that passed by… and where my great grandmother was once known as the “Belle of Honeyville”). Once in the village, Capt. George F. Sheetz (and, as a warning, I will entertain no “sheets to the wind” jokes regarding the name and considering the situation; LOL), commanding Co. F (Hampshire County), was ordered to reconnoiter the Columbia Bridge. That mission being accomplished, and reporting no signs of bluecoats, Hotchkiss ordered Sheetz, along with three men, back to the bridge to set it afire.

Meanwhile, considering Capt. Jordan was still in a bad way, Hotchkiss designated Lt. John Henry Lionberger (you may recall my mentioning his father before) to move ahead to White House Bridge, just to the west of Luray (In the name of preserving my ancestral integrity < grin >, I often jokingly state… though not really knowing… that my gg grandfather was in this detachment… a more sober band of brothers).

Standing by, and waiting for Sheetz to accomplish the task at Columbia Bridge, Hotchkiss ordered the rest of the troopers with him to feed their horses and take cover from the heavy rain that was falling at the time.

Despite the rain, Sheetz’s men still followed through with their orders, placing hay at the ends of the bridge (a covered bridge at that time); but just as the boys in gray were preparing to torch the structure, troopers from the 1st Vermont Cavalry, moving from New Market Gap, burst upon the scene (likely appearing initially on the south side of the bridge; the north side being near the village of Alma, and immediately down the road from Honeyville). Following a brief “volley” from Sheetz’s men, about forty-four cavalrymen in blue charged across the bridge, sending the four Confederates reeling back toward Honeyville.

Hotchkiss and his group was apparently, still, in no shape to meet the oncoming Union cavalrymen. Nonetheless, he told Jordan to order his men to their mounts and form up. There simply was not enough time. With a few shots from the Green Mountain men, all but three or four of the Virginians broke, and “a perfect stampede of them took place, the enemy pursuing for three miles.” “Every attempt to rally was unavailing”, wrote Hotchkiss. “Some actually threw away their guns, many of them their coats, blankets, etc.” Federals reported that, in the pursuit, they “captured some prisoners, killing one man and wounding eight, some seriously.”

Though they had them on the run, the Vermont men broke-off, leaving the fate of Red Bridge to the Confederates… who were successful in torching it.

A map showing the area of action, including the locations of the three bridges in Page County. Note the inset as well, in which Hotchkiss is quoted about Capt. Jordan. From the Va. Civil War Trails markers located near the site of Red Bridge.

But, what of Lionberger’s men at White House Bridge?

As in the situation at Columbia Bridge, Federal forces also surprised Lionberger’s detachment, but they were able to “front” to deal with the oncoming Federals long enough to withdraw in orderly fashion.

In the wake of the incidents at the bridges, Banks’ forces began to enter into the Page Valley in greater numbers… but, even though the bridges near Luray and Alma had been kept safe, the weeks to come would be little more than a great stare-down between the opposing forces, with only one moderate action in the interim. I’m sure as that day rolls around, I’ll have another Sesqui moment, and will post about it.

Ah, yes… I almost forgot… there’s a side story to the affair at Columbia Bridge. As my books are still in boxes, I’ll do my best to summarize…

After Columbia Bridge had been taken, Union infantry moved in to secure the site… a picket being placed at the edge of the bridge. If memory serves… I think it was a Wisconsin unit. Anyway… at some point later on, a Confederate cavalryman casually rode toward the bridge. One of the picket’s took aim, but was pulled back in to the cover of the covered bridge by a junior officer. An opportunity for a game was at hand. Indeed, from the concealment, the picket called out… “Who goes there?” The Confederate cavalryman… a lieutenant from Macon Jordan’s company, who had taken leave of the company at some point to visit his girlfriend… responded that it was just him (clearly expecting that the picket was from his own company). At that point, the Wisconsin men had their fun, and came out from the bridge with muskets pointed at the young lieutenant, who was now their prisoner.

Of course, there is also a story to tell in the aftermath of this series of events, regarding a falling-out between Turner Ashby and Stonewall Jackson, and if interested, a summary can be found in the text of the Virginia Civil War Trails sign for Red Bridge.

Oh, and… Companies D & F, of the 7th Virginia Cavalry… they did get beyond this episode, and proved their worth in many an instance after this.

But, what of Charley Wheat?

The answer to that in the next post… a much more somber topic, indeed.

**One has to wonder the exact complement of the two companies, and I have my doubts that they were full strength that day. Still, even with between 75-150 men present between both companies, I suspect that all were not in a drunken state. The abilities of the lieutenant at Red Bridge, as well as that of Sheetz at Columbia, and Lionberger at White House Bridge… along with the men who accompanied those officers… suggests that there were still men present (in Hotchkiss’s quick assessment) who could carry out necessary jobs. Sheetz didn’t do half bad with three men (until overwhelmed by 44 charging Green Mountain men), and Lionberger seemed to manage his detachment competently enough to leave the field without the loss of any troopers. On top of that, could they really have stumbled upon enough “jack” to make two companies of men drunk? That would be quite a cache, and for all to imbibe seems a little unrealistic. Surely there were some temperance types among that many men. Too bad Hotchkiss didn’t add positive commentary about the sobriety of others. In fact, the more sober troopers of the Page County company may have dealt with it in their own. Not too long after the episode, the company (like many others while near Conrad’s Store) held an election of officers… Jordan was not even among those considered to hold command of the Massanutten Rangers. One of Jordan’s Mossy Creek classmates, Samuel Coyner Brown, was elected instead.