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Cole's Cavalry; or Three Years in the Saddle

In the Shenandoah Valley

By C. Armour Newcomer

Read Chapters Twenty-five - Twenty Eight

Chapter 29: Battle at Keedysville

Colonel Cole was now in command of his full Regiment, all the men being mounted, and Captain Zimmerman's Company K, had been provided with proper accouterments. General Hunter, who had returned from his famous raid to Lynchburg, was now in command at Frederick. On August 4th, 1864, Hunter received information that Early was again advancing upon Maryland, and ordered Cole's Cavalry to Hagerstown; the Regiment left Frederick in command of Lieutenant Colonel Vernon, Colonel Cole having been detained at headquarters on business, expecting to overtake the command when they went into camp a few miles outside of Frederick. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon hearing from a citizen that the Confederates had established a picket post at Boonsboro, concluded to take the Regiment to the summit of the South Mountain, where he encamped for the night. Our advance, under command of Captain Zirninennan, stationed his pickets at the foot of the mountain, three miles from Boonsboro. On the following morning, Lieutenant Colonel Vernon concluded to make an early start. One of our trusted scouts, who had left camp during the night had returned and reported the enemy in large numbers at Keedysville, five miles south of Boonsboro. We were ordered to mount, and took up our line of march in that direction; the Confederates had stationed a vedette on the road leading into Boonsboro, who fired upon our advance and fell back. Captain Zimmerman, with his company following, and on the outskirts of the town of Keedysville, met the enemy's first line of skirmishers; Captain Zimmerman deployed his men. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon hearing the firing in his front, ordered the Regiment up on the trot, and taking in the situation at a glance concluded a larger body of Confederates were confronting him than he had supposed were on the north side of the Potomac River. Vernon immediately formed his entire command in line of battle and attacked Vaughn's advance Brigade of Tennessee Cavalry, and drove them back upon Early's Infantry, then in position on the south bank of the Antietam; in this engagement the Regiment lost heavily. Captain Louis M. Zimmerman and the members of his Company K, deserve special mention for their bravery; they held the enemy's line of battle in check until Colonel Vernon brought the Regiment up. This Company alone lost eighteen men, out of a membership of thirty-five.

After Lieutenant Colonel Vernon had defeated this Brigade of Cavalry, and having retarded the advance of Early's Rebel Army for a period of four or five hours, the command retreated in good order under a heavy fire of artillery, over the South Mountain, bringing off our wounded and a large number of prisoners.

Those captured could scarcely credit that they were fighting only a single Regiment and said they knew it was Cole's Cavalry, but supposed it was a Brigade instead of a Regiment. The command fell back to Middletown, where they encamped for the night.

Colonel Cole, who had been detained at General Hunter's headquarters in Frederick, hearing the Artillery firing, hastened to join his Regiment; arriving at Keedysville too late to engage in the fight. The Colonel made a narrow escape from being captured by the enemy's Cavalry, and joined the command at Middletown during the night. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon sent the writer with a dispatch to General Hunter, at Frederick, who was much surprised to know the enemy had crossed into Maryland in such great numbers.

The General was gratified at Lieutenant Colonel Vernon's report, and remarked to his Adjutant General, that "Cole's Maryland Cavalry were the flower of his Division."

I remained at General Hunter's headquarters over night and joined the Regiment on the following day. General U. S. Grant came to Frederick the same evening and stopped with General Hunter, and for the first time I saw the great Commander-in-Chief.

At Keedysville, the young bugler of Company K, Alien Greer, a mere boy, was at the head of the Company with his Captain, when the Company made the charge on the enemy's line, and when soldiers were being shot all around him, he continued blowing his bugle, sounding the various calls, such as "Charge and rally," &c., the sound of this young bugler's trumpet could be heard above the din and roar of musketry and artillery firing.

Sergeant John G. Maynard, of Company K, also deserves special mention for his bravery and gallantry, and I regret not to have space to mention each and every officer and man in the command personally, as they deserve.

Chapter 30: Rebels Recross into Virginia

The Confederates started to recross the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, on the following day, August 6th. Colonel Cole was now in command of the Regiment and again advanced in the direction of Boonsboro. We encamped for the night on the same ground we had stopped at two days before, on the summit of the South Mountain; on the following day Colonel Cole with his orderly and myself left camp for the purpose of getting information in reference to Early's movements. The three of us charged into Boonsboro and exchanged shots with some half a dozen Rebels, who left the town in the direction of Keedysville. After following them for some distance we returned and remained at Boonsboro during the remainder of the day, getting back to camp late at night. A loyal citizen from Sharpsburg reported that Early's command had re-crossed the river and only straggling Cavalry remained in Maryland. On our return to camp, after having advanced to the foot of the Mountain, we came upon our outpost. The vedette had dismounted, seated himself on the ground, and had fallen asleep, with his horse standing by his side. The penalty of a soldier sleeping on his post, in the face of the enemy, is death. The Colonel on discovering that the picket was asleep, drew his saber from the scabbard and struck the soldier across his shoulder, who awoke and for the moment supposed that he was in the hands of the enemy. The soldier was placed under arrest and taken to the reserve picket post, the Sergeant of the Guard receiving orders to bring him before the Colonel in the morning. The boy, for he was not more than eighteen years of age, belonged to one of the new companies, and had no thought of sleeping. He was completely exhausted from being in the saddle for so long a time, but had committed the fatal error of dismounting, and sitting down. I felt deeply interested in the young soldier and knowing the kindness of heart of our generous and gallant leader, thought I would exert myself in his behalf on the following morning, so I spoke to the Colonel and urged upon him not to prefer charges against the prisoner, as he had been in the service but a short time and did not know the great responsibility resting upon a man on picket duty. By giving him a severe lecture it would have its effect. Whether the Colonel had decided upon this course before I spoke to him I know not. The young man was let off, and for the remainder of his service in the Army he proved himself a good soldier.

