Theron Winship of the 29th Ohio at the Battle of Port Republic

As I had the opportunity to "fall in" and take part in yesterday's reenactment of the Battle of Port Republic at the Hale Farm and Village Civil War event, I thought it would be appropriate to share a couple of letters from Adjutant Theron Winship of the 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantry giving his experiences of that battle. The Battle of Port Republic, while a Confederate victory, was an incredibly hard-fought battle. The two Union brigades, under the overall command of Brigadier General Erastus B. Tyler (please see my Monocacy post from July 9th) acquitted themselves well, giving the Confederate army under Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson a sharp bloody nose before being leveraged out of their position and forced to retreat.

Port Republic was the crowning victory of Jackson's Valley campaign, in which he successfully kept three Union armies under John Fremont, Nathaniel Banks, and Irvin McDowell busy chasing him hither and thither throughout the Valley, and thereby preventing these forces from joining George McClellan's campaign against Richmond. In my personal opinion, I'm not sure that the addition of these 20 or 30,000 troops to McClellan's already massive army would have emboldened McClellan or allowed him to win the campaign (he didn't seem to make very good use of the troops he already had in the vicinity as shown in the Seven Day's battles), but the campaign in the Valley cemented Stonewall Jackson's reputation for daring and for brilliant military operations. Jackson's star was on the rise, and the victory at Port Republic vaulted his fame throughout the South to newfound heights.

On the Union side, General James Shields, the divisional commander of the two Union brigades at Port Republic, saw his career end as he was publicly accorded blame for the defeat. John Fremont soon also exited the scene, resigning when he was placed in a subordinate position in the general reorganization of the armies in northern Virginia that led to the creation of the Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope. This army would face Stonewall Jackson yet again at Second Bull Run in late August 1862 with similarly disastrous results for the Union.

For the soldiers that fought at Port Republic, there was among some a sense that they were poorly used, a sentiment that Adjutant Theron Seward Winship (1839-1892) gives voice to in these two letters that he wrote in the aftermath of the battle. Adjutant Winship resigned his commission in January 1863 and returned to his farm near Conneaut, Ohio.

Both letters were published in the June 28, 1862 issue of the Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph.

Headquarters, 29th Regt., O.V.I., near Luray, Virginia, June 11, 1862
Emory Luce, my dear sir:
It becomes my painful duty to inform you of the death of your son Captain Horatio Luce in the engagement at Port Republic on the 9th inst. God bless the dear brave captain for he fell while bravely charging upon the enemy near the close of the engagement which resulted so disastrously to our little handful of brave men. I have no heart to recite the disasters of the day. Suffice to say that two brigades of our division numbering less than 3,000 men fought for 4 hours the enemy, strongly posted and numbering not less than 20,000. We drove them like dogs on the right, but our meager force obliges us to leave our left but partially protected, which was turned and we were forced to retire from the field- leaving our dead and a portion of our wounded.
The dear old 29th, already reduced by disease and exposure to 450 men, cannot now rally but 225, the balance of the number are killed, wounded, taken prisoners, and missing. A few in all probability have fled to the mountains and will soon return, but the great number are either prisoners or have suffered worse-wounded and killed, it is impossible to give anything like an accurate account at present as our friends who visited the battlefield under a flag of truce have not yet returned. A terrible responsibility rests upon someone for this disaster. I do not feel like turning this letter into a paper of criticism upon recent movements of this division, but perhaps I can have a heart for such work at another time- should I attempt it, it would be severe.
I can now only assure you my dear sir that my heart is almost broken with the thought that one whom I loved so dearly, whom I loved as a brother and look up to as an officer of no common ability must fall upon the field, and I be unable to give him the tender attention due to the dear departed. But while it is impossible for me to prepare his last resting place with my own hands as I could wish to have done as the last tribute to a loved one. Yet I directed the officers who accompanied the flag of truce to give it his attention, which as a brother officer he readily pledged himself to do.
My heart is so full tonight that I cannot write more. My dear sir, you must not allow this terrible stroke to take too strong a hold upon you. Let your grief for the loss of a son on whom you had set your heart and of whom you had reason to be proud, be mitigated in some degree by the thought that he fell in a noble cause, bravely fighting the battles of his country and for the preservation of the dear old flag, the stars and stripes which we waving over him when he fell and towards which he looked exclaiming with the last breath, ‘Boys, defend it!’ Your other boy Charley escaped unharmed and is now well with the exception of the fatigue incident to a forced march. I have taken him under my especial care and shall send him home on a visit soon.
Give my kindest regards to your family and assure them your loss and theirs is mine also.
Very Respectfully,
Theron S. Winship, Adjutant, 29th Ohio

