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The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia
Chapter 10 - Political and War Experiences


In 1860, I was again before the people as a candidate for the Convention which assembled in Richmond in 1860-61 for the purpose of considering what action should be taken upon the election of Abraham Lincoln for President by the Republicans upon a platform hostile to slavery. I was beaten by a very small majority before the Nominating Convention by Edward M. Armstrong, who became a member of that celebrated convention. I believed in the right of secession by a State, but did not think that the election of Lincoln upon an anti-slavery platform called for the exercise of the right. My views were fully stated in an address issued at the time. Hon. Robert Y. Conrad was also a member of this convention from Frederick County. His view was against the right of secession, but he believed in the right of revolution. Mr. Armstrong held the same view. As it turned out both views practically led to war. Neither Conrad or Armstrong were then in favor of the exercise of the right of revolution. Two-thirds of that convention, whether they believed in the right of secession or of revolution, were opposed to separation when the convention first assembled. The reason for the passing of the Ordinance of Secession was not that the Convention wanted to join the States that had then seceeded and organized themselves into a Confederacy, but the proclamation of President Lincoln calling on all the States, Virginia included, to furnish their quotas of seventy-five thousand troops for the purpose of suppressing the alleged rebellion in the State of South Carolina and the other seceded States, Virginia was then forced to decide the question as to which side she would take in the coming war. The proclamation was, in effect, a. declaration of war. It was no longer a question of secession or revolution, but a question of the right of coercion by the northern States—whether Virginia should join in the war against her southern sisters. When this issue arose Virginia replied to it by passing her ordinance of secession. No question of the abolition of slavery in the territories, District of Columbia and, I believe, in the States, could have forced Virginia out of the Union. It was only when she was summoned by the proclamation to assist the northern States in the conquering of the southern sisters, that she denied the right to make war upon them, passed the ordinance and bared her breast to the invaders of her territory.

In the spring of 1861, I was elected a member of the House of Delegates of the Legislature of Virginia. A company of infantry had been formed at Keyser some years before of which E. M. Armstrong, who had been a member of the Richmond Convention, had been the Captain, and the gallant George F. Sheetz, who lost. his life at the battle of Buxton, Va., was First Lieutenant. Captain Armstrong, shortly after his return from the Convention, had resigned. The company, by this resignation, had become disorganized and had assembled in Romney to surrender their arms to the State authorities. After giving up their arms a meeting was held for the purpose of reorganizing. At this meeting George F. Sheetz was elected Captain and I was elected First Lieutenant. The company again received its arms and went into camp near Romney, as a nucleus for the assembling of other companies which were expected soon to be organized in the county.

Shortly afterwards the Sheetz company was joined in camp by another company from Bloomery. This company, for want of more effective guns, had taken from the jail a lot of old muskets with flint locks that had been stored there since the year 1840. While in the camp Col. Cummins, who afterwards commanded the 33rd Virginia Infantry, was sent to organize the companies into a battalion or regiment. Shortly after his arrival, and before any other companies had ,joined the camp, Col. Lew Wallace, the author of Ben Hur and one of the members of the Court that passed sentence of death on Mrs. Surratt, with his Indiana regiment of infantry—numbering from one thousand to twelve hundred men—marched from Keyser to Romney for the purpose of capturing our camp. Sheetz's company, then only about forty rifles, was sent to guard the bridge at the river about a mile from the town. The Bloomery company with their flint locks were held in reserve. Captain Sheetz, after having stationed his company at the bridge, seeing the long line of the enemy advancing wisely concluded to withdraw his company and fell back through the wooded hills south of the town. The other company at Romney hearing of the withdrawal of Sheetz soon followed. The only blood shed in this affair was that of a citizen, old man Bushby, who was escaping across the fields to the woods when he was shot and killed. Wallace occupied the town for the day and then marched his force back to Keyser. With the exception of looting a few private houses no damage was done in the town by his troops. This was the second conflict of the war. The first was the affair at Alexandria in which Captain John Q. Lamar was killed. In both cases a company retired before a thoroughly equipped regiment of the enemy, more than twenty times their number.

In July of the same year (1861) my father, then the Colonel of the 7th Regiment with the gallant Turner Ashby as its Lieutenant Colonel, was sent with his regiment to take possession of Romney, and from this point as a center of operations, was ordered to destroy the bridges and to dismantle the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as far west as possible, and especially to destroy the high trestle just east of the Cheat River. At Romney at this time I became the Adjutant of the regiment, and so continued until I left it to take my seat as a member of the Legislature about the 1st of January, 1862. The most important work done by the regiment at Romney was the destruction of all the bridges on the railroad from Keyser to, and including, the Little Capon Bridge, a distance of about forty-five miles. Just before the battle of Manassa, on July 21st, 1861, our regiment was ordered to join General Joseph E. Johnson's forces, then in the valley between Martinsburg and Winchester. The junction was not effected and the regiment reached Manassa the day after that memorable engagement. During our march through Fauquier and Prince WiIIiam Counties we could distinctly hear the constant firing of the artillery.

