Name: John Hanson McNeill
Birth: 12 JUN 1815 in Hardy Co., Virginia, USA
Death: 10 NOV 1864 in Harrisonburg, Rockingham Co., Virginia, USA
Burial: Moorefield, Hardy Co., Virginia, USA
Change Date: 7 NOV 2009
McNEILL AND HIS RANGERS (Evans, General Clement A. Ed. ; Confederate Military History Vol III p 116, Confederate Publi shing Co, Atlanta, 1899):
CAPT. JOHN HANSON McNEILL, whose name was one of the most famous in the Upper Potomac region during the war, was born i n the vicinity of Moorefield, Hardy County, in 1815. The family was established in the valley of the South Branch by hi s grandfather, Daniel McNeill, who immigrated from Pennsylvania about the close of the Indian border war in Virginia.
In January, 1837, he married Jemima Harness Cunningham, and a year later moved to the vicinity of Paris, Ky., where h e resided for the next six years, occupying himself with stock-raising, and becoming a Knight Templar in the Masonic or der. He then, due to his wife's health, spent four years in his native State, after which he moved to Boone County, Mo . While there he was active in the organization of agricultural associations, and was prominent in their meetings. Afte r six years in Boone, he settled in Daviess County, his home at the beginning of trouble in 1861. In this county he wa s a local minister of the Methodist church. In politics he was an ardent "Union man," opposed to war, but in case ther e should be war, determined to fight for the South.
He raised a company of cavalry under Governor Jackson's call for volunteers to defend the State, and being mustered int o service with his men June 14, 1861, joined the command of General Slack, which, after a skirmish with Lyon at Boonevi lle, made a junction with Jackson and fought the battle of Carthage, July 5th. After the defeat of the enemy Captain Mc Neill harassed their rear, taking several prisoners and making the first capture of a baggage wagon in Missouri. He pa rticipated in the fierce battle of Wilson's Creek, and, after the repulse of Sigel, aided in dispersing a column of th e retreating enemy, capturing so prisoners and one cannon.
In September he took part in the famous siege of Lexington, and was severely wounded in the right shoulder just as th e capitulation was announced. Here also he suffered the loss of his second son, George McNeill, who had been fighting w ith him, and in the first attack upon Lexington had earned the plaudits of his comrades by planting the Confederate fla g in the city, amid a storm of shot and shell. A few days afterward the boy was shot dead while on picket duty. The pe riod of enlistment of McNeill's company expired in December, and he returned to Boone County to raise another command , and while there he and his son Jesse were captured. After spending a few days in a jail at St. Louis, Jesse escaped a nd traveled safely through the Northern States to Hardy County. On June 15th Captain McNeill also escaped, and not lon g afterward was welcomed by the friends of his boyhood.
His home country he found ravaged by the Federal scouting parties, one of which drove him from his resting place a fe w days after his arrival, and he at once determined to raise a body of men to protect this section of Virginia. Going t o Richmond in June, 1862, he obtained permission, after much persuasion, to organize a troop to defend the South Branc h valley, and on September 1st he began to collect his men.
A fortnight later with 20 men he made a reconnaissance toward New Creek, captured several pickets, and at Ridgeville se ized a member of the West Virginia legislature. One of the fruits of the expedition was the famous road mare which McNe ill rode there after. Evading the Federal cavalry which pursued, the men reached Petersburg and organized, electing McN eill captain.
Soon afterward he was ordered to join Colonel Imboden at Bloomery, and en route he attempted to ambuscade a party of Fe deral cavalry near Romney. It happened that he took position between two bodies of the enemy, and one of his men remark ed: "We are cut off," to which McNeill replied, with the instinct of a true soldier: "So are they." His confidence wa s rewarded by the capture of a considerable number of the enemy.
Early in October, when Imboden attempted to destroy the trestle work of the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, McNeill was sen t toward Romney with about 30 men, with which he gallantly defeated a Federal detachment of 60, taking prisoner a capta in and several others. Imboden's next move was against Paw Paw tunnel, and McNeill's rangers, in advance, surprised an d drove the Federal garrison from the fortifications intended to protect this important point on the railroad.
Subsequently the command was busied with scouting duty, varied with occasional forays against the "Swamp Dragons," band itti who infested the mountain fastnesses and committed outrages, which they expiated with instant death when captured.
In November they played an important part in Imboden's unsuccessful expedition toward Cheat River bridge, and early i n December, hearing that Milroy with 4,500 men was moving past Moorefield toward Winchester, McNeill attacked the wago n train while moving between the two divisions of the enemy, and captured 50 horses and a number of prisoners, losing b ut one man who was wounded by the discharge of his own gun.
