Stop #44 can be found on pages 73 & 74 in Avenue of Armies. Since writing the book, however, I located additional information about the action of June 30, 1862. I wrote the following in one of my columns from May 2008 (the “Heritage & Heraldry” column for the Page News & Courier). While the entry in the book was based largely on Union accounts of the action, the following is more from the perspective of the Confederate forces and civilians in Luray (mostly based on the recollections of Harry Gilmor found in his book, Four Years in the Saddle):
The morning hours of June 30 were relatively quiet around Luray. Residents were going about their daily routines, likely in appreciation of the heavy rainfall that they had received the night before. Yet, apart from the memory of the artillery-like rumblings of thunder overnight, the only obvious traces of war that morning were the tents of Harry Gilmor’s small body of cavalry in the meadow on the northern edge of town. Gilmor had rested peacefully the night before. The pickets deployed the previous evening in the direction of Rileyville were local men, cavalrymen of Capt. S.B. Coyner’s Co. D, 7th Virginia Cavalry.
However, just as the rumbling of thunder had interrupted an otherwise peaceful evening on the night before, a mad dash of pickets from the direction of Rileyville raised concern in both the soldiers and citizens alike. As word came that Federal troops – cavalry, infantry and artillery – were bearing down on the unsuspecting town, Gilmor was quick to order the wagons loaded and moved toward White House Ford. No sooner had the orders been issued than the first Union troopers appeared on the rise to the north of Luray.
Union cavalryman Horace Ide recalled that as his regiment advanced on the hill in pursuit of the pickets, the Green Mountain men noticed that the Confederates were “trying to save their wagons and finally … came to the right about and tried to charge us, but only a few men obeyed the order.” Though preparing to make a stand in the streets of Luray, some citizens, according to Gilmor, “begged” him to take the fight out of the town. Gilmor quickly agreed, moving most of his command in the direction of the Leaksville Road and leaving only a small rearguard in the town to screen the move. Despite its size, the rearguard laid-down a sharp fire, killing one trooper of the First Vermont Cavalry, before Union artillery rolled-up and forced Confederate rearguard to put to flight.
Catching site of the Confederate wagons again, the Union force seemed reinvigorated in the manner in which it readied to strike again. Determining that “there was no alternative but a hard fight or loss of the wagons, besides having my men cut to pieces in the Shenandoah River,” Gilmor prepared to fight once again. Immediately, he “wheeled the column and gave the command to charge.” As the Confederate horsemen lurched forward, the Union troopers soon gained momentum on their own mounts. “Both columns were at a charge,” wrote Gilmor, “and as we closed upon each other, I, being some distance ahead of the rest, happened to kill one of the first set of fours at a second shot.”
For a moment, Gilmor believed that the Union line began to pull back. However, he quickly discovered that another line of Union cavalry prepared to flank his line. “I was not to be caught in this trap, so I at once gave the order, “Flank out to the left and right.” The counter-move proved of little result. Gilmor recalled being caught-up in a brief exchange of fire, but soon deemed it necessary to retire. Instead of following the wagons to White House Ford, his command turned off in the direction of Columbia Ford “and scattered into the woods, checking them a good deal.”
Despite Gilmor’s boast of “checking them,” the Union command retired under orders not to move beyond Luray. Horace Ide [see his book, History of the First Vermont Cavalry] recalled, “we had already exceeded our orders, which were only to go to Luray, after coming into line and exchanging a few shots with them we returned.”
Though minor in comparison to the larger actions in the Valley, the Union push on Luray was an effort to determine the location of “Stonewall” Jackson’s command. Already engaged in the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, Jackson had left enough of a “ghost” of himself in the Valley to keep the Federals guessing about where his next tactical feat would be performed in the Shenandoah.
As for Luray, this encounter would be the first of a series of fights the town would bear witness to over a course of a few days. Shortly thereafter, Luray would be placed under Federal occupation. The town remained in the hands of the Federal army for over a month, until news arrived of the battle at Cedar Mountain, on August 9.
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