It was while the regiment was stationed at Romney that Captain Dick Ashby, a brother of Col. Turner Ashby, was killed at Kelly's Island in the Potomac River about five miles east of Cumberland. Captain Ashby with twelve or fourteen men was scouting in the vicinity of Cumberland when he encountered a company of infantry, a part of a large force of the enemy then occupying Cumberland. Dick Ashby, like his brother Turner, never stopped to count the force in front of him. At sight of the foe he immediately charged across the river on to the Island. The Island was covered with thickets of undergrowth. Sheltered by these thickets the enemy received the charge by a scattering fire which forced Ashby's party to retire. Ashby was severely wounded by this fire, and while attempting to force his horse over a culvert was shot through the breast. He lingered for about ten days; then death came. This company was part of the Bucktail Regiment from Pennsylvania. From this regiment carne the bullet that caused Col. Turner Ashby's death later in the same summer near Harrisonburg. Captain Dick Ashby was buried in the Indian Mound Cemetery at Romney. After his brother's death his remains were removed to Winchester, and the remains of both now lie side by side in the cemetery at Winchester, "Par nobile fratum."

After leaving Manassa we were stationed for a short time in Winchester and Martinsburg. In the latter place our regiment guarded the removal of a number of locomotives from Martinsburg to Strasburg', and rails taken from the B. & 0. road to be laid upon a new railroad to fill the gap between Winchester and Strasburg. The regiment was divided for the time. Five of the companies under Col. Ashby remained in the valley, and Col. McDonald was ordered with the remaining companies back to Romney to assist in the protection of the flank of our army still at Manassa from an attack by the forces under Rosencrantz then in the western part of the State.

A short time after the return to Romney in September, 1861, General Kelley, commanding at Keyser, with a large force of infantry and a company of cavalry from Washington, Pennsylvania, known locally as the Ringold Cavalry, moved upon Romney. Col. McDonald had been fully apprised of the movement and made his preparations for meeting it. After skirmishing with this greatly superior force during the day, apprehending an attack which he had been warned would be made upon his flank by co-operating force moving from the mouth of Little Capon, he fell back some six miles on the Winchester Turnpike. The next morning, the anticipated attack from the mouth of Little Capon not having been made, he again moved upon Romney, which had been occupied by the enemy during the night. He advanced upon the town without waiting for an attack. The enemy abandoned the town, and commenced a headlong and disorderly retreat for Keyser, across the South Branch. A few of the fin-gold Cavalry made a stand at the river, but only for a short time. It was a rout and a race from the River to Keyser. In this pursuit we had several killed and wounded and captured a few of the enemy.

Of this affair and the much more serious one of October 26th of the same year, in which Col. McDonald lost all of his stores, his ordinance supplies and wagons, a detailed account is given by my brother, William N. McDonald, in his memoir of my father in "Ashby and His Compeers," a book written by Dr. James Battle Avirett, Chaplain of the 7th Regiment of Virginia Cavalry.

In the fight of the 26th, I accompanied my father (luring the whole of the day. We had but a single piece of artillery, a small rifle-gun, which was in charge of Lieut. Lionberger of Captain Jordan's Company. Early in the morning, my father having learned of the different roads by which the enemy proposed to march upon the town, knowing that the largest force would come from Keyser by the Mechanicsburg Gap, some four miles west of Romney, moved his whole force of cavalry some distance beyond the Gap, leaving his one gun upon Cemetery Hill. After some skirmishing, the command was forced to retire through the Gap, and fell back slowly towards Romney. Col. Funston, with four companies, was left at the bridge; Captain Sand's Company was held in reserve, and was posted upon the road adjoining Cemetery Hill. Lieutenant Lionberger, with one gun, took position in the Cemetery at a point which commanded the approach to the bridge and the road from the bridge to the Cemetery.

As the column of infantry approached the bridge from the west they were met by a continuous fire from this gun, wounding and killing a good many. We had nearly exhausted our ammunition, when about four P. M., I was ordered to Romney to obtain more. I had great difficulty in finding the Ordinance Master. When I did find him, all of the ordinance had been loaded into the wagon preparatory to moving back on the Winchester road. Just at this time, I discovered that the four companies of Col. Funston had fallen back into the towel. Despairing of getting any ammunition, I started rapidly for the Cemetery, under the impression that Captain Sand's Company was stiII there with Col. McDonaId.

