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Emmitsburg's Civil War Soldiers

Cole’s Cavalry of the Civil War Composed of County Boys

(Originally Published in The Frederick News Post, November 24, 1961)

Edited by John A. Miller

Introduction by John Miller

This article is an excerpt from the Ceremony of the Dedication of Henry Cole’s Sword that was donated to the Frederick Historical Society by Judge Edward S. Delapliane. Judge Delapliane was a well-known Civil War Historian. This article starts with the history of Cole’s Cavalry from 100 years before and gives great detail of how Cole’s Cavalry was formed. Although it mainly discusses Company A, it’s a great piece of history that we in the Emmitsburg/Gettysburg area know that Company C was part of this organization. It goes without saying about the importance of this unit’s service was to the United States of America during the Civil War. They are perhaps one of the underrated Cavalry units, until now that is getting it’s name and the soldiers who served the recognition it deserves. For more information about Company C that was recruited in the Emmitsburg/Gettysburg area, please browse through our online Roster. There you will find links that allows the reader to see photos, letters, prison records, and also obituaries of these men who served in Cole’s Cavalry.

100 Years ago

The story of Cole’s Cavalry goes back to the exciting days 100 years ago. It begins with Francis Thomas, who was Western Maryland’s representative in Congress during the Civil War, an unusual person who was governor of Maryland from 1842 to 1845.

On July 19, 1861 Congressmen Thomas received authorization from the Secretary of War in Lincoln’s Cabinet to provide for the raising of four regiments of infantry for the protection of persons and property in this area.

The Congressmen plan to raise, in addition to the four regiments of infantry, four companies of cavalry. He brought the Secretary of War’s order to Frederick and promulgated it. He requested volunteers to assemble at the barracks on South Market St. Where prisoners have been confined touring the war of the Revolution.

The response to Congressmen Thomas’ appeal was enthusiastic. The government accepted the cavalry companies and assign one company to each of the four regiments of infantry. The entire force was designated as the Potomac Home Brigade.

William P. Maulsby, an attorney of Frederick was appointed by President Lincoln to serve as the Colonel of the First Regiment. Charles E. Trail was chosen as Lt. Colonel.

The first company of cavalry was mustered in on August 10, 1861. It was composed of young men, most of whom had been going to school. They came from the farms of Frederick County, bringing their own horses. Many of the boys had raised the horses from colts, and they brought their horses very freely to the aid of the Union.

Cole Becomes Captain

Henry A. Cole was selected as the Captain of the Company (Company A), and George W. F. Vernon was chosen as the first Lieutenant. George Vernon was one of the speakers, along with the former mayor of Baltimore James H. Preston at the organizational meeting in Brodbeck Hall of Hood College of the sergeant Lawrence Everhart Chapter of the sons of the American Revolution.

Just as the inducting officer of the United States Army declared the troops a part of the military forces of the United States. Lt. Vernon stepped from the ranks and proposed three cheers for the American flag. Three cheers were given with all of vigor of which young men were capable.

Lt. Vernon then proposed that the name of Cole’s cavalry be adopted in compliment to the recruiting zeal of their commander. The proposal was met with unanimous approval. Company A was now in the military service of the United States.

Shortly afterwards Company B., Co. C., and Co. D. were mustered into service. These three companies also soon adopted the name of "Coles Cavalry."

Captain Cole spent the winter months in the field making reconnaissances. Some of his men died during the winter, but none deserted.

The Confederates began to move early in the year of 1862. Cole’s cavalry accordingly active operations against them.

On March 7, 1862, Captain Cole attacked a cavalry force under Ashby on to Winchester Road. Cole’s grey horse was killed under him. Three days after the engagement, the battalion through Winchester and captured a number of prisoners.

In the second Bull Run campaign, Captain Cole was ordered to operate against the left flank of the Confederates. On September 2, 1862, Captain Cole attacked Mumford’s cavalry at Leesburg, Virginia. Very few of the boys escaped without Sabre cuts or pistol wounds.

Lee Visits Frederick

The battalion was now ordered back to Harpers Ferry, where a large amount of United States ordinance, ammunition, in military stores had been collected. While general Robert E. Lee was encamped near Frederick, he ordered Stonewall Jackson to advance on Harpers Ferry. General McClellan received orders from the War Department in Washington to give help to the garrison at Harpers Ferry, which was under the command of the Colonel Dixon Miles.

Stonewall Jackson crossed the Potomac River and was approaching Harpers Ferry on September 13, 1862. On that day, although the Confederates were in possession of Maryland Heights in Loudoun Heights, Captain Henry A. Cole accompanied one comrade, made his way on foot through the investing Confederate lines with dispatches to General McClellan informing him of the desperate situation at Harpers Ferry.

General McClellan gave Captain Cole orders to return to Harpers Ferry to urge Colonel Miles to do everything possible to try to hold out, as reinforcements were coming.

