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Cole's Cavalry; or Three Years in the Saddle

In the Shenandoah Valley

By C. Armour Newcomer

Read Chapters: Twenty-one - Twenty-four

Chapter 25: Monocacy Bridge & Scouting in Frederick City

On July the 9th, 1864, General Early was confronted at Monocacy, Maryland, by Lew Wallace and General E. B. Tyler, who had in their commands a number of new regiments who were under fire for the first time, some of these regiments had only been in the service but a few days and were unfamiliar with the tactics. Alexander's Maryland Battery and the 1st Regiment Potomac Home Brigade of Maryland Infantry, Colonel Maulsby, did good service. After fighting for one-half day against the flower of the Southern Army, (Early's Corps,) Wallace and Tyler were defeated with a loss of nearly two thousand men.

The Sixth Army Corps had arrived and Washington was saved.

During Early's invasion of Maryland, Cole's Cavalry was not idle; a number of the men of the new Battalions had secured horses and had been in several minor skirmishes. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon, with a detachment of the old Battalion, were for a time separated from the Regiment, who were at Maryland Heights and Pleasant Valley, Maryland. The Colonel's instructions from the General in command, were to harass the enemy, capture their pickets, and do all the damage he could accomplish. We were for the most part of the time inside the enemy's lines, and performed a great deal of hard and dangerous service, capturing a large number of prisoners, among which was a Confederate Major with the mail for Bradley T. Johnson's Brigade.

The battle of Monocacy had been fought. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon and his small force of sixty-five men were familiar with the country. The enemy's Cavalry were overrunning Frederick County in small detachments, gathering up horses- from the farmers. Our detachment had come upon several small squads of Rebel Cavalrymen and either captured or dispersed them. On our arrival in the neighborhood of Middletown we were informed by the citizens that an old gentleman, a farmer by the name of George Blessing, living several miles distant, had shot one or more Rebels, and Colonel Vernon started at once with his men for Blessing's farm. As our advance was proceeding up the lane leading to the farmer's house they were halted by an old gray-haired man, fully sixty-five years of age, who demanded that they should go back, or he would shoot. The old gentleman was partially concealed behind a large tree, with a rifle in his hand. Colonel Vernon called him by name and informed him we were Cole's men and had come to protect him. Mr. Blessing gave us a hearty welcome and said he had mistaken us for the Confederates whom he had exchanged shots with a number of times during the day, and had driven off the enemy not an hour before, who threatened to return and hang him and burn his property. To prove his assertion, he led the way up to his barn yard, where lay a dead Rebel and one in the barn, wounded. The old farmer had some half dozen guns of different patterns; when the roving bands of Confederates approached his house he would warn them off, they would fire upon him, and this old patriot stood his ground. He would do the shooting whilst his small grandson would load the pieces. Our command remained at the farm house over night and the "Johnnies" failed to put in an appearance; they would have received a warm reception if they had returned. Our men buried the dead soldier and left the wounded prisoner in the hands of his captor, who promised to have him properly taken care of. On the following morning we made an early start in the direction of Frederick, picking up an occasional straggler.