About midway of the main street of the town I met Lionberger with his gun. He had unlimbered and, as he said, was waiting to fire upon the enemy's cavalry as soon as it came into view upon this street. I had seen nothing of Sand's Company and supposed it to be still in the Cemetery. I told Lionberger not to fire, telling him that he would fire into Sand's Company, as I was sure it was still behind. I then pushed on down the street for the Cemetery, feeling sure that I would meet Col. McDonald upon this road. I knew that his mount was a very tall horse, which had been presented to him by William C. Van-metre. He was much disabled by rheumatism and I was anxious about his safety. Within a square from where the road from the Cemetery turns into the street, I encountered the Ringold Cavalry at full charge, who as soon as they came in sight commenced to fire. I wheeled my horse, and with the whole cavalry at my heels dashed back up the street. I could hear the bullets whizzing by me and could see the leaves and twigs fall from the shade trees on either side, but neither myself nor my horse was touched. In this way the pursuit continued. At the end of the street I turned shortly into a lot to the left and made my escape across the fields to the woods. From a wooded ridge running parallel to the road, I saw this Company of cavalry overtake and capture our whole baggage train, within a mile of the town.

I was sure that night that my father and Major Richardson, his Commissary, had been captured. I learned the next clay that he had remained on Cemetery Hill until this Cavalry had passed, then by another road, parallel to the one that the Company had taken, and parallel to the street through which they had ridden, and in full view of both, had quietly ridden in a walk until he had passed the full length of the town and reached the wooded hills upon the right. I have often heard Major Richardson speak of this escape, and of my father's courage. He urged him repeatedly to quicken his pace. My father's reply was, "If they see us running we will attract attention and be captured."

I left for the Legislature about the 1st of January, 1862. With long intervals, it remained in session until May 1863. On the 26th of June, 1862, the battle of Gaines' Mill—afterwards called Cold Harbor—was fought. My brother, Craig Woodrow McDonald, who was then on General Elzey's Staff, was killed in this battle. In the same fight Frank Dixon Sherrard, my brother-in-law, Isaac Gibson, Isaac Armstrong and a number of others, all members of the Hampshire Guards, were fatally wounded. This Company was the first that marched from Hampshire to Harpers Ferry at the beginning of the war. The boys who made up the Company were nearly all from Romney. The Captain was John B. Sherrard, my brother-in-law, and the members were, for the most part, all boys and young men from among the best families of the town and its vicinity. Very few of the members of this Company survived the war.

The Legislative term ended in May, 1863. During this term, upon the reorganization of the Company during the session of the Legislature, Charles Vandever, of Hampshire, was elected First Lieutenant in my place. At the end of the term I was appointed Commissary, with the pay of a Captain but without the rank. I held a commission as Colonel from Governor Henry A. Wise, of whose staff I was a member, but was without any right to the title of Major, which was then given me for the first time. It has clung to me ever since, though I have frequently protested against it. I mention this because I do not wish to be known by a title to which I have no claim.

My appointment as Commissary made me a kind of free lance. I was not immediately under the orders of any one. My duties, upon receiving the appointment, were to obtain, by purchase, for money or cotton, cattle, hogs and other commissary supplies within the Iines of the enemy in the counties of Hampshire and Hardy. I was authorized to apply for details of men and wagons from any officer commanding in the Valley.

\ly first trip was with the command of General Jones, when he started upon his famous raid through West Virginia. I left the command just after it had crossed the South Branch in Hardy County and went to Hampshire County, where my wife and two children were then living, at the Reverend John M. Harris' near Romney. I remained there but a few days and started upon my return to the Valley. I was joined by James Kern, a member of Ned's Company. When we had gone on our way as far as Lost River, just above Wardensville, at a sharp turn in the road we encountered the advance guard of the 12th New York Cavalry. Major Quinn, who afterwards was in command of the force which captured my father and my brother, Harry, near Lexington, was in command of it. The moment we came in sight we were halted by this advance. Upon our right was a steep mountain side, upon our left, the Creek, running at the base of another mountain. There was no escape except to turn and run for it. After a run of about a mile, my horse, having been shot in the shoulder, fell with me, and I was picked up by my pursuers. My captors were what were known at the time as Jesse Scouts. James Kern was overtaken a short time afterwards. We were treated pretty roughly at first, our captors charging us with being spies. A short time after our capture, I was ordered to report to Major Quinn. He enquired my name and what my business was. I gave him my name and told him that I was a member of the Legislature. He said "I know all about you, you are Angus McDonald." He had been quartered in Winchester and had learned all about the family there.

That night Quinn and I slept under the same blanket. He was an Irishman, and was in the war not from any serious convictions as to which side was in the right, but mainly, I suppose, for the rank and pay which he drew. On the march we frequently discussed the issues of the war, and, while there was no direct expression as to which side his sympathies were on, my inference was that they were with the South. The command returned to WVinchester by a rapid march by way of Moorefield and Romney. I learned upon the march that Captain George Stump, of Colonel Imboden's Regiment, who was found at the house of his father, near Romney, had been captured by some stragglers from the command, robbed and killed.

