Fighting Among the Tombstones
During the Civil War, Moorefield could be seen in front of you from this then-treeless hill. Beyond the town is the confluence of two watercourses that form the South Branch River, which flows north through a fertile valley. The Harness family cemetery was located at the northern end of this knoll to your right.
Union Maj. Edward W. Stephens, Jr., with six companies of the 1st West Virginia Infantry and a company of cavalry, were ordered to this area on September 10, 1863, to surprise a Confederate camp on the South Branch. When Stephens bivouacked and entrenched here that night, however, he was the one surprised. Just before dawn on September 11, Capts. John H. McNeill, George W. Imboden and McNarey Hobson led an attack that overran Stephens's position. The Confederates captured 8 officers and 152 enlisted infantrymen and cavalrymen, and seized two ambulances, 9 wagons, 46 horses, 123 rifles, 112 pistols, and 10,500 rounds of ammunition.
A Union officer at first refused to surrender to a Confederate private named Mark Westmoreland. But he changed his mind when the soldier leveled his carbine and pointed out that it equalized their ranks.
After the war, the cemetery was expanded gradually to forty acres and named Olivet. An obelisk erected in 1873 honors Confederate war dead buried here, including McNeill, although it is uncertain whether his remains were reinterred here from Harrisonburg. Oak Hill Cemetery, across the drive to your left, contains the graves of slaves, former slaves and their descendants.
"The enemy picketed every road leading to their intrenched camp, and deployed about 50 ... skirmishers ... all night, several hundred yards from their works, and sent out two companies to surprise our camp. Our men moved noiselessly in the darkness, flanked the enemys pickets, and succeeded in getting between the line of skirmishers and the camp before daybreak on Friday morning, the 11th. Just as dawn appeared they charged the Yankee camp, firing into the tents and yelling like savages. Some resistance was made, but in a short time the fight was over. About 30 Yankees were killed or too badly wounded to be removed."
- Confederate Gen. John D. Imboden, Sept. 13, 1863