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Cole's Cavalry; or Three Years in the Saddle

In the Shenandoah Valley

By C. Armour Newcomer

Read Chapters Thirteen-Sixteen

Chapter 17: In Camp at Harper’s Ferry; Scouting Leesburg

After the fifteen days raid up the Valley the men and horses required a much needed rest, the horses were re-shoed and the command left Charlestown and went into camp at Harper's Ferry. Their stay however was of short duration; the weather had become extremely cold, and the men had not had time to prepare winter quarters before they were ordered to move their camp across the Shenandoah River into Loudoun County, two miles from Harper's Ferry, on the east face of the Blue Ridge Mountain, known as "Loudoun Heights." Tents were pitched and after several days a portion of the command went on a scout through Leesburg, to Upperville, under command of Captain Hunter of Company C.

It was New Year's day, 1864; the thermometer in this mountain country was below zero. The command ran across a large number of Mosby's Cavalry ; our scouting party being greatly outnumbered were compelled to fall back, and in crossing Goose Creek, at Leesburg, the men were compelled to swim their horses across the stream, and when they arrived at camp many of the boys were nearly frozen to death. Their heavy boots had gotten full of water which had frozen, and their boots were cut from their feet; A number of the men were compelled to go to the hospital, where it was found necessary to amputate their toes, and in several instances their feet; which had become terribly frostbitten. The command had lost a number of their best men in killed and wounded, and five or six taken prisoners in this raid.

William Millholland was among the number who was severely wounded near Rector's Cross Roads. After being shot and falling from his horse a cowardly Rebel dashed up and emptied his revolver into Millholland's prostrate body, then riding off supposing him to be dead; some time after the engagement Millholland came to, and was unable to move; the thermometer was down to zero. He had despaired of ever seeing any one again, when a citizen came through the woods and Millholland attracted his attention. The man succeeded in getting him upon his back, and carried him several hundred yards to his humble home, where he remained for four days. A scouting party passing by, the lady of the house reported that a Union soldier was wounded at her house; the officer in charge of the company had Millholland placed in the ambulance and on the following day they arrived at Warrentori, where the soldier had his wounds dressed six days after being wounded. He was never able to perform any more service, and was mustered out of the army at the expiration of his three years. Millholland was a brave soldier and had been in many an engagement.

The Battalion had been for some time very fortunate and had been coming out with flying colors, but this last reverse had somewhat put a damper upon the spirits of the men for a few days; it was not long however before the boys regained their accustomed self-assurance and were willing and anxious to meet their late antagonists.

Snow had fallen to a considerable depth; everything about the camp on the mountain side looked dreary in the extreme. With the large number of our comrades who were under treatment in the hospital, and those who had been lost in our disastrous fight on New Year's Day, left the Battalion with less than two hundred men for active duty. Those who were not on detail kept to their tents, as the weather was very cold.

Chapter 18: Mobley, the Outlaw & Surprised by Mosby

An occasional scouting party from one or more of the companies would frequently leave camp and go as far as Hillsboro', nine miles distant, and after dark would visit farm houses a few miles from camp. An outlaw, by the name of Mobley, with less than one dozen men with him, had been reported as being in the neighborhood, and it was for the purpose of capturing him that our men were making their nightly raids in the surrounding country. Mobley, with his few men, were never known to take a prisoner; anyone falling into their hands would be instantly shot, as they wanted nothing but the soldier's horse and arms. A large reward had been offered by the Government for Mobley, dead or alive, and our men were anxious to get this reward; this is why the scouting parties were hunting for him and his followers among the farmers in the vicinity, whom he was known to be visiting at intervals. He was afterwards killed by a member of Major Means' Loyal Virginia Cavalry, who claimed the $1,000 for his dead body. After the death of Mobley, his few followers disappeared from the neighborhood of Loudoun County.

We had now been occupying our new camp for two weeks. It was two o'clock, Sunday morning, January 10th, 1864; the stable guard had just been relieved, when the tramp of horses' feet was heard on the icy road, but a few hundred yards distant. The night was dark and bitter cold; our guard on the edge of the camp halted a column of horsemen he saw advancing upon him. The Rebels, for such it proved to be, refused to obey the command of the guard, who then fired off his carbine. The Rebel yell resounded through the mountain fastness; Cole's camp was surprised.

