the fall of 1864 Sheridan’s army was encamped around - Harrisonburg and
Dayton, having closely followed the retreat of Early’s Confederate forces
from Fisher’s Hill. At Harrisonburg Early had left the Valley Pike, on
the southeast side, thereby permitting Sheridan’s cavalry to go up the
Valley as far as Staunton and Waynesboro unmolested.
Early passed Port
Republic and went into camp near Weyer’s Cave and Grottoes, later going
to Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, where he awaited the arrival of the brigades
of Kershaw and Rosser from east of the Blue Ridge.
Reinforced by Kershaw
and Rosser, Early determined to attack Sheridan. He called a council of
his lieutenants and it was decided to send two trusted scouts to Bridgewater
to see if it was possible to obtain information of the expected move of
Sheridan, and also to locate his position.
On the morning of
October 3, 1864, a man from North Carolina named Campbell and one from
East Virginia named Martin, members of Rosser’s brigade, were detailed
to perform this duty. Inas-much as they were not familiar with the roads
in that section, an officer in the 1st Va. said he would get a man that
lived there and knew every pig trail to accompany them. Forthwith he sent
for B. Frank Shaver, Co. I, 1st Va.
Shaver, born and
reared on the farm now owned by Q. G. Kaylor, had little more than reached
his majority when Virginia called for troops. He volunteered in the cavalry
and developed at once into a fearless and adventurous soldier. He took
to scout duty as naturally as a duck takes to water. He was a splendid
type of physical manhood - more than six feet in height, of dark complexion,
with black hair and beard.
Shaver had never
met Martin and Campbell until this trip. When informed of his task he was
pleased. He said, “I would like to go home and see the folks and get a
good square meal.” He also remarked that he had received a letter from
his sister Hannah stating that they had a Federal guard with them, and
that he would probably have a Yankee brother-in-law when he returned home.
Imagining that this guard had probably spoken to some of the family about
the Federal movements and that this would be an ideal place to get information
the trio started.
Arriving at Bridgewater
and learning nothing of Sheridan’s movements, they decided to go through
the picket posts to Shaver’s home, having learned where the several pickets
they came to the home of Squire John Herring, and there Mr. Herring confirmed
the fact that there were three picket posts on the road that extends from
Dayton to the Mennonite Church on the Valley Pike. One was where the road
leaves Dayton; the second was on top of the high hill at the Leedy place;
and the third was at the Mennonite Church.
The three scouts
decided to go between the picket posts to Shaver’s home; so leaving Mr.
Herring’s they went northeast by the Byrd farm (now owned by Sam Will)
and by the Grove farm (now the home of Grove Heatwole). They crossed the
road that leads from Dayton to the Mennonite Church near the home of Jacob
Flory and soon entered a piece of timber which extended the entire distance
from Flory’s to the old Swift Run Gap Road. From this wood they had full
view of the Warm Springs Pike.
A halt was made at
the far edge of the timber, and a close observation of the surrounding
country was made. About half a mile to their left (northwest) they saw
a picket, stationed where the Swift Run Gap Road leaves the Warm Springs
Pike. Apparently no one was between them and this picket. They passed out
of the timber through a gap in a new rail fence into the Swift Run Gap
Road. Turn-ing to the right (eastward) they started up the hill along the
new fence, which extended about a hun-dred yards to the Smith and Wenger
corner, with the intention of following the road until it turned north.
Here they would leave it and go due east through the timber to the top
of the high hill west of the Shaver home.
A few moments after
coming out into the road they were surprised by three Federals, who came
up from under the hill at the point where the said road (old Swift Run
Gap Road) is now crossed by the Chesapeake-Western Railroad. The three
scouts would gladly have ridden on, but the Federals came up in a gallop
calling on them to halt.
Shaver, Martin, and
Campbell continued in a walk, and agreed to fight it out if the Federals
rushed them before they came to the end of the new fence. Seeing that they
would be overtaken before they could make a dash for the timber, they drew
their pistols. The Federals were now upon them. The scouts wheeled their
horses and commenced firing. The little battle was soon over, and a Federal
officer, Lieut. John Rodgers Meigs, of Sheridan’s staff, lay dead in the
road, about one-half mile from the Warm Springs Pike. One Federal soldier
was captured. The other made his escape by jumping off his horse, climbing
the fence, and running into the timber.
