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Here is where you can stay most up-to-date with the publication of Charles Knight's Valley Thunder: The Battle of New Market, including the latest info on its release, up-coming appearances by the author, latest reviews, more in-depth looks at various aspects of the battle and anything else that comes to mind.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Capt. Charles H. Woodson

Two monuments actually erected by veterans of the battle stand on the field at New Market. One of them - that of the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment - is very prominent, and typical of the type which Federal units erected in the decades after the war. The other is much smaller and simpler - easy to overlook, and in fact before the battlefield park was established, stood on private property hundreds of yards off the beaten path of the Valley Turnpike. This latter is to remember the relative handful of Missouri troops who fought and bled under the command of young Charles Woodson in Jacob Bushong's apple orchard on May 15, 1864. Now the small humble marker is included on both the park's driving and walking tours, with an interpretive marker to explain the unit's participation in the battle. And until relatively recently, no image of Woodson was known to exist. The post-war image here is the only known photograph of Woodson, seated at left beside his wife Julia.

This bio of Woodson and his command is about as complete a picture as can be recreated of him and his company. For reasons unknown Woodson did not want his true wartime service recounted - it is purely conjecture on my part that Woodson's service as a guerrilla in Missouri may have been the reason for this factual skewing of the record on his part. The historical record holds just enough clues and small snippets of facts about Woodson and his command to make it annoyingly clear how little is truly known about him and his service.

But that said, I figured this essay about Woodson undertaken for grad school was worth posting here (sans the footnotes apparently, which I can't figure out how to get to appear...)

“This rustic pile / The simple tale will tell / It marks the spot / Where Woodson’s Heroes Fell.” For decades before an interpretive sign was added to explain the small granite marker beside a fence around a family’s small apple orchard bearing the above inscription, the visitor was left to wonder, “Who is Woodson? Who were his ‘Heroes?’ When and why did they fall here?”

The “tale” of “Woodson’s Heroes” is a long and complicated story, one unfortunately with many gaps in it. It is one which contains much of the romance of war, and much of the horrors of war. And although there are few known sources of information about them, one of the best surviving sources contains a vivid eyewitness account of the “falling” of many of “Woodson’s Heroes.” The tale begins a thousand miles away from the scene of the falling of so many.

The “Woodson” was Charles Hugh Woodson, a young Missourian in his early 20s. His “Heroes” were a unit of exchanged prisoners from Missouri, officially designated as Company A, 1st Missouri Cavalry. They were one of the many partisan units which existed during the Civil War, although at times they operated as a “regular” unit, both as infantry and as cavalry, in Virginia and what is now West Virginia. They were the only Missouri unit to serve in Virginia during the Civil War, but despite their official unit designation, they bore no attachment or relation whatever to the “real” First Missouri Cavalry. They participated in one of the most noted small engagements of the war at New Market, VA – they suffered such severe losses (60-95% depending on the source) that several veterans later erected the small monument referenced above to commemorate their sacrifice; and later they participated in one of the most daring raids of the war in the East, literally snatching two Union generals from their beds and bringing them into Confederate lines as prisoners.

But much of the rest of their service is clouded – they were specifically spared from being disbanded as were all but two other partisan units in 1865, but was it because of political connections or military value? Woodson himself fabricated much of wartime record – why? Was he, and others of his men who either never returned home to Missouri or also falsified their service, trying to conceal part of their service? Were it not for their monument at New Market and a few references to them in the Official Records, Woodson’s company may well have been completely forgotten by history.

According to Woodson’s obituary, he served in Sterling Price’s pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard “at the first tap of the drum,” then was captured inexplicably after the end of his term of enlistment and imprisoned. “He managed to secure a butcher knife, with which he tunneled a distance of many feet under the walls, making his escape to Baltimore.” Upon his arrival in the East, he claimed to have joined Turner Ashby’s command in the Spring of 1862. The article goes on to state that Woodson served as a private in the 7th Virginia Cavalry up through the Fall of 1864 – somehow participating in battles in which the 7th was not engaged, most notably New Market. In late 1864 he supposedly took command of the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, leading it through the Lynchburg and 1864 Valley campaigns, serving as the “commander of the regiment till the close of the war and was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the same.” Woodson “was in command” of the raid that captured Union generals George Crook and Benjamin Kelley “and 21 staff officers.” In addition, Woodson apparently was “present at the siege of Richmond and when that stronghold was evacuated he went with the army to Appomattox Court House, leaving the same morning with the regiment for the Blue Ridge.” Upon learning of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, “he surrendered in April 1865 to Gen. [Winfield S.] Hancock and at once returned home.”