Our advance came near running into a large body of the enemy's Cavalry. They turned off the main road however, and we permitted them to go by without following them up, as we had received information that several Confederate officers had stopped over night with a Mr. Preston, who lived but a short distance from the road. Colonel Vernon was very anxious that these officers should be taken, and instructed me to ride on ahead with two men, and capture them, which I did. When I got to Mr. Preston's house we captured four officers, who were enjoying themselves under the shade of the trees in the yard. We pounced upon them so suddenly, they did not have an opportunity to make their escape. One of the officers, a Major, handed me hid revolver, which I carried during the remainder of the war. My two comrades each captured a man; we were about to return to the command which I knew would be awaiting us out on the road, when I was told by a colored servant, that one of the officers had ran into the house. On investigating, I discovered him under the bed in Miss Preston's bed-chamber. He quietly crawled out, at the same time requesting me not to shoot. After turning our prisoners over to the guard Colonel Vernon and myself again went back to the house. The Colonel was personally acquainted with the Prestons, and wished if possible to get some information from them. On arriving at the house we were invited to dismount and come in, which invitation Colonel Vernon very politely declined, but sat upon his horse talking to Mr. and Miss Preston, when two Confederates came riding down the lane. I was concealed behind an outhouse, Colonel Vernon was in plain view, they evidently imagined he did not see them, and no doubt it was their intention to capture him. Miss Preston in the meantime trying to warn the Rebels to go back. The Colonel reminded her of her intention, and just as the two Confederates were in the act of opening a gate to let themselves through I moved from behind the outhouse and told them to throw up their hands. Before they recovered from their astonishment, I had their arms in my possession. We bade Mr. and Miss Preston good day and joined our command on the main road, continuing on our way.

We had now reached a point three miles West of Frederick, on the main road, advancing cautiously, having been told by the citizens that the enemy's picket post was not far off. John Fraley, one of Company A's first and bravest men, who was riding by my side, proposed we should ride on ahead of the advance and stop at a public house, kept by a Mr. John Hagins, who was a personal friend of Fraley's although a strong Southern sympathizer, having a son in the Confederate Army. Hagin advised us to turn back, as there was a Rebel picket post at the toll-gate, one quarter of a mile down the Frederick turnpike, and but a short time before a small squad of Confederate Cavalry had passed in that direction.

Fraley insisted that we should try and capture the picket post before Colonel Vernon came up, and if I refused to accompany him he would go alone, which I of course would not permit. From Hagin's house to the toll-gate there was almost a continuous line of trees growing by the side of the road. Fraley and myself approached the pickets, keeping well under cover of the trees, until we had gotten up to within one hundred yards of them, when we dashed out with a loud yell, at the same time discharging our revolvers.

The Confederates went pell-mell into a small one room house, used by the toll-gate keeper as an office, and closed the door after them. Fraley was unable to hold his horse, and he continued at break neck speed in the direction of Frederick. I became alarmed fearing the Confederates would discover that I alone was on the outside, and perhaps turn the tables and capture me instead of surrendering to one man. Fraley had gotten completely out of sight.

The frame building the Confederates were in had a small window at the side, the door was closed. Thrusting my revolver in at the window, I enquired who was in command; the Sergeant who had charge of the post was much excited, and I demanded he should open the door and come out backward bringing his gun, and the remainder to follow in rotation. The small room was so completely packed they could scarcely move on the inside, and had great difficulty in opening the door. The Sergeant was the first to come out, as I directed, closing the door with his back to me, and I ordered the Sergeant to place his gun against the side of the building, after which lie returned to the inside, sending another one of his men out. There were but four soldiers in all, and some six or eight citizens who had been visiting the picket post, when Fraley and myself charged down upon them. One old gentleman assured me he was a Union man, and had advised the Rebels to surrender. Colonel Vernon had heard our shots and came galloping to the front and was greatly surprised to find me guarding the building, with the prisoners on the inside. Fraley had succeeded in checking his horse and was now returning up the road and was much chagrined at not being present at the surrender of the pickets. It is useless to state that Colonel Vernon was much pleased with the capture. We stationed our pickets at this point, and the command removed a short distance, fed our horses and remained over night.

In the morning the command cautiously advanced upon Frederick. The rear guard of Early's Army had gone out the night before in the direction of Washington. The command returned to Harper's Ferry. Early returned to Virginia pursued by Emory and Crook.

Chapter 26: Return to Virginia

When Early's command crossed the Potomac into Maryland, before Colonel Vernon had been sent with his detachment to harass the enemy, Cole's Cavalry fought a force of Confederates at Brownsville, Maryland, driving them out of Pleasant Valley, through Crampton's Gap. The new Battalions lost a number of men in killed and wounded in the two days skirmishing ; the officers and men behaving and fighting in the most soldierly manner.

