Memoir of Turner Ashby by Edward A. Pollard

Memoir of Turner Ashby From Edward A. Pollard’s Book, “Southern History of the War: The Second Year of the War”
by
Edward Alfred Pollard

The writer had proposed a record in another and more extensive form of the principal events of the life of Turner Ashby; but the disappointment of assistance to sources of information from persons who had represented them selves as the friends of the deceased, and from whom the writer had reason to expect willing and warm co-operation, has compelled him to defer the execution of his original and cherished purpose of giving to the public a worthy biography of one whose name is a source of immortal pride to the South, and an enduring ornament to the chivalry of Virginia. But the few incidents roughly thrown together here may have a certain interest. They give the key to the character of one of the most remarkable men of the war; they afford an example to be emulated by our soldiers; they represent a type of courage peculiarly Southern in its aspects; and they add an unfading leaf to the chaplet of glory which Virginia has gathered on the blood-stained fields of the war.

It is not improper here to state the weight and significance given to the present revolution by the secession of Virginia. It takes time for revolutions to acquire their meaning and proper significance. That which was commenced by the Cotton States of the South, attained its growth, developed its purpose, and became instantly and thoroughly in earnest at the period when the second secessionary movement, inaugurated by Virginia, confronted the powers at Washington with its sublime spectacles.

Virginia did not secede in either the circumstances or sense in which the Cotton States had separated themselves from the Union. She did not leave the Union with delusive prospects of peace to comfort or sustain her. She did not secede in the sense in which separation from the Union was the primary object of secession. Her act of secession was subordinate; she was called upon to oppose a practical and overt usurpation on the part of the Government at Washington in drawing its sword against the sovereignty of States and insisting on the right of coercion; to contest this her separation from the Union was necessary, and became a painful formality which could not be dispensed with.

A just and philosophical observation of events must find that in this second secessionary movement of the Southern States, the revolution was put on a basis infinitely higher and firmer in all its moral and constitutional aspects; that at this period it developed itself, acquired its proper significance, and was broadly translated into a war of liberty. The movement of Virginia had more than any thing else added to the moral influences of the revolution and perfected its justification in the eyes of the world. It was plain that she had not seceded on an issue of policy, but one of distinct and practical constitutional right, and that, too, in the face of a war which frowned upon her own borders, and which necessarily was to make her soil the principal theatre of its ravages and woes. Her attachment to the Union had been proved by the most untiring and noble efforts to save it; her Legislature originated the Peace Conference, which assembled at Washington in February, 1861; her representatives in Congress sought in that body every mode of
honorable pacification; her Convention sent delegates to Washington to persuade Mr. Lincoln to a pacific policy; and in every form of public assembly, every expedient of negotiation was essayed to save the Union. When these efforts at pacification, which Virginia had made with an unselfishness Without parallel, and with a nobility of spirit that scorned any misrepresentation of her office, proved abortive, she did not hesitate to draw her sword in front of the enemy, and to devote all she possessed and loved and hoped for to the fortunes of the war. It is not necessary to recount at length the services of this ancient Commonwealth in the war for Southern independence. She furnished nearly all of the arms, ammunition, and accouterments that won the early battles; she gave the Confederate service, from her own armories and stores, seventy-five thousand rifles and muskets, nearly three hundred pieces of artillery, and a magnificent armory, containing all the machinery necessary for manufacturing arms on a large scale; and on every occasion she replied to the call for troops, until she drained her arms-bearing population to the dregs.

It is a circumstance of most honorable remark, that such has been the conduct of Virginia in this war, that even from the base and vindictive enemy tributes have been forced to the devoted courage and heroic qualities of her sons. The following extraordinary tribute from the Washington Republican the organ of abolition at the Yankee capital, is a compliment more expressive than any thing a Virginian could say for his own State and its present generation of heroes.

