Along the road to McDowell… another Sesqui moment

Posted on May 6, 2012 by


Because of the move, I’m still without certain notes and books to back me up with quotes and whatnot… so, I’m going to wing it again…

The masses are flocking (or so it would seem) to McDowell, Virginia this weekend for the 150th anniversary of the battle, but… it’s not the actual Sesqui until Tuesday. I won’t be able to make it over there on that day either… so, I’m going to have to be content to be where things were actually happening on this day, 150 years ago… not to mention, it’s actually rather convenient… but more about that in a bit.

I know that the anniversary event over at McDowell was timed for good reasons… a weekend… but… it’s just not the same if not on the exact date, at least to me. Of course, what would you expect from someone who takes a road trip just to take a photo of the same (relatively) site where David Hunter Strother sketched what he saw back in April, 1861.

Funny to say, as I pull-up my tent stakes now, so to speak… 150 years ago today, troops of Edward “Allegheny” Johnson‘s command were pulling up their tent stakes in the same general area, and getting ready to head west, to McDowell. So, you can pretty much see how, for the past twelve years, I’ve been living with the mindset of being “along the road to McDowell” all along.

But let’s get up to speed with the day, shall we?

View from Fort Edward Johnson. Double-tap the image and follow the different hyperlinks that will take you around all the interpretive markers there, summing-up the events that transpired, in relation to “Alleghany” Johnson’s command, in early April, 1862.

To summarize things up to this point… Johnson’s command got a bit nervous being up there on top of Shenandoah Mountain, though they had darn good earthworks, and a fantastic vantage point, so, they pulled out of those nice works, and replanted themselves in West View, just within a stone’s throw (actually, better than any humanly possible stone throw, but you get the idea) from the eastern bank of the Middle River. Now, some might think that all was “Jim-Dandy” with these Confederates being in Confederate territory, and that the locals must have laid it on thick with the hospitality, and some may have, but… it wasn’t the case all around.

Yes, the little village, in fact, raised its own company of infantry… Co. F, of the 5th Virginia Infantry (and I always thought it interesting how the first commanding officer of this company, St. Francis C. Roberts, was Page County-born… and how the Rippetoe men in that same company happened to be related to the first captain of the “Page Grays” of Co. H, 33rd Virginia Infantry), and these fellows were just down the road a’piece, heading in this direction, from Staunton, when the boys from “Allegheny” Johnson’s command were pulling out. But… locals weren’t all too happy with Johnson’s soldiers trampling through their yards and, most especially, their recently planted vegetable gardens. The whole “gentleman” thing just seems to have gone out the window with some of these Southern fellas. If I had my sources handy, I could elaborate with quotes, but…

I can tell you that “Allegheny” appears to have found hospitality in the O.O. Palmer House, down along the banks of the Middle River, in what was known as “Valley Mills”.

The old Palmer House. I actually took this photo back in the winter of ’03. I was able to tour the house a few years ago (it’s been for sale for quite a few years), and it’s quite the place. One can see where the period house lines are located, and where subsequent additions, over the years, have been added. Most interesting was what I saw in the basement… in what appeared to be stall-like quarters for house slaves.

If you have your copy of Hotchkiss’ journal handy, you can see where he went to the Palmer House, in advance of Jackson’s command, and met with Gen. Johnson… always good to put a story together with a contemporary image of the same place mentioned.

Gen. Johnson

So, a day behind “Allegheny”, Stonewall’s men, fresh from their little diversionary effort out of the Valley, to Mechum’s Station, and back in the Valley again… started moving through. Yes, indeed… I have sat on my front porch more than a few times to imagine the troops passing… among them, many a relative of mine, I might add. Ironic enough, two years later, I’d have another relative ride through… though in blue. Anyway, I still wonder if “Old Jack” passed, because story goes (if you tap into that Hotchkiss’ journal again) that Stonewall took an off-road, away from the body of his troops. I often wonder if he may have taken a course that led him over familiar ground, toward Lexington… perhaps along the Middlebrook Road… who knows for sure. If he did, I can pretty much guess one of two points where he regained the Parkersburg Turnpike… either east of West View, or just to the west, along what is now the Swoope Road.

But, I’ve been wordy enough… let me move along with some photos, all taken today (so consider them almost “LIVE” Sesqui images), and captions, as we follow the course of the Confederate forces on their way to a turn-off point, on their way to McDowell…

Entrance point of the village of West View. The house on the left is one of many “witness” houses, that were present at this time, 150 years ago. Though it looks later Victorian, this particular house actually dates to the mid (ca. 1750) 18th century. I had a chance to tour the house a couple of years ago, and, sensing something was missing (I was convinced there was a summer kitchen), started looking… and found an entrance door in the back. Sure enough… a large hearth sits underneath the later built “L” addition in the rear.

A witness house in West View

Another witness house… but actually dates to the latter part of the 18th century

At the western edge of West View. Just down the road, and to the left, before the river, is the old Palmer House (out of sight in this pic).

On the opposite side of the road from the last pic, and looking back into the village from the western edge. Another witness house to the right.

Another look (looking East) into the village of West View, from near the western edge.

View of the Middle River from the modern bridge, at the village of Valley Mills (though, really, not much of a village in comparison to West View). Though you can’t see it, the Palmer House is behind the foliage to the left. In the foreground, you might see the old bridge abutment, across which the old Parkersburg Turnpike ran, and across which troops passed, 150 years ago today, and tomorrow.

Same spot, though from Friday, May 4.

View of the bridge abutment, from 2003. On the same day I took that image of the Palmer House.

Fast-forwarding things a bit, down the Parkersburg Turnpike, to near where Rt. 42 intersects, coming from the right (which leads to Churchville… and Hotchkiss’ wartime home). Confederate troops did not take the road to the right… not here… but further up a bit, into the gap.

Inside Buffalo Gap proper… looking up the Buffalo “hump”

Looking in the opposite direction of the above photo, down “Old Parkersburg Turnpike”… this is the actual road along which Johnson and Jackson’s men marched. I last drove it in 2003… can be a rough trek before you get to the other side, which intersects with Rt. 250, and leads to a series of markers on the road to McDowell.

Hope you enjoyed another Sesqui moment tour. For those who wish to march along… begin next with the marker at Mountain House, on Rt. 250; then on to Ft. Edward Johnson, and all those markers there; and finally down to the eastern edge of McDowell Battlefield.

Last, I’ll leave you with this rough video that I shot, back in 2008, from atop Sitlington’s Hill, on the battlefield.

Sorry to say, there isn’t anything there that offers interpretation regarding the death of a colonel from my home county, and who has held my interest for a number of years… Col. Simeon B. Gibbons.