UCV Civil War Military Operations Marker #10: Leetown Road, August 21, 1864
This is marker #10 in a series of obelisks erected in 1910 by the Jefferson County Camp, United Confederate Veterans to mark locations of engagements and other significant Civil War events in Jefferson County. This obelisk marks the location of a skirmish on the Leetown Road on August 21, 1864. The fighting on the Leetown Road was part of a larger engagement to the south, the battle of Cameroon's Depot (marker #20).
Backstory and Context
On August 21, 1864, Confederate forces under General Jubal Early and Union forces under General Philip Sheridan fought near Cameron's Depot between Middleway and Charles Town. The skirmish marked by obelisk #10 occurred on the northern flank of the opposing forces. Confederate Colonel Harry Gilmor was tasked with protecting the Confederate flank with the 1st & 2nd Maryland battalions of cavalry and the 19th and 20th Virginia of the Stonewall Brigade. A brigade of Union cavalry under Brigadier General Alfred Duffie, particularly the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry, engaged with Gilmor's troops and tried to flank the Confederate line.
Engagements of August 21-28:
In 1864 newly appointed General in Chief Ulysses S. Grant pursued a new strategy of pressuring the Confederate ability to wage war. His plan had Union armies move against Confederate forces in unison to prevent the Confederacy from moving their resources to fill in weak points in their defenses. This grand strategy included the Overland Campaign of Meade’s Army of the Potomac against Richmond, VA and Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas, as well as other supporting campaigns. The Shenandoah Valley was a crucial supply region for the Confederacy, particularly for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Grant intended to interrupt that supply line by threatening the railroads in western Virginia and hopefully forcing Lee to send troops to counter the Union in the Valley, thus weakening his force engaged against Grant and Meade near Richmond. The 1864 Valley Campaign began in the spring, at the same time that the Army of the Potomac began to move south to the Wilderness and beyond towards Richmond.
Three of the obelisks erected by the Jefferson County Camp of United Confederate Veterans in 1910 commemorate a set of engagements in August 1864. Near the beginning of August, General Philip Sheridan assumed command in the Shenandoah Valley. The previous month Confederates under General Jubal Early threatened Washington D. C. and won the Battle of Monocacy, another force freed prisoners from Point Lookout and burned Chambersburg, and both sides engaged in acts of retaliation in the Valley against civilian homes. Returning to the Valley, Early had a force of less than 20,000 men organized into five infantry divisions and Sheridan reorganized the Department of West Virginia to meet the threat. The Army of West Virginia was redesignated the 8th Corps and Sheridan was assigned additional troops from General Horatio Wright’s 6th Corps, two divisions of the 19th Corps (Major General William H. Emory), and two divisions of cavalry from the Army of the Potomac. This was Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah and the General departed Harpers Ferry of August 10 towards Berryville, VA with a force of 18,000 infantry and 3,500 cavalry. General Grant trusted Sheridan with taking care of Early in the Valley to prevent further attacks towards Washington and pursuing Grant’s original goal of cutting of supply lines. After August 10, Sheridan took his force south to engage with Early and Early responded by pulling back to Cedar Creek. A day or so later Early pushed back and Sheridan retreated; he was given incorrect intelligence that General Longstreet’s Corps was in the area and Sheridan did not want to risk a major defeat during Grant’s campaign and the presidential election.