"If there has been any decadence of the manly virtues in the Old Dominion, it is not because the present generation has proved itself either weak or cowardly or unequal to the greatest emergencies. No people, with so few numbers, ever put into the field, and kept there so long, troops more numerous, brave, or more efficient, or
produced generals of more merit, in all the kinds and grades of military talent. It is not a worn-out, effete race which has produced Lee, Johnston, Jackson, Ashby, and Stuart. It is not a worn-out and effete race, which, for two years, has defended its capital against the approach of an enemy close upon their borders, and outnumbering them thirty to one. It is not a worn-out and effete race which has preserved substantial popular unity under all the straits and pressure and sacrifices of this unprecedented war. 'Let history,' as was said of another race, 'which records their unhappy fate as a people, do justice to their rude virtues as men.' They are fighting madly in a bad cause, but they are fighting bravely. They have few cowards and no traitors. The hardships of war are endured without a murmur by all classes, and the dangers of war without flinching, by the newest conscripts; while their gentry, the offshoot of their popular social system, have thrown themselves into the camp and field with all the dash and high spirit of the European noblesse of the middle ages, risking, without apparent concern, upon a desperate adventure, all that men value; and after a generation of peace and repose and security, which had not emasculated them, presenting to their enemies a trained and intrepid front, as of men born and bred to war."

What has been said here of Virginia and her characteristics in the present revolution, is the natural and just preface to what we have to say of the man who, more than any one else in this war, illustrated the chivalry of the Commonwealth and the virtues of her gentry. Turner Ashby was a thorough Virginian. He was an ardent lover of the old Union. He was brought up in that conservative and respectable school of politics which hesitated long to sacrifice a Union which had been, in part, constructed by the most illustrious of the sons of Virginia; which had conferred many honors upon her; and which was the subject of many hopes in the future. But when it became evident that the life of the Union was gone, and the sword was drawn for constitutional liberty, the spirit of Virginia was again illustrated by Ashby, who showed a devotion in the field even more admirable than the virtue of political principles.

Turner Ashby was the second son of the late Colonel Turner Ashby, of "Rose Bank," Fauquier county, and Dorothea F. Green, the daughter of the late James Green, Sr., of Rappahannock county. Colonel Ashby, at his death, left three sons and three daughters—the eldest of whom did not exceed twelve years of age at the time of his death—to the sole care of their devoted mother. To her excellent sense, generous disposition, and noble character, the Confederacy is indebted for two as noble and gallant men as have won soldiers' graves during this war.

The father of Turner Ashby was the sixth son, that reached manhood, of Captain Jack Ashby, a man of mark in the day in which he lived, and of whom many anecdotes are still extant, illustrative of his remarkable character. One of these belongs to the colonial times, and is interesting:

"When the news of the disastrous defeat and death of General Braddock reached Fort Loudoun (now Winchester, Virginia), John Ashby was there, and his celebrity as a horseman induced the British commandant of the post to secure his services as bearer of dispatches to the vice-royal governor at Williamsburg. Ashby at once proceeded on his mission, and in an incredibly short time presented himself before the commander at Fort Loudoun. This official, of choleric disposition, upon the appearance of Ashby, broke out in severe reproach for his delay in proceeding on his mission, and was finally struck dumb with astonishment at the presentation of the governor's reply to the dispatch! The ride is said to have been accomplished in the shortest possible time, and the fact is certified in the records of Frederick county court.''

Upon the breaking out of the Revolution of 1776, Captain Jack Ashby raised a company in his neighborhood in the upper part of Fauquier. It was attached to the third Virginia regiment, under command of General Marshall. He was in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and several other of the most desperately contested fields of the Revolution, From exposure and hardships endured upon the frontiers of Canada, he contracted disease, from which he was never entirely relieved to the day of his death. He continued in the service during the whole period of the Revolution, and after the proclamation of peace, quietly settled upon his beautiful farm not far from Markham station, upon the Manassas Gap railroad. Four of his sons, John, Samuel, Nimrod, and Thomson, served in the war of 1812.

The father of our hero died, as we have stated, leaving a family of children of tender age. Young Turner was put to school, where it does not appear that he showed any peculiar trait in his studies; but he was remarkable among his young associates for his sedate manners, his grave regard for truth, and his appreciation of points of honor.

Turner Ashby never had the advantages of a college education, but he had a good, healthy mind; he was an attentive student of human nature, and a convenient listener where information was to be gained; and he possessed those ordinary stores of knowledge which may be acquired by a moderate use of books and an attentive intercourse with men. He was engaged for some time in merchandise at Markham's Depot. The old homestead of his father still stands near there, and not far from the homestead of the Marshalls. The tastes of Ashby were too domestic for politics. He was at one time Whig candidate for the Virginia Legislature from Fauquier, but was defeated by a small majority. This was his only public appearance in any political strife, and but little else is known of him as a politician beyond his ardent admiration of and personal attachment to Robert E. Scott.