The only Confederate
injured was Martin, who was shot through the groin. He was about to fall
from his horse, but was caught by Campbell. He implored his comrades to
take him out of the Fed-eral lines at once, fearing the consequences if
The Federal prisoner
was soon relieved of his weapons, given Meig’s horse to lead, and ordered
to keep his mouth shut. The little party galloped back down the Swift Run
Gap Road (the same road that Meigs had come up) and crossed the Warm Springs
Pike into the woods. The picket stationed there did not realize the situation
until the little party was past and in the wood, going west as fast as
their horses could take them. The picket then fired but without effect.
When the scouts were
near the Abe Paul home (north of Dayton) Shaver and Campbell removed the
pistol belt from around Martin and decided to leave him at the home of
Robert Wright near Spring Creek. There Dr. T. H. B. Brown of Bridgewater
rendered him medical attention. Shaver and Camp-bell returned with their
prisoner to the camp of the 1st Va. near Milnesville (now Centerville);
and Campbell, leaving Shaver and their prisoner, went on to Rosser’s camp,
The Federal soldier
that made his escape, not knowing that his opponents in the fight were
Confed-erate soldiers, because they were wearing raincoats or capes, reported
to Sheridan’s headquarters that Lieut. Meigs had been shot by citizens.
To administer a gentle
rebuke to the neighborhood, Sheridan ordered that the houses and barns
that did not have a Federal guard and the town of Dayton should be burned.
The torch was at once ap-plied to a number of houses, thereby creating
what is known as the “Burnt District.” It is thus re-ferred to by Gov.
O’Ferrall in his book, “Forty Years of Active Service,” page 128.
Among those who lost
their homes in the “Burnt District” were Daniel Garber, Mrs. Catherine
Miller, Jonas Blosser, William Shaver, George Hall, Selima Sunafrank, Benj.
Wenger, Abraham Blosser, Reuben Swope, Mike Harshberger, Noah Wenger (barn
only, the fire at the house having been put out), Joe Harshberger, Nevel
Rogers (this was the Judge Smith place, a large brick house, with mahogany
doors), Rev. John Flory, John Herring, Esq., Mrs. Sophia Groves (two dwelling
houses, barn, and all outbuildings), Michael Shenk, William Byrd and son,
Abe Garber, David A. Heatwole (barn), Abraham Paul (barn), and Joseph Coffman
The following day
residents of Dayton were warned of the impending destruction and moved
their property and families into the surrounding lots and fields, where
they spent the night, waiting to see their homes go up in flames. In the
meantime news of the burnings that took place the same evening that Meigs
was killed and the information that Dayton was to be destroyed as soon
as the women, children, and old men were moved out, had reached the Confederate
The late T. H. Sandy,
at that time a young man and a Confederate soldier, was at the home of
his father, William Sandy near Friedens Church, badly wounded in both legs,
but beginning to use crutches, when some Yankees came and took two horses
from the field and threatened to take him prisoner, but he begged off.
That night his father came home from up near Sangerville at about mid-night
on his best horse.
T. R. told him that
the Yankees would surely take the horse in the morning and would probably
take him also, so the family agreed it would be best for T. R. to take
the horse and leave that night, which he did. He took with him his brother
George, a boy of about 12, to open fences and gates as far as Stemphleytown.
He had to go across
country, through fields and woods, because every road had picket posts.
These had to be dodged. His father had informed him where the pickets were.
In order to reach a ford in Cook’s Creek just below Dayton, on the Joseph
Coffman farm, he had to pass by the residence. Grazing around the yard
were a number of Federal cavalry horses, loose, but saddled and bridled.
The noise made by these horses enabled him to get by with his horse without
being detected. He crossed the ford and reached Stemphleytown without being
molested. There he left his brother George with his uncle, David Snell.