That was how Woodson wanted to be remembered at any rate. But much of it was false, and there were several glaring omissions. First, Woodson never served with Turner Ashby or in the 7th Virginia Cavalry. Second, he did not escape from prison. Third, he seems to be omnipresent in the Virginia Theater during the war’s final year. Other minor details, such as the date of his enlistment, the fact that he was not in command of the Crook raid, or that he never commanded the 62nd Virginia can be explained away by faulty memory, poor editor, or both. What cannot be explained away so readily is the absence to any mention of Woodson’s service from the end of his enlistment with Price’s force until his capture in the Fall of 1862. Also, if the obit were to be believed, Woodson was not in Confederate or even pro-Southern Missouri state service at the time – why should he have been “captured.” If he had been incarcerated by Federal troops – his home was under martial law at that time – would not the term “arrested” be more appropriate for a civilian than “captured,” which has a military connotation? Perhaps an error in semantics, perhaps not. One theme very present, perhaps even overly present even for a written memorial to a war hero of that time, is that of his pre-war and post-war loyalty, as well as that of his family, and of his immediate return to peace-time life in Missouri after his very prompt surrender. The few facts his obituary does have correct are his participation at New Market, assignment to the 62nd Virginia, participation in the capture of Crook (albeit with only one additional staff officer rather than the 21 the article states), and he did seek his parole soon after Lee’s surrender. The reference to New Market was all but mandatory, given the existence of the monument to him and his men erected there several years before. His inclusion in the Crook raid was also well-known at the time, given Crook’s post-war fame. But the convoluted facts of the rest of his supposed war service suggest something deliberate.

At least one other of Woodson’s men is known to have left behind a similarly less-than-truthful version of his war service. Andrew McCampbell, who as a member of the 6th Missouri Infantry was captured at Vicksburg in July 1863, stretched history considerably in describing his Confederate experience for a history of his Missouri community published in the early 20th Century. Not only did McCampbell disavow serving in Price’s pro-Confederate forces in 1861 and subsequent service in the Western Theater, he claimed to have spent the entire war as part of Stonewall Jackson’s command in Virginia. If that wasn’t enough, McCampbell claimed that when Jackson was felled from his horse by friendly fire at Chancellorsville in May 1863, that it was he – McCampbell – who caught the falling officer, helping him from his horse. This would have been rather difficult for McCampbell to have done from Mississippi, where he was serving with Company H, 6th Missouri Infantry on May 2, 1863.

So just who was Charley Woodson?

In 1861 Civil War was tearing apart the United States. Several border states – Missouri in particular – were torn over whether they would remain in the Union, or whether to cast their lot with the new Southern Confederate States of America. Missouri and Kansas had been scenes of bloodshed before a state of open war existed elsewhere, so with North and South at arms against one another Missouri became a hotbed of small-scale fighting. Each side coveted Missouri; political forces within the state were arming their own respective militia forces to put down the opposing side. Leading up the pro-Confederate activities in Missouri was Sterling Price, who was forming up the pro-secession Missouri State Guard to oppose Federal forces in the state.

On June 16, 1861, 19-year-old Charles H. Woodson enlisted for a term of six months in the 1st Missouri State Guard. It appears likely that Woodson was either commissioned a first lieutenant upon joining, or that he was promoted to such rank very soon thereafter. A pay voucher in Woodson’s compiled service record, which lists him as a lieutenant at that time, contains an endorsement by a Capt. W.H. Hatch dated July 1863: “I heard Brig Genl [sic] John B. Clark, late of the Missouri State Guard, say that C.H. Woodson was a Lieut [sic] of the Mo State Guard in his command.” However, Woodson appears in other documents from the same time as a private. The 1st fought at Wilson’s Creek in August 1861 and again at Lexington, MO, the following month.

Woodson’s term of service expired in December 1861 and he disappears from the records for a time. Meanwhile, Federal forces had taken over Missouri, despite the death of their command Nathaniel Lyon at Wilson’s Creek. Martial law was imposed throughout the state. Many of Price’s men, along with the Confederate Governor Claiborne Jackson, had retreated to Arkansas, where they planned the liberation of their home state. Guerrilla activity, which had already been present in Missouri, escalated in response to the decree of martial law. Union Brig. Gen. John Schofield, in command in Missouri, complained of the extent of the guerrilla warfare spreading rapidly throughout the state: “The time is passed when insurrection and rebellion in Missouri can cloak itself under the guise of honorable warfare. The utmost vigilance and energy are enjoined upon all the troops of the State in hunting down and destroying these robbers and assassins. When caught in arms, engaged in their unlawful warfare, they will be shot down on the spot.”