Ashby's attachment to domestic life was enlivened by an extreme fondness for manly pastimes. He was a horseman from very childhood, and had the greatest passion for equestrian exercises. His delight in physical excitements was singularly pure and virtuous; he shunned the dissipations fashionable among young men, and while so sober and steady in his habits as sometimes to be a joke among his companions, yet he was the foremost in all innocent sports, the first to get up tournaments and fox-chases, and almost always the successful competitor in all manly games. His favorite horse was trained for tournaments and fox-hunting, and it is said to have been a common pastime of Ashby to take him into the meadow and jump him over hay-cocks and stone fences. Some of his feats of horsemanship are memorable, and are constantly related in his neighborhood. While at Fauquier Springs, which he frequently visited, and where he got up tournaments after the fashion of the ancient chivalry, he once displayed his horsemanship by riding into the ball-room, up and down steep flights of steps, to the mingled terror and admiration of the guests. No cavalier was more graceful. The reserve of his manner was thrown aside in such sports, and his black eyes and dark face were lighted up with the zeal of competition or the excitement of danger.

The gravity so perceptible at times in Ashby's manner was not the sign of a melancholy or blank mind. He was too practical for reveries; he was rather a man of deep feelings. While he scorned the vulgar and shallow ambition that seeks for notoriety, he probably had that ideal and aspiration which silent men often have, and which, if called "ambition" at all, is to be characterized as the noble and spiritual ambition that wins the honors of history, while others contend for the baubles of the populace.

"He was," writes a lady of his neighborhood," a person of very deep feelings, which would not have been apparent to strangers, from his natural reserve of manner; but there was no act of friendship or kindness he would have shrunk to perform, if called on. "While he was not a professor of religion, there was always a peculiar regard for the precepts of the Bible, which showed itself in his irreproachable walk in life. Often have I known him to open the Sabbath school at the request of his lady friends, in a little church near his home, by reading a prayer and a chapter in the Bible. Turner Ashby seldom left his native neighborhood, so strong were his local attachments, and would not have done so, save at his country's call."

That call was sounded sooner than Ashby expected. At the first prelude to the bloody drama of the war—the John Brown raid—he had been conspicuous, and his company of horse, then called "The Mountain Rangers," did service on that occasion. He appeared to have felt and known the consequences which were to ensue from this frightful crusade. Thenceforward his physical and intellectual power were directed to the coming struggle. On the occasion of the
irruption of John Brown and his felon band at Harper's Ferry, he remarked to Mr. [Alexander Robinson] Boteler, the member of Congress from that district that a crisis was approaching, and that the South would be continually subject to such inroads and insults, unless some prevention was quickly effected. He continued, however, a strong Union man until the election of Lincoln: he was anxious that harmony should be effected between the States, and the legacies of the past should be preserved in a constitutional and fraternal Union; but this hope was instantly dispelled by the result of the election; and as soon as it was announced, he went quietly and energetically to work, drilling his men, promoting their efficiency, and preparing for that great trial of arms which he saw rapidly approaching.

The next time that Mr. Boteler met Ashby at Harper's Ferry, was on the night of the 17th of April, 1861. Mr. Boteler took him aside, and said to him, "What flag are we going to fight under—the Palmetto, or what?" Ashby lifted his hat, and within it was laid a Virginia flag. He had had it painted at midnight, before he left Richmond. "Here," said he, "is the flag I intend to fight under." That night the flag was run up by the light of the burning buildings fired by the Yankees, and the next morning the glorious emblem of the Old Dominion was seen floating from the Federal flag-staff—the first ensign of liberty raised by Virginia in this war.

It was not long after the arrival of Capt. Ashby at Harper's Ferry, with his cavalry, that he was placed in command at Point of Rocks, by Gen. Johnston, supported by Capt. R. Welby Carter's company of cavalry and Capt. John Q. Winfield's infantry corps of " Brock's Gap Riflemen."

