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Cole's Cavalry; or Three Years in the Saddle

In the Shenandoah Valley

By C. Armour Newcomer

Read Chapters Nine-Twelve

Chapter 13: The Visit to Berryville

Our scout informed us he had left the enemy's camp several hours before, near Berryville. The rain had ceased falling, but heavy clouds still continued to hang over the Valley. Vivid flashes of lightning would occasionally light up the heavens. Major Cole informed the men of the true condition of affairs and said it was necessary to have a detachment of the command visit Berryville, and have the men mingle with the enemy, if any should be in the town, and if possible ascertain the strength of the Confederates reported there by our scout. We should get all information possible, at the same time to use the utmost caution not to disclose our identity. Captain Frank Gallagher was to be in charge of the squad.

Major Cole informed the men it was a hazardous undertaking, he would not have any one detailed, but wanted five men from each one of the four Companies to volunteer. It is useless to say that a majority of the men in the command rode to the front; and as but twenty men were wanted it was decided to take the first five men in each Company's file. The writer made one of the number from his Company. Our orders were to go to Charlestown, after leaving Berryville, providing we were fortunate enough to get out of the town.

Captain Gallagher gave the order to "fall in" and we moved off by "twos." It was night and very dark, but we were familiar with the road, and felt easy on that point. It would take two hours before we could reach Berryville, and the Captain would have ample time to explain to each man his plans and what to do in the event of being discovered that we were Union troops. A word was agreed upon and given to us, and an. answer to the same to be used in the event we became scattered and should come across one-another. It had now become intensely dark and the frequent flashes of lightning were blinding. We had now gotten to within one mile of the town and had not yet come upon the enemy's picket post. It was decided if any one inquired to what command we belonged, we were to tell them a detachment of Gilmor's. The edge of Berryville was now reached, many houses were lit up, and whilst we did not come upon the enemy's pickets, we soon discovered that the town was full of Rebel soldiers, many of them no doubt visiting their friends in the town; the sidewalks were lined with armed men. In front of the Union Hotel and in the building, there could not have been less than one hundred Confederates, some with their muskets on their shoulders and others with their sabers clanking by their sides; naturally, when we rode up and halted, they not dreaming we were any but their friends, commenced talking and asking the prospects of meeting the "Yanks." We soon learned from their conversation that we were talking to Imboden's men, and they were moving on Charlestown, and perhaps Harper's Ferry. Captain Gallagher had dismounted and entered the hotel, and it was impossible to see his blue uniform as the poncho he had on covered him almost to his heels. The proprietress of the hotel was in the dining room, in the back part of the house, and when the Captain entered the room she looked up and at once recognized him, and as she remarked afterwards, she came near fainting, as she at first supposed he had been captured and his captors were bringing him in to get something to eat. The tables in the room were crowded with Confederate officers eating their supper, and the landlady, whose name I regret I have forgotten, but suffice to say, she was a loyal woman and had frequently given Cole's men information on former occasions. She took in the situation and informed the Captain she had room for just one more if he did not object to eating in the kitchen; the Captain kindly thanked the lady and accepted her invitation, and in the far corner of the room, at a small table, she placed a plate for the Captain, and at the same time remarked she would sit down for a few minutes and rest herself, as she was most tired to death. It was a ruse of hers to have an opportunity to speak to Captain Gallagher privately. She gave him all the information he desired to know and let him out of a side door where he joined his men who had been waiting on the outside, and had become very impatient at his seemingly long absence; myself, with one of the men, had gone to the farther end of the town and we inquired from a Rebel soldier who was coming up the sidewalk where the camp was located, he gruffly replied "damn the camp, but do you know where I can get a canteen full of apple jack?" I informed him I thought General Imboden might have some at headquarters. The "Johnnie" mumbled a reply and continued on up the street. Captain Gallagher had remounted his horse as I came up and the column moved slowly through the town; I rode by the side of the Captain, at the head of the line. The Captain informed me that we should get to Charlestown as soon as possible, and notify Colonel Simpson, who was in command at that point. Imboden, with two thousand Confederates, was in and around Berryville, and had gone out of town on two different roads, one being the White Post road; the camp fires could be distinctly seen from the town, in that direction. The lady at the hotel was unable to state in what direction the second column of Rebels had gone.

