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.
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.
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.
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.
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.