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Confederate Scout Will Farley: A Tale of Two Swords

12 January 2014 No Comment

Captain Will Farley wrote his mother following the Battle of Williamsburg, Went into the 19th Miss. Regt.—then on picket in front of the enemy killed four men before the battle commenced; one of them Capt. of the 47th N.Y. Have his sword, a fine one.

The sword captured from the captain of the 47th New York was passed down in the Farley family. In 1923, following much research, and as an act or reconciliation, the Farley family returned the sword to the descendants of the captain of the 47th New York.

However, Farley’s daring in the peninsula campaign earned him another sword and more bounty. During the Battle of Seven Pines Farley somehow managed to capture a Federal uniform from the headquarters of Gen. Silas Casey. This appropriation of enemy equipment became Farley’s trademark. He never accepted pay, uniforms, weapons or horses from the Confederate government. Everything he needed to wage war he obtained from his foe, and he never ventured out on a mission without being fully equipped.

The wounding of Gen. Joseph E. Johnson at Seven Pines led to Robert E. Lee’s appointment to the command of the army. Lee soon sent Gen. Stuart to scout the enemy’s right flank, a mission that the intrepid cavalry commander turned into his first Ride Around McClellan.

Farley’s exploits on this dangerous ride were recounted by J. E. B. Stuart, IV, when he spoke at the re-interment of Farley in Laurens, SC in 2002. “Captain Farley was always in the vanguard, scouting well ahead of Stuart’s column of 1,200 horses. He was within three miles of a Union supply source of troops commanded by Gen. George McClellan. Well aware that Union troops were chasing him, Stuart couldn’t attack the Union supply line. He didn’t even have time to destroy the York County Rail on which the supplies would travel. The Confederates cut down timbers and laid them across the tracks.”

Stuart continued the narrative of his great-grandfather’s raid saying, “Lo, and behold a train came, guarded by infantry and carrying supplies, By the time the infantry saw the gray cavalry, they jumped off the train and ran in 45 different directions.

But the train didn’t stop and continued towards the supply depot at White House Landing. Gen. Stuart yelled to his men, ‘Stop that train!’ Will Farley grabbed a shotgun and on horseback chased the train down the tracks, killing the engineer.”

But the drama continued as the Confederate cavalry’s route of escape led them to a bridge that had been washed out by a flood. With Union cavalry bearing down, Mr. Stuart  related, “The surging waters, which couldn’t be forded, could have trapped Gen. Stuart and his cavalry. All that was left of the bridge were the abutments. Refusing to be captured, Farley and other scouts, tore down a nearby warehouse and laid the planks  across the river to allow their comrades to escape. This is another example of Capt. Farley jumping in and doing what needed to be done, without an order.”

News of Farley’s achievements on the Ride Around McClellan reached the Virginia government and he was soon presented a sword, a token of appreciation from the people of the Old Dominion, by none other than the governor of Virginia.

There does not appear to be any information on the location or fate of this sword. Do any of you South Carolinians know what became of it?*

*Information from:
They Followed the Plume by Robert Trout
Article from the April 28, 2002 Culpeper Star Exponent written by Wally Bunker

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