Colonel Mosby, their old antagonist, had captured the pickets; he and his followers, many of whom were natives of Loudoun County, had crossed the mountain and fell upon the camp, and then fired a volley into the tents where Cole's men lay sleeping, many of them no doubt dreaming of their sweethearts and loved ones at home. No one who has not experienced a night attack from an enemy can form the slighest conception of the feelings of one awakened in the dead of night with the din of shots and yells coining from those thirsting for your blood. Each and every man in that attack, for the time, was an assassin. But we should remember that war means to kill; the soldier in the excitement of battle forgets what pity is, and nothing will satisfy his craving but blood.

The rude awakening brought Cole's hardy veterans out into the deep snow covering the mountain, and they promptly picked up the gauge of battle. Long experience in border warfare had taught these gallant Marylanders to shoot at the horsemen, and not attempt to mount their own faithful chargers.

For several nights Cole's men had slept on their arms, as they had been accustomed to do, whilst on their many raids in the enemy's country, but a fancied security led them on that fateful night to remove their heavy boots and coats, and in some instances, all their outer garments; they rushed to repel the attack, without waiting to dress, and for some minutes the fighting was fierce. Lieutenant Colston, of the Confederate Army, with Mosby's command, fell immediately in front of my tent, at the head of a Rebel company.

During the fight every man was for himself. There was no time to wait for orders, the cry rang out on the cold frosty air " shoot every soldier on horseback." Many of the Confederates who were killed or wounded were burned with powder, as Cole's men used their carbines. It was hand to hand, and so dark, you could not see the face of the enemy you were shooting. It was a perfect hell! Every man cursing and yelling, and the horses were plunging and kicking in their mad efforts to get away. When one of the poor beasts would get wounded he would utter a piercing shriek that would echo throughout the mountain. Mosby's men had emptied their revolvers. The night was too dark for them to see to reload their pieces. They were now completely at the mercy of Cole's Rangers, who were using their carbines with good effect. Captain Smith, one of Mosby's most gallant leaders, had shouted, " fire the tents, shoot by the light," but his order was never executed. A. well-aimed bullet sped through his brain and he fell dead from his horse. The Confederates, who had expected that Cole's men would make but a feeble resistance, having been taken so completely by surprise, now found themselves in. a trap in our camp. They were dumbfounded. Captain Vernon, of Company A, had discharged the last load from his second revolver when he fell with a ghastly wound in the head; as soon as his brave followers discovered that this gallant officer was shot the vengeful bullets of the hardy veterans flew the faster. The Rebels seeing that the bloody struggle was fruitless, the Confederate chief reluctantly gave the order to retire.

Mosby had been badly used up; our comrades who had lost their lives on the last New Year's day, and in other engagements, where he had been defeated, were now avenged. It was difficult to tell how many had been lost until after daylight.

The boys who had been fighting so gallantly in the snow, many of them with nothing on except their underclothing, were now too glad to have an opportunity to dress, and as many of them jokingly remarked, they did not mind the fighting so much but the next time that Mosby came, they would thank him to send word so they would have an opportunity to dress and be in proper condition to receive company.

Loudoun Heights, Va., January 10th, 1864.

By comrade James. A. Scott, of Company C, Washington, D. C.

Upon the wintry mountain side, From succor far away, With hearts in peril often tried, Cole's hardy veterans lay.

The winds swept cuttingly and fleet Across the frozen snow, The shivering sentry on his beat Walked briskly to and fro.

Their white tents rising from the ground The wind, with curious art, Had so embanked with snow around, They seemed of earth, a part.

The night closed down in bitter cold, And as its gloom grew deep, The soldier, in his blanket rolled, Sought rest and peace in sleep.

From war and elemental strife, Perchance his thoughts did roam Afar to sweetheart, child or wife, 'Mid quiet scenes of home.

Perhaps he dreamed his toils were o'er, His armor laid from sight, The sun of peace ablaze once more, Had closed war's dreadful night.

But hark! what din is in the air? What rush the ear alarms, And here and now with fitful glare, What crash and roar of arms!

Alas! alas! that man should be A more relentless foe Than tempest on the land or sea, Than winter's frost and snow.

Rise, soldier, rise! thy sleep forego; Death rides upon the wind In other shapes than frost and snow; On, on, thine armor bind.

Rise, soldier, rise! Thy soul in arms, Strike, for thy Country's weal; For her, in dangers and alarms, Thy heart and limbs be steel.

And up they rose, those soldiers proud, Grasped arms with eager haste, And dashed into the battle-cloud, Upon the wintry waste.

And now, both to and from the foe, Death-shots like fire-flies flew, And here and there the trampled snow Soon bore a crimson hue.

