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Riding with the “Winder Cavalry:” A newbie’s perspective

Posted on Thursday, January 5, 2017 at 10:13 am

Winder Cavalry

Winder Cavalry

My husband and I enjoy riding our two horses, and he being a history buff, we decided to explore the possibility of Civil War cavalry reenacting. We researched the internet’s many websites describing the different units and their degree of authenticity, history, their events, activities and how to join.  We found the website of 1st Maryland, Company E, “The Winder Cavalry” part of the “Valley Division”. The Winder Cavalry is a family unit made up of folks from all backgrounds and ages. Adults and children over 14 years can ride but must be 16 to be a combatant. Along with the usual unit introduction, they emphasized the differences in their company: More than any other company, “We Ride, We Fight!”

The gallery of videos and photos from recent events seems to support the statement. We are horse people, who enjoy riding our horses. We wanted to join a group that gives us the opportunity to ride as much as possible, while learning and living history, dressing in period attire and meeting fun, like minded people.

Our email inquiry bought a quick response. “We are always looking for and accepting new members,” was the reply by the unit’s president, Ruth Shipley. She invited us to visit and meet the members in Gettysburg, PA, where the company is headquartered.

During the trip from our home in Lancaster County, PA, we reviewed our list of questions and wondered what the day would bring. Upon arrival, we meet Ruth and her husband Garrett, the company captain. They quickly answered all of our questions, made us feel very welcome and at ease with our choice. We were invited to attend the company’s “Drill Day” and offered the use of the company’s loaner uniforms. We accepted, still wondering what might come of our new endeavor.

Two weeks later at the Union Mills Homestead near Westminster, MD, Bill and I pulled into the site with our two horses. (Union Mills Homestead is next to the Union Mills equestrian trails). Fifteen saddled horses were tied to long picket lines stretched between the trees. The horse owners, ages 15 to 64, were standing around talking about the planned activities. Introductions were made, and Corporal Dave Lovelace was assigned to be our mentor for the day. He was happy to help us unload our gear and made us feel welcome. Corporal Dave was full of helpful hints, like showing us how to tie the horses to the line, get saddled and dressed. Everyone was very helpful and quick to come to our aide, when needed.

Saturday morning at 9:45 a.m. our conversation was interrupted by 1st Sgt. Steve Glassman’s bugle announcing first call. These very pleasant people tucked their hair under their hats, removed their sunglasses and strapped on sabers and pistols. Standing next to their horses, they transformed into hardened troopers. After weapons and equipment inspection by Lieutenant PJ Fahey, the bugle sounded mount and form up. Corporal Dave instructed us where to fall in and how to count by fours. Lt. Colonel Jim McGlincy, cavalry commander of the Valley Division, who always rides with the Winder Cavalry, watched as the company moved from fours to twos , then file (single) and back to fours. We then turned, wheeled, oblique, formed a line of battle. When the Lt. Colonel and Captain were satisfied with our efforts, we broke into two squads. “I remembered the sabers, which I thought were for show?” After a review of safety procedure, the two squads engaged each other, with sabers flashing and clashing. They also practiced firing pistols, short arms and carbines from the horses back. We were offered sabers and pistols.  I declined, but Bill, with a look of concern on his face, took up the challenge. We were told the best way to learn is with experienced riders and horses. The horses will follow along with their new friends. With Corporal Dave riding along side, he led my once gentle husband on a saber charge. The colonel calls saber fighting “Grim work.” This “Grim work” must appeal to my husband, as Bill was all smiles as he came out of the saber fight.

Later, the whole company reformed, (returned to original position) and marched off, “guide on the head of the column.” We rode over a wooden foot bridge, we rode through fields, past an abandoned house, across a metal bridge, then onto the equestrian center trails, all the while 1st Sgt. Steve telling us to keep our spacing, close ranks, dress your lines, all as he rode around the column checking for cars and keeping everyone safe. Once on the trail it was single file, as we crossed two creeks, rode through the woods, and came upon a spot called Carroll County’s “Grand Canyon,” a high ridge overlooking the creek below.

We had been on the horses for about 2 and 1/2 hours. We were then ordered to dismount and walk the horses down the hill to a wooded area. We watered and tied the horses in the shade of the trees. The guys all had haversacks, or pillow cases, tied to their saddles with lunch for themselves and horse. We ate and drank from our canteens.  After resting the horses and ourselves, we were all back in the saddle and on our way back to the Mills Homestead property.

As we returned, the colonel ordered, “Scouts to the front of the column” two riders with carbines moved about 100 yards out in front of the column. Unknown to us, Colonel Jim has arranged for us to be attacked by one of the other companies drilling that day. Shots rang out, as the scouts fired their guns. An order was issued for 1st squad to ride up and support the scouts. The second squad (along with us) was ordered to flank’em. Our lieutenant, PJ Fahey orders “draw pistols.” As we were unarmed, Pvt. Sylvia Glassmann, who rides with the colonel, in charge of the first aid bag, tells us to stand with her. As the first squad and scouts attack the enemy unit from the front, Lt. Col. Jim, joins PJ and Dave for attack from the flank. Our guys drive them off, into a group of trees. The 1st Sgt blows recall on his bugle and the company reformed. With the scouts again out front, we rode on. To my surprise, we are again attacked, before we could reach the safety of the Homestead. This time we formed a line of battle (Bill and I included), we raise “the Yell,” and charge them.

My husband cannot get enough of this, I must admit, your adrenalin rises and your heart does beat faster. Five hours after mounting up, we returned to “Camp.” We received final instructions, “dismount, and dismissed.” We walked the horses to the picket lines and unsaddle. We are told our next event is camping out for two nights and three days at a reenactment. After loading our horses in the trailer, we were off to Gettysburg. We needed to buy hats and canteens before our next battle. We both can’t wait for the next part of our introduction to reenacting.

Founded in 1996, 1st Maryland Cavalry, Company E, CSA, “The Winder Cavalry” is a member of the Valley Division. We are headquartered in Gettysburg, PA. For more information the website is The Valley Division is one of oldest serving umbrella groups, with independent member units throughout the eastern seaboard.  Valley Division website address is Shelly and Bill Cartwright live in Elizabethtown, PA. They can be reached thru the 1st Maryland Cavalry.

-By Bill and Shelly Cartwright