After the battle of Cedar Creek nothing of importance occurred in the valley up to February twenty-seventh, 1865, the day on which the cavalry moved from Winchester to Petersburg. On the night of November eleventh, 1864, General Early moved some of his shattered forces to the north of Cedar creek for the purpose of bluster, I suppose, as on the night of the following day he hastily retired. In consequence of contradictory information received from scouts and captured cavalry prisoners, I was unconvinced of any rebel infantry being in my vicinity until it was too late to overtake it in its galloping retreat, a retreat which was continued until in the vicinity of Lacy's springs near Harrisonburg. Powell engaged the rebel cavalry co-operating on the Front Royal pike with this force, and drove it through Front Royal to Milford, capturing two pieces of artillery. During this campaign I was at times annoyed by guerilla bands, the most formidable of which was under a partisan chief named Mosby, who made his headquarters east of the Blue Ridge in the section of country about Upperville. I had constantly refused to operate against these bands, believing them to be substantially a benefit to me, as they prevented straggling, and kept my trains well closed up, and discharged such other duties as would have required a provost guard of at least two regiments of cavalry. In retaliation for the assistance and sympathy given them, however, by the inhabitants of Loudon valley, General Merritt, with two brigades of cavalry, was directed to proceed on the twenty-eighth of November, 1864, to that valley, under the following instructions:
On December nineteenth General Torbert, with Merritt and Powell's division, was pushed through Chester gap to strike the Virginia Central railroad at Charlottesville or Gordonsville. An engagement took place, in which two pieces of artillery were captured, but failing to gain Gordonsville, or strike the railroad, he returned to Winchester, via Warrenton. Custer, with his division, was at the same time pushed up the valley to make a diversion in favor of Torbert; but encountering the enemy near Harrisonburg, who attacked his camp at daylight on the ensuing day, he was obliged, in consequence of superior force, to retire. The weather was so intensely cold during these raids that horses and men suffered most severely, and many of the latter were badly frost-bitten. On the fifth of February, Harry Gilmore, who appeared to be the last link between Maryland and the Confederacy, and whose person I desired in order that this link might be severed, was made prisoner near Moorfield, his capture being very skilfully made by Colonel Young, my chief of scouts, and a party under Lieutenant Colonel Whittaker, First Connecticut cavalry, sent to support him. Gilmore and Mosby carried on the same style of warfare, running trains off railways, robbing the passengers, &c. In closing this report, it gives me great pleasure to speak of the skill, energy, and gallantry displayed by my corps and division commanders, and I take this opportunity of acknowledging the assistance given me by them at all times.headquarters Middle military division November 27, 1864.General — You are hereby directed to proceed to-morrow morning at seven o'clock with the two brigades of your division now in camp to the east side of the Blue Ridge, via Ashby's gap, and operate against the guerillas in the district of country bounded on the south by the line of the Manassas Gap railroad as far east as White Plains, on the east by the Bull Run range, on the west by the Shenandoah river, and on the north by the Potomac. This section has been the hot-bed of lawless bands, who have from time to time depredated upon small parties on the line of army communications, on safeguards left at houses, and on troops. Their real object is plunder and highway robbery. To clear the country of these parties that are bringing destruction upon the innocent, as well as their guilty supporters, by their cowardly acts, you will consume and destroy all forage and subsistence, burn all barns and mills and their contents, and drive off all stock in the region, the boundaries of which are above described. This order must be literally executed, bearing in mind, however, that no dwellings are to be burned, and that no personal violence be offered the citizens. The ultimate results of the guerilla system of warfare is the total destruction of all private rights in the country occupied by such parties. This destruction may as well commence at once, and the responsibility of it must rest upon the authorities at Richmond, who have acknowledged the legitimacy of guerilla bands. The injury done this army by them is very slight. The injury they have inflicted upon the people, and upon the rebel army, may be counted by millions. The reserve brigade of your division will move to Snickersville on the twenty-ninth. Snickersville should be your point of concentration, and the point from which you should operate in destroying towards the Potomac. Four days subsistance will be taken by the command. Forage can be gathered from the country through which you pass. You will return to your present camp at Snickersville on the fifth day. By command of Major-General P. H. Sheridan.
Brevet Major-General Wesley Merritt, commanding First Cavalry Division.James W. Forsyth. Lieutenant-Colonel and Chief of Staff.