When we last left night was falling on July 9th, 1864. The exhausted troops of Lew Wallace’s command were trudging eastward towards the safety of Baltimore. They had done their job admirably by holding off a superior force of rebels for the better part of the day. The men of the 1st and 3rd PHB Infantry were among the last Union troops to leave the field, and acted as a rear guard during the long retreat. Captain Charles Brown of the 1st PHB recalled how he and his men “cover[ed] the retreat of our army for a short time” on the way to Ellicott Mills (1). Once there the weary men boarded trains for Baltimore. By the 10th the Home Brigaders were firmly ensconced at Fort Worthington with Colonel Gilpin of the 3rd PHB in command. Fort Worthington – now long gone – was located on the northeast side of Baltimore, near the intersection of Kenwood and Preston Streets.
While the 1st and 3rd PHB prepared to defend Baltimore from any Confederate attacks, the troopers of Cole’s Cavalry were busy back towards Frederick. Lt. Colonel Vernon led a command of 65 veteran troopers of the “old battalion” with orders to “harass the enemy, capture their pickets, and do all the damage he could accomplish” (2). Vernon set out from Maryland Heights to do just that. In the wake of Early’s advance his men captured a number of Confederate stragglers. Their primary targets became the numerous small squads of Confederate cavalry who were then looting the Maryland countryside; Vernon and his men captured or drove off several such foraging parties.
Christopher Newcomer of Company D recalled one encounter he had with a farmer near Middletown during this period:
On our arrival in the neighborhood of Middletown we were informed by the citizens that an old gentleman, a farmer by the name of George Blessing, living several miles distant, had shot one or more Rebels, and Colonel Vernon started at once with his men for Blessing’s farm. As our advance was proceeding up the lane leading to the farmer’s house they were halted by an old gray-haired man, fully sixty-five years of age, who demanded that they should go back, or he would shoot. The old gentleman was partially concealed behind a large tree, with a rifle in his hand. Colonel Vernon called him by name and informed him we were Cole’s men and had come to protect him. Mr. Blessing gave us a hearty welcome and said he had mistaken us for the Confederates whom he had exchanged shots with a number of times during the day, and had driven off the enemy not an hour before, who threatened to return and hang him and burn his property. To prove his assertion, he led the way up to his barn yard, where lay a dead Rebel and one in the barn, wounded. The old farmer had some half dozen guns of different patterns; when the roving bands of Confederates approached his house he would warn them off, they would fire upon him, and this old patriot stood his ground. He would do the shooting whilst his small grandson would load the pieces. Our command remained at the farm house over night and the “Johnnies” failed to put in an appearance; they would have received a warm reception if they had returned. Our men buried the dead soldier and left the wounded prisoner in the hands of his captor, who promised to have him properly taken care of. On the following morning we made an early start in the direction of Frederick, picking up an occasional straggler (3).
As they approached Frederick Vernon’s troopers arrived at the farmhouse of a Mr. Preston. They captured four rebel officers resting in the yard; another Confederate officer was found hiding under a bed in the house – his position given away by one of the family slaves (4). The Prestons were evidently Confederate sympathizers, because that same day they tried to warn two approaching rebels of the presence of Vernon at the farm but to no avail – two more prisoners were soon added to Vernon’s catch. More Confederate prisoners were taken when Vernon’s advance troops surprised a picket posted just east of John Hagan’s Tavern. Again Newcomer tells the story:
From Hagin’s house to the toll-gate there was almost a continuous line of trees growing by the side of the road. Fraley and myself approached the pickets, keeping well under cover of the trees, until we had gotten up to within one hundred yards of them, when we dashed out with a loud yell, at the same time discharging our revolvers.
The Confederates went pell-mell into a small one room house, used by the toll-gate keeper as an office, and closed the door after them. Fraley was unable to hold his horse, and he continued at break neck speed in the direction of Frederick. I became alarmed fearing the Confederates would discover that I alone was on the outside, and perhaps turn the tables and capture me instead of surrendering to one man. Fraley had gotten completely out of sight.
