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A Union Captain and his capture…escape…Quakers!

Cavalry raid through Virginia May 1863, Harpers Weekly, Courtesy Library of Congress

The Emmitsburg Area Historical Society (Emmitsburg, Maryland) has plenty of first person accounts sharing local history. One of my favorites is a memoir written by Union 1st Maryland Cavalry Battalion, Cole’s Brigade Captain Albert Hunter. Here is a rollicking – a word I’ve never written on this blog – rollicking section of the memoir which mentions a certain location in Loudoun County…

Captain Albert Hunter, Company “C,” Cole’s Brigade Picture courtesy of Emmitsville Historical Society

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Cole’s Brigade, Captain Albert M. Hunter’s account of the War between the States, transcribed by John Miller

“We were at our accustomed work scouting and fighting Mosby’s men, keeping them from destroying the B&O Railroad, which they had done once or twice before.

“In one expedition near Middlesberg we came upon Mosby’s men drilling. We were a mile from them on a hill. They do not see us until we were ready to charge down on them. By the time we charged down there, not a soul was in sight on the drill grounds.

Confederate soldiers
John Singleton Mosby with some of his 43rd Battalion. Hundreds of men rode with the 43rd,, each of them very good at becoming “not a soul in sight” when necessary.

“Captain William Fiery of Company B was badly hurt by being thrown from his horse. In going back to camp we captured a Johnny at a still. He had a canteen of whiskey, which was taken away from him, and he was so drunk that he had to be held up on his horse. He died that night in our hospital from the effects of the liquor.

“We were in the mountains up the East side of the Shenandoah river. We came to a sawmill that had been turned into a distillery. We found six barrels of what smelled like whiskey, but the boys who like whiskey better than they did their mother’s milk, refused to risk the stuff. They poured it into the creek.

“While on those expeditions we had many skirmishes, captured quite a number of the enemy, and generally on our return tried to destroy everything that would be of use to the enemy, and often the boys found things not contraband of war, which stuck to their pockets or saddlebags, but such as war was and always will be.

“In the fall of 1863, we were sent east of the Shenandoah, to camp. General Sullivan was in command, with headquarters at Harpers Ferry. As usual we were kept scouting the whole countryside for miles. We had been rather unsuccessful, so it was thought a more extended scout might be of benefit.

Harpers Ferry, courtesy Library of Congress

“I with 60 men, 30 from each company, were ordered to go to Rectortown, 40 miles from camp. My orders were to take the Hillsboro Road as if I was going there but as soon as it was dark to leave the road and cut across to Lovettsville, camp for the night then go to Middlesburg and from there to Rectortown.

“We had a bad march on bad roads across country to Lovettsville. We arrived about nine o’clock at night, took the best quarters we could find. Early in the morning we were on the march. By 10 o’clock Snow began to fall and later sleet and rain. By dusk we were 3 miles from Middlesburg, wet and very cold. This was the last day of 1863, and it was the worst night I ever experienced during the war.

“We found a large house and a barn a few hundred yards from the road. We conclude it would be a very good place to spend the night, whether the occupants were of the same opinion or not made very little difference. This place seemed inviting and we turned in, found everything in plenty even a large wood pile.

“We found two or three women the sole occupants. We treated them with becoming politenss. Many of us spread our blankets on the floor and slept well. I remember sleeping in a parlor with my feet to a blazing fire, in a fine large fireplace. I dreamed a dream that was realized the next day: I dreamed we were in a fight and that a large body of the enemy surrounded and completely routed us.

“Early in the morning we were ready to move. The rain had ceased but the roads were frozen and very rough. We soon reached Middlesburg and had a fight there and captured three, had one man wounded ( Jason McCullough). I sent him and three or four others back with the prisoners. They got some whiskey and undertook to fight a scouting party too large for them. They lost their prisoners and all were captured except one (S. N. McNair). We went on and found lots of rebels peeping at us from the bushes and Hills. I soon found they would outnumber us, and also learned that the rebel General Rosser with his whole brigade was within a few miles of Rectortown, but a soldier must obey orders.

Confederate Cavalry General Thomas Rosser’s brigade with its battle-toughened troopers crossed paths with Captain Hunter’s 60 cavalrymen scouting in Loudoun County. Courtesy Library of Virginia

“In passing through a field I noticed several blue coated men riding along. I thought they were my men, but found out differently. At the same time a dozen or two were in the road. We had not gone a half of mile when the rear guard notified me that a large Rebel force was coming up.