By this time it was
three o’clock. The night was dark and drizzly. He went on from Stemphleytown
to Dry River. There he ran into a picket post, with camp fire burning low,
He walked his horse very slowly until just opposite. Then the picket discovered
him and called “Halt!” He then put his horse into a run up the river and
through the Shickel ford. He was now outside of Sheridan’s picket lines
and had no more trouble.
Daylight found him
near Ottobine, at the camp of the late Hiram Coffman, refugeeing with some
of his livestock. He called Sandy, asked him where all the fires were towards
Dayton (Coffman’s home) and Harrisonburg. On being told that his property
was not burned he seemed much pleased. He feared from the blazes seen during
the night that his home had been burned.
camp, Sandy went on to Sangerville, distant 15 or 18 miles from his home,
by sunrise. There he met the late William T. Carpenter, who was also refugeeing
stock, who wanted to know where the fires were and also where Sandy got
the horse he was riding, saying, “Your father and I went down to Perry
McCall’s last evening to get a little whiskey, and the old gentleman drank
a little too much. He got a quart more and started down the road on that
horse. He said he was going home. I thought maybe the Yankees got him.
Was he drunk when he got home?”
Sandy said “No, he
was hot; for father said the Yankee pickets drank all the whiskey he had
When Shaver had learned
the fate of Dayton, he and some officer of the 1st Va. went to the guard
house and asked for the Federal prisoner, who had not yet been sent to
Staunton, the railroad point for Libby at Richmond, and asked him whether,
if he were paroled, he would go to Sheridan’s head-quarters at Harrisonburg
(the home of Abe Byrd) and tell him that Meigs was killed by Confederate
soldiers, he answered in the affirmative; was paroled and escorted back
towards Bridgewater and the Federal pickets. This man lived up to his word
and Sheridan revoked the order to burn Dayton.
I hope these facts
will clear up the mystery that so many accounts heretofore published contain
as to why Dayton was not burned, and will show also that Lieut. Meigs was
not killed by bushwhackers.
The man Martin referred
to in the forepart of this account, under the skilful hands of Dr. Brown
and his nurses, was soon able to return to his home, but he did not see
service again as a soldier. He al-ways claimed that he had killed Meigs.
About 1877 he learned that his pistol did not go off when it was aimed
at Meigs’s heart. When his pistol and belt were taken off they were placed
on Meigs’s white-faced horse and taken into Shaver’s camp. Upon examination,
it was found that his pistol con-tained all the loads, but the caps were
all burst. Both Martin and Shaver had aimed at Meigs. Camp-bell fired at
the soldier that surrendered and at the one that climbed the fence and
ran into the woods.
Shaver never saw
Martin again after leaving him at Robert Wright’s, nor Campbell after they
sepa-rated at Shaver’s camp, until about 1878. Then the three met in Richmond
Shaver remained in
the army until the surrender. He was paroled, came home, and resumed work
on his father’s farm. The general amnesty granted to Confederate soldiers
by the Federal government did not apply to him because he, Martin, and
Campbell had gone inside the enemy’s lines at the time Lieut. Meigs was
killed; so they were considered as spies.
the time of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the reorganization of the
state government of Virginia by Virginians, Shaver had several narrow escapes
the attempts made to capture him. One of the closest that I now recall
occurred in this wise. One day a friend of his (I think it was Dr. J. N.
Gordon) was in a barber shop in Harrisonburg, with one side of his face
shaved, when in walked a Yankee soldier and inquired where Shaver lived.
Mistrusting that the day was not healthy for Shaver, his friend asked the
barber to excuse him for a moment. He stepped out the back door, hurried
to a place where he had recently seen Mr. Levi Shaver, Frank’s father,
and told him the situation. Mr. Shaver forthwith mounted his horse and
hurried home. He found Frank plow-ing, and told him to get out of the way.
Frank unhitched his
horses, went to the barn, clapped saddle on a horse, and rode off. As he
was going over the hill near where Frank Miller now lives, the Yankees
turned in at the lane towards the Shaver home. At that time the lane left
the Pike almost opposite the site now occupied by the Kaylor Park Garage,
and led by the barn to the residence.
When the troopers
rode up Mr. Shaver went out; and, in answer to their inquiry, he replied,
“Yes, Frank is around somewhere. Get down, gentlemen; he will be in in
a few minutes.”
