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  A series of 4 articles

Elkton’s Miller-Kite House played a vital role in General Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign

      On Dec. 26, 1826, an agreement was signed by landowner Henry Miller Jr. and builder-carpenter Samuel Gibbons to erect a two-story, ell-shaped brick dwelling along the north side of Elk Run Creek in the Conrads Store Community.

     Miller, a grandson of Adam Miller who was the first white settler in this part of the Shenandoah Valley, spared no costs in the construction of his future home and chose Gibbons as its builder based on his reputation as an expert carpenter and craftsman.

     As part of the written agreement, Miller was to provide all necessary seasoned timber needed for the project and provide room and board and washing and mending for Gibbons and one helper while building the home.

     Miller also agreed to furnish pasture and grain for Gibbons’ horse and a right-of-way to the turnpike leading across Swift Run Gap.

     As it turned out, while under the employment of Miller, Gibbons took a fancy to one of Miller’s daughters, Christena, whom he later married.

     On June 17, 1841, Henry Miller Jr. deeded the house and adjacent property to another daughter, Mary “Polly,” and her husband, John Argabright, for $6,000.

     John and Polly Argabright closed in the ell with a wood-framed addition in 1848, which changed the structure to a rectangular-shaped dwelling.

     It was during this period of time that the Argabrights began using the house as an “ordinary” or tavern.

     A day-by-day diary, dated 1855, was kept by a group of families departing from Conrads Store heading west to resettle.  The first day’s entry listed the starting point of the westward trek as Argabright’s Tavern.

     When John Argabright, a captain in the Rockingham County Militia, died around 1860, ownership of the former Miller home reverted to Polly and her children.

     On April 18, 1862, a year after Virginia became involved in the War Between the States, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and his army was encamped east of Harrisonburg.  Jackson spent the night in the Jonathan Peale home at Peale’s Cross Roads and while there ordered a courier by the name of Henry Kyd Douglas to deliver by morning an important dispatch to Gen. Richard S. Ewell, who was camped near Culpeper Court House, to be prepared to march toward Swift Run Gap and unite with the Army of the Valley west of the Blue Ridge.

     After securing a horse from Staff Officer Kidder Meade, Douglas began his long and treacherous journey during a driving rain as night time fell upon the Valley.

     As Douglas rode eastward to an area he was totally unfamiliar with, he recalled rounding the base of the Massanutten Mountain (Peak) and the sight of the “towering mass horrified the night”.

     When Douglas crossed the covered wooden bridge over the South Fork near Conrads Store, the rain continued to fall, but he continued on his eastward ride along the turnpike.

     Near the western foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Swift Run, Douglas stopped by a local tavern known as Bridges’ Hotel, where he asked for directions and then purchased a small flask of whiskey “for an emergency”.

     By the time Douglas began his trek up the mountain, his vision was so impaired he could not see his horse’s head in front of him.

      Fortunately, the road was solid and his horse managed to stay on it, even though at times torrents of water would flow across the roadway beneath them.

     As Douglas passed through Swift Run Gap, just before beginning his descent down into Stanardsville, he happened upon another courier carrying a dispatch from Gen. Ewell to Gen. Jackson.

     After getting additional directions from the courier, Douglas gave him the flask of whiskey and continued on his way.

     By the time Douglas reached Culpeper Court House on the morning of April 19, he had ridden all night in a driving rain after exchanging horses four times – one of which collapsed and died after a short jaunt in the early morning darkness.

     At Culpeper Court House, Douglas was informed by Richard “Dick” Taylor that Gen. Ewell was encamped beyond Brandy Station some six miles away.

     The soaked and exhausted Douglas, escorted by one of Dick Taylor’s couriers, found Ewell several miles beyond Brandy Station and delivered Jackson’s then crumpled and saturated message.

     After partaking of some brandy and coffee and then some breakfast, Douglas was sent back to Culpeper Court House for a 24-hour rest in a hotel bed.

     Meanwhile, Stonewall Jackson and his army had marched to Conrads Store, where they arrived on Saturday, April 19.

     Jackson made his headquarters in widow Argabright’s home while his troops set up individual campsites stretching from Swift Run through the Argabright property.

(Written by Casey Billhimer, originally published in The Valley Banner, April 11, 2002)

 

 

Conrads Store thought strategic by Jackson

 

     On April 19, 1862, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson moved his army of 6,000 men to the vicinity of Conrads Store.

