Shenandoah Valley men on the Mexican border

Posted on October 25, 2016 by


This is outside my normal “field of operations”, but… putting my stories of the antebellum Shenandoah, and news reports of those buried alive in the same period, on the side for today… I want to share a reminder that we’re just about to enter the WWI Centennial (the US version… Europe has been at it a while, already).

Of course, the US didn’t declare war on the German Empire until April 1917, but… things were gearing-up with the US activities on the Mexican border in 1916. As such, I’ve been thinking about the participation of National Guard units from the Shenandoah Valley in the Mexican Border crisis [you can read about how the situation unfolded in the Border War entry, in Wikipedia, keeping in mind how matters had escalated by 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson called into service National Guard units from throughout the country] and how it warrants remembering, wrapped together as part of the Centennial.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Shenandoah men in that part of our mostly forgotten history, the Second Infantry (and two companies of the First Regiment) – called into active service – arrived in Richmond before the end of June, 1916, and then prepared to move to Brownsville, Texas. The following appeared in the Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg), on July 3, 1916 (Monday):


Command Under Col. Leedy, Including Dayton Band, Will Go to Brownsville, Texas – Take 76 Hours for Trip


Col. Leedy, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch (1917)

The Second Regiment of Virginia Infantry, commanded by Colonel Robert F. Leedy, of Luray, which has been at the mobilization camp in Richmond since last Tuesday, will entrain for the Mexican border next Wednesday. This regiment includes companies from Winchester and Front Royal, and the regimental band from Dayton, in command of Chief Musician W.H. Ruebush (The same paper, a few days later, clarified that the Second Regiment was made up of men from “Front Royal, Luray, Winchester, and the Second Regiment Band, of Dayton, Rockingham County”).

The First Regiment, commanded by Colonel William J. Perry, of Staunton, which includes the two Staunton companies, will leave for the Mexican border tomorrow, according tor he present plans of the Adjutant General Sale…

Adjutant-General Sale stated, however, that present plans are to have the entire body of State troops rushed on special trains to Brownsville, Tex., before the end of this week. Later developments may prove to determining factors in the course pursued by those in charge of the situation. All troops are ready for the order to begin the southward movement.

The First Regiment will leave over the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, entraining at the Fair Grounds, and going straight through to the Texas destination. Three trains will be required for the movement, one in command of the colonel, the other in charge of the lieutenant-colonel and the third commanded by the senior major of the regiment. Railroad officials estimate seventy-six hours as running time to Brownsville…

It is understood that General Sale intends to send the Second Regiment to the border on Wednesday morning. This is the senior regiment of the brigade, and is commanded by Colonel Robert Leedy, of Luray. It will travel in special trains over the line of the Southern Railway, arriving at Brownsville some time during the afternoon Saturday. Three sections will be provided for it just as for the First Regiment. All troops will entrain at the Fair Grounds.

On Friday, July 7, the Harrisonburg newspaper also noted the departure of the  trains:

News that the movement forward was finally to begin traveled fast through camp and city. More than 5,000 people visited the concentration point in the afternoon to bid their last adieus. More than a thousand men spent the afternoon in writing home from the Y.M.C.A. building. Blue-eyed youngsters from the shale of Accomac nibbled their pens while they were trying to gather their thoughts to cheer the mother at home, and sturdy mountaineers from the Southwest chewed their pencils as they wrestled with faint idea. All through the afternoon mothers and fathers traveled from tent to tent to say good-by. Many of them had come from the far borders of the State. Mothers hugged sons upon whose cheeks a razor had never been drawn, and fathers, forgetting their former sternness, ran through the boys’ curls dropping on the neck.

The whole camp was solemn. A young mountaineer who had never left his hills before collapsed in his mother’s arms. Another who had spent his life on the water broke down when his sweetheart came for her farewell. But both gathered themselves together and managed to smile through their tears.

In contrast with the somber mood of the departure, another, much more humorous, article appeared in the paper on July 19, regarding a few men coming to terms with the obligations of their commitments, which were well outside what they had understood them to be:


Five Privates Realize Too Late That Soldiering Is No Joke – All from Valley

Brownsville, Tex., July 18. – Five mournful privates confronted Col. Robert F. Leedy of the Second Virginia Infantry in camp today.

“Please, sir,” they chorused, “we want to be discharged.”

Col. Leedy looked up in astonishment.

“You see,” explained the most doleful, “it’s this way: Last January we were out with a friend who was Captain in the militia from our home town. We had a good time in New York, and when we got back we found a letter telling him to prepare for the annual inspection. ‘Gee!’ he says, ‘my company’s only half strength. Say, will you fellows help me out and sign the rolls? You won’t need to turn up but once a year for inspection.’

“So we agreed, and here we are.”

Col. Leedy coughed and told the five not to make fools of themselves.

One of the men is President of a bank, another is a town councilor, another is counted the richest man in the town and the other two are well off.

I’ll be revisiting Leedy and the men of the 1st and 2nd Virginia as we continue to wade deeper into the Centennial.