While with W. E. Jones in an expedition toward Romney in January, the Rangers again surprised a wagon train at the sit e of their previous adventure, and were again successful, burning the wagons and capturing 51 horses and 23 prisoners . In January, Imboden's force was mustered into the regular service, and half of McNeill's men were transferred to Capt ain Scott's company, Imboden's battalion. The remainder, only 17 in number, gladly followed their captain back to the S outh Branch valley. Their number was increased to 27, and soon afterward they gave notice of their presence by suddenl y descending upon a wagon train, which a Federal party had loaded with hay at the expense of the inhabitants and were l eisurely hauling into Moorefield. The daring troopers dispersed the guard of 150 men, capturing 71 prisoners and 106 ho rses, and burned the train, and then safely conveyed their prizes to the Shenandoah Valley. This exploit was announce d in general orders to the army by General Lee as one of "the series of successes of the cavalry of Northern Virginia d uring the winter months."
Near Harrisonburg the company was recruited to 60 men, and John H. McNeill was elected captain, Jesse McNeill first lie utenant, J. S. Welton second, and B. J. Dolan junior second lieutenant. Early in March, with the commendation of Genera l Imboden, Captain McNeill applied to the secretary of war for authority to take 600 men and destroy the trestle work a nd Cheat River Bridge. This was readily granted, Secretary Seddon in his letter to Gen. Sam Jones referring to McNeil l as "a very brave and enterprising partisan officer."
Gen. W. E. Jones, however, did not approve the plan. But he granted McNeill a few companies for another expedition to t he northwestern grade. With these companies, Harness', Heiss', and Kuykendall's, of the Eleventh cavalry, and Captain S tump's of the Eighteenth cavalry, McNeill started out and captured another wagon train. Kuykendall's company and a deta chment under Lieutenant McNeill were ambuscaded, but escaped with slight losses.
McNeill and his men rendered valuable services during Jones' successful expedition against the Baltimore & Ohio railroa d in April, 1863, and continued in their adventurous duties, capturing in June one of Milroy's trains between Berryvill e and Winchester, until General Ewell entered the valley, en route to Pennsylvania, when the command reported to Ewell . They participated in the defeat of Milroy, and pursuing his command captured many prisoners and wrought great destruc tion on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad.
In Pennsylvania they collected supplies for the army, and assisted in scouting duty. On the retreat the Rangers were wi th Imboden guarding the trains, and were distinguished for gallantry in battle on the occasion when Imboden's brigade o f 1,600 repulsed the assault of a division of Federal cavalry. On other occasions previous to the withdrawal of Lee acr oss the Potomac, McNeill and his men abundantly demonstrated their soldierly qualities in frequent cavalry encounters.
Returning to the South Branch in August, the Rangers performed one of their most famous feats in making a night attac k upon a column of Averell's cavalry, which was carrying away a number of citizens, utterly routing the enemy, and rest oring the prisoners to liberty. They were with Imboden during Averell's raid, and subsequently the Rangers, with 40 me n under Capts. Frank Imboden and Hobson successfully surprised the Federal camp of Woodmen at Moorefield, on the mornin g of September 10th, driving the enemy from the town and capturing 150 prisoners, 11 wagons, 40 horses, 250 guns, and t he supplies and equippage of the camp.
To secure their safe retreat Lieutenant Dolan drove away a Federal battery which had opened from a ridge across the riv er. Then joining Imboden in the valley, the Rangers participated in the attack upon Charlestown, October 18th, and Capt ain McNeill, under a flag of truce, entered the town and presented the demand for surrender, which was complied with.
Returning to the South Branch valley in November, the Rangers, now 80 men, were reinforced by go from Imboden's brigade . On the 16th they ambushed a train at the mountain pass near Burlington, and captured 30 prisoners and 245 horses, esc aping afterward by unfrequented mountain paths. They skirmished with the rear of a Federal expedition down the valley ; then assisted Gen. Fitzhugh Lee in his foraging expedition; and in January, in addition to other exploits, defeated t he Ringgold battalion sent out to effect their capture.
In April they made a raid against the Swamp Dragons and succeeded in destroying much of their stores of plunder, but o n the return were ambuscaded by the desperadoes in a deep and narrow gap of Fork Mountain. A fierce fight followed, i n which the Rangers were so fortunate as to escape without loss and inflict severe punishment upon their enemy.
