Staff Riding the Valley Campaign of 1862, pt. 2
For part one, click here.
After lunch in Front Royal, Mike, Tim, Sam, and I headed south up the Shenandoah Valley to Rockingham County. After getting off I-81 at Harrisonburg we proceeded to Cross Keys to begin our study of the battles of 8 and 9 June 1862 that closed the campaign. The initial plan was to first stop at Chestnut Ridge just east of Harrisonburg where Col. Turner Ashby was killed in a 6 June rearguard action. But at that point we were running behind schedule, so we decided to skip that stop and go straight to Cross Keys.
As chronicled a few years ago on Civil Warriors, this was not my first visit to Cross Keys. However, in the time since my last visit in June 2007 the owner of the property adjacent to the Carrington Williams Kiosk had made it decidedly unwelcoming to battlefield visitors. Fortunately, when he learned that I was putting this trip together, Brig. Gen. (ret.) John Mountcastle put me in contact with Dr. Irvin Hess, the owner of the Widow Pence Farm, which is located near the right-center of the Confederate line at Cross Keys. It was also where Brig. Gen. Isaac Trimble’s brigade of Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell’s division saw heavy fighting with the Federals at Cross Keys. Dr. Hess not only invited us to stop by to see the Pence Farm, but generously offered to serve as our guide to Cross Keys and Port Republic.
Upon our arrival at the Pence Farm, Dr. Hess took us into the house, which he has restored and made into a truly outstanding site. (He actually lives a few miles away just across the river from Port Republic.) After a few minutes looking around the house and all of the artifacts on display in it (the first photo on the right is of Sam Watson, Mike Pearlman, Dr. Hess, and Tim Nenninger on the front porch of the house), we went over to the barn, which Dr. Hess has filled with a magnificent array of even more displays and artifacts related to the war in the Shenandoah Valley. Not the least interesting of these is a huge table-top diorama of the Cross Keys battlefield, which Dr. Hess used to provide us with an excellent overview of the 8 June engagement before taking us around the actual battlefield.
We followed this by going over to Union Church, which marked the approximate location of the Confederate left and Union right at Cross Keys, then drove along Battlefield Road, which roughly parallels Mill Creek, behind which Ewell posted his command, passing the point where Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont’s forces came closest to actually piercing the Confederate line.
Dr. Hess then led our caravan over to Port Republic, where our first stop was Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters at Madison Hall. There we discussed Jackson’s close shave on the morning of 8 June when, with the engagement over at Cross Keys then developing, a mixed force of Union cavalry, infantry, and artillery commanded by Col. Samuel Carroll—the vanguard of Brig. Gen. James Shields’s column as it advanced up the Luray (or Page) Valley east of Massanutten Mountain—suddenly charged into Port Republic and caused quite a bit of consternation for the Confederates. We then headed over to the site of the old bridge over the North River (where Dr. Hess, Sam, and Tim are standing in the second photo on the right) Jackson used to rather narrowly escape the chaos in Port Republic before his men were able to drive Carroll’s men out of the town.
We then finished the ride by going over to the Lewiston Coaling to see the site of, and discuss the Battle of Port Republic on 9 June 1862 between Jackson’s Confederates and Brig. Gen. Erastus Tyler’s Federals. We then followed in the footsteps of Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor’s Louisiania Brigade by storming the Coaling to take in the excellent view of the battlefield it provides.
After Port Republic, Tim and Mike headed off to Lexington, while Sam and I made a quick stop at Chestnut Ridge to see the Ashby Monument. That is, once we found it, as there had been considerable road construction around it in the three years since I had last visited it that resulted in the parking area being relocated. Once we finally figured out where it was, Sam and I made the short hike over to the monument to the “Black Knight of the Confederacy”, where he made a point of expressing his customary reverance for the Lost Cause and its heroes on camera before we finally took off for VMI and the SMH.