Price, Jackson and other Confederate leaders felt that a substantial portion of Missouri’s population, including many of these guerrillas, could be brought into the Confederate army, if given an opportunity. For many in Missouri, being of known pro-Southern allegiance, no matter whether outspoken or closeted, was enough to bring trouble, sometimes violence, from pro-Union neighbors. Escape from the vigilance of Union troops for many seemed the only option. Accordingly, Price assigned Col. Joseph C. Porter the task of recruiting behind Union lines in northeast Missouri. It appears highly likely that Woodson was one of the men Porter recruited.

Porter began his recruiting mission in April 1862, based primarily out of Lewis County, where he resided. Porter “began setting up supply, ammunition and weapons caches, and organizing a clandestine network of spies, scouts, couriers and recruiters. News of his arrival spread quickly and small parties of men began secretly gathering and quietly moving toward Porter’s camp.” This kind of service may have appealed to Woodson, who resided several counties southwest of Porter. In any event, it was exactly the kind of work that Woodson himself would be doing in the Shenandoah Valley several years later.

If the conflict in the East could be described as a “Gentleman’s war,” it was anything but in Missouri. An affair in July at Memphis, MO, illustrates the manner of warfare in the state. Porter’s men raided the town to seize a number of weapons known to be stored there and a small number of pro-Union militia were captured and paroled. While there, Porter’s men arrested a rather outspoken Unionist physician named William Aylward. One of Porter’s officers, Capt. Thomas Stacy learned from Southern sympathizers in town that Dr. Aylward had been boasting of murdering two Confederate soldiers taken prisoner at a small skirmish sometime before. As it turned out, the two men had belonged to Stacy’s command. When Porter learned the details, he ordered Stacy to select “an appropriate guard” for the doctor. The men selected to guard the prisoner were the brother of one and cousin of the other of the two Confederates Aylward had murdered. The next day the two men reported that their prisoner had escaped during the night; his body was discovered several hours later, having been hanged by his guards.

Porter’s command was somewhat unique, in that he operated both as a guerrilla yet also engaged in stand-up battles with Federal forces and pro-Union Missouri militia. Yet the brutality also unique to the war in Missouri was present in his battles. His second-in-command, Lt. Col. Frisby McCullough was captured and executed, without benefit of a trial, as were several of his enlisted men who fell into Union hands. The situation rapidly deteriorated. An elderly man named Allsman of very vehement pro-Union sentiment and who often served as a “snitch” for Union forces was captured by Porter at Palmyra, MO. Although Porter ordered him returned home unharmed, Allsman was never heard from again. This led to an ultimatum from the local Union commander that unless the old man was returned, 10 of Porter’s men would be put to death. The Federal commander explained “It is better that these ten men should die than a hundred, or perhaps a thousand others in this quarter of the state should be killed, which is likely to happen unless this thing of murdering citizens is stopped.” Tensions flared so high on both sides as a result of the situation that it took literally decades before tempers finally cooled – as late as 1908 the Federal Government still refused to release the names of those who had signed a petition to President Lincoln in support of the executions.

This is the atmosphere into which Charley Woodson returned after his initial mustering out in December 1861. It appears that Woodson joined up with Porter in May 1862, becoming a lieutenant in the First Northeast Missouri Cavalry. Nothing is known of Woodson’s whereabouts or actions during the intervening months, but he very likely had taken up with one of the many guerrilla units in the area.

Woodson was captured September 1, 1862, in Howard County, MO, in Porter’s area of operations. Again little is known of the circumstances surrounding his capture, the only remarks in his Compiled Service Record (CSR) being that the Howard County Provost Marshall “sent over…a Rebel soldier improperly within the Federal lines.” Woodson was probably lucky to have been taken alive. Initially held in St. Louis, he was transferred with a number of other prisoners to a prison in Alton, IL, in late November. He would spend the next six months imprisoned there.

While Charley Woodson was fighting, then languishing in prison, thousands of his fellow Missourians were under arms with Earl Van Dorn, P.G.T. Beauregard and John Pemberton. Among the latter was the 6th Missouri Infantry, part of the forces defending Vicksburg, MS. During the fighting at Port Gibson on May 1, 1863, as U.S. Grant’s army embarked on its latest attempt to take Vicksburg, Sgt. Edward H. Scott of Co. G, 6th Missouri, was captured. Two weeks later Scott arrived at the Alton prison where Woodson was being held.

On June 13, Woodson, Scott, and 1,200 other prisoners from Alton were shipped eastward by rail for exchange. (The Confederacy had two exchange points: City Point, near Petersburg, VA, in the East, and Vicksburg in the West. With Pemberton and Grant squaring off at Vicksburg, the latter was eliminated just prior to this prisoner exchange, making City Point the sole point of exchange. For many of the men, they spent their final night in Federal captivity in the War of 1812-vintage Fort Norfolk, on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, VA, although it is not known if Woodson’s batch of prisoners proceeded straight to City Point from Baltimore or if they paused briefly in Norfolk.) The prisoners arrived at City Point on June 23, proceeding directly to Richmond, where they were divided up into temporary commands to man the Richmond defenses (Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was en route to Pennsylvania at that time, in essence leaving Richmond uncovered). Woodson and Scott each commanded one of these temporary companies.