“I ordered a line formed behind a hill and went back to see. Sure enough they were coming. As they appeared over the hill, we commenced firing on them and drove the first back, but unfortunately in the rain the day before about half of the carbines got wet, and I neglected to see that the loads were drawn, and they would not fire. On the second charge my men broke, and the finest horse race anybody ever saw occurred about that time. I can speak more particularly about myself, as everyone tried on his own to get away. The horse I was riding was young in its first flight. Shooting scared her and lent wings to her feet, which I rather liked. I remember her jumping a 10 ft. gully and afterwords climbing up a bank that was very steep, through a stream, through bushes, where I lost an excellent marine glass that cost to me $20 and my hat. The chase lasted for several miles. My horse frantic all the time. Lieutenant McNair and myself in the rear. Several rebels followed firing at us occasionally. We tried to head off a dozen or more of our own men and captured them, but it was no use. Soldiers, like sheep, when started cannot be stopped.

“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 in a few feet of it, I gave a hard pull. She sprang aside and threw me out of the 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 guide her away from another tree. She sprung again and this time I went too far and fell on my heard, 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. They demanded my pistols. I told them I was an officer and my pistols were in my holsters on my horse. Just then I saw my horse going through the woods, saddle flaps and holsters out like wings. I said there goes my horse if you want them you must catch her. They ordered me back to the other prisoners and away they went. I looked after them until they were out of sight, and I said to myself, you would be a big fool to go back willingly, so I looked for a hiding place and found a large log that suited me, and I laid down in the leaves to think. I soon fell asleep, but was roused by a noise. I awoke still dazed for a moment, peeping under the log I saw my two friends on their horses not more than twenty yards away, looking all over the woods. After a minute, which seemed to me an hour, they seemed to be satisfied that I had obeyed orders and they rode off.

“Here I was, alone forty miles from camp on foot considerably hurt, and in an enemy’s country, and surrounded by the enemy. It was between 3 and 4 o’clock pm and in less than an hour turned awful cold. I lay for a short time thinking my head and shoulders were badly bruised and I did not think very fast, but finally came to the conclusion, that as I had told the rebels I was an officer they might go back and find none. They would come to hunt me and I had better change my position.

“I peeped cautiously around and found all clear. I walked to the edge of the woods for further reconnaissance. I could see the chimneys of the houses in Middleburg, took a good look for a hiding place until dark, finally concluded to go out in a field beside the wood and lay in briar thicket, thinking no one would look for a fellow in an open field, which proved correct. I had not been lying down long before I saw a blue coated man walking across the field, first thought it was one of my men, and opened my mouth to call, but snapped it shut quicker than a wink, remembering that many of the Rebs had blue coats on. I watched him until out of sight, not coming nearer than 100 years of my hiding place.

“The cold was becoming intense and to lie still savored much of freezing. To get up and run about was dangerous, to start for camp was equally so. To keep from freezing I lay on my back and pounded my heel vigorously on the ground alternately. I thought of thrashing rye with a frail as the thumps came to the ground one after another.

Section of a Loudoun County map by Eugene Scheel, Waterford, VA mapmaker. The blue marks are added here, to show some of the locations mentioned by Hunter. Map courtesy of Eugene Scheel.

“The sun was nearing the horizon and I must soon be on the march. I always lose the points of the compass in a strange place, but I knew Middleburg was nearly due south of Harper’s Ferry, so I set up a stick as near perpendicular as I could and knew that the shadow would be east, and a line across would be north and south, sighted some object off in the distance to the north and watched it, and as soon as dusk spread its mantle, I without a hat took up my lonesome march of forty miles to camp, and oh! So cold. A brisk walk of a mile or two straight across the country set my blood in motion, and if my head and shoulders had not hurt me I think by sunrise next moment I could have said the “top of the morning” to General Sullivan at Harpers Ferry.

“In about an hour however my hips were blasted. I ran right into Goose Creek swollen and full with slush ice. I looked at the angry water for a moment, when the thought struck me, it must be a darned long Creek that has no bridge or foot log. But shall I go up or down the stream, that’s the question. I concluded that I had better go towards the Potomac, so down the stream I went, climbing fences tearing through brush and weeds.

“Soon I noticed a light, I cautiously approached, and found a small log cabin. 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. He 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, 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 I was one of the defeated. After supper I offered to buy his hat which I did for a quarter, an awfully dilapidated gray, gone to seed so bad, but just then it was all the world of a hat for me. I ought to state here that I had seventy dollars and a splendid five dollar pair of spurs in my pockets. I had ripped the inside of my vest pocket and stowed the money down in the lining and the spurs were in the bottom of my inside coat pocket. I was determined to save all from the Johnnies if they did recapture me, if I could. I guess they would have swapped clothes with me if they had got me, but I hoped they would not find the money.

