An Uncivil War: General George G. Meade & the Pennsylvania Reserves in Northern Virginia, October 9 to December 6, 1861

By Peter Holman
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2004, All Rights Reserved

When the news of the surrender of Fort Sumter on April 14, 1861 was telegraphed to Michigan, Captain George Gordon Meade of the U.S. Topographical Bureau anticipated early relief from the remote duty of surveying northern lakes and a return to the true business of the soldier – warfare.

George Gordon Meade

Since graduating from West Point in July, 1835, Meade’s considerable skills as an engineer had provided him with steady employment. On the other hand, promotion in times of peace was slow; it had taken 21 years to move from Lieutenant to Captain. Meade’s work in Detroit was important and not unpleasant but honor demanded that his talents should be employed at the place where his country was threatened. He was keenly aware that Lincoln’s call for a massive volunteer force would require the wholesale promotion of regular army officers to lead the new regiments. Honor and ambition could both be served.

Meade’s experience in the Mexican war in 1846 had done little to prepare him for a civil war. He had heard of irregular warfare conducted by Mexican “militia” composed of farm laborers but his had not been a combat assignment. Perhaps the closest he came to danger was in Matamoras when undisciplined U.S. volunteer forces on one side of the river would take potshots at the regular U.S. army camp on the other side. But in this coming civil war sectional feeling would split not only the country but also families and friendships. Distinctions between soldier and civilian, loyal and disloyal would increasingly be blurred.

Powerful people were swift to question Meade’s own patriotism in April, 1861, only a week after the fall of Sumter, when he calmly declined to cooperate with a locally organized “loyalty oath” in Detroit. Meade believed that it would set a bad precedent to require his tiny command to subscribe to such oaths. Instead, he and his officers signed a paper expressing their willingness to take an oath of allegiance whenever the War Department called upon them to do so. The War Department did not.1

Perhaps the resulting hostility of Michigan senator Zachariah Chandler caused Meade’s strenuous pleas for reassignment to be disregarded while topographers of less seniority, such as John Pope and William B. Franklin, won promotion easily.2 While Meade pressed his case without success, the humiliation of Union forces at Bull Run on July 21, 1861 brought Major-General George B. McClellan east to run the newly created Division of the Potomac, soon to be more famously renamed the Army of the Potomac.

Among McClellan’s many concerns was the lack of adequate fortifications on the Maryland side of the Potomac, especially around Tenallytown. He also found that “there was nothing to prevent the enemy shelling the city from heights within easy range, which could be occupied by a hostile column almost without resistance. Many soldiers had deserted, and the streets of Washington were crowded with straggling officers and men, absent from their stations without authority, whose behavior indicated the general want of discipline and organization.”3

In this latter sentiment he echoed Meade’s own opinion that the debacle at Bull Run was evidence that the army was neither efficiently officered nor organized, lacks that he proposed to correct. McClellan appointed Colonel Andrew Porter as provost-marshal to clear the stragglers from the streets of Washington and began to reorganize the army and put in place new leadership, untainted by failure. In early September, Captain Meade was delighted to receive, at last, a commission as Brigadier General of volunteers from the State of Pennsylvania effective August 31, 1861.

George A. McCall

Thirteen regiments of Pennsylvania volunteers were gathering at Tenallytown, Md. (present-day Tenley, a suburb of Georgetown) under the command of General George A McCall. His would be a unique division, the only one in the Union army composed entirely of regiments raised in a single state. Styled the “Pennsylvania Reserves,” these troops went through several organizational phases during August and early September, 1861 as McClellan conducted reviews, often accompanied by President Lincoln. No doubt McClellan was pleased that McCall’s Reserves had “constructed a square redoubt at Tenallytown, mounting twelve guns, which was named Fort Pennsylvania” and had “built two lunettes and named them Fort Gaines and Fort Cameron. These works formed part of the fortifications for the defense of Washington.”4

On September 16, 1861 the Reserves were finally organized into three brigades of infantry, supported by one regiment of cavalry and Easton’s artillery battery. Forty-five-year old George Gordon Meade took command of the 2nd Brigade, the largest of the three, consisting of the 3rd, 4th, 7th and 11th volunteer infantry regiments. Meade’s days at Tenallytown were spent on paperwork and only secondarily on learning to handle his rowdy volunteers and to impose, as far as possible, the disciplined responses of the regular army. As he and his new command sized each other up in Maryland, the war sputtered fitfully in the northern Virginia counties bordering the Potomac.

