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Thirty Seventh Virginia Cavalry 

Posted 5/25/23

The Thirty Seventh {37th} Virginia Cavalry Battalion mustered into service to the Confederacy in November 1862. The battalion would originally be assigned to the newly formed Confederate Cavalry in the Department of Western Virginia.  The history of the battalion began approximately six months earlier from Randolph County, Georgia when it was being organized as Dunn's Partisan Rangers. Lieutenant Colonel Ambrose C. Dunn was the initial driving force in the battalion being brought to strength for service in the 37th. When the war began, Dunn was a Captain in the 60th Georgia Infantry; however, after a courts martial, Dunn was removed from command in November 1861.  By April 1862, Dunn was recruiting for his new command in Virginia. It is said that most of Dunn's initial recruits were former members of the 4th South Carolina Infantry. Early on as the war began, the regiment had problems between the Brigadier General and his orders to the Confederate troopers and the seizure of horses which caused 200 of the Confederate troopers in the 37th to desert. Through even more miscommunication with his superiors in July 1862, Colonel Dunn was arrested for disobeying orders which cost him his command of the 37th Virginia Cavalry Battalion. 

During the spring and summer of 1864, the Confederate cavalry gave as much as they received in fighting with Union Cavalry and Infantry. A great victory was won by the Confederates at New Market in May. After that loss, the Union placed a man in command who was destined to be one of the most hated men in the state of Virginia, due to his tactics in dealing with civilians and private property. General David Hunter, the new Union Cavalry Commander in the Shenandoah Valley set out in June 1864 destroying everything he could, in hopes of causing the Confederacy  in Virginia to crumble. Hunters' troops made it up the valley to Lynchburg, but there were unable to take the town. The 37th Virginia lost 50-60 killed or wounded and 70 others taken prisoner at the battle for Lynchburg. Hunters' cavalry along with other Cavalry regiments made their way to Lexington and burned the home of Virginia's former governor as well as the Virginia Military Institute and surrounding buildings. 

Confederate General Jubal Early had had enough. In late June 1864, Colonel Dunn again became the Brigade Commander of the 37th Virginia through a special order from President Jefferson Davis. The courts martial sentence of Lieutenant Colonel Dunn was remitted, and he rejoined the battalion. Early decided to send Confederate cavalry into northern territory, particularly Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and demand restitution from the citizens of the city for damage done by Hunters Cavalry in the Shenandoah in Virginia.

General Early placed Confederate General John McCausland, Jr. in command of the expedition. Colonel Dunn, and the 37th Virginia Cavalry Battalion were in the expedition as well. Upon arrival in the city of Chambersburg, the Confederates took the city with little or no resistance. The men of the town were told by General McCausland the mission of the Confederates. The towns people insisted there was not 100,000 in gold in the town for the requested restitution, and if there were, the Confederates would certainly not get the money. With that, General McCausland immediately ordered Colonel Dunn to burn the courthouse and the surrounding buildings. Within five minutes, some say, an explosion was heard, and the courthouse was ablaze by use of two kegs of kerosene placed under the wooden steps of the courthouse. The remainder of the town was burned by other Confederate cavalry. Colonel William E. Peters of the 21st Virginia Cavalry refused orders to burn the town and was subsequently arrested which was broken by the end of the day.

On October 23, 1864, the 37th Virginia Cavalry was on picket near their camps in Milford in the Luray Valley, when they were surprised by members of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry. No casualties were incurred by the Virginians as they fled, however; they did leave behind supplies, blankets, and haversacks, along with their prized battalion battle flag.

In March 1865, Lieutenant Colonel Dunn had enough. Due to constant rheumatism problem, Dunn resigned his command on March 29, 1865, and went home. The 37th Virginia Cavalry Battalion had one company commander killed, another resign due to his reported health and four others were reported to be in Union prisons. After hearing of Lee's surrender, the men of the 37th disbanded at Buchanan Virginia, and went home. The men of the 37th were never part of the Army of Northern Virginia, but few in that great army went through as much as the men of the 37th Virginia Cavalry. Many times they had no equipment, were out numbered, but chose to fight on for a cause they believed in. 

In May 2023, the pictured hollow tin nine-inch flagstaff finial came up for auction through Centurion Auctions/Militaria & Firearms. There was no known provenance on the piece other than the selling family had the piece in the family for a number of years. The images were furnished courtesy of the Centurion Auctions Company, and Mr. Malcolm Mason, the Auctioneer & Appraiser. 

A reference on the flag of the 37th Virginia Cavalry Battalion through the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia revealed the presence of a portion of their captured flag in the museum with notations that the flag was captured by the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Luray Valley on October 23, 1864, exactly as found in the regimental history of the 37th Virginia Cavalry.



1. Centurion Auctions/ Militaria & Firearms, Tallahassee, Florida

2. Malcom Mason, Auctioneer & Appraiser, Centurion Auctions, Tallahassee, Florida

3. 36th and 37th Battalions Virginia Cavalry, Scott, J.L. & Howard, H.E. 1986, Copywrite, Lynchburg, Virginia

4. American Civil War Museum, Richmond, Virginia, flag information, 37th Virginia Cavalry Battalion

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