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June, 2006

This is another in my periodic series of profiles of forgotten cavalrymen.

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the death of one of my very favorite figures of the Civil War, Confederate Brig. Gen. William Edmonson “Grumble” Jones. If ever there was an individual who earned and deserved a particular nickname, it was Jones.

Grumble Jones had earned his nickname—he was irascible and prone to complaining. However, the Confederate cavalry chieftain, Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart respected him. Although he greatly disliked Grumble Jones, Stuart nevertheless called him “the best outpost officer in the army.” Stuart also praised Jones’ “marked courage and determination”, indicating a grudging respect for Jones’ abilities. At the same time, however, when Jones was promoted to brigade command in October 1862, Stuart resisted the promotion, writing to his wife Flora, “…I hope he will be assigned to the Infantry, I don’t want him in the Cavalry, and have made a formal statement to that effect.” Returning Stuart’s disdain, Jones referred to Stuart as “that young whippersnapper.”

William Edmonson Jones was born on the Middle Fork of the Holston River in Washington County, Virginia on May 9, 1824. After graduating from Emory and Henry College in Virginia in 1844, Jones matriculated at West Point. Graduating twelfth out of forty-eight in the Class 1848 (which included John Buford), Jones spent his entire career in the Regular Army in the mounted arm, serving on the frontier in the Regiment of Mounted Rifles until his resignation in 1857. He spent much of his career in the Mounted Rifles fighting Indians and serving garrison duty in the Pacific Northwest. After leaving the Army, he spent the next several years as a reclusive farmer, living a lonely and bitter life. He had not always been so short-tempered. His young wife was washed from his arms in a shipwreck shortly after their marriage, and Jones never recovered from her loss. He grew “embittered, complaining and suspicious” as a result, quarreling with his fellow officers frequently. Eschewing the flamboyant style of dress and the exaggerated mannerisms adopted by Stuart, he was a plain dresser with a legendary talent for profanity. Jones was an extremely strict disciplinarian whose men respected but did not love him. While not a likeable man, Grumble Jones was definitely a fighter. His fellow cavalry general, Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden, wrote that Jones “ was an old army officer, brave as a lion and had seen much service, and was known as a hard fighter. He was a man, however, of high temper, morose and fretful…He held the fighting qualities of the enemy in great contempt, and never would admit the possibility of defeat where the odds against him were not much over two to one.”

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jones formed a cavalry company, and was elected its captain, serving under J.E.B. Stuart in the First Manassas Campaign. He became colonel of the 1st and later the 7th Virginia Cavalry and was promoted to brigadier general on September 19, 1862. Shortly thereafter, Jones assumed command of the veteran cavalry brigade formerly commanded by the legendary Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby, one of the best brigades of cavalry in either army. Ashby, a gifted horseman and leader, was the first commander of the 7th Virginia. Promoted to command of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s cavalry during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, Ashby performed well during the Campaign until he was killed in action in June 1862. In his short tenure as a commander, Ashby left his mark on his brigade. Proud and dashing, Ashby embodied the attitude of the beau sabreur. The brigade Jones inherited consisted entirely of Virginians, the 6th, 7th, 11th, and 12th Virginia Cavalry Regiments and the 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, all veteran troopers accustomed to hard marching and hard fighting.

Jones’ men did splendidly at Brandy Station, where, badly outnumbered by the division of his West Point classmate John Buford, they held their own in a day of intense fighting. As the Gettysburg Campaign commenced, Jones’ men held the critical gaps in the mountain ranges on either side of the Shenandoah Valley on the march north, and screened the Army of Northern Virginia’s rear guard during the advance into Pennsylvania. As the three-day-long battle began at Gettysburg, Jones’ brigade crossed the Potomac River at Williamsport, Maryland, and camped near Greencastle, Pennsylvania. Two units of the brigade were left behind as the rest of the brigade advanced north. The 12th Virginia remained in the lower Valley to watch the Federal troops garrisoned at Harper’s Ferry, and the 35th Battalion was temporarily attached to the Confederate cavalry brigade of Brig. Gen. Albert G. Jenkins in the Confederate advance to the Susquehanna River. The balance of Jones’ troopers remained behind the Confederate lines, guarding the trains during the first two days of the battle.