It is not known exactly when Woodson and Scott met each other, but during their time in Richmond they discussed the idea of forming their own command from the Missouri troops just exchanged. They managed to secure an appointment with the Secretary of War, James Seddon, to present the idea to him. Scott recorded the meeting in his diary:
“I had no idea it was so hard to get any business attended to. There is so much formality, so much department etiquette and so much system that it is almost impossible to do anything. The Secretary of War opens his office at nine A.M. [sic]. We enter the War Office, a door-keeper escorts us to the reception room, where we record our names and wait for our turn, for here as at a mill, ‘first come, first served.’ When our ‘turn’ comes we are conducted in due form into the august presence of the great dignitary himself, James A. Seddon, who sits enthroned in a magnificent cushioned arm-chair, the room finely furnished, nicely carpeted, cushioned chairs, sofas, and bookcases. We are introduced by our conductor, who immediately retires. We have only five minutes to say our say. We state our business briefly. Mr. Seddon answers plainly and satisfactorily. He is cordial and gentlemanly in his deportment, but seems determined not to grant any petition unless he is thoroughly satisfied of the justness or utility of the thing petitioned for. This great carefulness, which is probably altogether right and proper, is very irksome to some, and cause for irritation to others who are not gifted with an extraordinary degree of patience.”

Having been granted the official blessing of the War Department, Woodson and Scott set about organizing all the Trans-Mississippi troops into a company. Woodson was to be captain, Scott first lieutenant, and J.N. Bradshaw second lieutenant. Part of the reason for Seddon’s acquiescence may have been the fact that many of the Missouri commands to whom the freshly-exchanged soldiers belonged had been captured by Grant when Pemberton’s army surrendered at Vicksburg (Confederate policy was to return exchanged prisoners to their former unit, but in the case of Pemberton’s regiments, this was not possible).

Woodson’s new command was officially designated the First Missouri Cavalry, Company A, but most often appears in the records simply as “Woodson’s Company.” The company was organized at Camp Lee, Richmond. Most of the men had served in infantry units previously, and all were currently without mounts, which makes their choice to become a mounted unit raise some eyebrows, especially since Confederate troops were responsible for providing their own horses. The company numbered initially about 70 men. On August 10 Woodson reported that he had completed the formation of the command and requested assignment to Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden’s command in the Shenandoah Valley. This request is interesting of itself – what was the attraction of the Valley?

Perhaps Woodson or one of the others had met John H. McNeill or one of his sons in Missouri. The McNeills had moved from western Virginia to Missouri in the late 1840s and had served in Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard. The elder McNeill, a captain in one of Price’s units, had been wounded at Lexington, and one of his sons killed there. Capt. McNeill and his surviving son Jesse were captured on the retreat from Lexington. Both were held in St. Louis, and both managed to escape from the prison (though at separate times), making their way back to Virginia where they raised their own company of partisan rangers. (Perhaps this is what inspired Woodson’s story of tunneling out of prison with a butcher knife, and making his way to Baltimore and ultimately Turner Ashby’s 7th Virginia Cavalry.) Initially McNeill’s company served as part of Imboden’s First Virginia Partisan Rangers, but became an independent command upon the reorganization of Imboden’s command, operating in the lower (ie northern) Shenandoah Valley and West Virginia panhandle – areas mostly behind Union lines.

Imboden had made somewhat of a name for himself as a raider, McNeill’s reputation was growing, and the lower Valley in which he often operated had no shortage of targets. Perhaps the area seemed ripe for a repeat of the operations that many of the men had done while serving with Porter. Perhaps the men had no wish to return to Missouri and the bloody version of warfare there. Perhaps the ages-old appeal of cavalry service to veteran infantrymen – “why walk when you can ride?” – played into their decision.

The closest thing to an answer appears in a letter from Woodson to Robert E. Lee at the end of October. At that time, there was a movement afoot to return all the Trans-Mississippi troops to their respective commands, to boost manpower in the Western armies. Woodson adamantly opposed a return to the West and was seeking Lee’s help in securing their position in Virginia. Woodson writes that his company was assigned to Imboden’s Valley District on September 22, “where we have been doing service ever since, I believe and am happy to say, to the entire satisfaction of the brave commander to whose District we have recently been assigned.” Lee’s endorsement on the letter reads: “This company was sent by me to the Valley to procure horses.”

