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The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia
Chapter 5 - Marries Miss Naylor and begins practice of law


In a little over a year he was admitted to the bar, and shortly afterwards, on the 11th of Jan., 1827, was married to Leacy Anne Naylor. His success from the beginning of his legal practice was most flattering and in an incredibly short time he found himself in the enjoyment of a lucrative practice. For the next seventeen years he devoted himself almost exclusively to his large practice, succeeding far beyond his expectations, and making now and then, successful investments in Wester lands. His old Iove of adventure, though, was by no means quenched, for an exciting political contest always found him an ardent supporter of one side or the other. With absolutely no political ambition for himself, and with no talent for treading its devious paths, he nevertheless always took an absorbing interest and frequently assumed an active leadership in the cause he espoused. He hadn't a trace of the demagogue in his make-up, but was always ready, like many of his Celtic ancestors, to lead a forlorn hope, or brave a hostile popular current, did his judgment counsel him to such action.

While his political opinions, compared with the platforms of certain parties, seemed to undergo a change, his political principles were always the same. The party to which he always owned allegiance was the Madison-States-Rights party, until the Democratic leaders decided to follow Jackson in his Federalistic measures, when he left them and joined the Whigs, but when the Whig party fell under the control of Emancipationists and Federalists, he returned to his first love, the Democratic party. The history of his political views is substantially the history of the great mass of intelligent States-Rights Democrats of Virginia. They owed supreme allegiance to their State and always fought under the banner of that party which paid most regard to her dignity and Sovereignty.

On Feb. 3rd, 1843, Col. McDonald lost his wife and after her death he took a more active part in politics. The following incident will serve to illustrate the active interest he took in a certain political campaign, which occurred soon after he joined the ranks of the Whigs. The law of Virginia required that its citizens, in order to exercise the right of suffrage, should be possessed of a freehold estate of a certain amount of land. In order to carry an election in which he was interested, he made himself very offensive to the opposite party by transferring to a number of young men of the Whig party the requisite number of acres, who otherwise would have had no vote. This novel and daring procedure made him many enemies in the opposite party and they never forgave him for it. It was not long after this exciting campaign that war was declared with Mexico and he applied to President Poll: for authority to raise a regiment of volunteers, but the authority was refused on the ground that he was such an uncompromising Whig.

In 1846 the West again attracted his attention and he decided to move to Hannibal, Mo. (where he had made large investments) , and settle there permanently. But finally, after many visits there and back he concluded to remain in Virginia, for one of his greatest weaknesses was his love for his native State. It was on one of these visits to Missouri that he met Miss Cornelia Peake, whose sister, Susan Peake, had married Col. McDonald's only brother, Edward C. McDonald, and they were married in Hannibal, Mo., 27th of May, 1847.,

In 1848 he returned to Romney and again resumed the practice of his profession, but in a few years he moved to Winchester, the home of his nativity. Soon after this move, the old dispute between Maryland and Virginia, as to their boundary line was revived by Maryland, who claimed that Virginia was occupying a portion of her territory, and she appointed a Commissioner to make the necessary investigation; requesting Virginia to do the same. Virginia, though denying the Justice of her claim, acquiesced in Maryland's proposition to have the matter looked into, and Governor Henry A. Wise appointed Colonel McDonald to represent Virginia, while Lieut. Michler was named by Maryland for a similar service.

Accordingly the two Commissioners met on the Nansemond shore and commenced their explorations alone, what was called the Scarborough line, and it was here that Col. McDonald discovered that Maryland not only claimed, but for a long time had been in possession of a valuable portion of Virginia's territory. He communicated his discovery to the Virginia Legislature in the winter of 1859 and he was authorized to proceed at once to England and make the necessary researches among the Archives of the mother country. Reaching London the following July, 1860, he at once set about exploring the musty manuscripts and records preserved in her Majesty's State Paper Office, and was so intent upon the prosecution of his mission that he paid little attention to the historical monuments and time-honored institutions of the world's metropolis. The diplomatic etiquette of the Court of St. James would not admit of his being received as the messenger of a sovereign State. He could only be accorded the courtesy due the trusted representative of an important province of the United States, and this annoyed him very much. His state pride ill-brooked such a slight, and with all the dignity of an insulted sovereign, he declined the polite offer of our American Minister, Mr. Dallas, to present him to Queen Victoria. Indeed, Old Glengarry of Killicrankie fame, was not more imperious in his intercourse with assumed superiors. One day, while walking along Bond Street, her Majesty drove by in an open carriage, amidst many demonstrations of respect from the crowds which thronged the side-walks. All took off their hats except Col. McDonald, who without thinking stood thus covered in the presence of her Majesty. Upon being asked why he had not taken off his, he replied, "Because I have never had the honor of an introduction." Speaking of it afterwards to an Englishman he apologized for his unintentional rudeness, and said, "In my country, you know, all ladies are queens, but we are not permitted to act as their subjects until we have had the honor of an introduction."