     Jackson is thought to have selected Conrads Store because he felt the area, situated between the Blue Ridge and Massanutten Mountain ranges and bordered by the South Fork of the Shenandoah, offered an easy escape route from four directions.

     As mentioned in last week’s column, Jackson made his headquarters in the home of the widow Polly Argabright, whose son Asher was a captain in the Confederate Army.

     Prior to Jackson’s arrival at Conrads Store, Union troops, under the command of General Nathaniel Banks, had been slowly pursuing Jackson up the Valley.  However, Col. Turner Ashby’s rear guard managed to hold back the Yankees.

     On Sunday, April 20, Jackson and some of his men attended an Easter service, preached by the Rev. Robert Dabney, at the Elk Run Liberty Meeting House – a three denominational house of worship located in the southeast section of present-day Elk Run Cemetery.

     While visiting with Jackson, Dabney was made a staff officer.

     At 10 p.m. on the night of April 20, Henry Dyd Douglas, the courier which Jackson had sent to deliver a message to General Ewell two nights earlier, arrived at Jackson’s headquarters.

     During the entire time Douglas had been on his dispatch delivery mission, it had not ceased to rain for even a minute.

     When Douglas reported back to Jackson, he described his brief meeting with the general as follows:  “I went into the General’s room (upper northwest bedroom) to report.  It was empty of furniture and on the hearth were some dying coals of a wood fire.”

     “He was lying on the floor upon a thin mattress, wrapped in a blanket and asleep.  I awoke him and made my report,” he continued.

     “He listened politely and then with ‘Very good.  You did get there in time.  Good night,’ he turned over to sleep and I left the room,” reported Douglas.

     With what Douglas regarded as Jackson’s “cool reception,” he felt total surprise and indignation.

     The grievous and disappointed Douglas then pulled off his rain-soaked clothing and retired to the bedroom across the hallway.

     The next morning, Jackson sent for Douglas, who found the General “alone, sitting on a campstool, gazing into the fire.”

     Jackson arose and announced to Douglas, “I want to assign you to duty as Assistant Inspector General of my staff.”  It was a promotion that immediately heald Douglas’ wounded pride.

     Soon Jackson began corresponding by letter with General Robert E. Lee and others and began meeting with important Confederate leaders, apparently hatching out an important military maneuver.

(Written by Casey Billhimer, originally published in The Valley Banner, April 18, 2002)

 

 

Conrads Store area men comprised much of the 10th Virginia Infantry, Company I

 

     Shortly after Stonewall Jackson’s April 19, 1862 arrival at the Conrads Store home of the widow Polly Argabright, where he set up his headquarters, plans were immediately put into motion for a possible military strike against Union forces that had invaded the Shenandoah Valley.

     Jackson began conferring by letter with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who had ordered that Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s division of 8,000 soldiers and Edward “Allegheny” Johnson’s small division of 2,500 men be placed under Jackson’s command.

     On Monday, April 21, Gen. Robert E. Lee began communicating with Jackson, by letter, with a suggestion of a “grand strategy with options” for Jackson to take.

     Meanwhile, Jedediah Hotchkiss, Jackson’s topographer who was headquartered with the general, was kept busy scouting the area and mapping the terrain and sites of local homes and landmarks, as he had done since his appointment to Jackson’s staff during the latter part of 1861.

     Recorded on Hotchkiss’ map, which included Elk Run Valley, was the Argabright home and residences of Confederate soldiers such as Charles Harnesberger, Hiram Miller, brothers J.G.H. Miller and S.P.H. Miller, William K. Jennings and Capt. Hiram Alexander Kite, whose sawmill was also depicted.

     Also shown were Mauck’s Mill, located on the west bank of the South Fork, Conrad Kite’s Woolen Mill, where Confederate uniforms were made and located just sough of Mauck’s Mill and Will Kite’s Tannery, which was located about two miles east of Conrads Store, where leather was tanned and fabricated into saddles and shoes, also for the Confederate Army.

     While on a reconnaissance mission in the vicinity of Swift Run Gap on Alpril 21, Hotchkiss spotted the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry toiling up the mountain from the east side en route to join Jackson’s Army of the Valley.

