Tag Archives: Rutherford B. Hayes

Lt. William McKinley at the Second Battle of Kernstown

On July 24, 1864, Lt. William McKinley, later the 25th President of the United States, served on the staff of Col. Rutherford B. Hayes, who later became the 19th President. As the Union lines collapsed, Hayes rallied his brigade on Pritchard’s Hill, which is now preserved by the Kernstown Battlefield Association. Hayes looked around and saw that one of his regiments, Col. William Brown’s 13th West Virginia was standing firm on the east side of the Valley Pike, valiantly battling the overwhelming numbers of John C. Breckinridge’s attacking division. It was apparent that Brown’s regiment would be cut off and captured if it did not withdraw soon. So intent in battling the Confederates in their front, the West Virginians remained unaware of their plight.

McKinley 2nd KTHayes saw their plight and sent Twenty-one year old Lt. William McKinley of Niles, Ohio to order Brown to fall back before disaster hit. McKinley mounted his “wiry little bob-tailed horse,” and raced down the hill toward the Mountaineers in the McCardle Orchard. As he neared the bottom of the hill, a rebel shell struck the ground under his horse and exploded, sending dirt, debris and smoke high into the air and hiding “Billy McKinley” from view. Hayes and the crowd atop Pritchard’s Hill thought that they had seen the last of their young favorite, but in a flash McKinley galloped out of the smoke, dashed across the field and successfully warned Col. Brown. Brown fired one last volley, and then the 13th West Virginia fell back down the Valley Pike toward Winchester, stopping every now and then to turn and deliver a volley into the following Confederates.

It is almost comical, but McKinley’s Civil War career has come to be defined by his monument at Antietam which honors his role as a commissary who brought coffee to the 23rd Ohio on the evening of September 17, 1862. He displayed true valor on several battlefields throughout 1864, and his service during the Civil War was honorable in all respects.

Lt. William McKinley @ 2nd Kernstown

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The Kings of Kernstown – Civil War Art by John Paul Strain

John Paul Strain has once again shown his artistic talent in this beautifully done work on the Second Battle of Kernstown. His artwork is first rate and speaks for itself. Not only that, but it is one of the few pieces of art based in the Shenandoah Valley that does not feature Stonewall Jackson, so it is a unique piece in that regard. I highly recommend it to anyone who collects Civil War art. It is available for purchase at Mr. Strain’s website.

Being art, the usual artistic license appears to have been taken once again. Strain shows Jubal Early, John B. Gordon, John C. Breckinridge and Stephen D. Ramseur coincidentally gathering right in front of the Pritchard house in the wake of the Second Battle of Kernstown.

No where in my research for Shenandoah Summer did I come across any information that would even remotely verify the scene depicted. Ramseur’s division advanced up the Middle Road toward Winchester and Breckinridge’s division headed up the Valley Pike in immediate pursuit of the retreating Union army. Gordon’s division passed directly over the ground of the Pritchard House and his presence near the house is very likely. However, all three generals moved quickly toward Winchester with their divisions where they found a strong rear guard that they engaged near the Southern end of Winchester. As for Jubal Early, he makes no mention of stopping at the Pritchard House nor have I found any accounts placing him there. Most likely, “Old Jube” probably moved up the Valley Pike as he followed the army in the wake of its successful advance.

The artwork also takes liberty with the wounded Union soldiers in front of the wall. It shows Irish Soldiers from of Capt. Peter Fitzgerald’s 23rd Illinois, known as the Irish Brigade, laying wounded in front of the stonewall in front of the house. That position was held by Maj. Henry Withers 10th West Virginia. The Irishmen were in position about 100 yards to the left of that position and Capt. Fitzgerald was very clear that his men were posted behind a rail fence, not a stone wall. Of course the Irish Harps on the soldiers’ knapsacks and hats add another popular element that sells art.

Again, I do not mean to criticize Mr. Strain, this is just my inner historian and auditor sense crying out for accuracy and documentation. Clearly the artistic world is beyond such bounds. However, I would argue that many well documented accounts at the Second Battle of Kernstown would have presented equally compelling scenes. The meeting of future U.S. president R. B. Hayes and the popular Irish-American hero James A. Mulligan meeting on the battlefield for the first time after George Crook ordered them to destruction or Mulligan’s famous last stand with the emerald green banners of the 23rd Illinois with the mortally wounded Mulligan ordering his men to “Lay me down and save the flag.”

This also brings about another phenomena of modern day battlefield interpretation. I have noticed at small battlefield parks that were part of an engagement that covered significantly more ground than the small plots of land that remain undeveloped today. The ground and actions that took place outside of the preserved ground tend to lose the significance that they held when the historic events actually occurred. A visitor to today’s Kernstown Battlefield views the Pritchard house as the dominate feature of the battlefield.

In truth, the decisive actions of the battle occurred near I-81 to the east and the battle was already decided by the time the combat swirled briefly near the Pritchard House. The key drawing point for the generals after the battle would have been along the Valley Turnpike and they would not have gone into their post battle gathering until they reached Winchester as there was more fighting to be conducted at the southern edge of town.

Once gain, the Kings of Kernstown is beautiful work of art, all of my quibbles aside. Mr. Strain is to be commended for adding the 1864 Valley Campaign to his completed works. There are many more opportunities for artists to jump in and take advantage of the many thrilling scenes of the 1864 Valley Campaign. I am still waiting for someone to do a modern rendition of the Union Cavalry charge at Third Winchester or R. B. Hayes plunging into Red Bud Run under fire as he attempted to inspire his men. The battle of Piedmont with Grumble Jones pointing his sword to the attacking Union troops with the Blue Ridge behind them and attempting to rally his broken troops only moments before his death would present a scene fit for some artist to undertake.

