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Emmitsburg's Civil War Soldiers

They Cover Themselves with Glory in Civil War Work, Cole’s Cavalry - County Horsemen - Fine War Record.

By W.C. Storrick

(Originally Published in The Gettysburg Compiler, March 14, 1936)

Edited by John A. Miller

Storrick's Introduction

Colonel Henry Cole

In a former narrative a sketch was given of Company "E", of the 2nd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, the first body of troops from Adams County to respond to President Lincoln’s call for troops on April 15, 1861. "To suppress combinations and cause the laws to be executed."

The next organization from Adams County was Company "K" of the Pennsylvania Reserves; mustered into service at Harrisburg, Pa. On June 8th, 1861 and mustered out of service on June 13th, 1864.

The next to follow Company "K" was a cavalry organization from Adams County, the subject of this narrative. This body of troops had its inception along the Mason and Dixon’s Line, in the border state of Maryland, and took it’s name from it’s organizer, Captain Henry A. Cole, and for this reason is known in the annals of the war as "Cole’s Cavalry."

Local Recruits Accepted

As no cavalry regiments were being recruited at that time in Adams County, the volunteers who were anxious to join that branch of the service, tendered their service to the Maryland organization and were accepted. The new recruits from Adams County, with the addition of Oscar McMillan, Joesph Bennett, Maxwell Coble, George Gwinn, Henry Hughes and William Weikert, who had served with Company "E" of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, numbering about 68 from this area; these with the addition of the Maryland members were listed as Company "C" of "Cole’s Cavalry Battalion."

Editors note: Company C was often referred to as the Keystone Rangers. Cole’s Cavalry was designated as the First Potomac Home Brigade.

Companies A, C, and D were organized at Frederick, Maryland, and Company "B" at Cumberland, Maryland, from August 10th, 1861, to November 27, 1861, for the term of three years. Company C was organized on August 27th, 1861. The four original companies A, B, C, and D, were consolidated into a battalion, and Captain Henry A. Cole was assigned to the command thereof.

The original companies A, B, C, and D at the expiration of their term of service for three years in February of 1864, re-enlisted, and the battalion by authority of the War Department was increased by the additional companies E, F, G, H, I, l, M, and K, to a full regiment of 12 companies, and as such served to the end of the war, and was mustered out of the service of the United States on June 28, 1865.

Editors Note: Company C itself was mustered out of service on June 25, 1865.

I shall not attempt to tell within the limits of a newspaper article of all of the services of all of the companies. The narrative will be confined chiefly to the operations of Company C, as it was composed mostly of Adams County men, who were known and are remembered by many of the citizens of Gettysburg and other places in the vicinity.

Before telling something of where and when they were engaged a roster of the officers and privates of Company C, who enlisted from Adams County will be given as it is believed it would be of interest to the readers of the narrative.

Editors Note: To view the Complete Roster of the men who served in Company C of Cole’s Cavalry. Also see the Battles of Cole's Cavalry, Company "C". The men from Maryland that enlisted with Company C of Cole’s Cavalry was from the Emmitsburg area of Northern Frederick County and also Western Carroll County.

Captain Albert Hunter

After meeting at Emmitsburg where Company C, was formed with the addition of the Maryland Recruits, Captain Albert Hunter assumed command of the company , and they then moved to Frederick, Md. Where they were mustered into service.

They went into camp at the old military barracks, and received their equipment of horses, uniforms, and arms. Some of the men furnished their own horses, while others were received from Washington.

After spending some time in drilling, the company then moved from Frederick to Hagerstown, and later to Hancock, where they were order to guard the telegraph line between Hancock and Hagerstown, this being the first service of the company.

Early in the spring of 1862, the company crossed the Potomac River and marched to Martinsburg, (West) Virginia, and thence to Winchester, Virginia, and served under General Banks who with Shields and Fremont was engaged against Stonewall Jackson during his famous Valley Campaign of 1862.

Have Thrilling Crossing

At the battle of Kernstown, Virginia on March 23, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson was repulsed and retreated up the Valley. At this time Company C charged a Confederate Battery across Cedar Creek and failed to captured it. It then returned to Winchester, where it was held for some time. General Banks withdrew to the Potomac and Company C halted near Harper’s Ferry. It was then ordered to cross the river. It was to cross by the ford as it was not considered safe to take the horses across on a railroad bridge, which had only railroad track with planks between. The ford was crooked, and one of the members of company C, Oscar McMillan missed the ford and was thrown off his horse and narrowly escaped drowning: however he managed to get a hold

of his horses tail and got safely to the other side. Some of the members who decided to risk the bridge, dismounted and led their horses between the rails of the bridge, it was during intense darkness and a thunderstorm when the crossing was made.

