of the most important functions of the cavalry during the Civil War
involved the collection of intelligence. Skilled volunteers were
selected from many cavalry regiments and these brave men moved in
the advance or on the flanks of their regiments in order to prevent
any surprise attacks. Frequently, they moved independently to collect
information on the presence, condition, and intentions of the enemy
forces in their vicinity.
order to do this effectively, many of these men began to wear the
enemy's uniform as they conducted their operations. While in the
enemy's clothing, the volunteer scout was placing his life in his
hands. The commonly applied rules of war defined his presence within
the opposition's lines. Wearing the wrong uniform was defined as
an act of espionage, punishable by death. Their secret service to
their country involved hazardous activities and could lead to summary
execution, if apprehended. Dangers other than summary execution awaited
the volunteers, but both armies continued to locate volunteers to
perform the dangerous duty.
of the volunteers for scout duty, Arch Rowand, explained how he made
his decision to become a scout during an interview with a Harper's
reporter that happened long after the end of the war.
did you ever begin?"
was as I told you - Company K [1st West Virginia Cavalry] had been
on detached service - scout duty - for some time. When the company
was drawn up in line, and the captain called for volunteers for 'extra
dangerous duty,' I looked at Ike Harris and Ike looked at me and
then we both stepped forward. They took us to headquarters and gave
us two rebel uniforms - and we wished we had not come."
why did you volunteer?"
at me over his glasses. "I don't know! We were boys - wanted
to know what was the 'extra dangerous duty,' and" - chuckling
to himself at a hidden recollection, "when we found out, we
hadn't the face to back down." And that's how it all began.
the end of the war, Arch Rowand had led a life of adventure, winning
a Medal of Honor in the process. He would be one of the few scouts
selected to accompany Sheridan to Texas at the end of the Civil War
for the purpose of entering Mexico to collect information. He and
others would wear their old Confederate uniforms across the Rio Grande
as they collected vital information on the activities of the French,
Austrian, Belgian, and Mexican Imperial troops previously engaged
in support for the Confederacy.
Harris would continue to scout until May, 1864, when he would be
killed in an attempt to rescue a fellow scout, a volunteer from the
5th West Virginia Cavalry, C.W.D. Smitley. Harris was shot through
the heart on May 11, 1864, while he and Smitley were operating near
Wardensville, West Virginia.
concept involving the use of enlisted Union soldiers as scouts, in
enemy uniform, collecting information while operating in small groups
and raids when grouped in larger formations, developed early in the
war at St. Louis. These "Jessie Scouts" were named in honor
of General John C. Fremont's wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, and they
accompanied Fremont to Wheeling, West Virginia, early in 1862. Soon
after Fremont resigned his command, the scouts came under the control
of General Robert H. Milroy until General William W. Averell was
assigned command of what was to become the Fourth Separate Brigade,
composed of many of the West Virginia regiments formerly under the
command of Milroy.
Philip H. Sheridan was assigned to command in the Shenandoah Valley,
he ordered Averell to send him his oldest scouts. Averell sent Rowand,
Joseph McCabe, and four other men from his brigade. A seventh man,
Jim Campbell, from the Army of the Potomac's 2nd New York Cavalry
was also assigned to become one of Sheridan's headquarters scouts,
the nucleus of what was to become a much larger scout unit.
reporter for Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper encountered two of these
scouts as they prepared to move into Confederate territory during
the night of December 8, 1864. He wrote:
guests were congregated in his parlor …when the flow of conversation
was interrupted by the entrance of two men in Confederate uniforms
and overcoats who without even passing the compliments of the evening
took seats by the fire and removed their hats to better enjoy the
warmth, a proceeding that somewhat surprised the press while exciting
were not long however in becoming acquainted with the status of the
mysterious visitors equipped for the warpath as revealed by the pistol
butts from their holsters convenient for instant use.
identity was revealed to us covertly by our host, as members of the
secret organization known as the "Jessie Scouts" upon whom
General Sheridan relied to be kept informed as to the enemy's plans
and movements and that these two men, who were as dumb as oysters,
would abide with him till the midnight hour and steal away on their
was my first contact with this mysterious band, who could well say
they carried their lives in their hands, and as they sat there in
the play of the firelight, with lips sealed, for instinctively none
questioned them, they riveted my gaze and started my fancy and they
rose in my mind as heroes of the highest magnitude for the spy must
of necessity be a noble and courageous character. He must be patriotic,
quick-witted, intelligent and terribly in earnest or he will never
undertake the Secret Service of the Army.
