W.Va. Civil War historian, author to speak on latest book about Confederate raiders

February 11, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Steve French is an award-winning Civil War historian and author from Hedgesville. He teaches West Virginia history at South Middle School in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Photo by Richard Belisle

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Spectacular robberies of two passenger trains in Jefferson County by Confederate partisan raiders in 1864 will be the subject of a lecture Wednesday in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., by Steve French, an award-winning Civil War historian and author from Hedgesville.

French, 60, who teaches West Virginia history at South Middle School in Martinsburg, W.Va., details those robberies plus a third one near Cumberland in March 1865 in “Rebel Chronicles,” his latest book on the war.

Subtitled, “Raiders, Scouts and Train Robbers of the Upper Potomac,” the 300-page book’s forward was written by historian Edwin Bearss.

The raiders were Confederate partisan irregulars. Although sanctioned by Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, they were not part of the Confederate Army, French said.

“They were different from regular Army soldiers in that they were allowed to keep what they stole. Their main mission was to disrupt Union transportation systems and supply lines,” French said.

The lecture, sponsored by the Civil War Round Table, will be held at Camp Hill United Methodist Church at 601 Washington St. It begins at 8 p.m. following dinner at 7 p.m.

French said the first train robbery was on Feb. 12, 1864, at Brown’s Shop Crossing on W.Va. 9 in present-day Bardane. The second train was held up at Quincy’s Siding just up the B&O line from Brown’s Crossing on Oct. 14, 1864.

In the February incident, 27 raiders led by Maj. Harry Gilmor of Baltimore robbed the train’s passengers and made off with nearly $30,000 plus some heavy clothing, French said. “They stole some books, too,” he said.

The partisan raider organizations, because of the robbing of civilian passengers, were abolished after that except for Maj. John S. Mosby’s Raiders and (John Hanson) McNeill’s Rangers,” French said.

In October, raiders under Mosby, a Rebel guerilla known as The Gray Ghost, not only robbed passengers, but also grabbed a Union payroll worth more than $170,000, French said.

“Rebel Chronicles” is French’s second book on the Civil War. He won the 2008 Bachelder-Coddington Award and 2009 Round Table of Gettysburg Book Award for “Imboden’s Brigade in the Gettysburg Campaign.” He wrote the monograph, “The Jones-Imboden Raid on the B&O Railroad at Rowlesburg, Virginia.” He also edited “Four Years Along the Tilhance, the Civil War Diary of Elisha Manor.”

His writings have appeared in The Washington Times, Gettysburg Magazine, North & South Magazine and other publications.

French has been delivering lectures on Civil War incidents for nearly 20 years, he said. He also guides tours in the lower Shenandoah Valley.

“I’ve been collecting materials for years, most of it on the Internet,” French said. “There’s a plethora of information from old newspapers online. I’ve found interviews of passengers done by reporters after the train robberies.”

French graduated from Hedgesville High School. He earned a degree in history from Shepherd University in 1974 and has taught the subject for 37 years, he said.

He and his wife, Regina, live west of Hedgesville. They have a grown daughter, Camilla, and granddaughter, Mollie.

“The book is dedicated to her,” French said of his granddaughter.

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