"Robert E. Lee and the 35th Star" by Tim McKinney, copyright 1993, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Inc. Charleston, WV 25304, ISBN 93-929521-75-7, 144 pages.
"Lee's announcement to the troops did not mention the sad fate of Lt. Col. John Augustine Washington, who was killed while on reconnaissance at Elkwater on the 13th. While awaiting word from Rust, Lee had decided to probe the enemy position at Camp Elkwater in an attempt to discover any weakness in their defenses. Lee's son Rooney, commanding the cavalry, was ordered to lead the expedition. Rooney, accompanied by Colonel Washington and a cavalry detachment, scouted the country in front of the Union lines. Proceeding cautionsly at first, Rooney Lee decided their mission was accomplished and wanted to return. Colonel Washington urged they continue awhile longer, and though it was against his better judgement, Rooney Lee agreed. It was to be a fatal decision. About one mile in front of Camp Elkwater was a Federal picket post, and about another one-helf mile in advance of them was a small Union scouting party, consisting of members of the 17th Regiment Indiana Infantry. The men had advanced beyond the picket to a long narrow defile in which ran Elkwater Fork. The mountain side to the right at this section was covered with dense undergrowth, and was thus enticing as a place from which to ambush the Confederates. Three member of the 17th, Sgt. J. J. Weiler, Cpl. Wm. L. Birney, and Pvt. Wm. L. Johnson, advanced along the road, while at the same time Lee and Washington, with just two other men, moved toward them. Just then Lee and Washington caught sight of an enemy sentinel about a half mile down the valley. "Let us capture that fellow on a gray horse, Washington exclaimed. Directing the two men wih them to remain hehind, Rooney and Colonel Washington charged down the road. After covering about half the distance the inrtepid Southerners found themselves directly opposite Sergeant Weiler and party. Realizing their predicament, Lee and Washington wheeled quickly right acoss the road, presenting their backs to the Yankees. Without a word spoken the three Indiana soldiers raised their muusket and fired. As it happened all three of the men shot Colonel Washington, who fell from his excited horse as it turned away. Major Lee's horse was wounded and he took off on foot up the bed of the creek. Fortunately for Lee his comrades horse ran toward him. Lee mounted it and made good his escape.
General Lee was greatly pained by the loss of his aide and friend. The next morning, the 14th, Lee sent Col. W. E. Starke to Camp Elkwater under flag of truce to determine Washington's fate. Lee's note of inquiry was addressed to the general commanding U. S. troops at Huttonsville: "Lietenant Colonel John A. Washington, my Aide-de-Camp, whilst riding yesterday with a small escort was fired upon by your pickets and I fear killed. Should such be the case, I request that you will deliver to me his body, or should he be a prisoner in your hands, that I be informed of his condition."
Early that morning General Reynolds had ordered the return of Washington's body. Sergeant Weiler, one of the party who killed the colonel, drove the wagon containing his remains. In a short while the exchange was accomplished, and the unfortunate episode passed into history, gone but not forgotten.
Colonel Washington had previously made several successful scouts of the Federal camps near Valley Mountain, apparently using a map from a Northern newspaper which was found on his person. An Ohio soldier who witnessed the taking of Washington's body later described what he saw; "Three balls passed through Washington's body near together coming out from his breast. He fell mortally wounded. Major Lee was unhurt... When reached, Colonel Washington was struggling to rise on his elbow, and, though gasping and dying, he muttered 'water', but when it was brought to his lips from the nearby stream he was dead. Wahington's name or intials were on his gauntlets cuffs and upon a napkin in his haversack; these served to dentify him and a large knife in his belt. He also had a powder-flask, field glass, gold plated spurs, gold watch and fob-chain, letters, a map of the country, and some small gold coin on his person... thus early, on his first military campaign, fell John Augustine Washington... the great-grandson of General Washington's brother and on his mother's side a great-grandson of Richard Henry Lee, Virginia's great Revolutionary patriot and statesman. He inherited Mount Vernon, but sold it before the war to an association of patriotic ladies.
Colonel Washington's pistols were sent by General Reynolds to the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron; the secretary ordered that Sergeant Weiler be given one of the pistols, and the knife went to Corporal Birney, while Private Johnson received the gauntlets. General Reynolds retained the field glass but eventually gave it to Colonel Washinton's son, George. Col. Milo Hascal, of the 17th Indiana, took possession of the spurs and powder-flask, and Capt. George L. Rose, of Reynold's staff, kept a letter through which a bullet had passed, Indeed, many of the Union soldiers rejoiced in having killed such a man as Washington... As if the facts were not grim enough, some men exaggerated the truth in their letters home and to hometown newpapers. A member of the 13th Indiana wrote his friends back home declaring that they had thoroughly whipped the Rebels. He said they killed not one, but two prominent Confederates: "... we killed Colonel Washington and General Lee and about 100 men... when the bloody 13th got into them we made them run..." Of course exaggeration was not a trait peculiar to Yankees."
FOOTNOTES to the text transcribed:
26. John Levering, "Lee's Advance and Retreat in the Cheat Mountain Campaign in 1861...From a paper read before the Commandery of the State of ILLinois, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, December 12, 1889. Published in Military Essays and Recollections, V, 4, Cozzens & Beaton Co.: 1907, pages 11-35 (page 33 cited).
27. Joseph Warren Keifer, Slavery and Four Years of War, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London; 1900. Additional Washington family history was obtained from an article which appeared in Confederate Veteran Magazine, March 1926, pg. 96.
28. From the papers of John Halvy, included in the manuscript collections of the Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Ind., letter of September 22, 1861.
29. Confederate Veteran Magazine, March 1926, pg. 96 and United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine, March 1991, pg. 14.
30. Robert E. Lee, Jr., Recollections and Letters of Gen. Robert E. Lee, New York: 1904, pgs. 44-46.
31. Freeman, R. E. Lee Biography, V. I, pg. 576.