The next Federal command west of Tenallytown was Stone’s brigade of Bank’s division. The 34th New York was at Seneca Mills, Md., guarding the banks of the river and occasionally sending pickets across the water at nearby Bowser’s Ford to stand watch on Lowe’s Island (sometimes Lowe’s Flats) in Fairfax County, Va.5 In August of 1861, such an outpost was attacked by Confederate irregulars. Two soldiers of the 34th NY were shot dead “stripped and left … so that the hogs ate them”6 and one, Private Robert Gracey Jr. of Co. H, was wounded, captured and taken deeper into Fairfax County.

A Map of Fairfax County, and parts of Loudoun and Prince William Counties, Va., and the District of Columbia.
Civil War Maps. Copied by J. Paul Hoffmann, Top’l Office, A.N.Va. Approved S. Howell Brown. 1st Lt. Engs. Troops in chg. Top’l. Dep’t. A.N.Va. March 23rd 1864. American Memory. Lib. of Congress. 1 July 2004

Four miles to the south of Lowe’s Island, the Gunnell family and their Coleman cousins considered the looming threat of the Union army to their substantial holdings in both land and slaves. Charles Coleman brooded in his tavern in Dranesville while 40-year old John Ratcliffe Gunnell, like Meade a veteran of the Mexican war, decided to join the Southern army. John, soon to be described by General McCall as “a squire and noted secessionist,”7 left his slaves and his prosperous plantation near present-day Great Falls in care of his brother James and sister-in-law Catherine and on September 14, 1861 he enlisted as a private in Company G, 8th Infantry Regiment of Virginia volunteers.8 George Meade and John Gunnell would never meet but after the rebel left home to find a war, the Union general brought the war to his home.

Ready or not but eager for action, on October 9, 1861 the Pennsylvania Reserve division crossed the Potomac on the Chain Bridge and entered Virginia, setting up camp near Langley, in the area of the current-day intersection of the Georgetown Pike and Balls Hill Road. Here in enemy territory the different nature of a civil war was immediately evident for Virginia had not one but two governors.

John Letcher was the legally elected pre-war governor and remained firmly established in Richmond after taking his state out of the Union and into the Confederacy. Francis H. Peirpoint in western Virginia was recognized by the Lincoln administration as the loyal and hence ‘true’ state authority based in Wheeling. The Pennsylvania Reserves named their new location Camp Peirpoint after the loyal administrator though some could not agree on the spelling, perhaps including the “Governor” himself!9

Hardly had the Reserves settled into Camp Peirpoint than the longed-for opportunity for action came. As Meade explained in a letter to his wife, Margaret, on October 18, 1861 “the enemy, it is understood, have fallen back to their old lines at Bull Run. They have had a force above us at Leesburg…. the object of our expedition is to reconnoiter the country, and also with the hope of cutting off some of their troops coming down from Leesburg. We go with the whole division, some twelve thousand strong, with three batteries of artillery, and if we encounter any of their troops, will have a very pretty chance for a nice little fight of our own.”10

Major General George B. McClellan, commander of the Army, believed the rebels would move faster if pushed a little. After all, in their place, he certainly would retreat at any hint of overwhelming enemy strength. Accordingly, he ordered McCall to take his division 11 miles to the west to the important intersection of the Leesburg and Georgetown pikes at Dranesville. Simultaneous demonstrations further north on the Potomac at Ball’s Bluff and Edward’s Ferry might confound and confuse the rebels into a calamitous stampede.

