|Active||1862 - May 8, 1865|
|Country||Confederate States of America|
|Allegiance||Confederate States of America|
McNeill's Rangers was an independent Confederate military force commissioned under the Partisan Ranger Act (1862) by the Confederate Congress during the American Civil War. The 210 man battalion-size unit was formed from Company E of the 18th Virginia Cavalry and the First Virginia Partisan Rangers (62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry). After the repeal of the Act on February 17, 1864, McNeill's Rangers was one of two partisan forces allowed to continue operation, the other being 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry (Mosby's Raiders). Both of these guerrilla forces operated in the western counties of Virginia and West Virginia. The Rangers were known to exercise military discipline when conducting raids. However, many Union generals considered McNeill and his men "bushwhackers," not entitled to protection when captured, as was the case with other prisoners of war.
McNeill's frequent raids on Piedmont, West Virginia, and the towns of Cumberland, Maryland, were aimed at disrupting the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad service. It is estimated that over 25,000 troops were diverted by Federal commanders to guard the B&O against McNeill's force. Piedmont, a small town at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains, was a frequent target due to its important machine shops and vast stores of railroad supplies. The main line of the Baltimore and Ohio passed through a narrow valley at Piedmont. At the time, Piedmont was the temporary seat of Hampshire County, Romney having been given up as the county seat because of repeated Confederate raids.
After earlier raids were unsuccessful, McNeill finally succeeded in severing the railroad and burning the machine shops at Piedmont. The President of the B&O, John W. Garrett, reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that "the extensive machine and carpenter shops of Piedmont have been burned. The engine and cars of the east-bound main train and two-tonnage trains have also been destroyed. Five other engines damaged. ... The heat of the fire at the wreck of the trains at Bloomington had been too intense to permit much work, but during the night we expect to have the entire road again clear and train running regularly."
Captain McNeill's official report to James A. Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War, reads:" ...We burned some seven large buildings filled with the finest machinery, engines, and railroad cars; burned nine railroad engines, some seventy-five or eighty burthern cars, two trains of cars heavily laden with commissary stores, and sent six engines with full head of steam toward New Creek. Captured the mail and mail train and 104 prisoners on the train. ..."
The blows of McNeill's Rangers grew heavier as the Civil War progressed. Brigadier General Benjamin F. Kelley, the Federal commander in the area, was especially irritated at the tempo of their raids and the havoc created by each one. On May 22, 1864, in a special communique to Colonel Higgins at Green Spring, Kelley ordered: "As soon as practicable send Captain Hart with 125 or 150 men on a scout up the east side of the river, to Moorefield and vicinity, after McNeill." Kelley continued: "It is not necessary for me to give Captain Hart any minute instructions. He is well acquainted in that vicinity. I will simply say I want McNeill killed, captured, or driven out of this valley." His 150 men were not enough, and McNeill escaped.
On February 22, 1865, Jesse McNeill and 65 Rangers travelled 60 miles behind enemy lines to Cumberland, Maryland. Without being detected, they captured both Union Major General George Crook and Brig. Gen. Benjamin Kelley from their beds. They evaded pursuing Federal cavalry and delivered the captured generals to Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early who forwarded the prisoners to Richmond.
In the last year of the War, McNeill's Rangers commander Major Harry Gilmore used "The Willows" near Moorefield, West Virginia as his command. The Rangers used nearby Mill Island and McNeil family-owned Willow Wall as hospitals.
- Zedric, Lance Q. & Dilley, Michael F. Elite Warriors: 300 Years of America's Best Fighting Troops. Pathfinder Publishing, Inc., 1996. p. 98.
- Lepa, Jack H. The Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864. McFarland, 2003. p. 28.
- Heidler, David Stephen, et al. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: a political, social, and military history. W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. p. 1293.
- Nancy Ann Snider (August 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: The Willows". State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/hardy/73001905.pdf. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- Nancy Snider (August 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Mill Island". State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/hardy/73001904.pdf. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- Nancy Snider (August 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Willow Wall". State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/hardy/73001906.pdf. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- Neil Hunter Raiford, "The 4th North Carolina Cavalry in the Civil War", McFarland & Company, 2003, ISBN 0-7864-1468-5, page 5.
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