The Mystery Gun at Upperville

I would first like to thank everyone who has purchased a copy of Small but Important Riots, and I also thank those readers who have passed along their thoughts regarding the new book. Many professional reviewers hesitate to offer an in-depth review of the book, as they see it as a simple revised edition. Beyond the thirty years between editions, I dedicated the last nine years to completely re-writing the book. I think I am being fair in stating that beyond the subject matter, the two books bear no resemblance to each other. Thus, I would appreciate online reviews from any readers willing to do so.

I also want to mention that the PayPal option is up and working. Should you wish to purchase a copy via PayPal, you may do so by using the Buy My Book tab at the top of the page.

This month I am including another short appendix that did not appear in the book.

An unsolved mystery from the June 21 fight at Upperville concerns Stuart’s artillery; specifically, did Stuart retain any cannon to support his cavalry on the eastern outskirts of the town?  The contemporary evidence that he did not employ any of his horse artillery at Vineyard Hill, while not overwhelming, seems conclusive. Concerning the retreat from Goose Creek Bridge, Lewis Nunnelee, a member of Capt. Marcellus Moorman’s Battery, explained, “The enemy was pressing us so hard we could not take another position and had to fall back in disorder. Passed through Upperville and soon reached the village of Paris at Ashby’s Gap…” Brig. Gen. David Gregg concurred, stating, “At Upperville the enemy had massed his cavalry, his artillery having been placed in position at Ashby’s Gap.”[1]

But then, in describing the fighting along the eastern edge of Upperville, Gregg spoke of “an abandoned gun found in the street.” Gregg had more reason than others to recall the presence of artillery during the fight east of town, as his horse had been disemboweled by a solid shot or a piece of shrapnel during the fighting around Vineyard Hill.  Several men, including Henry Meyer, 2nd New York and assigned to Gregg’s staff at the time, witnessed the incident. Another of the general’s aides recalled how “the enemy’s shells whizzed through our ranks, one of them killing General Gregg’s horse under him, and others doing worse damage.” Correspondent Edward Paul believed the general’s horse had been hit “by a round shot.”[2]

Akin to losing or capturing a flag in battle, seizing, or losing a cannon resonated with soldiers long after the event. Though an unpleasant fact, General Stuart, Capt. James Hart, and others freely admitted the loss of Hart’s gun earlier in the day, but no Southern accounts mention the loss of a second gun, whereas numerous Union soldiers cite a second captured cannon. Others describe coming under artillery fire at Vineyard Hill.[3]

Captain George Cram, 6th U. S., said his men “charged up to the enemy, under a harassing artillery fire.” Capt. Julius Mason, 5th U.S. described “lively shelling from the enemy’s artillery,” which killed two horses. His account is difficult to place on the field with certainty but refers to the very end of the battle, when Southern guns posted on the heights around Paris opened on the Union pursuit.[4]

Enemy flags, taken in battle, were, generally, sent back to the War Department as trophies. Cannon captured in battle faced a similar accounting. Capt. William Fuller, who claimed for his battery the honor of seizing Hart’s gun earlier in the day, described the gun in some detail as a “iron rifled gun (Blakely’s patent) …. stamped with the date 1862, and was made in Liverpool, England.” Rightly proud of having forced the enemy to abandon the gun, Fuller turned the weapon over “to the quartermaster at Fairfax Station for transportation to Washington, D.C., as a trophy.” Descriptions of the second gun are less specific.[5]

Once Congress authorized the Medal of Honor in 1862, soldiers routinely received the medal for capturing an enemy flag. But unlike the capture of a flag, which usually occurred in single combat, no one man could seize an enemy cannon. Captain Fuller had claimed the honor of capturing Hart’s gun for his battery collectively, as the fire from his guns had forced Hart to abandon the piece. Credit for capturing the mysterious second gun in Upperville probably belongs to the 1st Maine but men from the 6th Ohio, 2nd New York, and 4th Pennsylvania might also have claimed the honor. Typically, Medals of Honor presented during the war often had little supporting documentation, as a statement from an officer on behalf of the soldier involved usually sufficed. Medals awarded postwar, however, needed supporting documentation and often provide information lost with wartime presentations. The nature of the combat around the gun, as well as the speed of the Union pursuit through the town and away from the gun, probably precluded any one person from stopping to claim the weapon. No claim regarding the capture of the second cannon has come to light, which leaves us with only the brief mentions in wartime accounts. [6]