With the 2nd and 3rd brigades under Meade and Ord moving up in support as far as Difficult Run, Reynolds took the 1st Brigade on to Dranesville itself on October 19th where they bivouacked. October 20th was spent in divisional reconnaissance probes into the surrounding countryside. Finding no rebels to push and having fulfilled his orders from McClellan, McCall ordered the division to return to camp at 10 a.m. on the 21st.11

Even as they marched back to Langley, a few miles further upstream atop the steep Potomac banks near Leesburg, Union forces under General C. P. Stone met with disaster at Ball’s Bluff. With little fondness for retreat, “Shanks” Evans, the rebel hero of Bull Run, had correctly decided that McCall was no threat. He was assisted in this by the capture of a courier bearing orders from McCall to Meade that revealed the limited nature of the Reserves’ advance. With ever decreasing concern for his right flank and rear, Evans was able to move up his own overwhelming forces to trap Stone’s men against the river and shoot them down in droves.12

Meade thought the worst part of the business was that the advance of McCall’s Division was only ten miles off and “had we been ordered forward, instead of back, we could have captured the whole of (the confederate force).” He assumed that McClellan would have so ordered had he known of the true circumstances at Ball’s Bluff.13

In what could be a reaction to criticism of his own leadership, McClellan wrote McCall a “severe letter” complaining that the Reserves exhibited poor discipline, worse than any other division. Meade conceded that discipline was much below what it should be but he felt that McClellan was being ill-advised. It would take the Lincoln administration a little longer to conclude with Meade that “Little Mac” exhibited a “want of moral courage without which no man can be a great commander.”14

Replacing Winfield Scott as General in Chief of all the Armies on November 1st and under relentless pressure to act, McClellan contented himself with reconnoitering and foraging while he perfected his plans. Perhaps he could satisfy the politicians by doing something about the bushwhackers and other disloyal types that infested northern Virginia but who were these traitors? What was needed was a specific denouncement – and one duly arrived.

On November 26, 1861, according to John Hawkshurst, a member of the Union Legislature of Virginia, “three Negroes belonging to a Mrs. Coleman” came into Camp Griffin, Va. and named the killers of the Union pickets on Lowe’s Island back in August.15 All the accused were residents of Fairfax county, including Richard Gunnell of Great Falls and the brothers John (also known as Richard) and Thomas Coleman of Dranesville.

George D. Bayard

McClellan penned instructions that all the killers must be caught immediately, held for trial and all evidence against them sent to him.16 He looked to the closest available Union force south of the Potomac, which was McCall’s division of Pennsylvania Reserves. That worthy promptly ordered Col. George Bayard to take his 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry back to Dranesville to apprehend the accused men, anticipating little opposition. There had been none a month earlier although sporadic picket clashes were common.

The horsemen left Camp Peirpoint at 9 p.m. on Tuesday November 26, 1861 and reached Dranesville at 5 a.m. on the 27th after a “very tedious and toilsome march” of eight hours covering some eleven miles in the cold, damp and darkness. Sending two companies from the north and eight from the east and south, Bayard’s men captured two of Jeb Stuart’s pickets, Privates Whitten and Hildebrand of the 30th Virginia cavalry, without firing a shot. They then roused out of bed and arrested six citizens whom Bayard called “secessionists of the bitterest stamp.” These were Charles. W. Coleman, John. B. Farr, John T. DeBell, Dr. John Day, Dr. William Day, and Richard H. Gunnell, the last 3 having been specifically identified as murderers by Coleman’s slaves. Thomas and John Coleman were not to be found although Thomas’ whereabouts would soon be painfully learned.17