He then invited them
into the house to have some cider and ginger cakes. They accepted the invita-tion
and had a fair sample of “Virginia hospitality”; but all this time Frank
was rapidly putting space between himself and the vainly waiting Blue-coats.
In March, 1875, my
father, the late Louis W. Kaylor, bought the Levi Shaver borne, where Frank
Shaver was born and reared. I was 18 years old at the time. Frank married
a Miss Byerly, daughter of his nearest neighbor, who lived where Frank
Miller now lives. He was married after the war, and then lived on the Byerly
farm. He was our nearest neighbor for a number of years. We often exchanged
work on the farm, and frequently talked of the Meigs affair, he personally
showed me the spot where Meigs fell. An iron stake now marks the place.
Some time in 1876
or 1877 a cousin of mine, William Shumate, who lived in East Virginia,
made us a visit. One night, during a conversation, Cousin William asked
my father if a Yankee officer had not been killed in this neighborhood.
Father answered “Yes, just over the hill, back of the old house.” Cousin
said, “My nearest neighbor killed him.” Father said, “No, my nearest neighbor
killed him - a man by the name of Frank Shaver, who was born and raised
on this farm.”
“Shaver was in the party, but my neighbor, Martin, claims that when he
wheeled his horse around it put him in position to put his pistol against
Meigs’s breast, and when he fired Meigs fell from his horse.”
My father, turning
to me, said “Pete, tomorrow morning after breakfast you go down and tell
Mr. Shaver to come up.”
Well do I remember
the errand and the ensuing conversation. Frank came up and father introduced
him to Cousin William; and Frank described to him about examining Martin’s
pistol and finding the caps burst, but the loads still in it. Cousin Shumate
returned home and told Martin that he had run across Shaver and that he
(Martin) was under the wrong impression as to the killing of Meigs.
By means of Shumate’s
visit to my father Martin got into communication with Shaver; and the three
men, Martin, Shaver, and Campbell, met at the state fair in Richmond that
fall or the next.
I never saw or heard
of any printed account of the killing of Meigs until about ten years ago
(1914 or 1915), while I was in the state of Washington. I will make one
exception. In 1895 the Harrisonburg paper, in publishing an account of
Shaver’s death, made mention of the combat in which Meigs was killed and
stated that Shaver was one of those engaged therein.
When I read the account
in Dr. Wayland’s history of Rockingham County (see pages 148-150 and 434,
435) I was surprised that there was any question as to why Dayton was not
burned. I thought that every one who had ever heard of this occurrence
knew that it was not burned because the pa-roled prisoner (Federal) returned
to Sheridan and told him that Rebel soldiers had done the killing, and
that it was not done by citizens.
Dr. Wayland, on page
149 of his history of Rockingham, publishes a letter from Col. Tschappat
of Ohio, who was ordered by Sheridan to burn Dayton. Col. Tschappat says
that he had moved all the people out into the fields, when the order was
revoked by Sheridan; and says that it was Gen. Thos. F. Wildes who prevailed
on Sheridan to rescind the order because of its heart-rending effect upon
the men in Col. Tschappat’s regiment, which had been commanded at one time
by Gen. Wildes.
This is not a reasonable
story, for Wildes was one of Sheridan’s staff and probably was present
in consultation with Sheridan when the order was issued; and it is not
likely that an officer would ques-tion the acts of a superior just because
he did not want a regiment that he had once commanded to carry out a certain
Referring again to
Dr. Wayland’s history, page 434, he says that Shaver and his companions
were planning to get on the high hills between the Warm Springs Pike and
the Valley Pike to locate the Federals by their campfires. Shaver could
have located the campfires easily enough without going inside the Federal
picket lines to do so, from any high point south of the Pike Church.
In Governor O’Ferrall’s
“Forty Years of Active Service,” page 128, he says that one of Shaver’s
men had fallen from his horse dead, and that Shaver and his remaining man
had the two Federal cavalry-men prisoners. O‘Ferrall also states, page
129, that General Sheridan, without stopping to investigate, issued and
had executed his unjustifiable and cruel order.
