January 21, 1865, page 43 (1-4)
I was up at reveille. Orders to inspect the camp of
dismounted cavalry near Harpers Ferry had been in my pocket two days, awaiting an
escort through the fifty miles of guerrilla infested country which lay between me and that
distant post. This was the day for the regular train, and a thousand wagons were expected
to leave Sheridans head-quarters, on Cedar Creek, at daylight, with a brigade of
infantry as guard, and a troop of cavalry as outriders.
An hours ride of eight miles along a picketed line
across the valley brought me to the famous "Valley Pike," and near the
head-quarters of the army. Torbert was there, and I awaited his detailed instructions.
Unavoidable delay ensued. Dispatches were to be sent, and they were not yet ready. An hour
passed, and, meantime, the industrious wagon-train was lightly and rapidly rolling away
down the pike. The last wagon passed out of sight, and the rear-guard closed up behind it
before I was ready to start. No other train was to go for four days. I must overtake this
one or give up my journey. At length, accompanied by a single orderly, and my colored
servant, George Washington, a contraband, commonly called "Wash," I started in
pursuit of the train.
As I had nearly passed Newtown I overtook a small party
apparently of the rear-guard of the train, who were lighting their pipes and buying cakes
and apples at a small grocery on the right of the pike, and who seemed to be in charge of
a non-commissioned officer.
"Good-morning, Sergeant. You had better close up at
once. The train is getting well ahead, and this is the favorite beat of Mosby."
"All right, Sir," he replied with a smile, and
nodding to his men, they mounted at once and closed in behind me, while quite to my
surprise I noticed three more of the party whom I had not before seen in front of me.
An instinct of danger at once possessed me. I saw nothing
to justify it, but I felt a presence of evil which I could not shake off. The men were in
Union blue complete, and wore on their caps the well-known Greek cross which distinguishes
the gallant Sixth Corp. They were young, intelligent, cleanly, and good-looking soldiers,
armed with revolvers and Spencers repeating carbine. I noticed the absence of
sabres, but the presence of the Spencer, which is a comparatively new arm in our service,
reassured me, and I thought it impossible that the enemy could as yet be possessed of
We galloped on merrily, and just as I was ready to laugh
at my own fears, "Wash," who had been riding behind me and had heard some remark
made by the soldiers, brushed up to my side, and whispered through his teeth chattering
"Massa, secesh sure! Run like de debbel!"
I turned to look back at these words, and saw six carbines
leveled at me at twenty paces distant, and the Sergeant, who had watched every motion of
the negro, came riding toward me with revolver drawn and the sharp command, "Halt.
We had reached a low place where the Opequan Creek crosses
the pike, a mile from Newtown. The train was not a quarter of a mile ahead, but out of
sight for the moment over the west ridge.
High stone-walls lined the pike on either side, and a
narrow bridge across the stream was in front of me and already occupied by the three
rascals who had acted as advance-guard, who now coolly turned round and presented carbines
also from their point of view.
I remembered the military maxim, a mounted man should
never surrender until his horse is disabled, and hesitated an instant considering what to
do, and quite in doubt whether I was myself or some other fellow whom I had read of as
captured and hung by guerrillas; but at the repetition of the sharp command, aided by the
somewhat disagreeable presence of the revolver immediately in my face, I concluded I was
undoubtedly the other fellow, and surrendered accordingly.
My sword and revolver were taken at once by the Sergeant,
who proved to be a rebel lieutenant in disguise, and who remarked, laughing as he took
"We closed up, Captain, as you directed; as this is a
favorite beat of Mosebys, I hope our drill was satisfactory."
"All right, Sergeant. Every dog has his day, and your
happens to com now. Possibly my turn may come to-morrow."
"Your turn to be hung," he replied.
It was not long before I was ushered into the presence of
the great modern highwayman, John S. Mosby, Lieutenant-Colonel, C.S.A.
