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Black Horse Troop. [from the Baltimore, Md., Herald, February, 1902.]

Some Reminiscences of this famous command.

One of the most gallant and picturesque contingents of the Army of Northern Virginia was that famous company of cavalry known as the Black Horse Troop, which won such bright laurels for its daring exploits and the valuable aid it rendered the Confederate commanders in some of the greatest engagements of the Civil war.

In many respects, it was a remarkable body of men, composed as it was of handsome, strapping, debonair Virginians, admirably horsed and equipped, in whose nature the spirit of chivalry was an abiding trait that marked the fight of their banner from the outbreak to the close of the rebellion.

Recruited from the best blood among the young planters and yeomanry of the Piedmont region, as a company they were practically ‘free lancers;’ courage came easy to them, and no braver band of cavaliers ever followed the plumes of Rupert or of Arthur. They wielded their sabres like the cuirassers of old, and used their pistols with the truth and nerve of expert marksmen. So familiar were they with the country in which they operated that they kept the enemy constantly speculating on their movements by checkmating him at every point in the game of war, and achieved such prestige by their strange lobiquity and strategem that the name of their little legion among the enemy became a watchword for danger and a signal for action.

The Black Horse was organized at Warrenton in 1859, just two years before the war cloud broke over the land, and first figured at Harper's Ferry in the John Brown raid.

Colonel John Scott, of Fauquier, was its first captain, and gave the troop its name. Colonel Scott, who had retired from active life, was for a generation a conspicuous figure in that section of the State as Commonwealth's Attorney, and is known as the author of The Lost Principle and a Life of Mosby.

On the 16th of May, 86, at the Fauquier White Sulphur Springs, reorganization was affected with requisitions from the Warrenton Rifles and the Powhatan Guards, of Southwestern Virginia. [143]

The following officers were sworn in:

William H. Payne, Captain; Robert Randolph, A. D. Payne, Charles H. Gordon, James H. Childs, Robert Mitchell, and Richard Lewis, Lieutenants; Willington Millon, Madison C. Tyler, George H. Shumate, and N. A. Clopton, Corporals; William Johnson, Bugler; William E. Gaskins, Quartermaster; Rev. A. D. Pollock, Chaplain.

The company then numbered ninety-six men. Its fine appearance soon attracted the attention of the great cavalry leaders under Lee, and it was appointed to serve as a body guard to General Joseph E. Johnston. It was subsequently incorporated into the regular cavalry service, and permission was given to recruit as a battalion.

At the battle of Bull Run the Black Horse won its first spurs. Sir William Russell, who represented the London Times as war correspondent, wrote such a graphic and amusing account of the terror which the black horses of the Virginians inspired, that he afterward became known in both armies by the sobriquet of ‘Bull Run Russell.’ In the crowd of northern civilians who went from Washington to view the first great battle on Virginia soil was ‘a lady with an opera-glass,’ writes Russell.

When an unusually heavy discharge raised the current of her blood, she exclaimed:

This is splendid! Oh, my! Is not that first-rate? I guess we will be in Richmond this time to-morrow.

Continuing, the English chronicler says:

The politicians who had come out to see the triumph of the Union arms, exclaimed:

We have them whipped at all points. We have taken all their batteries. They are retreating as fast as they can, and we are after them.

The Congressmen shook hands and cried out:

Bully for us! Bravo! Didn't I tell you so?

Later in the day, however, these sanguine claims were changed to tones of dismay. The “Black horses” had made their appearance and created such consternation among McDowell's men that they were magnified into thousands.

Another glimpse of the black horsemen was followed by shouts from the terrified Federals, “Cavalry! Cavalry!” Then some one raised their fears by remarking, “There will be cavalry after them soon enough; 20,000 of the best horsemen in the world in old Virginia.” The ensuing pandemonium has few parallels in warfare, and [144] above the din could be heard the voices of McDowell's men, “We are whipped! Whipped like h—l!”

In the famous charge at the battle of Williamsburg, with all the color-bearers and buglers at the head of the column, with not a saber or pistol drawn in the whole regiment, and impeded by a dense wood, where they had run into the mouth of McClellan's army of 50,000 strong, the sable plumes of the Black Horse waved, and when Colonel Wickham was disabled, General (then Major) William H. Payne, took command, and was himself next day badly wounded.

Details were at that time made from the Black Horse to carry dispatches between the general commanding and Fort Magruder. Judge James Keith, now president of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, who was a private in the company, made many marvellous escapes from capture and greatly distinguished himself.