He made many friends while in England, notwithstanding his natural antipathies. And whenever he met a Highlander they at once became friends. His love for the Highlands, the home of his ancestors was only surpassed by that which he felt for Virginia. Upon one occasion he came upon two beggar children in the streets of London, dressed in the Highland costume. The boy played "Charlie o'er the Water," while the little girl danced the Highland Fling. He threw the latter a crown which she picked up and continued dancing, while the boy musician acknowledged the kindness by the very slightest touch of his hat, though the money was probably more than a week's earrings. The imperiousness of this highland beggar boy, that so plainly told of a once noble but fallen house, and the stirring tune, so famous in Scottish story, roused every drop of his Highland blood and with tears in his eyes, he declared that he seemed borne back on the wings of that music to the home of his ancestors, and was marching with them down the Highland glens to the plains of Killicrankie.

For nearly five months, he without ceasing explored all the testimony which could possibly be found, bearing upon the disputed boundary line and succeeded in triumphantly establishing the truth of all his conjectures concerning the territorial encroachments of Maryland. During his sojourn in London, though, he changed none of his political principles, yet being so far removed from the tumult and strife of sectional bickerings, be became much less hostile in his feelings toward the Yankees. Previous to that time he had been a secessionist per se, so-called. But a wider observation of men and things and a closer acquaintance with the character of European governments, taught him the advantage of a united Republic. And it was not until he had returned to the scene of strife and had mingled among his indignant and outraged fellow-citizens, that his own feelings of hostility to the North resumed their sway.

With a vast amount of evidence, both direct and collateral in his possession, he returned to America in November, 1860. Arriving at New York on the eve of the Presidential election, he was naturally impatient to reach his home in time to cast his vote, and going to the Customs official, asked that his baggage be examined as soon as possible; explaining his reasons.

The officer at once went with him, to where the baggage was piled and Col. McDonald pointed out his own pieces. Conspicuous among them being a large sailor's chest containing all his official papers and records. Glancing at the name, "Col. Angus McDonald," and under it, "Commissioner from Virginia," the officer handed him back the keys which Col. McDonald had given him, saying, "I see you are from Virginia, Col. McDonald, and I am proud to tell you that no Virginian has ever been known to attempt to smuggle anything through here. And in view of your anxiety to reach home I waive all examination of your baggage, and you can get it as soon as you choose." But," remonstrated Col. McDonald, "I have in my trunks several articles upon which I expected to pay duty, such as silks and jewelry, presents for my family."

"Upon your assurance that the articles you mention are to be used only as presents, no duty is required," returned the officer. This unexpected tribute to his dear old mother State at this juncture, quite upset Col. McDonald and it was with a suspicious moisture about his eyes that he thanked the official for his courtesy.

I heard him relate this incident to several of his friends who had come to welcome him home the night of his return, Senator James M. Mason, Dr. Hugh McGuire, and Mr. Joseph Sherrard among them, and this tribute to their beloved State brought tears of patriotic pride to the eyes of all who heard it.'

He found the state of affairs far exceeding anything that he imagined, and all that national pride with which his bosom had swelled in a foreign land was soon overcome with feelings of indignation towards the enemies of his section. When in the following Spring, Virginia seceded and the clash of arms was heard along her border, with the frost of sixty-two winters on his head, he hastened to Harper's Ferry, the nearest theatre of action, and offered his services.

Gen. Harper, commanding the forces there accepted his offer, and assigned to him the important duty of guarding the bridges and fords along the Potomac below that point. The troops at first assigned to him for this purpose was the company of the famous Turner Ashby, then a Captain of Cavalry. Dividing this company into small detachments, Col. McDonald organized scouting parties, who traversed the western portion of Maryland and frequently, as scouting parties, disguised as citizens, entered Washington City, Ashby was then, as ever afterwards active and indefatigable in the discharge of his duties. And it was the soldierly traits which he displayed in this service, that first raised him high in the esteem of Col. McDonald. These scouting expeditions developed the urgent need of a topographical corps, and with the consent of Gen. Harper, Col. McDonald selected from the ranks, young men suitable for this service and organized the first Topographical Corps in the State.

