The Burning Raid from a Union 7th Michigan Cavalry point of view

Sargeant Edwin R. Havens, 1863, shown with permission from Michigan State University Archives and History “Edwin R. Havens Papers.”

The Civil War “Burning Raid” was carried out over five days, during the end of November/beginning of December 1864. Farms, mills, and barns in Fauquier and Loudoun County were targetted. Several Union cavalry brigades were involved in the Raid; one brigade included the Michigan 7th Cavalry Regiment. Sargeant Edwin R. Havens was in the 7th Michigan Cavalry. He wrote a letter home which revealed a lot about what that period of time was like for victims of the Federal raid – victims which included Loudoun County Quakers. But Havens letter also gives insight into what that experience was like for the Union men responsible for carrying it out, plus we learn some of the 7th Michigan’s day by day operations in northern Virginia, including a wild free for all chase of Mosby rebels.

The Burning Raid was a Union operation to destroy vital food and forage relied on by Confederate John S. Mosby’s 43rd Battalion “guerillas.” It succeeded in drying up civilians’ forage and food, but didn’t stop Mosby’s 43rd Battalion from continuing their guerilla activity which continued up to the April 1865 war’s end.

“Nest of Abolitionists” has several accounts of the autumn 1864 Burning Raid. Lincoln area Quakers, as well as hundreds of other farmers, lost livestock, crops, barns or mills to the Union policy. Carolyn Taylor’s account of the devastating raid is found here. John Singleton Mosby’s 43rd Virginia Cavalry Battalion also played a prominent role in how Quakers experienced the Civil War. Some of Mosby’s exploits are mentioned here.

From letters and memoirs, it is apparent some Union men ordered to carry out the Burning Raid felt conflicted by the order, even though they agreed with it in principle. They were on the front line, confronted by emotional and angry and distressed Southern citizens who were losing their property and livelihoods. Havens’ letter transcribed below is from the collection of  “Edwin R. Havens Papers,” at Michigan State University and Archives, Conrad Hall, Lansing, Michigan. The letter was kindly brought to my attention by Civil War historian Bob O’Neill, author and blogger at https://smallbutimportantriots.com A scan of Havens’ original letter may be seen here.


Camp 7th Michigan Cavalry

                                                                                    Near Kernstown Va

Dear Nell,

                        I arrived in camp yesterday morning tired, hungry and almost down sick after a raid of five days in duration, and was wondering what I should find to comfort me when yours of Nov. 23rd was handed me from which I derived a vast amount of consolation. I was glad to hear from home and for a time forget [sic] the scenes I had just passed through in coming over in my mind the thoughts of how friends at home were passing time away. But bout the raid of which I have spoken: We started from our present camp at an early hour on Monday morning last and joined that portion of our regiment that was on picket some five miles from camp, and then followed the division on toward Ashby’s Gap by way of White Post. The expedition consisted of the 1st & 2nd Brig. 6th – and a few ambulances and a pack train. We crossed the Shenandoah river at Berry’s Ford near the mouth of Ashby’s Gap and proceeded through the Gap to Paris at the foot of the mountains on the other side.

In or near Paris a few guerrillas were captured and here the division halted for a short time. Our brigade was then put in the advance and the work for which we had come began. Orders were given to burn every barn, haystack, corncrib or anything which contained supplies of forage or subsistence for troops, excepting dwelling houses, and drive of [sic] all stock or whatever description they could find. The 25th N.Y. Cavalry of our brigade was detailed for this work and ere long we could see the flames rising from every hand. The boys loaded themselves with turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, flour, bacon, apples and everything they could lay hands on In this way we marched to Upperville burning everything that was not inhabited driving in a large drove of stock and capturing several bushwhackers.

At Upperville we halted for the night and camped but a short distance from the house of Capt. Delany’s near where we camped in July of last year. Next morning the division was separated, our brigade taking nothing but those men fir for duty leaving behind pack trains and everything likely to impede a rapid march struck across the country towards Salem [Marshall] and Thoroughfare Gap. While the other brigade guarding all the stock, trains, & c. went toward Snickersville [Bluemont]. The 5th Mich. was detailed as destroying Angels and burned everything in their way until we reached Rectortown where the brigade was again divided the 7th & 5th going to Salem the rest going toward White Plaine [The Plains].