P.S. Our regiment had only 350 engaged of whom 17 were killed, 40 wounded, 134 missing. 7 officers wounded, 12 missing-slaughter complete.
Topographical map of the Battle of Port Republic by Jedediah Hotchkiss, C.S.A. (Library of Congress)
Headquarters, 29th Regt., O.V.I., near Luray, Virginia, June 12, 1862
Messers. Eds:
The bloody scenes of the 9th are past and some few of us are comparatively safe; and although I have no heart to do so, nor am I in a fit condition, mentally or physically to write, yet I feel that the anxious friends of us all at home must be apprised of our fate. The hardships and exposures incident to daily marching for 30 consecutive days culminated on Monday last in a fight at Port Republic, a brief account of which I will give. On Friday last, the 4th brigade of this division left Columbia Bridge for a forward movement up the Valley. On Saturday at noon the 3rd brigade followed in the wake of the 4th. Sunday morning the 4th brigade met the enemy at Port Republic in numbers 10 times our own and were repulsed. During the afternoon, the 3rd (our brigade) reached the scene of action in time to save the 4th brigade from complete rout. During the afternoon the enemy made no further demonstration upon our lines under the mistaken impression that the whole division had come up. Thus things remained during the afternoon and night; the enemy were in plain sight on the river bank. Their numbers could with the aid of a glass be easily estimated and all saw and knew that at least they outnumbered us six to one, backed by two regiments of cavalry, while we had but two companies, and a large portion of them had been taken in the charge of the morning. What was to be done? Could we stand an attack from such overwhelming odds? No, that was impossible! Could the balance of the division reinforce us in time, no. Must we stand here and be murdered?
Brigadier General Erastus B. Tyler
Such were the orders; and so at an early hour we marched upon the field- well knowing what must be our fate. Thus we fought for four hours until ammunition was gone, or nearly so, during which time we had driven them like dogs from position after position; but alas for the fates of war, their superior numbers obliged us to leave our left flank but partially protected, when they turned and forced us to leave the field, which was done in good order until a charge of cavalry came upon our regiment which was in the extreme rear; this broke us and we sought safety in the woods. Col. Buckley, Capt. Fitch, Lt. Dice, Stewart Smith, and about 34 of our men, together with Capt. White of the 1st Virginia, Lt. App (34th Pennsylvania), and men from every regiment of the two brigades making in all about 80 men who remained together under cover from which we emerged and reached Luray last night, fatigued and nearly worn out. In fact, the subscriber reports himself as used up for the present.
My blood runs cold when I think of the carnage of that field- it only surprises me that any escaped. Colonel Buckley had two horses shot. I had three shot and my sword belt shot from my waist. Capt. Fitch was struck by a ball in the back, tearing his coat from shoulder to shoulder, but fortunately not otherwise injuring him. But I have not time to make further personal mentions, save that my noble friend Capt. Luce was shot dead upon the field near the close of the engagement. Poor captain, I was obliged to leave him on the field, together with all of our dead, and a portion of our wounded. “Sad thought,” that one cannot pay the last tribute to the brave departed dead, which civilization and affection would demand, but God knows that we have paid the noble tribute of affection and admiration for the bravery of the noble ones who have fallen, but I have no time to write more. I will try and send you a list of casualties in our regiment so far as known as many questions will be asked by all our friends, that I fell bound to send it, painful though it be to us all.
Colonel Lewis P. Buckley, 29th O.V.I.
Many of those named among the missing are undoubtedly among the mountains and will be with us in a few days, at least I hope for the best. The dear old 29th presents tonight a very sorry aspect indeed. As one after another of those supposed to be taken come in, you can hear the cheering of the little squad composing the regiment as their joy at the sight of still another of our number is made known. Yet the sorrowful countenances of those who are safe make our camp appear more like a field of mourning than the residence of a body of fighting men. At some future time I will give you an account of my sojourn in the mountains which may be more interesting to think of than to experience, at least that is my opinion of the experience. Hoping to be able to report a large accession to our strength, I remain in great haste,

Theron S. Winship, Adjutant, 29th Ohio
For further reading on Jackson's Valley campaign, particularly the campaign as viewed by the Union participants, I'd offer that Peter Cozzens' Shenandoah 1862 (one of my personal favorites) is a fantastic place to start and is available on Amazon or through the University of North Carolina Press. Robert G. Tanner's Stonewall in the Valley also does a nice job with this campaign; this work has been around since 1976 but is also available on Amazon.
For further reading on the Civil War service of the 29th Ohio, I strongly recommend James T. Frisch's superb regimental history The Untried Life which is available through Ohio University Press at


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