A Virginia Southern Unionist, and guide for… Buford, Kilpatrick, and Merritt

Posted on March 18, 2013 by


For there to be no more than ten pages of his claim remaining, I was able to gain a fair amount of interesting information about Southern Claims Commission applicant John J. Robinson, of Madison County, Virginia (yes, once again, I took a look at claims on the east side of the Blue Ridge!).

Born in Orange County in the early 1830s, Robinson moved to Madison County in the fall of 1860. He described himself as an “Old Line Whig & opposed to Slavery”, and “in ’61 was in favor of Lincoln & the Union party.” As such, it should go without saying… he had challenging days ahead. Still, when the Confederate army attempted to conscript Robinson, he was suffering with “ill health (Rheumatism and chills)” which excused him from service through May 1863. When the conscription men returned a second time, in June 1863, they sent “an officer & soldier”. Before they arrived, however, Robinson was able to get away. Making his way to Gen. John Buford’s camp at Catlett Station, he…



… staid 5 days & showed Genl. Buford the roads on the line of the Rappahannock & gave him a pass & he came to Alexa[ndria] & reported to the Prov. Marshall, Genl. Wells, and to his asst. Captain Winship.

As far as timeline goes, this would place Robinson with Buford somewhere between June 7 and June 14. Going in either direction, it appears he may have had a hand in guiding Buford’s cavalry toward Brandy Station. Pretty impressive.

After his stint with Buford’s boys, Robinson headed for exile in Alexandria (having to leave his family behind). It’s not clear if he returned that fall, but he…

several times acted as guide for the Union Army in those parts of Virginia where he well knew the country & roads. Was with Genl. Kilpatrick for 4 weeks in Oct. ’63 as guide & was of much service in detecting A.P. Hill’s attempt to flank Genl. Meade…



Now, when we consider where his land was located (see the Oak Grove Baptist Church marker, below), that’s great stuff. You see, just under six miles from his land, there are two more markers (see here and here). Though they mention nothing about Robinson, they do refer to a military action in which Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick clashed with Confederate Gen. James B. Gordon’s Tarheels… in October 1863. It all aligns with Robinson’s activities as a guide.



Later, in early February, 1864, Robinson served again as a guide, but this time for Gen. Wesley Merritt. As requisitions for supplies would reveal, this trip would also serve as the opportunity to evacuate his family. On February 5, in the company of at least a detachment from the 8th New York Cavalry, Robinson stopped briefly at his home to gather his wife and children. Meanwhile, a Major Moore and Capt. McNair took on whatever supplies the Robinson family could spare (most especially items that would spoil; McNair signing for 500 lbs of bacon). With the family removed, it seems likely that Robinson continued to serve as a guide for the next few days. After all, Robinson was most familiar with the area. On the morning of February 6, Merritt’s cavalry division drove back Confederate pickets at Robertson River, and then, on the following day, attempted to cross the Rapidan River at Barnett’s Ford (amazingly, the skirmish at Barnett’s Ford made the short list and was actually named among the engagements of the 6th New York, on their monument at Gettysburg. It appears to be the only marker/monument that mentions the engagement.), where he was blocked by a brigade of Confederate infantry brigade that had reinforced Lunsford Lomax’s cavalry.

In wrapping-up the claim summary for Robinson, the commission noted,

His loyalty & useful services to the Union Army & Cause are indisputable.

It certainly seems so.

As for Robinson’s other activities… specifically relating to his combined anti-slavery position and Lincoln-supportive/Republican leanings… he appears to have been quite active in the Madison-Orange-Culpeper county area in the Reconstruction years. Not only was he a Republican candidate (1869) for the State senate (for the third senatorial district of Virginia), he was also active on the behalf of freed blacks, both in voting activities, and on a personal level as seen in the marker below…


I have to say, I’ve gone through quite a number of claims, but this fellow… hands-down… is the most pro-active Southern Unionist civilian claimant I’ve come across.

Robinson's itemized claim

Robinson’s itemized claim

*The total amount Robinson requested in his claim was $1,014.00. Items were taken as early as August 3, 1862 (by Gen. G.P. Cluseret‘s command) and as late as February 5, 1864. Robinson was awarded $439… less than half of his claim.