By year’s end, at least some of Woodson’s men had secured mounts. Others, including Lt. Scott, were still afoot. When Brig. Gen. William W. Averell’s cavalry set out through western Virginia on a raid against the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, both the mounted and dismounted Missourians gave chase. Scott recorded the pursuit northward from Harrisonburg from the dismounted point of view: “I assure you the chase was exciting. Rebel infantry after Yankee cavalry going at a double quick through town, and the cheers of ladies and the waving of handkerchiefs.”

Although technically a cavalry command, at least a portion of the company was armed with infantry muskets. A requisition signed by Woodson and Imboden dated October 1, 1863, requests three dozen .69 caliber muskets with ammunition and accoutrements for the company.

To start the new year of 1864, Woodson’s company comprised the provost guard of Harrisonburg. The Missourians seem to have quickly endeared themselves to the locals. Scott in particular seems to have made himself quite popular with the daughters of the Ewing family of Harrisonburg. Rebecca Ewing “sent me a nice English Bible which I prize very highly indeed,” he recorded in his diary. He began a Bible class, which “most of the company attend.” The Ewing girls also gave to the Missourians “a most abundant supply of good, warm, woolen socks – a supply so abundant as to furnish every man with what he needed, and leave some to be handed over other needy soldiers like ourselves. These patriotic and kind-hearted ladies…are proverbial for their acts of generosity and hospitality to our Confederate soldiers…[M]y little handful of Missourians will ever remember gratefully this very acceptable tribute of sympathy to soldiers who are emphatically ‘strangers in a strange land,’” Woodson wrote to the Harrisonburg newspaper.

The “Missouri exiles,” as they became known, became somewhat of a popular commodity that winter. Donations for Scott’s Bible class poured in. John Wartmann, editor of the Rockingham Register, declared Woodson to be “as modest and unassuming as he is chivalrous and brave, and we are right glad that our fair country women have found him and his brave Confederates out in looking around for worthy objects upon whom to bestow their well timed benefactions.”

Woodson’s men reciprocated what they could. In March a meeting of Harrisonburg citizens was convened to organize a relief effort for local soldiers who had been maimed in battle. Seven of Woodson’s men contributed a sum of $80 for the cause.

An even greater contribution to the war effort by Woodson’s men came on April 1, when they re-enlisted for 40 years or the war, “to continue in the service until independence shall be achieved.” This earned them even more praise from Wartmann and the Register: “There is not…in the Confederate service better soldiers than these Missouri boys…Surely, if our enemies, the Yankees, could see these…exiles from their homes, thus stepping to the front, without solicitation from anyone, and only at the suggestion of their own minds, they would see the folly and the vanity and wickedness of continuing the profitless struggle with us.”

“The kindness and hospitality of the people of this county, Rockingham, have won our warmest gratitude,” wrote Lt. Scott. “We have tried to earn the confidence and esteem of the people and I am proud to say we have least their respect.”

The Spring of 1864 promised a renewal of the combat, and most likely on a much larger scale than ever before. U.S. Grant had been appointed to General in Chief of all the Union armies, and was planning an all-out offensive on all fronts to begin around the beginning of May. For Woodson and the rest of Imboden’s “Northwestern Brigade,” as it had become known, this meant a reorganization. A new regiment was formed – the 23rd Virginia Cavalry – albeit from mostly veteran troops, and assigned to the brigade. It also meant the reassignment of all the dismounted troops from the cavalry commands, a move which entailed the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry and Woodson losing their horses. For the foreseeable future, Woodson’s men were to serve as infantrymen attached to Col. George H. Smith’s 62nd Virginia.

In late April Union Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel set out from Martinsburg with about 10,000 troops under his command, bound for Staunton. There he was to link up with another force about the same size coming from southwestern Virginia under Gens. George Crook and William Averell. Together the combined armies were to turn eastward either to Charlottesville or Lynchburg. The campaign was to be one of destruction – Crook and Averell destroying the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad; Sigel the Virginia Central – the Valley was to be cleared of Confederates and the abundant food supply there forever denied the Confederacy.

Opposing Sigel initially was Imboden’s Northwestern Brigade – 18th Virginia Cavalry, 23rd Virginia Cavalry, 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry (with Woodson attached), John McClannahan’s artillery battery – and smaller assorted commands, Sturgis Davis’ company of Maryland cavalry, Harry Gilmor’s Maryland cavalry battalion, a company of engineers, and the partisan commands of John McNeill and John Mosby (although the latter was not under Imboden’s orders, he slowing Sigel’s advance).

On May 5 McNeill struck at Piedmont, West Virginia, capturing several companies of Federals but more importantly completely devastating the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Upwards of 15 locomotives and nearly 100 pieces of rolling stock (depending on the source) and an estimated $1 million worth of damages to the railroad and its immense repair shops in the town. This caused Sigel to over-react, dispatching about one-third of his entire cavalry force to hunt down McNeill and his group of about 60 men. Imboden saw an opportunity to pounce, and took the 18th and 23rd regiments off to ambush the Federal horsemen in pursuit of McNeill. This left only Smith’s reinforced 62nd Virginia between Sigel’s main body and Staunton.

