150 Years Ago: Skirmishing with Mosby at Rector’s Cross Roads

Studying the Civil War in Northern Virginia, a theme emerges shortly after the Gettysburg campaign.  Hardly a week would pass without some action involving Lieutenant-Colonel John S. Mosby.  The activities of that partisan ranger only slackened in the last few months of the war.  But even then, as the oft spoken quip alludes to, Mosby tied up many more Federal troops than he fielded.  One of those units which frequently saw action against Mosby and partisans operating in Northern Virginia was Major Henry Cole’s 1st Maryland Cavalry Battalion.

In late September 1863, Cole received orders to scout from Harpers Ferry (at that time in the new state of West Virginia) up the Shenandoah Valley to Winchester, Virginia then across the Blue Ridge to Loudoun County.  Cole had around 250 men with him on this scouting.  On September 21st, the Maryland troopers camped at Charlestown.  The following day they moved to Winchester and then to Berryville.  Then on September 24rd, Cole marched his men into Loudoun:

At daylight on the subsequent morning, I proceeded to Snickersville, via Snicker’s Gap. In the vicinity of Snickersville I came in contact with a few scattering bodies of White’s command; from thence I proceeded to Waterford and encamped for the night. At daylight on the subsequent day, I proceeded to Leesburg, via Snickersville and Leesburg pike. My advance guards charged into Leesburg, capturing one of White’s men; encamped for the night within a few miles of the town.

Leesburg was much less “sprawl” at that time, so charging into town meant a gallop past the court square where so much Civil War activity took place.  The next day, Cole lead his men into Loudoun Valley in search of Mosby.  Very quickly he was a ware that Mosby was also keeping track of the Marylanders. Very soon a sharp skirmish ensued:

On the morning of the 25th, I proceeded to Upperville, with the expectation of coming in contact with Mosby’s guerrillas. I was not disappointed in my expectations, for within a few miles of the town I espied Lieutenant-Colonel Mosby with his command, consisting of about 150 men, drawn up in line of battle on an eligible position awaiting my arrival. His skirmishers were well advanced to the front. As soon as I perceived his disposition, I threw out skirmishers to the front and right flank, and advanced my column under their cover.

Cole states he was “proceeding to Upperville,” but others involved mentioned the site of this skirmish at Rector’s Cross Roads (modern day Atoka). That section of the Little River Turnpike is among the most often skirmished over in Virginia.  And it is the location where Mosby’s rangers were formed earlier in the year.  After building up the skirmish, Cole pressed the issue:

When within about 1,000 yards of the enemy’s line I ordered a charge, when they broke and scattered in wild dismay. The result of the skirmish w.as a loss on the part of the enemy, 1 man killed and 8 prisoners, without experiencing any loss on my part. I also recaptured a man of the Nineteenth U.S. Infantry, recently captured by Mosby at Bull Run. I then encamped for the night near Upperville.

For what it is worth, Mosby did not mention this action in his summary report covering operations of August and September 1862.  In his history of Cole’s Cavalry, C. Armour Newcomer would recall the engagement at Upperville:

We had met Mosby upon his own ground, and considering that the command of Major Cole numbered only two hundred and fifty men when they left camp and had fought fully four hundred of the enemy at Rector’s Cross Roads, and got safely back to camp with only the loss of three killed, six wounded and seven taken prisoners.  Our forces had captured fifteen prisoners with their horses and arms and killed and wounded a number of the enemy, the number we were unable to know, and destroyed a tannery.  We considered that we had not gotten the worst in the raid….

This was not the first scrap between these two cavalry formations.  Nor would it be the last.  And of note here, Cole’s men confronted both Mosby’s Rangers and brushed Lieutenant-Colonel Elijah V. White’s 35th Virginia Cavalry earlier in the march. The “home-front” in northern Virginia was hardly a quiet sector of the war.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 29, Part II, Serial 48, pages 144-5; C. Armour Newcomer, Cole’s Cavalry, or, Three years in the Saddle in the Shenandoah Valley, Baltimore: Cushing & Company: 1895, pages 61-2.)

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2 responses to “150 Years Ago: Skirmishing with Mosby at Rector’s Cross Roads

  1. This is the incident that stirred my curiosity regarding Lt. Jonathan Rivers. In his early 30s (and a tanner by occupation… though he is in the 1860 census as a “city officer” in Baltimore), the guy impresses me for his idea about “taking point” with six hand-selected members from each of the four company’s of the battalion. What’s really too bad is… the man appears to have left no account of his days in blue.

  2. Pingback: With Lieutenant Rivers “on point” | Cenantua's Blog

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