Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.
by Wesley Merritt, Major-General, U. S. V., Brigadier-General, U. S. A.
Up to the summer of 1864 the Shenandoah Valley had not been to the
Union armies a fortunate place either for battle or for strategy.
A glance at the map will go far toward explaining this.
has a general direction from south-west to north-east.
The Blue Ridge Mountains
, forming its eastern barrier, are well defined from the James River
to Harper's Ferry
on the Potomac
Many passes (in Virginia
called “gaps” ) made it easy of access from the Confederate
base of operations; and, bordered by a fruitful country filled with supplies, it offered a tempting highway for an army bent on a flanking march on Washington
or the invasion of Maryland
For the Union
armies, while it was an equally practicable highway, it led away from the objective, Richmond
, and was exposed to flank attacks through the gaps from vantage-ground and perfect cover.
It was not long after General Grant
completed his first campaign in Virginia
, and while he was in front of Petersburg
, that his attention was called to this famous seat of side issues between Union and Confederate armies.
With quick military instinct he saw that the Valley
was not useful to the Government
for aggressive operations.
He decided that it must be made untenable for either army.
In doing this he reasoned that the advantage would be with us, who did not want it as a source of supplies, nor as a place of arms, and against the Confederates
, who wanted it for both.
Accordingly, instructions were drawn up for carrying on a plan of devastating the Valley
in a way least injurious to the people.
These instructions, which were intended for Hunter
, were destined to be carried out by another, and how well this was accomplished it is my purpose to recount.
's failure to capture Lynchburg
in the spring of 1864 [see p. 492] and his retreat by a circuitous line opened the Valley
to General Early
, who had gone to the relief of Lynchburg
Marching down the Valley
and taking possession of it without serious opposition, Early
Ferry, which was held by a Union force under Sigel
, and crossed into Maryland
The governors of New York, Pennsylvania
, and Massachusetts
were called on for hundred-days men to repel the invasion, and later the Army of the Potomac supplied its quota of veterans as a nucleus around which the new levies could rally.
marched on Washington
, and on the 11th of July was in front of the gates of the capital.
The following day, after a severe engagement in which the guns of Fort Stevens
took part, he withdrew his forces through Rockville
, and, crossing the Potomac
, entered the Valley of Virginia
through Snicker's Gap.
Afterward, crossing the Shenandoah
at the ferry of the same name, he moved to Berryville
, and there awaited developments.
After the immediate danger to Washington
had passed it became a question with General Grant
and the authorities in Washington
to select an officer who, commanding in the Valley
, would prevent further danger from invasion.
After various suggestions,1 Major-General Philip H. Sheridan
was selected temporarily for this command.
occupation of the position was opposed by Secretary Stanton
on the ground that he was too young for such important responsibility.
On the 7th of August, 1864, Sheridan
assumed command of the Middle Military Division and of the army for the protection of the Valley
, afterward known as the “Army of the Shenadoah.”
Naturally, on assuming command, Sheridan
moved with caution.
He was incited to this by his instructions, and inclined to it by his unfamiliarity with the country, with the command, and with the enemy he had to deal with.
On the other hand, Early
, who had nothing of these to learn, save the mettle of his new adversary, was aggressive, and at once manoeuvred with a bold front, seemingly anxious for a battle.
The movements of the first few days showed, however, that Early
was not disposed to give battle unless he could do so on his own conditions.
On the morning of the 10th of August Sheridan
, who had massed his army at Halltown
, in front of Harper's Ferry
, marched toward the enemy's communications, his object being to occupy Early
's line of retreat and force him to fight before reenforcements could reach him. The march of my cavalry toward the Millwood-Winchester road brought us in contact with the
enemy's cavalry on that road, and it was driven toward Kernstown
At the same time a brigade under Custer
, making a reconnoissance on the Berryville-Winchester road, came on the enemy holding a defile of the highway while “his trains and infantry were marching toward Strasburg
As soon as the retreat of the enemy was known to General Sheridan
the cavalry was ordered to pursue and harass him. Near White Post, Devin
came upon a strongly posted force, which, after a sharp fight, he drove from the field, and the division took position on the Winchester-Front Royal
The same day my division had a severe affair with infantry near Newtown
, in which the loss to my Second Brigade was considerable.
On the 12th of August, the enemy having retired the night before, the cavalry pursued to Cedar Creek
, when it came up with Early
's rear-guard and continued skirmishing until the arrival of the head of the column.
The day following, the reconnoissance of a brigade of cavalry discovered the enemy strongly posted at Fisher's Hill
About this time Early
received his expected reenforcements.
