Billy Magun

Billy Magun seated in front of the house at Culpeper’s “Poortown.”

A young Yankee soldier, captured at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August of 1862, spent the remainder of his life as a permanent ward of the Culpeper County poor house. He was given the name of Billy My-gun, more recently translated as Magun.

An extensive article in the Baltimore Sun, published on Aug. 18, 1912, provided some detail.

The occasion was the 1912 dedication and unveiling of the Confederate Monument on the Culpeper Court House lawn. The ceremony was the pivotal event for the annual homecoming week and the grounds were teeming with local and visiting guests. The reminiscences of the battle at Cedar Mountain stirred the memories of many.

Billy Magun was a Union soldier found wandering the Cedar Mountain Battlefield after Aug. 9, 1862 with a disabling wound to the head. According to local legend, when captured, Billy could not remember anything of his past; not his name, military unit or home town.

He failed to regain his memory; but that was not the worst of Billy’s condition.

The day that Billy spent in battle at Cedar Mountain, the sights he witnessed and the injuries that he sustained most likely were horrific. We know that from the day that Billy was taken to the Culpeper County jail as a prisoner of war to the day he died at the Culpeper County poor house, Billy was mentally incapacitated. The only statements he consistently repeated were that he was one of Grant’s men and a concern about his gun.

The locals assigned Billy his name: “Billy” as the nickname for all Yankee soldiers and Magun, presumably derived from Billy’s repeated but less than comprehensible phrase “my gun.”

Students of the Civil War might jump to the conclusion that Billy was referring to Ulysses S. Grant when stating he was one of Grant’s men, but that would be hasty. In August of 1862, U.S. Grant remained at the battlefront in Tennessee and would not come East until 1864. It is unlikely that Billy served under U.S. Grant.

However, in dissecting the Union Order of Battle for that infamous battle in Culpeper County, another with a similar sounding name was discovered: a 1st Sgt. Henry J. Grenet with the 46th PA Infantry, killed in action on Aug. 9, 1862.

The 46th PA, possibly Billy’s regiment, was decimated at Cedar Mountain; of the 504 soldiers engaged, 31 were killed, 102 wounded, and 111 taken prisoner or missing.

Billy recuperated at the jail house waiting to be exchanged as a federal prisoner. Unfortunately for him, by the time he was well enough to travel the exchange program was no longer a viable practice.

The war ended and Billy remained a tenant of the local jail. The decision was made to move him to the county poor house. It was here that Billy would reside for more than 50 years in complete anonymity.

The 1912 article in the Baltimore Sun incorporates a wealth of new information attributed to first person interviews with the soldier who captured Billy as well as the custodian of the poor house.

Until next week, be well.

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Zann Nelson is an award -winning freelance writer specializing in historical investigations and is currently serving as Director of Montpelier’s African American Descendants’ Project. She can be reached at

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