Death of Lt. Meigs, Deadly Encounter, 1864 Valley Campaigns

Inscription reads: "Here on the old Swift Run Gap Road on the evening of October 3, 1864, Union Lt. John Rodgers Meigs was killed in a fight with three Confederate scouts guided by local resident Pvt. Benjamin F. "Frank" Shaver, 1st Virginia Cavalry. Meigs, of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's staff, and two orderlies encountered the Confederates, who had entered Union lines that morning to observe the dispositions of Sheridan's army camped around Harrisonburg. A firefight ensued and Meigs wounded a scout, but the others returned fire and killed Meigs. His body was recovered the next morning. One of the orderlies reported to Sheridan that civilian "bushwhackers" had murdered Meigs. (Because of a drizzling rain, the scouts had worn "rubber raincoats" over their uniforms.) Sheridan retaliated, ordering that buildings over a large area, including the town of Dayton, be burned to the ground. He soon rescinded the order concerning Dayton, but thirty other dwellings were destroyed in what came to be known as the "Burnt District." Sheridan justified his actions by asserting, "Since I came into the Valley, from Harpers Ferry up to Harrisonburg, every train, every small party, and every straggler has been bushwhacked by people." In this case he was wrong, and innocent people paid the price."

John Rodgers Meigs was a member of a distinguished family, the eldest son of Montgomery C. Meigs, quartermaster general of the U.S Army. Young Meigs graduated first in the West Point class of 1863 and became a highly regarded staff engineer before joining Sheridan. After his death, be received posthumous promotion to the rank of major, and his body was transported to Mrs. Robert E. Lee's Arlington House, then under Gen. Meigs's jurisdiction. The general buried his son in Plot 1, Grave 1, in Mrs. Lee's rose garden.

This site is one of many in the Shenandoah Valley interpreted largely because of the efforts of John L. Heatwole, a renowned Valley historian, woodcarver, sculptor, and folklorist. His two books (Shenandoah Voices: Folklore, Legends and Traditions of the Valley and The Burning: Sheridan's Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley), his contributions to the Virginia Civil War Trails program, and his work on the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District Commission have brought the stories of this region to life for Valley residents and visitors alike.