, being duly informed of this, made preparations to retire to a position better suited for defense and adapted to the changed conditions of the strength of the two armies.
On the 13th of August General Devin
's brigade of the First Division was ordered to Cedarville
on the Front Royal pike
, and on the 14th I marched with the rest of my division to the same point, Gibbs
taking position near Nineveh
On the arrival of his reenforcemnents Early
had requested General R. H. Anderson
, in command, to take station at Front Royal
, it being a convenient point from which to make a flank movement in case of attack on Sheridan
's command, which Early
At the same time it constituted a guard
About 2 P. M. on the 16th an attack was made by this command on the First Cavalry Division, which resulted in the battle of Cedarville
A force of
cavalry under Fitz Lee
, supported by a brigade of Kershaw
's division, made a descent on Devin
General Fitz Lee
drove in the cavalry pickets and attacked Devin
with great violence.
This force was scarcely repulsed when a brigade of infantry was discovered moving on the opposite bank of the Shenandoah River
toward the left of the cavalry position.
One regiment of Custer
's brigade, dismounted, was moved up to the crest of a hill near the river-bank to meet this force, while the rest of the brigade, mounted, was stationed to the right of the hill.
At the same time the Reserve Brigade under General Gibbs
was summoned to the field.
The enemy advanced boldly,
wading the river, and when within short carbine range was met by a murderous volley from the dismounted men, while the remainder of the command charged mounted.
The Confederates were thrown into confusion and retreated, leaving 300 prisoners, together with two stand of colors.
hurried reenforcements to his beaten brigades, but no further attempt to cross the river was made.
The loss to the Union
cavalry was about 60 in killed and wounded.
The loss to the enemy was not less than 500.
These affairs between the Union
cavalry and the enemy's infantry were of more importance than might appear
at first glance.
They gave the cavalry increased confidence, and made the enemy correspondingly doubtful even of the ability of its infantry, in anything like equal numbers, to contend against our cavalry in the open fields of the Valley
On the night of the 16th Sheridan
withdrew toward his base, and on the following day the cavalry marched, driving all the cattle and live stock in the Valley
before it, and burning the grain from Cedar Creek
No other private property was injured, nor were families molested.
On the afternoon of the 17th the Third Division of cavalry, under General James H. Wilson
, reported to General Torbert
, who with it and Lowell
's brigade and the Jersey
's) of the Sixth Corps was ordered to cover the flank of the army which marched and took position near Berryville
, who on the morning of the 17th discovered the withdrawal of Sheridan
's force, pursued rapidly, Anderson
advancing from Front Royal
with his command.
Early struck Torbert
's force with such vigor and with such overwhelming numbers as completely to overthrow it, with considerable loss, and drive it from Winchester
In this affair Penrose
's brigade lost about 300 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and Wilson
's cavalry lost
Map of the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864. |
in prisoners some 50 men. At this time, information having reached Sheridan
that the reenforcements that had come to Early
were only part of what might be expected, Sheridan
concluded still further to solidify his lines.
On the 21st of August Early moved with his army to attack Sheridan
His own command marched through Smithfield
, and Anderson
on the direct road through Summit Point
's and Ramseur
's infantry were advanced to the attack, and heavy skirmishing was continued for some time with a loss to the Sixth Corps, principally Getty
's division, of 260 killed and wounded. In the meantime Anderson
was so retarded by the Union
cavalry that he did not reach the field, and night overtaking him at Summit Point
, he there went into camp.
That night Sheridan
drew in the cavalry, and, carrying out the resolution already formed, withdrew his army to Halltown
During the three days following the Confederates
demonstrated in front of Sheridan
's lines, but to little purpose except to skirmish with Crook
's and Emory
On the 25th, leaving Anderson
's force in front of Sheridan
moved with his four divisions and Fitzhugh Lee
's cavalry to Leetown
, from which place he dispatched Lee
while he crossed the railroad at Kearneysville
Sprout's Spring Mill, Opequon River, Va., hospital of the Sixth Army Corps during the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864.
from a War-time sketch. |
he was met by Torbert
with the cavalry.
