Elusive Major Horner
The Gettysburg Times,
Wednesday, June 7, 1989: He is accident-prone." ‘He’ll
be late his own funeral." ‘You couldn’t reach
them with a 10-foot pole. Thus do people acquire labels
because of quirks in their personalities. If we were to
so tag Maj. Oliver Alexander Horner, Civil War hero,
civil servant, postmaster, banker, devoted husband and
father, it would probably be with a slippery or baffling
quality that helped him evade his adversaries and emerge
comparatively unscathed. This characteristic served him
well as he seemed to move at will through enemy lines
and once escaped the same day he was captured by donning
unfamiliar garb end walking away. That Maj. Horner died
of natural causes in 1897 is truly amazing considering
that his unit was one of the most interesting and active
in the entire war.
Born on a farm near Gettysburg, Maj. Horner enlisted
in the Struggle Between the States when his uncle, Capt.
John Horner, at age 59, raised Company C of Coles
Maryland Cavalry in 1861, enter as a private and being
discharged as a Major in 1865, his last promotion being
for "efficiency, bravery and meritorious
conduct," having the written approval of the field
and line officers of the regiment.
Coles Cavalry, during its nearly four years of
active, arduous service in scouting and raiding in
Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, from
Gettysburg to Lynchburg, Va., from the Potomac River
south to the James River and west to Kanawha and the
Ohio River, marched over 7,000 miles. An amusing
incident, not related to Homer, took place in Coles
Cavalry when Capt. Vernon was provost marshal.
A citizen who had been selling liquor to the soldiers
was arrested and a barrel of whiskey found on his place
confiscated. The whiskey was brought to headquarters and
placed in the room used as the provost marshal’s
office. The men found out about it and were determined
to have it out, but a guard was on duty day and night
and it Was not an easy matter to get to it. Under cover
of darkness and a rain storm, some of them stole into a
cellar of the house, bored a hole up through the floor
into the wooden barrel and: caught its escaping contents
in large soup kettles procured for that purpose, quickly
passing it out through the window to their comrades.
Later, consuming the whiskey, they laughed, imagining
Capt. Vernon’s fury when he returned to find his prize
barrel of whiskey completely empty!
Cpl. Horner spent the winter of 1861 along the
Potomac, picketing fords and guarding telegraph lines
from Frederick to Hancock, Md. Baptism under fire came
in 1862 at Leesburg, Va. Service records indicate that
after the command failed cut their way out, Sgts. 0. A.
Horner and A. A. Annan and Pvt. W. A. Mcheny were
surrounded by the enemy and single-handedly forced their
way through the rebel line, using their sabers to good
advantage; joining a few comrades they brought up from
the rear and reported at the camp at Harper’s Ferry,
each comrade having killed one or more of the enemy.
The next test came at Fountaindale, Adams County, on
June 28, 1863, where a portion of Coles Maryland Cavalry
was under the command of Lt. William A. Horner and Sgt.
0. A. Horner of Co. C. The small squad came upon some
Rebel cavalrymen with 20 stolen horses in their
possession. Fifteen out of the 25 Confederates were
captured and all of the horses recovered. Sgt. Horner
received special mention, having captured a Rebel
officer who was a bearer of dispatches from Gen. Lee to
Gen. Ewell. The dispatches were turned over to Gen.
Meade, commander of the Union forces, and were of great
importance. Sgt. Horner was later promoted.
(Historical Note: The
dispatches referred to were actually captured by
Samuel N. McNair of the same company in
Gettysburg on June 29th, 1863 at the Eagle Hotel)
About one year later, on July 6, 1864, Adjutant
Horner had charge of a wagon train sent from Harper’s
Ferry to Frederick, and reported to Col. Higgins in
charge of the post. Rumors of Rebels advancing upon
Frederick from Boonsboro had been received at
headquarters; Col. Higgins ordered a scouting party to
go in the direction of Middletown under the command of
Maj. Thorp, about 75 men in all.
Col. Higgins requested Adj. Horner with his few men,
some eight or 10, to accompany Thorp and take the
advance. The column had advanced to within one mile of
Middletown when they came upon the enemy’s picket
post. Horner immediately ordered his men to charge and
drove the pickets back, about 25 men, who in turn
charged Horner’s small squad. Horner, finding it
impossible to check the enemy, was compelled to fall
back and in doing so, his horse was shot and fell upon
its rider. He was rounded up by the Rebels, but managed
to slip away, concealing himself in a small Negro cabin.
The Confederates re-established their picket post
immediately in front of the house. Smearing his face and
hands with soot from the fireplace and wearing an old
coat and hat belonging to the former occupant of the
building, Horner shuffled forth in full view. Long
before the Rebs realized they had been duped, Horner was
safely in the mountain. He walked to Frederick and
reported to headquarters in his unmilitary attire. After
procuring suitable clothing and a fresh horse, he
returned to his regiment at Maryland Heights. 0. A.
Horner was mustered out of service at Harper’s Ferry,
Va., on June 28,1 865, having achieved the rank of
Back in civilian life near Emmitsburg as a young man,
his hopes of establishing a family seemed to elude him
just as he had eluded the enemy so often during the war.
Maj. Horner first married Ann Margaret Crier, daughter
of Rev. and Mrs. Robert S. Grier, the same pastor who
had performed the marriage ceremony for Oliver’s
parents in 1840. Maj. Horner and Ann Margaret had a son
born June 23,1867, and died less than three months
later, on Sept. 22. Another son was born Aug. 13, 1868,
and died less than one month later, on Sept. 10.
A daughter, Effie S., was born Oct. 14,1869, and
lived exactly 8 years, dying on March 14, 1878.
Meanwhile, her mother, Ann Margaret, also died in 1872
at age 27. All were buried in the Grier family plot at
the Presbyterian Church in Emmitsburg. Bereft of his
entire family, Maj. Horner threw himself into his labors
as a civil servant. He was appointed postmaster of
Emmitsburg in 1869 and served in that capacity for over
In 1877, he was appointed Inspector of Customs in
Baltimore. The following year, Maj. Horner married Anna
Elizabeth Annan, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Annan,
and finally marital bliss eluded him no longer. Three
sons and a daughter were born to this union. In 1882,
Maj. Homer and his in-laws formed Annan, Horner &
Company and in 1888, they built a stately bank building
in Emmitsburg which still stands on the northwest corner
of the square.
The guests at Maj. Horner’s funeral in 1897 read
like a Who’s Who among the military and civil service
personnel of the Old Line State. Representatives from
the Dept. of Md. came by train from Baltimore, leaving
at 8 in the morning. Others from the GAR, Cole's Cavalry
Association and Union Veterans Assoc. acted as active
and honorary pallbearers, performed rituals and
furnished exotic floral decorations such as crossed
sabers and wreath, cross and crown, pillow and past
department commanders badge.
It is said the church was filled to capacity and many
had to be turned away for lack of room. Maj. Horner, who
had so often eluded his adversaries, was not able to
escape the swath of the Grim Reaper, but he left behind
a life of service and devotion to duty and family that
future generations might long reflect upon.
to learn more about Cole's Cavalry?
Then try our archived edition for a
complete listing of names:
The Solders of Company C, Cole’s
Do you know of an individual who
helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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