"The Black Knight of the Confederacy"
Turner Ashby was a soldier by descent. He was the son of Colonel Turner Ashby, who fought in the war of 1812, and the grandson of Revolutionary War Captain Jack Ashby. He was born on October 23, 1828, at "Rose Bank" in Fauquier County, Virginia. He was educated by private tutors. Ashby became a planter and a businessman, amassing a considerable fortune. He purchased a farm near his boyhood home and named the place Wolf's Crag. Ashby often competed in local tournaments reminiscent of those of medieval England. He was an accomplished horseman, brave and daring. Ashby seldom failed to win first honors in these tournaments.
His first military service came in 1857 when he raised a company of volunteers to police the workers building the railroad through the gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Manassas. After the railroad was completed the company was continued. When John Brown raided Harper's Ferry in 1859, Ashby and his volunteer cavalry were among the first to respond. They remained on duty in Harper's Ferry until after the trial and execution of Brown and his men.
When the Civil War Broke out, Ashby was commissioned as a Captain, and he immediately returned with his cavalry company to Harper's Ferry to help seize the Federal property there. His command, known as the Ashby Rangers, became part of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry. By June of 1861, he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in command of ten companies. Young men from the best families of western Virginia rushed to join his command. He employed the first battery of horse artillery used in the war. In 1862, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel. On May 23, 1862, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in command of the Ashby Brigade (later known as the Laurel Brigade).
A man of striking personal appearance, General Ashby was about 5' 10" tall, well-proportioned, graceful, and compact, with black hair and eyes, a black beard and a dark complexion. He was a calm, gentle man, not given to drinking or swearing. He often smiled, but rarely laughed, especially after the death of his brother Richard, who died as a result of being severely wounded in an encounter with a Union patrol near Harper's Ferry early in the war.
Ashby displayed great coolness and determination in battle. Galloping over the battlefield, alert and eager, on his black stallion or his favorite white horse (Tom Telegraph?), he reminded many who saw him of a medieval knight. General Thomas E. "Stonewall" Jackson, under whose command Ashby served, declared that he "...never knew [Ashby's] superior as a partisan leader." Ashby was killed in a skirmish on Chestnut Ridge near Harrisonburg, Virginia, on June 6, 1862, the eve of the climactic battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic. Ashby and his men were fighting a rear guard action against the Yankees in an attempt to buy time for General Richard Ewell to set his defenses. In a skirmish with Federal troops, Ashby's horse was shot out from under him. Undaunted, Ashby drew his pistol, called: "Charge, men. For God's sake, charge!" and proceeded to lead the cavalry charge on foot. After taking only a few steps, he was hit in the chest with a musket ball and died instantly. Turner Ashby was thirty-three years of age.
The site of his death now bears a memorial marker. Following the skirmish, the body of General Turner Ashby was taken to the Frank Kemper House in Port Republic where General Jackson joined other mourners who came to pay respects to the "Knight of the Confederacy." In October, 1866, his body was moved to a cemetery in Winchester, Virginia, where he shares a grave site with his younger brother Richard Ashby.