A sharp fight followed, in the first shock of which Early
's advance, consisting of Wharton
's division, was driven back in confusion, but upon discovering the strength of the enemy, Torbert
withdrew in good order, though Custer
's brigade was pressed so closely that he was forced to cross the Potomac
A charge on the flank of the pursuing infantry relieved Custer
from danger, and the next morning he returned, as ordered, via Harper's Ferry
to the army at Halltown
Early's movement ended with this affair, and during the following two days he returned to the vicinity of Winchester
During the absence of Early
, R. H. Anderson
's position was reconnoitered by Crook
with two divisions and Lowell
's cavalry brigade, who carried Anderson
's lines, driving two brigades from their earth-works and capturing a number of officers and men, after which Anderson
withdrew from Sheridan
In a dispatch to Halleck Sheridan
said: “I have thought it best to be prudent, everything considered.”
's conduct of affairs in general terms, and predicted the withdrawal from the Valley
of all of Early
This the pressure of Grant
's lines at Petersburg
On the 28th of August Sheridan
moved his army forward to Charlestown
My division of cavalry marched to Leetown
, and drove the enemy's cavalry to Smithfield
and across the Opequon
The next day Early
's infantry, in turn, drove my division from Smithfield
; whereupon Sheridan
, advancing with Ricketts
's division, repulsed the enemy's infantry, which retired to the west bank of the Opequon.
On this day the cavalry had some severe fighting with Early
's infantry, but not until in hand-to-hand fighting the Confederate cavalry had been driven from the field.
On the 3d of September Rodes
's Confederate division proceeded to Bunker Hill
, and in conjunction with Lomax
's cavalry made a demonstration which
was intended to cover the withdrawal of Anderson
's force from the Valley
But on marching toward the gap of the Blue Ridge
, via Berryville
came upon Crook
's infantry just taking station there.
The meeting was a surprise to both commands and resulted in a sharp engagement which continued till nightfall.
On the following morning Early
moved with part of his infantry to Anderson
's assistance, and demonstrating toward the right of Sheridan
's lines, he made show of giving battle, but only long enough to extricate Anderson
and his trains, when the entire command retired to the country near Winchester
On the 14th Anderson
withdrew from Early
's army, and this time unmolested pursued his march through the Blue Ridge
to Culpeper Court House.
's cavalry remained with Early
About this time General Grant
visited the Valley
and found everything to his satisfaction.
was master of the situation, and he was not slow in showing it to his chief.
On the 12th of September Sheridan
had telegraphed Grant
to the effect that it was exceedingly difficult to attack Early
in his position behind the Opequon
, which constituted a formidable barrier; that the crossings, though numerous, were deep, and the banks abrupt and difficult for an attacking force; and, in general, that he was waiting for the chances to change in his favor, hoping that Early
would either detach troops or take some less defensible position.
His caution was fortunate at this time, and his fearlessness and hardihood were sufficiently displayed thereafter.
In the light of criticisms, then, it is curious that the world is now inclined to call Sheridan
reckless and foolhardy.
At 2 A. M. of September 19th Sheridan
's army was astir under orders to attack Early
in front of Winchester
My cavalry was to proceed to the fords of the Opequon
, near the railroad crossing, and, if opposed only by cavalry, was to cross at daylight and, turning to the left, attack Early
's left flank.
's division was to precede the infantry and clear the crossing of the Opequon
, on the Berryville
road, leading to Winchester
The infantry of the army, following Wilson
, was to cross the Opequon
, first Wright
and then Emory
, while Crook
's command, marching across country, was to take position in reserve, or be used as circumstances might require.
South of Winchester
, running nearly east and emptying into the Opequon
, is Abraham's Creek
, and nearly parallel to it, on the north of Winchester
, is Red Bud Creek
These two tributaries flanked the usual line of the Confederates
, when in position, covering Winchester
, and on this line, across the Berryville-Winchester road, Ramseur
was stationed with his infantry, when Sheridan
's forces debouched from the defile and deployed for attack.
's plan was to attack and overthrow this part of Early
's force before the rest of the army, which a day or two before was known to be scattered to the north as far as Martinsburg
, could come to its assistance.
At daylight Wilson
advanced across the Opequon
, and carried the earth-work which covered the defile and captured part of the force that held it. The infantry followed — Wright
's corps first, with Getty
leading, and Emory
Between two and three miles from the Opequon
came up with Wilson
, who was waiting in the earth-work he had captured.
There the country was suitable for the deployment of the column, which commenced forming line at once.
, with the bulk of the Confederate artillery, immediately opened on Wright
's troops, and soon the Union
guns were in position to reply.
took position on the left of the Sixth Corps.
Then followed a delay that thwarted the part of the plan which contemplated the destruction of Early
's army in detail.
