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Lt. John Blue Spying for Stonewall Jackson

May 19, 2012

In June 1861, early in the Civil War, there was a battle for control of the town of Romney in Hampshire County, VA. The north won that fight and claimed an early victory in the war. There is an interesting–and clearly “northern” perspective of the Battle of Romney as published on July 6, 1861 in Harper’s Weekly. The town was then fortified by General Kelley of the North for the time being.

When the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson learned of this, he began a plan to recapture the town of Romney. He needed information on how best to do that so selected three local Confederate soldiers to spy on the town and the countryside surrounding it. Lieutenant John Blue ( in the Blue Family Genealogy) of Hampshire County, Major Isaac Parsons, and William Inskeep were appointed by Jackson because they knew the land so well. According to Hu Maxwell and Howard Swisher in their book, History of Hampshire County, West Virginia, from its earliest settlement to the present, published in 1897 and found on Google eBooks:

[Stonewall Jackson] . . . instructed them to secure all the desired information possible by such method as they might think best. They were acquainted with every acre of the country around Romney. They procured a good spyglass, and early one November morning, 1861, took their post on Mill Creek mountain, on the opposite side of the river from Romney, about one and a half miles distant. From that position they had full view of the town, all the surrounding country, the fortifications, the barracks, and everything of a military nature. Isaac Parsons was skillful at drawing, and he and William Inskeep climbed into a tree, made themselves as comfortable as possible, and with the aid of the spyglass, proceeded to make a map of the military camp, with all the converging roads and the neighboring hills. Lieutenant Blue stood guard at the foot of the tree, on the lookout for objects nearer at hand. It was a warm day, although in November, and it was nearly sunset when the map was finished, and the men were ready to come down from the tree. About that time the soldiers in Romney were called out on dress parade, and the spies had excellent opportunity of estimating their number, and they remained in the tree a short time longer for that purpose.

In the meantime Mr. Blue’s ear had detected sounds of approaching footsteps, on the mountain side, below them. He called the attention of his companions to the noise, and they descended from the tree, put on their coats, took up their guns, and were about to follow Mr. Blue, who had gone up the mountain and was about forty yards above them, when two federal soldiers made a sharp turn round a clump of tress, and called to the spies to surrender. The soldiers did not see Mr. Blue, nor did they know of his presence. “You are our prisoners,” exclaimed the soldiers as they jumped behind trees to protect themselves from the muskets of the spies. “I am not so sure of it; I guess you are our prisoners,” replied Mr. Parsons. “Not a bit of it,” returned one of the yankees [sic]; “throw up your guns and surrender.” “You throw down your guns and surrender,” said Parsons. It was an even match. All four of the men were behind trees, about forty yards apart. After standing awhile, each side trying to persuade the other to surrender, one of the yankees called out: “Hello, Reb!” “Hello, Yank,” was the reply. “Suppose we shake hands and call it square. We don’t want to hurt you fellows, and I guess you are not thirsting for blood.” Mr. Parsons answered that he was not very blood-thirsty and was willing to let bygones be bygones, and was ready to have peace. “Who are you, anyhow?” inquired one of the the yankees. “Citizens out hunting.” “Well, there is no use to fight over it,” answered the federal, “but that musket you have looks like a rebel’s. How about it?” “The musket is all right, and if you want to shake hands with us, be about it.” “Leave your gun and step out, and I will leave mine and step out,” suggested the yankee. Both did so; Parsons stepping out first, then one of the federals. Then Inskeep stepped out unarmed, and called on the remaining yankee to do likewise. But the treacherous child of the frozen north sprang out with his musket leveled and called out: “Now surrender. I have the drop on you!” “Drop that gun,” came a command from the hill above. Lieutenant Blue had stepped from behind a tree with his gun leveled at the yankees. The table was turned. The yankee dropped his gun and began to beg. He said he was only joking and had no intention of shooting anybody. “I am not joking,” replied Mr. Blue, “and if you want to save your hide, leave your gun where it is and strike a trot for Romney and don’t dare look back until you get out of sight.” The yankee did not stand on the order of going, but took to his heels. The other yankee was told to leave his gun and follow his comrade. He did so.

That night, the spies stayed at the home of an acquaintance and then continued their work from a different location, watching the Northern troops search for them in the woods around Mill Creek mountain where they had been the previous day. They finished their work that day and then continued on to Blue’s Gap, sending the map they had made to Stonewall Jackson.

Lt. Blue’s story did not end there. More to follow . . .

From → Aderman/Bates

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