Several contemporary records exist, in addition to General Gregg’s mention.  Col. John Irvin Gregg reported “driving [the enemy] from the town and capturing one piece of artillery.” Col. Charles Smith, 1st Maine, described his men being “met by a discharge of grape from a gun posted to oppose it, which was immediately captured.”  Capt. James Gaston, one of General Gregg’s aides credited the division with capturing “two guns,” as did Capt. Isaac Ressler, 16th Pennsylvania.  Henry Frost, 8th New York, had not been involved in the fighting along the turnpike but he might have seen the trophy, which he described as brass. Reporter Edward Paul went a step further, describing the gun as a “brass howitzer,” while Lieut. Tattnall Paulding, 6th U.S. and gunner William Forbush, 3rd U.S. Artillery, termed the gun a “mountain howitzer” in their diaries. Finally, a trooper in the 2nd New York believed the gun to be “one of Mosby’s brass cannons.”[7]

The Gray Ghost had received, what the Federals termed, a “12-pound brass howitzer,” and what Mosby historian Horace Mewborn described as “a two-and-a-half-inch mountain rifle” on May 27. Union troopers captured the gun three days later, after a bloody hand-to-hand fight near Catlett Station. General Stuart had promised to send Mosby another gun if Mosby would sell it “for the same price.”[8]

The numerous accounts of the cannon at Upperville cannot be discounted, as most of the Federals who spoke of it probably saw the weapon. Still, other questions remain. Had General Stuart sent Mosby a second cannon? Upperville certainly lay within the area known as Mosby’s Confederacy and the large farms would have made hiding the weapon rather easy.  If so, who manned the gun during the battle? Many of Mosby’s men boarded at homes nearby, and some may have been trained in the loading and firing procedures for such a gun the previous month. Some of Wade Hampton’s Iron Scouts also boarded nearby but had any of them received similar training? Such questions may never be answered.

[1] Trout, Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion, vol. 1, 52; OR 27, pt. 1, 954. In his Galloping Thunder, The Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion, 273, author Bob Trout describes the retreat from Goose Creek, noting, “Hart, McGregor, and Moorman were pressed so hard by the oncoming enemy and became so disordered that they could not take a position. They continued on through Upperville to Ashby’s Gap. Hampton would have to face the Federals without artillery.”

[2] OR 27, pt. 1, 954; Meyer, Civil War Experiences, 39-40; Newhall, “How Lee Lost the Use of his Cavalry,” PWT, September 28, 1878; NYT, June 23, 1863.

[3] OR 27, pt. 2, 690.

[4] OR 27, pt. 1, 946-47.

[5] OR 27, pt. 1, 1035.

[6] See pages 205-05 for descriptions of the fighting around the gun in the town.

[7] OR 27, pt. 1, 954, 977; Maine Adjutant General, Annual Report, 55; James Gaston to Dear Wife, June 23, 1863, PCHS; Henry Frost to My Dear Sister, June 23, 1863, in Shirley Cox Husted, Sweet Gift of Freedom, A Civil War Anthology (Rochester, NY, 1986), 85; Tattnall Paulding Diary; William Forbush Diary, Bradley Forbush Collection; ‘W.V.B’ to his Parents, June 23, 1863,, accessed October 20, 2013.

[8] New York Tribune, June 5, 1863; Keen and Mewborn, 43rd Battalion, 59; Mosby, Mosby’s War Reminiscences (Harrisburg, PA, 1995 ed.) 151. See also O’Neill, Chasing Jeb Stuart and John Mosby, 192-202.

One thought on “The Mystery Gun at Upperville

  1. Bob, I am very pleased that my G. G. Grandfather’s diary has proved useful to you. I transcribed it in the late 1990’s, and would periodically try to share it with anyone who might have an interest in it. But it was not until I came into contact with you, and also John Miller up at Monterey Pass, that the simple diary entries he made, were appreciated by serious researchers. So far, I have only read Chapter 1 of your new book. I thought it was excellent. I admire the fact that you evaluate personalities according to contemporary accounts, rather than relying on generally accepted impressions that came to be formulated in the many years since the conflict.


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