But Cole’s trip to McClellan’s headquarters was of no avail. Colonel Miles made no effort at defense, and on the morning of September 15, he displayed the white flag of surrender. Before the white flag was seen by the Confederates Colonel Miles was killed by a shot fired by Confederate sharpshooter.

The surrender of Harpers Ferry was a stunning blow to the Union side. About 12,000 Union soldier surrendered to General Jackson. The Confederates also captured all of the Union ordinance, ammunition, and stores.

After the battle of Antietam, when Jeb Stuart made his celebrated dash around McClellan’s Army, Cole’s cavalry pursued him and succeeded in cutting off some members of Hampton’s Legion.

Cole Becomes Major

When the battalion was consolidated, Captain Cole was promoted to the rank of Major. At this time Lt. Vernon was advanced to the rank of Captain in Co. A. The decimated ranks were filled up. The battalion entered upon a new career. For some time the battalion ranged up and down the Shenandoah Valley trying to keep watch on the movements of General Lee.

In June of 1863, Captain Vernon took his company numbering 30 men on a scouting expedition toward Frederick. On June 2, 1863 he attacked the Maryland Confederate cavalry commanded by Major Harry Gillmore at Frederick and drew them out of this city.

Temporarily the battalion was broken up, but in the fall of 1863 the command was reunited and was assigned to pursue General Lee.

During the autumn in winter, Cole’s cavalry fought the Confederates at a great many places, including Leesburg, Upperville, Charlestown, Woodstock, Front Royal, Edinburg, New Market, Harrisonville, and Romney.

In the fall of 1863 the old battalion was placed in Brigade with the first New York Cavalry in the 34th Massachusetts infantry. The New York cavalrymen and Cole’s cavalrymen became devoted friends. Each command had the highest opinion of the brave qualities of the other. Rations and powder were practically held by them in common.

Going to winter of 1863 – 1864 the New Yorkers in the Marylanders engaged in horse racing and other sports at Brigade headquarters at Charlestown.

Reception in Frederick

In February, 1864, three fourths of the command reenlisted for the duration of the war. They were granted a furlough, however, for the period of 30 days. The cavalrymen were given a warm reception by the people Frederick. When the news that they were coming home was received here, they were met on the outskirts of Frederick by the Major and other officials in a large crowd of other citizens.

The crowd formed in line and wall the bells of the fire engine companies and the church bells were ringing, the crowd march through the streets of Frederick wall flags were waving to welcome Cole’s cavalrymen. The soldiers were escorted into the City Hall on North Market Street to the strains of the song "Home Again."

A patriotic address was then made to the cavalrymen by Judge Madison Nelson, associate judge of the Maryland court of appeals. The ceremony was followed by a banquet, after when the members of the battalion hurried to their homes.

About the time Maryland Governor Augustus W. Bradford who succeeded Governor Hicks and had taken over great interest and Cole’s cavalry, suggested that Major Cole should enlarge his battalion to full regiment. The Governor had no difficulty in getting the necessary authorization from President Lincoln’s War Department.

Cole becomes Colonel

It was at this time that Major Cole was raised to the rank of Colonel. The veterans of the first Battalion, who are fully equipped were ordered to report to General Sigel, it was then moving up the Shenandoah Valley.

On May 15, 1864, they took part in the disastrous fight at New Market. The losses were heavy. General Sigel was defeated, and many of Union soldiers were captured by the brigade of Cadets from the Virginia Military Lexington, Virginia. About 1/5 of the V.M.I. cadets were killed and wounded.

Genreral Sigel’s movements have been subject to criticism. He had left General Jubal A. Early a clear path across Potomac fervor to Frederick, where he levied his ransom of $200,000. As we all recall, the city of Washington might have been captured why General Early if it had not been for the resistance of General Lew Wallace along the Monocacy at Frederick Junction.

General Wallace held back the invaders for one day, thus giving General Grant the opportunity to bring up forces to defend the National Capital.

Later in 1864, Cole’s cavalrymen took part in the engagements at Keedysville, Charlestown, Halltown, Summit Point, Berryville, and Winchester, where the day was saved by General Sheridan in his famous horse. The regiment was afterwards ordered into West Virginia to guard the lines of communication.

The command was mustered out of the service at Harpers Ferry on June 28, 1865.

Fought 200 Battles

During the period of nearly four years from August 1861 to June 28, 1865, the regiment fought in nearly 200 engagements and captured more than 1000 prisoners. Some the men had covered 7000 miles. But the bodies of most of the brave boys who were mustered into the service and Frederick in 1861, were strewn on the roads in the fields from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Lynchburg, Virginia. Most of the bodies were ultimately buried in government cemeteries.

In only a few of the original Battalion of Cole’s Calvary were still live in when the terrible conflict came to close in 1865.

For more information about Cole's Cavalry, Please see our Roster of those who fought in the Civil War with Cole's Cavalry.