When the Virginia secession convention voted 81 to 51 to secede from the Union on April 17, 1861, Governor John Letcher called for militia companies in the Shenandoah Valley to form up and head to Harper’s Ferry Virginia to secure the town and the munitions that were there. The 2,611 men that gathered at Harper’s Ferry in April were organized into five regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery and designated as the First Brigade, Virginia Volunteers. The regiments were made up of forty-nine companies, each with a letter designation and accompanying nickname. One of those regiments was the 27th Regiment, Company C, “the Allegheny Rifles” based out of Clifton Forge, Va.
The Valley Men were placed under the command of Colonel Thomas J. Jackson, who left his teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute to join the Virginia forces when the war broke out. Jackson had been picked to lead the First Virginia Brigade by Robert E. Lee, then advisor to Jefferson Davis.
It was at the battle of First Manassas, where the brigade’s unwavering stand at the Henry House earned them the name “Stonewall Brigade”. It was there that Gen. Bernard E. Bee made his immortal remark when looking for more of his brigade to rally for the final phase of the battle. He yelled, “Yonder stands Jackson like a stone wall; let’s go to his assistance… Rally behind the Virginians!” Jackson always contended that his brigade earned the name and not himself. The brigade followed “Stonewall” Jackson through the Romney campaign in the first winter of the war, solidifying the relationship between the Valley Men and their commander.
1862 saw the Valley men in Virginia, defeating three separate Union armies and keeping reinforcements from marching on Richmond during Gen. George McClellan’s failed Peninsula campaign. The brigade followed Gen. Robert E. Lee into Maryland and then to Chancellorsville, where Jackson’s death in May of 1863 devastated the men in his brigade as well as throughout the Confederacy.
The men of the First Brigade took part in the second day of Gettysburg when they attacked Culp’s Hill. The Mile Run campaign and Spotsylvania drastically reduced the numbers in the five regiments, and in the last year of the war, the regiments were combined with five other regiments to form a single brigade.
In April 1865, after 39 engagements, only 210 remained of the original 2,611, with over 6,000 men served in the Stonewall Brigade during the course of the War.