Captain Hunter’s New Year’s Ordeal

Last time around we looked at the terrible New Year’s surprise that John Mosby and his men unleashed on the Union troopers under Captain Albert Hunter. Of the approximately 60 men of Cole’s Cavalry that set out from Harper’s Ferry on December 30 more than half were now prisoners of war. Hunter himself was captured in the debacle, but unlike many of his men he wouldn’t be sent south to a rebel prison. Instead he managed to slip away and make a daring escape across Loudoun County and back to Union lines.

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Captain Albert Hunter – one lucky cavalryman! (USAHEC)

After the war Hunter left a memoir of his service, which is now located at the Emmitsburg Area Historical Society in Maryland. In it he describes what happened in the aftermath of the skirmish at Five Points on that fateful New Years Day.

I entered the woods and my horse was running straight toward a big tree, which I felt sure in her excited condition she did not see. I drew the reins but she did not yield, and I had to when in a few feet of it, give a hard pull. She sprang aside and threw me out of a saddle, and while hanging on the side of the horse, she nearly ran my head against another tree and by a superhuman effort I regained my seat, but before I had the stirrups, I had to guild her away from another tree. She sprung again and this time I went to far and fell on my head, stunning me considerably. A minute or two elapsed before I could get up. When I did I was dazed and two rebels were over me with, I am sure empty revolvers or I would not be writing today (1).

The two rebels demanded Hunter’s pistols, which were still holstered on his saddle. After ordering the Captain to join the rest of the prisoners they took off after his fleeing horse. This was all the opportunity that Hunter needed. He made his way to a large log and hid under a pile of leaves, where he soon fell asleep. He awoke to the same two rebel troopers searching for him, but they soon came to the conclusion that he had marched off as ordered and then rode away satisfied. Once the coast was clear Albert knew that he had to make his move before they realized their mistake. Harper’s Ferry and safety were 30 miles away as the crow flies, and Mosby’s men were going to be out there rounding up stragglers. Travel by day would be near impossible, so Hunter made his way to a field and curled up in a briar patch to await the coming darkness. Aching from his injured head and shoulders he struggled to stay warm in his makeshift hiding place. At one point he saw a blue clad figure wandering across the field nearby and thought of calling out to him, only to remember how Mosby’s men often wore captured uniforms to confuse their foes.

Hunter left the field as the sun began to set. To his east he could see the lights of Middleburg, a town that had a reputation as a Secessionist stronghold. Unlikely to find any assistance there he turned north and soon reached Goose Creek.

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Detail of the Yardley Taylor Map, showing the town of Middleburg and nearby Goose Creek (Library of Congress)

The creek was swollen with the recent rain and ice choked the banks. With the temperature below freezing Captain Hunter decided against wading across and instead turned east to follow the creek downstream. He soon saw light emanating from a lone cabin along the bank…

Peeping in the window I saw a man, wife and three children seated at the table eating supper. I got hungry on the jump, knocked at the door. Wife and children disappeared, but the man came to the door. The looked astonished to see me, my head tied up in a handkerchief. I boldly stepped in and told him I wanted something to eat. Soldier style you know, either north or south, help yourself was the answer. I about cleaned the platters, knowing I had a big job before me, and no certainty of when or where the next commissary was. During the meal I found he knew all about our fight and its results and I knew he suspected was one of the defeated (2).

Luckily for the Captain the poor farmer he stumbled upon was a Union sympathizer. He sold an old hat to Hunter for a quarter, but when the officer offered him $10 to lead him northward the farmer balked. He had hired himself out to a local planter and “dare not do it, [for] my boss would know it before sun-down tomorrow and I would have to go to the army” (3). Fearful of Confederate conscription with so many mouths to feed the farmer refused Hunter’s entreaties, despite the generous offer.

Hunter was able to get directions from the man, however, and left the struggling farmer all of the change he had in his pocket. The Union man directed him to cross Goose Creek near the tiny village of Pot House, so named because of the large 18th century ceramic kiln there (4). Although unknown to Hunter at the time the Pot House was hosting none other than John Mosby at that very moment! Continuing west he walked for hours and at this point he seems to have gotten a little lost. Finding himself back along the north bank of Goose Creek the Captain stopped and hid in a leaf pile and planned his next move. Trusting that his luck would hold he made his way to the next house he saw, and was greeted at the door by a number of slaves. When asked about their master’s politics they replied that he was not a Union man, but Hunter decided to take the chance anyway…

I asked him to give me plain directions to get to Goose Creek Quaker meeting house. He said, “You want assistance, so do I, you help me and I will help you.” I answered “I will if I can, speak on.” “I can direct you where you want to go plainly, you can, as an officer help me.” “Now we are sorely in need of calico, muslin, pants stuff, some groceries, and I cannot get them at Point of Rocks, Md. unless I have an order from a commissioned officer stating that I want them for my own family. Now all these things we want awful bad, and I assure you that they shall be used sacredly by my family and no other. Will you give me an order?” I said yes, that I would. He produced writing materials and I wrote the order. I wish I could know if he got the goods. Also I wish I could remember his name. He then proceeded to map out the road in a very plain manner, which I found no difficulty in following as the night was clear. He said that under other circumstances he would like me to stay all night, but it would be dangerous for me and himself as well. He gave me some rations to carry along. It was after 11 o’clock when I bid him good night and took up the lonesome march (4).

The next landmark that Hunter encountered was the village of Union (now known as Unison). Ironically the village, like Middleburg, was another hotbed of Secessionist politics, so Hunter wisely chose to steer clear and head off road until he had skirted the town.

All through the freezing night the injured captain trudged onward, occasionally stopping to break open frozen puddles for water. Just as the sun began to rise he could see the first real sign of hope in his journey – the Goose Creek Meeting House.