About the same time Col. Angus W. McDonald, senior, of Winchester, Virginia, was commissioned to raise a legion of mounted men for border service, the lieutenant-colonelcy of which was at once tendered to Capt. Ashby. Without final acceptance of this position, he, with his command, entered the legion, the organization of which was soon accomplished. The original captains were Ashby, Winfield, S. W. Myers Mason, Shands, Jordan, Miller, Harper, and Sheetz.

This force was assembled at Romney, Hampshire county, very soon after the evacuation of Harper's Ferry by Gen. Johnston. The difficulty which existed as to Capt. Ashby's acceptance of the lieutenant-colonelcy of the legion, consisted in the fact that he felt under special obligations to his company, who were unwilling to dispense with his personal command. The arrival of his brother, Richard Ashby, from Texas, who joined the company as an independent volunteer, appeared to open the way of relieving this difficulty, as the company was prepared to accept in him a captain, in order to secure the promotion of their beloved leader.

But a melancholy providence was to occur at this time, which was
to color the life of Turner Ashby, and affect it more deeply than any thing he had yet experienced. The county of Hampshire had already been invaded by the enemy, and Colonel, now Major-general, A. P. Hill had already visited the county with several regiments of infantry, in order to repel the invader. This county was also chosen for the labor of the mounted legion. 

It was shortly after the organization of the command, and its active duty entered upon, that Capt. Ashby led a detachment to Green Spring station, on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, for the purpose of observation. He had with him eleven men, and his brother Richard led another small band of six. The latter was proceeding along the railroad westward, in the direction of Cumberland—some ten miles away—when he was ambuscaded at the mouth of a ravine just beside the railroad there, running just between the river bank and the steep mountain side. The enemy's force consisted of about eighteen men, commanded by Corporal Hays, of the Indiana Zouave regiment, which was stationed at Cumberland. His men, at length compelled to fall back before superior numbers, hastened down the railroad to rejoin Turner Ashby. Covering their retreat himself, he hastened to the rescue of one of his men, severely wounded in the face by a sabre stroke, and in a hand to hand fight with Corporal Hays, severely wounded him in the head with his sabre. Following immediately his retreating companions, the horse which he rode proved false, and fell into a cattle-stop of the railroad with his unfortunate rider. He was overtaken, beaten, bruised, wounded, and left for dead. He was removed many hours afterwards, and lived for several days, enjoying every kind attention, but his wounds proved mortal. He was buried in the beautiful Indian Mound Cemetery at Romney, on the 4th of July, 1861.

During the engagement of his brother. Turner Ashby started up the railroad to his rescue; but in passing along the river's brink, his force was fired upon from Kelly's Island, on the north branch of the Potomac, about twelve miles east of Cumberland. The island lies some sixty feet from the Virginia bank, which is precipitous, and directly laid with the railroad track. On the other side of the island, which was reached through water to the saddle girth, there is a gently rising beach, some thirty yards to the interior, which is thickly wooded, and contains a dense undergrowth. Here in ambush lay, as was afterwards reported, about forty of the Indiana troops, and about sixty of Merley's branch riflemen—Maryland Union men .of the vicinity—woodmen, skilled with the rifle, and many of them desperate characters. After receiving the enemy's fire. Turner Ashby and his eleven at once charged, and after a sharp engagement, routed and dispersed their forces. It has been declared that not less than forty shots were fired at Ashby on that occasion, but not he nor his horse were harmed, and at least five of the enemy were probably slain by his hand.

From the date of his brother's death, a change passed over the life of Turner Ashby. He always wore a sad smile after that unhappy day, and his life became more solemn and earnest to the end of his own evanescent and splendid career. "Ashby," said a lady friend, speaking of him after this period, "is now a devoted man.'' His behavior at his brother's grave, as it is described by one of the mourners at the same spot, was most touching. He stood over the grave, took his brother's sword, broke it and threw it into the opening; clasped his hands and looked upward as if in resignation; and then pressing his lips, as if in the bitterness of grief, while a tear rolled down his cheek, he turned without a word, mounted his horse and rode away. Thenceforth his name was a terror to the enemy.