Our little squad, under Captain Gallagher, had now come to the road leading to Charlestown, and after a short consultation we concluded that it was the better policy to get out of Berryville as speedily as possible, as we had accomplished our object. Our next intention was to warn Colonel Simpson, who was stationed at Charlestown, in command of the 9th Maryland Infantry Regiment. This Regiment had not yet seen much service, and it was evident that it was Imboden's intention to attack Charlestown. After leaving Berryville some three miles in our rear, and not yet coining upon any pickets, we concluded General Imboden felt perfectly secure and had no thought that an enemy was so close to his camp, and that he purposed starting for Charlestown early in the morning. On leaving Berryyille we had taken the precaution of sending three men as an advance guard. The clouds in the heavens had passed away and the moon shone bright; we were now thankful it had not cleared off whilst we were in Berryville, as our identity might have been discovered. Corporal Gibbons, with privates Mills and McGregor, who were in the advance, came dashing back and said they had been halted by a picket guard stationed some distance down the road. After a hasty consultation we concluded to flank the picket post, and started through a dense woods; we had not proceeded far before our Captain uttered a cry of pain, myself, with others, hastened to his side and discovered that he had been kicked by one of the horses. His leg was broken and he was suffering great pain. Being a non-commissioned officer I assumed command and placed a man on either side of the Captain, to prevent him from falling off his horse. We were compelled to move slowly and with great caution through the woods. After some time we came to an opening, and seeing a farm house in the distance I concluded to apply to the farmer, and if possible get information that would place us on the road leading to Charlestown; on arriving at the house the column was halted, and myself with Sergeant Alpheus Stansbury, of Company D, entered the gate, and from the size of the mansion we concluded the proprietor must be a person of some means and decided we would be more successful in getting information at the negro quarters than from the master of the house. I rode with Sergeant Stansbury across the lawn without attracting attention from the inmates of the dwelling. On ransacking the quarters I dismounted and gained admittance; an old negro answered my call and after being informed we were Union soldiers who had lost our way and wished to be shown the right road, the old man woke up one of the younger boys who was very anxious and willing to act as our guide. After traveling several miles, we reached a road that our colored escort said would take us into Charlestown. It was now long after midnight, and Captain Gallagher was suffering great pain. Every man in the squad was anxious to get the Captain where he could get medical attendance; day was breaking when we came upon the pickets of the 9th Maryland, at Charlestown. We immediately took the Captain to Colonel Simpson's headquarters and it was determined that he must be taken to Harper's Ferry to have his broken leg set. The Captain was placed on a mattress and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit; he was given an opportunity to rest, having been in the saddle for over eight hours since the time his leg was broken.

The horses and men required food and rest, having been on the move and the men in the saddle for twenty-four consecutive hours; we concluded to remain in Charlestown for a short time. Saddles were removed from the horses and the faithful animals given a feed and a good rub down, after which the men rolled themselves into their blankets and were soon enjoying a much needed sleep. After allowing the men to sleep four or five hours, they were awakened and we continued on our way to camp at Harper's Ferry; Imboden. had not yet attacked the town.

Sergeant Alpheus Stansbury had been untiring in his devotion to Captain Gallagher, never leaving his side, and on arriving at Charlestown refused the rest he so much needed, and procured an ambulance from the Surgeon of the 9th Maryland Regiment. After the Captain rested for a short, time he took him to Harper's Ferry, where he had his broken leg set and properly cared for.

Chapter 14: Engagement at Charlestown

Major Cole, with the Battalion, did not arrive at Charlestown until late in the evening, and then proceeded to camp, at Harper's Ferry. Major Cole insisted upon Colonel Simpson, commanding the 9th Maryland Regiment, to vacate Charlestown and fall back with his Regiment several miles on the Harper's Ferry road as soon as night approached; Cole telling him he would have a better chance to handle his men, instead of having them cooped up in the Court House, a position they were then occupying. Simpson refused to accept the Major's suggestions, saying he would not leave his post until driven out. Major Cole advised that in the event of an attack he (Simpson) should take possession of the houses on both sides of the street, as the enemy would, not shell the town and relief could come from Harper's Ferry, Simpson replied he could take care of himself if the enemy came down upon him. Major Cole reported to General Sullivan the true state of affairs, on his arrival at headquarters. General Sullivan did not send reinforcements to Colonel Simpson, and on the following morning, Sunday, October 18th, 1863, General Imboden had surrounded Charlestown, and after a feeble resistance the 9th Maryland Infantry surrendered. Colonel Simpson, with his entire staff, except his Adjutant who had been wounded, mounted their horses, dashed through their own lines and made their escape, leaving the men to their fate. Had Colonel Simpson taken the advice of Captain Gallagher and Major Cole, the 9th Maryland would never have been taken prisoners and many lives saved, as they were confined at Andersonville for more than a year; when the time came for the members of the 9th Regiment to be exchanged, not one-third were living to return to their homes.