In June, 1861, he was commissioned by the Confederate Government as Colonel of Cavalry and ordered to raise and organize companies of volunteers for a particular service. He at once repaired to Winchester to organize and equip his command. Most of the Companies which had done duty with him along the Potomac (at their request) went with him into the new organization, and in addition, several Infantry companies, which had not yet been mustered into the service desired to join him. He immediately applied to the Confederate Government and received authority to mount them. His Regiment now consisted of eight companies and they were very soon ordered to Romney, the County seat of Hampshire County, Virginia, which County has sixty miles of its border washed by the Potomac river, which separates it from Maryland. Along this line, for the entire distance, passes the Baltimore and Ohio R. R., which the Federal commanders desired to use as a military road between the armies of McClellan, operating in Western Virginia, and that of McDowell around Alexandria. It was for the purpose of preventing such a use being made of the road, that Col. McDonald's command was sent. to Romney, which from its central position, was admirably adapted to this object, and also for watching the movements of McClellan in the West.

Col. McDonald appreciated at once the value and importance of the service to which he had been assigned; and while he did not relax his energies in mounting and equipping his command, he employed all of it that could be spared from picket and scout duty, in the destruction of the superstructures of the road; and so thorough was his work that scarcely a bridge, culvert, or a water station was left on that section of the railroad, extending from Piedmont to the Great Cacapin River, a distance of sixty miles. About this time McDowell commenced his forward movement from around Alexandria. To meet this advance, all the available troops in Virginia were ordered to concentrate around Manassas. This order embraced the command of Col. McDonald, and it was at once moved by forced marches to this important field of action, but arrived a few hours too late to take part in the battle, which resulted in so signal a victory to the Confederate cause.

He now received orders to join Gen. Lee, who was then organizing and concentrating an army to check the Federal advance through Western Virginia. At Staunton this order was countermanded, and his command was sent to the lower Valley, to guard its whole border, extending from Harper's Ferry to the head waters of the Potomac, a distance of one hundred and twenty-five miles. Scattered along this frontier, the enemy had a numerous and active force, who were constantly making forays into the adjoining counties and arresting the citizens and carrying off their property. To watch and oppose this force, Col. McDonald did not have over four hundred available men (cavalry).

To his Lieut. Col. Ashby he assigned the right of this line, with his headquarters near Charlestown. Col. McDonald, in order that he might avail himself of his intimate knowledge of the country, made his headquarters at Romney. In addition to his Cavalry Col. McDonald had assigned him the two militia regiments of Hampshire County, which were also stationed around Romney, and the militia of Jefferson County were placed under the orders of Lieut. Col. Ashby. It was at this time that a detachment of Cavalry, reporting directly to Col. Ashby, arrested Col. John Strother, of Bath County, Virginia. This arrest was made without either the authority or the knowledge of Col. McDonald; and until Col. Strother was brought a prisoner to Winchester did he have any knowledge whatever of the arrest. It was customary, in such cases, to forward the prisoner with the charges and evidence against him, for trial at Richmond; but such was Col. Mc-Donald's respect and esteem for his father's old and valued friend, that he violated this rule, and had him tried by a board of officers at his own camp, rather than subject him to confinement in a Richmond prison, awaiting the slow progress of justice.

During this trial, Col. Strother was treated with every leniency, consistent with the charges against him. He was allowed to remain at a private house, and his daughter who was at the same house, administered to his comfort. A single sentinel stood guard at his door and accompanied him wherever he went. Every opportunity and liberty was allowed him in making his defence; and no one was more gratified than Col. McDonald when he was acquitted by the Court.

Between New Creek and Cumberland, points within a day's march of Romney, there was stationed a brigade of Federal infantry, and a considerable body of cavalry, who, impatient to taste the glories of war, imagined that they could win much honor by the capture of the Confederate forces at Romney; and in order to make sure of their game, determined to make a night attack. For this purpose all the available forces were concentrated at New Creek, and by a forced march they attempted to surprise the little garrison at Romney on the morning of the 24th of September. But when they came to the gap in Branch Mountain, through which passes the Northwestern Turnpike, three miles from Romney, instead of surprising a picket, their advance was driven back by the galling fire of a strongly posted body of men supported by a howitzer, which also opened upon them. Being foiled in this attempt, they kept up a show of resistance in their front, while the main body of their troops marched by a road along the western base of the same mountain to a pass four miles below, in hope of finding it unguarded.

