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An Escape-Company C eludes Jackson again

BY 2nd Lieutenant William A. McIlhenny

Submitted by: Mark Dudrow

September 1862

I was glad to be safely back with Company C but nobody at Harper's Perry felt safe those days in September of 1862 for we were almost completely surrounded by rebel forces. All of our troops had been withdrawn right into the town of of Harper's Ferry.

During my absence from Company C there had been heavy fighting on Maryland Heights Bollivar Heights and now the rebels were shelling us from Louden Heights. General Miles called a Council of War and after deliberating decided to surrender the next morning.

Major Cole and the Colonels of the 12th Illinois Cavalry and the 8th New York Cavalry did not relish this decision, and neither did their men. Consequently they went to General Miles and requested that he allow them to try cut their way through the rebel army before the surrender. General Miles reluctantly consented.

Everyman who had a good horse was ordered to prepare for the ordeal. First we threw our overcoats and blankets away in order to lighten our horses loads. We waited until it was dark and then we reported to General Miles Headquarters. General Miles ordered our Battalion in the advance; the 12th Illinois came next, the 8th New York Cavalry followed them; a part of a Rhode Island Company which had decided to join us was ordered to line up behind the New York Cavalry and a Company of the 1st Maryland Cavalry brought up the rear.

At nine o'clock on September 11th, 1862 we started across the Pontoon Bridge from Harper's Ferry to the Maryland side of the River. We took the road to Sharpsburg and preceding slowly up over the mountain until we came to the rebel picket post. A fire was burning here, but there were no pickets! Noone challenged us to halt as our large company wound our way as quietly as possible on to Sharpsburg. We were now in the middle of the rebel forces.

Here we ran into a rebel cavalry patrol, a few shots were fired but the darkness protected us for the rebels must have thought we were some of their own soldiers. At Sharpeburg we left the public road; we had a good guide and it was a dark night so we kept to the fields and woods, not striking any road again until we struck the Pike running from Hagerstown to Williamsport; then daylight was just beginning to break.

As our advance struck the Pike we ran against the advance of a large wagon moving north from Hagerstown. It was loaded with ammunition. We captured about 65 wagon loads. Our Company C took the captured wagon train to Chambersburg, Pa. that same day. Here the people rushed out to greet us. There was a lot of flag waving. But better than that banquets were prepared and our company feasted on home-made vittals. The day after we left Harper's Ferry General Miles surrendered to General Jackson.

Historical note- It is said that the capture of this wagon train had a great deal to do with Lee's defeat at Antietam. Wills company was ordered back to Frederick and on the way passed by the devastation of the Battle of Antietam.