There is an incident connected with the battle of Monocacy that perhaps should be mentioned. After the Union forces were compelled to fall back before Early, a number of raw recruits became panic-stricken; the officers failed to control their men. General E. B. Tyler, who had achieved distinction on more than one occasion upon the battlefield, was powerless to check the rout, and was one of the last to leave the field. In his anxiety for the safety of his men he failed to notice that his own retreat was cut off. Lieutenant E. Y. Goldsborough, a brave and gallant Marylander, a resident of Frederick City, was a special. Aide upon General Tyler's staff and could have made his escape, but he refused to leave his chief as other members of the staff had done. The General and this faithful officer were now entirely surrounded by the enemy's cavalry and were compelled to seek safety in a dense thicket of underbrush, near Mount Pleasant, five miles east of Frederick. These two officers remained concealed for over two days, when myself, with twenty men who had been sent on a reconnaissance, got information from a loyal citizen that a Union officer of high rank had been cut off and could be found at the point designated.

I took the liberty of pressing into service a carriage, the driver said he was then on the way to attend a funeral; his story may have been correct, but at that time it mattered little to us. General Tyler and Lieutenant Goldsborough both expressed their thanks at being relieved from their perilous position; they occupied the carriage and I had them conveyed to Frederick City, where our forces were again in possession. After the war I became intimately acquainted with both of these officers. The carriage was not returned to the owner, a Mr. Ulrich, who kept a livery stable in Frederick for several months after this occurrence, it having been sent to Washington. Mr. Ulrich no doubt realized a handsome sum from the Government for its use.

Early had now returned to Virginia, pursued by Emory and Crook. Colonel Cole, with the entire mounted portion of the command, were attached to General Crook's division, and those of the new Battalions who had not been mounted, were sent to Hagerstown arid given condemned horses from the corral; they later joined the Regiment, and saw much hard service. Early was retreating in the direction of Winchester, through Snicker's Gap, and across the Shenandoah River at Snicker's Ferry. Cole's Cavalry assisted in capturing a portion of Early's wagon train near Snickersville. Many of the wagons captured contained merchandise that had been stolen from storekeepers during Early's raid in Maryland. One wagon captured had been used by the Paymaster of the Rebel Army, and contained thousands of dollars in Confederate money, and several thousand dollars in United States greenbacks, which were secured by two members of Company B, of Cole's command. On July 24th, Crook attacked Early at Kernstown, and was defeated. The mounted portion of Cole's new Battalions suffered severely. Colonel Mulligan who had distinguished himself upon more than one occasion, was killed in this fight. His death was a great loss to the Federal Army in the Shenandoah Valley. General Crook fell back to Harper's Ferry; his loss at Kernstown being over twelve hundred men.

Private Franklin Dickson, of Company A, was severely wounded in this engagement, and was sent to the hospital at Winchester. The doctor in charge, after an examination, decided his arm should be amputated. Dickson refused to have his limb taken off, and overheard the surgeon tell one of his attendants that the enemy would be in town in a short time and those in the hospitals would be prisoners. Dickson, although suffering with his shattered arm, got out of the window and took possession of an ambulance that was standing at the door, with several wounded men, and placing the reins in his one hand, drove out of Winchester in the direction of Martinsburg, as the Confederates came in at the other end of the town. On arriving at Martinsburg lie reported to the surgeon in charge of the hospital at that place. The comrades he had brought with him were taken in charge and the surgeon stated Dickson should remain. After examining the arm, which had become greatly inflamed, he said that his life depended upon the amputation of it. Dickson again refused to have his arm amputated, and walked from Martinsburg to Williamsport, Maryland, a distance of twelve miles, taking a stage coach at that place to Hagerstown and from thence to Frederick City, in an army wagon. At the hospital in Frederick, the surgeon operated upon the arm; an old Army surgeon stating his arm might be saved. Dickson suffered for more than ten years after the war, when Dr. Stone, of Mount Pleasant, Frederick County, performed an operation, taking a large amount of decayed bone from the arm, after which the wound healed up. Private Dickson had been wounded on two former occasions; once receiving a severe saber cut over the head. He was one of Cole's most daring men; he was born in Frederick County, Maryland,