Some sank upon the icy ground Whom naught but death could quell, And, fore-front, struck with ghastly wound, Brave Vernon fighting fell.

Fierce shout and oath and yell and shot Were mixed in horrid mirth, Night's deepest gloom upon the spot No light from heaven or earth.

One thought possessed the breast of each To yield they did not know A lesson of respect to teach The daring Rebel foe.

Amid the horrors of the night, With frozen hands and feet, They stood and fought, nor ceased to fight Till victory was complete.

The rolling years may come and go, Survivors may grow old, But not till death shall lay them low And turns life's current cold,

Can they forbear to speak with pride That makes the dim eye glow, About the lonely mountain side And battle in the snow?

While Loudoun rears her height sublime, Her stream runs to the sea, Her airs shall in all coming time Breathe of Cole's Cavalry.

Chapter 19: Pursuit of Mosby & Attempt to Capture Major Cole

Down at the Ferry, General Sullivan, the District Commander lay. The ringing rifle volleys and echoing pistol shots awoke his forces and the 34th Massachusetts Infantry, Cole's comrades in many a bloody fray, sprang at a double quick for the camp on the mountain side, two miles distant. They arrived too late to be of service to the Cavalry, which had won the fight and was already in the saddle in pursuit of their ancient enemy. Sullivan rode over at daylight, with words of soldierly praise for the brave fellows who had so gallantly defeated the wily partisan in his desperate attempt to "gobble them up" an expression frequently made use of in military parlance, nor were Sullivan's congratulations the only ones; a unique bit of war time history is the fact that the General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States sent a congratulatory telegram to a mere Battalion, the only instance of this kind during the entire war.

The detachment who had followed Mosby returned to camp; blood stains on the snow marked the enemy's retreat, and it was evident that a number had been wounded. During the day, a citizen living four miles from camp reported to Major Cole that an officer had been left at his house severely wounded; the writer was ordered to take a squad of men and go to the farmer's house, after dark, and bring the wounded man to camp. On arriving at my destination, I found everything as the citizen had represented. The officer was a Lieutenant, a man much larger than the average size, a fine specimen of manhood, and perhaps twenty-five years of age. The Lieutenant had been shot in the breast, the ball going clear through his body; it was evident he could not live; I spoke to him kindly and told him my orders were to bring him to camp, but if he would give me his word of honor as a soldier and gentleman, not to be removed from the farm house without first acquainting Major Cole, I would assume the responsibility and permit him to remain where he was. The soldier grasped my hand and thanked me, and said he did not see how one of Cole's men could be so kind to one of Mosby's command, after trying to murder us in our beds. I told him to think no more of worldly affairs, but turn his thoughts to heaven and ask forgiveness from God, the Great Father of us all. I returned to camp without my man, and on the following day we received word that the Lieutenant was dead.

When Mosby charged the camp, a special detail of twenty men, under an officer, attempted to capture Major Cole at his headquarters, which was in a two-story house on the edge of the camp, and by the side of the mountain. As the officer and a portion of his command entered in at the front door of the house, the Major made his escape from the rear of the building into the mountain, and hastened to the camp, where his presence greatly encouraged the men. Captain Gallagher, who was still suffering with his broken leg in an adjoining room to the Major's quarters, escaped unnoticed. The Captain would not consent to be taken to the hospital, and from the time his leg was broken, near Charlestown, he was never able to perform any hard service up to the time of his being mustered out of the army.

The 34th Massachusettes Infantry remained at our camp during Sunday.

The officers and men of the Battalion were recounting their individual encounters with the enemy, and some of the yarns were extremely amusing. In justice to all, every officer and man deserves the highest praise for their action; they fought as soldiers never fought before.

General Sullivan sent Major Cole twenty gallons of whiskey to be distributed among the men. It is needless to say they all pronounced the General a royal good fellow, and drank his health. If a suitable medal had been presented to the officers and men, it would have been more appropriate, and even at this late day Congress should recognize the survivors of this fight for their gallantry, and place them upon the roll of honor.

Casualties in Company A. Loudoun Heights, Va., January 10, 1864.

Samuel Stone, killed. Harvey A. Null, killed. Edward Stone, killed. Captain Geo. W. F. Vernon, wounded. First Sergeant Lewis M. Zimmerman, wounded. John Killian, wounded. Edgar Badois, wounded. Wesley Games, wounded. Martin L. Kaufman, wounded. Simon Staley, wounded.

