Battle of Port Republic: “The Place To Try Mens Soulds”

7th Indiana Flag (Indiana War Memorial Museum, via Facebook)

Some accounts in the historiography of the 1862 Valley Campaign give the impression that only the Confederates marched long distances at speed. While the accounts of Stonewall Jackson’s “foot cavalry” are impressive, it must be remembered that these long marches did not endear Stonewall to his infantry at the time. Later, in memory and with hindsight, a different story appeared.

However, Union regiments covered long distances, too. The 7th Indiana Infantry Regiment exemplifies some of the Federal volunteers’ experiences in that campaign. One Hoosier volunteer described the campaign and the fight at Port Republic on June 9, 1862, as “The place to try mens soulds” (spelling original) echoing Thomas Paine’s famous words from the Revolutionary War. Clearly, the Confederates did not have an exclusive on long marches and wearying hardships in the Valley Campaign.

The regiment mustered into service on September 13, 1861, and served in western Virginia, seeing their first action at Greenbrier on October 3-4. They joined the Army of the Potomac in their designations briefly, then entered the 3rd Brigade, Shields’s Division of Bank’s Army in the Department of the Shenandoah in the spring of 1862.[i]

According to a newspaper account:

Since the arrival of the regiment in eastern Virginia, it has passed through a series of marches, exposures, and battles that have almost exterminated it. At one time, about the 1st of February, the regiment was kept in the woods at the Cross Roads, near French’s Store, on the B and O R.R. [Railroad] some fourteen days without tents, snow on the ground ten inches deep and with nothing to eat save coffee and hard bread. From the effects of exposure and hard marches, the number of men decreased rapidly—numbers of them died, others were discharged, and their hospital list was fearfully large.[ii]

The regiment, part of Shields’s division, fought at the battle of Kernstown on March 23, 1862 “with great bravery and met with severe loss.”[iii] Following the Union victory at Kernstown and the common impression that Jackson’s Confederate efforts in the Valley were over, the 7th Indiana formed part of the force sent to join General McDowell at Fredericksburg, holding the eastern Rappahannock line and ideally planning to coordinate movements with General McClellan’s army on the Virginia Peninsula. Unluckily for the Indiana boys, their impressive 40 mile march in 36 hours toward Fredericksburg had little purpose, “after remaining at Fredericksburg two days they were ordered back to Warrenton Junction”[iv] then back into the Shenandoah Valley. General Backs “had run out of Strasburg and Winchester”[v] and more Union troops were desperately needed in the Valley. According to a newspaper report, “the men were almost worn out in a large number of them were shoeless after staying at the junction a few days the division was again ordered out in search of Jackson.”[vi]

John V. Hadley, post war photograph

John V. Hadley, a young corporal in the 7th Indiana, picked up the tale in a letter to Miss Mary Hill written on June 13, 1862, from Luray. He detailed the loop through Central Virginia and added, “Our brigade was sent out to feel of his strength. We skirmished with him [Jackson] for a half day. Drove him five miles & returned to Front Royal. The next day Fremont began to drive him & we were ordered here [Luray Valley] to head him off. Marched 38 miles in 24 hours & failed in our plans. Jackson did not come this way. We were then ordered 25 miles down the river to save a bridge and failed. The citizens heard of our coming & burned it. We marched all night through the rain making but two fifteen minutes halts the whole night & at daylight met the floating wreck of the bridge we were trying to save.”[vii]

[Note: the spelling in Hadley’s quotes is original]

Jackson and the Confederate divisions head up the Valley, eventually pausing south of Massanutten Mountain and in the shadow of Brown’s Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Meanwhile, the 7th Indiana and the rest of Shields’s men continued their attempted pursuit. Hadley wrote: “We were ordered 17 [13?] miles further up the valley to burn a bridge the only escape for Jackson. It was at Port Republic near Staunton. We found Jackson & his hosts at Port Republic & our presence there was the cause of the fields around the town to almost flow with human blood.”[viii] Part of the supporting infantry that followed Carroll’s cavalry, this advance Union force nearly captured Stonewall himself and the Confederate ordinance wagons on the morning of June 8, 1862. However, the sudden revelation of 18 Confederate guns opening “on us at once with a terrific fire from evry gun” paused and turned back that Union probe. “We passed through their fire to town, saw our task hopeless, about faced — passed again through their fire on common time until we passed their range. We lost 10 men killed & many wounded — had 5 in our company & among them our Capt. He left here for home to day. Columbus Franklin was badly wounded in the side & left arm. R. H. Myrick his left arm shot off. Seargt H. M. Straughn slightly in both arms & on left knee. Wilson Job slightly on the head.”[ix]