“Well as my landlord of the supper and hat was a very poor man hired to a big land owner, he wanted to keep out of the service, of course he was a union man, but dare not open his mouth. I guessed this. I then told who I was and all about the fight and wanted to hire him to go with me five miles to a place I knew. He said “I dare not do it, my boss would know it before sun-down tomorrow and I would have to go to the army.” I pitied the poor fellow, but I wanted help, so I laid a ten dollar bill on the table and said you can have that if you will go with me and I do not think you can be found out.

“His eyes glistened as he looked at the crisp green-back. His answer was, oh I need the money so bad but I dare not go. At this juncture his wife and three children appeared through the door. She stepped up to the table and said, “John can’t go, he might be caught then what would I do with these little children, for under the circumstances I could not get work or any assistance.” I could say no more. I had no change but the quarter and nickle or two. I gave her them, then turning to the man said, “Give me the best directions you can to find a crossing of the creek, and I will go.” He did so, which I found no difficulty in following, even to climbing ten rail stake and rider fences, coming out as slick as a button at a good crossing near Pot House.” [Pot House is about 4 miles from Middleburg]

Historic picture of Pot House, on the road between Middleburg and Unison. Picture courtesy of Clifford Turner, shown in “Old Plantations and Historic Houses around Middleburg, Virginia, Vol. 2” by Audrey Bergner

“I noticed a light at the house, and on coming up close found a horse and wanted to “git”, but on reflection concluded to play infantry while in the enemy’s country, so that I could the better dodge corners in case of pursuit, and I did not know the country well enough to run any risks.

“I should have stated that my host of the supper and hat told me it was Col. Mosby’s men we fought with, and I found out later it was Col. Mosby’s horse that was hitched at the gate at Pot House. All I have to say is, had I known it was Col. Mosby’s horse he would certainly have been compelled to borrow another to get to camp, or overhaul me on the road.

“Mine host of supper and hat, had directed me several miles beyond Pot House, but in the night I could not see where roads forked in the woods, no fences many places. I walked several hours when I found myself on the north bank of Goose Creek and perhaps as far from camp as when I started. I was tired, so to better think, I raked a pile of leaves in a fence corner, lay down in them and thought on this wise – what the duce good will it do me to walk backwards and forwards, and perhaps be just where I started tomorrow morning, and likely right afterwards be right among a dozen of Mosby’s men with not a thing to defend myself with. Now old fellow if that is likely to be the case, let us do it up tonight, before I walk all of the life out of me.

“I’ll just go right back to a gate (all gates in Va. led to the farmhouse) on this road, and I’ll rouse them up and see what can be done. I jumped up considerably refreshed and found the gate and marched across the field by the road, and at a half mile’s distance found the usual farm building of a well to do Va. farmer. I boldly knocked at the door, an old negro woman in night clothes opened the door, a fire was covered in the fire place, three or four beds in the room all occupied by negro slaves.

“I asked the one who opened the door if her master was a Union man. She said “No sah”. I told her to call him. She did so and in about fifteen minutes he appeared. After salutation and asking pardon for disturbing him, I told him plainly my condition he said he had been to Middleburg and heard all about it, and that he did not think that more than half of my men got away, which was about the truth, as I afterward learned.

“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, Maryland 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.

“When I came to a little village by the name of Union [Unison], the dogs set up such a barking I feared capture so I went around it, and left the dogs and the sleeping citizens to fight it out. Oh! But it was getting cold. By about four o’clock I began to slow, my heavy boots seemed to weigh a ton, my throat was parched. I would stop and break the ice at puddles in the road and drink. My beard would freeze in the water, but I pulled bravely on, being encouraged by coming to places my friend said was on the road. I came to a mill he spoke of, and as I passed the stable a horse inside neighed, a very steep hill just at the stable was almost more than I could make on foot. I looked at the stable and thought that the horse could take me through, but it was so cold, I feared I would freeze on horseback, so I plodded on.

“For three hours more I drew my weary legs, one after the other over the frozen ground stopping now and then to rest for a few minutes, knowing that I must keep moving or freeze. Just as the sun appeared on that cold January morning Goose Creek Meeting House appeared. [Goose Creek – now “Lincoln” – is about ten miles from Pot House.]

historic quaker meeting house picture
Goose Creek Meetinghouse, “home to us union soldiers at all times,” similar to how it would have appeared during the war

“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. I was personally acquainted with some of the friends who worshiped there. After the lapse of more than a quarter of a century, the sweet recollection of that morning there, almost worn out by walking and the cold comes up like an oasis in the burning sandy desert to the weary traveler and never, not ever so long as reason lasts shall the sweet recollection pass from me. Dear old Goose Creek Meeting house and your uncommon kind friends, members how I would like to visit you.