Shortly after the death of his brother, his company consented to yield him up in order that he might accept the lieutenant colonelcy of the Legion, and elected First Lieut. William Turner (his cousin) captain in his stead. The Legion, numbering at that time nearly nine hundred effective men tolerably equipped and mounted, continued on duty in Hampshire until the 16th of July, 1861, when it started for Manassas, but did not arrive until after the battle. The command was immediately afterwards ordered to Staunton to join Gen. Lee's forces—subsequently to Hollingsworth, one mile south of Winchester. In the mean time. Col. Ashby, with several companies, was sent on detached duty to Jefferson, into which county the enemy was making frequent incursions from Harper's Ferry and Maryland.

In Jefferson, Ashby had command of four companies of cavalry and about eight hundred militia. Yankee raids were kept from the doors of the inhabitants, and the enemy made but little appearance in this portion of Virginia, until Banks crossed the Potomac in February, 1862. 

It was about this time that Ashby's cavalry acquired its great renown. The Lincoln soldiers dreaded nothing so much as they did these hated troopers. Go where they would, out of sight of their encampments, they were almost sure to meet some of Ashby's cavalry, who seemed to possess the power of ubiquity. And, in truth, they had good cause both to hate and to fear Ashby's cavalry ; for many a Federal horseman dropped from his saddle, and many a Federal soldier on foot dropped in his tracks, at the crack of Confederate rifles in the hands of Ashby's fearless sharpshooters.

During the time of the encampment at Flowing Springs, Col. Ashby rarely ever came into town, which was about a mile and a half distant. Nothing could seduce him from his duties; no admiration, no dinner parties or collations, could move him to leave his camp. He always slept with his men. No matter what hour of the night lie was aroused, he was always wakeful, self-possessed, and ready to do battle. He was idolized by his men, whom he treated as companions, and indulged without reference to rules of military discipline. He had great contempt for the military arts, was probably incapable of drilling a regiment, and preserved among his men scarcely any thing more than the rude discipline of camp-hunters. But though not a stickler for military rules, he would have no coward or eye-soldier in his command. If a man was dissatisfied, he at once started him off home. He allowed his men many liberties. A gentleman asked him one day where his men were. "Well," said he, "the boys fought very well yesterday, and there are not more than thirty of them here to-day."

Ashby's influence over his men was principally due to the brilliant and amazing examples of personal courage which he always gave them in front of the battle. His men could never find him idle. In battle his eye kindled up most gloriously. He wore a gray coat and pants, with boots and sash; he always looked like work, was frequently covered with mud, and appeared to be never fatigued or dejected. He would come and go like a dream. He would be heard of at one time in one part of the country, and then, when least expected, would come dashing by on the famous white horse, which was his pride. When the fight occurred at Boteler's Mill, the militia were for the first time under fire. The enemy had encamped on the other side of the Potomac, opposite the mill. Our troops quietly crept upon them, and planted two pieces of cannon within range, and let drive at them with terrible effect, whereupon they fled. They afterwards returned in force, and ranged themselves on the other side with long-range guns. Ashby, to encourage the militia, who were raw, advanced to the bank of the river, and rode his white horse up and down within point-blank range of the enemy's fire. When the balls were hurtling thickest, he would rein in his horse and stand perfectly still, the very picture of daring and chivalry.

At Bolivar Heights, when the enemy were firing upon our men and had shot down the gunners at the cannon, he sprang from his horse and seized the rammer himself. He was conspicuous in action at every point. His friends used to implore him not to ride his white horse—for he had also a black one—but he was deaf to every caution that respected the safety of his person.

The key to Ashby's character was his passion for danger. He craved the excitement of battle, and was never happier than when riding his noble steed in the thickest of the storm of battle. There are some minds which find a sweet intoxication in danger, and Macaulay has named a remarkable instance in William III, the silent and ascetic king of England, who was transformed into gayety by the excitement of personal peril. "Danger," says the historian, "acted upon him like wine;" it made him full of animation and speech. Ashby's delight in danger was a royal one. It came from no brutal hardihood or animal spirits; and the Virginia cavalier is thus so far superior to other famous partisans in this war, that he united with the adventurousness of courage the courtesies of a gentleman and Christian, and the refinements of a pure and gentle soul. He was never rude; he was insensible to the humors of the vulgar; and he never even threw into the face of his enemy a coarse taunt or a specimen of that wit common in the army.

