“I would much like a guide” – Shenandoah Sesqui, December 12, 1863

Posted on December 12, 2013 by


By the morning of December 12, Col. Wells’ reported that his command had reached Winchester, on the night prior…

I have the honor to report my command here last night. All well. Eighteen miles from here to Strasburg, making the whole distance 48 miles. Have not seen Colonel Boyd, but learn that he is ahead.

The thing that still perplexes me, however, is that Wells continued to move blindly in the Shenandoah Valley. That’s just bad military form.

I would much like a guide who knows the country above Strasburg. No one in the command knows anything about it, and I want one who knows, too, how to get from the valley to Moorefield, as in certain contingencies I should dodge out there. There must be men in Martinsburg, and perhaps Harpers Ferry, who have lived here and know all the roads and by-roads. It might, possibly, make the difference between saving and losing the command if you could send me such a man. Graham knows the country, and especially that part of it; if he were available in other respects, he would be the man. But there must be other scouts in Martinsburg who could be got. Command jolly, but foot-sore from these hard roads.

Later that day, Wells linked with Boyd, and reported from Strasburg…

Am encamped in an excellent position, just before reaching the town. Cavalry encamped on each of the other main roads.

Colonel Boyd’s information as to forces in the valley coincides with the statements in the papers sent me, which were received last night. I think there is nothing now in the valley which cannot very easily be taken care of. The only contingency of danger I can imagine is the crossing of a force into our rear as we go up. In that case I might be obliged to go home by rail.

The cavalry burned the furnace [Columbia Furnace]* to-day, and will try other means to-morrow to annoy the enemy and turn his attention in this direction. We are having a warm rain, which is better than a cold one.

At the risk of sounding like an armchair quarterback, I remain baffled over Wells’ reports. First, I’m confused that he would even set out without a guide (especially considering that even Confederate civilians knew he was coming, more than a week before the expedition set out). Surely, one could have been found prior to leaving Charles Town, on Dec. 10. Second, you have… in Wells’ front, with Boyd… the 1st New York, 21st Pennsylvania, and Cole’s Cavalry… which, while operating mainly in the lower Valley for most of the time prior to November, had (some, not all) ventured as far as Woodstock, as far back as January, 1863, and, more recently (Nov. 15-18, 1863), participated in a raid, all the way up the Valley to… New Market. As such, it seems there might be some in those commands who may have been of some use to the advance of Wells’ main column. Third, we have, once again… Cole’s Cavalry… in which served some men who were familiar with the roads in the central Shenandoah Valley… because there were men in those ranks from the Shenandoah Valley.

A lot of questions without answers, but, because Wells asked for a guide, it only makes one wonder.

Now… moving on to the man for whom he asked… “Graham”. I wonder who he was. He isn’t on my list of Southern Unionists for Berkeley or Jefferson counties, but that merely means he hasn’t made the list yet (and won’t until I can get a better ident on the man).

At first, I thought that, perhaps, he was from Martinsburg (or nearby), especially considering Well’s comment: “…if you could send me such a man. Graham knows the country, and especially that part of it; if he were available in other respects, he would be the man. But there must be other scouts in Martinsburg who could be got.”

As of 1860, the only Graham listed in the census from Berkeley County (Mill Creek, to be exact) was John Graham, a 46 year-old miller. Perhaps Wells wanted him… or, perhaps he wanted one of the three Graham men from Jefferson County (that being… the 63-year-old shingle maker (and Irishman), William Graham, from Shepherdstown; 55 year-old armorer, from Bolivar, also… William Graham; or the 39-year-old armory employee, Jesse W. Graham, from Harpers Ferry… who was also, in 1859, a hostage of John Brown, and the man who pursuaded Edwin Coppoc, while aiming at Col. Robert E. Lee, not to take the shot. Needless to say, if Wells was indicating he wanted Jesse Graham, the irony on that one would be overwhelming.). It’s hard to tell as yet… maybe I’ll figure it out later on.

More on the Federal advance up the Shenandoah, tomorrow.

*There have been various dates assigned to the burning of Columbia Furnace, ranging from December 9 – December 12, but… as this report was made in the field, at the time… I’m going with Dec. 12.