On May 10, Imboden’s mounted force ambushed the Federals at Lost River Gap, and took them completely out of the campaign. “We got them on a stampede and run them all day,” one trooper recalled. Three days later Imboden ambushed another Federal detachment just east of New Market. In two engagements over a span of three days, Imboden had knocked about one half of Sigel’s mounted troops out of action. But he was still outnumbered greatly by Sigel.

Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge was en route to Imboden’s aid with two brigades of infantry and a battalion of artillery from southwest Virginia. He would be reinforced on the way by the cadets of Virginia Military Institute. The two small armies would meet in battle at New Market on Sunday May 15.

Breckinridge needed all the infantry he could muster, so “borrowed” the 62nd and its three attached companies of dismounted troops from the 18th and 23rd, as well as Woodson’s men. Because of the four additional companies temporarily assigned to the unit, Woodson was serving as an additional battalion commander, thus command of the Missourians fell to Lt. Scott. The 62nd was placed in the center of the Confederate line, with Woodson on the regiment’s extreme left.

As the battle progressed, the Missourians advanced right through the Bushong farm, amidst the outbuildings then into the family’s apple orchard. Directly opposite them were five Napoleons of Capt. Alfred von Kleiser’s 30th New York Battery. For a time the 62nd and Woodson were advancing alone against Sigel’s line – the troops to their right had been deployed several hundred yards to the rear initially and had not yet caught up, and the troops to the left had been stymied by heavy artillery fire. Lt. Scott wrote of the carnage in his diary:

“We were now within close pistol shot of the battery and just as I had fired the last shot from my revolver at a cannonier, Sergt. Day came up to me pale and staggering with the blood flowing from his breast and back, and said as he gave me his hand, ‘Lieut. I am almost gone, please help me off.’ Just then I saw Lieut. Jones, my bosom friend and companion fall full length beside me, with the brain oozing from his forehead. I was struck at the same time in the right arm with the fragment of a shell which for a time disabled it. I assisted Will Day a few steps to the rear and laid him down. He would soon be dead. I spoke but he answered not. I placed my mouth close to his ear and begged him in these the dying moments of his life to call upon our Heavenly Father for the pardon of his sins and receive him into his Kingdom. Will was wild but a brave and generous boy. Just as I was lowering him Tommy Cane came to me with blood pouring from his neck and said, ‘Good-bye Lieut. I am killed.’ I took his hand and eased him down upon the ground. These were the last words he spoke, I placed a canteen of water to his lips and then said to him, ‘Tommy say our Father forgive me and receive me to thy Kingdom,’ but all was silent. His eyes were fixed in a deathly stare.”

According to Scott’s count, of out 62 men in the company that morning, only six remained unwounded. Three days later 18 men and Lt. Scott were present for duty (it appears Woodson was also wounded at New Market, but the date of his return to duty is not known). John Wartmann, editor of the Register and one of Woodson’s biggest fans, wrote that during the engagement the Missourians “never flinched in the midst of the terrible rain of fire and blood through which they passed in the assault upon the strong position of the enemy. They were the bloody victors of that hard-fought field.”

New Market was an overwhelming Confederate victory, with Sigel being put to ignominious flight with the loss of five cannon, despite the severe losses in Woodson’s company, and the 62nd as a whole. Across the mountains, Lee was hard-pressed by Grant, and needed any available troops. With Sigel defeated, Breckinridge was ordered to reinforce the Army of Northern Virginia with his small division. Besides his two infantry brigades, he also took with him the 62nd Virginia from Imboden, over the latter’s objections.

Breckinridge arrived at Hanover Junction on May 20, where he constituted the reserve behind Lee’s North Anna River line. A week later he was shifted to Totopotomoy Creek, before moving a few days later to part of the old Gaines Mill battlefield near Cold Harbor. While there, the Missourians got their only recorded glimpse of General Lee, which Scott later recorded: “Our hearts fairly leapt with desire to prove our worthiness to the noble legend on horseback…It was a sight not forgotten by all of the company and discussed for years afterward.”

The Missourians were spared the worst of the Cold Harbor fighting, not sustaining any losses. But their time with the Army of Northern Virginia was to be a short one, as Sigel’s replacement, David Hunter, had quickly regrouped from defeat, passing over the battlefield at New Market, defeating Imboden and Grumble Jones at Piedmont and capturing Staunton, there linking up with Crook and Averell. Hunter continued up the Valley, pausing in Lexington to burn VMI and the home of Governor Letcher, before continuing toward Lynchburg. Breckinridge was sent back westward to cope with Hunter, shortly followed by Jubal Early and the entire Second Corps. Hunter was driven back into the mountains of West Virginia and the way was open for Early to move down the Valley and into Maryland.

