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From all known of John Critcher, he was born into and raised in a prominent Virginia family, in  Oak Grove, Westmoreland County, Virginia, in 1820, where his father owned a large home. John graduated from the University of Virginia in 1839, then traveled to France and studied there until he returned to the States where he studied to become an attorney in 1842. In 1857, John married Elizabeth “Lizzie ”Whiting, and in their first year of marriage traveled to New York, Boston, and Washington. After their travels, the two settle down on forty acres and a “summer home” called “Audley” in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The Critchers had five children, one of which died in 1863, which becomes very important to our story.

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In 1861, John Critcher was serving in the Virginia State Senate and was also a member of Virginia's secession convention. At the onset of the war, John Critcher, a 42 years old, with a wife, several children, a large house, being a prominent attorney, and state senator, left home as a Major with the 15th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, [Critcher's Northern Neck Rangers]. A couple years after entering the cavalry, Critcher became a Lieutenant Colonel of the same regiment. Critcher's 15th Virginia Cavalry regiment was under the overall command of famous Confederate Cavalryman, James Ewell Brown "JEB" Stuart.  

From September 1862 until May 1863, John Critcher and his cavalry helped to do all possible to destroy northern efforts that were being made to subdue the state of Virginia. Northern Virginia was the battle ground on which the 15th found itself for the most part except the foray made in 1862 into Maryland up until May 1863. The regiment was assigned, as other Confederate cavalry regiments, to guard fords, bridges, and other crossings of rivers, and creeks.  They were to be the eyes and ears of the Infantry and Robert E. Lee.

On Christmas Eve, December 1862, the Confederate Cavalry was on the move. While the Confederate army was at Fredericksburg, General Stuart's cavalry was ordered on an expedition in the direction of Dumfries and Occoquan. The force consisted of 1,800 cavalry and four pieces of Stuart Horse Artillery. The expedition party consisted of Confederate cavalry under, Generals Fitzhugh Lee, Wade Hampton, and H.F. Lee. The 15th Virginia Cavalry contacted Union forces in the vicinity  of Dumfries. Clashes began to take place at several places with the 2nd Pennsylvania, 1st New Jersey, 1st Maryland [Union], 12th Illinois Calvary, including Ohio Infantry regiments

John Critcher's 15th Virginia was leading General Fitzhugh Lee's Cavalry in the road from Brentsville to Dumfries when Critcher's men initially captured 11 men of a picket of Cavalry, and subsequently more Union Cavalrymen were captured. Up and down the Occoquan, described as a river by some, Cavalry and Infantry skirmishes broke out. Company K of the 2nd Pennsylvania was almost completely lost due to killed, wounded, and captured. The 1st Maryland Cavalry lost an estimated men in the same manner as their Pennsylvania counterparts. The 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry lost men to capture at Leeds. Virginia. The Illinois Cavalry faired some better, however loses occurred for them as well. This incident of war in December 1862, was just one of the engagements where Union Cavalrymen were captured by Critchers men up to May 1863. 

Sometime during the period of September 1862 to May 1863, Lt. Col. John B. Critcher is reported to have captured a Union guidon himself, shooting the Union Cavalryman out of his saddle after refusing to relinquish the flag. This incident is widely reported by Anne Clark Smith, the twice great grand daughter of John Critcher. The National Military Park at Fredericksburg has reports of the incident. Author John B. Fortier in his 1968 William & Mary Thesis "Story of a Regiment: The Campaigns of Personnel of the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry," as well as his book, "15th Virginia Cavalry." Each of these sources have more or less information regard Critcher and the guidon capture. 

The National Military Park at Fredericksburg reports, in 1936, the park service received a flag, flagstaff, and finial from a donor named Ann Waring Dickinson who reported receiving the flag and finial from her brother, Henry Waring, who received it from Ms. Brooks. The park service received the following information from Ms. Dickinson in the form of a declaration of facts, "The flag was captured by Col. [John] Critcher of the 55th [15th] Va. cavalry, in Westmoreland Co., Va., where he shot the sergeant out of his saddle and took the flag. He then crossed the river to Essex Co., Va., and then went to "Woodburn" home of Mr. William Brooks, where he left the flag, saying he would return later and get it, which he never did." {Dickinson, 1936}. The National Military Park provided the following image of the flagstaff finial turned over to the park service by Ms. Dickinson. I learned through sources in Essex County, Virginia that the proper name for the Brooks residence is "Woodbourne." From the bottom of the ferrule to tip of the spade style finial is approximately 9" long by approximately 3.5" wide at the wing portion of the spade.

