150 Years Ago This Week: General Ashby killed

Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby
Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby

In the Shenandoah Valley near Harrisonburg on Friday, June 6, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops continued south from Strasburg towards Port Republic, where Jackson anticipated finding two columns of Union troops commanded by Maj. Gen. James Shields and Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont.

In a rearguard action just east of Harrisonburg, on Chestnut Ridge, Gen. Jackson’s cavalry, commanded by Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby, encountered heavy fighting. The colorful, popular cavalry commander was killed in late afternoon. His body was taken up and removed to Dr. Kemper’s home in the village of Port Republic, where Gen. Jackson came to pay his respects that evening. Gen. Ashby’s body was posthumously photographed, the only known photograph showing him in his uniform.

The same day, June 6, thousands of people lined the bluffs of the Mississippi River at Memphis to watch what proved to be the last fleet action of the war on the rivers. Acting Flag Officer Charles Davis, with five Federal ironclads and four rams, mounting 68 guns, overwhelmed eight inferior Confederate boats with 28 guns. They blasted the Confederates in a two-hour fight. Those on the bluffs went home in tears, and at 11 a.m., the mayor of Memphis surrendered his city to the Federals. The Union now had a new base, useful as a hub for active campaigning in the heart of the South. The Mississippi River was now opened to the Federals, with the exception of the portion in the state of Mississippi. Vicksburg would be the next target on the river.

On Saturday, June 7, in New Orleans, Maj. Gen. Butler added to his fame or censure as a tyrant when he had William B. Mumford, a citizen of the city, hanged for tearing down and destroying the U.S. flag over the New Orleans Mint. Even many favorable to Butler were critical of the punishment, and bitter recriminations were raised in Richmond and throughout the Confederacy.

Facing the two Federal columns on June 8 at Cross Keys, near Port Republic, Gen. Jackson’s command was attacked by Gen. Fremont’s. At the same time, Gen. Jackson was nearly captured at Port Republic by a small Federal party, but they were beaten back and Jackson escaped. Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell’s troops successfully defended the Confederate position at Cross Keys and forced Fremont’s command to withdraw.

The next day, Gen. Jackson ordered his men to attack the Federals under Gen. Erasmus Tyler of Shields’ command near Port Republic. At first the Confederates were driven back but the arrival of Gen. Ewell’s troops from Cross Keys allowed the Federal lines to be enveloped and defeated. Gen. Fremont’s men started to advance but held their ground, and Gen. Fremont was ordered to hold at Harrisonburg and advance no further.

Cross Keys and Port Republic were the last battles in Gen. Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. In 48 marching days beginning at Kernstown, Jackson’s 17,000 men had covered 676 miles, fought five battles and defeated three separate Union commands. His men had been responsible for keeping Federal reinforcements from Gen. McClellan’s army near Richmond, and Jackson’s reputation as a first-rate combat commander was established.

On June 11, Gen. Fremont’s battered troops were ordered back to Mount Jackson. The next day, Maj. Gen. James E. B. Stuart and his 1,200 Confederate cavalrymen and some artillery began what was to be a three-day ride entirely around Gen. McClellan’s army east of Richmond, to determine troop strength, conditions, and terrain. This information was to prove valuable to Gen. Lee and his plans to defeat the Union troops and save Richmond from capture.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.