Reconsidering 2nd Winchester

Posted on June 13, 2013 by


It might be hard to believe, but a decade ago, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Back then, it was clear to me… the Shenandoah Valley was Confederate and, any effort made by Confederates here was to rid “Yankees” from it. The understanding being that “Yankees” meant anyone who came in, from north of the Mason-Dixon Line, as part of an invading force. The return of Jackson’s old command, in June 1863, meant just that.

These days, it’s not that simple… if that’s not obvious enough in my blog posts

Now, as I envision one set of relatives returning to clean out the Valley, once again, I also envision other relatives… not just civilian Southern Unionists, mind you, but those who were 1) native to this place, 2) actually wearing Union blue, and 3) were here ready to fight back

Joseph Dorsey Bowers was one of those family members, 150 years ago this week, participating in efforts to hold back the Confederate advance on Winchester.

Bowers may not have been from Winchester, but he was a man of the Valley. In fact, he was born in neighboring Jefferson County, in Shepherdstown, in 1840. Between twelve and eighteen years, he grew up between Shepherdstown and Martinsburg. To him, this was familiar ground, and, no doubt, family was still here. 

Modern picture of Shepherdstown, taken during my visit yesterday.

Modern picture of Shepherdstown, taken during my visit yesterday.


My own third great grandmother (Catharine Ann McKinney Moore), who was also born in Shepherdstown, was living across the Potomac, in Four Locks, Maryland. After the death of her mother, around 1850, she went to live with the Bowers family, when they lived in Martinsburg. There were also others, still around Shepherdstown and Martinsburg. I don’t know why, but I can imagine when the Bowers family left, sometime in the 1850s, and moved to Monongalia County (soon to be part of West Virginia), it may have not been altogether easy.

1850 census, showing John Bowers and his wife, Harriet, with "Dorsey", my third great grandmother, Catharine McKiney [sic] and her sister Jane.

1850 census, showing John Bowers and his wife, Harriet, with “Dorsey”, a daughter, Catharine… and my third great grandmother, Catharine McKiney [sic] and her sister Jane.

In 1863, Joseph returned, but not to visit family, though I wonder, by knowing that family was still here, what sort of thoughts raced through his mind… that first time that he actually reentered the Valley from the Potomac Highlands? Furthermore, what sort of thoughts came to him, having enlisted with Co. F, 12th West Virginia Infantry, in August 1862, and returning to familiar ground which was now under another flag? I can only imagine.

On this day, in 1863, he was at Berryville… and was (on that same day) soon withdrawing with his regiment, toward the fortifications around Winchester. 

Co. F’s muster rolls for May-June 1863 reveal details for the next few days (transcribed as it appears in the rolls)…

Engaged with the enemy 13th & 14th days of June at and near Winchester, Va. Commenced to Retreat from position at Winchester, Va.  Monday at one o A.M. were attacked by a superior force of Rebels in which we lost all of our clothing, company books camp and Garrison equipage during the engagement of the 13th. Corpl. Shaw Josh Low was wounded in the hip. Private Alx. Hawkins had his leg shatered [sic] F. Pitzer wounded in the ankle, during the engagement of the 14 Lieut J.T. BenGaugh was killed by a Rifle shot. Private Newton Lough wounded in the jaw and mouth. 32 including the wounded are missing. We retreated across the Potomac River in Maryland and from there to Bloody Run, Pa.

Fortunately, Joseph Bowers came out of the fight unscathed.

An index card from Bowers' service record

An index card from Bowers’ service record

Sure, his home was no longer in the Valley, but this was still familiar ground, and… again… there was still family here. I also can’t imagine that he didn’t have some personal feelings for the place.

With so many things at hand, the example of who he was can’t be brushed aside or deemed insignificant. Who he was, in the position in which he was in… was unique, and to me indicates character that proved that one didn’t have to be swayed to adhere to the Commonwealth because of the land/place and people in it.

Obviously, the 12th West Virginia didn’t end up on the winning side at the close of the Second Battle of Winchester… but the 12th and Joseph Bowers would be back.

My, how I’ve expanded my understanding of the war and the people… my people… in it.