's command was crowded off the road in its march, and so delayed by the guns and trains of the Sixth Corps that it was slow getting on the field, and it was hours before the lines were formed.2
This delay gave the Confederates
time to bring up the infantry of Gordon
, who first arrived, was posted on Ramseur
's left near the Red Bud
, and when Rodes
arrived with three of his four brigades, he was given the center.
This change in the situation, which necessitated fighting Early
's army in his chosen position, did not disconcert the Union
He had come out to fight, and though chafing at the unexpected delay, fight he would to the bitter end.
In the meantime the cavalry, which had been ordered to the right, had not been idle.
Moving at the same time as did the rest of the army, my division reached the fords of the Opequon
near the railroad crossing at early dawn.
Here I found a force of cavalry supported by Breckinridge
After sharp skirmishing the stream was crossed at three different points, but the enemy contested every foot of the way beyond.
The cavalry, however, hearing Sheridan
's guns, and knowing the battle was in progress, was satisfied with the work it was doing in holding from Early
a considerable force of infantry.
The battle here continued for some hours, the cavalry making charges on foot or mounted according to the nature of the country, and steadily though slowly driving the enemy's force toward Winchester
, leaving one brigade to assist the cavalry in retarding our advance, moved to the help of Early
, arriving on the field about 2 P. M.
It was 11:30 A. M. before Sheridan
's lines were ready to advance.
When they moved forward Early
, who had gathered all his available strength, met them with a front of fire, and the battle raged with the greatest fury.
The advance was pressed in the most resolute manner, and the resistance by the enemy being equally determined and both sides fighting without cover, the
The battle of Winchester--Ricketts's advance against Rodes's division on the morning of September 19, 1864. |
casualties were very great.
's infantry forced Ramseur
steadily to the rear, while Emory
on the right broke the left of the enemy's line and threw it into confusion.
At this time the Confederate artillery opened with canister at short range, doing fearful execution.
This, coupled with the weakening of the center at the junction between Emory
, and with a charge delivered on this junction of the lines by a part of Bodes
's command, just arrived on the field, drove back the Union
At this critical moment Russell
's division of Wright
's corps moved into the breach on Emory
's left, and, striking the flank of the Confederate
troops who were pursuing Grover
, restored the lines and stayed the Confederate
The loss to both sides had been heavy.
of the Union
army and Generals Rodes
of the Confederate
were among the killed.
A lull in the battle now followed, which General Sheridan
improved to restore his lines and to bring up Crook
, who had not yet been engaged.
It had been the original purpose to use Crook
on the left to assist Wilson
's cavalry in cutting off Early
's retreat toward Newtown
But the stress of battle compelled Sheridan
to bring his reserve in on the line, and accordingly Crook
was ordered up on Emory
's right, one brigade extending to the north of Red Bud Creek
At the same time Early
reformed his lines, placing Breckinridge
's command in reserve.
At this time Merritt
, who with his cavalry had followed Breckinridge
closely to the field, approached on the left rear of the Confederates
, driving their flying and broken cavalry through the infantry lines.
The cavalry then charged repeatedly into Early
's infantry, first striking it in the rear, and afterward face to face as it changed front to repel the attack.4
These attacks were made by the cavalry without any knowledge of the state of the battle except what was apparent to the eye. First Devin
charged with his brigade, returning to rally, with three battle-flags and over three hundred prisoners. Next Lowell
charged with his
brigade, capturing flags, prisoners, and two guns.
After this the entire division was formed and charged to give the final coup.5
At the time of this last charge the Union
infantry advanced along the entire line and the enemy fled in disorder from the field, and night alone (for it was now dark) saved Early
's army from capture.
At daylight on the morning of the 20th the army moved rapidly up the main Valley road in pursuit of the enemy.
Early had not stopped on the night of the battle until he reached the shelter of Fisher's Hill
This is admirably situated for defense for an army resisting a movement south.
Here the Valley
is obstructed by the Massanutten Mountains
and its width virtually reduced to four or five miles. In this position Early
's right was protected by impassable mountains and by the north fork of the Shenandoah
, and he at once took means to protect his left artificially.
“On the evening of the 20th,” reports Sheridan
went into position on the heights of Strasburg
north of Cedar Creek
, the cavalry on the right and rear of Emory
, extending to the back road.”
On the 21st Sheridan
occupied the day in examining the enemy's lines and improving his own. Accompanied by General Wright
, he directed changes in the lines of the Sixth Corps, so that it occupied the high lands to the north of Tumbling Run
did not secure this vantage-ground without a severe struggle, in which Warner
's brigade was engaged, finally holding the heights after a brilliant charge.
decided on turning Early
's impregnable position by a movement on the Little North Mountain
On the night of the 21st he concealed Crook
's command in the timber north of Cedar Creek
In making his disposition Sheridan
did not attempt to cover the entire front, it being his intention to flank the enemy by Crook
's march, and then, by advancing the right of Wright
's and Emory
's line, to form connection and make his line continuous.