The frame building the Confederates were in had a small window at the side, the door was closed. Thrusting my revolver in at the window, I enquired who was in command; the Sergeant who had charge of the post was much excited, and I demanded he should open the door and come out backward bringing his gun, and the remainder to follow in rotation. The small room was so completely packed they could scarcely move on the inside, and had great difficulty in opening the door. The Sergeant was the first to come out, as I directed, closing the door with his back to me, and I ordered the Sergeant to place his gun against the side of the building, after which lie returned to the inside, sending another one of his men out. There were but four soldiers in all, and some six or eight citizens who had been visiting the picket post, when Fraley and myself charged down upon them. One old gentleman assured me he was a Union man, and had advised the Rebels to surrender. Colonel Vernon had heard our shots and came galloping to the front and was greatly surprised to find me guarding the building, with the prisoners on the inside. Fraley had succeeded in checking his horse and was now returning up the road and was much chagrined at not being present at the surrender of the pickets. It is useless to state that Colonel Vernon was much pleased with the capture. We stationed our pickets at this point, and the command removed a short distance, fed our horses and remained over night.
A quick look at the Issac Bond map of Frederick shows the location of the Tavern (which incidentally is a restaurant that can be visited today – my first job was in the kitchen there but the place has changed hands many times since then!)
Vernon and his squad arrived at Frederick the next day, just as the last of the Confederate rear guard was heading down the road to Washington. There was, however, one last episode that played out involving Cole’s Cavalry.
In the chaos following the Battle of Monocacy General Tyler and his staff became separated from the rest of the Union force. Tyler’s aide, Lt. E. Y. Goldsborough of Frederick, recalled how as the Union retreat was pressing on towards New Market the General and his staff rode back towards Bartonsville to reconnoiter the pursuing rebel force:
When we reached the top of the hill, at the entrance to the road leading to N. O. Cline’s house, we saw a body of rebel cavalry in the orchard at Bartonsville. They at once opened fire and charged upon us. We took the road leading past Cline’s house, past the mill, and on to Hughe’s Ford, so closely pursued that we saw no chance of escape, except to continue on the road on the east bank of the river to the Old Liberty road which leads to Baltimore (5).
We reached the Liberty road, turned east in the direction fo Baltimore, and rode into the village of Mount Plesant, where, to our surprise, we came upon a squad of rebel cavalry plundering a store. Our little party then consisted of Gen. Tyler, Capt. Webb, and Lieut. Goldsborough, of the staff, and two or three orderlies. Seeing that we were Federal soldiers they fired upon us, and either wounded or captured our orderlies. We at once put spurs to our horses and dashed down the road for about a mile…(6)
Fearful that the rebels were gaining on them the officers left the road for the shelter of some woods. At this point Captain Webb’s horse fell, landing on top of its rider. Both Goldsborough and Tyler dismounted to help their fallen comrade, and they turned their horses loose on the road. The ruse worked and the rebel followed the horses, leaving the officers hidden in the undergrowth.
They soon came across a local African-American who hid them in a thicket until nightfall. Under the cover of darkness the three officers were taken to the home of Ephiram Creager, a local Unionist, who agreed to take care of the injured Captain Webb. Tyler and Goldsborough returned to the thicket and hunkered down to await relief.
It was well into the evening of the 11th before rescue came in the form of 25 men of Cole’s Cavalry on patrol for more Confederate stragglers. A loyal civilian guided the cavalrymen to the hiding place. Christopher Newcomer was among the troopers present at the rescue:
I took the liberty of pressing into service a carriage, the driver said he was then on the way to attend a funeral; his story may have been correct, but at that time it mattered little to us. General Tyler and Lieutenant Goldsborough both expressed their thanks at being relieved from their perilous position; they occupied the carriage and I had them conveyed to Frederick City, where our forces were again in possession (7).
Tyler and Goldsborough were able to catch a train from Frederick to Relay House near Baltimore and rejoin their command.
As Early’s army marched on Washington the men of the Potomac Home Brigade would enjoy a short reprieve. After the Confederate’s were repulsed at Fort Stevens, however, the Home Brigade was sent back into action as part of the pursuit. This part of the campaign, culminating with the Battle at Cool Spring, has already been covered here on the blog, so be sure to take a look at this earlier post if you need a refresher.
- Moore, Frank ed.The Rebellion Record Volume 11. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1868. p 626
- Newcomer, Christopher. Cole’s Cavalry, or, Three years in the saddle in the Shenandoah Valley. Cushing &Co. Baltimore. 1895. p 131
- Ibid. 132-133
- Ibid. 134
- “Early’s Great Raid” National Tribune 13 April 1893
- Newcomer. p 139