Chapter LIX - Captain McNeill's Company

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
HAMPSHIRE'S PART IN THE CIVIL WAR
CHAPTER LIX - CAPTAIN McNEILL'S COMPANY
BY HU MAXWELL
Pages 665-672

The history of the McNeill IRangers would fill a volume, but only a few of the men were from Hampshire county, and it is impossible to give a full history of the company in this book. However, as some of the best soldiers in McNeill's command were from Hampshire, and as some of his most important movements were within Hampshire, county, it is proper to give an account of the movements, some of which were the most remarkable in the war. The Hampshire men in his company numbered seventeen, as follows: Joseph L. Vandiver, George Vandiver, J. W. Markwood, James Crawford, Isaac Oates, Herman Allen, W. H. Maloney, Patrick Kenney, Sanford Rollins, George Carroll, John C. High, John L. Harvey, Martin Ohaver, Thornton Neville, W. C. Bierkamp, George Markwood, James Welch.

la 1863 General Milroy was moving his army down the South branch from the direction of Pendleton county, and had advanced into Hardy without meeting any rebels. He had a large wagon train, which moved in the middle of his army, half his troops being behind and half in front. Captain McNeill, with sixty men, was a few miles below Moorefield, and conceived the idea of attacking Milroy, but of course without any expectation of gaining any advantage over him. He well knew that the federals would make quick work of his men if given the opportunity. He accordingly selected a spot near Old Fields where he could attack and escape. When half of Milroy's army had passed and the wagons were exposed, McNeill's men made a descent upon them, and captured forty-seven horses before a general alarm was given. The union troops were taken as much by surprise as if an enemy had dropped from the clouds. Some of the teamsters were panic-stricken and cut their horses from the wagons and mounting them, fled along with the rebels, is their confusion mistaking them for friends. Several were thus taken prisoner. McNeill made his escape.

Hay Train Captured. — In 1865 the federal forces in Romney were in the habit of procuring hay from Mill creek. It was known that bodies of confederates occasionally came into the county, and as a precaution a guard was always sent with the wagons when they went after hay. Late in the winter a number of teams made the usual trip, and a guard of about twenty-five men accompanied. The wagons proceeded to the vicinity of Moorefield Junction, where they loaded with hay and set cut upon the return. Captain McNeill had been on the lookout, and charged the train, scattering or capturing the guard, securing the horses and wagons, and taking several of the drivers prisoner. It was impossible to carry the wagons away, so the horses and harness were taken and the wagons and hay were burned.

Capture of Piedmont. — On the night of May 3, 1864, Captain McNeill, with sixty-one cavalry, set forward from near Moorefield with the design of burning the railroad shops at Piedmont. He went by way of Elk Garden and Bloomington, and arrived within a mile of Piedmont at daybreak May 4. At that time a large force was at New Creek, five miles distant, and Colonel James A. Mulligan, with a union force, was at Petersburg, in the present county of Grant. At the moment when McNeill reached the Baltimore and Ohio railroad a train, loaded with horses, was passing, and it refused to stop in obedience to orders. The engineer threw open the throttle and ran through at full speed. NcNeill saw a valuable prize escape. He left ten men, under command of John C. Pierce, as a guard at Bloomington, and with the rest of his command hastened Into Piedmont and set the railroad shops on fire. Before they could cut the wires, the alarm was sent to New Creek. The columns of smoke from the burning shops confirmed the report that the rebels had captured the town. While this was taking place two freight trains came down the Seventeen Mile grade from the west, and were run on the switch by the men under Pierce at Blooming ton and set on fire. Scarcely had the match been applied to the freight cars when a passenger train, loaded with. United States troops, came thundering in from the west. It stopped in obedience to a demand from Pierce. Captain Buck had command, and there were one hundred and three men under him. They had been on furlough and were returning to the field. They had guns but no ammunition.

When the train came to a stop, it was boarded by Pierce, who demanded an immediate surrender, threatening to fire on the train with artillery in case of refusal. Captain Buck accordingly surrendered. The men were marched out, gave up their guns and were parolled. When the captain learned that he had surrendered to a squad of ten men, he vented his rage in the most tremendous oaths, and declared that had he known how few the rebels were he would have fought them with the butts of the guns. But it was then too late, and he submitted with great disgust. Among the passengers on the captured train were the wife and two daughters of General Schenck. They were permitted to proceed on their journey. By the time the prisoners were parolled, Captain McNeill had returned from Piedmont, one mile distant, and was preparing to retreat, for he knew he could not hold the place against the force which would soon arrive from New Creek. The yankees came sooner than was expected. They appeared on the Maryland side of the river and opened fire with artillery and repeating rifles, and made it too hot for McNeill, who had several horses killed, but saved his men by getting out as quickly as possible. The union fire had one deplorable result, a somewhat common one in war — several women and children, who were standing" in their yards watching the soldiers, were wounded. McNeill made good his retreat and was not pursued. He captured a number of horses from Henry G. Davis, who was at that time buying horses for the government, and who afterwards represented West Virginia in the United States Senate.

Four weeks after the capture of Piedmont — that is, June 1, 1864 — Colonel Mulligan withdrew his force from Petersburg. That was the last large body of union troops to occupy the upper part of the South branch valley during the war, although other troops occasionally marched through it, remaining a day or two.

