Edited by John A. Miller
Today is the 100th Anniversary of the unusual Civil
War battle on Loudoun Heights, when a Union camp of Frederick
County cavalryman narrowly escaped being wiped out by guerrillas
commanded by the famous Confederate officer, John Singleton Mosby.
The Frederick soldiers were asleep between 3 and 4 o’clock in
the morning January 10, 1864, when Mosby and his men rode up
Loudoun Heights to make a surprise attack.
On top of the mountain across the Shenandoah from Harper’s
Ferry, were encamped several hundred men under
Major Henry A.
Cole, commander of Cole’s Cavalry.
Mosby, learning from a scout that the Frederick County horsemen
were encamped on Loudoun Heights left Upperville, January 9th,
to surprise the Marylanders by night.
The first company of Cole’s Cavalry had been mustered into the
service in Frederick in 1861 with Cole as it’s captain and
W. F. Vernon as First Lieutenant.
When encamped on Loudoun Heights a century ago, Cole had the
rank of Major, while Vernon was a captain.
Among the men in Cole’s Cavalry was Thomas M. Wachter, ancestor
of a number of Frederick residents, including the Clerk of the
Circuit Court Ellis C. Wachter.
Veteran’s Son Lives Here
A son of George Pryor, another member of Cole’s Cavalry, is now
a resident of Frederick. He is Maurice E. Pryor and is a retired
Pennsylvania Railroad engineer.
The Frederick County Historical Society owns the sword used by
Cole in the Civil War. It was presented to the Historical Society
by Dr. Bartus T. Baggot, a Baltimore physician.
While the casualties in the night encounter 100 years ago were
not heavy, the event was one of the most unique in the Civil War.
Commander’s Reports Conflicted
Major Cole reported that Mosby’s men as "studiously avoidied"
his pickets; who led the attack on the mountain, claimed there was
not one sentinel awake.
Mosby marching his men, along a narrow path, reached a position
between Harper’s Ferry and Loudoun Heights. When less than 200
yards from the camp, he sent the scout with ten men ahead to try
to capture Major Cole, who had his headquarters in a house on the
mountain about 100 yards from the camp.
Mistake In Darkness
Then something unexpected happened. Instead of making an
attempt to capture Cole, the scout and his men drove their horses
up the hill in the darkness shouting and yelling, Mosby claimed he
mistook them for Union soldiers and ordered his men to charge.
Whatever the trouble may have been, Mosby’s plans did not go
through as expected. Cole’s men were aroused from their sleep and
for about an hour the Northern and Southern cavalrymen fought in
confusion in the darkness of night.
Rallied Union Men
Captain George W. F. Vernon, commanding Company A, rallied his men until the
rest of the command were mobilized. Mosby finding that it was
hazardous to hold his position, order his men to retreat.
The news of this strange night battle on the mountain along the
Potomac soon reached Frederick.
Vernon was a member of a well-known Frederick family. His
father was Professor Nathaniel Vernon, for many years was a member
of the faculty of Frederick Academy.
Local Paper Reported
Vernon was wounded by a Confederate rifle ball in an account of
the battle in a Frederick Newspaper, it was stated even after
Vernon was shot, his voice "was beard cheering and exhorting his
troops to the contest." Vernon was struck below the left eye, the
rifle ball coming out above the cheek bone.
Vernon Survived Injury
Among those killed on the Union in the battle were Privates
Null and Stone, natives of Frederick County. On the day after the
battle a train arrived at the B&O depot South Market and All
Saints streets, bringing the dead bodies of the two soldiers
killed on the mountain.
Also on the train was Captain Vernon. While he had an ugly
wound, it was the opinion of the battalion surgeon that it would
not prove fatal.
Lived Many Years
The predications of the surgeon was correct. While Vernon later
generally known as Colonel Vernon was permanently blinded in one
eye, he lives for many years afterwards, and he is still
remembered by some of the older residents of Frederick.
The Centennial Anniversary of the night battle recalled that
Colonel Vernon was a member of the Maryland Society, Sons of the
American Revolution, and was one of the group that formed the
Lawrence Everhart Chapter S.A.R. in Brodbeck Hall at Hood College.
For more information about
Cole's Cavalry, Please see
our Roster of those who fought in the Civil War with