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The Kidnapping of the Generals – Should It Have Been So Easy?

The Civil War in what is today (and for the last half of the War) West Virginia often takes a back seat to the more glorious events in the eastern part of Virginia, Maryland and even into central Pennsylvania.  But, to the men who spent much of their time on garrison and foraging duties in mountaineer country, the reality of war did get personal from time to time.  And in February 1865 as the War was only six weeks from ending, the kidnapping of Union Generals George Crook and Benjamin Kelley by 60 of “McNeill’s Rangers” was personal indeed for Crook’s sweetheart had a brother in the intrepid band and Kelley’s love interest also had connections to the Rangers.

Steve French has long-studied the West Virginia campaigns, and he brought to life this group of Confederate partisans who spent much of the war raiding Union supply depots, ambushing wagon trains and disrupting the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.  Likely never numbering more than 100 young men, the Rangers suffered few casualties and almost always immediately paroled Federals who were taken prisoner (including the several pickets they overpowered during their kidnapping of Crook and Kelley).

It says much about the character of the War in the West Virginia mountains that in the after-years many of the one-time enemies lived among each other.  All’s well that ends well for both generals would overcome the embarrassment of their midnight kidnapping to marry their sweethearts with connections to McNeil’s Rangers!

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