unjust, I thought, that with all these qualifications and more, that
if captured, that he cannot share even the lot of his fellow captives
of the rank and file, the lot of the prisoner of war. His position
is disgrace, insult and speedy death. On the altar of his country,
he has laid his all, and yet his country is united with all other
countries in maintaining an understood international law that dooms
him to a dishonorable grave. Shame on such a law. The spy is a soldier
that daily bears the heaviest burdens and risks. Let him, say I,
have a soldier's honor.
others in the room were occupied with similar thoughts about the
strangers and speculated as to whether this would be their last mission
in their country's cause; whether a rope or a volley from a file
of men, would reward their venture. It is not pleasant to one with
a prospective doom hanging over him to have it anticipated in the
unconcealed glance of the solicitous friend, hence fearful that they
with whom my mind was filled would read my thoughts intense, I sought
another part of the room.
'Jessie Scouts,' named in compliment for the accomplished Jessie
Benton Fremont, were under the command of Major Young…"
initial Jessie Scout unit formed in St. Louis early in the war as
the plan to develop independent scouts was implemented. The first
man to command the scouts was Charles Carpenter once he convinced
Fremont that he possessed special qualifications. First, Carpenter
claimed to have escaped capture and trial during John Brown's raid
at Harper's Ferry by crawling through a covered drainage ditch. He
was able to build on his initial claims by actually going on secret
operations into Confederate territory. There is a map drawn in red
pencil on plain brown wrapping paper made by Charles Carpenter after
he had scouted along the Mississippi River.
appears that Carpenter actually penetrated into the defenses of Forts
Henry and Donelson while wearing a Confederate uniform. After receiving
a letter of commendation from General McClernand, he used the letter
to establish himself with other Union commanders as he began to embark
on a career as a swindler. One report mentioned his "fondness
for anything that wasn't tied down." Carpenter was able, however,
to remain in favor and he accompanied Fremont to Wheeling in early
about these "Jessie Scouts" began to appear in newspapers
soon after they arrived in the East. The Wheeling Intelligencer tells
about scams pulled by these rascals in their black velvet uniforms.
One article told of one of the scouts caught trying to evade a hotel
bill, with his female companion, by loading their baggage with that
of departing musicians. The scout was described as wearing a velvet
uniform and was forced to pay his bill, but he soon departed for
Charles Carpenter was ordered to be arrested by General Schofield
and the arrest report describes a man wearing a "velvet uniform
with an overabundance of brass buttons." One of Carpenter's
business cards is in the National Archives. He had made himself into
a "Special Military Detective" as he continued to swindle
people out of both money and possessions. Schofield was less easy
to impress that was McClernand and Carpenter was soon expelled from
the state of Missouri.
of the original group that came east with Fremont were soon back
in Missouri where at least one, a lieutenant, was arrested for the
confiscation of other people's property and jailed.
Fremont resigned, the scouts who remained in the east fell under
the command of Robert Milroy and reports of Jessie Scout activity
emerge wherever Milroy served. One account of a Jessie Scout was
written by Confederate General Hood's chief scout, Jack Cussons,
who described the capture and interrogation of a scout during the
battle of Second Manassas. The scout had attempted to deliver a false
verbal message to Hood to keep him from marching to the assistance
of Stonewall Jackson and the scout, once revealed, was hanged for
scout had been well prepared. He had a good cover story that was
discarded as the hostile interrogation intensified. In an effort
to divert his interrogators from his actual mission, he confessed
to the minor crime of impersonating an officer to impress a girl.
It is likely he would have survived the fatal interview through the
use of both his skill and wits, but the discovery of a dying Confederate
courier nearby, the man who he was impersonating, sealed his fate.
What is interesting to note is the evidence that these scouts reached
this level of sophistication in about one year.
the initial study of the materials related to the Jessie Scouts,
it became apparent that these reports may have also been bogus, developed
by soldiers involved in telling impressive "war stories," such
as those told by Charles Carpenter as he attempted to bilk citizens
out of their personal possessions. A second doubt involved C.W.D.