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The Goose Creek Meeting House as it would have looked in the 19th Century (Goose Creek Friends)

Situated in the middle of the settlement of Goose Creek, the Meeting House was the focal point of the small Quaker community that had inhabited the area for nearly a century. The structure was a most welcome sight for the weary fugitive, as he knew he would find aid and warmth within. Hunter later wrote that “John Howard Payne may have felt happy in composing “Home Sweet Home” but I know he did not feel half as happy as I did when that old church appeared that morning. For its members made it “Home Sweet Home” to us union soldiers at all times” (5).

Over the previous years Cole’s Cavalry were frequent visitors to the village, and they often relied on the Quakers for hospitality and intelligence. In Hunters own words “The Quakers were very loyal and friendly to us, but they had to be very circumspect in their actions to save their property and person. They gave us all the information they had and all the creature comforts they could command, even when it was very dangerous to do so” (6). Some of the young men of the village had even gone as far as to abandon their sect’s pacifism to enlist in the Loudoun Rangers – a Unionist cavalry unit that often served alongside Cole’s. Hunter knocked on a nearby door and was invited in for coffee and food before falling asleep. When he awoke he was greeted by Mr. Steer, a familiar face at last. An older Quaker, the two had come to know one another during Cole’s forays into Loudoun County. Steer lent the Captain an overcoat and some oversized gum boots for his swollen feet. Thus disguised Steer and Hunter set off by cart for Waterford.

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The next leg of Hunter’s journey. Goose Creek (now Lincoln) is located in the bottom center, and Waterford is in the top center (Library of Congress)

Waterford was another Quaker settlement, and like Goose Creek the citizens there were overwhelmingly Unionist in their sentiments. For Hunter the arrival in Waterford was almost as welcome a homecoming as his arrival at Goose Creek had been. He and Steer arrived at the home of John Dutton shortly after nightfall.

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The Dutton family home on Second Street, Waterford, Va. (www.waterfordhistory.org)

Dutton was a well known Unionist and was certainly familiar with Cole’s Cavalry and Captain Hunter. When he and Steer arrived that night, however, none of the Dutton family immediately recognized their guest. It was only after Hunter had been conversing for a half an hour that John Dutton’s youngest daughter recognized the exhausted cavalryman. Albert threw off his disguise and the family burst into laughter. Safe and sound at last Hunter and his hosts made plans over dinner to get him safely to the Potomac.

Before we conclude our journey with Captain Hunter I did want to make a quick aside about the Dutton family. In one of Loudoun County’s most interesting episodes of the war the three oldest Dutton sisters actually published an underground pro-Union newspaper. Known as the Waterford News, it was written and distributed by Sarah, Elizabeth, and Eliza to “cheer the weary soldier, and render material aid to the sick and wounded.” In the end the young ladies of Waterford raised over $1,000 for the U.S. Sanitary Commission with their paper.

 

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An issue of the Waterford News published by the Dutton girls (www.waterfordhistory.org)

Buoyed by the Dutton’s hospitality Hunter was finally able to continue his journey north. After a night’s rest he donned his disguise once more and set off with Steer for Point of Rocks on the Potomac. Safely delivered on the north side of the river the young Captain “accidentally” left his pocket knife and spurs in Steer’s wagon as payment for his deliverance. Hunter was able to catch a westbound train and finally arrived back with his command outside of Harper’s Ferry. Upon reporting in it was related how Hunter’s men left him for dead. It appears that his cloak was lined in red flannel, and when he fell from his horse the red flash was mistaken for blood.

In the end Hunter made it out alive, and through his cool thinking, the help of friendly Virginians, and a whole of of luck he made it back in one piece. Hunter’s luck held out through the rest of the war. He survived and returned home to Pennsylvania, where he managed an iron manufactury for several years after the war (7). By 1880 he moved south, settling outside of Lexington, North Carolina. He farmed there with his wife and family for over thirty years before finally passing away in 1911 at the age of 77 (8).

Retracing his steps today many of the locations that he described are still standing much as they were in 1864. To give you an idea of just how far he traveled during his escape here’s another example of my MS Paint skills at work.

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The journey of Captian Hunter, beginning at Five Points and ending at Point of Rocks (Library of Congress)

The skirmish site outside of Rector’s Crossroads is still a rural road surrounded by agricultural fields. Both of the Quaker villages of Waterford and Goose Creek (now known as Lincoln) are remarkably preserved, and stand as a testament to their community commitment to preservation. Many of the roads running between these sites remain unpaved, so it’s not hard to get a sense of what the area looked like to Captain Hunter as he made his way through the darkness. What we can’t fully capture, though, is the chilling cold, the pain and exhaustion, and the final feeling of elation on having made it back safely when so many others were doomed to death in captivity. The defeat at Five Points was one of the worst suffered by Cole’s Cavalry, but in a few days time they would get a chance to repay Mosby and his rangers.

 

Notes

1 Hunter, Albert. Captain Albert M. Hunter’s account of the War between the States (Part 3). Emmitsburg Area Historical Society.

Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Scheel, Eugene. Loudoun Discovered, Volume Three. The Friends of the Thomas Balch Library. Leesburg, Va. 2002. pp 56-57.

5 Hunter

Ibid.

7 Year: 1870; Census Place: Gettysburg, Adams, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1289; Page: 77B; Image: 187174; Family History Library Film: 552788

8 National Archives and Records Administration. U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000.

 

2 thoughts on “Captain Hunter’s New Year’s Ordeal

  1. Pingback: Field Dispatch: Leesburg, Virginia | A River Divided

  2. Pingback: Sarah, Lizzie, and Lida | A River Divided

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