Sheridan returned to West Virginia and his troops engaged with those of Early in Jefferson County at the end of August, the events marked by the UCV obelisks. On August 21 General Early ordered his force to advance towards Charles Town: General Richard H. Anderson was to move through Summit Point towards Charles Town, Early’s main force moved from Bunker Hill through Smithfield, and General Fitzhugh Lee’s cavalry advanced along the Berryville Pike. Sheridan’s force was encamped near Cameron’s Depot, just west of Charles Town. Union cavalry under Brigadier Generals James H. Wilson and Wesley Merritt delayed the force under Anderson and Lee’s cavalry, so the main force under Early arrived first. Advancing from the direction of Middleway, Early’s troops surprised Union pickets from the 6th Corps at Welch’s Spring and then set up artillery near Richwood Hall. Sheridan countered with artillery at Locust Hill. At the beginning of the battle of Cameron’s Depot the Confederates were able to put pressure on the Union position and force them off the ground by Locust Hill. Around noon, the First Division of the Union 19th Corps connected with Sheridan’s right flank and successfully fought the Confederates there, but after dark Sheridan decided to pull back to Halltown. As Sheridan’s force retreated, Early’s advanced and threatened Charles Town.
***While Early and Sheridan’s main forces fought at the battle of Cameron’s Depot, there was an additional engagement just to the north on the Leetown Road. Confederate reinforcements under Major Generals Robert E. Rhodes and Stephen D. Ramseur took position on Early’s left and cavalry under Major Lunsford L. Lomax was tasked to guard the Confederate’s left flank. Lomax ordered Harry Gilmor to protect the flank and Leetown Road with two Maryland battalions and the 19th and 20th Virginia of the Stonewall Brigade. Some of Gilmor’s men had dismounted near the home of a Mrs. Daniel, a Confederate sympathizer, when they were surprised by the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry and Duffie’s Brigade. After the initial surprise, Gilmor’s men were able to regroup and counter the 12th PA’s attempts to flank the Confederate force. Eventually the Union troops fell back behind their artillery which started to fire into the woods where Gilmor’s men were fleeing the open field. Thinking their enemy in retreat, the Union men charged but met the rest of the full Confederate force and were forced to retreat.***
At the end of the day on August 21, Sheridan’s troops were at Halltown and Early’s settled outside of Charles Town. In the next days Early tested Sheridan’s defenses at Halltown and decided to move towards Shepherdstown. Early left General Anderson’s force at Charles Town on August 25th and took the rest of his men towards Shepherdstown, meeting Union resistance along the way. First Early encountered cavalry under Wilson and Merritt and after a skirmish the Union cavalry retreated towards Shepherdstown while Early continued to Kearneysville. At Kearneysville, Early’s force met another Union resistance but was able to force the Union troops to retreat towards Halltown. The Confederates made it to Shepherdstown on the evening of August 25 and during the night the rest of the Federal force in that city retreated across the Potomac at Pack Horse Ford. Because the Union troops at Shepherdstown retreated, Early decided not to stay there and to return to their camp at Bunker Hill.
Returning to Bunker Hill, Early left cavalry under Fitz Hugh Lee and Lunsford L. Lomax at Shepherdstown and Anderson still guarded Charles Town. On August 26 Sheridan’s force at Halltown took advantage of Anderson’s diminished numbers and attacked with two infantry divisions (Major General George Crook) and a cavalry brigade (Brigadier General Russell Lowell). This attack forced Anderson from his earthworks outside of Charles Town into the town proper. Ultimately, Crook forced Anderson out of Charles Town towards Early at Bunker Hill; Anderson stopped at Stephenson’s Depot near Middleway. Sheridan needed to regain control of the entire area so on August 28 he ordered Merritt’s cavalry to remove the Confederate cavalry from Shepherdstown. Merritt’s men successfully forced the cavalry under Lee and Lomax to retreat towards Middleway. At Leetown, Lomax ordered Harry Gilmor to defend the road, but the Union quickly forced his men to retreat and the Federals were able to retake control of Middleway. One August 29, Early attempted to retake Middleway by sending Major Generals Ramseur and Gordan towards the Opequon Creek. Initially the Confederate force was able to dislodge the Union from Middleway; however, Sheridan needed to prevent Early from advancing again on Charles Town and in the afternoon the Union force was able to retake Middleway and force Early from the county. This allowed Sheridan to expand his force through Jefferson County to control the area and force a buffer against Early. After these engagements, the 1864 Valley Campaign moved back into Virginia.