He stood a little apart from his men, by the side of a
splendid gray horse, with his right hand grasping the bridle-rein, and resting on the
pommel of his saddlea slight, medium-sized man, sharp of feature, quick of sight,
lithe of limb, with a bronzed face of the color and tension of whip-cord. His hair is a
yellow brown, with full but light beard and mustache of the same; a straight Grecian nose,
firm set expressive mouth, large ears, deep gray eyes, high forehead, large well-shaped
head, and his whole expression denoting energy, hard service, and love of whisky. He wore
top-boots, and a civilians over-coat, black, lined with red, and beneath it a
complete gray uniform of a Confederate Lieutenant-Colonel, with its two stars on the side
of the standing collar, and the whole surmounted by the inevitable slouched hat of the
whole Southern race. His men were about half in blue and half in butternut.
Mosby, after taking my horse and quietly examining my
papers, presently looked up with a peculiar gleam of satisfaction on his face.
"Ah, Captain B____! Inspector-General of ___s
Cavalry! Good-morning, Captain! Glad to see you, Sir! Indeed there is but one man I would
prefer to see this morning to yourself, and that is your commander. Were you present, Sir,
the other day at the hanging of eight of my men as guerrillas at Front Royal?"
I answered him firmly, "I was present, Sir; and, like
you, have only to regret that it was not the commander instead of his unfortunate
This answer seemed to please Mosby, for he apparently
expected a denial. He assumed a grim smile, and directed Lieutenant Whiting to search me.
My gold hunting-watch and chain, several rings, a set of
shirt-studs and sleeve-buttons, a Masonic pin, some coins, and about three hundred dollars
in greenbacks, with some letters and pictures of the dear ones at home, and a small pocket
Bible, were taken. My cavalry-boots, worth about fifteen dollars, were apprised at six
hundred and fifty in Confederate money; my watch at three thousand dollars, and the other
articles in about the same proportion, including my poor servant "Wash," who was
put in and raffled for at two thousand dollars, so that my entire outfit made quite a
"Wash" was very indignant that he should be
thought worth only two thousand dollars Confederate, and informed them that he considered
himself unappreciated, and that, among other accomplishments, he could make the best milk
punch of any man in the Confederacy.
When all this was concluded Mosby took me a little one
side, and returned to me the pocket Bible, the letters and pictures, and the masonic pin,
saying quietly as he did so, alluding to the latter with a significant sign:
"You may as well keep this. It may be of use to you
I thanked him warmly for his kindness as I took his
offered hand, and really began to think Mosby a gentleman and a soldier, although he had
just robbed me in the most approved manner of modern highwaymen.
Immediate preparations were made for the long road to
Richmond and the Libey. A guard of fifteen men, in command of Lieutenant Whiting, was
detailed as our escort, and, accompanied by Mosby himself, we started directly across the
country, regardless of roads, in an easterly direction toward the Shenandoah and the Blue
We were now in company of nine more of our men, who had
been taken at different times, making eleven of our party in all, besides the indignant
contraband "Wash," whom it was also thought prudent to send to the rear for
I had determined to escape if even half an opportunity
should present itself, and the boys were quick in understanding my purpose, and intimating
their readiness to risk their lives in the attempt. One of them in particular, George W.
MCauley, commonly known as Mack, and another one named Brown, afterward proved
At Howettsville on the Shenandoah, nine miles below Front
Royal, we bivouacked for the night in an old school-house.
Our party of eleven were assigned to one side of the lower
floor of the school-house, where we lay down side by side with our heads to the wall and
our feet nearly meeting the feet of the guard, who lay in the same manner opposite us,
with their heads to the other wall, except three, who formed a relief guard for the
sentrys post at the door.
Above the head of the guard along the wall ran a low desk,
on which each man of them stood his carbine and laid his revolver before disposing himself
A fire before the door dimly lighted the room; and the
scene as they dropped gradually to sleep was warlike in the extreme, and made a Rembrandt
picture on my memory which will never be effaced.
