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Cole's Cavalry; or Three Years in the Saddle

In the Shenandoah Valley

By C. Armour Newcomer

Read Chapters Four-Eight

Chapter Nine: The Battle of Gettysburg and the Retreat of Lee’s Army

The battle of Gettysburg was now being fought, the booming of cannon could be distinctly heard; it was on the third day of July. A Company of Confederate Cavalry drove in our pickets on the Harper's Ferry Road, and had gotten into the town; "boots and saddles" was sounded by our bugler, and in less time than it takes to relate this incident Major Cole was in hot pursuit; we captured five men and wounded one. After pursuing the Rebel Cavalrymen to within a few miles of Harper's Ferry, we returned to our camp at Frederick. In the chase it was necessary to cross a wooden bridge; the Confederates had several of their men stationed at this bridge and as soon as their command had gotten across they tore up the plank flooring and we were compelled to jump our horses over a space of six feet, and had one of the horses stumbled he would have fallen into the stream twenty feet below.

On the following day we again started for Harper's Ferry with one piece of artillery; at the town of Knoxville, four miles east of Harper's Ferry, we charged a Company of Virginia Cavalry, and kept them on the go until they reached the Railroad bridge crossing the Potomac River. The Rebels were compelled to cross the bridge in single file. Their confederates on the Virginia side, having heard the firing had swarmed to the river bank and opened fire upon Major Cole and his little band. Our forces were compelled to fall back and await the arrival of the piece of artillery that was following in our rear. In a short time the artillerymen arrived and opened fire, and after a few rounds the Confederates fell back to Bolivar Heights.

Two of our men crossed over the bridge to the Virginia side, with several buckets of oil that they had procured at Sandy Hook, one mile from the Ferry; they saturated the bridge with the oil and set fire to it; it was but a moment and the entire structure was in a blaze. A large amount of forage that had been removed from Maryland Heights by the Confederates, after the evacuation of the Heights by the Union forces, was also consumed. We returned to Frederick. General Lee had been defeated at Gettysburg, and was now in full retreat. Cole's Cavalry had destroyed the bridge at Harper's Ferry, which Lee would have utilized in crossing the Potomac River, had he been able to force a passage through the gaps in the South Mountain.

On our arrival at Frederick the following morning, two men were captured on the outskirts of the city, that proved to be Confederate spies; their actions were suspicious, which caused their arrest. One of the prisoners was a man I had known in Baltimore, he had been connected with the Baltimore Argus, a "copperhead" sheet, during and before the war, as a reporter. His name was Richardson; his companion was unknown. They were thoroughly searched, and in Richardson's boots, under the insoles, was found the damaging evidence. General Buford gave them a drumhead court martial, and they were both hung on a small locust tree. Their bodies remained hanging for three days before they were cut down, and their clothing had been entirely stripped from their persons by the soldiers, and cut in small pieces, and retained as relics.

An incident that deserves special mention, occurred during the retreat of General Lee's Army. Lieutenant John Rivers, with twenty-five men, was following in the rear of a Confederate Brigade of Cavalry. It was near noon and Lieutenant Rivers, was informed by a citizen that if he would ride fast he would come upon the enemy not far in his front; the Lieutenant with his twenty-five men started on a gallop over a hill, and before he could halt his command he was in among the Rebels. It was too late to turn back, down the road the Lieutenant and his men charged. The Confederates had stopped and were feeding their horses on both sides of the road, and their bridles were off their horses' heads. It was difficult to tell which was the most frightened, the "Johnnies" or Rivers and his men. Twelve hundred Confederate Cavalrymen with the bridles off their horses. The Rebels supposed that Lieutenant Rivers and his men were the advance of a Brigade of Union troops, and being taken so completely by surprise were willing to surrender. The Lieutenant gave orders to "right about" and it kept his men busy taking the revolvers from the enemy. The Rebels almost to a man had thrown down their guns, and called out that they would surrender; before they had gotten over their surprise Rivers and his little squad were out of their midst, with more prisoners than their own number. After the Confederates realized the true condition of affairs they gathered up their arms that they had thrown down, and bridled their horses, and a portion of the command followed Cole's daring riders a short distance and then returned to their companions and rode off in the direction of the Potomac.

