45 minutes, and the long road to Andersonville

Posted on January 10, 2014 by


As they say that it was around 4 a.m. when Mosby commenced the attack on Cole’s Camp, it was, therefore, likely no more than 15 minutes before that when the six troopers of Co. B were captured by Frank Stringfellow’s party of Rangers.

I’ll borrow, again, Pvt. James A. Scott’s (of Co. C) poem regarding the fight…

But hark! what din is in the air? What rush the ear alarms, And here and now with fitful glare, What crash and roar of arms!

Alas! alas! that man should be A more relentless foe Than tempest on the land or sea, Than winter’s frost and snow.

Rise, soldier, rise! thy sleep forego; Death rides upon the wind In other shapes than frost and snow; On, on, thine armor bind.

Rise, soldier, rise! Thy soul in arms, Strike, for thy Country’s weal; For her, in dangers and alarms, Thy heart and limbs be steel.

And up they rose, those soldiers proud, Grasped arms with eager haste, And dashed into the battle-cloud, Upon the wintry waste.

And now, both to and from the foe, Death-shots like fire-flies flew, And here and there the trampled snow Soon bore a crimson hue.

Some sank upon the icy ground Whom naught but death could quell, And, fore-front, struck with ghastly wound, Brave Vernon fighting fell.

Fierce shout and oath and yell and shot Were mixed in horrid mirth, Night’s deepest gloom upon the spot No light from heaven or earth.

One thought possessed the breast of each To yield they did not know A lesson of respect to teach The daring Rebel foe.

Amid the horrors of the night, With frozen hands and feet, They stood and fought, nor ceased to fight Till victory was complete.

The account from 1881 provides even more detail of the fighting:

During the fight every man was for himself. There was no time to wait for orders, the cry rang out on the cold frosty air ” shoot every soldier on horseback.” Many of the Confederates who were killed or wounded were burned with powder, as Cole’s men used their carbines. It was hand to hand, and so dark, you could not see the face of the enemy you were shooting. It was a perfect hell! Every man cursing and yelling, and the horses were plunging and kicking in their mad efforts to get away. When one of the poor beasts would get wounded he would utter a piercing shriek that would echo throughout the mountain. Mosby’s men had emptied their revolvers. The night was too dark for them to see to reload their pieces. They were now completely at the mercy of Cole’s Rangers, who were using their carbines with good effect. Captain Smith, one of Mosby’s most gallant leaders, had shouted, ” fire the tents, shoot by the light,” but his order was never executed. A. well-aimed bullet sped through his brain and he fell dead from his horse. The Confederates, who had expected that Cole’s men would make but a feeble resistance, having been taken so completely by surprise, now found themselves in. a trap in our camp. They were dumbfounded. Captain Vernon, of Company A, had discharged the last load from his second revolver when he fell with a ghastly wound in the head; as soon as his brave followers discovered that this gallant officer was shot the vengeful bullets of the hardy veterans flew the faster. The Rebels seeing that the bloody struggle was fruitless, the Confederate chief reluctantly gave the order to retire.

Mosby had been badly used up; our comrades who had lost their lives on the last New Year’s day, and in other engagements, where he had been defeated, were now avenged. It was difficult to tell how many had been lost until after daylight.

The boys who had been fighting so gallantly in the snow, many of them with nothing on except their underclothing, were now too glad to have an opportunity to dress, and as many of them jokingly remarked, they did not mind the fighting so much but the next time that Mosby came, they would thank him to send word so they would have an opportunity to dress and be in proper condition to receive company.

Accounts suggest the fight lasted about 45 minutes.

Bugler Sossey's grave.

Bugler Sossey’s grave.

In the fighting, Trooper Sossey was killed. His body was later recovered by family, and buried back in Clear Spring. It’s unclear if the heartache of Abraham’s death was the reason, but by June, his father passed away.

I can hardly imagine what it must have been like for the six troopers from Company B… having had to sit and listen, as POWs, while sounds of the fighting echoed over the hill.

Though not realized by them at the time, after the fight, there was a chance that the men would be released. Though Mosby had retreated from the field, he sent two men back under a flag of truce. He wanted to recover his dead, and in exchange, Cole could get his troopers back. Emotions were high, however. Cole had bested Mosby, and, it would seem, the victory may have filled Cole with a bit too much pride. The Confederate offer was refused, and the fate of cousin James D. Moore, and his five pards, was sealed. They were soon heading south, probably to Gordonsville, where they would be put in a boxcar and sent to Richmond, where they would endure a short stay at Belle Isle… and then it was on to Andersonville.

One of my Cole’s Cavalry kin may have gotten away in the fight on New Year’s Day, but another… at Loudoun Heights… did not.