Here Col. E. H. McDonald, with about fifty men of the 77th Regiment of Virginia militia, had been posted, and as the enemy was stealthily advancing along the narrow road which runs between the river and the base of an overhanging rock, they were suddenly startled by the rapid discharge of musketry, immediately over their heads. To this they attempted to reply. Col. E. H. McDonald appreciating the advantage of his position laid aside his guns and literally made it rain rocks upon their defenseless head. This was more than they could stand and obliged them to retreat in confusion; nor could they be rallied until they had again rejoined their comrades.

After daylight, with their superior force, they were enabled, by climbing the mountain side to force the Cavalry from their position. Col. McDonald then withdrew with his command by way of the bridge across the river and posted them with his artillery, on the bluffs commanding the fords and bridge. From this position he checked their further advance in this direction.

The enemy then moved about half their force by the same road at the western base of the mountain to the gap four miles below, from which they had been so signally repulsed by the militia before daylight, and by scrambling up the side of the mountain, succeeded in passing the gap without resistance. They had then passed all the natural barriers and were out in the broad, fertile bottoms of the South Branch, through which they could with ease have marched upon Romney. To meet this column, the militia under Col. Munroe was posted on the hills about one mile from the town, but waited in vain until near sun-down, when Col. A. W. McDonald fearing that during the night they might, with their superior force, occupy a gap in the mountain on the road to Winchester, and thus cut off his retreat in case of disaster, withdrew his forces through the gap and encamped for the night.

Early next morning, his scouts reported that the enemy had occupied the town, and were committing all sorts of depredations in their desire for plunder; also that many of them were intoxicated and consequently very much disorganized. He at once determined to attack them. His troops received the command to forward, eagerly, and at a gallop, advanced to meet the enemy, who advised of their coming, retreated across the river and attempted to hold the ford and bridge, but the gallant command never slackened its speed and as they approached the river, charged them with a yell, and forced them to a hasty retreat. This panic continued until the enemy found themselves in fortified camp at New Creek, a distance of eighteen miles. Except that the line of their retreat was through a densely wooded, mountainous country, in which Cavalry could not operate, the whole command must have been captured. As it was they lost largely in killed, wounded and captured.

After this unsuccessful foray on the part of the Federals the little command at Romney had a season of comparative leisure. But this lull was employed by the enemy in organizing a more extensive expedition, which had for its object the two-fold purpose of wiping out their former disgrace and the permanent occupation of Romney and the rich valley of the South Branch. Col. McDonald was apprised of these extensive preparations, but knowing that his post was merely one of observation, whose real base was at Winchester, also that the Confederate Government could not spare the troops to hold so exposed a position, remote as it was from the real base of operations in Virginia, he had nothing to anticipate, but an ultimate evacuation of the place. To this end he made all his preparations and quietly awaited their coming.

In the mean time, the Federal Department, embracing within its limits the posts of New Creek and Cumberland, was assigned to the command of Brig. Gen. Kelly, who having massed his troops at New Creek, consisting of about five thousand men of all arms, moved to attack the Confederate force at Romney.

On the morning of the 26th of October, Col. McDonald was informed of his advance by way of the Northwestern Turnpike, and also received information that another considerable body of infantry was advancing on the Springfield road. Although he was aware that with his small force there was little hope of checking their progress, he yet deemed it his duty to dispute every inch, the march of the invader, and teach him that the sons of Virginia were ever ready to defend her sacred soil. To this end he made every disposition of his handful of men, that in his judgment would inflict most damage on the enemy, and at the same time secure a safe retreat in case of disaster. With this two-fold purpose he stationed Col. A. Munroe with the 114th Regiment of Virginia militia, at Blue's Ferry, on a bluff commanding the bridge over which passed the road leading from Springfield. From this point Col. Munroe could resist any effort to cross the bridge or the ford below; and in case of defeat could withdraw his regiment by a mountain road without injury.

