Monday, June 25, 2018

Following along with McNeill's Rangers

   As many of you know, I've been reading a great deal about Confederate cavalry in the east in preparation for my own history of the 39th Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Recently, I picked up Steve French's Phantoms of the South Fork. French's work covers the partisan war in the lower Shenandoah Valley and in Hardy County, and surrounding counties in West Virginia. McNeill's Rangers were originally under the command of John H. McNeill, until his mortal wounding in November 1864. Command then passed to his son, Jesse McNeill, who held sway until the end of the war.

   McNeill's Rangers was only one of two partisan bands to escape the purge by the Confederate government in February 1864. Mosby's Rangers was the other group that survived. The authorities believed that partisan groups caused more damage than good and rolled many of them into regular regiments, much to their chagrin. In many cases, the partisan war was personal: soldiers were literally fighting in and around their own homes, and at times, were fighting their own neighbors. Their most effective work was to ambush supply trains destined for far-flung Federal outposts, depriving Federal soldiers of supplies. At other times, they waylaid small detachments of cavalry soldiers and, later in the war, trains. Often, the partisan groups would rob civilians as well. The comparisons to some of my own work with the partisan war in the mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee are uncanny, although the Federal and Confederate actions were more organized in the area where McNeill's men were fighting.

   Quite possibly, the most famous episode for McNeill's Rangers was the night in February 1865 when the Rangers stole into Cumberland, Maryland, and captured Maj. Gen. George Cook and Brig. Gen. Benjamin Kelly.

   Overall, the book is a good read, although at times I had trouble keeping up with names. The FPhantoms of the South Fork is a good addition to your library.
ederal forces in the area trying to combat McNeill and other partisan groups changed frequently. It could also use better maps. French's research is impressive. If you are interested in books about fringe Confederate units,

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