On the morning of the 22d, Crook
, being still concealed, was marched to the timber near Little North Mountain
and massed in it. Before this, Torbert
, with his two divisions of cavalry, except one brigade (Devin
's), was ordered via Front Royal
into Luray Valley, with a view to reentering the Valley of the Shenandoah
at New Market
This design was not accomplished.6
Not long before sundown Crook
's infantry, which had not yet been discovered
by the enemy, struck Early
's left and rear so suddenly as to cause his army to break in confusion and flee.
The rout was complete, the whole of Sheridan
's troops uniting in the attack.
That night, though the darkness made the marching difficult, Sheridan
as far as Woodstock
, some fifteen miles, and the following day up to Mount Jackson
, where he drove the enemy, now to some extent reorganized, from a strong position on the opposite bank of the river.
From this point the enemy retreated in line of battle.
But every effort to make him fight failed.
No doubt Sheridan
in this pursuit regretted the absence of his cavalry, which, with Torbert
, was striving, by a circuitous and obstructed march, to reach the enemy's rear.
A few miles beyond New Market
Early abandoned the main road, which leads on through Harrisonburg
; turning to the east, he pursued the road that leads thence to Port Republic
This direction was taken to receive the reenforcements which were to reach him through one of the gaps of the Blue Ridge
For it appears that Kershaw
and his command had not proceeded beyond Culpeper
in his march to Lee
's army before he was ordered to return to Early
, the news of whose overthrow at Winchester
, and afterward at Fisher's Hill
, had reached the authorities at Richmond
On the 25th of September Torbert
with the cavalry rejoined General Sheridan
, and was at once put to work doing what damage was possible to the
Central Railway. After proceeding to Staunton
and destroying immense quantities of army stores, Torbert
moved to Waynesboro
‘, destroying the railway track, and after burning the railway bridges toward the Blue Ridge
, and on being threatened by Early
's forces, which had moved thither to attack him, he retired to Bridgewater
Naturally a question now arose between Sheridan
, the authorities in Washington
, and General Grant
as to the future theater of the campaign and the line of operations.
was opposed to the proposition submitted by the others, which was to operate against Central Virginia
from his base in the Valley
The general reasons for his opposition were the distance from the base of supplies, the lines of communication, which in a country infested by guerrillas it would take an army to protect, and the nearness, as the campaign progressed, if successful, to the enemy's base, from which large reenforcements could easily and secretly be hurried and the Union
army be overwhelmed.
But before the plan was finally adopted a new turn was given to affairs, and the plan originally formed was delayed in its execution if not changed altogether.
When the army commenced its return march, the cavalry was deployed across the Valley
, burning, destroying, or taking away everything of value, or likely to become of value, to the enemy.
It was a severe measure, and appears severer now in the lapse of time; but it was necessary as a measure of war. The country was fruitful and was the paradise of bushwhackers and guerrillas.
They had committed numerous murders and wanton acts of
cruelty on all parties weaker than themselves.
Officers and men had been murdered in cold blood on the roads, while proceeding without a guard through an apparently peaceful country.
The thoughtless had been lured to houses only to find, when too late, that a foe was concealed there, ready to take their lives if they did not surrender.
It is not wonderful, then, that the cavalry sent to work the destruction contemplated did not at that time shrink from the duty.
It is greatly to their credit that no personal violence on any inhabitant was ever reported, even by their enemies.
was completely devastated, and the armies thereafter occupying that country had to look elsewhere for their supplies.
There is little doubt, however, that enough was left in the country for the subsistence of the people, for this, besides being contemplated by orders, resulted of necessity from the fact that, while the work was done hurriedly, the citizens had ample time to secrete supplies, and did so.
The movement north was conducted without interruption for two days, except that the enemy's cavalry, made more bold by the accession to its strength of a command under General T. L. Rosser
, followed our cavalry, dispersed across the Valley
as already described.
On the 8th of October the enemy's cavalry harassed Custer
's division on the back road during the day, taking from him some battery-forges and wagons.
The cavalry also showed itself on the main road upon which Merritt
was retiring, but dispersed upon being charged by a brigade which was sent to develop their strength.
That night Sheridan
gave orders to his chief-of-cavalry, Torbert
, to attack and beat the enemy's cavalry the following day “or to get whipped himself,” as it was expressed.