About the Monuments:
This series of monuments and accompanying tour pamphlet were part of an initiative from the Jefferson County Camp, United Confederate Veterans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil War. In 1910 Col. R. Preston Chew and the Jefferson County UCV raised the funds to place 25 concrete obelisks in Jefferson County to mark locations of engagement or other significant events. The following year the Camp published a pamphlet to accompany the obelisks and give more information about each location. This was Military Operations in Jefferson County, Virginia (Now West Virginia), 1861-1865 published in 1911. The pamphlet has been reprinted several times by the Henry Kyd Douglas Camp, No. 199 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Because the monuments and accompanying pamphlet were done by Confederate veterans it is likely that the locations and descriptions are biased towards or favor the Confederate view and experience of the war.
Original Text from the 1911 Pamphlet:
Marker Number Ten
Engagement On And Near the Leetown Road
On the 21st of August 1864 General Early had formed his line of battle in front of Charles Town, W. Va. with General Rhodes on his left. General Lomax, with his division of cavalry, protected their left flank. Harry Gilmor with the two Maryland batallions (sic) and the 19th and 20th Virginia regiments of Jackson’s brigade were on the extreme left, and were ordered to hold the Leetown Road.
Gilmor dismounted the 19th regiment near the house then owned by Mrs. Daniel and now the property of James E. Watson. They were at once charged by a regiment of cavalry. Awaiting until they approached very near, the 19th opened a steady fire upon them, which threw them into confusion, when Gilmor ordered Captain Welsh to charge them with the First Maryland. They retreated, the regiment driving them back to their reserves, taking some prisoners, and killing and wounding a small number.
A brigade of cavalry attempted to move around the left of Gilmor’s line, there formed the 19th and 20th in the woods near the house. This line was attacked by Duffie’s brigade, led by the 12th Pennsylvania, commanded by Colonel Bell. Gilmor ordered his men to withhold their fire until the enemy got within a hundred yards. When the word to fire was given, a good many saddles were emptied. Among those who were shot was Colonel Bell, who fell mortally wounded.
The enemy retreated then to their reserves. The artillery kept up a furious and incessant fire on the woods. Later in the afternoon a desperate charge was made on the two Virginia regiments. The men had thrown up a barricade of rails, and gallantly held their position. About 50 Federals cut their way through and were captured by a squadron from the 1st Maryland under Lieutenant William Dorsey and Gilmor. Colonel Bell’s adjutant, a son of Governor Curtin of Pennsylvania, mounted on Col. Bell’s horse was captured. Gilmor presented the horse to General Lomax. This ended the fight and the enemy, during the night retreated in the direction of Harpers Ferry.
The enemy’s loss was heavy, in killed, wounded and prisoners.
In the 1911 UCV pamphlet, the account of this skirmish states that Colonel Bell was mortally wounded and his adjutant, a son of Governor Curtin, captured. William Bell was Lieutenant Colonel of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the time of the Leetown Road skirmish, having been promoted to that rank on July 2, 1864. However, the record shows that he was discharged in Fall 1864, so he was not mortally wounded or killed at the August 1864 skirmish. I was unable to located an adjutant in the 12th Pennsylvania with the name of Curtin, nor was I able to find information about a son of Governor Andrew Curtain who fought in the war. When searching for a soldier with the last name of Curtin from Pennsylvania in the National Park Service's Soldiers and Sailors Database there were no Curtins in the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry
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Engle, Stephen Douglas. Thunder in the Hills: Military Operations in Jefferson County, West Virginia, During the American Civil War. Charleston, WV: Mountain State Press, 1989.
Hearn, Chester G. Six Years of Hell: Harpers Ferry During the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
Military Operations in Jefferson County Virginia (and West Va.) 1861-1865. Published by Authority of Jefferson County Camp U.C.V. Farmers Advocate Print, 1911. Accessed January 20, 2021. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t4vh5gp6c&view=1up&seq=5.
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