     The 10th Virginia Infantry’s Company I, known as the Riverton Invincibles, was comprised mostly of Conrads Store area men.  The entire regiment had been ordered earlier by Gen. Johnston to be transferred from Col. Arnold Elzey’s Brigade to Jackson’s Army.

     Once the 10th Virginia Infantry descended into the Elk Run Valley below and marched into Conrads Store, the regiment set up camp directly behind Jackson’s headquarters, along the north side of Elk Run Creek.  All the while, April showers, sometimes coming down in torrents, continued to agonize Jackson’s Army.

     The following day Jackson sent the following dispatch, written from his headquarters to an unknown Confederate officer:  Conrads Store, April 22, 1862, Dear Major, Did Maj. Paxton bring me a set of buttons for a uniform coat?  Did you receive my letter directing that all persons absent from the army without leave will be sent back in irons as deserters and requesting you to enforce the order strictly.

     Jackson’s uniform coat, referred to in the message, was at the time dark blue in color, similar to a Union jacket, however a short time later Jackson was fitted with one styled in the traditional Confederate gray.

(Written by Casey Billhimer, originally published in The Valley Banner April 25, 2002)

 

 

Stonewall Jackson left Conrads Store April 30

 

     During Stonewall Jackson’s 10-day stay at the widow Argabright’s, from April 19-30, 1862, the Confederate General continued his communications with Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

     While planning the early stages of his Valley Campaign, Jackson also met, in person, with other Confederate officers, such as Gen. Richard S. Ewell, Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, Gen. Charles S. Winder, Chief of Staff Robert L. Dabney and Lt. Col. Turner Ashby.

     Actually, General Winder set up a meeting between Jackson and Ashby at Jackson’s headquarters after Ashby threatened to resign his command as head of 21 of Jackson’s cavalry units.

     The dispute was due to Jackson’s accusation that Ashby failed to discipline his men and imposed order that 11 companies of Ashby’s Cavalry report to Brig. Gen. William Taliaferro camped at Conrads Store and the remaining 10 companies be placed under Winder’s command.

     Ashby, angered by Jackson’s order, was “given the responsibility” of commanding the rear guard and advance troops with the limited authority of calling for portions of his former command as was deemed necessary.

     While Ashby met with Jackson in the dining room of Mrs. Argabright’s, differences were ironed out between the two officers and, after two hours of talks, Ashby was reinstated as cavalry commander.

     A number of notable events took place during Jackson’s army’s encampment in the area of Conrads Store.

     A General Shands was killed near Mauck’s Mill by the accidental discharge of a firearm.  Nearby, five Confederate deserters were captured by a squad of Ashby’s men and “put in irons.”  It was believed that after a court martial they would surely be shot.

     About midway through Jackson’s stay, a flash flood rolled out of the Blue Ridge, washing out a number of campsites situated along Elk Run Creek and soaking scores of soldiers who, already miserable due to inclimate conditions, also lost some of their possessions.  Snow flurries were also reported one day.

     A squad of Jackson’s men reportedly had a skirmish with a group of draft resistors, who had formed a so called militia, north east of Conrads Store in an area later referred to as Whippoorwill Park.

     One militia member was killed and others captured.

     On the morning of April 28, a cavalry skirmish took place at McGaheysville between Jackson’s rear guard and Union General Hatch’s advance guard.

     After the encounter, the Confederate Cavalry retreated to within two miles of Miller’s bridge, which spanned the South Fork near Mauchk’s Mill.

     During the early morning of April 30, the “long roll” was sounded as Jackson’s army began departing from Conrads Store, heading south along a muddy road towards Port Republic.

     Shortly thereafter, Ewell’s troops crossed through Swift Run Gap and occupied the abandoned but still burning campsites of Jackson’s Army.  This maneuver led the Union army to believe Jackson’s forces still remaned at Conrads Store.

     After crossing Brown’s Gap east of Port Republic, Jackson’s army marched a round about route to McDowell in Highland County, where, on May 8, Jackson notched the first victory of his famous Valley Campaign.

     Less than a month later, on June 6, Ashby, who had been promoted to General, was killed near Harrisonburg during a skirmish.

     Ewell was later wounded, losing a leg, but resumed his command after months of recovery.  Taliaferro, mentioned earlier was also wounded, though not seriously.

     Within the next year, Jackson and Winder met the same fate as Ashby, falling as casualties of the War Between the States.

(Written by Casey Billhimer, originally published in The Valley Banner, May 2, 2002)