Daily News of December 12, 1911, contained an article written by Capt.
Foxhall Daingerfield and his wife, of Kentucky. They at one time were residents
of Harrisonburg. This was a two-column article in which the facts were
glaringly misrepresented. The statements cannot he veri-fied, with two
exceptions. These are that Lieut. Meigs was killed; and that the white-faced
horse that was taken at the time of the killing was frequently seen after
the war. Captain Daingerfield says: “Three young men went to the home of
a Mr. Shaver and had their haversacks filled and were watch-ing their chance
to cross the road and reach the ford by which they could return to camp,
when they were charged by Meigs.” This is not a plausible story, for it
is at least three miles to the river. He fur-ther states, in the same paragraph,
that the house at which the young Confederates had obtained food was one
of the first reduced to ashes. This house was not burned, and is now the
residence of Q. G. Kaylor.
Again the captain
says: “The beautiful and hospitable home of Mr. John Herring was destroyed,
the infuriated executioners of a dastardly order throwing back into the
flames the cradle of a tiny baby against the pleadings of the mother, and
all because in a great war six gallant soldiers had met in a fair and equal
combat, in which two were killed and one wounded.”
I am compelled to
say that the great historian Joesphus was right when he wrote: “Some people
write to show their skill in composition and that they therein acquire
a reputation for speaking finely.”
Sheridan was aware
of the fact that there was a very bitter feeling in this neighborhood between
the Confederate sympathizers and those who were opposed to war, or were
Union sympathizers. The lives of the latter in some cases were in danger,
and they had been threatened. Rev. John Kline was bushwhacked near Broadway
on account of this bitter feeling. Sheridan had agreed to furnish one team
and wagon to each Union sympathizer to transport his belongings and family
beyond the boundaries of the Confederacy. In fact, the very day that Meigs
was killed a number of persons, whose property was burned, had already
loaded what they could take on one wagon and had moved as far as Harrisonburg.
Among those that I can now recall were Florys, Sunafranks, Thomases, Halls,
Blossers, Hinegardners, and some of the Wengers.
Noah Wenger owned
the farm where John Dan Wenger now lives. It is near where Meigs fell.
His barn was burned the same evening the conflict occurred. Mrs. Wenger
was baking and getting ready to leave her home for an unknown destination,
and Federal soldiers were encamped all about the premises. Some of them
were not as polite as dancing masters, for they would go in where the cakes
and pies were and help themselves. She or Mr. Wenger made complaint to
an officer, and a guard was immediately put at the house. That evening
Mr. Wenger and his family took what they could carry on one wagon and moved
When the party that
did the burning arrived at the Wenger place they found there Andrew Thomp-son,
now a well known resident of Harrisonburg. In 1864 he was a boy of 13,
and made his home with Mr. Wenger part of the time. His mother lived in
Dayton, and Andy, as his friends called him, had not come home-he was still
at Mr. Wenger’s. The Yankees went to the barn and took a portion of the
hay that was therein. Then they tore off weather-boarding arid broke it
into small pieces to kindle the fire that consumed the building. It was
raining that afternoon. Then they mounted their horses arid rode away.
Another squad of
Yankees came up to the house. They took the straw that had been emptied
from the chaff ticks, piled it against a wooden partition and set fire
to it. Andy Thompson then took a crock off of the paling fence (tile buckets
had been moved with the wagon), carried water, and put the fire out. This
house was standing when Mr. Wenger returned home after the war. Andy was
not molested by the soldiers who were at hand when he put the fire out.
About a mile down
Cook’s Creek from Dayton is the Squire Herring farm. Across the creek opposite
the farm residence was a tenant house occupied by the late Valentine Bolton,
who was then in the Confederate army. Mrs. Bolton was told to move out,
that the house was to be burned. Some of the Federal soldiers were helping
to remove the property when one of them picked up a Masonic man-ual. Turning
to Mrs. Bolton he asked, “Is your husband a Mason?” She, feeling somewhat
bitter at having the house burned, answered in no pleasant humor, “Yes,
he is.” Forthwith the men were or-dered out of the house, and the property
that had been removed was immediately replaced. A guard was left there.