Along the way, the Missourians were detached from the 62nd – permanently as it turned out – and remounted. From that point forward, Woodson’s command was to operate almost exclusively as a partisan unit, likely as he and Scott originally intended, often working in tandem with John McNeill. As Early moved into Maryland, McNeill and Woodson struck at the B&O, then the Missourians took advantage of their newly acquired horseflesh and rode into Maryland to join up with Early.

It is in Maryland that Lt. Scott makes an interesting admission to his diary: “I am satisfied I am a very poor plunderer...[M]y safe return will satisfy me better than booty. I sometimes think that plundering our enemies, even after the example they have set us in plundering, and robbing our homes it too bad, unnatural and inconsistent in one who is engaged in the sacred cause of liberty.” Was he speaking of plundering on the whole, or in regard to specific examples committed by his unit?

Following Early’s repulse at Fort Stevens, Woodson and McNeill resumed their raids and scouting, mostly in Hardy and Hampshire counties of West Virginia, but some in the Valley proper. In one of these small encounters on October 3 McNeill was mortally wounded, dying of his wounds in a house just north of the battlefield at New Market. It is also during this time that, according to his obituary, Woodson supposedly was promoted to command of the 62nd Virginia – given the amount of post-war writings undertaken by Col. Smith of the 62nd, it is highly unlikely that in every one of them he managed to forget Woodson taking command of his regiment. (Someone, be it Woodson or an unknown someone else, could not have selected a worse regiment to claim that Woodson somehow rose to command – few veterans of the fighting in the Valley, few if indeed any Confederate veterans who did not have three stars and a wreath on their collar, were more prolific writers than George H. Smith of the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry, and nowhere does he make any mention of Woodson being associated in any fashion with the 62nd after New Market, let alone commanding it.)

Woodson’s days of participating in larger pitched battles were over – for the remainder of the war, the company would be engaged in much smaller hit-and-run types of actions. But that is not to say the Missourians were finished making headlines. With the death of John McNeill, a sort of command crisis developed in regard to his successor. The logical and obvious choice was his son Jesse. However, it appears that for a time at least, Woodson was commanding both. How this came about is not known, but it does not appear to have been a desired outcome by McNeill, possibly by Woodson either.

In January 1865 Early, still commanding in the Valley, tried to rectify the situation by sending Harry Gilmor to take command of both companies in addition to his own Maryland battalion. However, this served instead only to inflame the situation. Only days later Early recommended to Lee the disbanding of McNeill’s command, and presumably that of Woodson as well though he does not specifically request such:
“I wish you would get the Secretary of War to revoke the exemption granted to McNeill’s company from the operation of the act abolishing partisan rangers. [It is interesting to note that Woodson’s command, as it was not mounted at the time, was not mentioned in the act Early references here – technically Woodson did not have the exemption that McNeill did and thus may not have even been authorized to exist as he was.] This command has refused to acknowledge Major Gilmor’s authority, whom I have found it necessary to send to Hardy Co. to take charge of McNeill’s and Woodson’s companies and the remnant of his own battalion. One of my principal objects in this was that he might cut the railroad and impede the passage of troops over it, and this has been thwarted by the refusal of these companies to acknowledge his authority. The fact is, that all those independent organizations, not excepting Mosby’s are injurious to us, and the occasional dashes they make do not compensate for the disorganization and dissatisfaction produced among the other troops.”

The situation with Gilmor prompted Woodson to write directly to the Secretary of War, who was no longer James Seddon, but now his former New Market commander John Breckinridge:
“I write this to request that my company with myself may be permitted to be removed from the command in which they are at present. They are no under the supervision of Major Gilmor, his connections in this regard whilst I make no charges and am disposed to make none against him, has from the notoriety of those connected with him heretofore given great dissatisfaction. I am sure from this fact, even conceding bravery and efficiency to the Major himself, will conflict with the great good which my men are capable of doing…If you do not remember me from the services of my company in the fight near New Market when you commanded against Siegel [sic], and around Richmond with your command, Dr. Coffman, who will hand you this can inform you of the material of which the company is made and its services.”