The company camped for some time at Bolivar Heights, where headquarters were established, and it was from there that continuous scouting was kept through Louden Valley, and through parts of (West) Virginia. The company was frequently split up into detachments for duty at different points. Sometimes it would operate as a unit and at other times with the other companies as a battalion.

After scouting for some time in Louden County, where Mosby and his Partisan Rangers gave the battalion much trouble, the battalion was ordered to Leesburg, Va. Where it was unexpectedly almost surrounded by a much superior Confederate force of cavalry. Observing the situation, Major Cole issued the command "Every man for himself." The battalion after being scattered got through, but not until quite a number were killed, wounded, or captured. The severely wounded in this engagement on September 2, 1862, was James A. Scott and Samuel McNair, the former by saber cuts, and the latter by a shot through the lungs. The prisoners numbering about 15 were paroled until they were exchanged. It should be remembered that this engagement occurred while General Lee was moving the Army of Northern Virginia on it’s way North prior to the battle of Antietam on September 17,1862.

Editors Note: The Partisans were formed in January of 1863 after General Lee given his approval to General J. E. B Stuart to detail one of his best scouts and 15 men to operate behind Union lines and disrupt the Union communications and other items of importance. John Mosby was the commander of the Partisan Rangers and this small band of men formed the core designate as the 43rd Virginia Battalion.

After the Leesburg engagement Company C along with the other members of the battalion returned to their camp on Bolivar Heights. Harper’s Ferry was then occupied by the Union forces in command of General Dixon S. Miles, to whom the battalion was subject for orders.

General Lee on his way North divided his army and sent General Jackson to infest Harper’s Ferry, while the other part of his army under General Longstreet engaged Union forces in command of General McClellan at South Mountain on September 14, 1862.

Display Their Bravery

General Jackson succeeded in crossing the Potomac and attacked the battalion on Bolivar Heights; another section of his forces advanced and moved against the battalion from Loudon Heights and also from Maryland Heights. General Miles ordered the battalion to withdraw from it’s position into Harper’s Ferry that was practically surrounded by Jackson’s forces. General Miles after calling a council of war, decided to surrender his forces numbering about 13,000 men to Jackson. Major Cole on learning that Harper’s Ferry would be surrendered, respectfully advised General Miles "That under no circumstances would Cole’s Battalion surrender, and offered to head and pilot the entire cavalry force of the besieged in their efforts to cut their way through the enemy’s lies, and the following order was accordingly issued:

Headquarters, Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, September 14, 1862. Special Order No. L20

1. The cavalry force at this post except detached orderlies, will make immediate preparations to leave here 8 o’clock tonight without baggage, wagons, ambulances, or lead horses, crossing the pontoon and taking the Sharpsburg Road

2. The senior officer, Colonel Voss will assume command of the whole, which will form in the following order: The right at the Quartermaster’s officer; the left up Shenandoah Street without noise or loud command, viz. "Cole’s Cavalry." 12th Illinois Cavalry , 8th New York Cavalry, Rhode Island Cavalry, 1st Maryland Cavalry. No other instructions can be given to the commander for his guidance than to force his way through the enemy’s lines to our army.

Signed H.C. Reynolds Lieut. And A. A. General by order of General Miles.

Take Lee Ammunition

Cole’s Battalion, did head the cavalry force and cut their way through the lines of the besieging army, but only to enter that of General Lee’s Army then at Sharpsburg. The cavalry however, pushed on through this force and upon reaching the turnpike leading from Hagerstown to Williamsport, the column discovered the ammunition train of General Longstreet’s corps of Lee’s Army and captured a large portion consisting of about 65 wagons loaded with ammunition for the Antietam battle.

The captured train was taken by Company C, to Chambersburg, Pa., on the following day. On returning from Chambersburg where they received a royal welcome, the company, on its way back to Frederick passed over the battlefield of Antietam and beheld the devastation of the bloodiest one day battle of the war.

After the battle of Antietam, General J. E. B. Stuart, the noted cavalry commander of Lee’s Army, made a raid around General McClellan’s army that remained for some time in the vicinity of Hagerstown and Harper’s Ferry.

The Raid was made in October 10th to the 15th. Stuart got as far North as Chambersburg, returning through Cashtown, Fairfield, and Emmitsburg. While making this raid, Stuart succeeded in getting a large number of horses, and got through without any loss to the Potomac, where Cole’s Battalion then at Hyattstown, intercepted him and captured 12 of his men.

During the winter of 1862. The Battalion was in camp at Harper’s Ferry; and from there scouting parties were frequently sent out to watch the movements of the enemy. Small parties of Confederate cavalry frequently skirmished with Cole’s Battalion throughout the winter.

In the spring of 1863, the battalion moved to Kearneysville, where it remained for some time guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The was comparative quiet for some time. The Shenandoah Valley as far South as Winchester was held by Union forces under General Milroy. When it was learned that General Lee was moving his army on another invasion of the North an urgent call was made for the troops to meet the invaders.

