During the latter part of the summer of 1864, when General Sheridan, in command of the Middle Division of the Army, with headquar­ters at Harper's Ferry, was desirous of obtaining reliable information as to the Confederate forces around Winchester, Va., upon which he was anxious to begin offensive operations, but he was deterred by the reports of Early's great strength. He was in a dilemma as to the means by which he could obtain such information, until Gen. George Crook, in one of the conferences, chanced to mention that there was a lady in Winchester, named Rebecca Wright, who had been expelled from her position as school teacher, because of her well-known loyalty to the Union.

Miss Wright was born near Winchester, Jan. 3, 1838. Her ancestry for several generations was of the Society of Friends, and her parents were members of the Fairfax and Baltimore meetings.

She was educated in the Winchester public school, and for three years prior to the war she taught a private school in care of the Friends at Hopewell Meeting, Va. Subsequently she was assistant in a private school, but her pronounced Union sentiments caused her dismissal. She then opened a private school and played a not unimportant part in the nation's history. How it came about is best told in her own words:

“It was while sitting at my desk in my little school room at the noon hour, that I heard a ring at the front door, and was told a colored man wished to see Miss Wright. He was thirty or thirty-five years old, closing all doors and looking about in such ways that alarmed me so that I demanded very positively business.

“He immediately told me he had a note from Gen­eral Sheridan, who wanted me to tell him of the strength and position of the rebel forces in and around Winchester, at which I was greatly troubled, as the man was an entire stranger to me, and the thought that he might be trying to find out what I would do or say, and betray me to the rebels who were in possession of the place, was uppermost in my mind.

"I asked him if he knew to whom he was talking and told him there were two of us. He replied, Oh, yes; you are Miss Rebecca; your sister is a rebel.' I then told him I did not have anything to do with the rebels and knew nothing about them, but he talked so intelligently, told me so much of the troops with Sheridan, and seemed so earnest and honest that I could no longer doubt him.

"He quickly noticed the change and said, will go now, Miss Wright, and come again at three, and I know you will have a line to send to the General.'

"All this time I was nervously trying to get at the note, which was rolled in tinfoil, and was tearing the foil when he said: 'Do not tear the foil, you will need it to wrap your reply in.' I carried it under my tongue and was to swallow it if I was arrested and searched.

"After talking it over with my mother, and know­ing the risk I was running, I sat down and wrote all I knew, and this was how I knew anything of Con­federate affairs:

"Two evenings before, a rebel officer, convalescent, who boarded with our next door neighbor, asked the privilege of spending the evening in my company. But a sorry evening it proved for his cause. I asked questions (never thinking of using the information) and he answered truthfully. When Sheridan asked me I knew, therefore, what to tell, and wrote, putting my life in the keeping of a strange colored man."

What General Sheridan wrote to Miss Wright, the little Quakeress, and her reply, is now of historical record and is as follows:


SEPTEMBER 15, 1864.

I learn from Major-General Crook that you are a loyal lady and still love the old flag.

Can you inform me of the position of Early and his forces, the number of divisions in his army and the strength of any or all of them, and his probable or reported intentions? Have any more troops arrived from Richmond, or are any more coming or reported to be coming?

I am very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

Major-General Commanding.

You can trust the bearer.

* * *

The very next day General Grant visited the head­quarters of General Sheridan and listened to his earnest argument for leave to attack the Confederates at 'Winchester. After some deliberation our greatest of generals laconically replied, "Go ahead."

In the gray of the morning a tired, mud-be-spat­tered scout rode up to headquarters and delivered into the hands of the General a little ball of tinfoil. It contained the answer which the Quaker maiden had tremblingly confided to the unknown colored man. It was written in a firm hand, although the writer's life was at stake as she wrote. It was dated but unsigned. The General sat up in his camp bed and read:

September 16, 1864.

I have no communication whatever with the rebels, but will tell you what I know.

