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Cole’s Cavalry had local troopers; reunions marked Loudoun Heights fight

by Steve French

Recently, Cinda O’Neill Drogemeyer, of the Morgan County Historical Society loaned me the files of Berkeley Springs historian, the late Frederick Newbraugh.

Fred, still widely-known in Mountain State historical circles for his 3-volume, not-to- be-surpassed, W arm Springs Echoes, was a tireless researcher who in pre-Internet days spent countless hours combing various archives for the hidden gems of history. He also used his research to write many fascinating Morgan Messenger articles.

The house that was Major Cole’s headquarters still stands today.

While combing through his papers, I discovered a January 17, 1907 Washington Post article about the 43rd reunion of Cole’s Cavalry, the Maryland Union horsemen who roamed the lower-Shenandoah Valley, upper-Potomac, and portions of northern Virginia searching for Rebel guerrillas and partisans. On January 10, 1864, the battalion defeated Maj. John Mosby’s early morning attack on its camp on Loudoun Heights, V a., not far from Harpers Ferry. As you can see from the following story, Cole and his horse-men considered it their greatest victory.

Washington Post — January 17, 1907: “Cole’ s Cavalry Holds Reunion”

The forty-third annual reunion and dinner , of Cole’ s Cavalry, a dashing and valorous organization of Union veterans in the Civil War, was held Thursday last at Junker’ s Hotel, Baltimore, when 30-odd of as many of the survivors as could be gotten together were the guests of Col. Henry A. Cole, who commanded the regiment during the war.“

Eric Buckland gives a speech about Cole’s Calvary at the Purcellville house that served as Cole’s headquarters in the Civil War.

The reunions and dinners are held on the night of January 10 each year , because that date recalls the eventful night of January 10, 1864, when the regiment “engaged” Mosby’ s Rangers at The Battle of Loudoun Heights, known as the famous “midnight battle in the snow.” The command was commended by its commanding general for its conduct in that battle, the order from headquarters at Washington being as follows.

Headquarters of the Army

Washington, D.C. January 20, 1864 Brigadier General B.F. Kelley, Cumberland

General-I have just received through your headquarters Major Henry A.

Cole’ s report of the repulse of Mosby’ s attack upon his camp on Loudoun Heights on the 10th inst.

Major Cole and his command, the battalion of the P.H.B. Cavalry, Maryland Volunteers, deserve high praise for their gallantry in repelling the rebel assault.

H.W. Halleck General-in Chief

Maj. Cole reported his casualties in the short, but fierce engagement as “four enlisted men killed and 16 wounded.” In his memoirs the celebrated “Gray Ghost” wrote, “My loss was severe… 4 killed, 7 wounded (of whom 4 have since died,) and one captured.”

Morgan County connection

Newbraugh’ s interest in the fight stemmed from the fact that some of Cole’ s troopers hailed from what is now the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. Just a year before the Post story, a January 14, 1906 Morgan Messenger article he also possessed briefly described a gathering four days earlier at Col. W.F. Vernon’ s home in Baltimore. Besides reminding its readers, that Vernon had lost an eye in the skirmish, the paper also noted that, “a number of men from Morgan county were members of… the First Potomac Home Brigade.”

Most of Cole’ s bluecoats from this area, served alongside tough Clear Spring, Md. volunteers in Capt. William Firey’ s Co. B. It may seem odd that Loyalists from Berkeley, Hampshire, or Morgan counties sometime served in Maryland regiments, but in the first three years of the war, other than helping as civilian scouts or guides, that was the only alternative that they had.

After West Virginia became a state, however, the new government in Wheeling authorized the formation of some local companies that rode and marched under the state banner.

Visiting the site

On June 8 of this year, 16 members of the Harpers Ferry Civil War Round Table visited the Loudoun Heights site, now owned by Geoff and Francesca Edling. There, on the grounds, Stuart-Mosby Society Pres. Eric Buckland discussed the background to Mosby’ s attack and pointed out topographical features in the vicinity that influenced the fighting. Afterward, inside the house that was Maj. Cole’s headquarters, he gave the group an exceptional talk on the action and its aftermath.

For those interested in visiting the site, the physical address is 37107 Loudoun Heights Lane, Purcellville, Va. There is a pullover at the Va. roadside marker that describes the action.

From there, you can view the house where Cole had his

headquarters. The Marylander’ s camp was situated along the slope of the hill, south of the road. Respect all private property.

As a postscript, Pvt. Gottleib Fuss, who rests today in Snyder’ s Cemetery (Morgan County), suffered a shoulder wound that morning which crippled him for life.