This house is standing today.
These same soldiers
hurried the main residence across the creek at the Herring farm, and this
is the house that Captain Daingerfield speaks of, telling of the baby’s
cradle in connection. This story seems doubtful, in view of the conduct
of the same men at the Bolton home.
At the borne of Joel
Flory, father of Jacob Flory, east of Dayton, on the Pike Church Road,
old Aunt Betsy Whitmore was lying bedfast at the time the Yankees came
to burn the house. After learning the condition of Aunt Betsy they went
off and did no burning. A similar situation was found at Abraham Paul’s,
where the barn was burned, but not the residence, because in the latter
was a sick woman (a Miss Paul).
The evening Dayton
was to be burned (the day after Meigs’s death), the Federal soldiers helped
move the household goods from the dwellings into the surrounding fields
and lots where it would be out of danger of the fires. That evening, when
the order to burn was revoked, it was too late to move back into the houses;
so the Federal officer in charge placed guards with each family to protect
them from that class of rough-necks that are in all armies.
During the evening
a drunken Yankee set fire to old Mr. Burnshire’s straw rick. The soldiers
of Col. Tschappat’s regiment, who were protecting the families in the fields,
extinguished the flames and punished the incendiary by kicking, beating,
and rolling him out into the road.
When Sheridan received
orders to destroy the grain and other supplies that were stored in mills
and barns, and was carrying out the order by applying the torch the burners
came to the Burkholder farm, near Garber’s Church, to destroy the barn,
which contained grain. The wind being strong, and blowing towards the residence,
they went away and left it, for fear of destroying the house. This oc-curred
a few days after the burnings around Dayton, on the death of Meigs. Sheridan
began his re-treat and burning down the Valley about October 5.
Destruction of supplies
was the object in the general burning, not the destruction of buildings.
This was shown at the mill of Gen. Sam Lewis, at Lynnwood. This mill had
a large quantity of wheat in it, but news was sent by “grape-vine telegraph”
to General Lewis (who was a Union man) that if the grain were taken out
before morning the mill would not be burned, He had his son, the late Sen.
John F. Lewis, who was then superintendent of Mt. Vernon Iron Works, to
send the furnace teams down and haul out the wheat during the night. This
mill was not burned. Neither were some other mills and barns that were
Tradition has it
that the Yankees went to the Joseph Coffman place, just on the outskirts
of Dayton, south, and set the barn on fire; then went to the residence
to burn it. There they came across a Ma-sonic apron belonging to Mr. Coffman;
and so they did not burn the house. The Coffman place was headquarters
of Gen. G. A. Custer. Some think that was the reason why the residence
there was not burned.
It is my opinion,
however, that the David A. Heatwole barn and the barn on the Joseph Coffman
place were burned several days after the killing of Meigs, when Sheridan
began his retreat down the Valley. It was at the Joseph Coffman place that
T. R. Sandy saw the cavalry horses grazing when he passed there late the
night of the destruction in the “Burnt District”; and the barn was standing
at two o’clock that night.
Published in John
W. Wayland Virginia Valley Records, Rockingham Supplement; Shenandoah Pub-lishing
House, Inc. 1930. , pp 187-96
Notes by John W.
Wayland - At Arcanum, Ohio, August 19, 1928, a Mrs. Baker, daughter of
Abram Koontz, told Mr. P. C. Kaylor that the house of her father, Abram
Koontz, near Dayton, Rockingham County, Va., was burned along with the
others mentioned on page 189.
Anent the burning
around Dayton, and the sparing of certain houses, the following is of interest:
On July 14, 1928,
Mrs. Thomas Kille of Harrisonburg, whose old home was at or near Dayton,
told me that when the “Yankees” came to the Joseph Coffman place to burn
(see above on this page; also Wayland’s history of Rocking-ham County,
page 149) Mrs. Coffman met them and said, “I am a first cousin of Abraham
Lincoln,” and that this was the reason the Coffman house was not burned.
Mrs. Coffman was
Abigail Lincoln, daughter of Lt. Jacob Lincoln; the said Jacob being a
brother to Abraham Lin-coln, the President’s grandfather.