Women of Winchester, Virginia series: Anticipation and Anxiety, The First Union Occupation, March 1862

In the last article the focus was on the adventures of Emma Riley Macon who left Winchester, Virginia just prior to the Union occupation by Union General Nathanial Banks, but it focused on her experiences in Luray, Virginia.  Everyone in Winchester, whether Unionist or Confederate, knew the Union troops were about to occupy Winchester, Virginia in late March 1862.  This article will share with you the different feelings of anticipation and anxiety found in the diaries of Julia Chase (Unionist), Mary Greenhow Lee (Confederate), Harriet Griffith (Unionist), as well as a short passage from Mary Tuck Magill’s 1870’s novel about her experiences in Winchester during the Civil War.  I thought it would be interesting to examine if the Union and Confederate troops also displayed anticipation and anxiety.  I found two letters and a journal representing both the Union and Confederate sides discussing the March 1862 Union advance and the Confederate retreat in Winchester, Virginia.  I will not narrate these letters or other passages. They speak for themselves.

Harriet Griffith (Unionist and Quaker), March 1-2, 1862, diary entries:

My brothers are to leave tomorrow for a country where they can do as they like, and not have to be drafted by this Rebel army. Folks are getting scared in Winchester for they [Confederate Army] are moving all the Commissary Dept., Ordinance Dept, and sick soldiers.

Great excitement in town – people moving. They say Banks is in Charlestown. Two Yankee prisoners brought to town today.

Julia Chase (Unionist), March 7-9, 1862 diary entries:

Our town all in excitement this afternoon. People running, soldiers going in all directions.

A fire broke out last night and is said to have been done by incendiary. Heard all the cars at the depot were filled with shavings the object we can well guess. Good many wagons were burnt up yesterday, fearing they might eventually fall into the hands of the Union troops.

Oh the Virginians, how bravely they talk when their Army is near, but how different when there is any sign of the US troops making their appearance. The women seem terribly alarmed at the thought of the Yankees coming here, as if they were all monsters in human form.

Great many Union people have been put in the guard house. We are expecting father will be arrested as we learn the secessionists have 150 names down of Union people.

Harriet Griffith (Union and Quaker), March 9, 1862:

Father went into town today. Said they had Uncle in the guard house, also Amos Wright and Job Throckmorton and he hastened home and with difficulty got out. Martial law there.  So much excitement in Winchester, the Confederates intend to take all the Union men now – Oh, I don’t want Father to go. I do fear.

Edwin Rice (Union solder), March 9, 1862, letter to wife:

…It is thought here that we shall be in Winchester in a week from now. Deserters say that all the heavy baggage, provision, ammunition, etc. is being moved to Strasburg.  I don’t know but what you think Winchester is a large place, but it is not, at least I have been told by men who live near here. It is the left wing of the rebel army and that makes it a place of some importance to them.

Charles E. Davis, Jr., Company K, Westboro, Massachusetts, Journal Entry, March 10-11 1862:

Orders issued to cook three days’ rations…If there are any Quakers in the regiment, it was a good time for them to start for Philadelphia. We expected to march at 10 a.m., but as it rained hard, the order was countermanded.

Marched to Stephenson’s Depot, six miles, and bivouacked in the woods about four miles from Winchester. As we marched out of Bunker Hill the usual crowds gathered to see the troops pass along. Our march was frequently obstructed by rebel cavalry under Ashby; but no one was hurt, though it looked rather shaky at times.

Julia Chase (Unionist), March 11, 1862:

Fears realized. Father has been taken to the Guard House, and there about 2 ½ hours, then hurried off to Strasburg…Oh, how indignant I felt towards the whole town, to take an old man lying sick on the sofa is outrageous. The older men had the privilege of riding to Strasburg by paying their fare. The rest had to walk.

Mary Greenhow Lee (Confederate), March 11, 1862:

On going out we met Johnnie Baldwin, in a state of intense excitement; he said we were disgraced, that Jackson was evacuating the town without a fight. It was a terrible moment, that although it had been discussed so often it was impossible to be prepared for. I was skeptical enough to doubt it. We sat round the table trying to arrange what we were to do and what emergencies were to be prepared for.  I am in such an anxious state that I am afraid to go to bed, lest I should be roused by the sound of the cannon.

The Yankees advanced this evening to within one mile of our lines and are now encamped three miles from town. There has been a skirmish in which Turner Ashby’s horse was shot under him. The idea that by this time tomorrow night we may be in their [Union] hands, is too terrible for my mind to grasp. I still cling to the conviction that it will not be permitted, I do not think I could feel so calm and self reliant (no hope it is on God I rely) if such a fate was really in store for me. I almost fancy, and hope it would kill me, except that I know the rest of the family would be more helpless without me. Oh! It is terrible to be listening for the cannon, now in the dead hours of the night…I am in a lovely little room, and every sound startles me; horsemen are dashing by continually; why do they ride as if the enemy were pursuing them. May the God of battles have mercy on us.