In May, 1864, when Crook and Averell were raiding in southwestern Virginia, McNeill advanced against Piedmont, on the B altimore & Ohio railroad. While he with 40 men demanded and received the surrender of the garrison at that place, two d etachments of ten each were sent to the east and west to cut off communications. One of these squads, under John T. Pee rce, stopped a train at Bloomington, and found it full of Federal soldiers. With supreme assurance Peerce demanded thei r surrender, and fortunately the colonel agreed to capitulate, as he did not have a round of ammunition with him. By fi ring the machine shops, engine-houses and buildings, and turning loose the locomotives, McNeill caused a damage estimat ed at $1,000,000 to the United States government.
Having accomplished so much with almost incredible daring, he left the town under fire of Artillery hastily brought up , and escaped with a cunning equally wonderful the forces sent out to intercept him, reaching Moorefield in safety, aft er an absence of only five days. Not long after this the Rangers suffered from the enemy adopting their own tactics, be ing surprised in camp, and two men, John B. Fay and Samuel Daugherty, captured. But McNeill's men would not rest unde r such a misfortune, and ten, with the fleetest mounts, under Lieutenant Dolan, hurried in pursuit. Coming up with th e rear guard, they dashed into the Federals, and not only rescued their own comrades but made prisoners of the men wh o were guarding them.
After the battle of New Market, McNeill went to the Shenandoah valley, scouted before Hunter previous to the latter's a dvance, then annoyed his rear guard, and when the flank movement was being made against Jones, cut his way through a Fe deral regiment and apprised the Confederate commander of his danger.
While the captain was absent on this duty, a detachment under Lieutenants McNeill and Dolan remained near Moorefield, s everely punished a raiding party sent against them in June, and about the 18th attacked their mortal enemies, the Swam p Dragons, who were escorting a train of provisions furnished them by the Federals. The fight that resulted was a hot o ne, and Lieutenant Dolan was mortally wounded. This officer was a native of Ireland and a citizen of Wheeling, and a ma n of remarkable bravery.
The "old captain" now rejoined his men, and a few weeks later they rode into a camp of 300 Federals at Springfield, an d captured 80 prisoners and 145 horses. He had with him 70 men. He learned from his prisoners that they were a part o f a picked body sent out by General Kelley against McNeill, with orders to kill, capture or drive him from the valley.
The horses taken enabled him to remount not only his own men but a company of Missourians under Captain Woodson, who ha d been permitted to join him. The 4th of July, 1864, he celebrated by driving the Federal garrison from Patterson Cree k station and burning the railroad bridge.
Immediately after this the Rangers joined General Early's expedition through Maryland to Washington, and were under th e orders of the general as scouts. In the cavalry fight at Frederick they resisted the onset of the enemy until McCausl and came up, and at Urbana they again checked the pursuit. Subsequently they were active in scouting and collecting sup plies in their region, until after the battle of Winchester between Early and Sheridan, when the band went into the val ley to assist the defeated Confederates. In this service Captain McNeill came to his death.
One foggy morning in October, 1864, while leading a charge on a cavalry camp on Meems bottom, at a bridge over the Shen andoah, near Mount Jackson, far in advance of his troop, he was mortally wounded by a shot from the rear. This is belie ved to have been accidental, though it has been charged that the shot was from a recent recruit, and in revenge for som e incident of company life. The famous captain died at Harrisonburg a few weeks later.
SEE Notes for son Jesse Cunningham McNeill for subsequent history of McNeill's Rangers.
Meadows, The ** (added 1986 - Building - #86000777)
US 220, Moorefield
Historic Significance: Person, Architecture/Engineering
Architect, builder, or engineer: Unknown
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Historic Person: McNeill,Capt. John Hanson
Significant Year: 1850
Area of Significance: Architecture, Military
Period of Significance: 1850-1874
Historic Function: Domestic
Historic Sub-function: Secondary Structure, Single Dwelling
Current Function: Domestic
Current Sub-function: Multiple Dwelling, Secondary Structure
Father: Strother McNeill b: 22 JUN 1773
Mother: Amy Pugh
Jemima Harness Cunningham b: 8 MAR 1819
19 JAN 1837
in Hardy Co., Virginia, USA
- William Strother McNeill b: 11 NOV 1837 in Hardy Co., Virginia, USA
- George W. McNeill b: 26 OCT 1839 in Bourbon Co., Kentucky, USA
- Jesse Cunningham McNeill b: 22 SEP 1841 in Bourbon Co., Kentucky, USA
- William McNeill b: 18 MAR 1843 in Bourbon Co., Kentucky, USA
- Sarah Emily McNeill b: 18 JUL 1844
- John Hanson McNeill b: 7 OCT 1859