“If a man has something to say that is worth saying one time he should let the written or printed word keep on saying it after he is gone.”
“…I felt that it was necessary for me to do something to keep us from being entirely forgotten.”
James Larkin Pearson,
Poet Laureate of North Carolina, from 1953 to 1981
Thursday, February 26, 2015
A.B. West’s Last Day, the Third Battle of Winchester
Entrance to the Battlefield
Little did Alex West know when the bugle sounded the wake-up
call on September 19, 1864, that this would be his last day on Earth. The day was likely a warm summer day in the
Shenandoah Valley of Virginia near the city of Winchester.Company K of Bryan Grimes’ Brigade of Maj.
Gen. Robert E. Rodes’ Division was camped somewhere in the outskirts of the
city of Winchester.
The Third Batty of Winchester is known as the Battle of
Opequon.Opequon is an unincorporated
community along Opequon Creek in Frederick County, Virginia. It is located on Cedar Creek Grade (VA 622) at
Miller Road (VA 620) and is also known as Kernstown, Virginia.
The battle, which was fought on September 19, 1864, was the
bloodiest battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley.Union Gen. Sheridan lost 12 percent of his
army with about 5,000 of his 39,000 soldiers killed, wounded, and missing.Confederate Gen. Early suffered approximately
3,600 casualties casualties which represented 25 percent of his army.
Company K of the 53rd North Carolina Regiment,
known as “the Wilkes boys,” was part of Lee’s Army of Virginia, which was part
of Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Army of the Valley.Early’s Army of the Valley consisted of many
seasoned veterans from Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and
Virginia.Company K of the 53rd
North Carolina Infantry Regiment (the Wilkes Boys) was also part part of Maj.
Gen. Robert E. Rodes’ Division and part of Brigadier Gen. Bryan Grimes’ Brigade
(formerly the deceased Brigadier Gen. Junius Daniel’s Brigade).
Confederate officer, Lt. Gen. Early, had an estimated 12,000
soldiers.His counterpart, Union
officer, Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan, had about 40,000.Both armies had sufficient ammunition, but
the Union forces had more cannons, more horses, and more artillerymen.
Red Bud Run
On that fateful morning of September 19, reveille sounded in
the Confederate Army camp at 1 a.m.By
4:30 a.m., Sheridan’s forces were advancing.At daybreak the first shot was fired when General Ramseur’s North
Carolinians fired on Captain Hull’s New York Cavalry.
Heavy fighting took place that day in areas known as the
West Woods, the First Woods, the Second Woods, the Middle Field, and Red Bud
Run.A Union soldier commented that the
battle at Middle Field “was perfectly terrible but the forces in our front gave
way.”The battle ended at sundown when the
divisions of Ramseur, Rodes, and Gordon fell back to positions near
Winchester.Maj. Gen. Rodes was killed
that day.By nightfall the Union Army
had taken the city of Winchester.
Many who died on this historic this day were buried where
they fell in battle.Such was likely the
fate of my second great grandfather, Alexander Balus West.
In October 2104, my sister, brother-in-law, husband, and I
spent a day on the battleground of the Third Battle of Winchester.Unlike Gettysburg, the battlefield is not resplendent
with monuments and statues. It is
peaceful, serene, and non-commercial in nature.It has a rustic, natural beauty with an appropriate number of signs to
mark locations.Many of the paths are
unpaved, and cars not are allowed on the battlefield.
Vicinity of the West Woods
Like our visit to Gettysburg, this visit was also
moving.I’ve always wanted to see where
my 2nd great grandfather died.As I walked over the hallowed grounds, I tried to imagine where he might
have fallen, mortally wounded.I know
that he was part of Rodes’ Division, Grimes’ Brigade, the 2nd
Battalion, and the 53rd Regiment (North Carolina Infantry). Maps of the Battle of Winchester that may be
found on the Internet indicate that Grimes’ Brigade in Rodes’ Division was on
the southern flank near what is now US Interstate 81.Most of the heavy fighting occurred that day
in the Middle Field, the Second Woods, West Woods, and Red Bud Run.His brigade was apparently located in that
southern part of the battlefield labeled West Woods.In retreat they moved westward toward
Winchester.I can only assume that he
was killed on that southern-most part of the battlefield and possibly during the
retreat to Winchester.In fact the
location of his death and burial may presently be located under what is now Interstate
Much of the battlefield at Winchester has been significantly
degraded or destroyed by expanding urban development in and around
Winchester.I found it quite sad that
the likely area in which my second great grandfather died and was buried may
now be covered by that urban sprawl and the interstate highway.
Residential and business development and highway
construction continue to pose threats to the preservation of the original
battlefield.The Civil War Trust has
preserved 222 acres of the 567-acre battlefield.In 2009, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields
Foundation along with the Civil War Trust and the Virginia Land Conservation
Foundation, and the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Foundation purchased 209 acres
of additional land.The Shenandoah
Valley Battlefields Foundation worked toward the restoration of the battlefield
for the 150th Anniversary of the battle in September 2014.
Since I was able to be there and walk the battlefield, I
left the battlefield with some degree of satisfaction. However, I am still left
with a desire to know where he was buried, but I am certain that desire will
Grimes Brigade as part of Rodes’ Division retreated to the
west and then southwest toward what is now US Interstate 81 and
Winchester.The brigade may have been in
any of the areas marked with the red lines.