Identifying more unknowns: Blazer’s Scouts killed in the Kabletown fight against Mosby’s Rangers

Posted on September 4, 2011 by

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I’ve come into some more good stuff while sifting through information about Winchester National Cemetery… especially as one interested in the history of counter-guerilla operations in the Civil War.

Perhaps I should set the stage for the story…

The date, November 18, 1864; the place, between Kabletown and Myerstown, Jefferson County, West Virginia; the unit, Capt. Blazer’s Scouts… a small group of less than 100 men, all of them having been selected from Ohio and West Virginia regiments, tasked with ridding the Union forces of further damage from Mosby’s Rangers. Up until November 18, Blazer’s little band proved effective (though Blazer had a tendency to ramp-up the numbers lost by Mosby in the fights the two units had)… and Mosby had resolved to make a point of clearing them out, before they got the better of him.

I’ll let Blazer Scout Henry Pancake’s version of the story (from the Ironton Register, November 25, 1886) give you some perspective on the fight, and then follow-up with my find…

Capt. Richard R. "Dick" Blazer, commander of Blazer's Scouts.

We had gone down on a scout from the neighborhood of Winchester into Luray valley. We had ridden two days and nights and were returning toward Winchester again. We had crossed the Shenandoah river, at Jackson’s ford, about daylight, and rode into Cabletown [sic], about a mile from the ford, and back on the Harper’s Ferry road a short distance, where we stopped to cook a little breakfast. I was standing near Capt. Blazer and Lieutenant [Thomas K.] Coles, boiling some coffee, when a colored boy came up and said about 300 of Mosby’s Guerillas had crossed the ford and taken position in the woods, half way between the ford and Cabletown, and were watching us. That was only a half mile or so from where we were. The darkey had been sent by a Union woman near the ford to apprise us. The Captain ordered Lieutenant Coles and myself to go to a little hill or mound, about halfway between us and them, and see how many there were and all about them.

Capt. (later major) Adolphus E. "Dolly" Richards commanded the two companies that engaged Blazer's Scouts near Kabletown.

We proceeded to the hill and got a good view of the rebs, and confirmed all the intelligence given by the colored boy. In the meantime, Capt. Blazer had formed his command and proceeded across the fields in the direction of the rebs, and we joined him when he had advanced some distance. We told him there were about 300 of them, that they were in a good position and it wouldn’t do to attack them with our little force, amounting to about 65 men all told. But the Captain told us to fall in, and the way we went. Before we got into position to attack the rebs who were across the road, we had to let down two big rail fences. This we did and filed deep into the field which was skirted by the woods where the rebs were and in plain view of them, It was a desperately daring deed, and we hurried up the job, coming around into line like a whip cracker. Just as we got into line, here came the rebs do[w]n on us with a yell. We fired one volley, and then they were on us, blazing away. To get through the gap in the fence and get out of the scrape, and into the road, was the aim of all. But the rebs were right with us, shooting our boys down and hacking our ranks to pieces. Every fellow was for himself, and when those got into the road who could get out flew in all directions, some across the fields, some up toward Cabletown and some toward the ford. Oh, it was a awful nasty fight! We stood no show at all. We had hardly got into line when every fellow was expected to save himself. I got into the road among the last, the rebs all around me and after me. I had on a rebel uniform and that’s what saved my head, just then. Well, I took down toward Cabletown as fast as my horse could carry me. Lieutenant Coles was just ahead of me and Capt. Blazer was ahead of Coles. Another of our boys was just at my read, and he was soon made prisoner. The balls whizzed all around me. Near the crossroads at Cabletown, Lieut. Coles fell his horse his head resting on his arm as I passed by. After I passed him, I looked back and the foremost reb, whom I recognized as one of the prisoners we had when we made the attack, stopped right over him, aimed his carbine and shot Lieut. Coles dead.

This monolith marks the site of the “Slaughter and Capture of Blazer’s Men at Myerstown”, in Jefferson County, West Virginia. See the Jefferson County Historical Society website for details about this marker, and other such monoliths that mark Civil War sites throughout the county. Note also, on that same page, monolith #16, which marks the site of Blazer’s successful attack at Myer’s Ford, on September 5, 1864.

Only Capt. Blazer and myself were left on that road and there were about 30 or 40 of Mosby’s men after us. I gained on Blazer and soon caught up with him. The Captain asked, “Where’s the boys?” I replied, “All I know is one just behind and I guess they got him by this time.” “I am going to surrender,” he said. And I said, “I’m going to get out of this.” The Captain halted and gave himself up. The rebs were not over 30 yards away from us and were peppering away. The surrender of the Captain stopped them a moment and I gained a little, but on came the rebs mighty soon again and chased me for two miles further. The pursuing party was reduced by ten, and then finally gave up the chase by sending a volley that whizzed all around me. When I looked back and saw they were not pursuing me, I never felt so happy in my life.

I rode on more leisurely after this, but had not proceeded more than a mile or so when I saw a man leading a horse along a road that lead into the road I was on. I soon observed he was one of our men. He had been wounded and escaped.