Chapter 31: Under Sheridan in Shenandoah Valley

General Sheridan had now superseded General Hunter, and later on Cole's Regiment was assigned to duty under General Merritt, in the Shenandoah Valley, participating in the battles with Sheridan at Charlestown, Halltown, Summit Point, Berryville, Opequan Creek, Winchester, Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek, where it is reported in verse and song that Sheridan made his famous ride from Winchester, which is cited at the close of this chapter.

The command was with Sheridan in all his campaigns up the Valley, and lost a large number of its membership.

The latter part of August and the first part of September, 1864, the few survivors who had not re-enlisted when the Battalion had been raised to a Regiment, had now served three years. Their time having expired, they were now mustered out of the United States service. Captain Frank Gallagher and Lieutenant Sam Sigler of Company D, took their honorable discharges, after serving for three years; their records had been honorable ones. Lieutenant Samuel Mills, of Company D, was acting Quartermaster of the Regiment until a regular Quartermaster was appointed; the former quartermaster having been dismissed the service. Company D had been greatly reduced in killed and wounded, and after the few men had taken their discharges, left but a small portion of Company A, without commissioned officers.

Captain Tappan Wright Kelly, a son of General B. F. Kelly, had command of an independent Company, and had seen some service in the western part of Maryland and West Virginia, was assigned to Cole's Regiment and took command of Company D, with Henry A. Bier as first Lieutenant and Columbus F. Benchoff as second Lieutenant.


By Thomas Buchanan Reed

Up from the South at break of day, Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay, The affrighted air with a shudder bore, Like a herald in haste, to the Chieftain's door, The terrible grumble and rumble and roar, Telling the battle was on once more, And Sheridan twenty miles away.

And wider still those billows of war Thundering along the horizon's bar, And louder yet into Winchester rolled The roar of that red sea uncontrolled, Making the blood of the listener cold, As he thought of the stake in that firey fray, With Sheridan twenty miles away.

But there is a road in Winchester town, A good, broad highway leading down; And there through the flash of the morning light, A steed us black as the steed of night,

Was seen to pass as with eagle flight, As if he knew the terrible need, He stretched away with the utmost speed; Hills rose and fell but his heart was gay, With Sheridan fifteen miles away.

Still sprung from those swift hoofs thundering South, The dust, like the smoke from the cannon's mouth, Or the trail of a comet sweeping faster and faster, Foreboding to traitors the doom of disaster; The heart of the steed and the heart of the master Were beating like prisoners assaulting their walls, Impatient to be where the battlefield calls; Every nerve of the charger was strained to full play, With Sheridan only ten miles away.

Under his spurning feet the road Like an arrowy Alpine river flowed, And the landscape sped away behind Like an ocean flying before the wind; And the steed like a bark fed with furnace ire, Swept on with his wild eye full of fire; But, lo! he is nearing his heart's desire, He is snuffing the smoke of the roaring fray, With Sheridan only five miles away.

The first that the General saw were the groups Of stragglers, and then the retreating troops: What was done what to do a glance told him both, And striking his spurs with a terrible oath, He dashed down the line 'mid a storm of huzzahs. And the wave of retreat checked its course there became The sight of the master compelled it to pause. With foam and with dust the black charger was gray, By the flash of his eye, and his nostril's play He seemed to the whole great army to say, "I have brought you Sheridan all the way From Winchester, down to save the day!"

Hurrah! hurrah for Sheridan! Hurrah! hurrah for horse and man! And when their statues are placed on high, Under the dome of the Union sky, The American Soldier's Temple of Fame, There with the glorious General's name Be it said in letters both bold and bright: Here is the steed that saved the day By carrying Sheridan into the fight from Winchester twenty miles away"

Chapter 32: Brigaded by General Sheridan, Objected by Colonel Cole, and objections sustained by the Secretary of War

General Sheridan had brigaded the Regiment and had intended taking the command with him when he moved from the Shenandoah Valley. Colonel Cole objected to being Brigaded, claiming that inasmuch as the Battalion had been an independent command, raised by special act of Congress, the Regiment should remain the same. The matter was reported to the Secretary of War who sustained Colonel Cole. General Sheridan refused to have independent Regiments in his command, and ordered Colonel Cole with his Regiment to West Virginia to guard the lines of communication, where he remained until the close of the war.

