Life of Turner Ashby

Turner Ashby was born on October 23, 1828, at “Rose Bank” in Fauquier County, Virginia. Young Turner had a solid military pedigree as the son of Colonel Turner Ashby, who fought in the war of 1812, and the grandson of Revolutionary War Captain Jack Ashby. Ashby purchased a farm near his boyhood home, and named the place Wolfe’s Crag. He was an accomplished horseman, and often competed in local competitions, and usually won first-place honors in these tournaments.

In 1857, he raised a company of volunteers to police the workers building the railroad through the gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Manassas. Two years later, Ashby and his volunteers quickly responded when John Brown and his men raided the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

When the War Between the States erupted, Ashby received a captain’s commission, and he and his volunteer cavalry company returned to Harpers Ferry to help seize the arsenal there. His command was known as the Ashby Rangers, which became part of the Seventh Virginia Calvary. In 1861, he became a lieutenant colonel in command of 10 companies. Ashby employed the first battery of horse artillery used during the war. In 1862, he gained the rank of Colonel. On May 23, 1862, he was promoted to Brigadier General in command of the Ashby Brigade, which later was known as the Laurel Brigade.

On June 6, 1862, Ashby and his men fought a rear-guard action on Chestnut Ridge near Harrisonburg, Virginia. They attempted to buy time for General Richard Ewell’s soldiers to prepare defensive positions on the eve of the Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic. During a cavalry charge, the audacious Ashby leaped from his wounded horse and continued to lead his men forward on foot. After only a few steps, a musket ball struck him in the chest and he fell to the ground – dead. The General was only thirty-three-years-old.

After the skirmish, soldier’s carried the General’s body to the Frank Kemper House in Port Republic. There General Stonewall Jackson and other mourners came to pay their last respects to the “Knight of the Confederacy.” His body was moved to Winchester, Virginia, in October, 1866. He was buried beside his younger brother, Richard Ashby, who died after being wounded near Harpers Ferry in the early stages of the war. Their bodies now rest with over 3,000 other Confederate heroes in Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, part of Winchester’s historic Mount Hebron Cemetery.

Postmortem photograph of Brig. Gen Turner Ashby

Timeline of Ashby’s Life

  • October 23, 1828 – Turner Ashby is born at Rose Bank in Fauquier County.
  • June 1853 – Turner Ashby helps suppress a riot among Irish laborers on the Manassas Gap Railroad and sometime thereafter organizes the Mountain Rangers, a local volunteer cavalry troop.
  • 1856 – Turner Ashby leads a vigilante mob against John C. Underwood, of Clarke County, who has spoken out against slavery at the Republican Party’s convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Underwood is attacked in several major national newspapers.
  • October–December 1859 – Turner Ashby leads the Mountain Rangers to defend Harpers Ferry and the northern Virginia border with Maryland in the aftermath of John Brown’s raid.
  • April 17, 1861 – In response to Virginia’s secession from the Union, Turner Ashby leads Virginia militia to Harpers Ferry in an attempt to capture the federal arsenal.
  • June 17, 1861 – Turner Ashby is commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry and mustered into Confederate service.
  • June 26, 1861 – Turner Ashby’s brother Richard is mortally wounded in a Union ambush near Kelly’s Island on the Virginia border with Maryland.
  • March 12, 1862 – Turner Ashby is promoted to colonel and commander of the 7th Virginia Cavalry.
  • June 6, 1862 – Confederate forces under Richard S. Ewell move from Harrisonburg south toward Cross Keys. In a skirmish with Union troops under John C. Frémont, the thirty-three-year-old Confederate cavalry general Turner Ashby—a dark-complected, myth-encumbered figure who is known as the “Black Knight of the Confederacy”—is killed.
  • June 6, 1866 – Memorial services in Winchester establish the anniversary of Turner Ashby’s death as Confederate Memorial Day in the lower Shenandoah Valley.
  • October 1866 – Turner Ashby’s remains are reinterred with those of his brother Richard at the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in Winchester.

Anderson, P. C. Turner Ashby (1828–1862). (2014, August 1). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from

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