Smitley. If he was so good as a scout, why didn't he serve with the
scouts selected to operate directly under Sheridan? There were essentially
only two other scouts identified in the available literature to examine,
Arch Rowand and Ike Harris. Material on Rowand consisted of a few
short letters and an article written by a Harper's reporter, William
Gilmore Beymer. It was possible Rowand had expanded on his exploits.
story of the Jessie Scouts became a great deal clearer with the discovery
of Smitley's post-war letter to Franz Sigel. He had not been ordered
to Sheridan's headquarters in late Summer, 1864, and was missing
from the patrol with Ike Harris. Harris was dead and could not have
served with Sheridan's scouts. Jessie Scouts, who were called "Walking
Arsenals" by one observer who totally distrusted them, had become
a generic name for any Union scouts operating while wearing a Confederate
uniform. But there was actually one group of men who operated more
or less as a single unit until they were assembled in one command
by Philip Sheridan.
the period prior to serving under Sheridan, there are reports of
excellent scout activity associated with Averell and his raids inside
West Virginia. During his winter Salem Raid in December, 1863, there
is a report of scouts kidnapping a country doctor, forcing him to
lead Averell's column along little known country roads to safety.
Later, two Jessie Scouts were reported to have captured Bradley Johnson's
pickets near Moorefield, an act that led directly to the largest
surprise cavalry attack in North American history. Bradley Johnson's
Maryland men were decimated while John McCausland's brigade was also
was, however, under the command of Philip Sheridan that these scouts
were able to demonstrate their actual capability. Their initial,
and most significant, operation involved the recruitment of a young
Quaker schoolmistress, twenty-two year old Rebecca Wright, who lived
inside Confederate controlled Winchester, Virginia. Unable to approach
her directly, even in their Confederate uniforms, one of Sheridan's
scouts located a slave, Thomas Laws, who had been issued a pass to
pass through Confederate lines three times weekly to sell his produce.
Laws delivered an initial message, rolled compactly inside a pellet
of tin foil and carried inside his mouth, to Rebecca Wright.
Rebecca agreed to spy for Sheridan, her messages revealed the departure
of a significant number of Early's men, a full division of infantry
and an artillery battalion sent to reinforce Lee at Petersburg. Based
on her information, Sheridan ordered a general attack in September,
1864, that drove Early from Winchester and the much-exchanged town
remained in Union hands for the rest of the Civil War.
after the battle of Third Winchester, Sheridan decided to enlarge
his headquarters scouts into a "full scout battalion" and
he assigned its command to Major Henry Harrison Young, an officer
from the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Regiment. Sheridan made Young
his "Assistant Aide de Camp," a cover title to permit his
chief scout to operate more freely. Assuming that his Winchester
camp was fully penetrated by Confederate agents, Sheridan set the
size of his "scout battalion" at 500 men, an act that was
designed to magnify the actual number of scouts, which was less than
designed one of the first operations of his scouts. There are two
sources available that describe his daring act. Young took his men
south into the Shenandoah Valley from Winchester toward Harrisonburg
where they waited for a Confederate cavalry column to ride along.
Dressed in Confederate uniforms, Young and his men actually joined
with the larger cavalry unit and rode along with the column. Once
the Confederates were comfortable with their presence and settled
into a dozing ride, Young's men struck. Firing shotguns and pistols
into the surprised Confederates, Young and his men rode the entire
length of the cavalry column, firing as they did so. Confederate
casualties are unknown, but Young lost one scout in this daring operation.
There is apparently a Confederate account of this operation. Once
this is located, Young's raid will be more completely understood.
in the winter, Young and his men rode to nearby Edinburg, Virginia,
under the disguised mission of returning the body of a local Confederate
for proper burial, but their actual goal involved intelligence collection.