Soon after leaving Rectortown I was ordered to take ten men and go ahead as advanced guard. On coming in sight of Salem several Grey Jackets [Confederates] were seen skedaddling from the town and after passing the town a squad of twelve or fifteen of them were seen some half a mile from town quietly watching us, while two others apparently an officer and his orderly were closer and cooly [sic] riding around not appearing to notice us. We were not going to pick a fuss with them but were very well satisfied in driving off their stock and burning their supplies. By the time the entire valley was full of smoke from the buildings we had burned.

Leaving Salem we took the road towards Middleburgh where we were to meet the rest of the brigade. On coming in sight of Middleburgh the advance of the 1st Mich. was fired upon by a few guerillas who scampered away towards the mountains where another squad of our men came up. Middleburgh is one of the pleasantest little villages I have seen in Virginia and was once the metropolis of Loudon [sic] Valley; It contains two very nice hotels, three or four churches, several stores, and many rich dwelling houses. I do not think it was very extensively engaged in any manufacturing enterprises but, was like nearly all other towns in Eastern Va the home of many wealthy and influential citizens of the “Old Dominion.”

Leaving Middleburgh we took a road leading to Snickersville via Union [Unison] which we followed some four miles to New Lisbon a town of half a dozen. Corn cribs and half as many dwelling and then struck across the fields to a small town called Philomount [sic] where we settled for the night – our regt [regiment] going on picket. The next morning we started early and marched towards Snickersville where we arrived about noon and found the rest of the division there the Regular Brigade having come from Charlestown via Snickers Gap. We went into camp. Killed a lot of sheep, foraged a lot of corn and hay and various other articles and made ourselves generally merry and comfortable.

The next day our brigade saddled up early and the 6th Mich. and 25th N.Y. were sent one along the top of the mountains to the left of the Gap. The other at the foot going in the same direction. While the 5th and 7th were started off for Middleburgh again to finish the work of destruction in the country between the paths travelled over before. We followed no beaten path but taking a course kept it across fields, thorough forests and lanes Till we reached Union, where we drove out several guerrillas, burned several barns and “went through” several houses. We kept quietly on our course leaving a path of flame and smoke behind us until we struck the pike leading into Middleburgh from Paris about two miles from Middleburgh.

There a squad of our men in advance of the column were attacked by 12 or 15 guerrillas and two men wounded and one captured died then we had quite an exciting chase but did not succeed in capturing anything but one horse. From a Negro we learned that the Confederate government had a large drove of hogs on Goose Creek nearby which Moseby’s [sic] men I had been engaged in buying up and herding here to be killed for the army. Of course we could do no better than to “go for them” and accordingly we “went”.

We found them hidden in a little nook surrounded by hills and woods on the bank of a beautiful little stream and drove off what we could. They were estimated to number 2000 and were most excellent ones. Many of them were so fat that we could not drive them and they were shot as our orders were to destroy them. We drove them to Snickersville that night reaching camp about 11 O’clock. I presume that we killed over a hundred of the very best of the hogs as they could not keep up. We were told that the Secesh government paid $7.25 per hundred pounds live weight for them in gold or $20.00 in Confederate –

Moseby’s men had that morning driven in about 150 only a few hours before we gobbled them. The next morning our regt [regiment] was detailed to drive stock and accordingly found ourselves headed for home. We had a droved composed I estimated of 600 head of cattle, 1000 head of sheep and what remained of the hogs, numbering perhaps 1600 head. All went well enough until we reached the river on this side of the mountains over which it was almost impossible to get the hogs and sheep. Many of both were drowned and the greater part of the sheep that we secceeded [sic] in getting over were carried over on the horses. Those that could not be driven or carried across were shot and it sounded like pretty heavy skirmishing for an hour while they were killing them.  I presume some 200 or three hundred hogs and sheep were killed there. We were relieved from driving by the 25th N.Y. and joined the column.

