“As a partisan officer I never knew his superior.”
He was known as the “Black Knight of the Confederacy,” and the “Knight of the Valley” – and at the time of his death Turner Ashby was one of the most celebrated heroes of the Confederate cause.
The war was intensely personal for Ashby. His brother Richard was killed in a Union ambush in June 1861, and an enraged Ashby vowed revenge – and set out to get it. That September, Ashby told his sister that he had “good [cause] to believe that I have killed twenty or thirty of them in return.”
By the Spring of 1862, Ashby was in command of the cavalry in Stonewall Jackson’s Army of the Valley. Ashby’s magnetism and daring made him immensely popular with his men, as well as with the public. A swarming group of horsemen joined Ashby’s command, which became a cross between a regular unit and a partisan band, full of fight but often short of discipline – a fact that caused difficulties for the Confederate forces and tension with Stonewall Jackson, who believed in discipline, and plenty of it.
During Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign, Ashby and his men were everywhere; a Union officer, Wilder Dwight, wrote that “we are tormented by him like a bull with a gad-fly.” Ashby made serious mistakes during the campaign, costing Confederate forces at First Kernstown and First Winchester, but his aggressiveness often kept Union forces at bay; Ashby loved battle, and his strength was in fighting, relentlessly and at every opportunity.
On June 6, 1862, Confederate forces were withdrawing east from Harrisonburg, with advance elements of the Union forces in pursuit. Ashby led an attempt to ambush the Federals, but ran into an ambush himself. Ashby’s horse went down in a hail of bullets. Ashby sprang to his feet and shouted “Charge, men, for God’s sake, charge!”, but as a Confederate officer later remembered: “He had not taken half a dozen steps when he fell, pierced through the body by a musket-ball, and died almost instantly.”
Ashby was laid to rest at the Frank Kemper House in Port Republic, which today serves as the Port Republic Museum. After the war, his body was moved to Stonewall Cemetery (Mt. Hebron Cemetery Complex) in Winchester and buried in the same grave with his brother Richard.
In death, Ashby was idolized by his fellow soldiers and the Confederate public. Stonewall Jackson had a contentious relationship with Ashby, but after his passing, Jackson said, “As a partisan officer I never knew his superior. His daring was proverbial; his powers of endurance almost incredible; his tone of character heroic, and his sagacity almost intuitive in divining the purposes and movements of the enemy.”
The Turner Ashby Monument was dedicated on June 6, 1898 by the Turner Ashby Chapter 162 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, marking the spot where Ashby fell; each year, on June 6, the chapter holds a ceremony in Ashby’s honor. A Civil War Trails sign that recounts the events of June 6, 1862, is located a short distance from the monument. The site is open to the public, and can be reached via Turner Ashby Lane, which is located off of Neff Avenue near Port Republic Road in Harrisonburg.