Union General Philip Sheridan escorted 400 wagons of German Baptists (Brethren) and Mennonites from the Dayton area in October 1864 after he burned the Shenandoah Valley. (Drawing above by Alfred R. Waud). General George
Armstrong Custer burned Silver Lake Mill to the ground, even
though its Brethren owner was pro-Union.
THE CIVIL WAR
Silver Lake Mill
Burns to the Ground
Over 400 Wagons
of Brethren Go North
Over 400 wagons of German Baptists (Dunkers) and Mennonites left Dayton and the Shenandoah Valley, going north with General Philip Sheridan. They could not subsist on what remained after the destruction. Mill owner Daniel Bowman remained, but in 1877, he testified:
“I can never forget that time, when my father and mother, four brothers and two sisters, all heads of families, left at the same time, going away with Sheridan’s army, leaving their homes to be stripped and spoiled of what they were compelled to leave of their household effects, by the rebel sympathizers around them and some to be burned by their friends and protectors [Union army], who had given them transportation to the land of the free, while I was charged with the care of what remained.”
Stepping onto his front porch each morning, Daniel Bowman looked straight into the burned ruins of his sawmill and flour mill and across to the burned rubble of his hired miller’s home. Sad times, indeed.
The 116th Ohio Runs the Mill
and Saves the Town of Dayton
Lt. Colonel Thomas E. Wildes
When Union General Philip Sheridan’s troops camped around Harrisonburg and Dayton in late September 1864, soldiers of the 116th Ohio Volunteer Infantry took over Daniel Bowman’s Mill (Silver Lake Mill) and started grinding flour 24 hours a day to feed the troops. The killing of Sheridan’s Chief Engineer, John Rodgers Meigs near Dayton, led to an order to burn the entire town of Dayton and everything within five miles.
“I never saw a sight like I saw in that town such mourning and lamentation, such crying and such pleading for mercy I never saw nor want to see again. Some were wild crazy mad, some cry for help while others throw their arms around Yankee soldier’s necks and implore mercy,” wrote Commissary Sgt. William T. Patterson.
Lt. Col. Thomas F. Wildes of the 116th Ohio sent a rider to Sheridan, pleading for him to spare the citizens of Dayton because of their kindness and loyalty to the Union. Sheridan rescinded the order, but not before many homes and farms were already destroyed.
In the wee hours of Thursday morning, October 6, 1864, Union Chaplain Louis N. Boudrye of the Fifth New York Cavalry recorded in his diary:
“Gen. Sheridan ordered all stacks or ricks of hay or grain, or the same in barns, to be destroyed by fire. Grist mills were to share the same fate. This precaution was to prevent the enemy’s ever returning to subsist his army on this fruitful country. The march of our army could now be traced by the heavy smokes, which rose on the air. On leaving Dayton this morning two grist mills were destroyed. The enemy followed very closely on our rear…”
Daniel Bowman’s grist mill was burned to the ground along with a home he owned for his hired miller and family. Decades later, when Bowman’s family was still trying to recoup the loss from the Federal government, they testified it was General George Armstrong Custer who ordered the soldiers to burn the property.