We continued our march towards Berryville which place we reached about 3 o’clock p.m. Here we halted while Col. Stagg got his dinner and thus let the advance of the column with the stock get a mile or more ahead of us. Berryville is like most of the other Valley towns small but people by apparently wealthy persons and built in a style of comparative beauty. I noticed a steam saw mill there, the first I have seen in a long time. Soon after leaving Berryville we started on a trot and began to think something was up. Someone spoke of guerrillas and we saw horsemen flying up the road at a great speed. Soon our regiment swung off the pike into an open field and formed lines when just across the field we saw four Johnnies going down the – at full speed followed by six or eight of our boys and receiving the order to “go for them” the regt broke and each man going on his own hook lit out. Soon 11 regt. Behind us started, then the next and soon the whole brigade was engaged in the chase. The Regular brigade was just coming out of Berryville and they, too, soon took up the Pursuit and it was really laughable to see two large brigades chasing four men. We succeeded in capturing three of them. We halted that night some seven or eight miles from Winchester and reached camp about 10 A.M. yesterday.

The result of this raid has I think been good. We have destroyed a great depot of supplies for Early’s army as all this stock and subsistence could be very easily got to them by means of Moseby’s gang who will now be forced to seek some new haunts, for a time at least. We burned a large number of flour mills all well filled with flour, the barns and storehouses were will filled with wheat, corn, hay and other kinds of forage. I do not know whether any restrictions were laid on foraging from the houses but I do know that the boys took every fowl, piece of bacon, dishes, knives or anything they took a fancy to at every house they passed. I went into one house that they had quitted and if it is ever my fortune to have a house I don’t want the “Michigan Brigade” to go through it. I couldn’t find anything there that was wanted in housekeeping.

We lived fat I can assure you and as it was most beautiful weather and no rebels to trouble us we enjoyed the raid well. It surprised us very much to find that Moseby did not get his outlaws together and attempt to molest us. We could see them watching us in squads of from three to five or more gathered on hills in front, rear and on both flanks but they did not attempt to surprise us our pickets at night or molest us much during the day. One or two boys in our company had rather narrow escapes from them several times. At one time three men of our rear guard turned upon eight guerrillas who were following them and who fled as soon as our boys turned back. So it was in all cases where our men showed any fight. I would have hated to have been taken prisoner at any time last week by any of Moseby’s gang for death must surely be the fate of one so unfortunate as to fall into their clutches.

Confederate soldiers
John Singleton Mosby, center, shown with some of his 43rd Battalion Partisan Rangers. Hundreds of men rode in Mosby’s 43rd Battalion, causing havoc for Federal troops in northern Virginia. Photograph courtesy of Mosby Heritage Area Association.

Besides the stock spoken of above from three to five hundred horses were captured many of them of excellent stock. Cattle, horses, sheep and hogs were all of the best of blood and showed that great pains had been taken by the people to have their stock compete with that of any part of the United States.

Today a detail from the regt. went on picket to be gone two or three days. We are highly elated with the news from Sherman and heartily wish him continued success in his enterprise. He is the right man in the right place and his name like that of Sheridan and Grant in the harbinger of success. I think the prospects are brightening and that we may confidently expect the end to come very soon.

I am glad to hear that our folks have at last made up their minds that they can leave home long enough to make their relations a visit. I receive letters from Minnesota and Pennsylvania quite often. If Aunt Mary has written to me since I last wrote then I have never received the letter I wrote to her about the time I came back to the company and have received no letter in reply. I had a letter from – and Melinda a few days before we started on the raid in which Melinda said she was quite unwell.

I’d like to have been there and made the acquaintance of that person you spoke of that day but what’s the use of talking I can’t do it. I’d like to have a few words with you in private concerning somethings as I must confess I’m a little puzzled by your letters. I’ve no doubt they are all right and that you are having lots of fun so go on. I have just received a letter from John Jarvis written the 26th of November and think he must be having fine times. My best wishes for all enquiring friends and good wishes for the speedy recovery of – Poor fellow. Soldiering in the Southwest is harder than Va.

Write again soon and believe me as ever Your aff. Brother Edwin Havens.

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