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Civil War Diary

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

Part 5: Cole's Cavalry during the Winter of 1861-1862

During winter of 1861 through 1862, Cole's Cavalry were encamped along the Potomac River and were among the meager defenders who held Hancock, Maryland, and checked Confederate General Thomas Jackson's advance until a stronger Federal force arrived. The battle of Hancock was their first baptism of fire.

James A. Scott of Company "C" of Cole's Cavalry, a cavalry company made up predominantly of Emmitsburg area residents, wrote:

"In the winter of 1861(2) Cole's Cavalry was constantly patrolling the Potomac River from Harper's Ferry to Cumberland. Drilling and picket duty was the principal occupation of both cavalry and infantry. The post of Company C at Four Locks was not a very unpleasant one as we had comfortable quarters.

Early in January, 1862, General Stonewall Jackson left the Shenandoah Valley with his command and marched to the Potomac opposite Hancock, Maryland. He sent a flag of truce to General Lander demanding the surrender of the place. Only a small body of Government troops was stationed there, but all Federal forces within reach were quickly notified to come to the rescue. When surrender was refused, the enemy opened fire on Hancock. As soon as we at Four Locks heard the roar of cannon, we felt that it meant business for us, and, true to our anticipations, orders came to us to march for Hancock instantly.

The weather had turned very cold and clouds had been threatening snow since early morn. Late in the afternoon a heavy snowstorm set in. When our march began, the ground was covered to a depth of several inches, which was being added to rapidly. The wind was high and as we moved west on the turnpike it drove the snow stingingly on our faces and rendered progress very disagreeable. Night came on, and the snow being then so deep that we could not move our horses faster than a walk. At times nearly all of us were dismounted and floundering through the snow to get up some warmth. Thus we proceeded hour after hour while the wind howled and continued to drive the flakes into our faces, which so enveloped us that we looked like a procession of ghosts.

It was perhaps a little past midnight when we reached Hancock, where we hoped to get at once some sort of shelter. We found a battery of artillery stretched along the street. Their guns looked like mounds of snow. Company C halted in the street and waited until patience was exhausted for some directing power to tell us where we might obtain shelter. So we set about looking it up for ourselves. We tried rapping on the door of each building but that brought no response and we obtained entrance through a window into the small building.

Here we had the happy fortune to a stove and a plentiful supply of fuel and also a candle. This was soon lit and we made a fire on the stove, which was very much needed for we were suffering greatly from cold. From this a door led into the large house. It was not locked and, entering the house we found it abandoned. Having discovered more candles we lit it up when we saw abundant evidence that the house had been evacuated in the utmost haste. The beds were in disorder, articles of clothing were lying around loose and debris of various kinds littered the floors. The family must have fled when hostilities commenced before daylight.

We made our way to a quite large kitchen. No food was anywhere and the house was dreadfully cold. It is sufficient to mention that several vessels which had been left on the cooking range full of water were frozen to the bottom. Some of the boys busied themselves at once in making fire on the range.

We then examined the rear of the premises to hold our horses. We discovered that a gate opened into an alley and were greatly gratified to find there was room enough for all our horses. The voice of a picket came up from the riverside with words of more than politeness. "Put out that light you idiot unless you want your head knocked off with a cannon ball." I put out the light of course to oblige this gentleman and hastened into the house.

At one side of the kitchen was a large pantry with shelves of preserves and pickles, jars of apple butter and a tubful of fresh sausage, plenty of sweet ham and bread and butter, coffee and tea. In the kitchen was a table large enough for twenty or thirty men to gather round. The frying pans were cooking sausage by the yard. The raw bacon we had brought with us was getting into crisp and toothsome condition. What a feast it was and there was more than plenty for all. Some of the boys after eating heartily of substantials, ended up with a heavy covering of preserves upon them which felt good at the time but later on when fermentation asserted itself in their stomachs the contents of those important origins had a monkey and a parrot time.

We were as careful as possible not to damage or destroy any of the glasses, dishes, plates and utensils belonging to the absent family and left things in as good shape as we could. When the banquet ended, daylight began to appear, and we hustled out and got breakfast for our horses. The expected bombardment from across the river with the advent of daylight did not show up. On the contrary, it was soon ascertained that the enemy had fallen back. About noon we were ordered to return to our post at Four Locks, and were back there again before the next nightfall."

Lieutenant William A. McIlhenny, who lived ust across the border from Emmitsburg in Southern Adams County recalled:

"A great many things occurred in camp that helped to keep us from getting homesick. We had what we called the "Fool's Den". In this tent were quartered three men who were always up to some deviltry. Jim Grimes, was the old fool, Henry Hughs, a large man, we named the big fool and Tom Sherfy, we named the young fool.

All visitors who came into camp had to see the "Fool's Den", While we were lying at Hancock, Maryland, there was considerable sickness in camp, and our Captain concluded to get a quart of whiskey to keep off chills and fever.

One of the boys happened to know of the fact and knew that the Captain would surely hand out the bottle for him to sample it if he would call in, but imparted the information to about six of the other comrades who were to drop into the Captain's Headquarters, of course accidental about the time he would have the bottle out and he could not help handing it all around and when it came around to the Captain, he, of course, would have to drink to the health of the boys, but upon raising it to his mouth behold it was all gone and the Captain did not get any of the whiskey."

Read Part 6: The Christmas Experience

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War