On July 3, Jones’ Brigade fought a vicious battle with the 6th U.S. Cavalry at Fairfield, Pennsylvania. They then fought the Regulars again at Funkstown a few days later. When the retreat ended, Jones’ men had a brief respite they then had a sharp fight with Buford again at Second Brandy Station on August 1, 1863, and again on October 10, 1863 in Third Brandy Station. That fall, Jones and Stuart had a final falling out, and Jones was court-martialed for insulting Stuart. Robert E. Lee intervened, and Jones was transferred to the western part of Virginia.

There, he cobbled together a brigade of cavalry and campaigned in eastern Tennessee during the winter and spring of 1864. In the summer of 1864, Jones assumed command of the Confederate forces in the Upper Shenandoah Valley, and, while personally leading a charge at the Battle of Piedmont on June 5, 1864, he was killed in action, a fitting end for a fighting general.

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4 Jun 2006, by

Stark Contrasts

I’m back from Gettysburg. It was a fun but terribly exhausting weekend. We were really kind of overprogrammed for the time we were there. Friday was an incredibly long day. We were up at 5:00 AM for a 6:00 departure to take Dale Gallon to tour the Trevilian Station battlefield. It took 3 1/2 hours to get down there, we spent a little more than 3 hours on the battlefield, and then another 3 1/2 hours to drive back to Gettysburg. All told, it was nearly a twelve hour day, followed by another very long day yesterday. Today, I had a six hour drive home after about four hours of battlefield stomping.

One thing really struck me during my time at Gettysburg this trip, something I’ve never really noticed before. The National Park Service is spending oodles of money at Gettysburg cutting down trees that have grown up there where there weren’t trees during the war, and in re-planting some historic tree lots, such as orchards, that were there at the time of the battle but which have been lost over the years. Now, don’t get me wrong–I love the vistas and I love being able to see things the way they were at the time of the battle. Acres and acress of trees have been cleared out between Devil’s Den and the Slyder farm, which opens the place up and gives an entirely different perspective on things. I do love it.

The park is also spending vast amounts of money restoring historic fence lines. Worm rail fences are being restored, as well as plank and board fences that were torn down or eliminated decades ago are being rebuilt and replaced on the field. Again, the restoration of these fences so as to restore the historic appearance of the battlefield is important work, and I don’t mean to downplay it. However, none of it does a thing to preserve an inch of threatened land, and none of it does a thing to preserve more of our heritage for future generations.

At the same time, there are stark contrasts.

Late on the afternoon of July 2, a nasty little cavalry engagement took place at Hunterstown, about six miles from Gettysburg. The combatants were Custer’s Michigan Cavalry Brigade (supported by Elon Farnsworth’s brigade) and Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade. Until about five years ago, the battlefield was pretty much completely pristine. Only one small Twentieth Century structure had been built on the battlefield, and the rest was open farm fields with period homes and barns.

About five years ago, a power plant was built on a portion of the battlefield. It’s huge, and it’s one of the worst eyesores I’ve ever seen. In an effort to try to screen the thing, they built huge earthen berms in front of it. All of it has dramatically changed the lay of the land. However, the core of the battlefield remains intact and still pristine. To my great sadness, I learned today that there is apparently a movement afoot to built cheesy little tract homes on a portion of the battlefield.

There have been a number of efforts to try to acquire preservation easements for the pristine ground, all of which have been rebuffed. I am scared that this little gem of a battlefield will be obliterated in the name of progress much sooner than later, and there doesn’t seem to be much of anything that anyone can do about it.

The contrast between the failure to preserve this ground and the huge sums of money that are being spent on tree cutting and planting and on restoring historic fence lines–purely cosmetic stuff–is stark. Then there are national parks like the Petersburg National Battlefield where there is essentially no budget at all for anything. Several years ago, Chris Calkins told me that he had to limit visitors to making ten copies at the park library because that was all the budget he had available for that sort of thing. Again, the contrast is shocking. All of this really makes me wonder whether the folks responsible for this stuff really and truly have their priorities straight. I don’t think they do.

Is it ego run amok? Is the ego of the Gettysburg superintendent so immense that he needs to create this sort of a vast monument to himself?

