John Ashford, Colonel, CSA

The Ashford name originated when a rural hamlet in England was established where an ash tree stood by a ford. The name finally evolved to become Ashford.

Colonel John Ashford (1837-1889), a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, was a sixth generation descendent of Michael Ashford, Sr., of Fairfax County, VA. The date of Michael’s death is unknown but his will was probated on March 20, 1734. He and his wife, Ann, had seven children. A portion of Michael’s estate became part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, as Michael’s sons, John, George, and Williams, each sold their inheritance to Washington.

The Ashford family migrated to Sampson County via John Stonestreet Ashford, who moved from Virginia to New Hanover County sometime between 1800 and 1810. He and his wife, Anne Jewell, had eight children. The youngest child, Thomas J. Ashford, and his wife, Isabelle Slocumb, had nine children.

Their second child, John Ashford, was born September 6, 1837 on the family farm in the Piney Grove community of eastern Sampson County. In 1861, he married Elizabeth “Bettie” Faison Hines. She was apparently a woman of substantial means as attested by the property listings in her marriage contract to John. The contract was dated December, 1861.

Shortly before his marriage and the outbreak of the war, Ashford organized the “Sampson Ploughboys,” which later became Company D of the 38th Infantry Regiment, NC Troops. He was commissioned with the rank of Captain. In April 1862, the 38th was ordered to Virginia where it would become part of the combined Confederate Army. The regiment was ordered to proceed by rail to Richmond and then on to Fredericksburg, VA, where it was thrust to the front lines in the early battles. This regiment was part of the brigade which served for three plus years in the Army of Northern Virginia under such famous Confederate Generals as Stonewall Jackson and Dorsey Pender. The 38th Infantry Regiment would go on to fight in numerous major battles throughout the war.

The Battle of Cedar Mountain took place on August 9, 1862 in Culpeper County, VA as Union soldiers attacked Confederate forces that were led by Major General Stonewall Jackson. The commanding officer of the 38th, Major Lorenzo Andrews, was taken ill and Captain Ashford assumed his command. After nearly being driven from the field in the early part of the battle, a Confederate counterattack broke the Union lines, resulting in victory. Captain Ashford was cited by General Pender for his “coolness and skillfulness” in handling his men. The Confederate Army did not have medals and there were no medals; the only way for a soldier to be recognized for valor was to be mentioned in reports.

On August 21, 1862 Captain Ashford was promoted to Major and was wounded just a week later at the Second Battle of Manassas. He was hospitalized and sent home on a 30-day furlough. Afterwards General Pender submitted a report that said “Major Ashford has entitled himself to notice and as well as promotion by his uniform bravery and good conduct.”

On January 14, 1863, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Following the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, General Pender again praised Ashford in a report: “LTC Ashford….in charge of my sharpshooters, distinguished himself very much. His gallantry was noted by all….”

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It is considered by many to be the turning point of the war. On the third day of the battle, Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered an attack on the Union center, located on Cemetery Ridge. This offensive maneuver called for almost 12,500 men to march over 1,000 yards of dangerously open terrain.

Preceded by a massive but mostly ineffective Confederate artillery barrage, the march across open fields toward the Union lines became known as Pickett’s Charge. Major General George E. Pickett was one of the division commanders whose men participated and his name has been popularly associated with the assault. The 38th Infantry Regiment was directed to join in the attack in what would be a second wave of troops.

Around 2PM, Southern soldiers stepped onto the field and began their advance. Although the attack is popularly called a “charge,” the men marched deliberately in line, only to speed up and then charge when they were within a few hundred yards of the enemy. Union guns and infantry on Cemetery Ridge opened fire on the advancing men, inflicting a 50% casualty rate on the Confederate ranks. LTC Ashford was in command of the 38th Infantry Regiment while Colonel Hoke was in charge of the overall brigade. In the terrible slaughter that followed, his brigade was reduced to a mere squad and Ashford was among the wounded. His regiment, the 38th, had a casualty rate of 90%. The Confederate assault had lasted less than an hour.