Turner Ashby was doubtless as perfect a specimen of modern chivalry as the South even has ever produced. His brilliant daring, his extreme courtesy to woman, his devotion to the horse, his open-hearted manner, and his scorn of mean actions, are qualities as admirable now as in the days of Froissart's Chronicles. After the battle of Winchester, the Yankee women and families of officers sometimes came to Ashby to get passes. They were surprised to find with what readiness permits were granted. They would say, " Colonel Ashby, you may search our baggage. We assure you we are carrying away nothing which we are not at liberty to do." His reply was, " I have no right to look into ladies' baggage, or to examine their trunks. Southern gentlemen do no such thing." They said, "Colonel, you may search our persons, and see if we carry away any thing contraband." The reply was, "Virginia gentlemen do not search the persons of ladies."

Few young men of Ashby's age could have resisted the intoxication of praise heaped upon him from every quarter. The fact was, no aged and stern devotee to duty was ever more insensible, in the performance of his task, to the currents of popular favor than the young Paladin of the South. The following copy of a letter, written at the height of his reputation to an elderly gentleman of Stafford county, illustrates the modesty which adorned the life of Turner Ashby, and the sense of duty which insured its most brilliant successes:

"My dear Sir: I have just received your exceedingly kind and most flattering letter. Let me assure you that it gives me no little pleasure to know that my course, while doing my duty to my country, meets your approval, whose age and experience make it more to be estimated. That I have not sought self- grandizement, or regarded any thing save what I believed to be my duty to my country in this war, I hope it is needless to assure you. When my course meets with the approval of the old patriots, I feel doubly satisfied that I have not mistaken what I believe to be my duty. What you are pleased to say of my brother (who fell as I, too, expect to fall, if my country needs it) is but too true. Had he been spared longer, he would doubtless have been of great value to our country. His fall, however, has not been without its lesson to the enemy, teaching them that Virginians know how to die as well as fight for their liberty. He died without a regret, feeling that his life was due to his country's cause. Please present me most kindly to all my friends in Stafford, and accept my highest respects for yourself.
" Your obedient servant,
"Turner Ashby."

"We have already referred in the pages of this history to Ashby's share in the several glorious campaigns of Jackson in the Valley; to his participation in the battle of Kernstown; to his famous adventure with the Yankee pickets at the bridge, and to some other of his daring exploits on the front and flanks of the enemy. It was on the occasion of the battle of Kernstown that his energy was exercised to an extraordinary degree in protecting the retreat and annoying the skirts of the enemy. In thirty-eight, out of forty-two days after this battle he was fighting the enemy, keeping him in check, or cutting off his communications. The terrible fatigues he incurred, never seemed to depress him, or to tax his endurance. An acquaintance testifies that it was not an infrequent feat for him to ride daily over a line of pickets sixty or seventy miles in extent.

At a later period of the Valley campaign, when Banks returned from Strasburg and our troops were chasing him. Ashby would follow and charge the Yankees as the Rockbridge Artillery poured in their fire. At one time he was riding abreast of three hundred infantry, who were passing along the turnpike. All at once he wheeled his horse, and leaping the fence with drawn sword, cut his way right through them; then wheeling, he did the same thing a second time, lading up to the standard-bearer, he seized it from him and dashed him to the earth. The terrified wretches never raised a weapon against him. Seventy-five of them, whom he cut off, laid down their arms, and sat down at his order in the corner of the fence, where they remained until his men came up to take care of them. The flag was that of a Vermont regiment. A few days after, Mr, Boteler asked Ashby of the exploit. He drew the flag from his bosom and gave it to him. It was presented by Mr. Boteler to the Library of the State, at Richmond, where it may now be seen—a testimony to one of the most brilliant deeds of Virginia's youthful hero.

A week after this adventure, Ashby was dead. But a few days before the termination of his brilliant career, he received the promotion which had been long due him from the government. Just before leaving Richmond, after the adjournment of the first session of the permanent Congress, Mr. Boteler, who was a member of that body, and Ashby's constant friend, went to the president, told him that he was going home, and asked that one act of justice should be done to the people of the Valley, which they had long expected. He wished to be able to carry back to his people the assurance that Ashby should be commissioned a brigadier-general. The order for the commission was at once made out. When the announcement was made to Ashby, he exhibited no emotion, except that his face was lighted up by one of those sad smiles which had occasionally brightened it since the death of his brother.

