A Yankee Horseman in the Shenandoah Valley
The Civil War Letters of John H. Black, Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry
Publication Year: 2012
In many ways, John H. Black typified the thousands of volunteers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Born in 1834 and raised on his family’s farm near Allegheny Township, Pennsylvania, Black taught school until he, like many Pennsylvanians, rushed to defend the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861. He served with the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry, one of the Union’s most unruly, maligned, and criticized units.Consistently outperformed early in the conflict, the Twelfth finally managed to salvage much of its reputation by the end of the war. Throughout his service, Black penned frequent and descriptive letters to his fiancée and later wife, Jennie Leighty Black. This welcome volume presents this complete correspondence for the first time, offering a surprisingly full record of the cavalryman’s service from 1862 to 1865 and an intimate portrait of a wartime romance.
In his letters, Black reveals his impassioned devotion to the cause, frequently expressing his disgust toward those who would not enlist and his frustration with friends who were not appropriately patriotic. Despite the Twelfth Pennsylvania’s somewhat checkered history, Black consistently praises both the regiment’s men and their service and demonstrates a strong camaraderie with his fellow soldiers. He offers detailed descriptions of the regiment’s vital operations in protecting Unionists and tracking down and combating guerrillas, in particular John Singleton Mosby and his partisan rangers, providing a rare first-person account of Union counterinsurgency tactics in the Lower Shenandoah Valley. In the midst of portraying heated and chaotic military operations, Black makes Jennie a prominent character in his war, illustrating the various ways in which the conflict altered or nurtured romantic relationships.
One of the few compilations of letters by a long-term Yankee cavalry member and the only such collection by a member of the Twelfth Pennsylvania, A Yankee Horseman in the Shenandoah Valley provides new insights into the brutal, confused guerrilla fighting that occurred in northwestern Virginia. Moreover, these letters make a significant contribution toward an emerging consensus that Yankee cavalry—often maligned and contrasted with their celebrated Confederate foes—became a superior fighting force as the war progressed.
David J. Coles, professor of history at Longwood University, is the associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Civil War, coauthor of Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray, and coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the American Civil War.
Stephen D. Engle, professor of history at Florida Atlantic University, is the author of Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel, Don Carlos Buell: Most Promising of All, and Struggle for the Heartland: The Campaigns from Fort Henry to Corinth.
Published by: The University of Tennessee Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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In many respects, John Henry Black was typical of the thousands of volunteers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. The son of Jacob and Mary Black, he had been born on his father’s farm near Canan Station, Allegheny Township, Pennsylvania, on July 28, 1834. Black’s grandfather, Adam, a native of...
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The editors wish to acknowledge the Jefferson County Historical Association for permission to reprint the letters of John H. Black of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry, which were published previously by that organization. We are especially appreciative to John E. Stealey III of Shepherd University for his willingness...
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The American Civil War certainly does not lack for published source material. Before the conflict had even ended, thousands of memoirs, biographies, and regimental and campaign histories were printed. Despite this outpouring, scores of new books are published each year, indicative of the fascination many Americans still...
Chapter 1: 1861
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John Black would spend most of the Civil War in the ranks of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry. He did, however, have an earlier taste of soldiering. In April 1861, Black enlisted in the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-month regiment organized when Northerners still thought the war...
Chapter 2: 1862
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On January 24, 1862, twenty-seven-year-old John Henry Black strode into a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recruiting station to enroll in the newly formed Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Black’s enlistment papers show that he was five feet seven inches tall, with brown hair and beard, blue...
Chapter 3: 1863 [Image Plates]
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When John Black returned to the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry in December 1862, he found the regiment encamped at Kearneysville, Virginia, guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. For most of the remainder of the war, the regiment served in the...
Chapter 4: 1864
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The year 1864 would bring an increase in major military operations in the Shenandoah Valley. Confederate leaders realized that the lower valley must be given primary attention since it remained the gateway to the Union capital...
Chapter 5: 1865
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By early 1865 it appeared to most observers that the Confederacy was on the verge of collapse. Lincoln’s reelection the previous November had dashed Southern hopes for a negotiated settlement to the war. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, having withstood Grant’s onslaught throughout...
Chapter 6: Postwar Years
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Despite the seriousness of his Civil War wounds, John Black lived for nearly sixty years after the conflict. He was able to maintain a relatively active lifestyle, although his physical problems greatly affected him. Returning to his prewar occupation, Black taught in the Duncansville school system for several years after the war, and he and Jennie lived in her family home in Duncansville...
Appendix: Service of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry
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Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Voices of the Civil War
Series Editor Byline: Peter S. Carmichael, Series Editor