March to Hancock
By James A.
published in the Star and Sentinel on June 22, 1897)
In the winter of 1861 Cole’s
Cavalry was constantly patrolling the Potomac River from Harper’s
Ferry to Cumberland except Company B which was on duty in Western
Virginia. The winter was very severe but the boys bore it’s harsh
uncomplainingly. Company C was on picket duty at Four Locks on the
canal. Colonel Kenly of the first Maryland Infantry was in command
of the forces along the river with headquarters at Millstone
Point. His infantry like the cavalry was scattered here and there
at various points on the river. Drilling and picket duty was the
principal occupation of both cavalry and infantry which was
schooling them for the more serious business of the oncoming days
of the war.
The post of Company C at Four
Locks was not a very unpleasant one as we had comfortable
quarters. We were then uniformed with gray overcoats a color which
the Confederates had adopted, though I think the fact was not
known by the Government at the time these coats were issued to us.
Occasionally Colonel Kenly made
us a visit at our post, and on one occasion he ordered us to
escort him to one of the posts of his infantry on the river, a few
miles away. When we neared their camp our cars were painted by the
beating of the "long roll" which meant ‘prepare to encounter the
enemy’ and seeing them rapidly falling into line we were led to
believe they were expecting an attack from the other side of the
river. The Colonel halted us and galloped rapidly toward them, but
returned in a short time rolling from side to side on his horse in
a paroxysm of laughter. As soon as he could get his breath he said
"Boys, you must have your coats changed at once. My men took us to
be Rebels and had I not halted you when I did they would have
given us a volley. I feel funny about it now, boys but it might
not have been funny at all, had I not halted you in time, for it
began to dawn upon me what was the matter. What excited my boys so
highly was to see the enemy, as they supposed, come upon them so
suddenly from an unexpected quarter, but by George, they were
ready to make it hot for us. I tell you the boys of my regiment
are not to be caught napping. You mush have other coats
immediately." Not long after, we were clothed in the royal blue.
Early in January, 1862, General
Stonewall Jackson left the Shenandoah Valley with his command and
marched to the Potomac opposite Hancock, Maryland. He sent a flag
of truce to General Lander demanding the surrender of the place.
Only a small body of Government troops was stationed there, but
all Federal forces within reach were quickly notified to come to
the rescue - horse, foot and artillery. When surrender was
refused, the enemy opened fire on Hancock. As soon as we at Four
Locks heard the roar of cannon, we felt that it meant business for
us, and, true to our anticipations, orders came to us to march for
The weather had turned very cold
and clouds had been threatening snow since early morn. Late in the
afternoon a heavy snowstorm set in. When our march began, the
ground was covered to a depth of several inches, which was being
added to rapidly. The wind was high and as we moved west on the
turnpike it drove the snow stingingly on our faces and rendered
progress very disagreeable. Night came on, and the snow being then
so deep that we could not move our horses faster than a walk, we
suffered much from the cold. At times nearly all of us were
dismounted and floundering through the snow to get up some warmth.
Thus we proceeded hour after hour while the wind howled through
the leafless trees bordering the bleak mountain road and continued
to drive the flakes into our faces, which so enveloped us that we
looked like a procession of ghosts.
It was perhaps a little past
midnight when we reached Hancock, where we hoped to get at once
some sort of shelter, both for ourselves and horses, as each alike
were pretty well exhausted, but we found a battery of artillery
stretched along the main street the men and horses of which had
not yet secured shelter. Their guns looked like mounds of snow.
All was in silence except the suppressed voices of the men, for
loud speaking was forbidden, so to prevent the enemy from learning
of, across the narrow river, the arrival of reinforcements.
Company C halted in the street
just in rear of this battery and waited until patience was
exhausted for some directing power to order us into or tell us
where we might obtain shelter. So we set about looking it up for
ourselves. On our left at the head of our column, stood a large
brick dwelling house, an alley leading to the river along by one
side of it. Adjoining it on the other side and fronting on the
street was a one story brick structure evidently for use as an
office. We tried rapping on the door of each building but that
brought no response and we obtained entrance through a window into
the small building. He we had the happy fortune to a stove and a
plentiful supply of fuel and also a candle. This was soon lit and
we made a fire on the stove, which was very much needed for we
were suffering greatly from cold. There was not room for more than
half of us further explanation had to be made. From this a door
led into the large house. It was not locked and, entering the
house we found it abandoned. Having discovered more candles we lit
it up when we saw abundant evidence that the house had been
evacuated in the utmost haste. The beds were in disorder, articles
of clothing were lying around loose and debris of various kinds
littered the floors. The family must have fled when hostilities
commenced before daylight.
We made our way to a quite large
kitchen where we found a bountiful supply of every kind of cooking
utensils. No food was anywhere and the house was dreadfully cold.
It is sufficient to mention that several vessels which had been
left on the cooking range full of water were frozen to the bottom.
Some of the boys busied themselves at once in making fire on the
We then examined the rear of the
premises to hold our horses. We discovered that a gate opened from
the before mentioned alley and were greatly gratified to find
there was room enough for all our horses which was our intention
to make them as comfortable as possible. The voice of a picket
came up form the riverside with words of more than politeness.
"Put out that light you idiot unless you want your head knocked
off with a cannon ball." I put out the light of course to oblige
this gentleman and hastened into the house, to the grateful aroma
of cookery that was floating in the wintry air.
The fire on the range had thawed
out the frozen vessels on it and the boys had looked about for
something to cook. At one side of the kitchen was a large pantry,
but the door into it was locked and no key could be found. One of
our young men said "Let me lean against it" which he did, and it
opened. Oh what a sight for hungry eyes and stomachs! Shelves of
preserves and pickles, jars of apple butter and a tubful of fresh
sausage, plenty of sweet ham and bread and butter, also coffee and
tea. In the kitchen was a table large enough for twenty or thirty
men to gather round, for which a white cloth was found and soon it
was ‘set’. The frying pans were cooking sausage by the yard. It
was sputtering and giving out it’s appetizing odor and the raw
bacon we had brought with us was getting into crisp and toothsome
condition. And the aroma of coffee made. What a feast it was and
there was more than plenty for all. Some of the boys after eating
heartily of substantials, ended up with a heavy covering of
preserves upon them which felt good at the time but later on when
fermentation asserted itself in their stomachs the contents of
those important origins had a monkey and a parrot time.
One of our good boys, being so
long in stature and getting on so much, did not score quiet in his
interior department till some time the following day, when peace
was restored by the wholesale ejection of the warring contents.
But what a kingly feast it was while it lasted, and how all the
discomforts of the snowy and freezing match were forgotten and
what jokes were uttered about the enemy across the river, and as
to whether the ears of the family which had fled from the house
were not burning just then, and as to what might be the situation
at daylight but who cared. We had just had the jolliest meal that
ever soldiers had, and we were ready for anything.
We were as careful as possible
not to damage or destroy any of the glasses, dishes, plates and
utensils belonging to the absent family. I don’t recollect whether
we washed up the dishes or not, but my impression was we did, and
left things in as good shape as we could.
When the banquet ended, daylight
began to appear, and we then hustled out and got breakfast for our
horses and looked after their comfort. The expected bombardment
from across the river with the advent of daylight did not show up.
On the contrary, it was soon ascertained that the enemy had fallen
back, and then rumor had it that General Lander intended to cross
with artillery and cavalry and pursue. But about noon we were
ordered to return to our post at Four Locks, and were back there
again before the next nightfall.
Later on in our history we went
again to Hancock and camped there awhile, and at one time made a
scout from there into Virginia, of which I may write hereafter.
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