In the predawn hours of October 3, 1864, Confederate guerilla John “Hanse” McNeill led a raid near Mount Jackson, Virginia. After a quick exchange of fire with Union cavalry, McNeill collapsed from a gunshot wound. He would die five weeks later.
McNeill had formed his guerrilla force two years earlier—in September 1862. Operating out of the Moorefield area, McNeill’s Rangers launched raids on Union troops and camps. But, most significantly, they destroyed property belonging to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Like most guerillas during the Civil War, McNeill’s Rangers were largely independent of the Confederate command.
Many similar groups, such as Quantrill’s Raiders, were often erratic and unlawful—so much so that the Confederate government banned them in early 1864. But, an exception was made for the guerrillas from Hardy County who had proven so effective.
After McNeill’s death, his son Jesse led the rangers until the end of the war. Their most famous exploit occurred just two months before Appomattox. The rangers snuck into the town of Cumberland, Maryland, and kidnapped Union generals Benjamin Kelley and George Crook from their hotels—the crowning achievement of McNeill’s Rangers.