Virginia State Rangers


Virginia State Rangers were authorized by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on March 27, 1862. The act authorized ten or more companies, but less than twenty. A total of nine companies were raised and commissioned by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862. Actually, some companies were already in operation, and Governor Letcher forwarded blank commissions to their leaders, which were completed by the guerrillas in case they were captured. This occurred nine days before the enabling legislation was finalized. The rangers primarily operated in what is now the state of West Virginia. Their fundamental mission was to operate in small detachments behind Federal lines to counter Federal scouting parties and foragers. Their area of operation was on the northern, western and northwestern frontier of the Old Dominion. When the rangers were in proximity to regular Confederate units they were to subject themselves to their commanding officer.

Ranger companies were, according to the legislation, to have 75 men, one captain, one first lieutenant, and one second lieutenant. Battalions and regiments were authorized, but neither were formed. Lee Wallace accurately characterized their service when he wrote:

The number of Ranger companies organized is undetermined and the few known records that remain of their service reflect nothing to the State's credit. Reports show that the operation of the companies under Captains Downs and Spriggs appear to have been conducted in direct contradiction to the act under which they were authorized.

Company No. 1 was Captain George Downs' Company of Rangers, also known as the Moccasin Rangers, organized on July 15, 1861, in Calhoun County, (West) Virginia. It apparently operated with only state authorization in the territory which is now included in the Mountain State. Governor Letcher issued commissions to the officers of this company on March 19, 1862. He also ordered "that new commissions be issued to Captain George Downs and his two lieutenants as Company Number 1 of Rangers to take rank from the date of his previous commission which will thereafter be revoked." General Henry Heth characterized this company as "an outlaw band that robbed and plundered" and said that he would revoke Downs' commission. Heth had not authority to do so. This company became Company A, 3rd Virginia State Line, and in April 1863 it became Company A, 19th Virginia Cavalry in the regular Confederate Army.

Despite Downs' official position as chieftain of the Moccasin Rangers, two other factions of the guerrillas existed, one led by Perry Connolly and the other by Jack Tuning (Chewning). None of the bands was terribly scrupulous in their operations.

Company No. 2 was Captain John L. Spriggs' Company of Rangers. This unit was in service by April 2, 1862, and was the object of some of Henry Heth's anger. Spriggs was captured in Greenbrier County in May 1862 and was to be hung as guerrilla by Federal authorities. Spriggs was, however, sent to Johnson's Island and was exchanged some time before February 28, 1863. Spriggs was reported as commander of Company B, 3rd Virginia State Line, on February 28, 1863. His company was then stationed near Lewisburg in Greenbrier County. Spriggs later served as Captain of Company B, 19th Virginia Cavalry, organized in April 1863 from members of the Virginia State Line. Many men of his ranger company presumably accompanied their leader into this new organization.

Company No. 3 was Captain Marshall Triplett's Company of Rang- ers. Governor Letcher appointed officers of this company on March 18, 1862. Triplett was taken prisoner in Greenbrier County in May 1862 and sent to Johnson's Island.

Company No. 4 was Captain John Righter's Company of Rangers. Governor Letcher appointed the officers of this company on March 18, 1862. It was organized by April 12, 1862 when it was reported operating in Marion County. Righter's company became Company C, 3rd Virginia State Line and was stationed near Lewisburg, Greenbrier County. Righter later served as captain of Company D, 19th Virginia Cavalry which was organized in April 1863.

Company No. 5 was Captain James McCray's Company of Rangers. Officers for this company were appointed by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862.

Company No. 6 was Captain John E. Hays' Company of Rangers. Officers for this company were appointed by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862.

Company No. 7 was Captain William Harris' Company of Rangers. Officers for this company were appointed by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862. Harris, a Parkersburg resident, forwarded captured mail, medicines, stolen horses and other goods to the Confederate lines.

Company No. 8 was Captain Benjamin W. Haymond's Company of Rangers. Officers for this company were appointed by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862.

Company No. 9 was Captain William T. Meador's Company of Rangers. Officers for this company were appointed by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862. The men who formed this company probably came from what is now southern West Virginia, but this is not certain.

Company No. 10 was Captain Jonathan Haymond's Company of Rangers. Officers for this company were appointed by Governor Letcher on March 18, 1862.

Captain George Duskey's Company of Rangers was specifically mentioned in the Virginia legislation transferring state troops to Confederate control. Duskey had served as a private in the Moccasin Rangers. He was paid for service in that unit through July 15, 1862. Duskey then sought and received permission to raise a ranger company, which became Company E, 3rd Virginia State Line. On February 28, 1863, this company was stationed near Lewisburg in Greenbrier County, where its last muster roll as a member of Virginia's irregular forces was made.

Captain Daniel Duskey's Company of Rangers was listed by the U.S. War Department. Duskey was captured in 1862 and convicted at Wheeling of robbing the mails. Daniel Duskey was imprisoned at the penitentiary at Albany, New York under a four-year sentence. The Confederate government held hostages for the safe return of Duskey and a Lieutenant Barnes. Duskey apparently was exchanged on February 18, 1864, as Federal reports of that date note, "the notorious guerrilla chief, Dan Dusky" was captured in Webster County.

Additionally, John Anderson, David Barker, Brice Welsh, John Lewis, John Knight, and Washington Smith were reported as authorized to raise ranger companies. The source of that information is Federal records, which may not be entirely accurate.

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