If you’re a cavalry fan, then today’s stop is one site you won’t want to miss in the Shenandoah Valley. Or if you’re learning about Civil War history in the Valley, it’s also a significant spot.
Ever heard of Turner Ashby? He commanded Confederate cavalry for Stonewall Jackson and created quite a name and reputation for himself. However, he didn’t live to see the end of the war, dying in battle in 1862 near Harrisonburg, Virginia. Today, a large granite marker memorializes his fall. Let’s stop and take a look…
Harrisonburg is located south of Edinburg and New Market and north of Staunton. Easiest way to get there will be via Interstate 81 or Highway 11. Easiest way? Enter the address in a GPS or check a map with Civil War sites.
Once you arrive at Turner Ashby Lane, park near the crest of the hill and follow the path to check out the Civil War signs and see the monument.
Turner Ashby Lane, Harrisonburg, VA 22801
- Any day, sunrise to sunset
- No charge
- Website: https://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=58591
- The Ashby Monument is located on Chestnut Ridge which offers a great view of this part of modern Harrisonburg and a fine view of the former battleground.
- Use the modern interpretation signs to orient yourself to the battleground and it quickly becomes evident where the units positioned.
Let’s Talk History
So…who was Turner Ashby? Born in 1828, Ashby grew up in Northern Virginia and in his youth was a wanderer who loved the outdoors. He organized a militia unit prior to the Civil War, following in the family traditions established by his grandfather and father. During the Civil War his militia cavalry became the 7th Virginia Cavalry and was assigned to defense of the Shenandoah Valley, eventually bringing him under “Stonewall” Jackson’s command.
Ashby incurred Jackson’s praise and censor for his cavalry actions. Courageous in character, charismatic in leadership, and building an appearance that became the stuff of Southern legends, the cavalry commander scored scouting and attack victories before and during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. However, his ability to control his men remained questionable and his cavalrymen were not known for their discipline – facts which irritated Jackson and even created trouble at some points of the campaign. Still, “Stonewall” wrote about Ashby: “His daring was proverbial … his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes of the enemy.”
With gorgeous horses and feted skills, Ashby captured the imagination of the Shenandoah Valley civilians and military. To the Confederate supporters, he was a hero – gaining the status of hero even before Jackson. To Union soldiers and officers, Ashby was the target, the man to get – dead or alive – in the Shenandoah Valley since he successfully disrupted their operations, plundered supply wagons, and fought off their attacks on the Confederate infantry’s rear.
On June 6, 1862, Jackson’s army moved up (south) the Valley again, and Ashby and his cavalry covered the Confederate rear as Union General Fremont’s men hurried after them. On this location, the Battle of Harrisonburg (aka Battle of Good’s Farm) occurred. When the Union boys managed to avoid an ambush and instead headed for Ashby’s cavalry’s concealed position, a fight broke out. Ashby’s horse got shot and on foot, he urged his soldiers to charge. As he rallied and ordered, a bullet struck him in the chest, killing him instantly. His men drove back the Union soldiers, then returned and carried their officer’s body off the field for a viewing and burial. General Ashby is now buried in Winchester, Virginia – in the Confederate portion of the cemetery.
What We’re Looking At
The monument at the site of (of very near the location of) Ashby’s death was erected in 1898, by a local chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy. Though much of the surrounding land and battlefield has been developed, we can still see the lay of the land and gain appreciation for the small battle fought here. Ashby’s death in this skirmish has helped it stayed remembered and studied in the past decades.
Turner Ashby was far from perfect, and some may question why this monument? Personally, I find Ashby one of the very complex characters of the past. His soldier death on a battlefield can be remembered and through his memory other soldiers – from Virginia and Pennsylvania regiments – that fought here are also pulled from history’s shadows to be studied in their rightful places on the day the Confederate cavalry commander died.
Got time to spend in Harrisonburg or that area? Here are a few of my favorites:
Cross Keys and Port Republic Battlefields are just a short drive away. Grab some maps from Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to explore these lesser-known and less interpreted sites from the 1862 Valley Campaign.
Head into downtown Harrisonburg to explore the Harrisonburg Rockingham Civil War Orientation Center, which features displays about the war in this part of the Valley, a short documentary film, and a wonderful feature about the construction of the Old Valley Pike. Near the Civil War Orientation Center, there is also a historic quilt museum!
P.S. Did you notice we didn’t stop in New Market, Virginia, to see the battlefield and other sites? Don’t worry – you’ll hear all about New Market in a couple weeks. Since I wrote a book about that battle that will be released later this spring, we’ll circle back to those locations soon!
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