The division of General Kershaw and Cutshaw's artillery, twelve guns and men, General Anderson commanding, have been sent away and no more are expected, as they cannot be spared from Richmond. I do not know how the troops are situated, but the force is much smaller than represented. I will take pleasure here­after in learning all I can of their strength and position, and the bearer may call again.

Very respectfully yours,

* * *

This cheering information that the forces of the enemy had been so materially weakened, led to an immediate order to march. On the next day Sheridan and Early confronted each other at Opequan Creek, a few miles east of Winchester. Then followed a most sanguinary battle which cost Sheridan 3000 men —1000 killed and 2500 taken prisoners.

What Miss Wright remembers of the terrible day: Many times during the next day (17th) and the quiet Sabbath (18th), I wondered what had become of the colored messenger and of my note. When we were awakened on Monday morning, the 19th, before daybreak, by the roar of cannon, my first thought was whether my note had anything to do with the fight­ing. In the afternoon when the streets were filled with troops, artillery wagons and the poor suffering wounded, when buildings were burning all around us (our own fence was on fire several times), my mother asked me if the note I had written was the cause of it. But I still wondered if it had ever been received.

It was the most terrible day of all our experience in old Winchester. The shells fell so near us we went down cellar for safety. The rumbling and noise grew fainter and fainter, until it was so quiet I could not endure it, and said I must go up and see what I could see.

Nothing on the first floor; nothing on the second floor; but from the window of the garret I saw the old flag waving, and it was coming to town. I dropped on my knees then and there, and gave thanks to the Giver of all good for the sight; then started for the cellar, fairly flying down the stairs, screaming, "The old flag is coming in! Come up now, all will be safe! The fires will be put out and everything will soon be all right. The dear old flag is coining back again."

We soon had the house open to receive our friends, and in the evening I learned whether my note had anything to do with that battle.

I heard sabers clamping against the steps, and on going to the door met two officers, to each of whom, without knowing their rank, I extended one of my hands, welcoming them as Union officers.

When one introduced himself as General Sheridan, I welcomed him indeed, and he told me it was entirely on the information that I had sent that he at once gave battle. He said the rebels were utterly defeated and would never come again. But I had heard that too often, and told him all who had gained a victory had told us that, so we had lost faith; but they never came again. He wrote the report of his battle at my desk.

Soon friends began to arrive, and though there were no decorations, no flowers, there never was a reception more thoroughly enjoyed or more fully appreciated, than the one held in the old house at the foot of Fort Hill on Main Street, Winchester, Va., by the Quaker girl who felt she had done her duty to her country.

Later on there came to the Quaker school-marm the following letter, which explains itself:



NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 7, 1867.


You are not probably aware of how great a service you rendered the Union cause by the information you sent me by the colored man a few days before the battle of Opequau, on Sept. 19, 1864.

It was upon this information the battle was fought and probably won. The colored man gave the note, rolled up in tinfoil, to the scout who awaited him at Millwood. The colored man had carried it in his mouth to that point and delivered it to the scout, who brought it to me. By this note I became aware of the true condi­tion of affairs inside the enemy’s line and gave directions for the attack. I will always remember this courageous and patriotic action of yours with gratitude, and beg you to accept this watch and chain, which I send you by Gen. J. W. Forsyth, as a memento of Sept. 19, 1864.

I am your obedient servant,



                                                                            * * *


When Grant became President, Miss Wright was further rewarded by a position in the Treasury Department, which she still retains.

She changed her name shortly afterward, being married to William Carpenter Bonsal.



* * *


        FREMONT, 0., October 4, 1888.

My Dear Colonel:

I hand you herewith a pamphlet now out of print, with the request that you reprint it with the addition of three letters—one by Col. Theodore W. Bean, of Norristown, Pa. ; one by Gen. George Crook; and one by Major H. Kyd Douglas, an ex-Confederate officer on Gen. Early’s staff.

The incident is too interesting not to be pre­served in permanent form. It is to be regretted that neither the scout nor the colored man referred to in the correspondence can now be accounted for. They remain, after diligent search and inquiry by both Mrs. Bonsal and Gen. Sheridan, among “the unknown heroes of the war.”