The command was mustered out of service at the close of the war, at Harper's Ferry, on the 28th day June, 1865.

During the term of service of Cole's Cavalry, from 1861, to the time of its being mustered out, it has to its credit over one thousand prisoners captured; had fought in nearly two hundred battles or skirmishes, had wounded or killed more men than it numbered itself; and had captured or destroyed an immense amount of the enemy's property.

But a small fragment of the original Cole's Cavalry, the first or Veteran Battalion, remained. Had the first Battalion not been increased to a Regiment, their percentage of loss would have been greater than nine-tenths of the Regiments in the service, but by adding eight new Companies in 1864, the full Regiment was credited with the entire loss, which greatly reduced the percentage of losses. The majority of the survivors of the Old Battalion were maimed and scarred. The bones of the most of the brave Marylanders, who left Frederick City in 1861, and cheered the flag and their gallant commander, whom they were ever ready to follow, in the paths of duty and glory, were strewn from Gettysburg to Lynchburg, and many reposed in the graveyards of Belle Isle, Salisbury and Andersonville.

On the following page will be found a poem from "Frank Leslie" in regard to Cole's Cavalry.

A Fightin’ With Cole

By Harry Shellman

That boss! Why, yes, he's the knowin'est mind; He knows Decoration an' Fourth of July; An' whenever the bugles, or things of that kind, Comes 'round, both his head an' his tail git up high, An' he goes cavortin' in a way that'll win ye; He knows the music. Why, Lord bless your soul! We was together down there in Virginia; Down in the valley a-fightin' with Cole.

Ain't worth nothin'! No; he's too old for the plow, Or the carriage, or such like. Just do for the boys, The young ones, to climb on. That's all that he now, Amounts to, 'cept prancin' around at the noise Of music an' guns. Would I sell him? Why, no; No man's thousand dollars will ever come nigh him. While I've got a spot where that old hoss kin go, No fellow has got enough money to buy him.

Never heerd tell of Cole's fightin' battalion, Maryland cavalry? Well, now, I declare! We went in together, me an'that stallion, Right from the farm a lively young pair. All through the Rebellion together we scouted, At Winchester, Leesburg, Loudoun, a whole Grist of fights, where sometimes we won or was routed Down in the valley a-fightin' with Cole.

We both belonged to blue-blood a'istoc'acy, An' inclined to be wild, then, was Lion an' me, So we skipped from our home here on the Monocacy, An' went in the fight for the flag of the free. Excitement! We got enough. Many's the close call We had. Why, the thought even now takes my breath. Me an' that hoss, we went plumb through it all An' came out all right from that cyclone of death.

The swish an' the swash an' the jinglin' of spurs, The clang of the sabers, the carbine's dull rattle; The rush an' the crush when the fierce charge occurs; 'The mad, wild excitement of bloodshed an' battle.

The scout an' the bivouac, the long raid; what's in ye Shows up when alone on a midnight patrol; An' they showed they was men that was down in Virginia; Down in the valley a-fightin' with Cole.

Once, worn out, we stopped by the roadside a sportin' An' I went to sleep. I woke with a cry; That hoss was a lickin' my face an' a-snortin'; The boys had rode on an' the rebels was nigh, I jumped in the saddle, an' he was so glib he, Dashed off 'fore I fairly got fixed in my seat; He knowed that for me it were leg it or Libby, An' he knowed how to dust w'en we had to retreat.

Yes, we was together a-scootin' an' scoutin'; Sometimes we was comin', sometimes we was goin'; One day it was Mosby's men doin' the routin', Another to us their heels they was showin'; Daehin' an' fightin', you bet we was, down there. Me an' old Lion went in heart and soul, Ripe for the chase, charge, or scrimmage we foun' there, Down in the valley a-fightin' with Cole.

One day up at Winchester we got surrounded; The Johnnies was thick an' they charged like a storm; Minie-balls whistled an' big boss-guns pounded We had to hustle; you bet it was warm.

Three comes right at us, w'en Lion, he wheels, Gits on his hind legs an' paws, then comes down; One I shot, while fie let fly with his heels, Then we scooted off out of Winchester town.

There is the mark of the bullet that caught him, Right on the flank us we galloped away. The rebs tried to down him, but they never come nigh him, For we wasn't born to be killed by the gray, Why, stranger, for truth, I have nothin' to say, But you can't git that hoss to save your soul; Why, we was together down there in Virginia, Down in the valley a-fightin' with Cole.


And now Comrades of Cole's Independent Cavalry and old Soldiers, whose friendships were formed and welded in the strifes and turmoil of that faithful struggle which raged for four years to maintain the unity of the States and the preservation of our liberties, let us be thankful for all the favors and blessings we have received under the shade of "Old Glory," and the beneficence of a kind and overruling Providence, and with the hope of recalling to your memories the years gone-by I close my labors.

The Author.

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