The Second Mass and Its Fighting Californians
A Reference site of images, articles, artifacts of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry including the Cal 100 and the Cal Battalion.
On the road from Fairfax City to
Aldie, one mile south of Mt. Zion Church, a prosperous farmer named
Alexander G. Davis lived at the start of the Civil War. A native of
Connecticut, Alex Davis did not believe in slavery, but lived with the
fact that many of his neighbors did. However, he was not one to keep
his opinions to himself, and when hostilities began, he found himself
having difficulties. He was forty-seven years of age when his
troubles started with his neighbors, even though his daughter's husband,
Edmund A. Tyler, was serving with the 8th Virginia Regiment, C.S.A.
Court records dated November 12, 1861 state that three defendants "on the 18th of October, 1861, in the said County, feloniously and maliciously, in and upon Alexander G. Davis, made an assault being then armed with dangerous weapons, viz. with guns, pistols, dirks, knives, etc. and then and there, feloniously and maliciously did shoot, stab, cut, and wound and cause bodily injury to him..."
This was too much for Davis. He declared this support for the Union regardless of his family ties. Too old to serve in the Union Army, he was still an excellent rider and pistol shot, and knew the area of Northern Virginia very well, had so became a civilian scout who was assigned to the headquarters of Colonel Charles Russell Lowell. He was now known as "Yankee" Davis, one of the most hated men throughout Northern Virginia.
Actively engaged in the pursuit of Colonel Mosby, Davis helped develop a plan for his capture. Because Mosby was known as "The Wagon Hunter", several wagons that appeared to be lightly guarded were loaded with concealed and heavily armed cavalry troopers. With Davis as the lead driver, they traveled over the turnpikes and roads where Mosby had been most active. Unfortunately for the planners, Colonel Mosby was busy elsewhere.
Following the Battle of the Wilderness, Davis led the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry south as an escort to the ambulances bringing the wounded soldiers north to hospitals. As they camped at United States Ford on the return trip, his favorite, high spirited horse jerked his picket pin and ran away. It was chased for several miles, but not recovered, much to Davis' chagrin. He was forced to ride a remount back to Vienna.
Active in leading the Union Cavalry in pursuit of Mosby's Rangers, Davis was at headquarters when the disastrous skirmish occurred near Mt. Zion's Church. Arriving the following day with Colonel Lowell and the reinforcements, he helped collect the wounded (taking many to his nearby farm house and barn) and selected the church as the main hospital. He also took the wounded to the Skinner house and other nearby farm houses where he knew they would be safe until well enough to move (when he led an ambulance train to the area to move them to the Brigade Hospital in Vienna.
Hated by many, Davis was also feared, which helped protect his family. There was a tacit understanding that families were not to be involved in the ongoing fighting. Yankee Davis served with distinction, one of the little known civilians who did his part in preserving the Union.
Mrs. Davis' Letter
Yankee Davis' wife experienced some hard times. He was seldom home, she was asked to tend to wounded "enemy' cavalrymen, and she had to incur the wrath of her neighbors. The following letter to her mother provides some insight into the conditions during the period.
Feb. the (smudged)
Dear Mother, it is a long time since I have seen or heard anything from you. I sometimes hear from Henry that you are well. How are you enjoying yourself in old age? I hope that you are getting along comfortably in these times of War and Calamity that you know of in the land but you only know war by rumor. I have lived on the battlefield for the last four years, have seen the dead and dying all around me, the wounded brought in numbers to die or with amputated limbs to recover crippled for life.
Just as the all wise Providence would see fir our barn on one side and the church on the other for as hospitals both have been full of wounded, dead and dying at the same time. An Army of men encamped about on every side in every direction as far as the eyes can see -- now at the present time while I am writing everything is quiet.
But it may be in less than an hour a band of guerrillas or Squad of Yankees may come in large numbers, perhaps both meet in a few yards of the house and if they happen to meet a skirmish must ensue and some wounded and killed. Both horses and men are left on the side. It has often been the case under my own eyes.
One that died in the barn said when he was dying, Oh, my poor wife and child. I don't know who he was or where his wife and child are but his body is buried in a grave with two others just back of our barn, all three buried without coffins, two more are buried the same way back of the house so you see I live along on a battlefield with the Brave and Dead all around me.
Ellen saw eleven all buried in one grave last summer without coffins. They are buried a little over a mile from here where they fell. They belonged to Colonel Lowell's Command, fellow soldiers in the same Reg. with your son and my husband that was in a skirmish with Mosby's guerillas. Alexander was not our at that time. I have seen one place in Fairfax where 37 soldiers lie in one grave, Yankee and Rebel both lie side by side just as their animosity and hatred are over ant bayonets and sabers laid aside. and they sleep the quiet sleep of Death that knows no waking. Four soldiers came where the other night and said they were going to drive off my cows and burn the barn. They did not care or frighten me much. I am too much accustomed to such threats. They did not put their threat into execution.
You would ask if I am not afraid. I was at the beginning of the War as timid and nervous as most people but know since I have seen and realize so much of War U have become hardened and almost fearless - I am not much afraid of anything. I have an opportunity of seeing and knowing more of War living here on the border and amongst (?) and guerillas than the soldiers in the field the art and deception that is practiced. None but an eye witness has an idea.
I have been writing about War. I suppose you would like to know the health of the family. Ellen has been sick for the last four weeks. She is better now but not well. Able to be about the house again. Josie is staying with her. Alexander, I suppose you here from him nearly as often as I do. The Command he is with is are stationed at Fairfax Courthouse and now I intend to go down and see him in a day or so and them I will carry this letter and mail it. We have no mail here and I seldom hear from any of my relative in the North.
I have generally found enough to eat in Dixie and learned to be content as anyone could expect. More so than I would have believed four years ago. If the War should end perhaps I should see you once more. I don't know when or where it will end. The South will hold out four years longer if it can I am satisfied of that. Jeff will never give up if he can help it so long as he can find men to fight for him.
From your daughter Eliza
Hard times followed the War and much animosity existed in the border areas. Another former civilian scout for the Union Army, George Washington "Wash" Fletcher became embroiled in an election dispute and shot and killed former Mosby Ranger Ernest G. Hunton. Such incidents probably entered into Yankee Davis' decision to relocate in Maryland. There he lived a quiet life until his death, shortly after that of his beloved wife in 1901.
"Major Alexander G. Davis, aged eight-five years, a former resident of this county, while attempting to cross the tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Ridgeville, Frederick County was struck by the engine of a westbound freight train and instantly killed. The coroner's jury rendered the verdict that he came to his death "through the criminal negligence of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company in not giving the proper warning by blowing the whistle and ringing the bell of the engine as it approached and passed the crossing, and by the crossing not being in proper condition."
In Eliza's letter, her daughter Ellen witnessed eleven of Colonel Lowell's command being buried in a mass grave at nearby Mt. Zion Church. Following the War, many contractors were engaged in collecting the fallen and reburying them in National Cemeteries. Although this grave at Mt. Zion's Church was commonly known by the local parishioners, for some reason, it was overlooked. In the mid 1990's, interested parties made a thorough investigation and identified the eleven troopers and another who died at a nearby farm (but whose gravesite was lost). Government tombstones were then furnished and placed in the cemetery, thus honoring those who gave their lives in the July 6th, 1864 skirmish.
|All referenced material was obtained from the files of the late John Divine of Leesburg, Virginia.|