Rebellion Within the Rebellion: The Wayward Militiamen of Rockingham

by Karl Rhodes

Thomas Jefferson once wrote thata little rebellion now and then is a good thing; as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions indeed generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them.”Perhaps this was the principle at work in March 1862, when a significant number ofVirginians in Rockingham County refused to comply with Gov.John Letcher’s declarationthat all militiamen in the Shenandoah Valley must answer the bell for round two of the Civil War.The first inkling of this little-knownrebellion within the rebellion came from the pen of Jedediah Hotchkiss, who would becomeStonewall Jackson’stopographer. “The Rockingham militia has been released for 10 days,” he wrote on March 18,as he passed through the county on his way to Jackson’s headquarters at Winchester. “They are quite averse to going.”It was certainly no surprise to Hotchkiss or to Jackson that groups of Mennonites and Dunkers (German Baptist Brethren) were captured in mid-March as they tried to flee through the mountains of Western Virginia.But these nonviolent deserters were not alone in their refusal to return to the war. Jackson’s 10-day grace period had ended, and quite a few Rockingham militiamen were still AWOL. Some of thesemen had volunteered for military service at the start of the war, and under Virginia law, their one-year military obligation was about to expire. More disgruntled men joined the Rockingham Rebellion after March 29, when Governor Letcher proclaimed that all Virginia militiamen would be inducted as privates into “volunteer companies” of the Confederate ranks.There is much uproar among the militia,” Hotchkiss wrote. “I am glad that I have made my escape from the militia [onto Jacksons staff] before this proclamation.”

As the situation became increasingly volatile, Jackson ordered Lt. Col. John R. Jones to bring out the militia by force if necessary. Jones, a native of Rockingham County, made the following announcement: “A company of cavalry has been ordered to report to me here for the purpose of executing the above order; and any additional force necessary will be sent. I am authorized to say to the Tunkers (Dunkers) and Mennonites, that Gen. Jackson believes them to be sincere in their opposition to engaging in war, and will detail them as teamsters, etc.”

Jones ordered the wayward militiamen to report to the Rockingham courthouse at 9 a.m. on April 4, but very few deserters – if any – showed up.

On the following day, Confederate scouts arrested Mennonite and Dunker leaders, and Jones immediately marched on the men of the Rockingham Rebellion, who had taken up fortified positions in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Swift Run Gap. Unlike the Mennonites and Dunkers, these men were armed and dangerous, but Jackson had delivered to Jones the extra firepower he had requested. In addition to the cavalry, Jones now commanded four companies of infantry and three pieces of artillery.

The Richmond Whig gave the following account of the ensuing confrontation between Jones Confederate forces and “between 300 and 400 persons … armed with rifles, shotguns, and in one instance with a pike.”

“They fled from their homes on the approach of the troops sent after them, and dodged about in squads in the by-paths and gorges of the Blue Ridge.… The imposing and formidable demonstration however, made by Lieut. Col. Jno. R. Jones, per order of Stonewall Jackson, has had the happy effect of driving them from their haunts and places of rendezvous, and scattering them in confusion. A few prisoners and a few horses were taken, and it is hoped the course pursued by Lieut. Col. Jones has effectively put down and crushed this miserable abortion of a rebellion against the Confederate authorities.”

In the end, the civil disobedience of the Mennonites and Dunkers kept many of their young men out of the war, while the not-so-civil disobedience of the Rockingham Rebellion was not as effective. Both approaches, however, raised the awkward issue of states’ rights within the Confederacy. Ultimately, Virginia’s conscription laws were superseded by those of the Confederacy, which desperately needed men of all religious and military stripes to wage war for three more years.

Karl Rhodes is the author of Peggy’s War, the true story of Margaret “Peggy Rhodes, who ran a depot on the underground railroad for Mennonites and Dunkers who refused to fight in the Civil War. The book is available at retailers in Virginia and Pennsylvania and at


“Blue Ridge Rebellion.” Richmond Whig, April 15, 1862. Summary of an article that ran in the Rockingham Register on April 11, 1862. That issue of the Register is unavailable.

Casler, John. O. Four Years in the Stonewall Brigade. Edited by Jedediah Hotchkiss. Fourth Edition. Reprinted by Morningside Bookshop, 1971.

Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Make Me a Map of the Valley: The Civil War Journal of Stonewall Jackson’s Topographer. Edited by Archie P. McDonald. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1973.

Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787.Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827. Library of Congress.

Knappenberger, Evan. K. Dusty Measure of a Hero’s Fame: The Moral Tragedy of Stonewall Jackson and His Confederacy, 2023.

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7 responses to “Rebellion Within the Rebellion: The Wayward Militiamen of Rockingham”

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I wonder how many in the rebellion lost their farms and homes in the fall of 1864? Sheridan and Custer burned the Mennonite village of Dayton, Va to the ground. 30 homes.

  2. Not Today Avatar

    WTH? What is the point of this?

    1. Some readers accuse Bacon’s Rebellion of perpetuating the Lost Cause narrative just because some columnists don’t believe in canceling Lee and Jackson. Karl’s story of Shenandoah Valley resistance to the Confederacy offers a counterpoint to our dominant narrative. You see, we like to air a wide range of views here.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Thankful that you provide a counterpoint to the “Righteous Cause Myth”.

      2. Not Today Avatar

        To be fair, and accurate, *I* have identified that as the prevailing sentiment among commenters, columnists, as well as forum censors. I’m not sure a singular, rather rambling entry is enough to overcome the former.

      3. Not Today Avatar

        To be fair, and accurate, *I* have identified that as the prevailing sentiment among commenters, columnists, as well as forum censors. I’m not sure a singular, rather rambling entry is enough to overcome the former. ETA: The Lost Cause Narrative is defined, in no small part by the willingness of adherents to espouse the belief that ‘states rights’ and not slavery were the chief causes of the civil war, and that the ongoing debate over public statuary for Confederate leaders is about ‘heritage’ and not the UDC effort to publicly terrorize black people and beat back the civil rights movement. Nothing in this piece is anti-the Lost Cause Myth. Its replete with nuggets designed to rehabilitate Confederates while ignoring their ignoble cause. It’s so deeply ingrained, you can’t help yourselves.,in%20the%20best%20possible%20light.

  3. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    I had remembered that Jackson allowed conscientious objectors to serve as teamsters, much like in modern times many brave COs have served in medical roles. Yes, important to remind people that many Virginians either opposed the war on principle or were quite willing to fight for the Union. Of course, they could also learn that from the movie and Broadway play “Shenandoah.” Jimmy Stewart in the movie, but John Cullum won a Tony for the role on Broadway. Who? Think “1776” and remember the number, “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.”

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