Madison County

As part of the Commemoration of the Battle of Jack's Shop, Madison High School juniors competed in an essay writing contest, describing Madison County during the Civil War. We would like to congratulate Samantha Camilletti for submitting the winning essay. She was presented with a cash scholarship award donated by Virginia National Bank. You can read her essay below.


Madison County in the Civil War

By: Samantha Camilletti

The Civil War. The War for Southern Independence. The War for Freedom. No matter its title, it forever remains an repugnant smear on American, and ultimately, world history. There are familiar stories of famine, typhoid claiming people where they stood, decades of familial relationships dissolved within a mere matter of minutes, soldiers uttering "For freedom!" with their last expiring breath. The Civil War has been labeled as a tragedy, an atrocity never to be repeated… but could it have secretly been a blessing? It was certainly a blessing bundled up in the folds of death and unrecoverable ruination. But there were heroes. There were valiant charges of men who believed in the cause they were fighting for, who were willing to protect their natural rights, and there were defiant citizens who stood up against injustices. Virginia was notorious for its indecisive nature during the first half of the Civil War, and with valid reason. The Union was built on the principles that Virginia’s founding fathers believed. Why would they abandon those? But they also had a duty to their Southern sister-states, whose encouragement to secede grew more raucous and insistent by the day. Madison County, Virginia, directly adjacent to the west bank of the Rapidan River and in the shade of the great Blue Ridge Mountains, was no different. The views on the increasingly violent discord became equally divided. Madison agreed with the state’s rights doctrine, and even supported South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis of 1832 (Yowell). Whether they knew it or not, this support would thrust this tiny county into one of the worst conflicts ever to rock America's short, but very colorful, history. Even more, little, rural and relatively unknown Madison County was about to be tossed in as one of the most potent ingredients to the Southern Cause due to its key location in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the surprising amount of able-bodied, passionate soldiers, and the abundance of resources that were used to propel both the Union and Confederate Army. Because of its significance during the war, Madison garnered the local prestige it holds today.

Though the United States saw its first bullets fired in the the Battle of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, the war didn't officially start drawing human blood until the Battle of Hoke's Run in Virginia that same year. Many, in the infancy of this conflict, had no inkling that a full-scale war was mounting. In a bout of shared Southern arrogance, Madison believed it to be a short crusade, unfit for even the term 'war' in the first place (Robertson). They didn't believe the upmarket “bluecoats” would leak down into Virginia at all. In fact, the county was already largely unprepared for any type of battle. Along with the the rest of the South population, the residents of Madison County were not born soldiers. They were average folk, owning long familial lines that drew from German heritage and with that came the skills of wagon making, meat processing, and milling. Even with Governor John Letcher's command that all counties between Richmond and the Blue Ridge Mountains must have a ready and able militia, Madison was not expecting it to ever be used. Besides for a brief amount of time during the War of 1812, they had never been called and uniformed. These men were farmers and artisans, who wanted nothing more than to go home and continue about their daily life. Few volunteered in the beginning of the war; the threat was not real at that point. It wasn't really until the first conscription was passed in March, 1862, that the Madison militia (nicknamed Richardson's Guard after the Adjutant General William Richardson) received it's sustainable numbers. To be drafted was considered a disgrace, and subsequently, all men between the ages of 17 and 40 rallied to finally volunteer instead. Richardson's Guard merged into the Second Division of the First Brigade, under the mercy of Brigadier General Robert A. Banks. They trained in the ground guarded by the dual lean-to of the Madison County Courthouse. These men, mostly farmers, were wild and uncontrollable, not used to such stringent routine. They did not necessarily need help in the area of weaponry, but the adjustment to camp life. Their leader, James T. Twyman, drilled them until they could successfully fit into "boot and saddle" life. The timing of the subsequent training was nearly impeccable, because Madison had its first taste of the bitterness of battle at Barnett's Ford on August 1st, 1862. The soldiers of the two units from Madison, Richardson's Guard and another by the name of the Madison Greys, continued on to be major enough players in subsequently key battles: Manassas, Williamsburg, the Second Battle of Manassas. They even were part of General Robert E. Lee's force when he invaded the North- not just once but twice (Woodward). One of the heaviest battles ever for them to be a part of was the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3rd, where they made up the entire left center of Pickett's charge against General Meade (Hess). Due to a miscalculation by the Circuit Court, Richardson's Guard receive a much more robust endowment when it came to uniforms and weaponry. During the Battle of Seven Pines, where Richardson’s Guard and the Madison Greys played a major defensive role, the Greys were fighting with very old flintlock muskets and little to no suitable armor. One soldier was charging barefoot and without a shirt! These soldiers, from a small, relatively unknown county were placed in some of the most important roles of the entire Confederate army. Madison was also particularly blessed in its plenitude of local artisans and trade-hands. The Confederate Army that was formed from Madison's population may have not been the most financially stable, but that did not mean that they were without some specialties. John Lietch and his crew at the time sewed handmade fabric shoes for both Richardson's Guard and the Madison Greys. M.C. Gordon and his company started gearing their leather business to fuel the war and protect its southern participants. Even the blacksmiths were hard at work on something besides horseshoes- they custom-made bowie knives to custom fit the individual soldier, as well as repaired muskets and trying to improve them as much as they could. All of this seemed like good omens that Madison would help the South win the war.

