Sabres and Pistols: The Civil War Career of Colonel Harry Gilmor, C.S.A, by Timothy Ackinclose, Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg, Pa., $25.
The Civil War introduced more colorful and romantic figures to the military history of the United States than any other war. Some of them, such as Lee, Jackson, Custer and Stuart, have acquired such legendary status that they are instantly recognized by their last names alone. There are many others who, while they have never achieved the same stature, are quickly remembered for their dashing deeds. Still other individuals, while not recognizable as major figures of the war, have gained something approaching cult status.
Harry Gilmor, the subject of a new biography by Tim Ackinclose, falls into the last category. Although he never received the acclaim and recognition that his fellow partisan ranger John S. Mosby did, Gilmor is well-known to students of the war in and around Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A native of Baltimore, Gilmor cast his lot with the Confederacy in early September 1861 after being imprisoned for a short time in Maryland’s Fort McHenry as a suspected Southern sympathizer.
Upon his release, the 23-year-old Gilmor joined thousands of other Marylanders who were slipping across the border into Virginia to offer their services to the South. He made his way to Charlestown, where he met and joined the command of another Shenandoah Valley legend, Turner Ashby. For nearly four years, until his capture on February 6, 1865, Gilmor roamed the valley, becoming a household name in the process.
In 1866, Gilmor published his own account of his war years, Four Years in the Saddle. Many modern historians have discredited Gilmor’s accounts as glory-seeking at best and pure fabrication at worst. As a result, Gilmor has been largely ignored by the general public.
Until now, that is. In the first full-length biography of the partisan cavalryman, Ackinclose re-examines Gilmor’s career by drawing heavily on Four Years In the Saddle and a variety of other sources as well. Ackinclose finds that while Gilmor might have embellished a few tales, his memoir was a fairly accurate depiction of his military career. The author does a good job of making a convincing case that Gilmor’s book was no less accurate than most, and a good deal more truthful than some.
Sabres and Pistols is a well-researched, even-handed biography of one of the lesser known but most colorful characters of the war. For anyone wishing to know more about Harry Gilmor, the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley or partisan warfare in general, Sabres and Pistols is well worth a read.
B. Keith Toney