To find a cavalry battlefield… on the back roads of Frederick County, pt. 1

Posted on November 12, 2014 by

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While I’ve known for many years that one of my great-great grandfathers was grievously wounded, on November 12, 1864, I’ve never given the location much thought. It just seemed that, given the information available in his service record, Pvt. James Harvey Mayes was wounded in a fight at the little village of Nineveh, just north of Front Royal. So, whenever I happened to be driving on 522, between Front Royal and Winchester, when passing the Nineveh Church, I seemed to be content enough to know I was in the general area in which he was shot. I’m ashamed to say, until rather recently, I didn’t take myself to task on the matter… but, it turns out, I’ve been wrong.

Yet, it’s not entirely my fault. I mean, after all, records indicate that he WAS wounded at Nineveh… shot in the “left side and breast (lung), 2″ below collar bone by a ball from a ‘seven shooter'”

While most of that is correct, the problem is… as a private in the 7th Virginia Cavalry, well… the 7th wasn’t at Nineveh on November 12. It just so happened that, yes there was a fight at Nineveh that day, but it was only one part of a two-part fight… and Nineveh seemed to take the spotlight that day. While Confederate cavalry tangled with Federals at Nineveh, more Confederate cavalry, including the 7th, along with other regiments of Gen. Thomas Rosser’s Brigade, were in the southwestern part of Frederick County, Virginia.

Armed with this, I was determined to head out and find the actual location. As much as I wanted to do so sooner, I only began my search yesterday. No… there are no maps of the fight. The only thing I had to go on were the reports. Even so, the reports aren’t exactly full of details. Beginning with reports from various Federal commanders, I knew that the fight took place somewhere between Back Road and Middle Road, in Frederick County… and that “Fawcett’s Gap” was central to a good deal of activity.

A portion of a report written by Alexander C.M. Pennington (commanding one of Custer’s Brigades) was my starting point…

Pennington, earlier in the war... then, an artillery captain.

Pennington, earlier in the war… then, an artillery captain.

On the morning of the 8th of November, before daylight, I received orders to move with my brigade to a point on the Valley pike, between Winchester and Newtown, to prevent an attack on either of these places by Rosser, who was reported to be moving in that direction. I moved as directed, and encamped about two miles north of Kernstown. Remained here until the 9th, when an order was received to move to Mount Zion Church, and picket from Fawcett’s Gap to the Middle Road, taking the road to Newtown for my line. Reached Mount Zion Church about dark, relived the Second New York Cavalry, which had been left at Mount Zion Church to picket while the brigade was absent. The next day I moved the brigade to its present camp near Kernstown, after establishing my picket-line, which extended from Fawcett’s Gap to the Middle road.

Battle of November 12.The Second Ohio Cavalry was on picket at Mount Zion Church on the 12th of November, and with the First Connecticut Cavalry…

I figured it best to start off by looking for both Fawcett’s Gap and Mount Zion Church. Named for an Irish family that settled in the area, in the 1700s, Fawcett’s Gap just happens to be west of what is known as Cedar Creek Grade… a road which runs from Winchester, almost all the way to Cedar Creek (which is the county boundary line, in those parts, with Shenandoah County).

Some maps to better understand…

General area of interest, showing Back Road, Middle Road, and Cedar Creek Grade. The Valley Pike (Rt. 11), Interstate 81, and Stephens City (then known as Newtown) are included as reference points.

General area of interest, showing Back Road, Middle Road, and Cedar Creek Grade. The Valley Pike (Rt. 11), Interstate 81, and Stephens City (then known as Newtown) are included as reference points.

Zooming in on the area which runs from Fawcett's Gap, back to Cedar Creek Grade. Thougn Fawcett's Gap is not marked, Gough Road (which uintersects with Cedar Creek Grade) runs through the gap near the upper left of the map.

Zooming in on the area which runs from Fawcett’s Gap, back to Cedar Creek Grade. Thougn Fawcett’s Gap is not marked, Gough Road (which uintersects with Cedar Creek Grade) runs through the gap near the upper left of the map.

Zooming in a little more, and changing to satellite view. While the entrance to Gough Road can be seen on the bottom left, a church can be seen in the right corner of the image. Could this be Mount Zion?

Zooming in a little more, and changing to satellite view. While the entrance to Gough Road can be seen on the bottom left, a church can be seen in the right corner of the image. Could this be Mount Zion?

At this point, it seemed the first part of my mission was clear… go out to that church to figure out if it is Mount Zion. When I pulled up, I realized it did not carry the old name…

MountZionpixc

Still, there was a cemetery. Might there be some graves that dated to the period? It didn’t take long to realize there were…

Rudolf

Indeed… and, considering it was a soldier’s grave from one of the regiments in Rosser’s command, who had been killed earlier that year, a bit of irony seated itself within the search.

At this point, I felt pretty confident I was standing on part of the picket line that Pennington had mentioned. Now, I knew the battlefield was somewhere to the south… and between me and Cedar Creek.

The rest Part 2 of the story to follow, tomorrow…

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