Once the true numbers of local defenders had been determined, Young
ordered a general attack and captured over a dozen of the local soldiers.
by nearly fifty regular Union cavalrymen from a New York regiment,
Young was certain that his force could handle any group the Confederates
could assemble to oppose his return to Winchester. Stopping for breakfast,
Young refused to budge from his chair, in spite of warnings of the
imminent arrival of a large force of Confederate cavalrymen. After
completing his breakfast, Young left, but his horse was shot down
and it was only through the intervention of Rowand and Jim Campbell
that his life was saved. The faulty aspect of his plan was that the
cavalrymen assigned to support his scouts were new, untried men,
instead of the veterans that he requested and they ran when they
came under fire. Young lost several men, including scout Tom Cassidy
in Confederate uniform and whose body was never found.
appears Sheridan developed a secret plan to go after partisan chief
Hanse McNeil during the same period. The elder McNeil had become
a significant thorn in Sheridan's side as major destructive raids
were led against the nearby Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. McNeil had
been allowed to remain active with his partisan rangers, along with
John Mosby, when the Confederate Congress ordered the other partisan
ranger units to disband.
October, 1864, McNeil was shot in the back by one of his own men
while leading an attack on a bridge at Mount Jackson, Virginia. The
man who shot McNeil, George Valentine, had been recently chastised
by his commander for stealing chickens, but more information on the
shooting has been located. Valentine was later identified as a "Jessie
Scout" after the shooting of McNeil. The question remains: was
Valentine a scout at the time of the shooting, infiltrated to kill
McNeil or did he become a Jessie Scout after killing his commander?
The answer has not been determined at this point, but there are indications
that Sheridan and Young planned such operations. There is initial
information that Young sent two of his men to enter Mosby's camp
as deserters to collect information on Mosby and a similar operation
against McNeil's Rangers is entirely plausible.
McNeil had been killed, Early sent Harry Gilmor, a man with considerable
experience raiding against trains, to replace McNeil. Gilmor had
once captured, but lost by escape, General Franklin on a train in
the vicinity of Baltimore and he had been court-martialed after his
men robbed a train. Once Gilmor's arrival became known to Sheridan's
staff, Young developed a plan to capture him.
teams of Jessie Scouts, one led by Arch Rowand, rode into Moorefield
to locate Gilmor and the home where he stayed. Once they fixed his
position at the Randolph House near the river, the scouts returned
to Winchester with their information. Once aware of Gilmor's position,
a large party of disguised scouts made up of twenty of Young's men,
including Rowand who was making his second trip to Moorefield in
three days, moved on Moorefield with an escort of 200 experienced
cavalrymen. Young had learned a lesson in the Edinburg disaster.
the middle on the night, Gilmor and his cousin, Hoffman, were rudely
awakened by armed scouts and escorted back to Winchester. Gilmor
was taken to Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor, where he was confined
for the remainder of the war. The Jessie Scouts had completed another
eliminated another threat on the outbound leg of the trip to capture
Gilmor. Having located the home of Captain George Stump's father,
the scouts stopped and were able to capture Stump. He apparently
resisted capture or attempted to escape. There are three separate
accounts of this episode in the war, but regardless of the account,
the results were the same. George Stump was shot dead. This must
have occurred on the ride to capture Gilmor, as Gilmor makes no mention
of the killing of Stump. Another captive of the Jessie Scouts, George
Opie, described Stump's body, blackened and frozen beside the road,
as he was taken into captivity.
was a serious secessionist who had sworn that he would never be taken
alive. While the actual story of his death remains unknown, it is
likely that he challenged the Jessie Scouts to a duel and lost. He
was normally so heavily armed that his own men referred to him as "Stump's
Battery," but his weapons didn't save him. There is a report
that the Jessie Scouts told Major Young that Stump was sick, too
sick to ride and Young replied, "Make him sicker!" Another
report exists that Stump tried to take a pistol from a guard while
they were riding along and Young warned him that he would be shot
if he made another similar attempt. Stump made another try to snatch
a pistol, this time the one belonging to Young, who ordered his men,
simply, "Plug him!" It is equally likely that the pugnacious
Stump challenged the scouts to a duel and died in it.
