In the early morning hours of February 16, 1862, after learning the garrison of Confederate troops under General Simon Buckner at Fort Donelson, near Dover, Tennessee was about to surrender, Lieutenant-Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest led his Confederate cavalrymen from Donelson to safety before sharing in the humiliation of surrender to Federal forces under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant.
On the evening of September 14, 1862, 14,000 Federal soldiers at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, under the command of Colonel Dixon S. Miles, a 43 year veteran of the United States Army were surrounded on three-sides by 23,000 Confederate soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson. Among the besieged Harpers Ferry garrison were 1,594 Federal cavalrymen hoping to receive orders to duplicate Forrest’s performance.
The cavalry units were: the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, also known as Cole’s Battalion, the Loudoun Virginia Rangers, 7th Squadron Rhode Island, 8th New York, 12th Illinois, and Companies H and I, 1st Maryland. These units represented the only Federal cavalry force in the lower Shenandoah Valley.
The Federal cavalrymen realized the useless dilemma they found themselves confronting. If the cavalrymen surrendered along with over 12,000 infantrymen and artillerymen, their horses, equipment, and weapons would prove to be of valuable use to Major-General Jeb Stuart’s Confederate cavalrymen. Escape was the only option.
All of the Federal cavalrymen knew that it was going to be a daring effort, accepting the dangerous toils that were ahead. As one soldier from the 12th Illinois wrote, “The enemy was believed to be in strong force on the road chosen, and there were unknown dangers to be met.” What challenges and drama would the cavalry face? What was Colonel Benjamin “Grimes” Davis’ role in the escape?
Escape Across the Potomac is a historical work taken from twenty-five various diaries, letters, and newspaper articles. Included in the project are reports from the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, period newspaper articles, civilian memoirs, references, and period photographs of soldiers and locations.
The Civil War Courier wrote, “All the historical events are accurate, and the book is interesting and easy to read.” and “well researched.” The Courier added, “The book is an asset to any student or enthusiast of the 1862 Maryland Campaign.”
In 2010, Escape Across The Potomac appeared on the USA Book NewsWebsite under recommended reading in history.