William Downs Farley

Having accomplished his mission, Bayard turned his weary forces homeward but as they rode down the Georgetown Pike the head of his column of about 800 troopers came under fire from four men waiting in ambush in a pine woods between present day Walker Road in what is now the town of Great Falls and Difficult Run to the south east. Their leader, Captain William Downs Farley would achieve fame as “Jeb Stuart’s favorite scout.” The intrepid 26 year old was supported by Lt. Frank Decaradeux and Philip W. Carper both of the 7th North Carolina Volunteers. Carper was also a former resident of Dranesville and had brought along one of his near neighbors, the much-sought Thomas Coleman. Farley had planned to attack Bayard from the shelter of the big pines on their way out to Dranesville. The four men had lain in wait all the previous afternoon. But Bayard’s late start had fooled the Confederates who gave up at dusk to pass the night in a nearby house, perhaps that of John Gunnell. Coleman would have been welcomed by his distant cousins.

Farley brought his band back to the ‘pike early the next morning, barely in time to observe Bayard’s approach from the “wrong” direction, and hastily re-established the ambush in the shelter of smaller scrub pines by the Follen farm. At a range of 10-15 yards, Farley rose up and shouted to his men to fire and a thin volley rattled out. Bayard tried to rally his badly confused men and Farley rewarded his bravery by shooting his horse dead and shredding Bayard’s coat skirt. Farley then shot and killed another officer and the four men prepared to scatter into the woods and thickets, taking advantage of the whirling confusion to escape as planned.

According to Farley, the “frightened” Mrs. Follen cried out that there were only four attackers and so encouraged were the Pennsylvanians that they rallied, dismounted and surrounded the woods. While trying to steal a cavalry horse, Farley shot its holder down but was himself struck unconscious by a blow from a mounted cavalryman and captured along with Carper and Decaradeux, who was wounded in the right hand.18 Thomas Coleman was “shot through the side” (Farley), “shot twice” (Bayard), “shot in the eye and breast” (Woodward) and would not survive this desperate venture by many minutes.

Bayard was to report that “Assistant Surgeon Alexander was seriously wounded and Private Joel Houghtaling was badly wounded and I had my horse killed…we killed two and captured four, one of whom is shot twice and is not expected to live. Private Houghtaling is I fear mortally wounded. Thos. Coleman, citizen, of Dranesville, is dangerously wounded.”19 Dr. Alexander and Joseph (Joel) Houghtaling were the first of the Pennsylvania Reserves to die from wounds received in action.

In the unmarried Farley’s opinion, non-combatants such as surgeons had no business wearing an officer’s uniform and he felt no remorse for having shot either man – he had done his duty. The older, married Meade wrote to Margaret that “the poor doctor who was wounded in the cavalry skirmish the other day has since died. He was only twenty-six years old, and leaves a young wife, who reached here three hours after his death. Such afflictions should reconcile us to our lesser troubles.”20

The attack on Bayard’s column caused a sensation, not to mention inflation, among the Reserves at Camp Peirpoint. Even in Confederate lines, the coincidence of two doctors being arrested while a third was shot dead created confusions of understanding. On both sides, the animosities natural to combat assumed uglier tones.

In a letter home, Lewis M. Pratt of the 1st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment (Reynolds’ 1st Brigade) described the action as it had been relayed to him:

“Last Tuesday evening, the first Cavalry Regiment went out towards Leesburg where the Rebels have a large force laying and when they got about 5 miles from here they were fired into by 300 secessonists concealed in the woods and bushes. The fight resulted in 4 rebels killed…brought 13 other prisoners with them by here and took them on to Washington…they took Dr. Day out of bed and brought him along. He is one of the rankest secesh in Virginia….they shot poison balls at our men. If it had been me that had of taken them prisoners, I would not of brought them to camp. I would have shot the cowardly dogs.”21

In stark contrast, an unidentified Confederate cavalryman of Company C, 2nd Virginia Cavalry (Stuart Horse Artillery) in camp at Centreville, equally incensed about Dr. Day’s fate, wrote home on December 8, 1861 that:

“Without bragging at all, the Botetourt Dragoons have the best cooks and live better than any other company in the regiment…The enemy are no nearer to us now than they were two months ago. About seven hundred of them came to Dranesville, one of our picket posts, a few days ago and caught two of the pickets who were drunk and carried off several of the citizens. Among the citizens was old Dr. Day who had been confined to his bed some weeks. They took him from his bed and compelled him to walk. Their surgeon remonstrated… telling them that it would kill him… he died shortly after reaching Washington. Cruel wretches, they should be shown no quarter whatever!”22

Such excessive sentiments and the need to demonstrate that the army was here in Virginia to stay would provide George Meade with his first independent mission in the field. The Reserves would go back to Dranesville for the second time with a lot more than a single cavalry regiment. This time it would be the turn of the 2nd brigade to lead.

