Monday, September 11, 2017

Phantoms of the South Fork

At least for the eastern theater, John Singleton Mosby is the dominant figure when it comes to discussion of small Confederate partisan groups that launched repeated hit-and-run raids behind Union lines and fairly haunted enemy occupying forces for long periods of time by their general nuisance making. Numerous books, articles, novels, movies, games, and a 1950s television show have recounted the legends and exploits of the man himself and his 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry. But there were certainly other partisan leaders and units of considerable import operating in Virginia during the war. One of the better known units was led by Captain John Hanson "Hanse" McNeill and came to be known as McNeill's Rangers.

Between September 1862 and the end of the war, McNeill's Rangers continually disrupted the B&O Railroad and hit isolated Union garrisons and small patrols all over the rugged hills of the Upper Potomac. Though McNeill himself died from wounds in November 1864, his men carried on, and the Rangers (now led by McNeill's son, Jesse) would carry out their most famous exploit in the waning moments of the war. On one late February morning in 1865, they stole into Cumberland, Maryland under the predawn cover of darkness, captured generals George Crook and Benjamin Kelley, and escaped to safety with their high-ranking prizes.

Next month, Kent State University Press will release Steve French's Phantoms of the South Fork: Captain McNeill and His Rangers, the first full book-length treatment of McNeill's Rangers to appear since H.E. Howard published Roger Delauter's McNeill's Rangers back in 1986 (at least I don't know of any others in between). I've never read it, or any of Delauter's other Howard series contributions, so I cannot comment on their quality. Getting back to French's upcoming book, according to the publisher "Phantoms of the South Fork is the thrilling result of Steve French’s carefully researched study of primary source material, including diaries, memoirs, letters, and period newspaper articles. Additionally, he traveled throughout West Virginia, western Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, and the Shenandoah Valley following the trail of Captain McNeill and his “Phantoms of the South Fork.”" I hope to get a copy of it and review it on the site.

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