Stone Sentinels, battlefield monuments of the American Civil War


WinchesterDowntown Winchester

Loyal Quaker and Brave Slave

The wayside marker, Loyal Quaker and Brave Slave, is on the north side of downtown Winchester, Virginia. The marker is on the northeast corner of the intersection of North Loudoun Street and Fairfax Lane. set into the retaining wall of the landscaping in front of the parking garage. (39.187149° N, 78.16439° W; map)

 

The marker tells the story of how two civilians got critical intelligence information to Union commander Philip Sheridan from Confederate-held Winchester.

 

Sheridan had taken over Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley with orders to destroy Jubal Early's Army of the Valley. But Early was then reinforced by Joseph Kershaw's division of infantry from the First Corps of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, along with Cutshaw's artillery battery.

 

The reinforcements, as well as rumors that more than one division had been sent, held Sheridan back from launching his attack. A period of several weeks of relatively bloodless marching and countermarching resulted. With little fighting in the Shenandoah and the growing opinion that Sheridan was a yet another timid Yankee general, Lee recalled Kershaw, who was badly needed in the Richmond defences.

 

The information from Thomas Laws and Rebecca Wright that the reinforcements had left and no more were expected was all Sheridan needed to hear to launch what became the Third Battle of Winchester.

 

From the marker:

 

Loyal Quaker and Brave Slave

Rebecca Wright and Thomas Laws

 

In September 1864, U.S. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan heard rumors that Confederate forces had left the Shenandoah Valley to rejoin Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army at Petersburg. Wanting to confirm this information before attacking Gen. Jubal A. Early’s army, Sheridan concocted a dangerous and intriguing scheme. He had learned that a loyal Quaker named Rebecca Wright lived in Winchester on this site. Also, a slave named Thomas Laws often passed through Confederate lines to sell vegetables in town. On September 16, 1864, just three days before the Third Battle of Winchester, Sheridan wrote to Wright, “I learn...that you are a loyal lady and still love the old flag. Can you inform me of the position of Early's forces? Have any more troops arrived from Richmond?” In closing he wrote, “You can trust the bearer.” Laws rolled the note in tin foil and placed it in his mouth. During the Civil War the penalty for spying was death.

 

Wright wrote in reply, “The division of General [Joseph B.] Kershaw, and [Lt. Col. Wilfred E.] Cutshaw’s artillery, twelve guns and men...have been sent away, and no more are expected.” She added, “the bearer may call again.” She gave the message to Laws, who bravely crossed back to Union lines. Sheridan had the confirmation he needed and days later attacked, routed Early, and forced the Confederates out of Winchester, which would remain under Union control through the end of the war.

 

Captions from the drawings:

 

Gen. Phil Sheridan gives Thomas Laws secret instructions for Rebecca Wright.

 

In Confederate-held Winchester, Thomas Laws delivers his message to Rebecca Wright.


Wayside marker, Loyal Quaker and Brave Slave
(above) Wayside marker, Loyal Quaker and Brave Slave (see enlargement)
(below) The marker is on a downtown street corner in Winchester, Virginia
The marker is on a downtown street corner in Winchester, Virginia
(below) From the marker: Gen. Phil Sheridan gives Thomas Laws secret instructions for Rebecca Wright.
Gen. Phil Sheridan gives Thomas Laws secret instructions for Rebecca Wright.
(below) From the marker: In Confederate-held Winchester, Thomas Laws delivers his message to Rebecca Wright.
In Confederate-held Winchester, Thomas Laws delivers his message to Rebecca Wright.





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