An outstanding Confederate cavalry unit during the American Civil War
The Confederate cavalry unit that bore the name of the fearsome Indian tribe of the American south-west was, in fact, The 35th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, which was also known as White's Battalion or White's Rebels. It was raised by Elijah V. (Lige) White in Loudoun County, Virginia during the winter of 1861-62. The battalion-it was never large enough to be termed a regiment- was initially formed to operate as border guards along the Potomac River below Harpers Ferry, but was eventually mustered into the regular Southern states army, serving in the latter part of the war as part of the renowned Laurel Brigade. The Comanches also took part in partisan warfare throughout the war. The battalion was active during the Gettysburg Campaign,1863 particularly in the Battle of Brandy Station and it thereafter conducted a series of raids on Union-held railroads and defensive positions in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The battalion's battle history was an impressive one. These six companies-five from Virginia and one from Maryland-also fought during Jackson's Valley Campaign, The Waterford Fight, The Beefsteak Raid, The Battle of High Bridge and the Battle of Cedar Creek. An interesting extract from the history of the Laurel Brigade by McDonald accompanies the principal text. Includes photographs and illustrations not present in the original texts.
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The morning of June 9th, while the men, worried out by the military foppery and display (which was Stuart’s greatest weakness) of the previous day’s review, were yet under their blankets, the enemy sounded for them the reveille from the smoking muzzles of carbines and revolvers, as they drove the 6th Regiment vedettes from their position on the river, and it was very soon discovered that a heavy force had crossed at Kelly’s and Beverly’s fords for the purpose of continuing the review, but in a different style, and but for the prompt action of Gen. Jones, would have had all of Stuart’s artillery almost before that officer waked up.
The regiments moved rapidly to the front, as soon as the men could obey the boot and saddle bugle call, and with the first that came, which were the 6th and 7th Regiments, Gen. Jones met and checked the enemy, and arrangements for the battle, which was now inevitable, were made as quickly as possible. Col. White was ordered with his battalion, to support the 12th Regiment, which was ordered forward to make a charge; and he at once began to form his men in line of battle, but before it could be completed, Gen. Jones called to him to charge, which he immediately did, riding at a gallop towards the point where the firing showed that the 12th was into it heavy,.
But after going about two hundred yards, was met by that regiment in full retreat, and whose disordered ranks threw the right wing of the battalion in confusion, and checked for a time the advance of the “Comanches,” but order was quickly restored, and again dashing forward they threw themselves upon the enemy, whose column, flushed with their successful charge on the 12th, was rapidly advancing, but after a sharp fight of a few minutes were compelled to retire before the irresistible onset of White’s men. The colonel says, in his official report, that not a man faltered, but with yells that a “Comanche” might envy, they pressed forward, each man striving to gain the foremost rank and ride with his commander.
The Yankees were driven over the field and about a hundred yards into the woods, where they met fresh troops coming up, and White’s people were in turn compelled to retire, but rallying at the edge of the woods, they again charged upon the overwhelming forces of the enemy, and not only checked their advance, which was all the colonel hoped to do, but completely routed them and drove their demoralised line for half a mile through the pines.
In this charge they captured about forty prisoners, and killing General Davis, who was vainly endeavouring to rally his flying troopers, and also a brave major, who, after a fierce sabre fight with Wm. Shehan, of Co. B, in which both were severely handled, was compelled to surrender to the gallant Confederate.
While the battalion was thus occupied in front, a regiment of the enemy came in their rear and attempted to charge, but wheeling his left squadron, the colonel met and drove them back in splendid style, the men all fighting with the greatest enthusiasm, but Lieut. Crown, Co. B, especially distinguishing himself.
About this time, Gen. Jones became aware that a strong party of the enemy had succeeded in flanking Stuart’s position, and were approaching from the direction of Culpeper Court-House, and he at once sent the information to General Stuart, who said to the courier, “Tell Gen. Jones to attend to the Yankees in his front, and I’ll watch the flanks.”
When this reply was communicated to Jones, he remarked: “So he thinks they ain’t coming, does he? Well, let him alone; he’ll damned soon see for himself.” And he did see, for about one o’clock the flanking force appeared exactly in rear of, and very near Stuart’s headquarters; and again Col. White was ordered to follow and support the 12th Regiment in case of need; but on arriving near the house, Gen. Stuart ordered White to form his battalion on the right of the road leading to the Court-House and charge the squadrons of the enemy on the high ground around the general’s headquarters.
And here again, just as Col. White commenced to move, a squadron of the 12th, which had met the enemy and been defeated, broke the line of the battalion, badly deranging its right wing, and causing the loss of valuable time, but the colonel ordered Major Ferneyhough to charge with the first squadron (Companies A and D) which had not been broken, upon those squadrons of the enemy in front of the house, while with two squadrons (Companies B, C, E and F) he charged a regiment in rear and to the left of the building.
Both charges were successful, the enemy being driven down the road towards the Rail Road, but while the colonel with his party was pressing them, a regiment passed between him and the hill, cutting off the first squadron and again occupying the ground from which they had just been driven.
As soon as the colonel discovered this situation of affairs, he withdrew all but twenty men from the pursuit, and renewed the contest for the possession of the hill, which, after a spirited fight, he succeeded in gaining, driving off the regiment and killing its colonel.