Hadley later wrote that regiment retreated a mile and encamped for the night. He did not mention the battle of Cross Keys which occurred on June 8 and resulted in Union General Fremont’s defeat. On the morning of June 9, the Confederates still hung around the Port Republic area, and Union Generals Carroll and Tyler, the brigade commanders of Shields’ division, prepared for battle. Hadley estimated that this Union force totaled 3,500 men, and he guessed correctly. In the early morning hours, Jackson sent General Winder’s brigade toward the Union camp and opening shots along the road, alerted the Carroll and Tyler that their wished-for battle was about to commence.

Carroll’s brigade formed the battle line first. Anchoring the Federal right with their flank on the South Shenandoah River, the 7th Indiana prepared for battle. Extending the Union line toward the infamous high ground known as “The Coaling” stood the 29th Ohio, the 7th Ohio, the 5th Ohio, and the 1st Virginia Federals. Artillery held the rising ground on their left flank and supporting regiments from Tyler’s brigade readied also.[x]

John Hadley later recalled:

We took our position at 8 A.M. & at 9 we heard a tremendous yell arise in our front. Following it we saw rais [rising] up over a hill a rebel brigade & with flying colors & prancing steeds they came steadily up. Within 200 yds of us they poured a volley into our ranks when we without delay returned the compliment which brought them to a halt.

Here was the place to try mens soulds. We were in an open field without a stump or even a bush to shelter us from bullets. We stood & fired 80 rounds. When Col Gavin dashed in front & commanded us to charge bayonetts. Off evry man started with an unearthly yell on the double quick. It was too much for the guilty rebels. Their line began to stagger & when within about 40 yards of them they broke & ran with all speed. I was not sorry to see it for I must confess that I don’t like to try the virtue of steel. Their officers with drawn swords tried in vain to rally them. They ran like coward[s]. We chased them for a half mile & left them running. Their center soon gave way & afterwards followed by their right. Thus two Yankee brigades drove four rebel brigades.[xi]

The Union attack broke Confederate General Winder’s men, sending them fleeing. Jackson continued to piecemeal his forces into the battle, but from the perspective of the 7th Indiana, the next wave of Rebel attacks looked extremely formidable. “Jackson seeing this disaster crossed his whole Division & they began to come against us by acres. We saw their number — thought it wise to retreat & beat off.”[xii] After hard fighting, the Confederates took the high ground called “The Coaling” and sealed the Union defeat at Port Republic. The soldiers didn’t know it yet, but the last major battle of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign racked a total of five out of six Confederate battle victories.

In his letter to his “dear lady,” John Hadley gave his conclusions about the battle of Port Republic:

From our losses you may judge of the battle’s feirceness. In two battles there were 68 horses killed. Our Regt lost 147 killed & wounded & the other Reg. in proportion. In our company we had one killed & 13 wounded. Lieut Luke is also killed or captured. Alvah Montgomery was the one killed in our Company. Receiving the ball he turned round to me said “Here goes” — laid gently down — rested his head on his left army — laid his gun by his right side & without speaking a word or moving a limb he shut his eyes & died. For the want of horses we were compelled to leave 8 peices of cannon behind us which with some stragling men was all the enemy got of us & we brought from them about 200 prisoners.

At the first onset they brought against us 4 brigades. Our two of no more than 3500 men whiped them in a fair fight. They then brought against us their whole Division which their own men say was 30,000 strong & we beat [it] off. The 7th Ind fought the 7th Ga. the 7 La, & the 5th Va. Where they first stood they left 27 killed on the field & were carrying off all the time. I should like to speak more generally of events for they are numerous but cannot this time.