General Lee had gotten safely across the Potomac River, the Army of the Potomac was on its way to Richmond; Major Cole's command was once more united and in Virginia. Heavy work was now cut out for the Battalion to perform, and in the fall of 1863, they were in the saddle constantly, and there was scarcely a day that some portion of the command was not in an engagement. It frequently occurred that the Battalion left camp at Harper's Ferry long before daylight in the morning, and each of the four companies taking different directions, and after scouting for several days, would concentrate at some given point, perhaps one hundred miles from their starting place, never failing to bring prisoners with them. In the fall and winter of 1863 they fought the enemy at Snickersville, Leesburg, Rector's Cross Roads, Upperville, Charlestown, Mount Jackson, Woodstock, Ashby's Gap, Front Royal, Edinburg, New Market, Harrisonburg, Romney, Moorefleld and other places, in which they generally came out with flying colors, but in many instances not without serious loss to the command in both killed and wounded, and occasionally losing one or more of the boys by being taken prisoners by the enemy.

For a time the Battalion was brigaded with the First New York, known as "Lincoln Cavalry," and the Twenty-First Pennsylvania Cavalry, under Colonel Boyd.

Many instances of individual bravery and daring came under my observation, but it is impossible to mention each and every incident and member as they deserve, space will not permit. Suffice it to say, that every man in the command did his duty as a soldier, from their brave Major Cole, down to the most humble private in the ranks.

The main body of the Confederates had now gone out of the Valley; Mosby's, White's and Harry Gilmor's commands of Confederates still remained, and were continuously making raids on the Union lines, firing upon pickets and occasionally holding up a train on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Snickersville, Upperville and Rector's Cross Roads were considered Mosby's stamping grounds; many of his men lived in this particular locality. Major Cole concluded to visit this section, knowing that every man, woman and child's sympathy was with the enemy.

Chapter 10: Raid to Rector’s Cross Roads

the Battalion left camp at Harper's Ferry, went through Charlestown and captured a few men at Berryville. It is proper perhaps to state that Lieutenant John Rivers, of Company B, had his accustomed place with the usual detail of six men from each of the four Companies as an advance guard, a position Lieutenant Rivers always took when the command was on one of their many raids. The command of the advance was given the Lieutenant because of his daring and courageous action in many a bloody encounter. The writer was fortunate in

being one from his company who was detailed to make up Lieutenant Rivers' squad. When I remark fortunate, I mean the men in the advance had a better opportunity of capturing prisoners, and as Cole's men usually retained the revolvers and good horses taken from those captured, the advance was a place sought for.

After leaving Berryville we crossed the Shenandoah River at Snicker's Ferry, and went through Snicker's Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the advance came upon a Rebel picket post; after an exchange of shots, they were compelled to give way and dashed down the mountain side with Rivers and his men in hot pursuit. A scouting party of Confederates were at Snickersville, and hearing the yells and shots and seeing their pickets were being driven in, formed in line of battle to receive us; Lieutenant Rivers deployed his men and the skirmish became spirited, when Major Cole with the command appeared in sight and joined in the fight. The Major ordered the Battalion to charge the enemy, who were soon put to flight. They proved to be two companies of Mosby's men.

We now advanced steadily in the direction of Leesburg where the advance captured several prisoners, and were again confronted by the enemy, who were routed. Small squads of Mosby's Cavalry were hovering on our flanks and a number in the rear, who kept the rear guard constantly on the move.

At Upperville the advance charged the town and received a warm reception. We were driven back upon our main line, the enemy had evidently received an addition to their forces, as their numbers now equalled that of Major Cole's command. After fighting for more than an hour the Rebels were forced back, and for a considerable distance it was a running fight, the enemy retreating in the direction of Rector's Cross Roads; Cole and his men .were flushed with victory and continued pursuing, getting farther away from any relief in the event of meeting with a reverse. The command had been on the move for several days, the horses had been ridden hard in the last twenty-four hours and needed rest and pro vender, and as the command invariably secured forage from the farmers on the route, we had not had the time of securing any.