Frank B. Jones (Confederate army), March 11, 1862 diary entry:

About one o’clock whilst we were laying in the Baldwin woods near Winchester I heard the long roll beat and quickly we were under arms…by General Garnett’s order we were placed some distance in the advance, and took our positions at the edge of a wood near the line of the R.R. The enemy were advancing in large force on the Martinsburg turnpike and we confidently expected an engagement, but they did not come quite near enough, their scouts I saw plainly, and in rifle shot, but they concluded to wait until the morning when they would be joined by other columns coming up the Berryville road and down from the Bath road. Night coming on, Gen. Jackson withdrew his forces and we marched out with heavy hearts and bivouacked on the turnpike four miles from Winchester. I laid down in a fence corner on the east side of the turnpike, near a large locust tree. My heart is very sad, here in sight of my own deserted home. I slept in the open air and am now a refugee from my wife and children and native land! When shall I see them again?

Charles E. Davis, Jr., Company K, Westboro,  Massachusetts, Journal entry, March 12, 1862:

The army was to move on Winchester at once, so we hastily cooked our coffee, and as quickly as possible ate our breakfast. There was not time to spare, as orders to “fall in” were heard in every direction. Orders were received for the Thirteenth to take the advance of the column as skirmishers…The sensations we experienced on this bright, beautiful morning are not likely to be forgotten. It was very warm, and the march a hard one, because the line was irregularly obstructed. That is to say, while one part would be marching on the smooth surface of the ground, another part might be climbing a fence or wading a brook.

We saw those dreaded earthworks a long time before we reached them, and wondered at the enemy’s silence, but concluded they were reserving their fire until we should be close enough for the greatest execution. Whatever the boys felt, there was no faltering or wavering. Within a short distance of the earthworks we formed in close order, and with a yell and a rush we bounded over them to find, after all our fears and anticipations, they were empty.     

Being the first Union regiment that enters Winchester, we felt proud enough at our bloodless victory.

We hardly entered the main street of the town when General Jackson and Colonel Ashby were discovered on horseback in front of the Taylor Hotel, waving an adieu with their hats.

Julia Chase (Unionist), March 12, 1862 diary entry:

Glorious News! The Union Army took possession of Winchester today and the glorious old flag is over our town, but oh, if the troops had only come a day or two sooner, then our people would have escaped the clutches of the Southern army.

Mary Greenhow Lee (Confederate, March 12, 1862 diary entry:

All is over and we are prisoners in our own houses! For about an hour, a death-like stillness pervaded the town, and then music and some cheering announced their approach. The Yankees came in on different streets, more quietly than I had anticipated. Our doors and windows are all closed…There is a sentinel pacing up and down our square.

Mary Tuck Magill (Confederate), passage from her 1870 novel, Women, or Chronicles of the Late War:

At 10 o’clock at night the evacuation of the town was ordered. The tenure of the place had been for some time so uncertain that all commissary stores had been sent up the Valley, so that the move from the town was an easy matter. The sudden change from buoyant enthusiasm to blank despondency for a time overcame the courage of the people. There was no hope of escape this time, “the die was cast.”

And now the last Confederates were gone, and with the earliest beams of the morning sun there appeared what at first sight looked like a heavy dew on the distant grass seemed to bring forth a man, spreading and gathering from all directions until the face of the country looking to the north was black with them.

Looking down the street in one direction General Ashby could be seen with his three attendants, his eagle eye fixed upon the approaching enemy; and when the advance regiment drew up in front of Mr. Randolph’s house and gave three cheers for the Union, they were answered from the street below, and turning, they saw those gallant figures waving their caps over their heads, and loyal to the last, hurled back their three cheers for the southern Confederacy. Their duty was done, and putting spurs to their horses they were in a moment out of sight. Winchester has fallen!

Source Listing:

Julia Chase, War-Time Diary: 1861-1864 (n.p.: Julia Chase Collection, 544 THL, Box 1, Stewart Bell, Jr. Archives Room, Handley Regional Library, Winchester Frederick county Historical Society., n.d.).

Margaretta Barton Colt, Defend the Valley: A Shenandoah Family in the Civil War, (New York: Orion Books, 1994), 146-147.

Harriet H. Griffith, Diary: April 18, 1861-December 26, 1865 (n.p.: Harriet Hollingsworth Griffith Collection, 1179 WFCHS Box 1, n.d.).

Mrs. Hugh Homes Lee, The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee, ed. Eloise C. Strader, (Winchester, VA: Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 2011).

Mary Tuck Magill, Women, or Chronicles of the Late War, (Baltimore, Trunbull Brothers, 1871). Google E-Book.

Head Quarters 13th Regt. Rifles, Mass Vol.. “Advance to Virginia: March 1st – March 20th 1862, Union Soldier Diaries and Sketches.

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