After sending this note I continued through Manassas gap and on to Piedmont, and from thence by rail to Washington, arriving on the morning of the seventeenth. At twelve o'clock M. I returned by special train to Martinsburg, arriving on the morning of the eighteenth at Winchester, in company with Colonels Thorn and Alexander, of the Engineer corps, sent with me by General Halleck. During my absence the enemy had gathered all his strength, and, in the night of the eighteenth, and early on the nineteenth, moved silently from Fisher's Hill, through Strasburg, pushed a heavy turning column across the Shenandoah, on the road from Strasburg to Front Royal, and again recrossed the river at Bowman's ford, striking Crook, who held the left of our line, in flank and rear, so unexpectedly and forcibly as to drive in his outposts, invade his camp, and turn his position. This surprise was owing, probably, to not closing in Powell, or that the cavalry divisions of Merritt and Custer were placed on the right of our line, where it had always occurred to me there was but little danger of attack. This was followed by a direct attack upon our front, and the result was that the whole army was driven back in confusion, to a point about one and a half miles north of Middletown, a very large portion of the infantry not even preserving a company organization. At about seven o'clock on the morning of the nineteenth October, an officer on picket at Winchester reported artillery firing, but, supposing it resulted from a reconnoissance which had been ordered for this morning, I paid no attention to it, and was unconscious of the true condition of affairs until about nine o'clock, when, having ridden through the town of Winchester, the sound of the artillery made a battle unmistakable, and on reaching Mill creek, one half a mile south of Winchester, the head of the fugitives appeared in sight, trains and men coming to the rear with appalling rapidity. I immediately gave direction to halt and pack the trains at Mill creek and ordered the brigade at Winchester to stretch across the country and stop all stragglers. Taking twenty men from my escort, I pushed on to the front, leaving the balance, under General Forsyth and Colonels Thorn and Alexander, to do what they could in stemming the torrent of fugitives. I am happy to say that hundreds of the men, who on reflection found they had not done themselves justice, came back with cheers. On arriving at the front, I found Merritt's and Custer's divisions of cavalry, under Torbert, and General Getty's division of the Sixth corps, opposing the enemy. I suggested to General Wright that we would fight on Getty's line, and to transfer Custer to the right at once, as he (Custer) and Merritt, from being on the right in the morning, had been transferred to the left; that the remaining two divisions of the Sixth corps, which were to the right and rear of Getty about two miles, should be ordered up, and also that the Nineteenth corps, which was on the right and rear of these two divisions, should be hastened up before the enemy attacked Getty. I then started out all my staff officers to bring up these troops, and was so convinced that we would soon be attacked, that I went back myself to urge them on. Immediately after I returned and assumed command, General Wright returning to his corps, Getty to his division, and the line of battle was formed on the prolongation of General Getty's line, and a temporary breastwork of rails, logs, &c., thrown up hastily. Shortly after this was done the enemy advanced, and from a point on the left of our line of battle I could see his columns moving to the attack, and at once notified corps commanders to be prepared. This assault fell principally on the Nineteenth corps, and was repulsed. I am pleased to be able to state that the strength of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, and Crook's command, was now being rapidly augmented by the return of those who had gone to the rear early in the day. Reports coming in from the Front Royal pike, on which Powell's division of cavalry was posted, to the effect that a heavy column of infantry was moving on that pike in the direction of Winchester, and that he (Powell) was retiring and would come in at Newtown, caused me great anxiety for the time; and although I could not fully believe that such a movement would be undertaken, still it delayed my general attack. At four P. M. I ordered the advance. This attack was brilliantly made, and, as the enemy was protected by rail breastworks, and in some portions of his line by stone fences, his resistance was very determined. His line of battle overlapped the right of mine, and by turning with this portion of it on the flank of the Nineteenth corps, caused a slight momentary confusion. This movement was checked, however, by a counter-charge of General McMillans' brigade upon the re-entering angle thus formed by the enemy, and his flanking party cut off. It was at this stage of the battle that Custer was ordered to charge with his entire division, but, although the order was promptly obeyed, it was not in time to capture the whole of the force thus cut off, and many escaped across Cedar creek. Simultaneous with this charge, a combined movement of the whole line drove the enemy in despatch is true, he is under the impression that we have largely detached. I will go over to Augur, and may get additional news. Close in Colonel Powell, who will be at this point. If the enemy should make an advance, I know you will defeat him. Look well to your ground, and be well prepared. Get up everything that can be spared. I will bring up all I can, and will be up on Tuesday, if not sooner.P. H. Sheridan, Major-General
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Table of Contents:
Doc . 16 . operations in Tennessee .
Doc . 19 . the siege of Suffolk, Virginia .
Doc . 36 . General Rousseau 's expedition.
Doc . 59 . battles of Spottsylvania , Va: battle of Sunday , May 8 , 1864 .
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