On October 3, 1864, in the midst of The Burning, Union Lt. John Meigs and two other Union soldiers were traveling on Swift Run Gap Road, headed to the Union headquarters in Harrisonburg, when they came upon a group of three Confederate scouts. Meigs ordered the group to stop, and one Confederate demanded that Meigs surrender. There was a brief exchange of gunfire, and Meigs was shot and killed. While such deaths were not rare, Meigs was no ordinary officer. He was chief engineer and aide de camp of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, and the son of Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, quartermaster of the U.S. Army. When news of Meig’s death reached Sheridan, he ordered the town of Dayton and surrounding areas be burned. Sheridan had been plagued by partisan rangers and bushwhackers throughout the Valley and was told by one of the soldiers present at Meigs’ death that Meigs had been killed in cold blood by civilians. Thirty homes and barns had already been burned when Sheridan was told that Meigs had lost his life in a fair fight with Confederate soldiers, and he rescinded the order.
General Montgomery Meigs was unconvinced by the story and hired private detectives to look into the matter, later offering a reward on the men who claimed to have killed his son. He had his son’s body laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. The body was later moved to Arlington National Cemetery, which General Meigs had helped create the summer before on land that had belonged to Robert E. Lee. A statue of the young lieutenant was cast exactly as he was found in the road, with his service revolver near his hand.