Civil War Engagements in Clarke County, Virginia

Clarke County, Virginia sits at the lower end of the Shenandoah Valley, tucked against the Blue Ridge, bordering West Virginia. During the Civil War, the county was traversed by both armies on several campaigns. It was also in the heart of Mosby’s Confederacy. The state Department of Historic Resources (and its predecessors) has placed six markers dedicated to Civil War activity (Battle of Berryville-J30, Berryville Wagon Train Raid-J1, Castleman’s Ferry Fight-T9, Crook and Early-T10, Lee’s Bivouac-J14, and Signal Station-B7). The Civil War Trails system offers a single interpretation, for the Battle of Cool Springs (July 18, 1864).

Predating both these marker and interpretive programs, in the 1890s, the J.E.B. Stuart Camp of Confederate Veterans marked ten locations in Clarke County considered worthy of mention. Simple granite markers were placed stating the name of the action, date, and participants. The marker stone for Cool Springs is typical:

Cool Springs

The veterans clearly leaned toward sites of Southern victories. But in their defense, they only placed stones where the engagement site was properly documented. Either by design or accident, the ten markers covered events from the summer-fall of 1864, save one. The ten marked sites were (with links to HMDB entries):

Battle of Cool Springs, July 18, 1864, Early and Crook (battle also noted on the Castleman’s Ferry Fight state marker and the Civil War Trails marker).

Fight at Berry’s Ferry, July 19, 1864 Imboden and Crook. (UPDATED. See below)

Double Toll Gate Fight, August 11, 1864, Imboden and U.S. Cavalry.

Buck Marsh Fight, September 13, 1864 (actual date August 13), Mosby’s Attack on Sheridan’s Wagon Trains (action also noted on the Berryville Wagon Train Raid state marker).

Col. Morgan’s Lane, August 19, 1864, Mosby’s Attack on Custer’s House Burners, No Prisoners.

Battle of Berryville, September 3, 1864, Early and Sheridan (battle also noted on the Battle of Berryville State Marker).

Fight at Gold’s Farm, September 3, 1864, Mosby and 6th New York Cavalry.

Mt. Airy Fight, September 15, 1864, Mosby and U.S. Cavalry.

Vineyard Fight, December 16, 1864, Mosby and U.S. Cavalry.

Mt. Carmel Fight, February 19, 1865, Mosby and U.S. Cavalry.

Personally, I’ve located nine of the ten. I have visited the site of Berry’s Ferry on several occasions, with no luck finding the stone. The highway through that section (modern U.S. 50)  has shifted grade over time, and it may still stand off to the side somewhere. But pending a discovery or assistance from another visitor, I must list it as “missing” for now.

UPDATE:  One of our frequent contributors at HMDB tracked down the Berry’s Ferry marker.  It was “hiding in plane sight” to some degree – laying flat just off US 50 at the entrance to a private road, to the west of the bridge.

Of these, the Battle of Cool Springs was the bloodiest, with just over 800 casualties on both sides. The Battle of Berryville, preceding the Third Winchester, was the largest in terms of combatants involved. Most of the remainder involved Mosby’s Rangers and their operations. None of the sites are what I’d consider major battles, and finding mention of them in the history books is rare. Yet, I do have to feel gratitude towards those veterans who had the foresight to leave behind some physical indicator of these events. Otherwise, the knowledge of the locations, and possibly of the engagements themselves, may have been lost to history.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

10 thoughts on “Civil War Engagements in Clarke County, Virginia

  1. Hi Craig, I think I’ve been following you around for the last couple of years (sort of)… I just found your website here from a post on Wittenberg’s blog and have put 2 and 2 together that you are the guy from hmdb.org.

    Too bad you have not located the Berry’s Ferry stone as I had been wondering if there were any historical markers that document the cavalry action near Ashby’s Gap (Berry’s Ferry) of July 19, 1864. Shenandoah Summer by Scott Patchan has an excellent chapter covering this event.

  2. Thanks for the note Keith.

    I’ve got a mind as to where the marker stone for Berry’s Ferry should be. But if I’m right, its on the private side of a “no trespassing” sign and some rather loud canines. If I do locate it, I’ve got some great photos of the area of the engagement to match with the marker entry.

  3. The “Mt. Airy Fight” stone is at the foot of my driveway and I’ve yet to find any details about what, at best, must have been a cavalry skirmish. If anyone has details at all, would be glad to know of them. The Crook & Early sign is also there, though the Cool Springs battle — which I’ve also seen referenced as “The Battle of Snickers Gap” — occurred “down the hill” at the river. Johnny Reb did apparently camp the night before in the Gap however.

    I, too, am glad these markers were placed and having them on the edge of my property and therefore seeing them every day is both a thrill and an honor to generations past.

  4. Ian, Thanks for the note. The Mount Airy Fight was a short action between a section of Mosby’s Rangers (Confederate) and a detachment of Federal cavalry camped along the gap. The gist of it all, a detachment of the 8th New York Cavalry, under the command of Captain Compson was posted at the top of the gap. A larger force, the bulk of Federal General George Chapman’s command was camped down the hill at nearby Bluemont. A detachment of Mosby’s Rangers, under Captain William Chapman (No relation I know of to the U.S. officer above) had tracked the detachment of the 8th New York and setup an attack on the encampment. The short, sharp action resulted in the capture of 18 Federals and 40 horses. I’ve got some more notes, but to do it all justice, I really should draft up a separate post entry.

  5. Have you gotten more info about the location of Berry’s Ferry? Do you know if the proprietor was Thomas Berry? Or might it have been Benjamin?

    1. Marty, I’ve not looked into the ownership of the ferry. In fact, I have seen some indicators that the ferry was not in operation during the Civil War, and more a placename used at the time. If I do find more information I will post it here.

  6. Thanks – that’s probably more likely than not since it has been so elusive. I’m really looking for the location of Thomas Berry’s home, and thought I might find it by finding the ferry location. I think I saw a comment sometime ago by someone who thought the ferry might have been in the area of the Hwy 50 bridge over the river.

  7. I ran across a reference to Berry’s Ferry when I was researching my blog entry for April 23, 1862. It has a description of 51 soldiers of the 75th Pennsylvania drowning at the crossing on April 11, 1862. There had been three days of snow and sleet April 7-9 and the river was described as 500 foot wide (which would of had to include flooding as the modern bridge there is ony 350 feet across). I’ve seen the US 50 bridge site described as the site of the ferry, but I’m not so sure that’s right. During the crossing the boat which capsized, throwing the men with full packs into the cold waters, was described as being a neglected boat from the ferry. So you may be right that it was not in operation. I’d be interested in knowing more, as this was one of the worst non-combat accidents I’ve seen described.

    1. There seems to be a discrepancy with the 75th loss. I see some references that it happened at Castleman’s Ferry and others that it happened at Berry’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: