consequences of a defeat, opening the North
to a fresh invasion, and perhaps compelling — what Lee
most desired and Grant
most dreaded — a withdrawal of our army from the James
— were so grave, that Grant
hesitated to authorize a determined advance until he had made him a second visit,1
and become convinced that he had a lieutenant on the Potomac
who thoroughly comprehended his position, is work, his strength, and that of his antagonist, and needed but liberty of action and a trust which his achievements would abundantly justify.
“I saw,” says Grant
, in his report, “that but two words of instruction were necessary--‘ Go in!’
” So he gave them, and Sheridan
Early held the west bank of Opequan creek
, covering Winchester
was in his front and to his right, holding Berryville
In a skillful and spirited reconnoissance, Gen. Wilson
the flank of Kershaw
's division, capturing without loss Col. Hennegan
and 171 of the 8th S. C. The principal value of such a stroke inheres in its effect on the spirits of an army; and Sheridan
, believing his in the mood for battle, drew out, at 2 A. M.,3
his entire force, resolved to carry the enemy's position by assault.
That position was naturally strong, and had been thoroughly fortified.
To assail it, our army had to advance through a narrow ravine, shut in by steep, thickly wooded hills, form in an irregular, undulating valley in the enemy's front, advance through a wood, and attack desperately his center, while flanking and crushing in his left.
His right, too strongly posted to be turned, was to be menaced and kept strong and idle, if possible; he striving in turn to thrust that wing through our left and seize the mouth of the ravine, so as at once to sever our army and deprive its right of any line of retreat.
It was 10 A. M. when the 6th corps emerged from the ravine, and took ground on our left; Ricketts
's division pushing forward, through thick woods and over steep hills, where musketry only could be used, right against the enemy's front; for here ground must be gained and held to enable the 8th corps to debouch behind our front from the pass, turn the enemy's left, and charge him in flank and rear.
When our impetuous advance had cleared the woods and heights, a broad, open valley was before them, with the Rebel
army sheltered by the woods and rocks beyond ; whence a terrific shelling already told upon our ranks.
Yet so vehement and resolute was the charge of Grover
's division of the 19th corps that Early
's first line was carried--Gen. Rhodes
being killed and three Rebel colonels sent to our rear as prisoners.
Early, seeing that no moment was to be lost, promptly hurled two fresh divisions upon Grover
, pushing them back in disorder and with fearful loss; a heavy fire opening on their flank as they surged toward the pass — many regiments utterly broken, their officers fallen, and the battle seemingly lost beyond hope.
The 156th N. York
had barely 40 men grouped around its colors; Capt. Rigby
, 24th Iowa, was seen retreating firmly, deliberately, followed by a sergeant and 12 men who, reaching the assigned rallying-point,