Everything Librarian: May 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Civil War in Dry Fork: The Historic Ride of Jane Snyder

There is a lot of history in Harman, West Virginia.

Indians migrated through here and hunted here. Early settlers came here after the American Revolution, some as Tories defeated by the Colonials. Many settlers were Scotch-Irish, German, or Dutch. And then came the American Civil War. As all good West Virginians know, we were the only state created out of war because the entire state of Virginia was literally split on the issue of slavery. In many local areas, sentiments were mixed as to whom supported the Federal North, or who supported the Confederate South. Harman favored the Federal (sometimes called Union) troops.

The Civil War Comes to Dry Fork

In 1862, the American Civil War was in full force. Confederate Colonel John D. Imboden was leading a slash and burn campaign through northwestern West Virginia stealing supplies and destroying the railroad. The strategy was to obliterate valuable infrastructure and to leave Federal supporters without supplies.

But the town of Harman in the Dry Fork Valley region of Randolph County, West Virginia, was staunchly Union. There was a team of Federal scouts in the region lead by Captain John Snyder who had a 19-year-old daughter named Mary Jane Snyder, who was mostly called Jane. Jane Snyder is a somewhat legendary figure even though we know she was a real person who lived in this region. The story goes that Jane heard that Imboden was going to capture Parson’s Mill and blow up a B&O train bridge in Rowlesburg. The Federals at Parson’s Mill included Jane’s father, Captain John Snyder. Since Jane knew the few Federal scouts at Parson’s Mill would be horribly outnumbered she rode horseback through some rough country to reach the Mill before Imboden. Most accounts acknowledge that Jane arrived in Parson’s before the Confederates and that she probably saved the Federal troops including her father, and perhaps stopped the railroad bridge from being destroyed.

Consider Don Teter’s version of Jane Snyder’s story from his book “Goin’ Up Gandy:”

“Aug. 14, 1862, Confederate Colonel (later General) John D. Imboden left his camp at Franklin with about three hundred mounted men and, guided by Zeke Harper, rode across the mountains toward Beverly. Imboden hoped to surprise the Federals by riding through Saint George to attack and destroy the B&O Railroad bridge at Rowlesburg, so he avoided the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike across the mountains. They rode along game trails and followed ridges and streams until they reached the Glady Fork, about twelve miles northeast of Beverly, when they turned northward down Glady Fork, toward the Dry Fork.

Meanwhile, word of their presence in the woods had reached Horsecamp Run, and John Snyder’s 19 year old daughter Jane (1843-1908) had ridden down the Dry Fork to warn her father, who had gone to Saint George. She passed the mouth of Glady Fork before Imboden and his men got there, and warned the small group of Federals at Parsons’ Mill in time for them to escape.”

So while some might think that Jane Snyder’s ride was Civil War folklore or fairytale, her remarkable journey was chronicled in the Wheeling Intelligencer from August 22, 1862, “It was Capt. Snider’s daughter who came from Pendleton to bring the news of the advance of the rebels and their strength. She is a brave girl and deserves to be crowned a heroine.”

On August 26, 1862, an alleged eye witness Charles Hooten had his letter published in the Wheeling Intelligencer that concluded, “But for this heroic young lady, Miss Snyder, whose name and heroic deed should be remembered and rewarded, Capt. Hall and his men would, in all probability, have been destroyed."

An Anonymous Poem

A more romanticized version of Jane Snyder’s ride is found in Carrie Harman Roy’s “Captain Snyder and His Twelve of West Virginia (1977)” there is a long account of Jane Snyder’s ride in poem form that includes the following:

“The Midnight Ride of Jane Snyder, Anonymous

Thus they rode in that night which so many remember,
That terrible night of the stormy November,
When the winds through the pines on the mountains were roaring
And the torrents re-echoed with splashing and pouring
But the rebels while flanking the Federal pickets
Were flanked by a woman who rode through the thickets,
O'er by-paths and no paths, o'er mountains that rose
To the clouds, and their summits were spattered with snows;
And she out-rode, the Rebels and came in ahead.
They were balked, they were beat; for the Yankees had fled.
She had warned them in time, but no moment to spare;”

While I hate to pick at poems, as a historian I have to mention that Jane’s ride was in August (not November, but what rhymes with August?), and Ms. Snyder’s ride was in the early morning hours, not in the night.

So what really happened in August of 1862? By several accounts, Jane Snyder’s solo journey across 30-40 miles may have saved the lives and freedom of some Federal troops. Certainly the act of this one brave teen did not change the tide of the Civil War but it did send a clear message to the Confederates: this is not your territory and you are not wanted here. It also says much about the brave teen, Jane Snyder, who was willing and able to take a long journey by herself on horseback for the sake of her father and the Federal cause that he defended.

Not to deflate the history of Jane Snyder, but Imboden eventually returned in November of the same year and easily captured about 30 Federal troops at Parson’s Mill in West Virginia. This time, Imboden’s plan to blow up the railroad bridge at Rowlesburg was foiled when he learned that Federal troops were on their way.

Women have always played a powerful role in wars but much of that history may have been overlooked by the men who wrote the history books. Jane Snyder stands as a reminder of the power of women, family, and teenagers during wartime.

[Side note: It is interesting to note the discrepancies on Mary Jane Snyder Bennett's tombstone from Idaho which has an incorrect birth date and year. Some sources list her birth date as May 7 and her birth year as 1843. The tombstone seems to reflect May 17 as her birth date and 1849 as her birth year. I found Mary Jane Snyder in the 1860 census (parents John & Lucinda) and her birth year is estimated as 1843.]

Sources listed below are available for study at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia. Also, this is a great site that includes a picture of Jane Snyder in her later years.

Roy, C. H. (1977). Captain Snyder and his twelve of West Virginia. New York, NY: Carlton Press.

Teter, D. (1977). Goin'up Gandy: A history of the Dry Fork region of Randolph and Tucker counties, West Virginia. Parsons, W. Va.: McClain Print.