by John Paul Strain
Major John S. Mosby & Captain Frank Stringfellow
Loudoun Heights, Virginia - January 10, 1864
A blanket of snow covered the Virginia countryside in the early days of January when Major John S. Mosby, commanding the 43rd Battalion of Partisan Rangers, received an intriguing communique.
The message was from Captain Frank Stringfellow, a well known trusted scout of J.E.B. Stuart andRobert E. Lee. Stringfellow had a reputation for providing accurate intelligence on enemy activity. Stringfellow’s plan was to attack and capture a Maryland Cavalry Battalion performing picket duty near the Hillsboro road at Loudoun Heights, a strategic passage leading to Harper’s Ferry. Stringfellow believed the enemy camp of 200 men could be easily surprised at night and captured while sleeping without firing a single shot.
Mosby considered the plan and knew attacking a much larger force would have to be performed with precision and stealth in order to be successful. He gathered his men on January 9th at Upperville, and the hard march to capture US Major Henry Cole’s Maryland Cavalry began. Major Mosby’s brother William later wrote about the night raid. “The snow covered the ground, an icy wind swept down through the passes of the neighboring Blue Ridge, and altogether the night was the coldest that ever broke away from the North Pole and wandered south of the Arctic circle - a splendid night for a surprise party.”
The Confederate column marched along the base of the Short Hills until it reached the Potomac River. The Rangers quietly moved up the river bank towards Harper’s Ferry. As they began their ascent up the mountain they could see Federal encampment fires across the river on the Maryland side. The steep icy snow-covered wooded cliffs could only be climbed by men leading their horses single file. At about 5am Mosby’s force of 100 men were finally in position to make their move to surprise the sleeping enemy. Mosby dismounted a portion of his force and they quietly captured the first row of Cole’s men sleeping in their tents. Suddenly a shot rang out from somewhere, (Mosby believed it was from Stringfellow’s men yelling and shooting). The element of surprise was gone and all hell and confusion broke loose. The Federals came pouring barefoot out of their tents armed with pistols and carbines. A number of Mosby’s faithful men were killed or wounded, and a hasty retreat towards Hillsboro was made carrying as many of their wounded as possible. The Rangers lost five men and six were wounded. Victory had been in their grasp but as so often happens in war, unforeseen events can change the course of history.
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