General Longstreet, wishing men for picket duty, after failing to secure a satisfactory guide in that region was much annoyed, when General Stuart remarked that he could always count on the Black Horse in emergencies. ‘Send to it,’ Stuart said, ‘and you will be furnished with a guide to any point in Virginia.’ It so happened that some of the men had attended William and Mary College as students, and knew the roads as well as their own, in Fauquier.

The Black Horse took part in the raid around McClellan simply for observation, and it was a miracle that they were not all captured.

No historian could follow them in the role they played in the Seven Days Fights. General Lee, learning that Burnside had moved by sea from North Carolina, to reinforce Stuart with his brigade, of which the Black Horse was a part, ordered them to make a reconnoissance in that direction.

The Black Horse saw some very active service and gained information that proved most valuable to the army. They afterward helped to drive Pope across the Rappahannock, and now, being in that part of the State where most of them were raised, the troop was called upon to supply scouts to the different commanders, and in the enemy's future movements upon General Pope's forces, was of great service. Stonewall Jackson soon discovered of a hat good stuff the Black Horse was composed and detailed the company to act at his headquarters as couriers.

Lieutenant A. D. Payne was sent back with half of the troopers to meet General Lee, who was following Jackson when marching against Pope's big army. It is said that the Black Horse looked [145] like a company of holiday soldiers, so gay were they in demeanor, and so well groomed were their horses.

At the second battle of Manassas they were engaged in carrying General Jackson's orders to and fro between the various commanders of the troops in action, thus bearing their part in that famous struggle, when a number of the corps were seriously wounded and several killed. Two privates of the Black Horse offered their beautiful chargers to Generals Lee and Jackson when they marched into Maryland. In the first Maryland campaign, before Jackson's corps entered Boonsboroa, he sent a squad of the Black Horse, commanded by Lieutenant A. D. Payne, through the town to picket the approaches from the opposite direction. Young Payne had nineteen men, and the charge was against twenty times that number, and General Jackson was saved from capture. It was a desperate attack, but the enemy was deceived and routed. Payne remarked to his men before the charge: ‘We must relieve our General at all hazards. I rely upon your courage to save him.’

In the winter of 1862-‘63 the Black Horse occupied their native heath and scouted every foot of the counties of Fauquier and Stafford, reporting all the movements of the enemy to Lee and Jackson, who complimented them for their effective service.

They took part in the various engagements of Stuart with Pleasanton's Cavalry, and in the fight at Waynesboroa against Sheridan's cohorts the Black Horse was the leading squadron. It was in this battle that one of Sheridan's captains displayed great valor, wounding four of the Black Horse with his sabre; and leading a charge, his men following but a short distance, the gallant Yankee captain galloped ahead without looking back, and was unaccompanied into the very head of the Confederate column. Not wishing to cut down so dashing a fellow, who had put himself in their power, no one fired on him. He was knocked from his saddle, however, and might have been dispatched but for Captain Henry Lee, who, observing a Masonic sign, rushed to his assistance and protected him.

Hugh Hamilton, an old Black Horse man, and the present Treasurer of Fauquier county, in relating reminiscences of those times to the writer, said, with a smile beaming over his bland but determined features: ‘When we boys were not in the thick of the fight, or engaged in carrying news and scouting, we were by no means supine. When there were no Yankees to watch or chase we would have fun over an impromptu fox hunt, or take possession of some private race track and stake our best riders and swiftest horses against each other [146] in match races. Our mounts were the best that money could buy, and as they were individual property, we had to replace them in the event of loss—which was generally done by capture from the enemy.’

The Green family furnished a liberal quota to the Black Horse, and they gave a good account of themselves. All three had figured in the great tournaments for which the Warrenton county was famous in ante-bellum days; and when called upon to enter the lists which involved life and property, their nerve, zeal and splendid horsemanship proved them to be not drawing-room knights, but soldiers in the Spartan sense of the word.

The Martin family also had three brothers in the troop, who acquitted themselves with dash and courage. There was none braver in the command than ‘JoshMartin, to whose memory the women of Warrenton have erected a monument.

When General Payne, who had been a colonel on Governor Wise's staff, was wounded, Lieutenant Robert Randolph, of the distinguished family of that name, assumed command, and shortly afterward lost his life. ‘Bob’ Randolph, as he was affectionately called by his comrades, came of virile stock, and was as valiant a soldier as ever fought and died for the doctrine of States' rights.

Upon the promotion of General Payne he was succeeded to the captaincy by his kinsman, Lieutenant A. D. Payne, who continued in command until the surrender. Captain Payne, whose untimely death, in 1893, was lamented throughout Virginia, had achieved distinction and success as a lawyer, and a brilliant tribute to his memory by the members of the Warrenton bar appears on the minutes of the Fauquier courts.

R. S. P.

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