To his son, Col. E. H. McDonald, commanding the 77th Regiment Virginia militia, was assigned the duty of holding the pass four miles below Romney. He, also in case of disaster, could withdraw his command by a mountain road to a place of safety. Col. McDonald himself with his cavalry and two pieces of artillery, occupied the gap three miles west of Romney. Through this gap passes the Northwestern Turnpike and it was upon this road that Gen. Kelly, with his main body, was advancing. From information in his possession, he knew that the enemy were deficient in cavalry and that he had therefore little to fear in an open field skirmish. For whatever might be the issue, it would be practicable to withdraw before their infantry could come up. Accordingly he advanced beyond the gap and met the enemy's column six miles west of Romney. There a brisk skirmish was kept up without loss, until, in their retreat, the gap was reached. Here he determined to make a stand, as he had successfully done a month previous. But the swarms of the enemy's infantry, which covered both sides of the pass, soon made his position untenable. So withdrawing his troops across the South Branch bridge, he dismounted a portion and placed them behind temporary fortifications commanding the bridge and ford, leaving with them a howitzer under Lieut. Taylor.

Placing Maj. Funsten in command of these, with instructions to hold it as long as possible, Col. McDonald, with a rifle-gun and a small reserve of cavaIry took a position on Cemetery Hill, which commanded the same bridge and ford; and from which point he was in supporting distance of the troops guarding the passes on the opposite or east side of the town. As the enemy approached the bridge in battle array, displaying a force ten times as great as that opposing its march, the howitzer and rifle-gun opened on them. The enemy responded in similar fashion, and for a short time there was a spirited firing, in which the small arms participated. Their infantry then attempted to charge across the bridge, and were driven back. But their cavalry crossed under the bridge, and their appearance, together with the formidable display of infantry beyond, caused consternation to the troops in the fortifications, who abandoned their position without orders and retreated in great confusion. So great was their disorder that with few exceptions they galloped by the reserve without stopping. The panic was communicated to the reserve at sight of the advancing enemy, and they too joined in the stampede, leaving the guns and Col. McDonald with a few others behind. The enemy intent upon the pursuit of the fugitives, passed by Col. McDonald. who finally made his escape by taking a back road through the town, and thence turning into the mountains. The pursuit was kept up as far as the baggage train, all of which fell into the enemy's hands.

In the meantime another column of invaders attempted to force the position of Col. Munroe at Blue's Ferry. They were repulsed with severe loss and retreated hastily towards Cumberland. The position held by Col. E. H. McDonald with the 77th Regiment was not attacked; and so both of these positions were held, until they were abandoned in obedience to Col. McDonald's orders.

It is painful to mention an event which reflects discredit upon men who signalized their valor subsequently on many a hard-fought field, and whose reputation for gallantry still remains uneclipsed. But to vindicate the memory of one to whom circumstances denied the privilege of vindicating himself while living, it is but just that the truth should be told.

It has been asserted, and perhaps is true, that Col. McDonald committed a blunder in expecting so small a Confederate force to successfully defend their native soil against such a large body of the enemy. Had he adopted the policy which most of the military commanders on either side followed in the late war, of engaging with the enemy only when there was a good chance to make reputation, he would certainly have retreated from Romney in time, and prevented the disaster. If it was a blunder, it was of that kind which the South committed when she unfurled her banner against the powerful North and dared defend her honor, disdaining consequences.

He had undoubtedly made a mistake, but the affair at Romney was rather a. logical consequence of that mistake. It must be remembered that when Col. McDonald applied for a commission to raise this troop of cavalry, he was then upwards of sixty-two years of age, and not even then in very robust health, but his enthusiasm and desire to give his cause the benefit of his well-trained military disposition, caused him to place a false estimate upon his physical strength, but it soon became apparent that he was in no condition to command his regiment in person. The exposure incident to camp life had developed an inherent tendency to rheumatism which was intensified each time: he exposed himself to inclement weather. No one realized this painful fact more than Col. McDonald himself, and after the unfortunate disaster at Romney, he became convinced that the interest of the cause demanded a sacrifice of his own feelings and he did not hesitate to make it.

In his interview with Jackson, following the retreat from Romney, he requested to be relieved from service in the field. Accordingly he was placed in command of the artillery defenses around Winchester. It was natural, too, that the regiment should desire a more active and vigorous commander, so upon Lieut. Col. Ashby, the next ranking officer, the command of the regiment now devolved.

And even though the riving fame of this gallant young Virginian threw his own in the shade, Col. McDonald loved and admired him none the less. For he had been early impressed with his soldierly traits and knightly bearing.


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