“I was neither choice or slow in selecting a house to ask assistance. I knocked at the door of the nearest one. It was opened by a lady who surveyed me somewhat suspiciously. A green hat man was almost too much for a Quaker, even if he had blue everywhere else. I was invited in. One or more persons were in the room. I told them who I was and I was in a very dilapidated condition, which was manifest, and that I wanted a dry dock to lay up for repairs in the shape of a little coffee and some bread and meat then a bed anywhere. I noticed my story was hardly credited but I cared little, if my request was granted.

“In a very short time the inner man was cared for, and a bed pointed out which I hardly waited to undress to occupy. Soon all was lost. I knew nothing of this world’s happenings until the afternoon when I was awakened by a call at my bedside. Looking up a kindly face met my gaze and a pleasant voice said “How does thee feel now”? Before answering I took a good look at the man. And found it was a Mr. Steer whom I had met before. My reply came in an effort to turn and get up but I was so stiff I could hardly move, but a twist or two got me up. I was told it was after dinner, but a table with some provisions was awaiting me. I dressed but when I attempted to draw my boots on, my feet would hardly go down the leg. They were fearfully swollen. But my friends were not long in finding a substitute in the shape of a pair of large gum over shoes that fit exactly.

“Then equipped I entered the dining room to meet a number of old friends. After congratulations and mutual regrets at my misfortune we set down to a splendid dinner. And I need not tell you I did ample justice to it. While eating, arrangements were made for my departure, which was that Mr. Steer with a two seated, two horse carriage, an old grey overcoat, my pea green hat, and gum overshoes as disguise would be about the proper thing. Almost as soon as said it was done. The carriage was at the door. My boots and overcoat were stowed in the box, myself on the back seat, a laborer going to Waterford to do some work, provided we were questioned by any scouting Rebs.

“Waterford was the home of [Union] Captain [Samuel] Means and many of his men, also a very home indeed to us blue coats, especially at the hospitable home of John B. Dutton, with his happy greeting, his estimable wife, (now dead), his sprightly and lovable daughters, all married now and doing well, and his manly son, James, who was in the army, Quaker as he was.

John Dutton, Waterford merchant and friend to Captain Hunter. Photo courtesy of Waterford Foundation

“Well a little after dark we drove up to Mr. Duttons’ stable. Mr. Steer had to introduce me for even John Dutton did not recognize me. He was always in for fun, after taking a laugh, he said “Now don’t tell my family who the Captain is, but introduce him as your friend, let’s see who will recognize him.” I was duly ushered into the sitting room according to program, keeping my hat on, which is no breed of politeness among the friends. We talked of matters in general. Mr. Dutton watching each one with twinkling eyes, waiting the denouncement after a half hour perhaps, little Annie went to her mother’s side and said, “I believe that is Capt. Hunter.” Mother stared searchingly at me. John burst into laughter. I threw off my hat and grey overcoat and then we had a rollicking time for a while. Oh! To think of those bright spots in a soldier’s hard life makes one’s old rheumatic joints supple and I seem to be a boy again.

“Supper being announced we repaired to the dining room, where we enjoyed a delicious repast, made more agreeable by kind and interesting conversation, and plans for the morrow to get me to Harper’s Ferry. It was agreed that Mr. Steer should take me to the Point of Rocks where a ferry would take me across, then up to the B&O railroad to Harper’s Ferry. After a good night’s rest and a splendid breakfast, some homemade light rolls in my pockets, we were on the road soon after sunrise. I recollect thinking as we rode along what shall I pay Mr. Steer. I feared an offer of money would not be acceptable and refused, for bear in mind those Quakers did not help us for love of gain, but pure and unalloyed patriotism. Would to God, more were like them even now, when it is very easy to be patriotic if one only wills to be. But I am sorry to record that my observations for the past twenty years or more convince me that patriotism is a secondary thing and selfish, ungrateful greed is the rule in high and responsible positions as much or more than in middle or low life.

“But to return, I thought of this matter of compensation seriously, finally I concluded my spurs would be something he could keep, and as much as a Cavalryman dislikes to lose or part with his spurs I concluded to offer them, which he had first refused, but I told him I would not feel satisfied if he did not take them, he consented to accept them as a gift. I had noticed a very fine pocket knife that fell out of my pocket in the carriage, which I left there for him. On the Virginia side at Point of Rocks, I bade my kind friend and, perhaps ought to add, preserver, a reluctant farewell, boarded the boat and amid floating ice was soon on the Maryland side.

“A passing train soon carried me to Harper’s Ferry. I reported to General Sullivan, he was much surprised as I had been reported shot or captured. The fact is the cape of my coat was lined with a red flannel, and Lt. McNair told me afterwards when he saw me fall from my horse the cape went over my head and he supposed the red was blood from a wound. But although bruised, very stiff and sore all over I was still rather lively spirited. I told the colonel all about the affair as I had seen it. He seemed satisfied and complimented me on my pluck, told me to take a week or two for rest and be ready for another exploit.”

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