UCV Civil War Military Operations Marker #3: Shepherdstown During the Civil War
Backstory and Context
During the early years of the Civil War, before West Virginia became a separate state, the Potomac River served as the boundary between western Virginia in the Confederacy and Maryland in the Union. Due to its location on the Potomac River near one of the main river crossings in the area, Shepherdstown saw constant movement of Union and Confederate troops during the war. In addition, due to the amount of raiding and small skirmishes in Jefferson County, there were several engagements in the vicinity of Shepherdstown as well as the destruction of property, such as the burning of Fountain Rock by Union troops.
The largest period of activity in Shepherdstown was during Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s 1862 Maryland Campaign. Sharpsburg, MD is directly across the Potomac from Shepherdstown and almost immediately the Confederate wounded of the Battle of Antietam were evacuated into the town. After fighting to a stalemate on September 17, the Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat into Virginia on the evening of September 18. General Lee used the ford at Shepherdstown to recross the Potomac into Confederate territory and the wounded flooded the town, overwhelming the civilian population attempting to house and care for thousands of men. The families of Shepherdstown continued to care for sick and injured men until November, as they gradually were transferred to Confederate hospitals elsewhere in Virginia. Union troops pursued the retreating Confederate army which led to the only battle at Shepherdstown. The Battle of Shepherdstown on September 19-20 was one of the largest battles in what would become the state of West Virginia (see marker #4).
After 1863, Jefferson County was part of the new state of West Virginia. Many of the citizens of the county remained loyal to the South and continued to fight in Virginia units. With Union troops often stationed at Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg as well as the campaigns of Generals David Hunter, Jubal Early, and Philip Sheridan during the Valley Campaign of 1864 and the raids of John S. Mosby in 1864-1865 Shepherdstown constantly felt the effects of the war.
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 Three
Shepherdstown Through Four Years of War
Marker No. 3, planted on the pike south of Shepherdstown near the cemetery, marks no particular battle, but we record some incidents worthy of notice. After the battle of Sharpsburg, the town was literally filled with wounded Confederates. Every available house was occupied and many private residences as well. Hospital flags seemed to float everywhere. At the time of Lee’s retreat, the Federal artillery threw many shells over the town, a few falling in it, but not much damage was done.
Frequent raids were made into the town by the Confederates, and some captures made by either side. Occasionally a Reb would steal into the town to see the home folks, or the girl maybe, and be gobbled up and taken to Fort Delaware or Point Lookout.
The country was without law for the four years, and robbery was frequent by men claiming to be sent by the Federal government, which, in some instances, was true. There was no recourse.
Several cold-blood murders were committed by scalawag army followers, and no investigation made. Most of this was in the vicinity of Shepherdstown.
Two companies, from the town and surrounding neighborhood, served in the Confederate army from the beginning to the close of the war—one a cavalry, and the other, an infantry company.
The infantry company, known as the Hamtranck Guards, was organized by Colonel Hamtranck of Mexican War fame. The organization was kept up, and did service in the Brown Raid; and when the war came on it was assigned to the Second Virginia Infantry as Company B, and did its part in all the battles where the regiment was engaged. They were as well drilled as regulars, and as loyal to the South as any troops in the Confederate Army.
Very few escaped wounds or death.
Company F, First Virginia Cavalry, organized in peace times before the Brown Raid, and commanded by Captain Jacob Reinhart at the time of the Raid, was afterward reorganized and recruited to about one hundred and twelve men, commanded by Captain Morgan. This Company was assigned to First Virginia Cavalry at the beginning of the war. Most of the men were fine horsemen and at home in the saddle—well drilled and equipped.
In justice to this Company, it can be said without question, that no cavalry company in the Army of Northern Virginia did more or better service than the First Virginia Cavalry, which included company F, commanded by Colonel Stuart, afterward General in command of all the cavalry in Lee’s army. They did service for the whole army, for a short while, at the beginning. They were drilled and schooled by Stuart in person, in military duties, discipline, endurance, bravery, and patriotism which could be seen to the end of the war. It suffered heavily in killed, wounded, and in prisoners taken.
Jefferson County furnished to the Confederacy five infantry companies, viz—A, B, G, H and K, to the Second Virginia Infantry, four Cavalry Companies, viz—A, B and D, to the Twelfth, and company F to the First Virginia Cavalry; and Chew’s Battery. Many joined other commands. The county was about depopulated of young men. These companies did active service in the field, cut off from home the greater part of the time."
Bushong, Millard Kessler. A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia. Charles Town, WV: Jefferson Publishing Company, 1941.
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.
Langmyer, Michael. "Shepherdstown and the American Civil War." Historic Shepherdstown & Museum. 2016. Accessed February 17, 2021. https://historicshepherdstown.com/portfolio-item/american-civil-war/.
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.
Redding, Nicholas A. A History and Guide to Civil War Shepherdstown: Victory and Defeat in West Virginia’s Oldest Town. Lynchburg, VA: Schroeder Publications, 2012.
Google Maps. Accessed February 17, 2021.