Fire in the Valley

By: John Paul Strain

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Description

Berryville Wagon Train Raid
August 13, 1864

The 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion, better known as Mosby's Rangers, was one of the most feared and renowned combat units operating in northern Virginia and the Lower Shenandoah Valley. These rangers were an elite force of scouts and guerrilla fighters who were commanded by John Singleton Mosby. The adventures and exploits of Mosby's Rangers became legendary in American military history.

In early August 1864, the Federal Army came under the command of a new leader, Major General Phillip H. Sheridan. Sheridan began to push his army southward down the valley and established his headquarters south of Winchester. Supplies for the Federal Army came from Harper's Ferry by wagon train. On August the 12th, Mosby gathered his men at Rectortown, intent on interrupting Sheridan's supply line. Mosby's force consisted of nearly 350 Rangers, bolstered by two cannons.

Sheridan's 525-wagon train, supported by 3 regiments and a small cavalry force left Harper's Ferry loaded with supplies on the morning of the 12th. After traveling all day, the wagon train camped near Berryville at Buck Marsh Creek. Early the next morning as the fog lifted, Federal soldiers preparing for the day's travel were suddenly panicked by three rounds of cannon fire, followed by the rebel yell of charging Southern cavalry. Pandemonium ensued, and the Federals fled for life and limb, leaving the supply train.

After burning many of the wagons, Mosby and his men captured 200 prisoners, 500 mules, 50 horses, 200 cattle, along with what spoils they could carry from the wagons. Left behind however, was a cash box of the 8th New York Cavalry containing $112,000. As the Rangers rode away in high spirits, a number were trying to play melodies on some captured fiddles, to the complaints of their friends. Later that evening the prizes from the raid were divided among the men, with the prisoners and most of the cattle sent off to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Artist's Comments:

This is the first time that I have had the opportunity to paint John S. Mosby. He and his men did not carry sabers and were armed with multiple revolvers rather than cavalry carbines. It was said that a Ranger could be riding at full gallop and fire 3 rounds into a tree trunk before he passed. This accounted for many empty Federal saddles. Fighting behind enemy lines, the Rangers usually didn't carry a flag, but on the Berryville raid, riding beside Mosby was 17 year-old Robert Stockton Terry who carried the battalion's new flag.