“Thy Will Be Done” – Chapter 5 April, 1861 Drumbeats & Chapter 6 – War Begins in Jefferson County by Jim Surkamp

2279 words

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The elders in the Lee, Boteler, Bedinger, Dandridge, Allen, Douglas, Pendleton & Morgan households watch their men enlist.

Many opposed secession but enlisted in the Confederate units when the Federals called out for thousands of volunteers. The Bedingers at Poplar Grove and Pendletons at Westwood were so deeply opposed to enslavement that they either didn’t do it or, at Westwood, gave the choice of freedom to the large number of those they had enslaved.

The act of provocation by Confederate forces at Fort Sumter in South Carolina gave President Abraham Lincoln the legal justification for calling for 75,000 volunteers to forcibly bring back those seceding states and their people. And the war would, it first appeared, start right in Jefferson County, where the strategic Baltimore & Ohio dipped briefly into Virginia, that had just acted to join a foreign country.

April 18, 1861 – On that fateful night after Virginia’s conditioned vote to secede from the United States, many local militiamen were already en route to Harper’s Ferry to take control of the federal arsenal, basing their action on a word-of-mouth understanding that their action was legal and officially sanctioned.

James Walkenshaw Allen

The acting militia commander, a 31-year-old, professionally-trained officer from Summit Point named James Allen, was confronted and cautioned by locally born but ardent Unionist, David Hunter Strother. – (1)

David Hunter Strother

As the local militia moved towards Harper’s Ferry at the urgings of Turner Ashby on the night of April 18th, Strother, a lifelong friend of those present, intervened arguing that no formal, written order had been produced to authorize the militias to move on the Federal arsenal in the lower town and capture its estimated 16,000 weapons and weapons-making equipment.

(In fact, the vote by the popularly-elected Virginia Secession Convention had occurred the previous day in Richmond voting 85-55 to secede, BUT only after the results were known of a referendum scheduled for the following month).

Just as Col. Allen was taking Strother’s point to heart and ordered his militia only so far east as Halltown pending the substantiation of his orders, when there erupted from the lower town out of their line-of-sight:

. . . flashes and detonations . . . several times repeated; then a steadier flame was seen rising from two distinct points silently and rapidly increasing in volume until each rock and tree on the Loudoun and Maryland Heights were distinctly visible and the now over-clouded sky was ruddy with the sinister glare. This occurred I think between nine and ten o’clock. Some thought they heard artillery.

But the more skillful presently guessed the truth and concluded that the officer in command had set fire to the arsenals and abandoned the town.

With the ashes of the arsenal cooling, Strother perceived in the light of the next day, the enormity of the events:

I must confess that I felt this morning like a man wandering in a maze. . . . So it seemed that the sudden gust of emotion, excited by the lowering of our starry flag, had swept away the mists of speculation and revealed in its depth and breadth the abyss of degradation opened by secession. Yesterday I was a citizen of the great American republic. My country spanned a continent. Her northern border neared the frigid zone while her southern limit touched the tropics. Her eastern and her western shores were washed by the two great oceans of the globe. Her commerce covering the most remote seas, her flag honored in every land. The strongest nation acknowledged her power, and the most enlightened honored her attainments in art, science, and literature. Her political system, the cherished ideal toward whose realization the noblest aspirations and efforts of mankind have been directed for ages. The great experiment which the pure and wise of all nations are watching with trembling solicitude and imperishable hope. It was something to belong to such a nationality. This was yesterday. To-day, what am I? A citizen of Virginia. Virginia, a petty commonwealth with scarcely a million of white inhabitants. What could she ever hope to be but a worthless fragment of the broken vase? A fallen and splintered column of the once glorious temple.

But I will not dwell longer on the humiliating contrast. Come harness up the buggy and let us get out of this or I shall suffocate. – (2).


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With support from American Public University System (apus.edu). (The sentiments expressed do not in any way reflect modern-day policies of APUS, and are intended to encourage fact-based exchange for a better understanding of our nation’s foundational values.

Jefferson County’s fighting age male Union sympathizers, threatened with arrest for treason against the newly forming Confederacy, left the County and as the gravitational forces of solidarity brought most of the remaining white young men to enlistment points for the Confederacy –

Logan Osburn

their “destiny was with Virginia” as Logan Osburn of Kabletown so famously concluded. Their wives and mothers began feverishly making havelocks and clothing for their young men.

Roughly nine hundred men from Jefferson County would fight for the Confederacy in thirteen different units during the war.

At least 130 Jefferson County-born, African-Americans fought in the United States Colored Troops and a smaller number of white Countians enlisted in a variety of scattered Federal units. – (3).

Thomas Jonathan Jackson

Eight thousand enlistees would flock to Bolivar Heights by May 23rd from as far away as Mississippi, joined soon by a mercurial West Point-graduated professor from Virginia Military Institute named Thomas Jonathan Jackson who quickly put them through their paces and drilled them so relentlessly that notions of war as a grand, brief lark were dashed and some complained that the exercises were meant to kill them sooner than a fired bullet. – (4).