The noise of the firing at Charlestown, eight miles distant, was no sooner heard at Harper's Ferry, than the Battalion's bugles sounded " boots and saddles," and in a few minutes Cole's rough riders were galloping swiftly toward the echoes of battle. Captain Minor's Indiana Battery and the 34th Massachusetts Infantry, with the 10th Maryland Infantry, followed. Cole's men, without waiting for the supports, charged Imboden and drove him out on the Berryville road. Imboden's Artillery of six pieces opened upon the command with grape and canister, which caused a check in our advance. Our support of Infantry and Minor's Battery had not yet come up, and the Battalion deployed as skirmishers and fought Imboden's Brigade until they arrived; Imboden fell back on the Berryville road and our forces continued following until after dark. Our loss was very heavy. The officers and men of the command deserve the highest praise for their gallant conduct in this engagement, and in justice, I should particularly mention Captain George Vernon, Lieutenant Samuel Sigler, Lieutenant John Rivers, Sergeant O. A. Horner, Captain Hunter, Sergeants Stansbury, L. M. Zimmerman, and Private Smith, of Company D, were conspicuous for their gallantry and bravery; private Thomas Smith dashed into the enemy's line and brought two prisoners off of the field with him. It would be an injustice to others to attempt to individualize those who did more than their fellows, although Private A. C. Roland, of Company A, who sacrificed his life for his Captain, certainly deserves special mention. Lieutenant Link was leading his men when his horse was shot from under him, and in falling the Lieutenant was severely injured. Captain Vernon who had been on the other end of the line now dashed up in front of his men, not knowing a company of the enemy's sharp-shooters were behind a stone wall not two hundred yards distant, shooting any one exposing himself at that dangerous point. Young Roland grasped the horse's bridle in expostulation, at the same time a bullet struck the faithful soldier, who died a moment later in the arms of a comrade. Roland had never missed a fight the Battalion had been engaged in; he was of an unusual happy disposition and was liked by the entire command.

Major Cole had concentrated a number of men on the main road preparatory to making a charge upon the enemy's battery, and we had advanced to within a few yards of their line, when the writer of this book was struck in the head by a rifle ball, knocked down and the entire front portion of his hat shot away, and strange to say no abrasion of the skin was made; the hat being drawn tightly over the head when the ball struck, it glanced off. The bugle sounded "charge;" I was again in the saddle, following our gallant leader, charging the Rebel Battery; they opened upon us with grape and canister and we were met by the enemy's infantry, who checked our advance; after emptying our revolvers in their faces we fell back, to give the 34th Massachusetts Infantry an opportunity to meet the enemy's column. Imboden withdrew. It had become too dark to follow, and our forces slowly returned to Charlestown, where we encamped for the night. The command had been fighting since early morning, and our forces had killed and wounded a number of Confederates, had taken seventy-five prisoners and five army wagons loaded with provisions. The Battalion had lost some of their best and bravest men, and on the following morning when the Orderly Sergeants called the roll, many comrades who had answered the day before failed to respond; they had answered to their last roll call.

The excitement of a Trooper's life soon "Makes the living forget the dead."

Casualties in Company A. Charlestown, W. Va., October 18, 1863.

Corporal Henry H. Koland, killed.

Casualties in Company B. Charlestown, W. Va., October 18, 1863.

Loss two men killed and three wounded, but are unable to give the names.

Casualties in Company C. Charlestown, W. Va., October 18, 1863.

Corporal W. A. Mcllhenny, wounded. Edward Jourdon, killed. John Brown, wounded. John. Sites, wounded.

Casualties in Company D.  Charlestown, W. Va., October 18,1863.

George Bartholow, killed. William Black, killed. William Carr, killed. Henry Hoffman, killed. Louis Dawson, killed. George Earl, wounded. C. A. Newcomer, wounded. Theophilus Brown, wounded.

Chapter 15: Strasburg, Mt. Jackson, and The Confederate "Independant Maryland Line"at New Market

Coleís Cavalry had removed their camp from Harperís Ferry to Charlestown. One or more of the companies would go out on a scout daily; none of the enemy had been seen since the fight with Imboden, and a number of new men having joined the command, the different companies had their full quota. The new men were anxious that they should get into a fight, they had not long to wait however, as orders were received to prepare fifteen days' rations for a raid up the Valley.

