- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 3, 2002

The historic Northern Neck of Virginia, nestled between the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock on the south, saw no major battles during the Civil War. Federal troops, however, made frequent foraging raids into the area, sometimes remaining for considerable time, much to the dismay of residents. Most of their able-bodied men were off fighting in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The Northern Neck is a narrow, picturesque peninsula that comprises about 800 square miles separated from the rest of Virginia by the Rappahannock. It is generally thought to consist of the counties of Westmoreland, Northumberland, Lancaster and Richmond, plus a portion of King George County. Numerous smaller rivers, creeks and bays fed by the Potomac and Rappahannock penetrate the interior, which made it vulnerable during the Civil War to Federal raiders operating from Point Lookout, Md., across the Chesapeake Bay.
In early 1864, Union troops stationed at Point Lookout began a series of raids, the largest of which in May and June were led by Col. Alonzo Draper, commander of the 36th U.S. Colored Infantry. Draper, born in Brattleboro, Vt., had been a newspaper editor before the war.
On July 5, 1861, at age 25, he joined the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery as a captain. He was promoted to major on Feb. 23, 1863, and to colonel of the 36th on Aug. 1, 1863. He took command of the prisoner-of-war camp at Point Lookout in April 1864.
A month later, on May 11, he left Point Lookout aboard the steamer Star with 300 men from his regiment and 12 cavalrymen on an expedition up the Rappahannock to obtain forage and to destroy Confederate mines (then known as "torpedoes") that were obstructing Union river traffic. The mission was a success. Nine torpedoes were seized or destroyed; one mill was burned; five Confederates were killed and five were captured, including two acting masters in the Rebel navy. Thirty-three head of cattle and 22 horses and mules were confiscated.
Enthusiastic about the success, Draper requested permission from Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler to conduct raids on the Northern Neck "whenever it appears to be necessary." Raids were needed to procure horses and other equipment for the Quartermaster's Department at Point Lookout and to obtain farm implements "for our contraband settlements on the Patuxent" farms established by the North for the use by slaves "liberated" from their owners.
On June 11, Draper launched a large raid consisting of 475 men of his regiment and 49 of the 2nd and 5th U.S. Cavalry regiments. Aboard three steam transports, they landed at Pope's Creek in Westmoreland County the next day. (Pope's Creek is adjacent to the birthplace of George Washington.)
After reaching what is now Virginia Route 3, Draper split his force. One group of 300 from the 36th moved to Smith's Wharf on the Rappahannock and then to Warsaw in Richmond County. A second group of 200 infantry under Draper, accompanied by 100 sailors of the gunboat Fuchsia, moved to Montross in Westmoreland County and then to Warsaw.
On June 13, a number of horses, cattle and farming implements confiscated from those counties were placed aboard vessels at Lower Machodoc Creek for transport to Point Lookout. On June 15, Draper's force marched from Warsaw to Union Wharf on the Rappahannock, where it was joined by a number of Union gunboats and transports.
On the afternoon of June 16, Draper and 40 cavalrymen skirmished with Confederate cavalry about a mile from the wharf. Draper's force was routed. After chasing Draper's troops about 200 to 300 yards, the Confederates turned back and set up camp for the night. At 7 the next morning, Draper's forces exchanged volleys at Pierson's farm with 150 Confederate cavalrymen from the 9th Virginia and with 450 Home Guards, after which the Confederates withdrew along Route 3 to Farnham Church on the Heathsville Road.
While Draper considered the raid a great success, the residents of the Northern Neck complained bitterly to the Confederate government about the conduct of Draper's troops during the raid. In a June letter to President Jefferson Davis, a committee of three prominent residents of Northumberland County contended that the Federal troops "were allowed unbounded license in pillage and waste, and in the indulgence of their brutal passions and appetites … houses searched and ransacked, ladies and gentlemen in many cases stripped of all of their clothing, furniture defaced and destroyed, and bed clothing, cutlery of every description, jewelry, silver, plate and money, wherever found, stolen and carried off."
These charges were seconded by Confederate Capt. John Braxton, assistant adjutant general, in a July 5 report to Headquarters, Richmond Defenses, who asserted that the wife of a Confederate soldier had been raped and that "many other instances could be mentioned of like atrocities if desired."
Both the Northumberland Citizens Committee and Braxton urged that the Home Guards be furnished with arms and ammunition "and that such of the citizens [of the Northern Neck] as have heretofore remained who may be liable to conscription be exempt from field service in the regular army, so as to be a nucleus of defense for the protection of that section of country."
These pleas for protection from Northern troops met with mixed reaction by the Confederate hierarchy. On June 24, Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon urged Lee to order elements of Col. John Mosby's cavalry to move to the Northern Neck to protect the residents. Lee, however, opposed sending a separate force for fear it would be cut off and easily captured. Instead, he recommended that "arms should be furnished them, and, if practicable, some officer sent there to aid in organizing them."
On Aug. 9, Lee recommended that Capt. Thomas Richards, a member of Mosby's Rangers and "a man of approved courage, of good character, and fitted by experience for the duty," be assigned "to raise a command for local defense." Ultimately, a battalion of Mosby's cavalry was sent to the Northern Neck in December 1864 and remained there until the end of the war.
Shortly after the June raid, Draper's regiment was sent to City Point, Va., to join Butler's forces. Draper himself was relieved of command of Point Lookout Prison and joined the regiment at City Point a week later. Though there is evidence that some of Draper's soldiers were "severely punished" for their conduct during the June raid, there is no indication that Draper or any of his officers was punished or reprimanded. In fact, several months later, Draper was promoted to the brevet rank of brigadier general and given command of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Army Corps.
After the war, he was transferred with the 25th to the Department of Texas, where he died from an accidental gunshot wound. He is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Mass.
Francis A. O'Brien's book "Battling for Saipan" is scheduled to be published in January 2003 by Presidio Press. He lives in Northern Virginia.

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