April 2, 1862 (Wednesday)
General Stonewall Jackson was rebuilding his army near Rude’s Hill, just north of New Market, in the Shenandoah Valley. Through this rebuilding, he received an influx of new conscripts, drafted into the Virginia militia and filtered into his Confederate army.
Many of these boys had no desire to fight and so Jackson had a slight mutiny on his hands. The conscription of Virginia men brought into Jackson’s family a wide variety of individuals. Mennonites, Quakers and adherents to other pacifistic religious orders were among them. A few days before the Battle of Kernstown, they had flatly refused to fight. Jackson solved this problem by making those adverse to killing their fellow man teamsters, cooks and laborers.
During this time after the battle, another group (or possibly a similar group) flatly refused to answer Jackson’s call. These men came from Rockingham County in the Upper Valley. Rather than fighting, they decided to go into hiding, taking off towards the remoteness of Swift Run Gap.1
This is where the story becomes fuzzy. Some historians, like James I. Robertson, claim that it was merely sixty mutineers. Others, like Peter Cozzens, in his book Shenandoah 1862, claim it to be 200. Cozzens also states that it was an “armed resistance.” Not only was it armed, but they supposedly put a levy on neighboring farms. These men apparently opposed the draft due to their Unionist views.
However, Jonas Smucker Hartzler, author of the 1905 book Mennonite Church History, seems to offer a different take (and perhaps an entirely different story). Hartzler relates that a group of seventy Mennonite men from Rockingham County gathered together with plans to cross the mountains into West Virginia [then western Virginia] and Ohio. There, they hoped to wait out the war and return to their homes after it was over.
Hartzler records that these seventy men were captured near Petersburg, [West Virginia] and taken to Staunton and then to Richmond, where they were confined in Libby Prison. Two were able to make their escape and fled back to the Valley to tell their story.2
It’s completely possible that Hartzler is talking about a different group of dissenters. His seventy Mennonites were captured at Petersburg, which is northwest of Swift Run Gap, where the participants in the “Rockbridge Rebellion” were reportedly captured.
There was also a smaller group of pacifists, numbering eighteen, who were captured in Moorefield, ten miles north of Petersburg. They were taken first to Mount Jackson and put to work as laborers. Finally, they marched them to Harrisonburg, the Rockingham County seat, and jailed them at the courthouse.
The book The Olive Branch of Peace and Good Will to Men by S. F. Sanger and D. Hays, published in 1907, tells the stories of both Mennonite parties using recollections of those who were captured.3
The Tale of Gillespie, Who Adored Jackson as Well as the Union
Jackson dispatched several companies to sniff out as many as 500 Unionists and pacifists, who had no desire to fight, most taking refuge in the mountains. Similar actions seemed to happen throughout the army’s time at Rude’s Hill.4
In many of the tales, histories, and accounts of the roundups, the name “Gillespie” crops up again and again. This man, who seemed to be everywhere and only go by one name, was the supposed leader of the deserters.
Gillespie was actually Captain William Henry Gillespie, of Jackson’s staff. He had just graduated the Virginia Military Institute and was a favorite of his instructor, Major Jackson (later to become Stonewall Jackson). When Jackson and his army were headquartered in Winchester, Jackson called upon William, who had not yet joined the war effort. William’s father, Dr. James Lee Gillespie, was a Unionist and so it’s probable that his seventeen year old son was as well. When William reported to Jackson, he was told that he would be commissioned a lieutenant of engineers.
As time went by, as the army retreated from Winchester, advanced upon Kernstown and retreated again, the commission never came through. William inquired time and again, and finally, when they reached Rude’s Hill, Jackson, probably tired of the boy asking the same question over and over, said that it was being withheld due to his father’s Unionist leanings.
By this time, Dr. Gillespie had been arrested for being a Unionist, been released and then arrested again and was currently held in Orange Court House, from which he would soon escape into Union lines. Later, President Lincoln would personally request that the doctor, William’s father, be taken to his home in the Shenandoah Valley and protected.
The way that William describes it, he simply went home and, being the good son, listened to his mother, who told him to “hide at home until the Union troops could occupy the Valley.” After his desertion, his commission to lieutenancy finally came through.5
Though Gillespie claimed after the war that he just went home, another soldier, Harry Gilmor, of Turner Ashby’s Cavalry, wrote just a year after the war (from notes taken in 1862) that the deserters were headed by “a man named Gillespie.” They were “armed with shotguns and squirrel rifles.” Gilmor’s company pursued Gillespie’s band, who fled to the mountains where the cavalry could not go, and took pot shots at the cavaliers until they left.
Unable to capture them, the cavalry returned to General Jackson, who then dispatched Lt. Col. John R. Jones of the 33rd Virginia, to capture whichever group made up the mutiny. Being from Rockingham County, Jones knew the area quite well. He took with him four companies of sharpshooters and two pieces of artillery.6
“The deserters had mortified in the Blue Ridge,” related an elderly woman living nearby, “but that General Jackson sent a foot company and a critter company to ramshag the Blue Ridge and capture them.”
And ramshagged they were. Unable to coax them out with infantry or cavalry (the apparent “critters”), Lt. Col. Jones ordered the woods to be shelled with artillery. This “greatly increased the panic among the simple mountaineers.” Unable to further resist, many surrendered immediately.7
William Gillespie, called by Jackson’s topographer, Jedediah Hotchkiss, “a tigrous looking fellow,” evaded capture for another two weeks.8
- Stonewall Jackson by James I. Robertson, MacMillan Press, 1997. [↩]
- Mennonite Church History by Jonas Smucker Hartzler, 1905. [↩]
- If you are interested, the book is fully titled: The Olive Branch of Peace and Good Will to Men; Anti-War History of the Brethren and Mennonites, the Peace People of the South, During the Civil War, 1861-1865. This obscure little tome can be found online, here. The recollections of these two groups begin on page 61. [↩]
- Greene County, Virginia: A Brief History by Donald D. Covey, History Press, 2007. [↩]
- The Military History of the Virginia Military Institute from 1839 to 1865 by Jennings Cropper Wise, J. P. Bell, 1915. This is Gillespie’s entry in the VMI Roster Database. Also, you can read a bit more about William’s father here. [↩]
- Four Years in the Saddle by Harry Gilmor, Harper & Bros., 1866. [↩]
- Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade by John Overton Casler, 1906. [↩]
- Make Me a Map of the Valley by Jedediah Hotchkiss, edited by Archie P. MacDonald, Southern Methodist University Press, 1973. [↩]