Pestered Lee’s Army

After General Milroy had been driven out of Winchester and part of his forces captured by Lee’s army, the detachment that succeeded in forcing its way through the enemy lines was protected its retreat by Cole’s Cavalry, who aided in the escape, and then assumed the offensive and hung upon the flanks and rear of Lee’s army in its invasion that ended at the battle of Gettysburg.

The engagement at Berryville, Virginia, June 13, 1863; Martinsburg, Virginia, June 11, 1863; at Williamsport, Maryland June 15, 1863, at Catoctin Creek, June 17, 1863; at Frederick, June 22, 1863; at Fountain Dale, Pennsylvania, June 28, 1863; and Gettysburg, July 1, 1863; Emmitsburg July 5, 1863; Harpers Ferry and Falling Waters, July 6, 1863, attested the good work of the command. They captured many of the enemy, they captured a dispatch courier from General Lee to General Ewell "ordering a concentration of the Confederate army at Gettysburg" which was sent to General Reynolds, then in command of the left wing of Meade’s army and who was killed in the battle of the first day at Gettysburg.

Believing that Milroy’s forces which escaped from Winchester were in the vicinity of Chamersburg, two members of Company C, McAllister and McIlhenny, came up to Gettysburg and went out the Chambersburg Pike as far as Fayetteville, where they ran up against the Confederate pickets of Lee’s army. They made a hasty retreat to Gettysburg and made in the first authentic report of the whereabouts of the enemy. They then returned and rejoined their comrades at Frederick, where they held during the battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 2, and 3, 1863.

Editors note: The dispatches that are being referred to were credited to Samuel McNair by Oliver Horner as to whom captured them. Read Samuel McNair's Obituary which has some interesting notes about his exploits during the Gettysburg Campaign.

After the battle of Gettysburg, Cole’s Cavalry was attached to French’s Division at Frederick, Company C, in command of Captain Hunter, was sent to Harper’s Ferry to destroy the bridge over the Potomac in order to impede Lee’s return to Virginia.

Get Annoying Rebels

On the 14th of September, 1863, the Battalion surprised and captured on Catoctin Mountain, near Leesburg, Va., nearly the entire command of a Confederate cavalry company which had been a source of annoyance to the Union armies.

On the 18th, of October, 1863, the Confederate brigade of General Imboden surprised and captured at Charlestown, Va. the 9th Maryland Infantry. Cole’s Cavalry promptly rushed to the rescue with Minor’s Indiana Battery, followed by the 34th Massachusetts Infantry and the 10th Maryland Infantry. The Battalion repeatedly charged the retreating enemy, who were compelled to stop, form line of battle, and drive back the Battalion, only to be again attacked in turn. Only at one time did the infantry support reach the field when the enemy again retreated in haste with the prisoners. Cole’s Cavalry suffered severely in this engagement in killed and wounded. William A. McIlhenny was wounded by a musket ball through the right shoulder. After spending10 days in the hospital at Charlestown, he was given a furlough and returned to his home where he remained until the middle of December, when he returned and rejoined Company C that was encamped at Loudon Heights.

On the 10th day of January 1864, the battalion while encamped at Loudon Heights, was attacked by Mosby’s partisan rangers, with some additional volunteers from Lee’s army. Mosby laid the plan for a wholesale capture of the battalion, but, unfortunately for him, Frank Stringfellow, who with his detachment of Mosby’s party, was to attack the headquarters of the battalion, and capture Major Cole and his aides. While Mosby made his attack on the other part of the camp and capture men, led the attack, but, instead of attacking the headquarters, attacked the camp. This made a general mixup in the attack and failed to accomplish its objective “ the annihilation of the battalion”.

This attack was made at midnight, the weather was bitter cold, the ground was covered with 6 in. of snow, and the attacking party found the men asleep in their tents. The pickets outside of the camp had been captured by Stringfellow, and therefore the attack was a great surprise to the battalion. But, they met the attack at once, many of the men in their bare feet and scarcely clad, and after a fierce struggle amid scenes of great confusion. Mosby and his band was driven off with a loss of many of his men. The battalion also lost a number of its men killed, wounded, and a few captured. This battle was decided success for the battalion and brought forth a congratulatory order from the general and chief H. W. Halleck.

Human Interest Incident

Corporal Samuel McNair

An incident will be noted here. That brings to mind the adage. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” About a year before the engagement at Loudon Heights, the battalion met the enemy at Leesburg Virginia, and Samuel McNair of Company C. Was badly wounded. His brother, Hiram S. McNair of the same company, asked a man by the name of Paxton, who lived nearby with the use of a wagon to take his brother to a place of safety across the river. Paxton readily consented to do this if McNair would promise to do the same for his son under similar circumstances. Paxton’s son was a member of Mosby’s Rangers. McNair of promise to do this, the wagon was furnished in the wounded man was removed. At the engagement of Loudon Heights a young man of the attacking party was severely wounded in fellow near the tent of the men of Company C. And some of them found him. He asked whether Samuel McNair was there, and on being told he was, he said he wanted to see him. McNair was called and when he reached the young man, he was told by him that his name was Paxton, a son of the man who had given his wagon to haul him off the battlefield on a previous occasion. On learning this the wounded man was moved into the tent and tenderly cared for until he died. Word was sent to his parents who came in removed the body after kindly thinking all for their attention.