Major Cole was for once indiscreet, and continued following the fleeing enemy. As the advance neared Rector's Cross Roads, it was discovered that several companies were advancing on a trot to join the Confederates who were falling back before Cole. The Major now discovered that we not only had our former antagonists, whom we had routed in the morning and the day before, to contend with, but several additional companies, with fresh horses. It was evident to all that we could not cope with our antagonists, and the order was given to fall back, but not before we had repulsed a charge made by Mosby. Affairs now began to look serious. A number of our men had been wounded and several killed. Captain Vernon of Company A, Captain Firey of Company B, Captain Hunter of Company C, and Captain Frank Gallagher of Company D, had been in the front of their respective companies leading their men on, were now encouraging the boys and cautioning them to stand firm and not become disorganized. We were falling back on the trot and were being hard pressed. One of our companies would form on an eminence and receive the advancing enemy, whilst the other three companies would continue moving on, and at the next hill another company would form and permit the company that had been in the rear to pass to the front and reload their pieces; by hard riding and constantly checking the enemy's advance we were enabled to reach our lines in safety with some fifteen prisoners that we had captured in the different skirmishes we had made on our raid; we also destroyed a large tannery at Upperville, that was turning out a large amount of leather, which was being utilized by the Confederates. We had met Mosby upon his own ground, and considering that the command of Major Cole numbered only two hundred and fifty men when they left camp and had fought fully four hundred of the enemy at Rector's Cross Roads, and got safely back to camp with only the loss of three killed, six wounded and seven taken prisoners. Our forces had captured fifteen prisoners with their horses and arms and killed and wounded a number of the enemy, the number we were unable to know, and destroyed a tannery. We considered that we had not gotten the worst in the raid. Whilst we were more often successful, we frequently met with defeat from the enemy's Cavalry and often had cause to remember Mosby, Gilmor and Imboden. Colonel Ashby of the Confederate Cavalry had been killed. Cole's men always spoke of him in the highest terms as a fighter; perhaps it is due to the fact that it was Ashby's Cavalry that Cole's men met so often in the spring and summer of 1862, and had Ashby lived, I am confident he would have given the Union forces considerable annoyance.

Chapter 11: Raid to New Market

The command, with the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry and the 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry started on a ten days' raid up the Valley. At Berryville, the Battalion of Cole's Marylanders parted company with the 21st Pennsylvania and 1st New York, they going to Winchester, up the Valley and Cole's men from Berryville kept along the Shenandoah River, through White Post, occasionally picking up one or more Confederate Cavalrymen at the different farm houses. When the command arrived at Ashby's Gap we came upon a body of the enemy whom we put to flight and then proceeded on our way, nothing unusual occurring. We arrived at Woodstock, where later in the day we were joined by the New York and Pennsylvania Cavalrymen we had left at Berryville; we went into camp for the night. At the Hotel in Woodstock, the writer met a man whom he knew, from Maryland; he had left home for the. purpose of joining the Confederate Army, but he had not yet joined any company or taken up arms. I told him of his folly and advised him to return to his home in Baltimore, and left him; he did not take my advice, and later joined the Southern Army and returned to his home at the close of the war and served as a policeman for a number of years in Baltimore. His having been in the Confederate Army was a good recommendation. On the following morning we took up the march for New Market, Cole in the advance. We captured several prisoners and a large quantity of tobacco. We had six army wagons which we loaded with the tobacco, and I regret some of the men in the command did not observe the usual discipline, but raided the stores in the town; we started down the Valley and it was no common sight to see a Cavalryman with, one and sometimes two boxes of tobacco strapped over his horse's back, and the trooper walking by the side of his horse. In some instances other merchandise had been brought off. Had we been compelled to have gone into action it is needless to state the plunder would have been thrown away. The second day after leaving New Market, we arrived at Charlestown, eight miles from camp, the boys were beginning to count up their gains and calculating what they would make out of their capture, when the command was halted, and after being drawn up in line, Colonel Boyd who was the commanding officer of the expedition, rode along the entire line and compelled the men to place the boxes of tobacco and other merchandise they had brought all the way from New Market with them, upon the sidewalk; wagons were procured and the goods placed in them. That was the last seen of what they all thought was going to bring them a snug little sum; some of the men were smart enough to break the boxes and filled their paddle pockets, and others rolled a quantity of tobacco in their blankets, which was not seen by Colonel Boyd. They had the laugh on their comrades, many of them having walked all the distance from New Market having their saddles packed with the merchandise. From that day to the close of the war Colonel Boyd was not a favorite with Cole's boys. The goods were turned over to the Provost Marshal as contraband goods. On the same raid some one had gotten into a farm house at New Town and took from the old farmer a large amount of money in gold and Virginia State bank notes. A large reward had been offered for the apprehension of the thief. It was at first sup­posed that a member of Cole's Cavalry was the guilty party, and in consequence the command was deprived of their pay for more than six month's. After a thorough investigation by Major Cole, ordered by the General commanding the department, the mem­bers of Cole's command were exonerated from any complicity in the matter. This little incident was very unpleasant, whilst the members did not hesitate to confiscate provender for their horses and food for themselves at times, and perhaps a good horse in exchange for one run down, they would not rob or either would they permit citizens and non-combatants to be robbed. The greater number of Cole's men were from the best families of Western Maryland, and would not tolerate such conduct among its membership.