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The last time that I was in Gettysburg was in September, about a week after I began this blog. That means it’s been about eight months, which, for me, is a very long time not to go there. I’ve been getting itchy for another visit, and it’s going to occur this weekend.

I have been a member of the Gettysburg Discussion Group, which is the granddaddy of all on-line discussion groups, since 1996. I served as a member of the board of trustees, and I’ve always hovered around the nucleus of the group. Sometimes, when I have time and interest in a given topic, I participate a lot. Other times, rarely at all. However, it’s been a great group to belong to, and I’ve made some great friends as a consequence of my participation.

Once per year, typically the first weekend in June, the GDG has a muster in Gettysburg. Several months ago, Dennis Lawrence (who along with his brother Bob, owns the group) asked me if I would lead a tour for them this year, which I haven’t done in four or five years. As I’ve been itching for a visit to Gettysburg, I agreed. J. D. and I are leading the dawn (7:00 a.m.) tour on Saturday morning, of the traditional interpretation of Farnsworth’s Charge. So, I’m off tonight, with a six hour drive to get there. It will be great to scratch that itch and get to see some old friends in the process.

I also get a special treat tomorrow. Some weeks ago, a fellow named Robert Poirier, who wrote an excellent book on the role played by graduates of Norwich University of Vermont in the Civil War, contacted me via the comments to this blog. One of those alumni was Lt. Edward B. Williston, a talented horse artillerist who won a richly-deserved Medal of Honor for his stellar performance on the second day of the Battle of Trevilian Station (one of eight Union Medals of Honor in those two bloody, brutal days of fighting). Bob’s letter informed me that Norwich had commissioned the artist Dale Gallon to paint a scene of Williston performing the deeds that earned him the Medal of Honor. From my book on Trevilian Station, Bob knew that I had a copy of Williston’s Medal of Honor file from the National Archives, so he wrote to inquire as to whether he could get a copy of it to pass on to Dale for his use in doing the painting. I called him back and said sure. In the process, I told him that if Dale wanted to see the battlefield, I would be happy to show it to him.

To make a long story short, tomorrow, JD and I are taking Dale Gallon and a representative of Norwich to Trevilians to tour the battlefield, and, in particular, so I can show them the specific ground where Williston deployed and fought his guns so magnificently that day. The last time that I was on the battlefield at Trevilian was at the 140th anniversary event in June 2004, so it’s been just a few days shy of two years since my last visit. Since then, the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation has acquired more land, and more of the Virginia Civil War Trails markers that I wrote have been installed, so I’m really looking forward to the visit. I also need to shoot some photos of the battlefield for the new edition of the book that will be published by Bison Books, which is part of the University of Nebraska Press.

I told Dale that my fee for doing this for him was a personally signed copy of the print when it’s done, and I’m looking forward to adding it to my collection. There’s a place waiting for it here in my office. He agreed. Dale’s also a good guy, and it will be fun spending a day with him. Previously, I sent him a copy of the book and a copy of the General’s Tour article that I did for Blue and Gray Magazine several years ago. He’s visited the field once on his own, but wanted me to show him around. Because Williston’s actions can’t be understood in a vacuum, I will show them the whole battlefield, including where Williston’s guns were deployed on the first day of the battle, so that the second day is placed in its proper context.

Those of you who know me, know that I have been involved in the preservation and interpretation of this battlefield for years. I volunteered to help the TSBF when it was in its infancy and nothing more than a few well-intentioned locals trying to figure out how to save their battlefield. When the book was finished, I donated my research files to them to use as the nucleus for a research library when they eventually build a visitor’s center someday. Consequently, it’s become a very special place for me, and it’s been my honor and privilege to help to preserve the legacy of this hallowed ground for generations to come. Of all of the things that I’ve done with respect to preservation, nothing has meant more to me than being asked to write the text for those Virginia Civil War Trails markers that now adorn the battlefield. If anything, they are my permanent and lasting legacy, and certainly my permanent contribution to the Battle of Trevilian Station. I swell with pride every time I see them, but at the same time, it’s quite humbling to know that I was the one asked to write them, and that those markers are the first (and sometimes only) impression that visitors to the battlefield get.

I will be home Sunday night. If time permits, I will try to post something between now and then, but don’t be surprised if I don’t. We’ve got a pretty packed schedule.

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