On December 5, 1861 McCall gave Meade his orders for a foraging expedition. The 2nd brigade, supported by Kern’s battery and a cavalry squadron under Major Jones of the 1st Pa. was to march next day to Gunnell’s farm in Great Falls. Once there, Meade was to fill his wagons with as much forage as could be found on the farm. He was in particular to arrest not one but two Colemans, George and John, the missing nephews of John and Richard Gunnell.

Meade looked forward to being “in front” and to “having a little brush” with the enemy but he had a problem with the notion of foraging. He was of the opinion that “the private property of Secessionists must be respected. Let the ultras on both sides be repudiated and the masses of conservative and moderate men may compromise and settle the difficulty.” He did not explain in this November 24, 1861 letter to Margaret what the nature of such a “compromise” might be but such a position was bound to create difficulty with the radical Republicans in the Congress and administration.

Indeed, even as McCall wrote the orders for Meade, a few miles further east in Washington, Ohio Republican senator Benjamin Wade was introducing a resolution to form a three-man committee to investigate the reverses at Bull Run and Balls Bluff. James Grimes of Iowa thought the resolution weak – seven men should be charged to investigate the entire conduct of the war, both the past and the future of it. The Senate agreed and by a vote of 33 to 3 created the committee that would soon cast a grim shadow over the decisions of generals in blue, including and perhaps especially George G. Meade. A key member of that committee would be Meade’s old nemesis, Zachariah Chandler of Michigan.

John Gunnell house as it stands today , Fairfax County, Virginia

But there was no committee looking over his shoulder on Friday, December 6th 1861, as Meade set off at 6 a.m. to lead his brigade against the cattle, crops and civilians left behind when John R. Gunnell went off to war. Arriving at about noon, Meade’s brigade spent two hours loading wagons and “stripping his place of everything we thought would be useful to the enemy or that we could use ourselves…. The man was absent, but his sister, with his farm and house servants, was at home. The great difficulty was to prevent the wanton and useless destruction of property which could not be made available for military purposes. The men and officers got into their heads that the object of this expedition was the punishment of a rebel…”23

According to family legend, Catherine Swink Gunnell (whose husband James had also by now forsaken his brother’s farm to join the rebel army) and her six year old son, George West Gunnell, faced down the invaders. Barring the way to the cellar door, Catherine managed to retain their last ham. Perhaps Meade had such a pathetic scene in mind when he contemplated the nature of this most uncivil war.24

Made nervous by McClellan’s reprimand over poor discipline earlier in the month, General McCall rode to the front during the expedition to check on his subordinate’s progress and found Meade’s command “in most perfect order.” In his report to McClellan, McCall emphasized that “It is with pleasure I refer to the very exemplary conduct of all the troops on this occasion; I can commend, from personal observation, the good discipline maintained; there was no straggling or lagging behind during the march out or returning.” Meade brought his discipline and his brigade back to Camp Peirpoint at 6 p.m. without loss and with the 57 wagonloads stuffed with grain. He had captured “seven horses, two oxen, one wagon, one fowling piece and two Negroes.”25

As ordered, Meade had also captured George and John (Richard) Coleman along with 3 others found at the farm, the brothers Thomas, James and Bernard Poole. In McCall’s eyes, the Colemans were “bad men” who had “been in the habit of watching the Potomac…and firing on our pickets. They are reported to me by my guide to have shot two stragglers of General Bank’s division and left them for the hogs to devour.” The Pooles were arrested because they were “rank secessionists.”26