Not only did Madison provide able-bodied and efficient soldiers, but it was not, as it was, a one-trick county. It had many critical facets, and one in particular was resources. Madison was as it stands today- rural, picturesque, and bucolic. It was abundant in trees, livestock and other, more precious items, like honeybees, and fruits and vegetables. Madison was singularly well-known in those days for its overabundance in crops of wheat, corn, oats and rye. Roads in some areas were less wide than they are today, and in other areas were non-existent. Madison was almost constantly used as a rest and refueling station due to its obscurity and healthy farmland. Many who refueled and rested for the night in easy comfort were some of the most undervalued generals in the entire Confederate Army- General A.P. Hill who, instead of camping in Syria, enjoyed the night at J.M. Grave’s humble abode, or General Jubal Early who slept and ate aplenty at George Mason Bohannon’s house, a rarity for someone suffering from the uncomfortable pain of rheumatism; Bohannon later extended his patriotic invitation to General Jackson as well, who declined on the grounds of wanting to stay with his troops. Unfortunately, Madison’s geniality soon met an ultimately sore price. Union soldiers continually inhabited the area, and more often than not, they, all brash and cocksure, left with much more than they came. Raiding parties killed off precious livestock and sometimes even transmitted local diseases like smallpox and influenza to families who no longer had their “men of the house” to protect them. On occasion, when raiding parties were spotted, the womenfolk or leftover slaves who did not march off with their masters, would hide their cattle at the slopes of Old Rag Mountain, and would convince the arriving officers that they did not have any cattle. Sometimes this technique worked, sometimes it didn't; it all was in the delivery or the “honesty” of the slaves. One prime example of the creativity of Madison townsfolk came in the form of Nellie Blankenbaker Crisler, who, upon hearing the familiar sound of Union raiders, gathered up all of the goose down from her mattress that she could find, made a pile of it, and when the officers tried to approach to steal from her, stirred up the feathers so much that they backed away and continued on. They chose starving for a few more hours over the cleanliness of their uniforms! Another popular method for keeping valuables and food safe when the Union soldiers came thundering into town was removable stair treads (Woodward). They gained a wildly popular following following their invention in the 1850's. But sometimes the Yankees were simply too clever, or the hiding spot not inconspicuous. The Hale family house in Aroda had sent away its widower and left no one else except its slaves and a four year old boy. The Yankees came out of nowhere, as it so happened to be told. They stole everything that they could carry, slaughtered the pigs and cows right there in the yard, and threw the the entrails and a barrel of molasses that they could not carry like confetti around the house. Before their time in Madison was up, they burned down houses after stealing everything inside, even going so far as to threaten to burn down very critical Madison’s Mill, located at Barnett’s Ford, during the terrible winter of 1863 to 1864 (Transcription). One of the most significant battles, in the most horrible of ways, to ever take place in the Civil War happened right in Rochelle, a nonexclusive community on the Southern end of Madison County. Jack’s Shop was then a small village within, only containing the local blacksmith shop (for which it was named), a post office and no more than five houses. The Blue Ridge Turnpike, snaking directly by the village, was reduced to a dirt road. The woods were undomesticated and thick on one side- a sharpshooter’s dream. The ground surrounding was relatively flat- the ideal fighting ground, especially for calvary. This is where, on September 21, 1863, Generals Buford and Kilpatrick met General J.E.B. Stuart for the biggest cavalry battle ever to take place in both the timeline of the Civil War and Madison history. J.E.B. Stuart was already well-established as a passionate and dependable soldier who "raised the southern morale with his chivalrous and cavalier image" (Williamson). On the battlefield, Stuart soon discovered that he was outnumbered by five thousand troops. Buford from the Union, halfway from thundering down the Turnpike, split his forces, and quickly surrounded the much small Confederate force. Stuart knew well before the end that this was not going in his favor, and uttered one of the most famous lines of the battle, "Boys, it's a fight to captivity, death or victory” (Woodward). Recklessness and innovation had to the take place of carefully planned military tactics. He ordered McGregor's Battery to open six guns and aim it at each of the forces that closed in around them. Stuart famously had his horse shot out from under him as he undertook a "running fight". Surprisingly, many Confederates did not lose their lives, but their spirit instead.

