Murder or warfare? The night attack at Loudoun Heights

Posted on September 16, 2009 by

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Thinking back to my post about Abraham Sosey’s headstone and a comment made about “murder” (a thought-provoking comment considering the nature of guerilla warfare in the Civil War), I thought I’d post a little something I read in C. Armour Newcomer’s book about Cole’s Cavalry (Newcomer was a member of Co. D of Cole’s Cavalry). In the portion that covers the night attack at Loudoun Heights (where Sosey was killed), Newcomer wrote,

Colonel Mosby, their old antagonist, had captured the pickets; he and his followers, many of whom were natives of Loudoun County, had crossed the mountain and fell upon  the camp, and then fired a volley into the tents where Cole’s men lay sleeping, many of them no doubt dreaming of their sweethearts and loved ones at home. No one who has not experienced a night attack from an enemy can form the slightest conception of the feelings of one awakened in the dead of night with the din of shots and yells coming from those thirsting for your blood. Each and every man in the attack, was an assassin. But we should remember that war means to kill; the soldier in the excitement of battle forgets what pity is, and nothing will satisfy his craving but blood.

Pretty intense talk, but as we can see, Mosby’s night attack, while considered by those who experienced it an “assassin’s” venture, was a part of the unconventional warfare with which they had grown familiar. I think Cole’s men had a rather good grasp of the more complex dynamics of partisan/guerilla warfare. As I mentioned in response to the comment, had the attack truly fallen outside the conduct of warfare (even the expectations for conduct in unconventional “border warfare,” as Newcomer puts it in another paragraph), I think Cole would have taken more severe measures in dealing with those that he captured, including Mosby’s brother, “Willie.”

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