Chapter 12: In Camp at Bolivar Heights

The command was again in camp at Bolivar Heights, and the blacksmiths, as on former occasions, after coming from a scout were busy putting new shoes upon their horses. It was necessary to have their feet in good shape at all times, as a Cavalry horse is perfectly useless unless his hoofs are in proper condition. The blacksmiths of the different companies always supplied each man with an extra pair of horse shoes, which the trooper would carry in his saddle pocket, and could be tacked on in a few minutes in the event of his horse casting a shoe.

The camp at Bolivar Heights was always visited by numerous soldiers of other commands on the return of the Battalion from their raids, and the citizens of Harper's Ferry never failed to welcome them back. Cole's Cavalrymen were privileged soldiers and were permitted, when not on duty, to visit the town at pleasure; there was no guard around the camp. It is to the credit of the boys that they never abused a privilege granted them.

The command had now been in camp for more than a week when the bugles sounded "the assembly." Orders were given to saddle up. It was the middle of the month of October and it had been raining for two days, and no prospect of a let up. The men donned their rubber coats, mounted their horses, counted off by fours, and at the command, followed their leader across the wooden bridge over the Shenandoah River. The men asked no questions, they had become familiar with obeying orders, and when they started out no one knew where they were going or how long they would remain away, except Major Cole or the officer in command. It continued raining as we passed through Hillsboro' to Leesburg, and as night was approaching we went into camp. The detail that had been sent on ahead for forage had returned, they had confiscated a bullock, and it was not long before the boys were cooking their coffee in their heavy tin cups and broiling slices of beef on the hot coals of the fire. The pickets were detailed and placed on their respective posts. The men laid around the fires and slept, not minding the rain which was coming down in torrents ; there was no sign of an attack, for as Tom Godfrey, an Irishman, a member of Company D, remarked: "The Rebels were too sensible to be out in such weather."

Early the following morning we were on the move; the roads were muddy. After scouting all day, we had not seen or come upon one single "Johnnie." We passed through Snickersville, up the mountain through Snicker's Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountain, down to Snicker's Ferry at the Shenandoah river. The river was greatly swollen from the heavy rain and fording was out of the question. Major Cole stated it was necessary we should be on the other side, and the men should prepare to swim their horses across the stream. On the opposite shore was a soldier dressed in a gray uniform. He gave instructions where the men should enter the river. Major Cole, with the entire command, was soon swimming their horses, and when we emerged from the river, on the opposite bank, the Confederate, as we supposed, came forward and to our surprise was one of our men. He had left Harper's Ferry the same day we did, and had gone alone in a different direction, and met us at this point. It now became evident to us all why Major Cole was desirous to cross the river.

Read Chapters Thirteen-Sixteen

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