I had taken care to place myself between MCauley and
Brown, and the moment the rebels began to snore and the sentry to nod over his pipe, we
were in earnest and deep conversation.
MCauley proposed to unite our party and make a
simultaneous rush for the carbines, and take our chances of stampeding the guard and
escaping; but on passing the whisper quietly along our line, only three men were found
willing to assent to it. As the odds were so largely against us, it was in vain to urge
The march began at an early hour the next morning, and the
route ran directly up the Blue Ridge. We had emerged from the forest and ascended about
one-third of the height of the mountain, when the full valley became visible, spread out
like a map before us, showing plainly the lines of our army, its routes of supply, its
foraging parties out, and my own camp at Front Royal as distinctly as if we stood in one
of its streets.
We now struck a wood path running southward and parallel
with the ridge of the mountains, along which we traveled for hours, with this wonderful
panorama of forest and river, mountain and plain before us in all the gorgeous beauty of
the early autumn.
"This is a favorite promenade of mine," said
Mosby. "I love to see your people sending out their almost daily raids after me.
There comes one of them now almost toward us. If you please we will step behind this point
and see them pass. It may be the last sight you will have of friends for some time,"
and, looking in the direction he pointed, I saw a squadron of my own regiment coming
directly toward us on a road running under the foot of the mountain, and apparently on
some foraging expedition down the valley. They passed within a half mile of us, under the
mountain, while Mosby stood with folded arms on a rock above them.
Before noon we reached the road running through Manassas
Gap, which place was held by about one hundred of Mosbys men, who signaled him as he
approached, and here, much to my regret, the great guerrilla left us, bidding me a kindly
We were hurried through the gap and down the eastern side
of the Blue Ridge, and by three oclock reached Chester Gap, after passing which we
descended into the valley, and move rapidly toward Sperryville on the direct line to
Our guard was now reduced, as we are far within the
Confederate lines, to Lieutenant Whiting and three men, and our party of eleven prisoners
had seven horses among them. There was also a pack-horse carrying our forage, rations, and
some blankets. To the saddle of the pack-horse are strapped two Spencer carbines, muzzle
downward, with their accoutrements complete, including two well-filled cartridge-boxes.
I called Macks attention to this fact as soon as the
guard was reduced, and he needed no second hint to comprehend its full significance at
once. He soon after dismounted, and when it came his turn to mount again, he selected,
apparently by accident, the poorest and most broken-down horse of the party, with which he
appeared to find it very difficult to keep up, and which he actually succeeded in some
mysterious way in laming.
He then dropped back to the Lieutenant in charge and
modestly asked to exchange his lame horse for the pack-horse, and being particularly
winning in his address, his request was at once granted without a suspicion of its object,
or a thought of the fatal carbines on the pack-saddle. I used some little skill in
diverting the attention of the Lieutenant while the pack was readjusted; and as the rain
had begun to fall freely no one of the guard was particularly alert.
I was presently gratified with the sight of Mack riding
ahead on the pack-horse, with the two carbines stills trapped to the saddle, but loosened,
and well concealed by his heavy poncho, which he had spread as protection from the rain.
These carbines are seven-shooters, and load from the breech by simply drawing out from the
hollow stock a spiral spring, and dropping in the seven cartridges, one after the other,
and then inserting the spring again behind them, which coils as it is pressed home, and by
its elasticity forces the cartridges forward, one at a time, into the barrel at the
successive movements of the lock.
I could see the movements of Macks right arm by the
shape into which it threw the poncho, and while guiding his horse with his left, looking
the other way and chatting glibly with the other boys, I saw him distinctly draw the
springs from those carbines with his right hand and hook them into the upper button-hole
of his coat to support them, while he dropped in the cartridges one after another,
trotting his horse at the time to conceal the noise of their click, and finally forcing
down the springs, and looking round at me with a look of the finest heroism and triumph I
have ever beheld.