* * *



REBECCA. M. WRIGHT, daughter of Amos M. and Rachel Wright, was born near Winchester, Va., January 31, 1838. She is connected by birth with the Society of Friends, as were her ancestry for many generations. Her parents were members of Fairfax Quarterly Meeting, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland, Yearly Meeting. Her father died August 27, 1865, and is buried in the Friends’ burying grounds attached to Ridge Meet­ing, Virginia. Her mother died June 21, 1874, in Rice County, Kansas, while visiting her daughter, and was there laid to rest in private burial-grounds. Miss Wright enjoyed the advantages of a fair education, obtained in the schools at Winchester, Va., and, at the age of fifteen years, was employed as a teacher. At sixteen she declined further employment in this calling, and took a year’s course of study at the Friends’ School in Loudon County, Va., taught by Samuel M. Janney. For three years prior to the war she taught a private school under the care of the Friends at Hopewell Meeting, Va. Subsequently she was assistant teacher in a private school of eighty pupils, but her pronounced Union sentiments, during the early days of the rebellion, were distasteful to the management and the popular feeling of the community. She therefore withdrew from the institution, and opened a private school in Winchester. Her sentiments were well known ; she taught the children of loyal parents, and never lost faith in the Union cause, or refused to aid the friends of the National government and its armies in the many and memorable struggles for the possession of the Shenan­doah Valley.

Miss Wright was appointed to a position of honor in the Treasury Department at Washington in the year 1868, in recog­nition of her distinguished service to the country. She subse­quently married William Carpenter Bonsal. She still retains her position, and at present resides at the National Capital.

T. W. B.

    * * *

HAGERSTOWN, MD., July 9, 1883.

Colonel BEAN:

In reply to yours of the 2d inst.

General Early was reinforced in July, 1864, after his return from Washington, by General Ander­son, commanding Kershaw’s division of infantry (about 4,00o), Fitz Lee’s cavalry (say 1,50o), and Cutshaw’s battalion of artillery (twelve guns and necessary men). This command was not engaged except in unimportant skirmishes while Early was cavorting over the lower Valley. On September 14 Anderson left to join Lee with Kershaw’s division of infantry and Cutshaw’s battalion of artillery. Sheridan a few days afterwards attacked and defeated Early at Winchester, having learned of Anderson’s departure.

After Early’s defeat at Fisher’s Hill, and before the battle of Cedar Creek, Kershaw and Cutshaw were again ordered to Early (Kershaw’s division reduced to about 3,300) and made up to him his losses at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill. About the same time (October 5) Rosser’s brigade of cavalry (a small one of say 700) also joined Early, and got whipped at Tom’s Brook almost as soon as he had come up.

You will find these facts are stated in Early’s pamphlet and also in Pond’s book on the Shenan­doah Valley in 1864. The estimates I have given you are larger than General Early’s (for he only speaks of the actual effective strength), and about the same as Mr. Pond’s.

Very truly,



* * *


OMAHA, NEB., September 26th, i886.

Colonel THEO. W. BEAN, Norristown, Pa.

My Dear Colonel:

In reply to your favor of the 19th inst. I have to say that I became acquainted with Rebecca Wright previous to General Sheridan’s arrival, and became convinced of her loyalty and high character ; but as about the time referred to General Sheridan and myself had many conferences during each day, sometimes in the presence of other persons and sometimes alone, sometimes in our tents, and at other times in the open air, beyond the fact of my recommending her to General Sheridan’s favorable consideration I now have no other recollections on the subject.

Yours sincerely,



* * *

NORRISTOWN, PA., September 24, 1888.

My Dear General Hayes:

I herewith enclose you copy of letter of Major Douglas, late of Gen. Early's staff, 1864; also one more recent, of Gen. Crook. They were not in my possession at the time the Souvenir of the Loyal Girl was published. Both have a bearing upon the case.


Cordially yours,




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