scouts under Henry Young continued to operate under Sheridan for
the rest of the winter of 1865. Sheridan was later to note that there
was little that he did not know about the enemy within fifty miles
of his base because of the actions of his scouts. They were to play
a part in a major deception plan in early 1865 as Sheridan prepared
to move against Early who was located in the vicinity of Staunton,
camp was penetrated by Confederate spies who would get word of any
preparations to attack Early, therefore the Union commander had to
conceal his preparations or Early would be able to concentrate his
forces before any Union attack. Many of Sheridan's officers had been
amusing themselves during the winter months by organizing fox hunts
and Sheridan decided to use this as a ruse to surprise Early. Orders
were given to organize a giant fox hunt and preparations were made,
dogs collected by the scouts, and shoes put on many horses. A few
enterprising scouts were even able to obtain a few foxes that were
prominently displayed in the Federal camp. Soon after all was made
ready for the hunt, Sheridan ordered his army to strike Early and
within days, the Confederate army defending the Shenandoah Valley
was defeated and nearly destroyed at Waynesboro. Sheridan had been
ordered to strike south, capture Lynchburg, and continue forward
until he was able to link up with Sherman's army in North Carolina.
however, given discretionary authority to join Grant at Petersburg,
if he believed this to be the best course of action. Once Sheridan
was near Lynchburg, he decided to ride to join with Grant. In order
to inform Grant, as well as to request fodder his animals and food
for the men, Sheridan had to send messengers through Confederate
territory. He selected Young's scouts to do the job.
Rowand and Jim Campbell were given notes, wrapped in tin foil to
be swallowed if they were captured, and sent on horseback toward
Grant. Shortly afterward, Dominick Fannin and Frederick Moore were
placed in a row boat and ordered to float downstream to Richmond,
to walk on to Petersburg where they were to enter the Confederate
trenches to fight against Grant's army. They were ordered to desert
at the first opportunity and deliver their message to Grant. Rowand
and Campbell arrived first, after losing their horses and Rowand
losing his pants. They delivered the message after walking the last
five miles. Fannin and Moore arrived the following day with the duplicate
message for Grant.
arrived with his huge cavalry force and was able to find Lee's right
flank at Five Forks, the beginning of the end for Lee. During the
final stages of this battle, Young and his men rode up to a Confederate
officer, General Felix Barringer, and reported that they had located
a camp for him and his staff for the night. Once the Confederate
general and his staff was separated from their brigade, Young's men
pulled pistols and captured all of them.
was Jim White, one of Young's scouts who had originally been assigned
to the 1st West Virginia Cavalry, who managed to ensure Lee's defeat
at Appomattox, instead of allowing Lee to escape to continue the
war. White had captured one of Lee's couriers with a telegram ordering
trains to move from Lynchburg with rations to meet the army near
Appomattox. White kept the telegram and intercepted the first train,
impersonating Lee's courier, and told the train engineers to follow
him down the tracks where all four trains were captured by cavalry
under Custer. Lacking food and supplies and with his route to safety
blocked, Lee chose to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia.
ordered a large element of his army to continue toward Sherman and
the anticipated battle with Joseph Johnston. The scouts were able
to assist in a very unusual manner. Blocked by a wide river, the
cavalry was being out-marched by the infantry on the opposite side
of the bridgeless stream. Scouts were sent up and downstream with
orders to confiscate all ferry boats in the area and have them poled
to a central location. Once there, the ferry boats were chained end
to end, forming a long, curved bridge over which the cavalry crossed.
The cavalrymen were able to catch up with the infantry through the
fine, innovative efforts of the Jessie Scouts. Their actions in constructing
this temporary bridge would have become a legend if it had occurred
as part of a war time campaign. As it was, they did this just after
the end of the Civil War when everyone was distracted by both peace
and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
and at least two scouts, Arch Rowand and Jim White, and probably
a few more, were ordered to accompany Sheridan to Texas immediately
after the cessation of hostilities. Sheridan was sent west to force
the final remaining Confederate, Kirby Smith, to surrender, but he
was also ordered to place a strong force on the border with Mexico.
the Civil War, France had occupied Mexico, ostensibly to force repayment
of a large debt, and soon, Napoleon III had placed an Austrian nobleman
on an imperial throne in Mexico City. Maximilian and his Belgian
wife, Carlota, ruled Mexico with the support of the French army,
which was augmented by Austrian troops, the Belgian Legion, and Imperial
Mexicans. Together, they had managed to force the liberal army under
the leadership of Benito Juarez to retreat far from the capital city.
By the conclusion of the Civil War, Juarez was able to control only
a small section of territory along the international border near
the present-day city of El Paso.
