“The Black Knight of the Confederacy”
Cavalry commander Colonel Turner Ashby died in battle on this date in 1862 as part of a rear-guard action near Harrisonburg, Virginia. His 7th Virginia Cavalry was holding off the advance of Fremont’s troops coming from the west toward what would be the Battle of Cross Keys two days later. Here is a picture of the monument – located at the very place where he died from a shot through the heart. The monument is in a beautiful grove of trees on the crest of a ridge – that is now pretty much being surrounded by construction of JMU athletic fields on the plains below. (more text after picture)
Ashby was a largely self-taught commander, who possessed some significant leadership skills by nature of personality. However, by not having the formal military background, his troops tended to be, by military standards, oft undisciplined and free-spirited. After the battle of First Winchester, they were known to have been plundering captured supplies rather than taking full advantage of an opportunity to cut off the retreat of Union forces under Nathaniel Banks. But the larger issue involved the failure in April of cavalry under Jedediah Hotchkiss to burn three bridges over the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The Red Bridge was successfully destroyed (see picture below), but between Federal resistance and the effects of too much “apple-jack” the Columbia and White House bridges remained. Frustrated by this, Stonewall Jackson transferred the command of the Valley Cavalry to two infantry commanders. This change so infuriated Turner Ashby that he resigned on the spot in a contentious meeting with Jackson in Elkton (see picture below). Jackson was forced to give in to Ashby, not wanting to lose this valuable asset to the army.