McCall sent the captives to General Andrew Porter, Provost Marshal: “Herewith are transmitted to be held in custody and disposed of as may be directed by the commanding general two prisoners, viz: George Coleman and John [Richard] Coleman, taken at the house of John Gunnell, a squire and noted secessionist. Herewith are also sent two colored men, the property of John Gunnell, named David Johnson and John Jackson, whose disposition is to remain with the family but who were brought in as being available as laborers in the support of the enemy.”27

Thus were noted secessionists and accused murderers hunted down in Fairfax County and, thanks to Bayard and Meade, all had been captured. And yet, what was the result of all this activity in the last autumn of American innocence 1861?

In subsequent reviews of the charges against each of those arrested, an authority no less than E. J. Allen (the pseudonym of McClellan’s chief of secret police, Allen Pinkerton28) seemingly crushed all arguments on behalf of the prisoners by describing the true facts of the case, saying in one report which may stand for all:

It has been stated by several different persons from Dranesville and vicinity whose statements are on file in this office that that same guerrilla party of which John B. Farr is stated to have made one member did some time in the month of August last proceed from Dranesville in the night to a place near Sandy Landing, and there laid in ambush for a number of U.S. soldiers who had crossed over from the Maryland side of the Potomac whom they fired upon, killing two or more and wounding one, which last was taken by said party to Dranesville, where a glorification was held by them and numerous other secessionists of that place, the company being made jolly with whisky purchased with money taken from the rifled pockets of the murdered soldiers. That these soldiers after thus being killed were robbed of arms and other things about their persons, among the rest a letter from one of their wives, and were also stripped of their clothing, which was afterward given to Negro slaves owned by the men who thus savagely performed these sacrilegious acts and by said slaves was worn, while the dead and plundered bodies were left unburied on the field to be eaten up, as they were, by the rebels’ hogs; meantime the letter being publicly read and the other things shown as relics of their horrid chivalry….

All of which, general, is most respectfully submitted by
Your obedient servant, E. J. ALLEN.29

Allen Pinkerton

“E. J. Allen” was to build his reputation by reporting to McClellan what that General wanted most to hear – hyperbolic estimates that the rebels were stronger, better equipped and in better shape than his own army. But Pinkerton’s report of the evidence against the August killers refers to written statements of witnesses claiming to have certain knowledge. Surely in this instance his information must be accurate?

On the other hand, Charles Coleman was certain of his own innocence. Writing on December 3rd to Porter, he described his plight in these words:

“I was arrested a short time ago at my house in Dranesville in bed and for what charge I do not know unless it was for feeding the Confederate pickets. I keep a house of public entertainment and was compelled to feed them or be arrested. I also fed some of General McCall’s men when in Dranesville, and came very near being arrested by the Confederates for that.”30

Again on January 1st he writes (this time to William H. Seward, Secretary of State):

“It is true I fed the Confederate pickets, and what would have been the consequence had I refused? I keep a public house. The meals were called for by the pickets who paid for the same with their own money. You can see I was compelled to do it… Mr. Gracey, of the New York Thirty-fourth, who was wounded on Lowe’s Island near Dranesville, was left at my house for two weeks and was attended to by me, who afterward made his escape from Fairfax Court-House and got back to Washington, can tell you whether he thinks me a Union man or not… I was abused by the Confederates for feeding some of General McCall’s men and for selling him 100 bushels oats.”31

Coleman offered no explanation of how Private Gracey came to be left with him in Dranesville and by whom.