On the morning of the 9th Torbert
's cavalry moved out to fight that of the enemy under Generals Rosser
and Lomax. Merritt
's division moved on the pike and extended across to the back road where Custer
A stubborn cavalry engagement commenced the day, but it was not long before the Confederate cavalry was broken and routed, and from that time till late in the day it was driven a distance of twenty-six miles, losing everything on wheels, except one gun, and this at one time was in possession of a force too weak to hold it. At one time General Lomax
was a prisoner, but made his escape by personally overthrowing his captor.
In this affair the advantage of pluck, dash, and confidence, as well as of numbers, was on the Union
From the time of the occupation of the Valley
's force the cavalry had been the active part of his command.
Scarcely a day passed that they were not engaged in some affair, and often with considerable loss, as is shown by the fact that in twenty-six engagements, aside from the battles, the cavalry lost an aggregate of 3205 men and officers.
In reporting the result of the cavalry battle of October 9th, Early
This is very distressing to me, and God knows I have done all in my power to avert the disasters which have befallen this command; but the fact is the enemy's cavalry is so much superior to ours, both in numbers and equipment, and the country is so favorable to the operations of cavalry, that it is impossible for ours to compete with his.
He further says in this same connection:
Lomax's cavalry is armed entirely with rifles and has no sabers, and the consequence is they cannot fight on horseback, and in this open country they cannot successfully fight on foot against large bodies of cavalry.
This is a statement on which those who think our cavalry never fought mounted and with the saber should ponder.
The cavalry had scant justice done it in reports sent from the battle-field; and current history, which is so much made up of first reports and first impressions, has not to a proper extent been impressed with this record.
On the return of the army after the pursuit of the scattered remnants of Early
's force, General Sheridan
placed it in position on Cedar Creek
north of the Shenandoah
, Crook on the left, Emory
in the center, and Wright
The cavalry was placed on the flanks.
The occupation of Cedar Creek
was not intended to be permanent; there were many serious objections to it as a position for defense.
The approaches from all points of the enemy's stronghold at Fisher's Hill
were through wooded ravines in which the growth and undulations concealed the movement of troops, and for this reason and its proximity to Fisher's Hill
the pickets protecting its front could not be thrown, without danger of capture, sufficiently far to the front to give ample warning of the advance of the enemy.
We have already seen how Sheridan
took advantage of like conditions at Fisher's Hill
Early was now contemplating the surprise of his antagonist.
On the 12th of October Sheridan
received a dispatch from Halleck
saying that Grant
wished a position taken far enough south to serve as a base for operations upon Gordonsville
On the 13th and the 16th he received dispatches from the Secretary of War
and from General Halleck
pressing him to visit Washington
On the 15th General Sheridan
, taking with him Torbert
with part of the cavalry, started for Washington
, the design being to send the cavalry on a raid to Gordonsville
The first camp was made near Front Royal
, from which point the cavalry was returned to the army, it being considered safer to do so in consequence of a dispatch intercepted by our signal officers from the enemy's station on Three Top Mountain, and forwarded to General Sheridan
by General Wright
This dispatch was as follows:
to Lieutenant-General Early: Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan.--Longstreet, Lieutenant-General.
In sending back the cavalry General Sheridan
wrote to General Wright
, directing caution on his part, so that he might be duly prepared to resist the attack in case the above dispatch was genuine.7 Sheridan
continued to Washington
, and the cavalry resumed its station in the line of defense at Cedar Creek
At this time everything was quiet — suspiciously so.
The surprise at Cedar Creek.
From a War-time sketch: the right of the picture shows the Confederate flanking column attacking the left of the Nineteenth Corps from the rear.
The Union troops, after a determined resistance, took position on the outer side of their rifle-pits. |
On the 16th Custer
made a reconnoissance in his front on the back road, but found no enemy outside the lines at Fisher's Hill
This absence of the enemy's cavalry was accounted for the next morning just before daylight by the appearance of Rosser
in the rear of Custer
's picket line with his cavalry and one brigade of infantry.
carrying the infantry behind his cavalry troopers had made a march of thirty-two miles to capture an exposed brigade of Custer
's division on the right; but a change in the arrangements of the command (the return of Torbert
) thwarted the scheme, and it resulted only in the capture of a picket guard.
On the 18th reconnoissances on both flanks discovered no sign of a movement by the enemy.
