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Shepherdstown soldiers saw early action in Civil War

By Staff | Apr 21, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the Civil War in Shepherdstown.

Following their enlistments and training at Bolivar Heights, the men from Shepherdstown representing Company B of the 2nd Virginia Volunteer Infantry received orders and moved out. They were involved in two early assignments – the burning of the covered bridge on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown and the capturing of the locomotives and trains at Martinsburg.

Henry Kyd Douglas, one of the soldiers in Company B and an attorney, was quite troubled by the orders to burn the bridge. His father was a stockholder in the bridge company. Douglas knew that burning the bridge would be a difficult cross to bear. But as a good soldier, he followed orders and along with the others in Company B, set fire to the bridge and watched it burn. The destruction of the bridge left the ford downstream, Packhorse Ford, as the only remaining crossing point in the area.

The 2nd Virginia’s leading officer, Col. Thomas J. Jackson, the man who had arrived from the Virginia Military Institute to train the new army, assigned other units to destroy bridges up and down the Potomac River. He also complained to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad officials that their trains were bothering his soldiers and interrupting their sleep. He convinced them to run trains into Virginia from the east and west between the hours of 11 in the morning and one in the afternoon. His actions were slightly more devious than the railroad company thought. They complied.

When all the stock of the B&O Railroad was in Virginia, Col. Jackson ordered his men blow up the bridge at Harpers Ferry and block the tracks west of Martinsburg. On May 22, 1861 Jackson’s men descended upon the B&O Roundhouse in Martinsburg, destroying and/or capturing 42 locomotives and 386 train cars, tearing up more than 36 miles of railroad track, 102 miles of telegraph lines and 17 railroad bridges. They took the railroad wheels off and put wagon wheels on many of the locomotives and pulled them using horses up the valley to Winchester, Va. to be used on Confederate railroads.

By late June 1861, there was word that Union troops were marching toward Virginia. Col. Jackson moved his men (including the Shepherdstown soldiers) to Camp Stephens north of Martinsburg. During the middle of the night of July 1, a bright comet was visible to both armies. Each saw it as a positive omen. The light from the comet lighted the way as 3,500 Union soldiers waded the Potomac River at Williamsport and began their march toward Martinsburg.

Col. Jackson’s forces were waiting for them on a ridge south of Falling Waters. Col. Jackson, with fewer men, was determined to slow the Union march and “pester” them, if nothing else. The 1st and 5th Virginia soldiers spread out on the ridge. The 2nd Virginians were held back behind their line. JEB Stuart’s cavalry rode west of the Confederate lines and captured 49 Union cavalry, resting by the road. At that time the uniforms of the opposing armies were not distinctly different and Stuart’s men surprised the unsuspecting Union cavalry. Several Confederate cannons offered a “welcoming” to Gen. Robert Patterson’s Union army as it marched south.

The 45-minute battle, known as the Battle of Falling Waters, the Battle of Hokes Run or the Battle of Hainesville, was soon over with several casualties. The 5th Virginia left the field, losing one soldier to enemy fire. The 2nd Virginia had no casualties.

Col. Jackson’s army retreated right past Camp Stephens, wanting to stay ahead of the Union army marching behind them. They marched through Martinsburg and ended up camping near Darkesville. Gen. Patterson’s army stopped at Camp Stephens, grabbing some gear left by Jackson’s men in their haste. The Union army took over Martinsburg, camping in the area for about a week. The famed Belle Boyd incident, where she shot and killed a Union soldier who was urging Belle’s mother to remove the Rebel Flag from the house, occurred during Gen. Patterson’s Union occupation.

Each day the Confederates camp formed up, waiting for the arrival of Gen. Patterson’s men. Instead, Gen. Patterson, who Col. Jackson expected to be following him toward Winchester, moved his men to Charles Town. Union officials, who also thought Patterson should be pursuing Col. Jackson, relieved Gen. Patterson of his duties for his failure to engage the Confederate forces in the area.

It was shortly after this action that Col. Thomas J. Jackson was informed that his new rank of general had been approved.

Bob O’Connor is a historian and author who lives in Charles Town. His website is www.boboconnorbooks.com. He may be reached at author@boboconnorbooks.com.