When we reached Winchester, I was permitted by Major Quinn to stay all night at my father's home, and upon reporting the next morning to the Provost, was taken before General Milroy. The General, after a vain attempt to quiz me for information as to the movements of our army, commenced to lecture me on the folly and crime of "rebelling against the best government the world ever saw." I replied to him in a moderate way by suggesting that the South believed she was right, and that she did not recognize the right of coercion. This view of the matter roused the old fellow into a perfect fury. He fairly raged, and finally concluded by shouting at me, "If you won't come back into the Union we will coerce your d--d souls into hell!" This remark ended the controversy, and I was ordered back to the Provost.

That same day, with a number of other prisoners, I was ordered to Camp Chase. But Pierpont, who was then Governor of what. was called the Restored Government of Virginia, then located in Wheeling, requested the military authorities to turn me over as a member of the "Rebel Legislature of Virginia," and I was sent to the Atheneum Prison in Wheeling. Here I was held as a prisoner of the Restored Government. In a short time I was notified that a man by the name of Rucker was held by the Civil Authorities of the State of Virginia under an indictment for murder, and that I would be held as a hostage for his safety, which meant that if Rucker was hung, I would be hung too. Rucker was a strong Union man who resided in one of the counties of southwest Virginia, and in a fight growing out of the political excitement of the times, had killed a man. Subsequent to the killing he was indicted for murder, but made his escape into West Virginia. In a raid into West Virginia by some of our troops, he was captured and brought back to the county where the indictment was pending. This was the status of the case when I was notified that I would be held as a hostage for his safety. Rucker, however, shortly afterwards made his escape to West Virginia, and this problem, involving so much of interest to myself, was solved. While I was in Atheneum, on the inauguration of Governor Bowman, the first Governor of West Virginia, Governor Pierpont moved the Restored Government to Alexandria. I subsequently obtained, through friends from Hampshire of the same political faith as Governor Bowman, permission to return to Richmond, upon the condition that I would obtain the exchange for myself of a West Virginia Sheriff who had been captured by some of General Jones' force and was then a prisoner in Richmond. If I could not effect this exchange, I was to return to Wheeling. Upon reaching Richmond, I found the Sheriff a prisoner in Castle Thunder, commanded by Captain Alexander, assisted by his big black Russian wolfhound. During the war this combination formed a subject for Northern newspapers to howl over continually in their charges of cruelty to and starvation of Northern prisoners. I had obtained permission to effect the exchange from the Confederate Authorities at Richmond, if I could find the Sheriff. Upon arriving at Castle Thunder, I found Captain Alexander. The sheriff was soon brought into the office. When I informed him that he had been exchanged and was to leave on the next exchange boat for Old Point, you can imagine his joy. The next day he left for his home.

I continued to act as Commissary until the end of the war, and obtained, by exchanging cotton for cattle and hogs, quantities of supplies, mainly from Hampshire and Hardy Counties. Upon the capture of Patterson Creek Depot on the B. & O. Railroad in the fall of 1864 by General Rosser, I managed to obtain from the North Branch of the Potomac and from Patterson Creek, from men whose sympathies were with the South and who were unwilling to sell their cattle to feed Northern troops, a large quantity of cattle. On our way back with this large drove of cattle, some twelve hundred head, the command was brought to a halt at Sheetz Mill on Patterson Creek, upon hearing that General Kelly, with a Large force, was at Burlington, and that General Averill was at Mechanicksburg Gap with another large force of cavalry. The purpose of both was to cut Rosser off by intercepting; hire where our line of march struck the North Western turnpike. This point of interception was about three miles from the Gap and the same distance from Burlington. As I was perfectly familiar with the country and its roads, Rosser sent for me to get information as to the lest route to be taken to avoid Averill and Kelly and so insure the safety of our cattle. After discussing the question of striking across the country to the South Branch, which -would have placed us in Averill's rear, Rosser concluded to continue his line of march so as to cross the turnpike at a point close to where the Mill Creek Pike intercepts the North Western Turnpike. This point, as I have said, was an equal distance from Kelly on the one side and Averill on the other. Rosser directed me to go forward with his advance guard, a part of Colonel Lige White's battalion, and pilot his command by a road known to me so as to strike the N. W. Turnpike near its intersection by the Mill Creek Pike. Upon reaching the N. 11'. Turnpike, I learned from a Union man that a considerable number of Kelly's Cavalry had been near during the day, but that every thing had left before dark for Burlington. I had little enough confidence in this man's statement, but especially when, after marching along the pine for about fifty yards, the advance encountered a high rail fence built squarely across the pike. I was sure it was intended for an aid to an ambush, and expected an attack any minute, but was agreeably disappointed when the fence was removed and we proceeded on our way without any trouble.


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