Chapter 27: Return to Maryland, a fight at Hagerstown & Sharpsburg

A portion of the old Battalion was sent to Hagerstown and joined with the new Companies, who had secured horses from the corrals at that point. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon was in command and Captain Louis M. Ziminerman was acting as Provost Marshal. Colonel Cole, with the remainder of the Regiment, was stationed at Sharpsburg, and two companies at Williamsport, under command of Captain William Bragg, and Company I, under command of Captain Atkinson, near Dam No. 4.

On the morning of July 29th, 1864, having been at Hagerstown but a few days, one of our scouts reported the enemy crossing the Potomac River at Williamsport and going north. Colonel Vernon at once sent me to Williamsport, with a dispatch to Captain Bragg, who was then the senior officer in command at that post. The Rebels had not yet made their appearance at Williamsport.

Captain William Atkinson, of Company I, sent a detail, under command of Lieutenant Alexander M. Briscoe, to the fording, at Dam No. 4; during the afternoon two Companies of the 10th West Virginia Cavalry and one Company of the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry were driven back upon Captain Atkinson's position. Captain Atkinson being the senior officer, commanded the four Companies and retreated in the direction of Pennsylvania, pursued by the enemy's Cavalry, not however before sending a courier down to the fording, with instructions for Lieutenant Briscoe, to fall back. The enemy had attempted to cross the river at Dam No. 4 and were repulsed by the small force at that post. Lieutenant Briscoe seeing he had a full Company to contend against, had given the order for the men to fall back, but before he mounted his horse he fired his carbine at the Rebel Captain, killing him, and the body floated down the river. The Confederates seeing their Captain was killed, became confused. Briscoe ordered his men to again open fire, the enemy retreating on the south bank of the river. Lieutenant Briscoe fell back to Hagerstown going with Major Mooney.

I returned to Hagerstown, and had scarcely time to report to Captain Zimmerman, the Provost Marshal, when firing was heard on the southern outskirts of the town; the pickets had been attacked and were falling back. "Boots and Saddles" were being sounded by the buglers, and Major Robert Mooney was in command of our four Companies. Lieutenant Colonel Vernon had taken a small portion of the command down to the river, and joined with Bragg, who had been attacked by a superior force and fell back on Sharpsburg, joining with Colonel Cole. Major Mooney deployed the men and fought through the streets of Hagerstown. We were forced back by the Confederates, after fighting three hours, falling back on the road leading to Greencastle, Pennsylvania. After being driven out of Hagerstown a short distance, what was our astonishment to find General Averill's Brigade drawn up in line; they did not engage the enemy as the Rebels halted on the northern edge of the town. General Averill fell back to Greencastle and encamped for the night.

In the fight at Hagerstown the command lost a number in killed and wounded, and a few taken prisoners, including Lieutenant Briscoe, who behaved so gallantly in the early part of the day, at Dam No. 4. The Lieutenant's horse was shot from under him and in falling Briscoe's hip was dislocated; he was sent to Columbia, S. C. Major Mooney distinguished himself for bravery, and was the last of our men to leave the town. Adjutant O. A. Hornerís had his horse shot from under him and deserves special mention for his bravery. Captain Zimmerman had a number of men in his Company who had not yet received bridles or saddles, but the men insisted upon taking a part in the fight, and mounted their horses bare-back, with nothing on the horse's head except a halter. I regret that I have not the names of these comrades as they should be mentioned individually.

