Jan 26, 2009

Baltimore County's Other Rebel Raiders

While many are familiar with the Confederate cavalry raider Harry Gilmor, few remember T. Sturgis Davis. Davis, like Gilmor, was a member of The Baltimore County Horse Guard, a southern leaning militia based in Towson. After the horse guard was disbanded, shortly after the beginning of the war, many of its members headed across the Potomac to Confederate territory. Davis first shows up in the records as a cavalry scout, and then as a captain and one of Turner Ashby's Assistant Adjutant Generals. (Gilmor also served under Ashby around the same time as a Sergeant Major.) It was Davis who accompanied the general's body to Charlottesville, after Ashby was killed in battle near Harrisonburg, Virginia in 1862.

In 1863, Davis, now a major, formed an independent band of guerrilla cavalry, which were commonly known at the time as "partisan rangers." He served, like "Hance" McNeill, "Lige" White (another Marylander), and Harry Gilmor, in the general area of the Shenandoah Valley, though they ranged anywhere from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wardensville, West Virginia, to Harpers Ferry and beyond. Confederates of draft age were generally banned from partisan ranger service because it was too popular an assignment, thus the ranks were filled with Marylanders, who weren't eligible for the Confederate draft. Davis reported to General John Imboden.

Imboden's Brigade, at the time of the order mentioned above, was composed of the Sixty-second Virginia Mounted Infantry, commanded by that distinguished officer, Colonel George W. Smith, a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute; the Eighteenth Virginia Cavalry, by the General's brother, Colonel George W. Imboden, now a prominent lawyer in West Virginia; White's Battalion, by Major Robert White, late Attorney-General of West Virginia; the Maryland Battalion, by Major Sturgis Davis, of Maryland, who had won his laurels under Turner Ashby; Gilmor's Battalion of Rangers, by Harry Gilmor, of Baltimore, who was as rough and daring a rider as ever drew a saber; McNeil's Rangers, of Hardy and Hampshire counties, West Virginia, commanded by Captain John H. McNeil. This was the company that later in the war, under the immediate command of Jesse McNeil, son of Captain J. H. McNeil, first lieutenant of Company D, rode into Cumberland, Md., and brought out two major-generals, Crook and Kelly, from the very midst of their commands. Finally, McClanahan's Battery, commanded by Captain John H. McClanahan, a Texan, who had served under Ben McCullough in Texas until it got too peaceable there for him. So, as may be seen, our General had in his brigade a lot of choice spirits, and was well equipped to make a daring raid into the enemy's lines. - "Imboden's Dash into Charlestown"

Davis appears most in the records concerning the battle of New Market in the spring of 1864. Sigel's advance ran into Confederates posted at Rude's Hill under the command of a Maryland Confederate, Capt. T. Sturgis Davis. Davis and his commander, Gen. John Imboden, were able to delay the Federal advance until Gen. John C. Breckinridge arrived at New Market with his small army, including the Virginia Military Institute Cadet Battalion. - Historical Marker at Rude's Hill.

Davis fought through the summer until he was captured at Winchester, Virginia on September 19th, 1864. Captain Thomas B. Gatch, also a former member of the Baltimore County Horse Guard, took command of "Davis' Maryland Battalion," though it was later broken up, with part of it going to the First Maryland Cavalry, and part to Colonel Gilmor's command.

After the war, Davis and Gatch both returned to Maryland and both served in the state legislature.

I found a letter by Gatch on an auction site:

A Confederate Veteran Recalls Gettysburg and General Lee's Orders. Autograph Letter Signed ("Thos. B. Gatch").Two pages, 9 x 6½", Baltimore, December 13, 1920. To John Boos. Mailing folds, spot on second page, penciled notation at upper left corner. In very good to fine condition. A remarkable Civil War reminiscence. Thomas Gatch, a First Sargeant in the Seventh Virginia Cavalry (commanded by Turner Ashby), recalls meeting Robert E. Lee as he and his detachment were crossing the Potomac on their way to Gettysburg: "...I was in command of all the Cavalry in immediate advance of Genl Lee's Army 30 men. Genl Lee rode up to me and asked 'who is in command of this detachment,' I saluted & replied I am Sir, he asked 'what is your rank' I replied 1st Sergt Sir, 'how many men have you?' I replied 30 Sir, he then asked 'are they well mounted,' I answered I suppose we were selected looking to our mounts He then said, 'you with your detachment will remain at my Head Quarters as couriers until relieved. I have issued Genl orders that all Citizens be treated with courtesy and that no plundering of any kind is to be permitted. if you or any of your men should witness any infraction of that order, I want them brought to my head quarters & turned over to Col Marshal.': this is the only instance in which I came in personal contact with Genl Lee. I was wounded at Fairfield takeing[sic] a dispatch to our Cavalry...I was taken Prisoner during Genl Earleys campaign in the Valley and spent the last 9 months of the war in Fort Delaware which was worse than the war itself..."

Gatch also wrote an article for the June 1926 (Vol. XXXIV) of Confederate Veteran Magazine, but I have not read it.

I was assigned to the command of The Valley District Shenandoah and kept McNeill with his Rangers Major Harry Gilmor and Major Sturgis Davis both of Maryland and each with a small battalion from their State always on the go scouting capturing trains of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad assailing and breaking up foraging parties of the enemy capturing horses beyond our established lines and in a general way harassing the enemy and keeping our side well informed of all movements of the enemy in our front They soon knew every road and path and almost every family in the Virginia counties between the Allegheny and the Blue Ridge Mountains and within sixty miles of the Maryland line Indeed so many young men over the border in that State joined one or the other of these Partizan bodies that they often crossed the Potomac at night to procure horses and cattle for Confederate use from people they knew in Maryland as sympathizers with the South. - Gen. John Imboden

Photo: "Charge of the First Maryland Regiment at the Death of Ashby" G.A. Muller, after a painting by William Ludwell Sheppard, A. Hoen & Company. (See "The Confederate Image" by Neely, Holtzer, & Boritt for more on this illustration.)