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Lexington Rifles

"Our Laws, The Commands of Our Captain"


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dixie's land"


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1857-61     1862     1863     1864     1865     1866-Present


winter of misery

Abingdon, Virginia
January - February 1865

Winter came hard to Duke’s headquarters in the mountains of Virginia in 1865.  Icy weather took its toll on many men and horses, who agonizingly died from frostbite.  excruciating suffering in the snow and bitter cold resulted in many experiencing slow deaths.  The destitute, half-starved, ill-clothed men attempted survival in winter quarters as best they could, but the horses faired even worse.  Many died from exposure to the cold and many more were dying of starvation. 

The suffering of the horses was difficult for the cavalrymen to witness.  Rather than stand helplessly while their mounts died in front of them, a course of action was decided upon in an effort to save the herd.  General Duke ordered the horses to be transported overland to fairer weather in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where they could recuperate.

During this time, General Sherman began to move his Federal Army north from Savannah into the Carolinas while General Grant continued his siege against Lee at Petersburg.  As a result, a sense of doom came over many Confederates.  This was compounded by a lack of food, blankets, uniforms, boots, horses, and supplies of every description.  The men were homesick, yet no one spoke of defeat.  An inspector’s report dated in February noted that most of the 328 men of Duke’s Brigade were in need, but discipline was better than other Commands in the Department.

 Lt. Nathan M. Robertson

About this time, some of the veterans of the Ohio Raid were released from prisons in the north and began arriving at Duke's Headquarters.  By April 1, these additions brought the total to about 600 men, half of whom were former prisoners in Yankee land.  But, even though these men had suffered and languished at the hands of their cruel captors, their fighting spirit was unbroken.  They quickly garnered the reputation of being the ones who complained the least and who would be the last to yield in battle.

By April, Sherman's forces were in North Carolina.  Lee, who had abandoned his defensive lines at Petersburg, was moving westward.  Lee's abandonment of Petersburg made it necessary for the Confederate government to leave the capital, and so Richmond was Johnston, Joseph.jpg (10272 bytes) evacuated on April 3.  President Davis and his cabinet gathered their governmental records and the treasury and left the city under heavy cavalry escort.  Upon hearing this news, it was General Echols' intent to move his force of 6,000 eastward to link with Lee at Danville.  

Gen. Jos. E. Johnston                                                                                 Cavalryman & His Mount

As the bulk of General Echols' Department marched eastward from Abingdon, they heard the saddening news of Lee's surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9.  General Echols then called a council of war at Christianburg on April 10 to decide what was to be done.  During the council, Echols authorized the mounted force to continue to North Carolina to link with General Joseph Johnston, while simultaneously offering 60-day furloughs to the infantry and dismounted cavalry.  The intent was that if, after 60 days, the war was still being prosecuted, the men would return to duty, but only 10 of Duke's men opted to accept the furloughs.  The rest of the command mounted whatever transportation they could find, including mules, and turned south.   On April 11, four general officers John Echols, Basil Duke, John Vaughn, and George Cosby led 1200 men out of Christianburg, Virginia, bound for North Carolina.  


       Gen. John Echols                    Gen. Basil Duke                Gen. John Vaughn              Gen. George Cosby      

While in route to Charlotte, Duke's Brigade passed through Mecklenburg County and gathered the horses that had been previously sent there for recuperation.  Once in Charlotte, they found President Davis and his escort, along with other cavalrymen of Morgan's former command remnants of Colonel W. C. P. "Breckinridge's 9th Kentucky Cavalry and 3 other skeleton brigades.  Duke offered to provide additional escort for the President on his way south to safety, and Davis accepted.  It was while they were in Charlotte that they learned of Lincoln's death on April 14 and of Johnston's surrender of the Army of Tennessee on April 26.  Even with this news, the fighting spirit of Duke's Brigade remained, with one trooper stating: 

"I'd sooner march to the Rio Grande than surrender to any Yankee."

Toward the end of April, the last vestiges of the Confederate government left Charlotte, bound for South Carolina.  On their way, they passed though York and Union before crossing Smith's Ford on April 29th.  On May 2, they arrived in Abbeville, where the last council of War was held.  By coincidence, Abbeville was also where the first secession meeting was held five years earlier.  Among those present at the council with President Davis was the Secretary of War, General John C. Breckinridge, General Braxton Bragg, and General Basil Duke.  The resulting decision, after all factors were considered, was that they would not disband until the President's safety was assured. 


The Remainder of 1865 is Under Construction

where the remainder of the Confederate Treasury - approximately $288,000 in gold and silver coins and bullion, was transferred to Duke's care.  Although no accounting of exact amount was made - kegs, boxes, and bags of were loaded to wagons.  At Washington, Georgia on May 3 the final pay call was held.  Quartermasters submitted for 4,166 men and each was paid $26, totaling $108,000.

Choose from the following hyperlinks to view the illustrated unit history.

1857-61     1862     1863     1864     1865     1866-Present