The Black Horse Troop
[From the Richmond (Va.) Times, Feb. 23, 1896.]
One of the most gallant, serviceable, 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 information and 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 natures the spirit of chivalry was an abiding trait that marked the flight of their banner from the outbreak to the close of the war.
They wielded their sabres like the cuirassiers of old, and used their pistols with the truth and nerve of expert marksmen. They so familiarized themselves with the country in which they operated, that they kept the enemy continuously speculating on their movements by checkmating them at every point in the game of war, and achieved such prestige by their strange ubiquity and stratagem that the name of their little legion became a watchword for danger and a signal for action with the Union troops. The Black Horse was organized in 1859, just two years before the war broke out, and first figured at Harper's Ferry in the John Brown raid.
Colonel John Scott, of Warrenton, Virginia, was its first captain, and gave the troop its name. Colonel Scott, who has retired from active life, was for many years a conspicuous figure in that section of the State as Commonwealth's Attorney, and is well known as the author of "The Lost Principle," a "Life of Mosby," and other literary works. Its next commander was the gallant Bob Randolph, of the distinguished family of that name, and who was afterwards promoted to Colonel.
On the 18th of May, 1861, the following officers of the Black Horse were sworn in: William H. Payne, captain; Robert Randolph, C. H. Gordon, A. D. Payne, lieutenants; William Smith, James H. Childs, Robert Mitchell, Richard Lewis, sergeants; Willington Millon, Madison C. Tyler, George N. Shumate, N. A. Clopton, corporals; William Johnson, bugler, and William E. Gaskins, quartermaster. They were subsequently incorporated into the Fourth Virginia Regiment, and permission was given to recruit it for a battalion. The first sustained march of the Black Horse was to Harper's Ferry. It afterwards advanced to Manassas and Fairfax Courthouse: its work at the battle of Bull Run was so graphically reported by the Union troops that further comment is unnecessary. The company numbered over one hundred men, and its fine appearance had begun to attract the attention of the great cavalry leaders under Lee, and it was appointed to serve as a body guard to General Joseph E. Johnston.
DEEDS OF DARING.
The families of Fauquier and adjoining counties, from each of which two or more members of the Black Horse had been recruited, were the Carters, Childses, Colberts, Downmans, Diggses, Edmonds, Fants, Greens, Gordons, Gaskinses, Georges, Helmns, Huntons, Hamiltons, Keiths, Lewises, Lees, Lornaxes, Lathams, Martins, Paynes, Rectors, Scotts, Smiths, Striblings, Talliaferros, and Vapes. Other families were represented by Lawrence Ashton, William Bowen, J. E. Barbour, William Ficklin, R. A. Grey, Alexander Hunter, Robert Hart, George L. Holland, Strother Jones, T. N. Pilcher, John Robinson, James Rector, W. A. Smoot, William Spilman, W. B. Skinker, William H. Triplett, Madison Tyler, Johnsie Longue, J. W. Towson, W. N. Thorn, Melville Withers, and others.
In its operations, until the army began its movement from Manassas to Yorktown, the Black Horse, being familiar with the counties of Prince William, Fauquier, and Culpeper, through which the army was about to cross, and having a complete knowledge of the roads, water-courses, and points suitable for camping, was of great value in furnishing guides, for which purpose large details were made from it.
In that famous charge at the battle of Williamsburg, with all the color-bearers and buglers at the head of the columns, with not a sabre 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 fifty thousand strong, the sable plumes of the Black Horse waved, and when Colonel Wickham was pierced through the body, 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 McGruder. Judge James Keith, of the present Court of Appeals of Virginia, then a private in the company, is said to have made many marvelous escapes, and greatly distinguished himself.
General Longstreet, wishing men for picket duty, after failing to secure a guide from that section of the country, was much annoyed, when General Stuart remarked that he always counted 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 is a miracle that they were not all captured.
No historian has yet been born who could follow the Black Horse in the role it played in the seven days' fight. General Lee, learning that Burnside had moved by sea from North Carolina to reinforce General Pope, as McClellan was at Fredericksburg, sent General Stuart with his brigade, of which the Black Horse formed a part, to make a reconnoissance in that direction. The Black Horse saw some very active service and gained information that proved valuable to the army. They afterwards helped to drive Pope across the Rappahannock, and now being in that part of the State in which many of them were reared, the troop was called upon to furnish guides to the different commanders, and in the army's future movements upon General Pope, was of great service.
Stonewall Jackson soon discovered what good stuff the Black Horse was composed of, and detailed the company to act at his headquarters as guides and couriers. Captain A. D. Payne, who was then first lieutenant, was sent back with half of the troopers to meet General Lee, who was following Jackson when marching against Pope's great army. It is said that the Black Horse looked 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 witnessing and 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 General Jackson's corps entered Boonesboro, 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. Lieutenant Payne had nineteen men and the charge was against twenty times their number, but General Jackson was saved from capture. It was a desperate charge and the enemy was deceived and routed. Payne remarked to his men: "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 the counties of Fauquier and Stafford thoroughly, reporting all the movements of the enemy to Generals Lee and Jackson, who complimented them for their effective service. They participated in the various engagements of Stuart with Pleasanton's cavalry, and in the fight at Waynesboro against Sheridan's famous cohorts, the Black Horse was the leading squadron of the Fourth Virginia. 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 dashed on without looking behind and was unaccompanied, into the very head of the Black Horse column. Not wishing to cut down so dashing a fellow, who had put himself in their power, no one fired at him. Some of the men knocked him from his horse, when Captain Henry Lee observing a Masonic sign, rushed to his assistance, and saved him from further harm.
Mr. Hugh Hamilton, an old Black Horseman, who is now treasurer of Fauquier county, in relating his reminiscences of those times, said the other day with a smile playing over his bland and good-natured features: "When we boys were not in the thick of the fight, or engaged in carrying news and scouting, we were not supine. With no Federals to shoot or watch, we would have fun over an impromptu fox chase, or take possession of some private half-mile track, and stake our best riders and swiftest horses against each other 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 generous quota to the Black Horse, and they all distinguished themselves in one way or another. All three of them had figured in the great tournaments for which that section 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 toy knights, but soldiers in the Spartan sense of the word.
When general William H. Payne was promoted, he was succeeded as captain, by Lieutenant Robert Randolph, and Lieutenant A.D. Payne followed Captain Randolph, and was the last captain of the Black Horse. General Payne has frequently been offered preferment since the war, but has turned his heart away from political life, and is content to follow the quiet pursuits of his profession. He is still in the vigor of manhood, and is the present counsel for the Richmond and Danville system of the Southern Railroad.
Captain A.D. Payne, whose untimely death about two years ago, was deeply lamented in 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 court.
At the close of the war, when the Black Horse disbanded at Warrenton, General Payne delivered a valedictory to the men from his saddle, which is said, by those who were present, to have been a gem of emotional eloquence.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. XXIV. Richmond, Va., January-December. 1896.
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