Julia Pendleton Allen

James Allen was there, while his wife, Julia Pendleton Allen and their young son, Hugh Pendleton Allen, were at home on their County farm.

George Rust Bedinger

George Rust Bedinger, Henry Bedinger’s son by a previous marriage, and who rode in the ring tournament a few years prior on his horse “Saladin” was there with Alexander Boteler, Junior. The former was confident, encouraging, skillful; the latter, often angry to distraction because Bedinger mocked him mercilessly, for he suffered from a stutter. – (5).

William Fitzhugh Lee

William Fitzhugh Lee, a career army officer was raised, in part, by the Shepherdstown Lees after his father died in Alexandria. By the time of the war, he had graduated from Virginia Military Institute, had married Lillie Parran of Shepherdstown, and fathered their daughter, Laura.

In April, 1861, he arrived to help in the instruction of the ever-increasing numbers of hungry recruits at Bolivar Heights all thinking they would defend Harper’s Ferry against invasion. His family were at their home on the northeast corner of German and Mill Streets, with Lillie’s re-married mother, Laura Parran Towner. – (6)

Edwin Grey Lee, who once dressed up as the “Knight of Alhambra” at the erstwhile tournament – the eldest son of Edmund and Henrietta Lee – likewise came “to camp” and was soon Jackson’s aide-to-camp. The Lees tried to visit him at Camp Jackson and Bolivar Heights near Harper’s Ferry while drilling was underway. – (7)

Henrietta Lee wrote her eldest daughter, Ida Rust:

Ida Rust & Henrietta Bedinger Lee
Virginia Bedinger

Your Papa took Virginia (George Bedinger’s sister, also called “Diddie”-JS) and me up to see them last week. We met with our usual luck; broke down twice, and after various delays and accidents got there at half-past three, stayed half an hour, and jolted home, which we reached at ten o’clock at night, being eleven hours in the spring wagon.

Their horse Jimminy-Crimminy, had become skittish and refused to cross a small stream as they neared the noisy encampment. They were therefore compelled to borrow another horse to get them home.

Lee continued to Ida about their relative in Connecticut, Susan Cornwall:
I am sorry to say she has joined her voice to the baying and barking of the Northern bloodhounds, and seems crazy upon the subject of the Flag, Union and Constitution. . . Oh, at times I am so sick of noise and wrangling and contest that I long for the wings of a dove to flee away.- (8).

Henry Kyd Douglas, the 23-year-old, one time president of that ring tournament from a few years before, who lived with his family at Ferry Hill overlooking the Potomac from the Maryland side – arrived at the camp, come what may. His father, Rev. Robert Douglas was part-owner of the valuable covered, wooden bridge at river’s edge.

Henry Kyd Douglas later reflected on the issues of the Civil War and his place in it:

Personally I had no feeling of resentment against the people of the north because of their desire for the emancipation of the enslaved, for I believed Negro slavery was a curse to the people of the Middle States. As a boy I had determined never to own any one.

When on the 17th April, 1861 the Virginia Convention passed the Ordinance of Secession, I had no doubt of my duty. In a week I was back on the Potomac.

When I found my mother sewing on heavy shirts – with a heart doubtless heavier than I knew – I suspected for what and whom they were being made. In a few days I was at Harper’s Ferry, a private in the Shepherdstown Company, Company “B”, Second Virginia Infantry. – (9).

Henry Kyd Douglas
Joseph Johnston

On June 13, 1861, General Joseph Johnston, who replaced the less experienced Jackson, won the argument to not stay and defend Harper’s Ferry and ordered his force to evacuate Harper’s Ferry taking different directions. Some moved up the river, another larger force towards Charlestown. They would reunite in Berkeley County, make their way, some using rail, towards Bull Run/Manassas and fight in the first major battle of the war. Meantime the federal army under General Robert Patterson was, basically duped into remaining in the local region, not detecting the hurried movement of Johnston’s men to the Manassas battle location.

Douglas wrote: When Federal General Robert Patterson began to demonstrate from Hagerstown to cross the Potomac at Williamsport, General Johnston determined to evacuate Harper’s Ferry.

I was with the regiment that marched to Shepherdstown to destroy the bridge over the Potomac at that point.

I was with the company that set fire to it, and when, in the glare of the burning timbers, I saw the glowing windows in my home on the hill beyond the river and knew my father was a stockholder in the property that I was helping to destroy, I realized that war had begun. I knew that I was severing all connection between me and my family and understood the sensation of one, who, sitting aloft on the limb of a tree, cuts it off between himself and the trunk, and awaits results.