Casualties in Company B. Loudoun Heights, January 10, 1864.

Sergeant Carries, killed. Captain John Rivers, wounded. Sergeant Wesley Mann, wounded. Samuel Rivers, wounded. Gotleib Fuss, wounded.

Casualties in Company C. Loudoun Heights, Va., January 10, 1864.

Wm. H. Weaver, wounded. D.'W. Longwell, wounded

Casualties in Company D. Loudoun Heights, Va., January 10, 1864.

George Burford, killed. Reson Cross, killed. Henry Howard, wounded.

Chapter 20: Report of Battle and Complimentary Letter of General Halleck

On the following day, after the fight, Monday, January 11th, Major Cole sent this report to General Sullivan the Brigade Commander:

I have the honor to report that my camp was attacked, between three and four o'clock this morning, by Major Mosby's command of Rebel Guerillas, some four hundred strong, augmented by volunteers from Lee's Army. They cautiously avoided my pickets and made an impetuous charge, with a loud yell, on the right of the camp. In consequence of the charge, the right Company, B, offered but a feeble resistance, but in the meantime, the second Company in line, Company A, was speedily rallied by its commanding officer, Captain Vernon, who contested their further advance in such a sanguinary manner as to form a rallying point; in the meantime, the enemy had charged the left Company, C, and center Company, D. The command was now thoroughly aroused to the danger that threatened them, and one and all, from the officers to the privates, entered into the contest with such a determined zest as led to the utter rout and discomfiture of the enemy, leaving three prisoners in our hands and a loss in killed, (left on the field,) of five, divided as follows: one Captain, two Lieutenants and two privates. They removed a large portion of their wounded, as my detachment in pursuit observed blood stains for miles along their line of retreat. Our loss was four enlisted men killed and sixteen men wounded, among whom are Captain Vernon, Company A, seriously shot through the head, left eye destroyed, and Lieutenant John Rivers, slightly in the leg. I am happy to state that there are hopes of Captain Vernon's recovery."

Brigadier General B. F. Kelly, the Department Commander, upon receiving General Sullivan's account of the fight forwarded it to Brigadier General Cullum, Chief of Staff of the General-in-Chief, adding:

"I cheerfully comply with the request of General Sullivan, in calling the attention of the General-in-Chief to the gallant conduct of Major Cole and his brave command; his repulse of a murderous attack, made by an overwhelming force, at 4 o'clock, on a dark, cold morning, evidences a discipline, a watchfulness and bravery most commendable."

In due time, through the hands of Generals Kelly and Sullivan, Major Cole received this dispatch:

"Headquarters of the Army, Washington, January 28th, 1864.

"Brigadier General B. F. Kelly, Cumberland, Md.,

"General: I have just received, through your headquarters, Major Henry A. Cole's report of the repulse of Mosby's attack upon his camp, on Loudoun Heights on the 10th inst. Major Cole and his command, the Battalion of Cavalry, Maryland Volunteers, deserve high praise for their gallantry in repelling the Rebel assault.

Your obedient servant,

H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief."

Lieutenant Colston, of Mosby's command, was killed immediately in front of my tent; after the repulse of the enemy there was taken from the Lieutenant's person two passes, reading:

"Pass Lieutenant Colston in and out of lines at pleasure. Robert E. Lee, General."

I was compelled to turn the passes into headquarters, by order of General Sullivan. It is presumed the passes were used by our scouts to great advantage. The Lieutenant also had on his person the picture of a beautiful young woman, and on the reverse side was written "Your sister, Florence." The picture was sent by myself to Baltimore, to be returned to the young lady. I was never positive whether the lady received the picture I had sent to my home until a few days since. A member of my family had given it to a Mr. John Fowler, who was personally acquainted with the Colstons, to be delivered to them. A few days ago, over thirty years after this occurrence, I was introduced by Captain Dudley P. Barnett, formerly on the staff of General Rhodes, of the Confederate Army, to Mr. Frederick M. Colston, of the firm of Wilson, Colston & Co., bankers, in Baltimore, who told me he was a brother of the Lieutenant killed in Cole's camp on Loudoun Heights, January 10th, 1864, and his mother had received the picture. Mr. Colston had also served as Major in the Confederate Army, and is a member of an old Maryland family, being a cousin of the late Honorable John P. Kennedy, historian.

The Battalion remained in their camp on Loudoun Heights until the middle of the month of January, after which they moved to Harper's Ferry and encamped on Bolivar Heights.

Read Chapters: Twenty-one - Twenty-four

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