Word of the situation was picked up by Phil Sheridan, commanding the Federal forces in the Valley, through a most unlikely source – Gilmor himself. The situation regarding the three commands resolved itself when Gimor was captured on February 4. The next day Sheridan reported “Gilmore [sic] has been unable to control McNeill’s and Woodson’s companies. They will not serve under him.” Two days after that, Sheridan reported “From papers taken from Harry Gilmor it appears he has had a rough time with Woodson’s and McNeill’s men. He says in a letter that they are in a state of mutiny and have dispersed, that he arrested one of the commanding officers but he would not recognize the arrest.” Nowhere is there any record of which “commanding officer” it is that Gilmor placed under arrest, although based on Early’s complaint to Lee it was likely Jesse McNeill. Nor does Gilmor make mention in his memoirs of any trouble with either officer, just that Early ordered him to Hardy County and that Woodson and McNeill were to “be permanently under his command.” A clue does exist outside of Early’s letter, however, indicating that it may have been Jesse McNeill rather than Woodson who was the cause of the trouble with Gilmor. On January 21 Woodson was admitted into the hospital in Harrisonburg with an undisclosed illness, and was released 10 days later. Thus while it is possible that he could have journeyed back to Hardy County during that time period and gotten into some sort of quarrel with Gilmor, it seems unlikely, although if he had been unwell, an unwanted intervention by the pompous Gilmor may well have rankled Woodson’s presumably already ruffled (by his illness) feathers. Or another possibility, although given his character it seems highly unlikely, is that the culprit was actually Lt. Scott, who would have been commanding in Woodson’s absence. (Scott is completely silent on the issue.) Likely it will never be known beyond doubt which officer began the issue with Gilmor.

McNeill, with some help from Woodson, in late February pulled off a rare Mosby-esque coup – he captured not one, but two Union generals (and a staff officer to boot) from their beds. Jesse McNeill with a handful of his men rode off into the darkness to Cumberland, Maryland, headquarters of the Department of West Virginia. Tricking the pickets into thinking they were a returning friendly cavalry patrol they got into the town before their identity was discovered and whisked away generals George Crook and Benjamin Kelley (and Capt. Thayer Melvin). “By threats they made the ignorant Dutchman who happened to be on picket give them the countersign. Armed with that they passed the sentinels right along, and came up to the hotel where Gen. Kelley and I had our headquarters, and came to our rooms,” Crook wrote. As McNeill brought his three captives out, he needed a guard to escort them southward – they linked up with Woodson who took the Federals to Early at Staunton.

Charles Woodson made his final appearance in West Virginia on March 30, 1865, capturing a small party of B&O repairmen near Patterson’s Creek. After setting their captives to work undoing the repairs just completed, the Missourians were no doubt delighted to witness a westbound train hit the damaged section, wrecking the engine.
The war ended for Charley Woodson on April 17, 1865, for on that date he rode into Winchester, Virginia, to surrender and secure his parole. Edward Scott waited several more weeks before seeking his parole on May 7. At least one of Woodson’s men – and probably more – chose not to surrender. James E. Humes is reported to have ventured with Jubal Early and several other Confederate officers to Mexico, but had returned to Missouri by 1870.

In May 1905 several veterans of Woodson’s command erected the small monument in Jacob Bushong’s apple orchard where so many of their comrades had been killed or wounded 41 years before. One of the men who paid for the marker, James H. Dwyer, had been wounded four times at New Market, and after the war had married the young woman who had been his nurse, Ada Sprinkle, while he recuperated in Harrisonburg. Dwyer chose to remain in the Valley after the war with his new bride, rather than return to Missouri; he became one of the leading figures of Harrisonburg in his later years. The other sponsor of the monument was W.R. Fallis, one of the five lucky ones who had gone through the battle completely unscathed. George H. Smith, former commander of the 62nd Virginia, in one of his many writings about New Market, wrote that “the monument…is a touching and deserved memorial of his comrades whose gallantry was not surpassed by that of any on the field. Nor could the inscription on it be well improved.”

Charles Woodson returned to Missouri, married, had several children, and became a deputy briefly, while owning a farm in Chariton County. It must have been with considerable concern though that he made his return to Missouri – passions still ran high, especially regarding Joseph Porter’s guerrilla campaign in 1862. The uncertainty regarding this must account, at least in part, for the action he – or whomever – took in falsifying his war record. Speaking about his actions as a guerrilla, one of Porter’s veterans said many years after the war, “those days are to be regretted and forgotten.” It is a sentiment that Charles Woodson may well have agreed with.

1 comment:

  1. John Hanson McNeill was taken to the Rude's Hill house after he was wounded, the same house in which Stonewall Jackson had lodged during his Valley Campaign in 1862. After Sheridan arrived at the Neff home across the river during the Burning, Sheridan confirmed that it was indeed McNeill who was wounded and in the house before moving on to Woodstock the next morning. Jubal Early sent an ambulance to move McNeill down the Valley Turnpike to Harrisonburg so he would escape Sheridan's capture. McNeill died at the Hill House Hotel in Harrisonburg, not the Rude's Hill home. The Massanutten Regional Library now stands on this spot. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=39331