William S. Rosecrans

On March 17, 1862, Brig. General W. S. Rosecrans reported various lists of prisoners confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C. Amongst these were the three Pooles, accused now of “communicating with the rebels” and the two Colemans, George and John (Richard) who, along with Bayard’s captives, especially the two Doctors Day, were accused of “assassination of U.S. pickets.”32

But on March 24, 1862, the Commission Relating to Political Prisoners, created in February, reported that the charges against all five of Meade’s captives had been reduced to giving aid and information to insurgents. Commissioners John A Dix and Edwards Pierrepoint directed the immediate release of all the prisoners upon their giving “paroles of honor (to) render no aid or comfort to the enemies in hostility to the Government of the United States.” All five, the Colemans and the Pooles, along with Richard H.Gunnell and John T. DeBell, were released on March 25th.33

Dr. John Day and Charles Coleman were released on June 4, 1862 on parole of honor.34 Eventually, only Dr. William Day remained in prison. When he agreed to take the oath of allegiance and to provide a bond of $20,000 for good behavior he too was released, according to Old Capitol Prison records, on July 15, 1862.35 The Days returned to Dranesville and were still practicing medicine there in 1870.36

It would appear that Pinkerton, the multiple testimonies, the vengeful McCall, the efficient Bayard and Meade, had accused and sought out innocent men. Certainly raids such as Meade’s helped to create the very opposition that it was intended to suppress.

And there lies the rub of civil war for soldiers such as Meade – the uncertainty as to whether a civilian is a legitimate target, a guerilla, a bushwhacker. Is there a difference in these categories and if so, on which side does the prudent soldier err? In August of 1862, Henry W. Halleck, McClellan’s successor as General in Chief, would seek the learned opinion of Dr. Francis Lieber (Columbia College political scientist and eventual compiler of the Confederate war records on behalf of the U.S. Government) on this very subject.

In relation to the “bushwhacker” Dr. Lieber concluded airily that “the importance of writing on this subject is much diminished by the fact that the soldier generally decides these cases for himself. The most disciplined soldiers will execute on the spot an armed and murderous prowler found where he could have no business as a peaceful citizen.”37

In 1861, soldiers commanded by Bayard and Meade did not take the law into their own hands, perhaps because those accused of murder were arrested in their homes and were neither armed nor prowling where they had no business. Nevertheless, it may be significant that Thomas Coleman, the only civilian among Bayard’s four attackers, was shot dead while three in Confederate uniform were not. Accused of the theft of a pistol from a dead picket on Lowe’s Island, Coleman died before he could be interrogated as to his possible participation in those August activities. His companions and family members, all similarly accused, were released on a mere promise of good behavior, a promise that at least one of them would not keep.

Of Meade and Bayard’s captives, Rosecrans would write straightforwardly and rather overstating the case that “these (men) are held without the least record of evidence of active crime.”38 Meade revealed his own feelings about his first independent action in a letter to his wife, writing that “It made me sad to do such injury and I really was ashamed of our cause, which thus required war to be made on individuals.”39 It was not the kind of civil war leadership and action that he craved.

Over the next three bitter years the forced removal of civilians ceased to be a question of evidence; the destruction of private property and merciless foraging could no longer shame the “cause” of armies that learned their business under fire. Commanders of such sensibilities as Rosecrans and Meade would be overshadowed by others who ruthlessly applied new rules of warfare – Grant, Sherman, Sheridan.

But in the first week of December 1861 such things lay in an unimaginable future. The Pennsylvania Reserves, telling their tall tales around the campfires of Camp Peirpoint in the winter of Virginia, had no doubts that their brigadiers, Reynolds, Meade and Ord, would achieve greatness, unaware of what was to come in the summer heat of their own Pennsylvania hills a mere 18 months later.


  1. George Gordon Meade; The Life and Letters of George Gordon Meade, I, 215 (hereinafter “Meade”)

  2. Had the more aggressive Meade commanded the Union left at Fredericksburg instead of Franklin, the break in Jackson’s line achieved by the Reserves might have received the support that Franklin denied.

