Shenandoah Sesqui… the Federals on the march, and resentment among the Valley’s own… December 11, 1863

Posted on December 11, 2013 by


From the Federal perspective, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to comment on, regarding the Federal line of march as of December 11, 1863.

Writing (apparently in the morning) from Burmach (regretfully, no… I haven’t figured out where this us just yet), just three miles from Berryville, Wells  noted that he had arrived at that place on the previous night, “with 73 wagons and a forage train”, with plans to camp on the 11th “a mile or two this side of Winchester”. Despite “a mingling of hail and rain in the atmosphere… the command is jolly under creditable circumstances.”

Even from the perspective of William H. Beach, of the 1st New York, there was little of note. Granted, the night before, there were some shots exchanged with a few Confederates, while near Millwood, but, on the 11th, the cavalry column pulled out and marched (on a rainy day) to Newtown, “seeing an occasional enemy at a distance”.

Aligning accounts, it appears that those Confederates were none other than Harry Gilmor and friends…

Gilmor states that he had selected about thirty of his “best men and horses, passed out through the “Mouth” (of Fort Valley), crossed the Shenandoah, and shaped… course through woods and paths for Millwood.” Gilmor continued:

It was certainly the coldest night that ever found me in the saddle; and when within half a mile of Millwood, I stopped at the barn of a gentleman named R— to let the men feed their horses, and then bury themselves in a large pile of corn-husks. The horses were tied up and fed, and a camp guard stationed, to be relieved every hour. The enemy’s camp-fire could be seen in the direction of Millwood.

Harry and his cousin, Willie, decided that they weren’t exactly in the best spot, so… feeling it might be a good thing to be a bit adventurous… to better secure the safety of others… the two, along with a few other men, saddled and “started off to reconnoitre the enemy’s camp.” The story that follows is about as bold a story of daring as that which I mentioned regarding the one in which a detachment of Cole’s men experienced in Berryville. Yet, not wishing to steal too much of Gilmor’s thunder, from his book, I encourage a look at Gilmor’s Four Years in the Saddle to get the full details. In short, Gilmor’s detachment made it out of Millwood without great incident, but it’s a good read, nonetheless.

Since I’ve covered the bases with both sides, I figured it might be worthwhile to add a little about civilian observations of Wells’ advance… so…

A diary entry by Mary Greenhow Lee made it clear that civilians weren’t in the dark, and had known about the advance more than a week before it had set off.

While I was out the Yankees came &, I am sorry to say, they have come in a larger force, than at any time since Milroy’s reign; Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, some 1000 or 1500. They say they are going to Staunton, they camp to-night on Mr. Bell’s farm. This is the expedition we were told of a week since & sent the information up the Valley immediately to Major White.

In fact, Laura Lee, also a resident of Winchester, and a sister-in-law to Mary Greenhow Lee, had noted in her diary, on December 9 that word had been received ten days prior that the Federals were making preparations, from both Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg, to make a “grand raid up the Valley”.

But as the sideshow of the military moves that might be equally of interest… at least to some.

Having had such advanced notice, Mary Lee continued:

…if there is not a warm reception prepared for them (the Federals), it is not our fault. They say they are going to Staunton. If it were not for the injury to the Confederacy, I wish the Yankees could occupy the den of money lovers, for a few weeks. It would stir up their dormant patriotism.

I think it’s clear… there’s some resentment there, over Staunton’s… “situation”. After all, Staunton, unlike Winchester, had yet to feel the weight of any Federal occupation. I think the quote above gives us an indication that Mary wasn’t happy about that. Furthermore, there were other things afoot that made her… especially as a strong advocate for the Confederacy… even more frustrated with Staunton. For quite some time there had been banter, in Staunton, over the impressment of local agricultural goods for use by the Confederate Government… to include frustration by the locals, there, that there goods could be taken for use… and without fair price paid in return. Take this piece, for example… though it is difficult to read…

Letter to the Editor regarding impressment of goods, from the Dec. 8, 1863 issue of the Staunton Spectator.

Letter to the Editor regarding impressment of goods, from the Dec. 8, 1863 issue of the Staunton Spectator.

I suppose, to make matters worse… if Mary Lee happened to read about it, following her trouble and expense at buying hogs (she had just gone “foraging”, and secured “two immense hogs”, for which she had to give “$93.75 in Va. Bank money”), she might have become even more bitter about Staunton’s situation, had she had the opportunity to read about the luxuries available there that simply weren’t available in Winchester. The same week in which Mary struggled as a “forager”, fresh citrus had become available in Staunton… and quite the treat as Christmas neared.

From the Staunton Spectator, Dec. 15, 1863.

From the Staunton Spectator, Dec. 15, 1863.

In the midst of another “raid” by the Federals, harmony did not reign among the Shenandoah Valley’s citizens… not even among all those who claimed to be Confederate civilians.