We went together until we came to our pickets near Winchester about dusk. There I was captured sure enough, because I had on the rebel uniform, and put in prison. I could not make the pickets or officers believe that I was a union soldier, and wore a rebel uniform because I was ordered to do so, but about 11 o’clock that night, my story was found to be true and I was released.

Now a little about that rebel uniform, and thereon hangs the point of my narrow escape. The chase was different from that after Capt. Blazer. He could surrender and live; I couldn’t. I had to beat in that horse race or die, and as there were 40 horses on the track after me it looked every minute like dying. There were 16 of us in Blazer’s company who wore rebel uniforms, and I was the only one who got out of that scrape alive. Of the entire number in the company, 65, only 13 escaped and five of these were wounded. That was the last of Blazer’s scouts.

I went down next day to the scene of the fight. Twenty-two of our boys were buried near the road. The colored people buried them. Lieutenant Coles body was exhumed and sent home and now sleeps in Woodland Cemetery [actually, he rests in Greenlawn Cemetery, in Scioto County, Ohio, near Portsmouth] near Ironton. He was a brave fellow.

Yes said the reporter, I knew him well. We belonged to the same company. He was a daring young officer-generous, chivalrous, and patriotic. Tell me further about the rebel uniform.

You see, said Henry, we were organized to fight Mosby’s Guerillas, and as we had to fight them as they fought us, and wearing each others uniform was part of the game. Why, I’ve got in with the rebels and rode for miles without their suspecting I was a union soldier. One time Mosby’s men captured a mail wagon and some of us wearing rebel uniforms caught up with them and helped guard the wagon until our pursuing force came in sight. That’s the way we had to fight Mosby, and it was part of the regulations that some of us wore gray.

Well then, suggested the reporter, to have been a Blazer Scout, was a sort of continuous narrow escape.

Yes, said Henry, I’ve only given you one of the incidents that was particularly interesting to me. That’s what you asked for.

It’s a thrilling story, no doubt… though Pancake’s memory wasn’t on target on a few things. The death of Lt. Coles, for example, was not at the end of a carbine, but at the end of Ranger John W. Puryear’s pistol, and a bit more complicated than a matter carried out as simply part of the fight, especially considering Coles had earlier dangled Puryear, several times, from a noose in an effort to obtain information.

Likewise, there were actually nineteen to die from Blazer’s command, as a result of the fight. Three, all Ohioans, including Lt. Coles, were later exhumed and reburied in Ohio*. The sixteen others remained where they were buried… at least until sometime between 1866 and 1867. It was during this time when, like many other Union soldiers scattered in various graves throughout the area, the bodies of the sixteen were disinterred and reburied in what became Winchester National Cemetery. Sadly, only one of the graves was identified in the cemetery, that being the grave of Pvt. John Brown, originally of Co. F, 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The rest (**perhaps) were buried in graves without headstone identification. Fortunately, when the Roll of Honor was compiled, someone did make the annotation “Capt. Brazer’s command” for some of the unknowns. Of course, Blazer’s name is misspelled, but it all makes sense… 16 men… killed on November 18, 1864… “Brazer’s Scouts” = these men, no doubt, were Blazer’s Scouts.

The entry for Pvt. John Brown, in the "Roll of Honor". Note the error of attributing him to "Captain Stewart's command" and not Blazer's command.

Entries for six of Blazer's men, killed on November 18, 1864. Throughout the "unknowns" section of the Roll, all are noted as "Ohio vols", when that was not the case. Note also the entry for the Ohioan hung by Mosby, earlier in November, and covered in my post from last weekend. Oh yes... and as an aside, note the "Colored" annotation for grave 2001, who also carried the annotation "___ Ohio vols."

They rest, along with one of the three hung men mentioned in my post last weekend, in sections 12 and 20.

Despite having no identity in either the headstones, or the Roll… they really aren’t so “unknown” after all…

I’m still working on gathering the info on the Ohioans (and keep in mind that the John Brown mentioned above, should be counted among the sixteen Blazer Scouts in the cemetery), but they are as follows:

34th OVI, AKA Piatt’s Zouaves
Pvt. Jacob Heidschuch, Co. E.

36th OVI
Sgt. Archibald Waxler, Co. D.
Pvt. Amos Willington, Co. K.

91st OVI
**Pvt. Thomas A. Barton, Co. A.

The "unknowns" in sections 12 and 20 are marked by those less conspicuous, low-setting square-type markers. This image shows some of those markers, under which members of Blazer's Scouts likely rest. Pvt. Brown's marker is out of the picture, to the right.

The West Virginians are as follows (and I’m still adding info on these men as well. Some of these men were Ohioans.):

2nd West Virginia Cavalry
Pvt. John W. Robertson, Co. A. Born in Carroll County, Ohio. Age 18 at time of enlistment, on September 1, 1861; 5’10”, grey eyes, dark complexion,  dark hair, and by occupation, a farmer. Detached to Blazer’s Scouts in March 1864.

