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A Surprised Cavalryman

By James A. Scott

(Originally published in the Star and Sentinel on June 8, 1897)

Company "C" of Cole's Cavalry was "on scout." It was investigating a portion of the country in Loudoun County, Virginia in the region of Leesburg, the county seat. Turning off a wide public road, the company entered a private road skirting the edge of a forest. Before proceeding far in this new direction we were startled by an unexpected volley of bullets from the wood, but which caused no harm to man or animal.

We had surprised in a quiet bivouac a small body of Confederate cavalry, and they returned to the complacent with the aforesaid volley, and then mounted and fled. Company C clashed after them, and a running fight was kept up until they disappeared by scattering in all directions in the thick undergrowth. They did not attempt to make a stand.

In the pursuit we came into the grounds surrounding a large handsome mansion, which latter we closed in upon, as some of our men who were foremost in pursuit said they believed they had been fired upon from the windows of the house. When a cordon was formed around it, the officer in charge ordered a few of us to dismount and try to enter it with him. We were at the rear of the house, part way along which ran a porch or piazza.

On this latter we met an elderly white woman, who had told us she was in charge of the premises and that there were no rebel soldiers inside. The officer demanded the keys from her, which she refused to hand over. She was told that unless she produced them the door would be broken in. She then stated the house was the property of Mayor Thomas Swann of Baltimore, and that he was a well-known Union man.

The officer replied that that fact would not prevent Rebels from harboring in it, and that it must be opened, or, much as he regretted to injury the property of Mayor Swann in anyway, it would be opened forcibly. She relented and produced a bunch of keys. We opened the piazza door with drawn pistols entered a wide hall, from which a door to the right opened into a large room, through which we entered and found the floor bare and the room empty of furniture. While a portion of the men held this, others were sent to intestate the upper rooms, huge and small, but found no enemy.

On one side of the large downstairs room were closed and locked sliding doors leading into another room, this part of the house evidently being for use as a double parlor. The house keeper was asked to open these sliding doors, but she refused to do so. So of course this was the place the Rebels were in hiding, and she didn't want any fighting in the house. Among the men was a very strong and heavy-bodied mountaineer, who with the higher refinements of civilized life in the matter of objects of art or adornment. While the officer was parleying with the woman and before we knew what he was about, he raised one of his powerful limbs and gave the door a mighty kick, which sent a panel flying into the other room. He peeped in, but immediately sprung back in astonishment and alarm and with a loud cry of "Help! Help! Help!" at the same time cocking his carbine and pointing it through the hole. All rushed rapidly to the opening expecting to find a roomful of men, but saw nothing except the faces of a couple of formidable-looking bronze lions, on which our comrade had his gun leveled. He thought he had broken into the den of wild beast. The loud laughter which ensued restored him to his equilibrium, and he felt that he had made "A bad break" in more ways than one. He said that he had never before seen "such things" in his life as "stone or brass animals", and that when his eyes first fell upon then he could have sworn that the saw one of those lions move. When the house was abandoned, these objects of art had been taken from their position on the front portico and deposited in this room to keep them from despoilment. Our comrade, if he is still living today, may not have yet heard the last of his breach into the den of wild animals.

After the war ex-Governor Swann returned to his mansion to live, and died there in July, 1883. He was a native of Virginia, having been born in Alexander in 1805. He was twice mayor of Baltimore before the war, and was elected Governor of Maryland in 1864.

Interested in Cole's Cavalry? Then try our archived edition for a complete listing of Emmitsburg & Gettysburg names: The Solders of Company C, Cole’s Cavalry  1861-1865