  3. Official Records (hereinafter O.R.), series 1, Volume V, page 11. Report of the operations of the Army of the Potomac from July 27, 1861, to November 9, 1862

  4. Josiah Rhinehart Sypher; History of the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps; A Complete Record of the Organization & of the Different Companies, Regiments, & Brigades; 1865 (hereinafter “Sypher”)

  5. History of Herkimer County, New York, F.W. Beers & Co., New York, 1879

  6. O.R. s2, II, 277-278 Biddle to Porter, Provost Marshal; citing John Hawkshurst of Lewinsville

  7. O.R. 1, II, 455-456. Report of McCall to Marcy, Chief of Staff to McClellan, December 6, 1861

  8. Military Records of Individual Civil War Soldiers. [database online] Provo, UT:, 1999. Gunnell would be wounded at Antietam in 1862 and again at Hatcher’s Run in 1865. The “Bloody 8th” Va. took 130 men into Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg; 20 returned. John Gunnell took his oath of allegiance to the Union, Constitution and Government of the United States in June 1865.

  9. Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition spells it “Pierpont, Francis Harrison, 1814–99” (Meade’s usage) but goes on to say that “he himself seems to have spelled his name Pierpoint”! Official proclamations, reports and letters from the Wheeling administration spelled it “Peirpoint,” the usage followed here.

  10. Meade, I, 224


  12. O.R. 1, V5, 348-352; Report on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff; Brig. Genl. Evans to Lt. Col. Thomas Jordan

  13. Meade, I, 225-6

  14. Meade, I, 232

  15. O.R. s2, II, 277-278 Biddle (McCall’s Asst. Adj. Gen.) to Porter, Provost Marshal

  16. O.R. s2, II, 1292 Porter to Seward

  17. O.R. s1, V, 448-449. Bayard to McCall

  18. John Esten Cooke; Wearing of the Gray. Cooke relates the story in two sections of his book; briefly in his sketch of Farley and in considerably more entertaining detail in the “Adventures of ….” section where he calls Farley “Darrell.” Every verifiable detail of “Darrell’s” encounter with Bayard’s horsemen is borne out by other documentation, despite Cooke’s reputation for fiction and peculiar renaming of his hero. Farley’s body was moved from Virginia and re-interred in his native North Carolina in 1997.

  19. O.R. s1, V, 448-449. Bayard to McCall

  20. Meade, I, 233

  21. Manuscript auction; David G. Phillips Co. Inc. 2001

  22. Ibid

  23. Meade, I, 234

  24. National Register of Historic Places, US Dept of the Interior, National Park Service OMB #1024-0018

  25. Sypher

  26. O.R. s1, V, 455-456. Report of McCall to Marcy, Chief of Staff to McClellan, December 6, 1861

  27. O.R. s2, II, 1287 McCall to Porter, Dec 6, 1861. According to chapter 15 of Allan Keller’s Morgan’s Raid, on July 19, 1863 when Morgan sought to dissuade his colored servant Box from attempting the dangers of escaping south across the Ohio, Box replied: “Marse John, if they catches you, they may parole you, but if this boy is cotched in a free state he ain’t going to git away while the war lasts.” This was evidently true in a slave state in 1861 as well.

  28. O.R. s2, II, 35, McClellan to Thomas, Adjt. Gen.

  29. O.R. s2, II, 1290-1292 – E J Allen to Gen. Porter, Provost Marshal

  30. O.R. s2, II, 1286-1287

  31. O.R. s2, II, 1287-1288

  32. O.R. s2, II, 270-271 Rosecrans to Thomas, Adjutant Genl., March 17, 1862

  33. O.R. s2, II, 1293 Dix & Pierrepoint to Wood, Prison Supt.

  34. O.R. s2, II, 1295 Watson, Asst. Secy. of War to Wood

  35. O.R. s2, II, 1294 Hollingshead, legal representative of prisoners to Watson, Asst. Secy. of War

  36. Federal Census 1870, Virginia, Fairfax County, Dranesville; Roll M593-1645, page 266

  37. O.R. s3, II, 301-309 Lieber to Halleck

  38. O.R. s2, II, 270-271 Rosecrans to Thomas, March 17, 1862

  39. Meade, I, 234

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