General Averillís Cavalry Brigade was moving on Lynchburg and destroying the Railroad between that point and Knoxville, Tennessee, in order to prevent the forwarding of reinforcements by Lee to the besieged Confederates at 'Knoxville. The old Battalion Brigade, with the 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry, 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, 34th Massachusetts Infantry, Minor's Indiana Battery, and one Battalion each of the 13th and 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry, had been ordered to protect Averillís raiding brigade by interposing themselves between that gallant leader and Lee's Army. They moved down the Shenandoah Valley to a point beyond Harrisonburg; after Averill had accomplished his purpose, the brigade retreated before Fitz Lee's division of Confederate Cavalry, .bringing in a large number of prisoners without sustaining any great damage. During the retreat from Harrisonburg the Battalion covered the brigade and was under constant fire.

The command left camp at Charlestown the first part of the month of December, 1863, with the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, Colonel Boyd, the 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry, 34th Massachusetts Infantry, Minor's Indiana Battery, and two Battalions of Pennsylvania Cavalry, one from the 13th and one from the 14th it may be possible that I am mistaken in the number of the regiments the two battalions belonged to; they were new men and had seen but little service. At Winchester the 1st New York left the main body and joined the brigade further up the Valley. Perhaps it may be proper to state that Cole's Cavalry and the 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry were fast friends and had the greatest confidence in the fighting qualities of one another; if a fight was on hand each command could rely upon the other to stand by them to the last.

Cole's men were in the advance through Strasburg, where we came upon a small body of Confederate Cavalrymen, who fell back at our approach. The advance had a skirmish at Woodstock; at Edinburg the Confederates were increasing in numbers. The Major of one of the Pennsylvania Battalions came to the front and requested that his men be given an opportunity to go in the advance and have something to do; Major Cole granted his request and permitted the Pennsylvanians to pass to the front; an hour had perhaps passed by, when, in turning an angle in the road, the advance came upon the enemy who had dismounted and entrenched themselves behind logs and rails. The Rebs opened a lively fire upon the advance, who "right about faced" and came to the rear somewhat hurriedly. Major Cole deployed one of his companies as skirmishers, who drove the enemy from behind their entrenchments; the other three companies charged down the road and we soon had them on the run.

Before Mount Jackson was reached, Major Cole, with thirty men, left the command. Galloping down the road a small body of the enemy's Cavalry were noticed on our flank; we got in the rear of them before being observed, capturing half a dozen, the others making their escape. Two men took the prisoners to the rear, and the Major with the remainder of his squad struck the main pike and was at least one mile in advance of the Battalion; the column was fully five miles in the rear. At Mount Jackson the Rebels saw the small number of men in the advance and made a stand; they had partially destroyed a small wooden bridge crossing a stream, and when Major Cole's men charged down the hill the horses jumped over the chasm, which was fully eight feet wide. The most of us got over in safety; as the Major's horse jumped the ditch he stumbled and threw the Major completely out of the saddle on the horse's neck, and the horse going at full speed towards the enemy, he having lost all control over him. Private Charley Fosler, known as "Cole's forager," and called the "flying Dutchman," took in the situation at a glance, and galloping up to the side of Major Cole's horse he grasped the bridle and succeeded in checking him.

The Battalion had driven the enemy through Mount Jackson and were advancing upon New Market. Any one standing at the latter place can look down the Valley pike for a distance of ten miles; before we had gotten to New Market the Confederate Cavalrymen could be plainly seen forming in line of Battalion on the outskirts of the town, and we knew a warm reception awaited us. There had been several prisoners captured, and from them we were informed that the troops we were fighting called themselves the "Independent Maryland Line." We had never heard of this command before, and after this particular day at New Market they were never heard from again.

On entering New Market from the north side, it is necessary to ascend a steep hill. The Rebels commenced shooting at long range, our command advancing steadily to within several hundred yards without firing a shot; Major Cole then gave the order to "charge." The enemy continued firing and stood their ground until we were almost among them, when they broke and through the town they went at breakneck speed; for over four miles we kept up the chase. It reminded one of a great Derby race; the men were scattered over the road for a great distance. A number of prisoners were captured and half a dozen of the enemy killed and wounded. After discharging our pieces we did not take time to reload, but continued following the fleeing Confederates, who would turn off the road at every convenient point, scattering through the fields. Captain Vernon, Bugler Thomas Angelberger and myself sat upon our horses and looked at the Rebels running with no one in pursuit, our men having been halted, we watched them until they disappeared over the hills in the distance.

