Confederate infantry was fully engaged with ours in the centre, the order was given for the cavalry divisions to charge both flanks of the enemy's line.
The bugles sounded, the horses caught the spirit of the hour, and pressed forward with steady but resistless speed; seven thousand troopers, with drawn sabres, sent up a battle yell wild enough to wake the slain over whom we galloped, and we were in the midst of that grandest of martial movements — a genuine cavalry charge.
The effect was magical.
The enemy's mounted troops first made a stout resistance, then scattered like sheep to the hills, and his infantry line, having both flanks turned back upon itself by our cavalry, and its centre crushed by a final magnificent charge 6f our infantry, broke in confusion, and started southward in confused retreat.
Panic seized every part of the rebel force; infantry vied with artillery, and both with the wagon trains, in a harum-scarum race for the Cedar creek
ford, and, as the sun went down, the army, which at daybreak had gained one of the most dramatic and overwhelming victories of the war, was a frantic rabble, decimated in numbers, and flying before the same army it had, twelve hours before, so completely surprised and routed.
Our cavalry pressed the pursuit with a vehemence and success that astonished even the much-expecting Sheridan
Merritt on the left of the pike, and Custer
on the right, met with no opposition from the scared and fugitive mob of mingled “horse, foot, and dragoons.”
The pike was blockaded for miles with cannon, caissons, ambulances, and baggage wagons, which our troopers easily captured, and turned backward toward our lines.
The chase continued, with constant captures of prisoners and war material, until, near the foot of Fisher's Hill
, the dense darkness enforced a truce between pursuers and pursued.
Both infantry and cavalry returned to sleep in their camps of the night before, hungry and half dead with fatigue, but happy, and having about them, as trophies of the day's work, forty-five pieces of captured and recaptured artillery, and a field full of wagons, ambulances, and prisoners of war. This ended the career of Early
As an army it never fought another battle-its commander never again attempted to redeem the Shenandoah Valley, nor to invade the North
This free-hand sketch of an historical military episode, taken from the point of view of a participant with the Union
cavalry, and making no pretensions to microscopic accuracy of detail, suggests one or two obvious commentaries:
The skill, the courage, and the self-command with which the initial part of Early
's movement of October 19th was planned