When the 38th Regiment crossed Federal lines, they became a part of the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy,” a common reference to an area on Cemetery Ridge reached by Confederate forces during Pickett’s Charge. Though they were quickly repulsed, it represented the farthest penetration north of Union lines by any Rebel unit in the war and arguably the Confederate Army’s best chance of achieving victory.

Gettysburg saw the highest casualties of any single battle of the Civil War, and with more than 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing, it was the largest battle ever fought in North America.

Ashford was hospitalized and sent home on furlough but soon returned. In June of 1864, he was advanced to a full Colonelcy and took full command of the 38th Infantry Regiment. In that same month, he was wounded during the Siege of Petersburg.

In all, the 38th fought in twenty (20) battles, beginning with early skirmishes around Richmond, then on to major engagements, and the final surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. During his period of service, Colonel Ashford was wounded three times and was often cited for bravery. Only 27 years old, his experience belied his age.

He and his troops were present at Appomattox Courthouse when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in the parlor of Wilbur McLean’s farmhouse.

The next day Colonel Ashford was issued a pass identifying him as a Paroled Prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia. The pass granted him “permission to go to his home, and there remain undisturbed.” The pass contains a handwritten note: “countersigned to include 2 horses and 1 servant.”

Below is a record of the battles in which Colonel Ashford and his 38th Infantry Regiment fought:

  • Seven Days Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862)
  • Beaver Dam Creek (June 26, 1862)
  • Gaines’ Mill (June 27, 1862)
  • Frayser’s Farm (June 30, 1862)
  • Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862)
  • 2nd Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862)
  • Harpers’ Ferry (September 12-15, 1862)
  • Antietam (not engaged)(September 17, 1862)
  • Shepherdstown Ford (September 20, 1862)
  • Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862)
  • Chancellorsville (May 1-4, 1863)
  • Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863)
  • Falling Waters (July 10, 1863)
  • Bristoe Campaign (October-November 1863)
  • Mine Run Campaign (November-December 1863)
  • The Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864)
  • Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864)
  • North Anna (May 22-26, 1864)
  • Cold Harbor (June 1-3, 1864)
  • Petersburg Siege (June 1864-April 1865)
  • Reams’ Station (August 25, 1864)
  • Fort Harrison (September 29-30, 1864)
  • Jones’ Farm (September 30, 1864)
  • Hatcher’s Run (February 5-7, 1865)
  • Appomattox Court House (April 9, 1865)

After the war Colonel Ashford and his wife made their home on College Street, in a house originally built in 1839. The Ashfords purchased the house in 1869 and later remodeled it to fit their needs. For the next twenty years they continued to live there while overseeing their farming and lumbering interests. All ten of their children were born there.

On January 3, 1889, tragedy struck when three members of the family died. While inspecting one of his sawmills located near the present site of Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church, a boiler exploded, killing his sons James and Pender instantly. Colonel Ashford died three days later. A fourth man, an employee, was also killed.

He was quickly praised by Governor Alfred M. Scales, who was Ashford’s brigade commander at Gettysburg and also a good friend: “Within a few days past, the State has sustained a great loss in the death of a distinguished citizen and his two sons, under circumstances of particular horror. Colonel John Ashford, at the call of his state, entered her service and fought through the last war to Appomattox, with a gallantry and daring second to none in that struggle. As a citizen, he was no less distinguished as a soldier, devoting all the energies of his life to repairing the waste places of the land and restoring the State to prosperity and happiness. His death was a calamity to the whole State.”

His widow continued to live at the home place on College Street until her death on June 14, 1922. Their ten children were: Katie Pender Ashford (b.1863); William Hines Ashford (1865-1866); Mary Faison “Mamie” Ashford (1866-1955); Ida Ashford Cooper (1868-1951); James Hines Ashford (1870-1889); William Pender Ashford (1872-1889); John Thomas Ashford (1875-1951); Forrest Ashford (1877-1960); Serena Elizabeth Ashford (1879-1963); and Annie Jewel Ashford Stewart (1885-1976).

Colonel Ashford, his wife, and most of their children are buried in the Clinton Cemetery. Today the house on College Street serves as a popular bed & breakfast inn.

Colonel John Ashford

John Ashford

Flag of the 38th Infantry Regiment, NC Troops