Imperial Mexicans and the French had actively supported the Confederacy
and at the height of the Union blockade, the Mexican port of Matamoras
was providing a great amount of the Confederacy's imports. With their
history of support for the Confederacy and the movement of large
numbers of former Confederate soldiers into Mexico, Grant began to
be alarmed about the possibility of renewed hostilities from a Franco-Mexican-Rebel
League that appeared to be forming. Once this possibility was recognized,
Grant convinced Secretary of War Stanton and President Johnson of
the potential danger they faced of a renewed war.
was ordered to place his strongest formations on the border as
a demonstration of their intention to prevent any moves by the
French, one of the world's superpowers at the time, toward the
United States. At this time, Sheridan began to send his "trusty scouts," as
he referred to them in telegraphed reports to Grant, into northern
Mexico to collect information on the French army and their allies.
Young, Rowand, and White were soon back into their old Confederate
uniforms as they rode across the Rio Grande, posing as Confederate
soldiers seeking to escape from the Union army's occupation of
their home state.
of the reports of their scouting operations were lost or safely filed
away as they were all classified. The little that has emerged from
the research shows that multiple trips were made into Mexico and,
at one time, they were actively planning to kidnap the Imperial commander
in Matamoras, General Meijia, as they had done with Harry Gilmor.
Sheridan wrote to Grant that the loss of Meijia would have a major
disrupting impact on the imperial defenders in that border city.
is very likely that the Jessie Scouts assisted in the delivery of
funds from Sheridan's headquarters to Juarez in what Sheridan described
as a "covert program" of supporting the Mexican liberals
against Maxmilian's army. What is known is that large amounts of
weapons were transferred from captured Confederate depots, as Sheridan
said, "30,000 stand of muskets from the Baton Rouge Arsenal
alone," to Juarez' army as they began to win victories. The
magnitude of this "covert" operation was enormous and Grant
made arrangements for General Schofield to take a leave of absence
to command all of the liberal forces in their war against the French
and their allies. Interestingly, Secretary of State Stanton opposed
their plans and worked behind the scenes to bring about a diplomatic
solution, going as far as securing the services of Schofield as an
emissary to Paris.
in 1866, possibly in December, Lt. Col. Henry Young escorted a large
group of veteran soldiers into Mexico where they had volunteered
to serve as a body guard for one of Juarez' commanders, General Escobedo.
Sheridan later wrote that Young had done this on his own, as a private
citizen, and he, Sheridan, had loaned money to him for the expedition.
Sheridan also told two slightly differing versions of this story.
had signed for the funds advanced by Sheridan, official funds from
the Secret Service Fund managed by Sheridan. A hand receipt exists
in the National Archives that records the transfer of $3,000 from
the Secret Service Fund to Young "for any purpose" and
Young signed this as "Lt. Col. Henry H. Young, US Army." Young's
mission was official, not a private expedition.
of the source of inspiration or funding, Young was killed as his
small element crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico. A large group,
described by Sheridan as "renegade rebels and Mexicans," attacked
Young's party in an attempt to take the money in Young's possession.
Young's body was lost in the river and never recovered.
had been ill and was discharged from the army. He returned to his
home in Pittsburgh, but he wrote immediately to Sheridan when he
received news of Young's death. It is a measure of the high regard
Sheridan had for these Union privates when his response to Rowand
Jessie Scouts were down to possibly a single man, Sergeant Jim White,
a man who would soon embark on an adventure closely approximating
that taken by a fellow West Virginian, Andrew Rowan, as he carried
the famous "Message to Garcia" just prior to the outbreak
of the Spanish-American War. Secretary of State Seward had been asked
by the European powers to intercede on the behalf of Maxmilian, who
was losing the war with Juarez and in danger of execution.
a minister, a diplomatic presence inside Mexico, Seward requested
the assistance of Sheridan in getting a message to Juarez' generals
deep in the interior of Mexico. Sheridan sent for Jim White, formerly
of the 1st West Virginia Cavalry. White was placed on a chartered
ship, the Black Bird, that sailed to either Vera Cruz or Tampico
and he rode to Queretaro, located 100 miles north of Mexico City
and delivered his message. He was also able to ride to safety back
in the United States, completing the last operation of the Jessie
L. Phillips. All rights reserved.
(This article cannot be reproduced in any form without written permission
from the author.)