Shenandoah Valley, Spring, 1863
In April and May of 1863, General Jones and Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden of the Confederate States of America were moving through the Shenandoah Valley. Leading a small detachment of cavalry soldiers, the duo was launching an audacious series of lightening raids against Union infrastructure, supplies and private corporations that aided the Union. The mission was simple- inflict as much damage as possible to the Union, while simultaneously drawing away Union soldiers from General Lee who was preparing to move his army northward.
Jones and Imboden’s primary target was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The railroad ran from Baltimore, Maryland to Wheeling, West Virginia, providing a primary conduit for the moving of goods, materials and people west to east. Shutting down the railroad would deprive the east of goods, prevent the movement of western troops from reinforcing the eastern Union army, and send a signal to the Union that the South could also strike the Union homeland.
This mission was not about inflicting damage as much as it was about inflicting terror.
Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia citizens were fearful and petitioning the Union for protection. The raiders were robbing banks, burning down government buildings, and killing those who attempted to defend themselves. Using captured railroad engines and cars, the Confederates were able to change locations, unload their horses, and move with lightning speed. This rapid mobility gave rise that the Confederates were a larger force than they actually were. The Philadelphia paper, The Press, reported the Confederate guerilla force at over twenty thousand strong. In reality, they were less than four thousand strong.
The Union Response
The 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry was dispatched as part of a larger force to attempt to drive out the Confederates. My great-great-great-grandfather, Daniel Caldwell and his brother Ezekiel Caldwell were among the Union Cavalry soldiers who were dispatched to engage the raiders. On or about April 22, 1863 the 13th Pennsylvania Calvary had their first contact with the rebels in the area of Fisher’s Hill Virginia. What would follow were a series of skirmishes. Not the type of battles the Civil War would become famous for, but small scale, hit and run encounters were the cavalry units would encounter one another, have short duels, then separate.
The Confederates were not looking to take and hold ground. They were raiding, and they had no interest in a long drawn out battle. Not yet, at least. The Confederates would fight and move, fight and move. Using captured rail cars and pushing their horses to exhaustion they Confederates could cover extensive ground in a day. As they moved west on the captured Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, they burned bridges and tore up the railroad tracks. The Confederates were heading west, drawing the Union forces into a prolonged pursuit, who unable to follow on rail, were forced to give chase on horseback.
Local militias were being raised to counter the threat of the Confederates who were moving for the most part unchecked in this part of the country. The 15th Militia Regiment in Pittsburgh was mustered and expected to be sent to Uniontown. Other towns quickly tried to assemble some form of home defense force. For the Union, unable to counter this Confederate threat, the situation became a humiliation.
In Morgantown, Virginia (later West Virginia) by late April, the town awoke to find they were now surrounded by the Confederate raiders. General Jones rode into town and demanded the town’s surrender. The town lacked a defense force. Union troops were nowhere near. Reluctantly, the town’s fathers surrendered without a fight. The Confederates raided the stores, took 200 hundred horses, and killed the few men who were audacious enough to put up a fight. The home of the local Provost Marshall was burned to the ground.
The town of Beverly, Virginia would suffer extensive damage as the Union soldiers mounted a fight at this location. Most of the town was burned to the ground. General Imboden would blame the Union soldiers for the act.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad would suffer the loss of numerous engines, rail cars, and bridges. Warehouses of goods destined for the Union were put to the torch.
A Union soldier home on leave was discovered and killed before his family. There is no indication if he put up a fight or was executed.
Residents of the area began to flee the raiders, rather than risk finding themselves the center of the of the Confederates unwanted attention. It was the age old axiom, it was better to be safe than to be sorry.
The End Result
As a military raid against the Union, the mission was not all that successful. Multiple engine and rail cars were stolen. But, these could be replaced. Of the Baltimore and Ohio bridges that were destroyed, William Smith, Master of Transportation of the Baltimore and Orient, reported he would have temporary bridges constructed in five days, thus, restoring service within a week.
The Confederates took an estimated seven hundred prisoners, raised four hundred recruits and obtained needed supplies, mules, horses, and over a thousand head of cattle. It is not known how many they killed in the process from the records I have reviewed.
But, they also lost numerous men in the conflict. On May 17th, as the Confederates headed south back to safety, seventeen of Imboden’s men were captured stealing horses. And, for the South, men were the one resource they could not afford to lose.
General Imboden, would have a different take on his military actions and would later file a dispatch saying the, “The people are rejoicing at their deliverance from the oppressor.”
Eric Wynn is researching and writing about his great- great- great-grandfather Daniel Caldwell, of the 13th Pennsylvania Volunteer Calvary. If you have any knowledge of this unit, Eric would love to hear from you.
Caldwell, Ezekiel. (1919, August 16) Testimonial Tendered to Ezekiel Caldwell [Pamphlet]. Philadelphia, PA. Merrick Association, No 12, N.A.S.E. (Original work published in 1919).
Hand Jr., Harold. (2000). One Good Regiment. British Columbia: Trafford Publishing.
Imboden, J.D. (May 7). The Raid in Western Virginia. Press.
Unknown Author. (1863, May 6). The Raid in West Virginia. Huntington Globe.
Unknown Author. (1863, April 29). The Raid in West Virginia. Philadelphia Press.