Madison is cited multiple times as being strategically important to both the North and South. At the start of the war, Madison was confident in its ability that the Union would never even get to their borders. The county was largely able to avoid a good portion of the fighting and the destruction that always followed. What they didn't anticipate was how quickly the "bluecoats" were cutting a line down to the South. As early as August 27th, Fort Clock, as well as Fort Hatteras was captured by the Union and never returned. On August 28th Roanoke Island and Newburg were captured. On January 22nd of 1862, the U.S.S. Brooklyn captured several Southern boats who were planning an assault by coming up the Mississippi river, and closed off both their attempt and the river itself! Even Madison was perplexed when Samuel P. Moore of the Confederacy suddenly appeared and marched his unit into the county to use the naturally defensive line between the Rappahannock River and the high bluffs of the Rapidan River. It would quickly become known as the Rappahannock-Rapidan line, and would be one of the most important fortification lines in the entire Civil War, only coming close to Fort Pillow in Mississippi and Fort Fisher in North Carolina (Perry). Besides just wanting to conquer it and move further down South to bring a swift end to the war, the North wanted to take advantage of Madison's seemingly unlimited fords and mountain passes. The mountain passes at both Milam's Gap and Fisher's Gap were well-worn by the boots of both Confederate and Union troops. Tall mountain peaks in the area, like Fork Mountain, were used for look-out stations and signal mountains. In between the time of July 10th to the 31st of 1863, nearly the entire Confederate Army was split between the counties of Culpeper, Rappahannock, and Madison. The infamous and well-named Stonewall Brigade passed through Liberty Mills on their way to a campaign in the North. Lost Mountain in Aroda became very important during the Battle of Jack’s Shop, because one of General J.E.B. Stuart's couriers ran up there and gave near minute-by-minute of Union troop movement (Woodward).

In the aftermath that followed the Civil War, Virginia downgraded from one of the richest states to one of the most impoverished. Madison was especially hard hit by the plague of destruction. Former Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, wrote in a letter to his wife, "The country between the Alexandria and Charlottesville was horrible to behold" (Cleveland). Madison paid a heavy price for standing up for what it believed. Many soldiers did not return home, while some returned home in time to sow their corn in mutilated ground. Reconstruction closed some wounds and opened others. The familiar slow thrum of Madison life gradually formed again. Despite losing the Civil War, the county did gain something, and that was Southern respect. Madison stepped up to the plate when time was called, and she was elevated to a new prestige.


Works Cited

Cleveland, Henry. Alexander H. Stephens in Public and Private. Philadelphia: National, 1866.

Print.  


Davis, M. G. (1977). Madison County, Virginia - a Revised History. Ephrata, Pennsylvania: The

Science Press.


Hess, Earl J. Pickett's Charge—The Last Attack at Gettysburg. Chapel Hill: University of North

Carolina Press, 2001.


"Historical Marker Transcription." Fry's/Barnett's Ford Road/Woodberry Perimeter Trail Historical

Marker. Annwn Web Creations LLC, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.


Perry, Leslie J., Henry Martyn Lazelle, and United States War Department. "The War of the

Rebellion: V.1-53 [serial No. 1-111] Formal Reports, Both Union and Confederate, of the

First Seizures of United States Property in the Southern States, and of All Military

Operations in the Field, with the Correspondence, Orders and Returns Relating Specially

Thereto. 1880-1898. 111v." Google Books. Washington Government Printing Office, 1891.

Web. 16 Sept. 2013.


Robertson, J. I. (1991). Civil War Virginia: Battleground for a Nation. The University Press of

Virginia.

  

Yowell, Claude Lindsay. A History of Madison County, Virginia,. Strasburg, VA: Printed by    

Shenandoah Pub. House, 1926. Print.


Williamson, Mary Paperback-January 1, 1997. “Life of Jeb Stuart”. Christian Liberty Press



Woodward, Harold R. "For Home and Honor: The Story of Madison County, Virginia, during the   

War between the States, 1861-1865 Paperback – January 1, 1990." For Home and Honor:

The Story of Madison County, Virginia, during the War between the States, 1861-1865:

Harold R Woodward: Amazon.com: Books. N.p., 1 Jan. 1990. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

 
 
 

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