The result of the destruction of supplies in the Valley
was now being felt by Early
About this time he writes: “I was now compelled to move back for want of provisions and forage, or attack the enemy in his position with the hope of driving him from it; and I determined to attack.”
From reports made by General Gordon
and a staff-officer who ascended Three Top Mountain to reconnoiter the Union
position, and the result of a
Hill at Cedar Creek occupied by Sheridan's left, October 19, 1864, as seen from Kershaw's Ford.
From a photograph taken in 1865. |
reconnoissance made at the same time by General Pegram
toward the right flank of the Union
army, General Early
concluded to attack by secretly moving a force to turn Sheridan
's left flank at Cedar Creek
The plan of this attack was carefully made; the routes the troops were to pursue, even after the battle had commenced, were carefully designated.
[See General Early
's article, p. 526.] The attack was made at early dawn.
The surprise was complete.
's camp, and afterward Emory
's, were attacked in flank and rear and the men and officers driven from their beds, many of them not having the time to hurry into their clothes, except as they retreated half awake and terror-stricken from the overpowering numbers of the enemy.
Their own artillery, in conjunction with that of the enemy, was turned on them, and long before it was light enough for their eyes, unaccustomed to the dim light, to distinguish friend from foe, they were hurrying to our right and rear intent only on their safety.
's infantry, which was farther removed from the point of attack, fared somewhat better, but did not offer more than a spasmodic resistance.
The cavalry on the right was on the alert.
The rule that in the immediate presence of the enemy the cavalry must be early prepared for attack resulted in the whole First Division being up with breakfast partly finished, at the time the attack commenced.
A brigade sent on reconnoissance to the right had opened with its guns some minutes before the main attack on the left, for it had met the cavalry sent by Early
to make a demonstration on our right.
Battle of Cedar Creek. Oct. 19, 1864.|
The disintegration of Crook
's command did not occupy many minutes.
With a force of the enemy passing through its camp of sleeping men, and another powerful column well to their rear, it was not wonderful that the men as fast as they were awakened by the noise of battle thought first and only of saving themselves from destruction.
The advance of Gordon
deflected this fleeing throng from the main road to the rear, and they passed over to the right of the army and fled along the back road.
attempt to form line facing along the main road, but the wave of Gordon
's advance on his left, and the thunders of the attack along the road from Strasburg
, rendered the position untenable, and he was soon obliged to withdraw to save his lines from capture.8
At this time there were hundreds of stragglers moving off by the right to the rear, and all efforts to stop them proved of no avail.
A line of cavalry was stretched across the fields on the right, which halted and formed a respectable force of men, so far as numbers were concerned, but these fled and disappeared to the rear as soon as the force which held them was withdrawn.
By degrees the strength of the battle died away.
The infantry of the Sixth Corps made itself felt on the advance of the enemy, and a sort of confidence among the troops which had not fled from the field was being restored.
A brigade of cavalry was ordered to the left to intercept the enemy's advance to Winchester
's battery of artillery, belonging to the cavalry, moved to the south, and, taking position with the infantry which was retiring, opened on the enemy.
The artillery with the cavalry was the only artillery left to the army.
The other guns had either been captured or sent to the rear.
This battery remained on the infantry lines and did much toward impeding the enemy's advance until the cavalry changed position to the Winchester-Strasburg road.
This change took place by direction of General Torbert
about 10 o'clock. In making it the cavalry marched through the broken masses of infantry direct to a point on the main road north-east of Middletown
The enemy's artillery fire was terrific.
Not a man of the cavalry left the ranks unless he was wounded, and everything was done with the precision and quietness of troops on parade.
informed Colonel Warner
's division, near which the cavalry passed, and which was at that time following the general retreat of the army, of the point where the cavalry would take position and fight, and Warner
promised to notify General Getty
, and no doubt did so, for that division of the Sixth Corps advanced to the position on the cavalry's right.
charged and drove back the advancing Confederates.
dismounted his brigade and held some stone walls whose position was suited to defense.
held on to his advance ground.
Here the enemy's advance was checked for the first time, and beyond this it did not go.
The enemy's infantry sheltered themselves from.
our cavalry attacks in the woods to the left, and in the inclosures of the town of Middletown
But they opened a devastating fire of artillery.
This was the state of affairs when Sheridan
Stopping at Winchester
over night on the 18th, on his way from Washington
, General Sheridan
heard the noise of the battle the following morning,
and hurried to the field.
His coming restored confidence.
A cheer from the cavalry, which awakened the echoes of the valley, greeted him and spread the good news of his coming over the field.9
He rapidly made the changes necessary in the lines, and then ordered an advance.
