Thursday, January 9, 2014

(Almost) 149th Anniversary of McNeill's Rangers' Raid on Cumberland (Story Told in Pictures!)

Sometimes things happen in war that are so gutsy that people on all sides tip their hat.

One such event was McNeill's Rangers' raid on Cumberland, one of the most daring of its kind in American military history.

By winter of 1865, the Confederacy was about to throw in the towel.  Ulysses S. Grant's army slowly constricted around Robert E. Lee at Petersburg.  But a number of Confederate groups remained free.

Like the partisan ranger unit commanded by Lieutenant Jesse McNeill

This unit specialized in causing mischief around Hampshire and Hardy counties.  Lee had one general order, though.  Go steal a lot of these as much as possible.

But in February of 1865, Jesse and his compadres had a different idea.  Pull a crazy stunt that would resound in the annals of war.  Kidnap three of the enemy's general officers.

They moved north from their bases near Moorefield, crossed the shallow and not very broad Potomac and went into the Maryland city of Cumberland

In Cumberland they aimed to kidnap three generals.  Two were staying at a swank hotel in town.

They got captured.

The third believed in sharing the privations of his troops, even in the bitter cold of a mountain winter.  He smartly slept in a freezing tent surrounded by thousands of freezing soldiers.  Safe and sound.

Maybe that's why Rutherford B. Hayes ended up president!

The other two ended up captured.

One was this man

He looked just as perturbed the whole time he was in captivity.  Brigadier General Benjamin Kelley was not a man who enjoyed a good prank.  Maybe because a wound he suffered early in the war never healed and ended up incapacitating him in the 1870s.

The other was this feller

US Army historians consider George Crook to be one of the best small war commanders in American military history.  He knew how to wage war in mountains, hollows, forests, and remote lands.  Crook treated enemies, both Confederate and Indian, fairly, but always fought hard.

Crook delighted his captors by congratulating them on a job well done and joining their gentle mocking of the scowling Kelley.

Getting the generals out was no easy task.  Mountain winters look like this

Although the capture was a humiliation for the Union, especially General Kelley, it produced no lasting effect.  It did not get Grant away from Richmond and it did not net Lee anymore beef.

But it did leave lasting memories of daring and bravado remembered in the Potomac Highlands down to today.

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