Not long after I saw the heavens lighted up over in Maryland one dark night and knew that the gorgeous bonfire was made from the material and contents of my father’s barn, I saw that I was advancing rapidly in a knowledge of the meaning of war; and my soul was killed with revengeful bitterness. – (10)

As the armies inched closer to clashing, more men in Jefferson County enlisted – or at least tried to:

At Westwood near Summit Point, Hugh Nelson Pendleton’s son, Dudley Digges Pendleton, a half-brother to Col. Allen’s wife, Julia, was a graduate of Washington College. He had not yet realized his future wife “Tippie” Boteler. He enlisted June 19th into the First Rockbridge Artillery at Winchester, as war began to unfold. – (11).

At the Bower farm, sixteen-year-old Adam Stephen Dandridge wanted to enlist but was prevented by his concerned parents. On July 2nd, 1861, as the first area battle erupted in Berkeley County at Falling Waters, the cannon could be heard across the Valley with a different, strange effect on each individual who met the blasts. Wrote Dandridge’s daughter, Serena Dandridge, much later:

It was a piping hot July day, the first day of harvest in the long bottom, along the creek. The wheat was standing tall and fine that year, a heavy crop. Father was swinging the first cradle, and the colored cradlers were strung out in a long line beside him. He was only sixteen, but over six feet tall and wiry and tough. As the cradling went on, the sun’s heat beat down more and more fiercely. Suddenly the booming of cannon was heard from over the hills in the direction of Martinsburg.

Like an electric shock, the words – “The war has begun!” – ran through the field. Father said he saw one of the cradlers, a big strong colored man, give a yell and jump straight up in the air and fall down dead with sunstroke (It may be assumed that it was a heart condition. -JS). In the field, all was in confusion. Father flung his cradle down, and he and some of the boys got on horses and went off to join the battle. The dead man was carried home. The boys and horses were eventually corralled and brought back, the easier because the battle, which was only a skirmish, was over before they arrived. This was only the FIRST time Steve ran off to join the army.

When father was a young boy, The Bower was a busy and peaceful spot. He had learned to swim by being tossed into the flooded creek from the foot bridge by one of the older cousins, Phillip Pendleton Cooke, with orders to “swim you little devil.” The manly art of self defense was not neglected, and papa was a match for the best, black or white, but he says their bouts were always friendly. As the time of the Civil War drew near, excitement was in the air, and the boys made themselves bows and arrows and staged sham battles. One well-remembered day Steve dared the others to shoot at him, and one of the neighbor boys stepped up drew a bead on him quoting: “For Phillip’s right eye!” The arrow landed in father’s right eye. Of course the pain was terrible. Finally a cataract formed over the eye, and he was often in severe pain during the war. – (12).


1. James Walkenshaw Allen – VMI Historic Rosters Database.

2. Strother, Harpers New Monthly, June, 1866. pp. 1-26.

3. National Park Service, Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.

4. Report of Inspection made at Harper’s Ferry, Va. by Lieut. Col. George Deas, Inspector General C.S.Army. May 23, 1861.

5. Moore, Edward Alexander, pp. 36-38.

6. Ann C. Reeves Collection

7. Levin, p. 24.

8. Levin, p. 26.

9. Douglas, p. 3, pp. 6-7.

10. Ibid.

11. Driver, p. 76.

12. Serena K. Dandridge undated letter, Dandridge Collection, Duke University.

Special thanks to: Ms. Leslie Keller of the Boteler/Pendleton families Main sources:

Douglas, Henry Kyd. (1940, 1968). “I Rode With Stonewall.” Charlotte, NC: University of North Carolina Press. Print.

Dandridge/Boteler Collection – Duke University Levin, Alexandra Lee. (1987).

“This Awful Drama: General Edwin Gray Lee, C.S.A., And His Family.” New York, NY: Vantage Press. Print.

Official Record of the War of the Rebellion Service Records – National Archive & Records Administration (NARA)

Main Image Credits:

Greatly altered detail from ”Paddy Flanagan” by George Bellows. (courtesy Irving and Joyce Wolf)

Brown, Howell S. “Map of Jefferson County, Virginia From Actual Surveys With Farm Limits, 1852.” Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society Vol. XLV. (1979): pp. 1-7. Print.

By Eastman Johnson: The Barefoot Boy – 1860; Private collection. The Brown Family – 1869; Owner/Location: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Christmas Time (also known as The Blodgett Family) – 1864; Owner/Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Good Day for the Soul by Howard Pyle – 1898

Harvesters at Rest by Harry Herman Roseland

Dark Water – by Jennifer Walcott

Harper’s Weekly, “Union Square, New York, May 4, 1861;

”Women Stitching Havelocks for Union Soldiers”. June 21, 1861.

Woman holding Union flag with shield and eagle,” ca. 1862. Color lithograph on Civil War envelope.

NEXT: Chapter 6. Click Here https://civilwarscholars.com/uncategorized/thy-will-be-done-chapter-6-a-family-tragedy-for-the-shepherds-by-jim-surkamp/