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Laurel Brigade Actions in Hampshire Co.

A History Of The Laurel Brigade

Originally The Ashby Cavalry
Of The Army Of Northern Virginia
And Chew's Battery


By The Late
Captain William N. McDonald
Ordnance Officer of the Brigade
Edited By
Bushrod C. Washington
Capt. William N. Mcdonald
Published by Mrs. Kate S. Mcdonald 1907
Excerpts from pages 21-29

 

The headquarters of the Seventh was located at Romney, a central point from which to watch the Federal movements in West Virginia, and to operate upon the line of communication afforded by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The first service engaged in was the destruction of the superstructures of this road. So thoroughly was the work done, that scarcely a bridge, culvert, or water station remained on that part of the road extending from Piedmont to the Big Cacapon, a distance of sixty miles.

As the war thickened, border duty became more onerous, and it soon devolved upon the Seventh to guard the Confederate frontier from Harper's Ferry to the head waters of the Potomac, a distance of 125 miles.

The Federal authorities had distributed numerous bodies of troops along this border; and the presence of these menaced the northern frontier with constant raids. The Union men on both sides of the line gave much trouble, carrying information to the Federals and suggesting plundering expeditions, for the purpose often, of gratifying private malice. Some of these overzealous "patriots" were particularly offensive, and their arrest and removal were deemed necessary. It was in an attempt to arrest one of these that Capt. Richard Ashby was killed. He was Col. Turner Ashby's younger brother and had succeeded him in the command of his old company.

Hampshire County north section map

Captain Ashby was the handsomest and most soldierly figure in his regiment, being more robust-looking and more commanding in appearance than even his elder brother. His death, especially the heroic features of it, made a profound and lasting impression upon his comrades; while the effect upon his brother Turner was transforming.

It was on the morning of the 26th of June, that Captain Ashby was ordered by his brother to take a small detachment of his company and arrest a certain obnoxious citizen, who was believed to be a spy. Failing to find the man at his home, Captain Ashby kept a path straight on, leading towards the Federal lines which extended along the track of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. At a place suitable for the purpose, the Federals, as if in anticipation of his further advance, had carefully prepared an ambuscade. A volley from a neighboring wood was the first intimation of the enemy's presence, and this was immediately followed by the charge of an overwhelming body of mounted Federals. Discovering his disparity of force, which consisted of only eleven men, Captain Ashby ordered a retreat. The retreat soon became disorderly, and Captain Ashby, who was some distance in the rear of his retreating command, was thrown to the ground by his horse falling in an unsuccessful attempt to leap a cattle-stop. He was soon surrounded by the enemy at close quarters, but without thought of surrender, he fought them single-handed as they swarmed around him intent only upon his destruction. At last, wounded in many places, he fell and, while prostrate, received additional wounds; one man stabbing him in the abdomen with his bayonet. Here he was left for dead, the enemy for some reason retreating.

In the meantime Col. Turner Ashby, with a detachment of his command, scouting in the neighborhood, arrived by merest accident in time to avenge his brother. Learning from a young lady that firing of small arms had been heard in the direction his brother had taken, he at once galloped to his aid. Discovering the bloody place where he had fallen and full of forebodings, he rode on in search of the foe. The Federals had retired to Kelly's Island in the Potomac. Ashby seeing them from the Virginia shore, dashed into the stream and called upon his men to charge A volley that emptied two saddles greeted them as they pressed through the current and gained the bank.

"At them with your knives, men!" cried Ashby, whom grief for his brother had rendered furious.

The contest was most unequal, but the fiery rush of Ashby and his men made up for the lack of numbers, and after a short and bloody fight the Federals gave way before them and fled.

Among the articles captured in the fight were Captain Ashby's spurs and horse. The sight of these convinced Colonel Ashby that his brother had been killed, for it does not appear that any information was obtained from Federal prisoners, if any were taken.

Search was now made for the body, which, mangled and pierced with eight wounds, was at last found. It was soon discovered that life was not extinct, and the wounded captain was carried to the house of Col. George Washington, where, though kindly cared for, he died after seven days of intense suffering.

Ridgedale where Richard Ashby died
Richard Ashby died at Ridgedale on the South Branch

The fight at Kelly's Island and the death of Richard Ashby were events of no small importance, occurring as they did in the beginning of the war. The heroic example of the dead soldier in his terrific death struggle, his brutal treatment at the hands of the victors, and the subsequent punishment by Colonel Ashby, formed exhaustless topics around the camp-fires. Thoughts of vengeance were the more readily indulged in, now that the valor of Colonel Ashby had shown what true prowess might accomplish.

In a letter to his family after the death of his brother, Colonel Ashby wrote: "His country has lost the services of a brave man with a strong arm, which he proved upon his enemies in losing his life. He was buried with all the honors of war, and never was greater respect paid to the memory of one man."

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