I can’t give our loos [loss] as a whole for I have no idea of its extent. It is severe. —Perhaps you will see a report.”[xiii]

John Hadley was correct in his estimate of Union strength at the battle, but he far over-guessed the Confederate numbers which in reality totaled about 6,000. The total Federal casualties at Port Republic on June 9 tallied at 1,002. Confederate losses totaled around 816. A newspaper report of the 7th Indiana’s war service through the early summer of 1862 claimed:

At Port Republic…a battle ensued in which our forces, among them the 7th Indiana, were defeated. The 7th went into the engagement with about 350 able bodied men—all that were left of the 1040 who left Indianapolis in September last—and after fighting about two hours came away with only 176. Of the number engaged 123 were wounded, 9 mortally wounded, 9 killed, 31 missing, and 2 prisoners. One of the companies, “C”, has not a commissioned officer left and has only 25 able bodied men in its ranks. Out of a full regiment of good and willing soldiers, which was organized in the 4th Indiana Congressional District last fall and sent into Virginia to do battle for the Constitution, the laws, and government of the United States, less than two hundred are now able to bear arms, the balance having died of disease, wounds received in battle, and been discharged broken down or are on sick leave and in hospitals.[xiv]

The 7th Indiana and John Hadley closed their chapter in the Shenandoah Valley after the battle of Port Republic. The regiment went on to campaign at Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville/Second Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Mine Run, The Overland Campaign, and Petersburg. They mustered out of service in September 1864.[xv]

As for John Hadley, he promoted steadily, reaching the rank of lieutenant before his capture at the battle of the Wilderness. He survived multiple Confederate prisons, then made a daring escape from South Carolina to Union lines in east Tennessee. Hadley later wrote his prison and escape memoirs for publication. A collection of Hadley’s letters to Miss Mary Hill (the young woman he romanced by letter and later married in 1865) survives and offers insight into the lives and experiences of the lower ranking soldiers of the 7th Indiana Infantry, including their hard marches and stubborn fight at Port Republic. In his post-war life, Hadley practiced lawyer, served in state politics, and later became a famous judge in Indiana.

The 7th Indiana was not alone in its long marches, weary or fallen soldiers, and high losses. While Union soldiers did not take “glorious legends” away from the 1862 Valley Campaign, they began to lay the bedrock mentality in northern soldiers’ minds that the Shenandoah Valley was a place of hardship, a place to be conquered and subdued with great effort and decisive measures. As more battles went into the Union’s defeat tally from locations in the Valley, that concept continued to gain power, eventually leading to the targeted and intentional destruction in the autumn of 1864.

Sources:

Peter Cozzen, Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008). See Chapter 28 for study on Port Republic.

[i] 7th Indiana Infantry, National Park Service Battle Unit Details. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UIN0007RI01

[ii] Princeton Clarion-Leader, Saturday, July 5, 1862, Page 2. (Princeton, Indiana). Accessed through Newspapers.com.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] James I. Robertson, Jr. and Jane Hadley Comer, “An Indiana Soldier in Love and War: The Civil War Letters of John V. Hadley”, published in Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 59, No. 3. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963). Pages 211-214. Accessed through Jstor.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Peter Cozzen, Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008). Page 481.

[xi] James I. Robertson, Jr. and Jane Hadley Comer, “An Indiana Soldier in Love and War: The Civil War Letters of John V. Hadley”, published in Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 59, No. 3. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963). Pages 211-214. Accessed through Jstor.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Princeton Clarion-Leader, Saturday, July 5, 1862, Page 2. (Princeton, Indiana). Accessed through Newspapers.com.

[xv] 7th Indiana Infantry, National Park Service Battle Unit Details. https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UIN0007RI01

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?
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1 Response to Battle of Port Republic: “The Place To Try Mens Soulds”

  1. grandadpookers says:

    Sarah has a fine knack for developing and presenting small, easy to read human interesting stories that some times seem to get lost in the big strategic treatments. There is just enough detail –like firing 80 rounds in the story at Fort Royal.

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