Ambush at Willis Church

In January of 1861, State Representative Thomas N. Crumpler announced in the North Carolina House of Commons that Ashe County was not likely to support secession. Crumpler's estimation of his voters' opinion proved correct. In February, his constituents gathered in Jefferson to participate in what was described as a "lively debate" on the merits of leaving the Union and voted down a North Carolina secession convention by a count of758 to 144. They reversed their opinion in March, after the fall of Fort Sumter.  

North Carolina seceded on May 20 and Governor John W Ellis requested 10,000 state troops.  Captain Crumpler organized his former Ashe County constituents into Company A of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry. A year later, then Major Crumpler rode with his men on a 200-mile forced march from Kinston, North Carolina, to Richmond, Virginia. Arriving in General Lee's camp on June 28, 1862, Major Crumpler's men rested, unaware of the fate that awaited their former State Representative the next morning.

During the summer of 1860, just outside of Oakville in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Cornelius (Neal) H. Vanderbilt labored long and hard, not as a State Representative, but as a farm hand. Neal's mother, Mahala, relied heavily on his help following the death of Cornelius L., her husband. Young Neal, the fourth Cumberland County Cornelius Vanderbilt since 1790, was but 16 years old at the time. Though the Vanderbilts had prospered since the first Cornelius was required to indenture himself and his brother for $ 100 in 1782, they were not wealthy.

In September of 1861, Neal and his cousin, William C. Fosnot, answered President Lincoln's call for volunteers after the fall of Fort Sumter. The young men signed up as privates in Company H of what later became the Third Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. The inexperienced young men were trained by the likes of Lieutenant George A. Custer upon reaching camp outside of Washington D.C. A year later, Vanderbilt and Fosnot rode with Colonel William W Averell in the Peninsular Campaign, dreaming of Richmond.

On the same day that Crumpler's Company arrived in Richmond with their Regiment commanded by Colonel Lawrence S. Baker, scouts for Colonel Thomas L. Rosser of the 5th Virginia Cavalry brought in the news that they had observed Union forces in considerable numbers. The rumor circulated all that day through Lee's camp that some of General McClelland's Federal forces were camped near Willis Church. Colonel Baker, having just been appointed by Lee to head all of the Southern Cavalry not currently under J.E.B. Stuart, "determined to drive back their cavalry force, which was covering their movements .... "

At 8:00 that night, the 1st North Carolina Cavalry and part of the 4th Virginia were ordered to saddle up. By 9:00 p.m. they were marching and did not halt until after midnight, when they stopped to sleep until dawn. With first light they continued their ride in search of McClellan's army.

At 9 a.m. on June 29, Averell's scouts reported that they had spotted Rebel cavalry "advancing in column about a mile away". Averell described the situation in his field report: "Some woodland intervened. Between this and my position was an open field a quarter of a mile across."

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For twenty years, from 1890 to 1910, Father Henry Ganss served as pastor of Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During that time he produced historical and musical works achieving international appreciation. He has merited entries in two prominent works of reference-The Dictionary of American Biography and The New Catholic Encyclopedia-rare for one whose activities one would assume deserved only parochial notice.