A Visit to Turner Ashby

In my opinion, one of the most overrated, inflated and overblown men during the Civil War is Turner Ashby, the “Black Knight of the Confederacy”. Dying in June of 1862, he lived to fight in a Civil War that was just entering its second year. Before the battle of First Kernstown on March 22nd, 1862 he gave his superior, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson inaccurate reconnaissance information about the Union Army outside Winchester, after skirmishing with Union forces. What he thought were only a couple of regiments turned out to be a massive Union force.  Jackson would learn the hard way the next day during the Battle of First Kernstown.

With this being said however, I am always drawn to people to have such a keen interest and love for Ashby. Valley residents today still view him through the lens of a romanticized southern cavalier. The memory of him captivates people in way comparable to that of Jackson. Was this because both were killed during the War fighting for southern ideals and independence? Both did not survive the end of the war and see the Union victorious; this makes it easy for people to place men such as Ashby on a pedestal. A martyr for the “Lost Cause” or as some people will say, “A generation Gone with the Wind”.

But, I do have to admit with all the pomps and circumstance that follow Ashby, I was bitten by the bug. What did he really do? Where is he buried? Questions like these have been floating in my mind for the last couple of months. After doing some reading I decided to go out and see some of these sites dedicated to Ashby in the Valley.

The first one I saw was his grave, in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester. Over this past summer I was doing some research for a special program I was to conduct in August. Whilst wandering through the cemetery on a scorching hot July day, out of the corner of my eye popped out a large elevated monument for the “Ashby Brothers”. I took a picture and come to find out this is where Turner Ashby is buried.

Turner Ashby's grave located in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester

Turner Ashby’s grave located in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester

I put Ashby on the back burner of my mind when the semester started again this fall. After doing some reading and seeing his grave this past summer, I started to focus on my academics. However, I knew there was a monument for him in Harrisonburg, right outside of my campus at James Madison University. One day after class I hopped in my car to see the monument for myself. I pulled in, and as I figured, no one else was in the parking lot. I followed the signs towards the monument, and after reading some waysides about the skirmish and his death, I saw it.

View of the monument as you walk from the parking  lot

View of the monument as you walk from the parking lot

In the middle of a wrought iron square stood a small stone obelisk with a wreath in front of the monument. The monument reads, “Gen. Turner Ashby C.S.A. Was killed on this spot. June 6th, 1862 Gallantly Leading a Charge”. Dedicated on June 6, 1898 , the Turner Ashby Chapter 162 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the monument on the 36th anniversary of his death. The U.D.C holds an annual ceremony to commemorate the fallen cavalryman. There was no stone equestrian statue of a horseman with his sword drawn or an exaggerated bust of Ashby, but a small stone marker. I was surprised. The monument is modest, for a man that is still remembered and loved today so colorfully.

Close up of the Ashby Monument

Close up of the Ashby Monument

There were two interpretative signs placed on the site. One that seemed a little dated and lacked historical context. The other is a wayside placed by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation that offers visitors historical context and detailed information on the site and action that took place there.

Sign that lacked historical context

Sign that lacked historical context

Interpretative Wayside placed by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. Sorry for picture, some of it got cut off.

Interpretative Wayside placed by the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. Sorry for picture, some of it got cut off.

I am glad that this land is preserved and taken care of on a regular basis. The JMU campus literally sprawls to the bottom of the hill the monument is on. A colleague of mine who visited the monument in the 1990’s commented that the land from the monument west towards I-81 was all pristine farmland. Now, JMU facilities are literally a stone’s throw away.

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9 Comments

Filed under General Thoughts

9 responses to “A Visit to Turner Ashby

  1. reemus dikfore

    Ashby sounds gay.

  2. Dagmar

    I have read 3 biographies on Turner Ashby. You don’t give him credit…. If you read what Stonewall Jackson wrote about Ashby and other great leaders, you wouldn’t have said that he is overrated. Glad I read enough on this matter to know better.

  3. In the days before the campus spread out to almost touch the monument, it stood in the woods practically unnoticeable except for a small sign on Port Republic Road. A narrow lane went from that road (where the athletic fields now stand) up to the monument and the older sign. A local group kept the grounds tidy and planted flowers.

    BTW, some writers contend that Ashby was accidentally killed by friendly fire, based on his wounds.

    • Thanks for the information Linda! I have only been in the area for a couple years. A good friend of mine visited the monument in the 1990s, before JMU expanded in this area. He said you could see clearly down to Route 11, and it was all fields. The local UDC Chapter cares for the monument still today, based on my knowledge.

      I have not heard that about his wounding being from friendly fire. Where did you read that?

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  5. I wanted to notify you that there is an effort to try to commemorate the Civil War contributions of Turner Ashby. Turner Ashby and his cavalry fought on a battlefield which was a major part of Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign that has long been overlooked and nearly forgotten. No land has been preserved here and there are currently no signs marking the area. This forgotten site is the battlefield at Buckton Station in Buckton, Virginia.

    The Battle of Buckton Station occurred on May 23, 1862, the same day as the Battle of Front Royal. As a matter of fact it was a key part of what would happen at Front Royal. The battle itself would involve two Union infantry companies, including the 27th Indiana, and Colonel Turner Ashby’s 7th Virginia cavalry. Ashby had ridden to the Union outpost at Buckton Depot where he made a series of mounted assaults, costing him several of his best officers. Ashby cut the telegraph lines and burned the depot, severing communication between the main Union army under General Nathaniel Bank’s at Strasburg, and the small force under Colonel John Kenley at Front Royal. Colonel Ashby then divided his cavalry and sent Lt. Colonel Thomas Flournoy’s regiment east to Front Royal to threaten Kenly’s rear. This decision would prove to be key to the defeat of Union forces at Front Royal. Ashby remained at Buckton Depot to prevent Banks’ from sending reinforcements to Front Royal.

    I made contact with the CWT to see if they might be able to help preserve the land that is currently for sale on the battlefield. I did hear from the Civil War Trust and the Battlefield at Buckton Station is not one of the CWSAC sites. According to them this would prevent the trust from getting federal grants to fund any acquisitions there.

    In lieu of that I have established a go-fund-me request to try to raise $2500.00 so that the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation can receive the money needed to design, construct, and install historic informational civil war markers at the battlefield site. I am hopeful you could notify your members of this effort. Though the fight was a small one in numbers it is hallowed ground.

    Thanks very much for your consideration.
    Pete Dalton
    https://www.gofundme.com/forgotten-civil-war-battlefield

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