Inscription reads: "The death of Union Lt. John R. Meigs, near the granite marker on the hill in front of you, unleashed a firestorm of retaliation. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, erroneously told that civilian "bushwhackers" had killed Meigs, reported to Gen. U.S. Grant four days later that "for this atrocious act all the houses within an area of five miles were burned." The affected area initially was to include "Tunkerville, Bridgewater and Dayton.""
On October 4-5, the 5th New York Cavalry of Gen. George A. Custer's division began displacing local families and burning their homes to the ground. Some residents went to live with more fortunate family members and friends. Others joined a 400-wagon-long train of refugees that left Harrisonburg on October 5 for the North. The Northern press noted that "the general devastation of the country has obliged the people to remove."
Ironically, most of the refugees were pacifist and antislavery Mennonites and Brethren, commonly called Dunkards or Tunkers. Union soldiers here wrote of the inhabitants' productive farms and of how well they treated the Federals. Quartermaster Sergeant Ezra Walker, of the 116th Ohio Infantry, bivouacked in Dayton, later wrote of returning to camp from one of the farms "with a bucketful of honey, one of apple butter, bread, sweet potatoes, cabbage, chickens � a pretty good haul for one day." He also wrote that he paid for what he took. Others were not as considerate, and a great deal of looting occurred. After the war, Mennonites and Brethren went from farm to farm, rebuilding barns, mills, and - in the case of this area - houses.
Thirty-year-old Samuel Coffman had just been called to be the bishop of the Middle District of the Mennonite Church when the war began. He adhered to the strict principles of his church: adult baptism, opposition to slavery, and pacifism. In front of Confederate enrolling officers, he told his men to hide or flee rather than be conscripted into military service. His life was later threatened because he was true to his conscience.
Last Updated: 7/20/2011 2:54 PM