Civil War footnote stories focus of new book; discussion set
Posted: February 19, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — The battles and generals of the Civil War are immortalized in books, exhibits and artwork.
Meanwhile, there are stories from the war that would be considered footnotes in the grand scheme of things.
Author Steve French explores a few of those regional histories in his new book, “Rebel Chronicles: Raiders, Scouts, and Train Robbers of the Upper Potomac.”
“Most of the stories were in the background during the war,” said French of Hedgesville, W.Va. “They don’t involve any big battles. It is more of what is going on in the local area.”
French will offer a discussion of the men he researched as well as a reading of excerpts in a lecture at 2 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Handley Library, 100 W. Piccadilly St. The event is free and open to the public. The book is $22.95.
The event is co-sponsored by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society and the Friends of Handley Library.
One of the missions of the historical society is to promote local history, and one way to do that is to expose the community to events like this, said Cissy Shull, executive director of the historical society.
“It is an opportunity for people to take in different parts of the history,” she said. “Winchester is very fortunate to have such a wide range of time periods that we can cover.”
The book highlights the stories of several men who were “fairly famous” in their time, French said, and he “wanted to bring those people back to life.”
Redmond Burke was a former Irish immigrant living in Harpers Ferry when he joined the Confederate Army as a scout for Col. Jeb Stuart. Over several chapters, the author explores Burke’s missions, his capture by and escape from the Union Army, and his eventual death in November 1862.
Burke commanded a small group of scouts that, beside his three sons and a handful of other young rebels, included the “soon to be notorious Andrew Leopold,” a one-time resident of Sharpsburg. Leopold was captured in the skirmish that killed Burke and then later exchanged.
In March 1863, Leopold was the instigator of two shooting incidents, and the next month, he was captured six miles east of Berryville, jailed in Winchester, and then sent to Fort McHenry. He was later tried and found guilty of murder and being a guerrilla and executed.
In a section on raiders, French gives an in-depth account of the Oct. 4, 1862, raids by Col. John D. Imboden’s Virginia Partisan Rangers on Union camps at Little Cacapon and Paw Paw, important military posts along the B&O Railroad.
The book ends with three separate stories about train robberies that occurred in the area during the Civil War, French said.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 14, 1864, Col. John S. Mosby and 84 of his partisan rangers wrecked and then boarded the B&O Express West a short distance west of Brown’s Crossing. During the next 45 minutes, the rangers robbed the passengers, discovered a Union payroll of $173,000, and then burned the train.
“I wanted someone to read the book and say I have heard about this guy but I never knew much about him,” French said. “Or I have heard about this train robbery, but I didn’t know much about it.”
Although French was interested in the Civil War when he was younger, he became really enthralled in the 1990s. He started researching what would become the book about 15 years ago and began writing in 2009. Much of the research comes from sources out of the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and period newspaper articles about the events.
The book contains maps from the Library of Congress, period photos and photos French took of various significant places.
French is also the author of “Imboden’s Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign,” winner of the 2008 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award and the 2008 Civil War Round Table Book Award. He teaches West Virginia history at Martinsburg South Middle School.
Author Steve French will speak about his book, “Rebel Chronicles: Raiders, Scouts, and Train Robbers of the Upper Potomac” at 2 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Handley Library, 100 W. Piccadilly St. The event is free and open to the public. The book is $22.95. For more information, call the library at 540-662-9041.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org