I nodded approval, and fearing he would precipitate
matters, yet knowing that any instant might lead to discovery and be too late, I rode
carelessly across the road to Brown, who was on foot, and, dismounting, asked him to
tighten my girth, during which operation I told him the position of affairs as quietly as
possible, and requested him to get up gradually by the side of Mack, communicate with him,
and, at a signal from me, to seize one of the carbines and do his duty as a soldier if he
valued his liberty.
Brown was terribly frightened and trembled like a leaf,
but went immediately to his post, and I did not doubt would do his duty well.
I rode up again to the side of Lieutenant Whiting, and,
like an echo from the past, came back to me my words of yesterday, "Possibly my turn
may come to-morrow."
I engaged him in conversation, and, among other things,
spoke of the prospect of sudden death as one always present in our army life, and the
tendency it had to either harden or ameliorate the character according to the quality of
He expressed the opinion which many hold that a brutal man
is made more brutal by it, and a refined and cultivated man is softened and made more
refined by it.
We were on the immediate flank of Earlys army. His
cavalry was all around us. The road was thickly inhabited. It was almost night. We had
passed a rebel picket but a mile back, and knew not how near another one or their camps
The three rebel guards were riding in front of us and on
our flanks, our party of prisoners was in the centre, and I was by the side of Lieutenant
Whiting, who acted as rear-guard, when we entered a small copse of willow which for a
moment covered the road. The hour was propitious. I gave the fatal signal and instantly
threw myself from my saddle upon the Lieutenant, grasping him around the arms and dragging
him from his horse, in the hope of securing his revolver, capturing him, and compelling
him to pilot us outside of the rebel lines. At the same instant Mack raised one of the
loaded carbines, and, in less time than I can write it, shot tow of the guard in front of
him, killing them instantly; and then coolly turning in his saddle, and seeing me
struggling in the road with the Lieutenant, and the chances of obtaining the revolver
apparently against me, he raised the carbine the third time; and as I strained the now
desperate rebel to my breast, with his livid face over my left shoulder, he shot him as
directly between the eyes as he could have done if firing at a target at ten paces
His hold relaxed, and his ghastly corpse fell from my
"Golly, Cap," said Mack, "I could have
killed five or six more of them as well as not."
Brown had only wounded his man in the side, and allowed
him to escape.
Our position was now perilous. Not a man of us knew the
country, except its most general outlines. The rebel camps could not be far away; the
whole country would be alarmed in an hour; darkness was intervening; and I doubted not
that, before sundown, even blood-hounds would be on our track. One half our party had
already scattered, panic-stricken, at the first alarm, and every man for himself, scouring
the country in every direction.
But five remained, including the faithful Wash, who
immediately showed his practical qualities by searching the bodies of the slain, and
recovering therefrom, among other things, my gold hunting-watch from the person of
Lieutenant Whiting, and over eleven hundred dollars in greenbacks, the proceeds,
doubtless, of their various robberies of our men.
"Not quite nuff," said Wash, showing his ivories
from ear to ear. "Dey vally dis nigger at two tousand dollars. I tink I ought to git
We instantly mounted the best horses, and, well armed with
carbine and revolver, struck directly for the mountain on our right; but, knowing that
would be the first place we should be sought for, soon changed our direction to the south,
and rode for hours directly toward the enemy as rapidly as we could ride, and before
complete darkness intervened we had made thirty miles from the place of our escape; and
then turning sharp up the mountain we rode as far as horses could climb, and, abandoning
them, pushed on on foot through the whole night to the very summit of the Blue Ridge,
whence we could see the rebel camp-fires, and view their entire lines and positions, just
as daylight was breaking over the Valley.
The length of this weary day, and the terrible pangs of
hunger and thirst which we suffered on this barren mountain, pertain to the more common
experience of a soldiers life, and I need not describe them here.
We had to go still further south to avoid the scouts and
pickets, and finally struck the Shenandoah twenty miles to the rear of Earlys entire
army, and there built a raft, and floated by night forty miles down that memorable stream,
through his crafty pickets, until the glorious old flag once more hailed us a welcome.