The Maryland Line was certainly greatly panic stricken, and it is a, question if the commander, Colonel O'Farrell, was ever able to get them together again. Colonel O'Farrell is now the Governor of the State of Virginia. I captured a man by the name of Chambers, whom I knew in Baltimore before the war, and strange to state, I met this same gentleman but a few weeks ago, thirty-one years since the above occurrence. Mr. Chambers had his horse shot from under him in the fight, and it was he that informed me that Colonel O'Farrell was in command of their forces. The only person on our side that got hurt was a correspondent of the "Philadelphia Bulletin" who was in the advance with the command; he was shot through the body on our entering the town. I never found out whether the correspondent died or recovered from his wound.

We returned to New Market, where the main column had gone into camp for the night.

Chapter 16: Harrisonburg & Staunton Road

Bright and early the following morning, "boots and saddles" was sounded by the buglers. Colonel Boyd, of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was in command of the expedition, ordered Cole's Cavalry in the advance, towards Harrisonburg, which place was reached in the afternoon, not having seen one Confederate in our front. A detachment of Gilmor's Rebel Cavalry were following in the rear of our column, which had the effect of preventing any straggling. On reaching Harrisonburg the Battalion charged through the town, the 1st New York and 21st Pennsylvania had come up, Minor's Battery and 34th Massachusetts Infantry had halted and gone into camp some miles back; the two Battalions of Pennsylvania Cavalry had gone on a reconnaissance to our right and did not arrive at Harrisonburg until late in the evening; one of our scouts reported to Colonel Boyd that the enemy were coming down the Valley in considerable force; Colonel Boyd concluded to go into camp at this place.

Major Cole was ordered out on the Staunton road, after going a short distance from Harrisonburg the command came upon several companies of Confederate Cavalrymen, and after a lively skirmish they retired up the Valley. Major Cole, after tearing down the telegraph wire, returned to Harrisonburg and went into camp for the night. The pickets were thrown out and at night the enemy's camp fires could be seen in the distance. There was every prospect of a fight in the morning. Colonel Boyd destroyed a large amount of forage that had been stored in a warehouse. Some of his men raided a number of stores in the town, the latter without orders.

On returning to Harrisonburg after our skirmish on the Staunton road, the writer rode down a side street in the suburbs of the town, the inhabitants appeared to be very poor people, the houses were small frame structures. I noticed in coming down the street a soldier with a large package on his back and apparently trying to avoid me. I demanded him to halt. He dropped his bundle and made off; what was my astonishment to find he had thrown down a large full bolt of muslin, evidently a part of the booty taken from the store that the Pennsylvania Cavalry had looted. I dismounted, and whilst wondering what disposition I should make of the goods, two poorly clad women, with some half a dozen children clinging to their dresses, came to the door of one of the houses. A happy thought came to my mind that perhaps these poor people needed this muslin, and I determined to let them have it instead of turning it in at headquarters. I called the women to me and they told me their husbands were in Jackson's Army. I gave them the bolt of muslin and advised that they should make it up into clothing for their children. They thanked me, and with tears in their eyes saying, "God bless Cole's Cavalry, if our husbands are in Jackson's Army." I have often wondered if these two Stonewall Jackson's men lived to return to their families. I started down through the town to join my command; in passing the hotel, Colonel Boyd, who was standing on the porch, called me to him and informed me that I should accompany a gentleman whom he had been speaking to, and he (the gentleman) would direct me to a house where a Mrs. Johnson lived, one mile down the road, to whom I should report and remain at her house until relieved; I should permit none of the soldiers to molest this lady's property. I obeyed the Colonel's orders so far as reporting to Mrs. Johnson, but I must confess that I left the following day without being relieved. If I had not done so I would have been picked up by Fitz Lee's Cavalry. Mrs. Johnson and her daughter were two ladies who had lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and their strong Southern feeling, and giving expression to the same, was the cause of their being sent through the lines; they had located at Harrisonburg. I remained at the house of these ladies until the following morning; at early dawn the reports of firearms could be distinctly heard; a detachment of Cole's men, under Captain Vernon, had made an early start and come upon the enemy in greater numbers than they had yet seen; it proved to be Fitz Lee's Division of Cavalry sent from Lee's Army. I bade Mrs. Johnson farewell, she kindly thanked me for what she supposed a service I had rendered her, and I hastened to join my command.

The object of our expedition up the Valley had been accomplished, and we were ordered to fall back. Fitz Lee was following us and getting further away from Lynchburg. General Averill, seeing his opportunity, destroyed the Railroad between Lynchburg, Virginia, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

Cole's Cavalry, whilst having the advance in going up the Valley, were now transferred to the rear guard, in falling back, and were fighting constantly for several days. The expedition had been successful, a large amount of property had been destroyed and over one hundred prisoners captured.

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