Shenandoah Mountains: November-December, 1862. Unbound. This archive consists of five dispatches totaling 10 pages of text sent by Col. John D. Imboden, Commander of the 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers, primarily from his “Camp Washington” in the Shenandoah Mountains to Col. H. B. Davidson, Commander of the Confederate military post at Staunton. All undoubtedly were carried by military couriers and not sent via the Confederate postal service. In nice shape with transcripts provided.
Following the Union defeat at the Battle of 2nd Manassas (2nd Bull Run) at the end of August 1862, the Union’s Army of Virginia turned its attention to reoccupying the Shenandoah Valley, which it had lost to General Stonewall Jackson earlier in the year.
The erratic, and soon to become notorious, General Robert Milroy was given command of the Union’s Cheat Mountain Division in western Virginia. There he began a campaign to eradicate Imboden’s 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers. When Milroy was stymied in his effort to control the Valley (having been fooled by the Rangers into believing a large Confederate force prevented his advance), and he found it impossible to directly engage, much less suppress, the Rangers, he initiated a campaign against the Valley’s civilians. In early November, he fined local civilians and instructed his soldiers that “If they fail to pay . . . their houses will be burned and themselves shot and their property all seized. . .. You will inform the inhabitants for ten or fifteen miles around your camp [that] the enemy may approach that they must dash in and give you notice, and that upon failure of any one to do so their houses will be burned and the men shot.”
These dispatches from Imboden were written during this period until Milroy gave up his campaign at the end of the year. They read in part:
"A Yankee force . . . has made its appearances in Highland today and is scattering over the country arresting & plundering the Citizens. I want to pitch into these fellows tomorrow. . .. Citizens of respectability and intelligence who are flying from Highland, all concur in the statement that Milroy is advancing in considerable force One of my own men who lay concealed within 40 yards of the road on Allegheny two or three days ago counted his infantry as well as he could & made the number about 3600. This I take to be about Milroy’s strength. . ..
"My scouts went in intelligence last night that the Yankees have gone back into Alleghany Mt again. They did not come to Monterey, but turned down towards Bath. I have had camp fires enough built at night on this mountain to indicate a force of three or four thousand men, & having cut off communication west I think we have alarmed them & they have gone back. . ..
"I can now hold Milroy & his whole army back several days should they reappear again which I think very doubtful. My scouts are spreading the impression that we have a very large force here – This will reach the enemy thought the Union men, & together with extensive campfires at night will prevent his advance again I have no doubt.”
When Union activity in central Virginia began to threaten Richmond, the Confederate force stationed in Winchester was sent to aid in its protection. When Milroy discovered this in mid-December, he abandoned his designs upon the Shenandoah Valley and occupied the city where he terrorized the citizens, harboring special vitriol for women and children. Imboden noted his withdrawl,
"There were no Yankees in Moorfield Monday night – or from Brock’s Gap. . .. Milroy is not in command but a French Yankee with an outlandish name which nobody remembers or tries to pronounce.”. Very good. Item #009744
Milroy remained in Winchester imposing his horrific martial law upon its residents until June of 1863, when nearly his entire force was annihilated by Confederate General Ewell’s Second Corps during the General Lee’s advance towards Pennsylvania during the Gettysburg Campaign.
Following the war, Milroy joined a law practice in Indiana before moving to the Washington Territory in the 1870s where he served as an Indian Agent. Imboden contracted Typhoid Fever in 1864 and, incapacitated, relinquished his command. Following the war, he reestablished a law practice in Richmond and Abingdon. In the 1870s, he and his brother became quite wealth by developing significant lumber and coal businesses in southwestern Virginia. Imboden served as a commission for two World’s Fairs, the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
A unique and important collection of original dispatches documenting the defense of the Shenandoah Valley by one of Virginia’s two most important partisan forces (the other was commanded by Colonel John Singleton Mosby) during the Civil War.
(For more information, see Tucker’s Brigadier General John D. Imboden: Confederate Commander in the Shenandoah, Taran’s “United States Army Counter Partisan operation in Northern Virginia,“ and Noyalas’s “’My Will is Absolute Law’: General Robert H. Milroy and Winchester, Virginia.”).