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In John Fortier's Thesis, he doesn't seem to address the capture of the guidon flag by Critcher, however, in his later work "The 15th Virginia Cavalry" on page 24, Fortier reports during the time the 15th Virginia was on that road from Brentsville to Dumfries, the following, "At some time during the period, Critcher captured a guidon in Westmoreland County by shooting a soldier out of his saddle in close combat. He then crossed into Essex County and left the trophy at Woodburn, home of Mr. William Brooke, saying that he would return for it someday. Critcher never reclaimed the guidon, and it passed into other hands. It is uncertain what Federal unit was involved, but it could have been the 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which lost {11 men} captured at Leeds." {Fortier, 1993}. The capture of the 8th Pennsylvania personnel was during the December 1862 Confederate expedition. Fortier gives no citations in his work for the reported information. 

An October 2022 email conversation with Ann Clark Smith proved to be a delight. Ms. Smith is a long- time historian, and genealogist who is in possession of family information, including that of her second great grandfather John Critcher. Ms. Smith provided the following image of the guidon flag in the Fredericksburg National Military Park that was reported to have been captured by John Critcher. Ms. Smith could not provide any regimental information as to from which Union regiment the guidon flag was taken.


It is believed to have been in the spring, possibly May 1863, John B. and Elizabeth Critcher's 5 -year-old daughter Elizabeth "Lizzie" Whiting Critcher died at "Audley" in Oak Grove, Westmoreland County, Virginia, after ingesting a bullet found on the grounds of the family residence. John Critcher made his way home from the battlefields to mourn his loss, and to comfort his wife and family. 

On May 23, 1863, Lt. Colonel John B. Critcher was captured by members of the 24th Michigan Infantry, one of the “Iron Brigade” regiments, as Critcher was making his way back to the war from the funeral of his daughter. On pages 140-141 of The History of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan by Orson Blair Curtis in 1891, Curtis records the events of the capture of Colonel Critcher while Critcher and aides were attempting to cross the Rappahannock  river to return to the 15th Virginia Cavalry. Members of the 24th Michigan found a burned bridge and other evidence of sabotage in the area that led them to believe that Critcher’s story of returning from a family funeral were not valid. (Curtis, 1891). Lt. Colonel John Critcher was taken captive, and subsequently kept for one full year in Federal prisons before being exchanged and released in May 1864. At that point in time, 44 year old John Critcher returned to the 5th Virginia Cavalry just as the Union  spring 1864 offensive began in northern Virginia.

In May and June 1864, things didn’t go well for John B. Critcher as far as his relationship with new commander Lunsford L. Lomax, the reported  hard charger of the Virginia Cavalry, although John Mosby, after the war, and Lomax’s death might have differed. Lomax accused Critcher of being lax in Critcher’s duties. By June 11, 1864, things had gotten so bad between Lt. Col. Critcher and Lomax, that in the midst of battle, and in the presence of his regiment Critcher was relived of active duty. The next day, Lt. Col. John B. Critcher resigned from the Confederate army in lieu of taking an administrative assignment.  Lomax reported, “I have become satisfied that he cannot command.” (Fortier, Story of A Regiment: The Campaigns and Personnel of the Fifteenth Virginia Cavalry, 1968)

After the war, Lt. Colonel John B. Critcher was appointed judge of the eighth judicial circuit in Virginia, however, he was removed by a resolution in congress called the “Thirty day resolution.” Critcher was elected to the U.S. House of representatives in 1871 where he stayed for two years. Critcher died on September 27, 1901 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Research has been done by the author of regimental histories, Official Records of the war, with curators in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Springfield, Illinois, Lansing, Michigan, and of course Anne Clark Smith in regard to which regiment may have lost their guidon, and had their guidon bearer shot out of the saddle by John Critcher. It seems in parts of the Official Records, Union Officers reports were much more apprehensive about reporting their flag losses, while when a Union soldier taking from the hands of color bearer a Confederate banner, the Congressional Medal of Honor was recommended for the captor. I must commend the officers of the 2nd and 8th Pennsylvania Cavalry who when completing their reports of activity at Dumfries seems to have laid all their losses on the line, come what may. It is my personal belief that John Critcher shot the bearer of the guidon and took the prize, sometime between December 24-30, 1862. More research may be done, and the answer may be found in plain sight.


Image of the captured Guidon by John B. Critcher courtesy of Anne Clark Smith

Image of the captured flagstaff finial, Courtesy of NPS, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, Flag Finial, c. 1863, FRSP 1328.

Image of John B. Critcher, Courtesy of Web Based Platform, “Find A Grave.” Posted by Jay Kelly, June 5, 2008.

John B. Fortier, author.

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