9th West Virginia Infantry
Pvt. John W. Tolley, Co. F. Appears to have been born in Kanawha County, Virginia (WV). Enlisted November 21, 1861; 5’7″, grey eyes, fair complexion, dark hair. Married Martha Jane Humphreys, January 18, 1864, Kanawha County, WV. Detached to Blazer’s Scouts between July and August, 1864.

13th West Virginia Infantry
Pvt. John C. Hacker, Co. A. Born in Kanawha County, Virginia (WV). Age 18 at time of enlistment, on October 20, 1863, at the age of 18; born in Kanawha County, Virginia (WV); 5’6”, fair complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and, by occupation, a farmer.

Pvt. Sylvester Keith, Co. F. Born in Washington County, Ohio. Age 18 at time of enlistment, on September 9, 1862, at Pt. Pleasant; 5’6 ¾”, black eyes, dark complexion, black hair, and by occupation, a farmer.

**Pvt. George Lamasters, Co. E. Born in Wayne County, Virginia (WV). Age 28 at time of enlistment, on September 15, 1862; 5’9”, dark eyes, complexion, and hair, and by occupation, a farmer. Detached to Blazer’s Scouts between May and June 1864.

Pvt. John V. Riley, Co. I. Born in Kanawha County, Virginia (WV). Age 18 at time of enlistment, on July 26, 1863; 5’10”, dark eyes, complexion, and hair, and by occupation, a farmer.

Pvt. Luke E. Schmitter, Co. G. Born in Switzerland; age 18 at time of enlistment, on December 28, 1863; 5’7″, blue eyes, fair complexion, and dark hair, and by occupation, a farmer. Detached to Blazer’s Scouts, May 30, 1864.

14th West Virginia Infantry
Pvt. Tobias Haught, Co. K. Age unknown, but probably a resident of Monongalia County, WV. Attached to Blazer’s Scouts between July and August 1864. Mixed reports, but one document states killed on November 18, while another reflects that he died of wounds on November 25.

Pvt. Elias Martin, Co. I. Approximate age, 20. Detached to Blazer’s Scouts August 23, 1864.

Pvt. Daniel S. (or P.) Rairdon, Co. F. Born in Washington County, Ohio. Age 26 (or 35???) at time of enlistment, on August 14, 1862; 5’8”, blue eyes, fair complexion, and dark hair, and by occupation, a farmer. Widow, with children, applied for a pension following his death.

Pvt. Solomon Williams, Co. A. Born in Doddridge County, Virginia (WV). Age 18 at time of enlistment, on August 23, 1862; 5’6″, blue eyes, fair complexion, light hair. Detached to Blazer’s Scouts, August 26, 1864.

Oh, and as for Henry Pancake… that last man from Blazer’s who was wearing gray that day, near Kabletown… he died on April 9, 1912, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Ohio. And, as for Captain Blazer… he died in 1878, because of a yellow fever epidemic in Gallipolis, Ohio. There are some, however, who believe that he didn’t really die from yellow fever, but that his death coincided with the epidemic, and that he really died due to his weakened condition that lingered some 13 years after his time as a POW… ehhh, I’m not so convinced.

Anyway…

So begins my quest to give some identification to these men. Nothing fancy… I’d just like to see a plaque placed somewhere between the two sections, bearing the names and units, and that they were members of Blazer’s Scouts, killed in action against Mosby’s Rangers, near Kabletown, on November 18, 1864.

*Lieutenant Thomas K. Coles, Co. C, 91st OVI; Sgt. George M. Towslee, Co. G, 23rd OVI; and Private William E. Beatty, Co. B, 36th OVI were all removed to their home counties in Ohio.

**There are a few indicators that privates Thomas A. Barton and George Lemasters may have actually received headstones, but were 1) mismarked as Marylanders, and 2) placed in the wrong section of the cemetery. I also suspect this due to the fact that both are listed in the Roll of Honor as being members of the 9th Maryland Infantry, when in fact, there were no such named persons in that regiment. It becomes even more fishy when considering the date of death noted in the Roll for both men… 8/18/1864. Should “August” have been “November”? Another error? Update: I missed it earlier, but, in a third source, “A. Barton” is noted as having been originally buried on “Hafflebowers Farm”. This convinces me even more that these graves were mismarked, and that a few more of the Scouts may have originally been positively identified in the graves at Winchester, prior to the headstone placements. The Hefflebower (not Hafflebower) Farm, which is between Myerstown and Rippon, was in the immediate flow of the fight of November 18, and was where Ranger Syd Ferguson knocked Capt. Blazer from his horse with his pistol.

Many thanks to fellow Civil War historian/blogger/author Eric Wittenberg, and Mike Peters, in providing the names of those who died from Blazer’s Scouts, in the fight near Kabletown!  I was impatient and didn’t want to wait to get my copy of Darl L. Stephenson’s Headquarters in the Brush: Blazer’s Independent Union Scouts before I could put names to the graves.

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