In the latter part of January, 1864 the battalion moved through Winchester to Romney and Moorefield, in Western Virginia, to assist in repelling raiding parties of the enemy cavalry.

On the 13th day of February, 1864, the battalion re-enlisted for the war, and was given thirty days’ furlough. The battalion marched to Frederick, Maryland, where they received an ovation from the loyal citizens of Western Maryland.

After the expiration of the furlough of the battalion, it was increased by the addition of 8 companies making it a full regiment of cavalry, and as such operated to the end of war.

March 7,000 miles

It should be understood by the readers of the narrative that the engagements already described apply to the battalion composed of Companies A, B, C, and D, with special reference to Company C, which was composed largely of Adams County recruits.

Cole’s Cavalry during it’s nearly four years of service in scouting and raiding in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania marched over 7,000 miles. The losses were as follows: Killed in battle, 2 commissioned officers and 45 enlisted men; died of wounds in prison etc. 2 commissioned officers and 120 men; total 169.

The concluding part of the narrative will tell something of Cole’s Cavalry in it’s operations as a regiment as beginning with the battle of New Market, Va. on May 13-15, 1864, where Cole’s Cavalry as well as other Union forces suffered heavy losses.

Editors Note: Colonel George Smith Patton, commander of the 22nd Virginia Infantry Regiment, saw the formation of a cavalry charge. He ordered the 22nd and the 23rd Virginia Regiments to form a square (European Military Tactic), from which they fired volley after volley at the charging horsemen. It is very possible that Cole's Cavalry was one the regiments that went up against Colonel Patton and his "Fighting 22nd."

The Union forces at this time were in command of General Franz Sigel, who succeeded by General David Hunter after the battle. The Confederate army was in command of General John C. Breckenridge, General Imboden and a detachment of 225 cadets from the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington in command of Colonel Shipp, an instructor at the V.M.I. Was added to the other forces. Out of this number 56 were killed and wounded. The writer was told by one of the members of Company C, who took part in this battle that the cadets fought like old veterans although they were boys from 15 to 16 years old.

A Decisive Victory

After the battle of New Market, General Hunter advances or me to Piedmont, where he gained a decisive victory over the Confederate forces on June 5, 1864. All of Cole’s Cavalry participated in this engagement. General Hunter moved his army onto Staunton, where he remained several days before moving to Lexington, where he burned the Virginia Military Institute, and the buildings occupied by the officers of thereof. At Staunton a woolen mill in a large flour mill or burned. This was considered an act of vandalism by the South, and was given as an excuse for the burning of Chambersburg on July 30, 1864 by General McCausland.

On hearing of the arrival of Early’s army from Lynchburg. Hunter retreated from Lynchburg by way of the Kanawha Valley accompanied by part of Cole’s cavalry. When Early, on his way to Washington met the Union forces in command of General Lew Wallace at the battle of the Monocacy on July 9, 1864 in which some of Cole’s Cavalry participated, and other Adams County men who belonged to companies B and G of the 138 Pennsylvania infantry regiment. Early was prevented from reaching the outskirts of Washington until the 12th, when he retreated into the Shenandoah Valley where he met Sheridan’s army and after bloody battles at Winchester, Fishers Hill, Cedar Creek, and some other places in West Virginia where Cole’s Calvary were mostly engaged. Early was finally driven up the valley, and the struggle for the possession of this great source of supplies for the Southern Army’s was lost to them. In order to prevent leading the valley as a future source of supplies for the Army’s of the South, Sheridan destroyed all the mills, barns, and the cattle and other livestock was mostly driven off, by which it was left so bare that some wit remarked that a crow to cross it would have to carry a knapsack, this of course was an exaggeration of real conditions

On the 28th of June 1865, Cole’s Calvary was mustered out of Military service of the United States at Harpers Ferry but orders of the War Department, and by reason of the close of the war, proceeded to Baltimore, where the regiment was finally discharged.

Editors Note: Company C itself was mustered out of service on June 25, 1865. Please be sure to see our Cole's Cavalry Roster that features tons of information from photographs, memoirs, and engagements.

To read a narrative about the Confederate Operations in the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, please visit my website of the 22nd Virginia Regimental History; webpage 1864: New Market to Cedar Creek. Also see modern day photographs of the 1864 Valley Campaign.