Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

The Elusive Major Horner

John B. 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 29, 1863, where a portion of Cobs 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.

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.

Cob. 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, 1865, having achieved the rank of major.

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 eight years.

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.

Read other articles by John Horner

Read more about Major Horner

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

Back to Previous Page >