The cavalry on the left charged down on the enemy in their front, scattering them in all directions.
The infantry, not to be outdone by the mounted men, moved forward in quick time and charged impetuously the lines of Gordon
, which broke and fled.10
It took less time to drive the enemy from the field than it had for them to take it. They seemed to feel the changed conditions in the Union
ranks, for their divisions broke one after another and disappeared toward their rear.
rode after them and over them, until
night fell and ended the fray at the foot of Fisher's Hill
. Three battle-flags and twenty-two guns were added to the trophies of the cavalry that day. Early lost almost all his artillery and trains, besides everything that was captured from the Union
army in the morning.11
The victory was dearly bought.
The killed or mortally wounded included General Bidwell
and Colonels Thoburn
, besides many other officers and men. Among the killed: in the final charge by the cavalry at Cedar Creek
was Colonel Charles Russell Lowell
He had been wounded earlier in the day, but had declined to leave the field.
The battle of Cedar Creek
has been immortalized by poets and historians.
The transition from defeat, rout, and confusion to order and victory, and all this depending on one man, made the country wild with enthusiasm.
The victory was a fitting sequel to Winchester
, a glorious prelude to Five Forks
In this battle fell mortally wounded on the Confederate
side Major-General Stephen D. Ramseur
, four years before a classmate of the writer at West Point
A Union officer — a friend — watched by his side in his last moments and conveyed to his southern home his last words of affection.
There is little more to record of events in the Valley
Part of the night after its defeat Early
's army rested in the intrenchments on Fisher's Hill
, but before dawn the next day it retreated to New Market
, with the Confederate cavalry, acted as rear-guard, and was driven by the Union
cavalry beyond Woodstock
remained at New Market
reenforcements were sent him in the way of convalescents and one brigade from south-western Virginia
He contented himself, however, with remaining on the defensive.
The winter of 1864-65 was passed by Sheridan
's command at Kernstown
, where better protection could be given the troops and a short line of supplies secured.
He moved to this position in November.
About this time I moved under orders with my division of cavalry into Loudoun Valley
and reduced it to a state of destitution, so far as supplies for the enemy were concerned, as had been done in other parts of the valley.
On December 19th Torbert
with two divisions of cavalry marched through Chester Gap
in another raid on
the Virginia Central Railway; but this attempt, like the others, was unsuccessful.
The local troops and Valley cavalry succeeded in delaying Torbert
until infantry was hurried by rail from Richmond
, when he was forced to retire.
As a diversion in favor of Torbert
's expedition Custer
's cavalry was moved up the Valley
to engage the cavalry of Early
he was attacked and surprised and was forced to retreat.
In making these expeditions the troops suffered intensely from cold, bad roads, and miserable camps.
This was especially so with Torbert
's column in crossing the mountains.
It is difficult to imagine a more disagreeable duty for a mounted soldier than marching over sleety, slushy, snowy or icy roads in winter, and bivouacking without the means of protection.
It is demoralizing to men and ruinous to horses.
After the failure of these expeditions no further movements were attempted in the Valley
, and most of the infantry of Sheridan
's army was sent either to the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg
, or elsewhere where it was needed.
In February Sheridan
made arrangements to march from the Valley
with the cavalry with a view to interrupting and destroying, as far as possible, the lines of supply through central Virginia
After accomplishing this it was intended that he should either move west of Richmond
and join Sherman
's army, or return to the Valley
, or join Meade
's army in front of Petersburg
, as might be most practicable.
February 27th the movement commenced, the command consisting of two superb divisions of cavalry which had been recruited and remounted during the winter, under myself, as chief-of-cavalry.
The march to Staunton
was made without noticeable
On the morning of March 2d Early was found posted on a ridge west of Waynesboro
‘. The veteran soldier was full of pluck and made a bold front for a fight, but his troops were overcome, almost without even perfunctory resistance, by the advance regiments of the column, and Early
, with a few general officers, barely escaped capture by flight.
's supplies, all transportation, all the guns, ammunition and flags, and most of the officers and men of the army were captured and sent to the rear.
From this point Sheridan
moved unmolested to the Virginia Central Railroad, which was destroyed for miles, large bridges being wrecked, the track torn up, and the rails heated and bent.
The command was divided and sent to the James River Canal
, which was destroyed as effectually as the railroad.
This done, the cavalry proceeded to White House
, on the Pamunkey River
, where it arrived on March 19th, 1865.
View on the Valley turnpike where Sheridan joined the Army at Cedar Creek.
From a photograph taken in 1885. |