Let’s be honest with Shenandoah Valley history for the Spring of ’62… not all locals were happy with Stonewall’s presence

Posted on May 5, 2012 by


I’ve seen a good deal of “Stonewall Jackson praising” going on lately, and while I can appreciate his part in the history of the Valley for that time, that’s not quite all of the story.

In short, not everyone was cheering the arrival (and in some cases, the return) of Confederate troops in the Valley, and… the 1862 Valley Campaign wasn’t just about Jackson and his victories here… with the entire citizenry all in favor.

Indeed, some embraced the arrival of Union troops… some with open arms, and others… while Southern Unionists… with a bit of uncertainty.

As for one who was among the most enthusiastic… I present… again… Dr. James Lee Gillespie.

I’ve mentioned him before, and the 150 year Sesqui moment slipped through my fingers a few weeks ago, and I wasn’t able to post about it in time, but… there was one local Unionist… from my home county, no less… who also accompanied my third great grandfather in the months before Virginia’s secession, speaking out against it.

So, backtracking a bit in my personal Sesqui moments… let’s go back to mid-April…

Major Harry Gilmore

In his book, Four Years in the Saddle (pages 32-33), Confederate cavalryman Harry Gilmor mentioned that Gen. John Robert Jones, acting provost guard at Harrisonburg, directed Gilmor (between March and April 1862) to deal with Gillespie and efforts in which he was believed to be engaging. Since the name Gillespie is quite unique to the area, it seems certain that this reference was to James Lee Gillespie. Gilmor stated,

Jones sent me to break up a band, estimated at from two to five hundred, that had collected in the large gorges of the Blue Ridge, in the neighborhood of Swift Run Gap. They were headed by a man named Gillespie, and they had determined to resist the draft, and were armed principally with shot-guns and squirrel rifles. We had with us a company of militia infantry, but they were afraid to go into the mountains at all.

We had skirmishing for two or three days without doing any damage; for, when we attempted to charge, they took to the sides of the mountains, and the ground was too rugged to pursue them, and they could fire on us without being able to return to it.

I reported all of this to General [Thomas J. “Stonewall”] Jackson, who sent Colonel Jones in command of all, and advised him to bring up four companies of sharpshooters, and one or two pieces of artillery. This he did; and after driving them into Green [Greene] County across the mountains, I took prisoners, forty-eight in number, to Harrisonburg…

Observing Gillespie, after the capture, Jackson’s topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, referred to him as “a tigrous looking fellow.”

Yet, there is good reason to doubt that the man Gilmor sought out, and Hotchkiss observed, was actually Dr. Gillespie.

As I pointed out in my biographical sketch of Dr. Gillespie

Minute books of the Court of Page County show that Gillespie was in the Page County jail as of June 26, 1861 under the charge of “treason against the government of the Confederate States.” Gillespie applied to the court for his release from jail but was denied this request as the county as a legal body could not sufficiently establish jurisdiction in the case. Following this denial, Gillespie applied once again to the court, asking for an examination of the charges against him in legal forum, but again the court denied the appeal based once again on “want of jurisdiction.” Minute books reveal no further information in this case, but Gillespie’s obituary shows that at some point he was taken to Orange Court House, from whence he escaped. Crossing the lines, Gillespie was able to secure an audience with Union Gen. Henry W. Slocum, who, in turn, gave Gillespie a letter of introduction to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln “recommended General Nathaniel Banks take him [Gillespie] and protect his home in the Valley of Virginia.

Indeed, for the point on the timeline (April 1862), Gillespie himself seems to show that he was working as a guide for Union General Nathaniel Banks, and therefore, could not have been present at the incident in Swift Run Gap.

So… did some sort of “Gillespie legend” grow from his story from the summer of 1861, and infuse itself into what became known as the Rockingham Rebellion? It’s quite possible, and it’s too bad in some ways, as we may never know the name(s) of the man/men who led that short-lived rebellion of locals against… the rebellion.

A few years ago, I continued MY search for Dr. Gillespie… and found his grave in Sistersville, West Virginia.

Of course, there were other locals of the Valley who had issues with the Confederacy as well, such as Elder John Kline, who I covered in this briographical sketch from 2008.

In an upcoming post, I’ll be writing about Dr. Gillespie’s son… who, as a former student of Jackson’s at VMI, and at about this same time (Spring of ’62), was making every effort to become part of Stonewall’s staff, which opens the door wide to how many a father and son in the Valley didn’t necessarily see eye to eye when it came to embracing the Confederacy.