On June 25, 1864, a troop of federal cavalry passed through Romney on the way to Springfield. Captain McNeill followed down the South branch to the wire bridge and sent out scouts, who discovered the federals in camp near Springfield. They evidently were not in fear of an attack, as they posted but few pickets, while the greater portion of them proceeded to take a bath in a brook near by. Their horses were turned into meadows in the vicinity. Seeing that he could strike them before they could, get into position to fight, Captain McNeill made a charge, drove in the pickets and broke into the camp. The union soldiers not only were unarmed, but most of them were without clothes, and, after a vain endeavor to escape by flight, about sixty of them surrendered. McNeill captured two hundred and forty horses, nearly all the arms in the camp and retreated up the South branch.

On October 30, 1864, a cold and bleak day, McNeill's men made a dash to Green Spring, on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, between Patterson creek and the South branch, and surprised a company of union cavalry at that place. There was some resistance, but McNeill won the fight, capturing eighteen prisoners and forty horses.

The Wire Bridge Cut Down. — On August 2, 1864, the wire bridge which spanned the South branch at the lower Hanging Rocks, about eight miles below Romney, was cut down by order of Captain McNeill, who had his orders from General Early. Twice before that time McNeill had been ordered to destroy the bridge; but not wishing to do so he had found excuses for disobeying orders, and the bridge remained unharmed. But about the time McCausland went on his raid, General Early sent a peremtory order to McNeill to destroy the bridge. It was claimed by the confederates that the citizens of that vicinity, who sympathized with the south, had frequently and urgently demanded that the bridge be destroyed, giving as their reason that yankee scouting parties and horse thieves were in the habit of crossing the bridge to steal and plunder. Be this as it may, McNeill destroyed the bridge. One of the cables was cut with an ax and the structure fell into the river. This was two days before McCausland came by on his retreat from Pennsylvania. Since the war there has been much controversy as to who was responsible for the destruction of the bridge. Captain McNeill shifted the responsibility to General Early; General Early said the citizens in the vicinity had urged him to destroy the bridge, and he had given the order at their request. No citizen has been found since the war who can remember that he ever made any such request or that he knew anything about it till it was done. It is fortunate that there is a contemporaneous document showing how one of the prominent citizens felt on the subject. George W. Washington, who lived just above there, and who kept a diary, and who had kept it for thirty years, and who continued to keep it several years after the war closed, made this entry in his book August 2, 1864: "I heard a lot of rebels had gone down this morning on their way to Cumberland. I met Michael Blue, who informed me the rebels had thrown down the wire bridge. When I got there, sure enough, I found it in the river. What could have induced so foolish an act is a mystery to me. They must have known it would be a great public loss. I wish, from the bottom of my heart, the originator of the thing had been caught under it and sent to the bottom of the river. I heard they were fighting in Cumberland. About twelve o'clock there came a lot of Gilmor's men stealing horses, and I expected to lose everything on the farm in the shape of a horse. They succeeded in getting two, and finding they could not catch the others, the devils shot at them and tried to kill them. Here we are. The artillery camping in my fields; the men stealing everything they can lay their hands on. From the beginning they have made, they will leave us nothing. All the men below me, through whose neighborhoods they have passed, are here hunting horses they stole from them. They stole every horse they could find as they passed up. So I am not alone.

A Soldier Reading Prayers. — Early in 1865 Colonel Young of the union army, was passing down the South branch and a portion of his men stopped at the house of David T. Parsons, seven or eight miles above Romney. It happened that W. H. Maloney, one of McNeill's company, was in the house at the time. The federals wore gray clothes, and were mistaken for confederates until so near the house that escape was impossible. They were unusually rough, and came in, flourishing their pistols and kicking doors open, threatening the people of the house, and demanding money and jewelry. Mr. Maloney looked upon his case as hopeless, but he ran into a back room and shut the door. He wore a confederate coat, but had on citizens' pants. The case was urgent, and what he intended doing he must do quickly. He pulled off his coat and hid it, and picking up a prayer-book, threw himself on the lounge, and began to read prayers with the apparent devotion of an octogenarian anchorite. At that moment a yankee kicked the door open and bolted in. Maloney sprang up as though much surprised. "What command do you belong to?" demanded the soldier. "I don't belong to any command," replied Maloney, letting the book fall, in not altogether feigned consternation. "Who are you?" demanded the soldier. Maloney gave some name. The soldier had a cocked revolver in his hand, and he demanded: "What are you doing here?" "Working on the farm." With this the soldier punched Maloney in the face with his revolver and holding it to his head, said with an oath, "Give me your money." "I have no money." "What do you do with your money if you are working on the farm?" "I support my mother with it." By this time another yankee had come, in, and was punching Maloney in the ribs with a pistol and ordering him to give up his money. But the young rebel was lustily denying that he had any money, and was dancing about the room in such a lively manner that the yankees could not get their hands in his pockets, although they were trying to do so. He was not concerned so much about his money as about certain letters which he was carrying from citizens of Hampshire to soldiers in the south, and which would at once have betrayed his identity. Finally an officer in the outer room, seeing the soldiers besetting him, ordered them to let him alone. They reluctantly gave up their fight for his money and left the room. He thus made a narrow and unexpected escape. These were the soldiers who an hour later murdered Captain Stump.

Captured and Recaptured. — In May, 1864, a squad of federal cavalry made a raid up the South branch toward the Hardy county line, and captured several of McNeill's men who were caught some distance from camp. This was considered a valuable capture, for McNeill's command was genuinely hated by the federals. With their prisoners they retreated down the South branch, passed through Romney, and stopped a short distance above Springfield. In the meantime McNeill had collected his men and gave pursuit, overtaking the federals at their camp, and after a sharp engagement, recaptured the prisoners.

Return to the History of Hampshire County WV Index