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Civil War diary and rifle linked to town in Maryland

MIDDLETOWN, Md. — When James Dunkley found out he was living close to a spot where his great-great-grandfather camped during the Civil War, he could not believe it.

“I got chills, and I couldn’t help but start to cry,” Dunkley said.

Dunkley’s ancestor Rufus James Woolwine, a Confederate army captain, kept a diary as most captains did during the war, he said. The diary was passed down through the family, and Dunkley’s father, who died two years ago, gave him the diary and a rifle Woolwine used during the war.

When Dunkley moved to Middletown from Gaithersburg about 12 years ago, he came across a Civil War marker on Main Street, bearing a skirmish date similar to one Woolwine charted in his diary.

“So I went home and cross-referenced the date, and I broke down and cried,” Dunkley said. “The date on the Civil War plaque was the same as the diary input. He was camping overnight in Middletown the night before the Middletown ransom.”

Nothing in the diary states what Woolwine did in Middletown, Dunkley said.

The diary, which covers three years of fighting, and the rifle on display in Dunkley’s home have been authenticated by Civil War experts over the years.

Woolwine’s diary was republished in October 1963 by the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.

The diary is a daily account of Woolwine’s activities during the war, the magazine states.

“In essence, it is a chronicle of Company D, Fifty-First Regiment Virginia Infantry,” the magazine states. "Woolwine’s diary was presented to the Virginia Historical Society in 1962 by Mrs. Mabel D. Norris, of Stuart, Virginia."

Frank D. Korum, an Ijamsville appraiser of military antiques and collectibles, described the rifle as a Model 1841 manufactured in 1857 by the U.S. Armory and Arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in what is now West Virginia.

“The rifle has been arsenal converted to 58 caliber from 54 caliber, probably before the Civil War (1861)” and “is in National Rifle Association good condition,” according to Korum’s appraisal. “All parts appear to be original. ... There are no major dings, and it appears to be in good firing condition.”

Korum appraised the rifle at $3,000. If a photo existed of Woolwine holding the rifle, the gun would be worth $1,000 more, Dunkley said.

Woolwine’s daughter kept the rifle in a barn, Dunkley said, “but the thing that blows my mind is how did he get it back” after the war.

Dunkley lives within walking distance of Main Street where the wartime activity occurred, “and it gives me goose bumps,” he said.

Woolwine was eventually shot in the leg and taken prisoner by the Union army in Delaware. When the war ended, he was released, and he walked home to Virginia, probably taking train and boat rides here and there, Dunkley said.

Woolwine, who died at age 67, served the rest of his life as sheriff of Patrick County, Virginia. The town of Woolwine, Virginia, is named after him, Dunkley said.

The family genealogy also shows that Dunkley is related to President William McKinley, he said, through his grandmother Margaret McKinley Dunkley.

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