Colonel Cole, after being joined by Lieutenant Colonel Vernon, near Sharpsburg, where they engaged the enemy, had been more successful, having routed the Confederates and captured some prisoners, after which Vernon proceeded to the Gaps in the South Mountain, leading to Frederick.

On arriving at Greencastle, I remained over night at the house of a relative, and on the following morning joined my command with Averill, who had fallen back to a small town, six or seven miles east of Chambersburg. Before overtaking Averill I was joined on the road by one of our scouts, who stated the Rebels were making for Chambersburg, and if Averill wished to prevent them from entering the town he had better be up and moving. We remained at the little village, within one hour's ride of Chambersburg, for one half day, the rank and file could not understand the delay. We were evidently giving the Confederates, under General McCausland, an opportunity to enter Chambersburg, as there was but a small force of State troops with one Company of the Maryland Patapsco Guards, Captain Thomas McGowan, and one gun, from a New York battery, at this point.

Chapter 28: The Burning of Chambersburg

About the middle of the day, on July 30th, J864, a dense volume of smoke was observed ascending to the heavens; every man in the command knew the town was on fire, and wondered why our forces were lying idle. Chambersburg could have been saved; some one had blundered. When orders came to mount, every man in Averill's command, including those of Cole's Cavalry, who were with him, were eager and anxious to avenge this act of incendiarism, but on our arrival at Chambersburg the enemy had gone; they had accomplished their hellish work and were retreating in the direction of the Potomac. Those of us, who were in the advance, went through the burning town, bending forward upon our horses' necks, as fast as our faithful steeds would carry us. We had no knowledge of the great destruction and devastation that we should witness, arid when we had once started it was necessary to continue through the burning streets. Houses on fire on both sides, it was no time to turn back, and to stop was to be burned up; our poor horses were mad with fright. Each and every one of us felt relieved when we got to the outer edge of the town. The atmosphere was stifling, with the smoke that settled over the earth like a pall. The citizens were gathered in groups; strong men with bowed heads, women wringing their hands and the little children clinging to their mother's dresses and crying. Desolation on all sides.  It was a sad picture, long to be remembered.

Myself, with two members of Company A, Charley Fosler, known as the "Flying Dutchman" and John Kelly, a splendid soldier, were sent by General Averill on the extreme advance. The Confederates had fallen back on the Pittsburg road. Averill was now pressing McCausland, exchanging shots with his rear guard. In going through the country my two comrades and myself came upon a number of farmers who had their horses concealed in a dense thicket of underbrush; we came upon them without being observed, and they mistook us for Rebel Cavalrymen, and pleaded to spare them, and not run off their stock. We assured them that there was no danger, as we were members of Cole's Maryland Cavalry. We advised them to remain in the woods over night, and return to their homes in the morning, as the Rebels by that time would be far away.

Merchandise of every description was strewn along the road, boots, clothing, window curtains and even infants' shoes and little slips, and women's dresses, that had been stolen from the houses in Chambersburg and along the route, were now thrown away by the raiders, 110 doubt not wishing to be captured with stolen plunder in their possession.

McCausland and Johnson tried to cross the Potomac River at Hancock, but were prevented by Federal troops, who had erected a battery on gondola cars, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, on the Virginia side of the river; the battery on the cars was designated as "ironclads." Averill forced the Confederates through Hancock and they retreated in the direction of Cumberland, crossing the river the day following; General Averill following into West Virginia, coming upon them at Moorefleld, where he captured four pieces of artillery and a large portion of Bradley T. Johnson's brigade, including a number of officers.

On arriving at Hancock, Maryland, and after the skirmish we had with the "Johnnies," General Averill informed me that Cole's men had been sent back to Hagerstown from Chambersburg, and myself with Fosler and Kelly should return and report to our commanding officer. We rejoined Major Mooney at Hagerstown, and went to Frederick, where Colonel Cole, with the remainder of the Regiment had gone.

Read Chapters Twenty-nine - Thirty-two

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