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The Battle of Cedar Creek as seen by Col. Rutherford B. Hayes

Hayes' 23rd Ohio Infantry in 1865 at Muster Out in Cleveland

Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio Infantry went on to become President of the United States. For all of his political success, he treasured the time that he spent leading his men during the Civil War more than any other achievement in his life. Below is his brief diary account regarding the battle of Cedar Creek.

Wednesday, October 19. — Before daylight under cover of a heavy fog Rebels attacked the left. Colonel Thoburn’s First Division was overwhelmed. His adjutant, Lieutenant —brought me the word. We hurried up, loaded our baggage, and got into line. [The] Nineteenth Corps went into the woods on right (one brigade). General Sheridan was absent. General Wright, in command, directed my division to close up on [the] Nineteenth. Too late; the fugitives of the First Division and the Nineteenth’s brigade came back on us. The Rebels broke on us in the fog and the whole line broke back. The Rebels did not push with energy. We held squads of men up to the fight all along. My horse was killed instantly. I took Lieutenant Henry’s, of my staff. We fell back–the whole army–in a good deal of confusion but without panic. Artillery (twenty-fivepieces) fell into Rebel hands and much camp equipage.

About two and one-half miles back, we formed a line. [The] Rebels failed to push on fast enough. P. M. General Sheridan appeared; greeted with cheering all along the line. His enthusiasm, magnetic and contagious. He brought up stragglers. “We’ll whip ’em yet like hell.” he says. General Crook’s men on left of pike. — Line goes ahead. A fine view of the battle. [The] rebels fight poorly. Awfully whipped.

-Cannon and spoils now on our side. Glorious!

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The Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, May 9, 1864


As we have just passed the anniversary of the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, fought on May 9, 1864 as part of Union Major General Franz Sigel’s general-offensive out of the Department of West Virginia in the spring of 1864.  Major General George Crook defeated a smaller Confederate force under the command of Brigadier General Albert G. Jenkins who was mortally wounded in the battle.  The battle occurred in Pulaski County in Southwest Virginia, not too far from modern day Radford, which was known as Central Depot on the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, a key objective of Crook’s.

The ensuing letter was written by Chaplain A. H. Windsor of the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, one of the finest, and perhaps most unsung, regiments that campaigned with Crook throughout 1864.  I would also refer readers to John Hamill’s online tour of Cloyd’s Mountain Battlefield. The scenery is great and you have to visit that field and follow Crook’s route in.

Meadow Bluff, West Va

May 18, 1864

Mr. Van Law:

We have but today returned from the southern part of Virginia and though still some fifty miles distant from Fayette the point of starting, yet we feel in a measure at home. Some enterprising friend of the United States has erected the telegraph line from Gauley Bridge to this place and is extending the line on toward Lewisburg – “southward the Star of Empire takes its way.”

Another blow has been struck against the rebellion, and since the expendition if over, since the long, tedious march has been accomplished, the battle fought and the victory won, we may, far away from the field of strike and the din of battle, look calmly back over the past, see clearly the object of the movement, estimate its cost, and measure its effect upon the downfall of the rebellion.

It has been know since the first of February that a foce was being assembled in the Kanawha Valley for some purpose, but for what purpose the  soldiers of the command knew as little as they did the activities at Richmond, or the more enterprising bushwhackers of Western Virginia.  The General in command [Crook] knows how to keep his own secrets, showing that he is wise in counsel, as his success in the present undertaking indicated his qualifications for the field.

The army consisted of three brigades, each having a certain number of regiments, the whole supplied with batteries of artillery in proportion ot the number of troops. These troops began to pour into Fayetteville on the 2d of May, and on the 3d, at an early hour, they set out upon an expedition, nearly, if not quite as imortant and as full of peril as Napoleon’s celebrated crossing o fthe Alps. They did not cross as lofty mountains, but the forded larger and more rapid streams-they crossed and recrossed several ranges of the Allegheny Mountains.  They traveled nearly three hundred miles, fought three battles, and were victorious in every contest.  The route o fthe army lay through some of the roughestk, as well as the most beautiful country in Virignia.  The army took the road elading form Fayette to Raleigh [now Beckley, WV], thence to Princeton, and then passed over the East River Mountains [?], and down Walker’s Creek to Poplar Hill. Five miles from that place on the road to Dublin was fought hte battle of “Claude [Cloyd’s] Mountain.”  The army passed on to Dublin, and form thence down the railroad to the bridge across New River, which was burned. It then began its retreat, “homeward bound,” by way of Blacksburgh-across Salt Pond Mountain, and the lofty Alleghenies, through Union [WV], across the Greenbrier River to Meadow Bluff where it reposes upon its well eanred laurels to recuperate, prepartory to other achievements-we trust as equally brilliant…

Besides the burning of the bridge, we conquered the rebels in one large engagement and two small ones, destroyed numerous stores at Dublin, took about three hundred prisoners, three pieces of artillery, accidentally came across several good horses, were joined by the colored population to the number of about four hundred and destroyed the railroad for fifteen or twenty miles.  I never realized the hard ships that were endured by our brave soldiers till I learned by bitter experience some of their realities in this raid.  If this rebellion is eer put down, the American nation will owe a debt of gratitude to the common soldier that it will never be able to pay….

Windsor’s detailed account of the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain to follow soon.

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