The manner of Ashby's death has already been mentioned in the
preceding pages of the brief historical narrative of the Valley campaign. The writer is indebted for the particulars of that sad event to Colonel Bradley T. Johnson, the brave Maryland officer whose command was conspicuous in the affair that cost Ashby his life, and earned an immortal honor in revenging his death. He takes the liberty of extracting from a letter of this officer an account of the engagement: 

"On the morning of Friday, the 6th of June," writes Colonel Johnson, "we left Harrisonburg, not  having seen the enemy for two
days. To our surprise, in the afternoon his cavalry made a dash into our rear-guard, and was whipped most effectually, their colonel, Sir Percy Wyndham, being taken prisoner. My regiment was supporting a battery a short distance behind this cavalry fight. In half an hour we were ordered forward—that is, towards the enemy retracing the march just made. Our infantry consisted only of Brigadier-general George H. Stewart's brigade, the 58th Virginia, 44th Virginia, two other Virginia regiments, and the Maryland Line—of the latter, only the 1st Maryland was taken back; the artillery and all the cavalry were left behind us. The 58th Virginia was first, my regiment (the 1st Maryland) next, then came the 44th and the rest.

"A couple of miles east of Harrisonburg we left the road and filed to the right, through the fields, soon changing direction again so as to move parallel to the road. General Ewell soon sent for two of my companies as skirmishers. Moving cautiously through the darkening shades of the tangled wood just as the evening twilight was brightening the trees in front of us in an opening, spot, spot, spot, began a dropping fire from the skirmishers, and instantly the 58th Virginia poured in a volley. Another volley was fired. The
leaves began to fall, and the bullets hit the trees around. General Ewell came up in a gallop. 'Charge, colonel, charge to the left!' And I charged, got to the edge of the wood, and found a heavy body of infantry and cavalry supporting a battery on a hill six hundred yards in front of me. But the Yankee balls came fast and thick on my flank. 'The 58th are firing into us,' the leading captain said. General Ewell and myself, the only mounted officers, plunged after them, and found it was not their fire. I got back. 'Up, men, and take that hill,' pointing to my right. They went in with a cheer. In less than five seconds the first rank of the second company went down. The color-sergeant, Doyle, fell. The corporal who caught them from him fell. The next who took them fell, when Corporal Shanks, a six footer, seized them, raising them over his head at arm's length. Captain Robertson lay dead; Lieutenant Snowden shot to death; myself on the ground, my horse shot in three places. But still we went forward, and drove the Bucktails from the fence where they had been concealed..."

It was as the brave Marylanders were pressing on in this charge that Ashby, who was on the right of the 58th Virginia exhorting them, fell by an intelligent bullet of the enemy. His death was quickly avenged. As our troops reached the fence from which the shot had been fired, the line of Yankees melted away like mist before a hurricane. 

"The account I have given you," writes Colonel Johnson," of the manner of Ashby's death, is collated from the statements of many eye-witnesses of my skirmishing companies, who were all around him when he fell. I did not see it, though not thirty yards from him, but was busy with my own men;  and I am specific in stating the source of his death, as there is a loose impression that he was killed by a shot from the 58th Virginia. I am persuaded this is not so, from the statements of two very cool officers, Captain Nicholas and Lieutenant Booth, who were talking to him the minute before he fell..."

"Ashby was my first revolutionary acquaintance in Virginia. I was with him when the first blow was struck for the cause we both had so much at heart, and was with him in his last fight, always knowing him to be beyond all modern men in chivalry, as he was equal to any one in courage. He combined the virtues of Sir Philip Sydney with the dash of Murat. I contribute my mite to his fame, which will live in the Valley of Virginia, outside of books, as long as its hills and mountains shall endure."

No word escaped from Ashby's lips as he fell. It was not necessary. No dying legend, spoken in death's embrace, could have added to that noble life. Itself was a beautiful poem; a Bounding oration; a sufficient legacy to the virtue of his countrymen.


Edward A. Pollard, Southern History of the War: The Second Year of the War (New York: Charles B. Richardson, 1864), 42-58.

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