A Civil War Biography

John Hanson McNeill

McNeill was born 12 June 1815 near Moorefield in Hardy County, Virginia. His father died before he was 4 years old and "Hanse" as he was called, grew up to be a hard working, slave owning, semi-literate farmer on the South Branch of the Potomac River. In 1838 he relocated to Bourbon County, Kentucky with his wife and young son. Although quite prosperous, his wife's ill health led to a return to Harding County in 1844. Four years later, in 1848, McNeill again moved his family, this time first to Boone County, Missouri where he established himself in the cattle business, then to Davies County, Missouri where along with a prosperous cattle business he became a minister in the Methodist Church. When pro-slavery Governor Claiborne F Jackson, in 1861, called for 50,000 militia to defend the state from Unionists, McNeill helped recruit a company from Davies County. The company, of which McNeill was named commander, was mustered in as company B, 1st regiment cavalry, 4th regiment Missouri State Guard under William Y Slack, and included three of McNeill's sons. McNeill and his company would see action in all the early Missouri engagements under the overall command of Sterling Price. The engagements included Boonesville, Carthage, Wilson's Creek, and Lexington where McNeill was severely wounded in the right shoulder. One of his sons was killed. While recruiting in Boone County, McNeill was taken prisoner and imprisoned in Columbia, Missouri. Although granted a limited parole McNeill, along with his son Jesse, were sent to the Federal prison in St. Louis. McNeill escaped from the prison in St Louis on 15 June 1862 and returned to Virginia. He went to Richmond to get permission to form an independent command in Hardy County to harass the Union troops in the area and protect the area residents. On 5 September 1862 McNeill became captain of company E of th 18th Virginia cavalry. The company operated mostly independently in concert with John D Imboden's 1st Virginia Partisan Rangers. Jesse, who had escaped from St Louis before his father, was commissioned a 1st lieutenant. Although McNeill occupied most of their time leading raids on wagon trains and the Baltimore & Ohio railroad, he helped plan and execute raid into western Virginia in April 1863, screened Confederate movements in West Virginia during the Gettysburg campaign, operated under the command of Thomas L Rosser around Moorefield, and fought in peripheral actions during the 15 May 1864 battle at New Market in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. On 3 October 1864 McNeill led his rangers in an attack on Federal troops near Mount Jackson. Although the engagement was a victory for the Confederates with the Union troops surrendering, McNeill was severely wounded. He was taken to the house of a local minister, Addison Weller. Although the Wellers tried to hide McNeill's identity it was discovered, according to some sources by Phillip Sheridan himself who, having heard rumors of a wounded Confederate officer being cared for at the Weller's, came to investigate. McNeill was taken by ambulance to Harrisonburg, West Virginia where he died on 10 November 1864. There has always been speculation that McNeill was wounded by his own men but this has never been confirmed or discounted for that matter.

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