Early, though an able strategist, a most skillful commander, and one of the bravest of the brave, as all know, and as had been well attested—literally on scores of battlefields—did not possess the sublime confidence that characterized Stonewall Jackson
in periods of emergency, and at this critical moment, intoxicated with success (but not with liquor, as some have falsely asserted), hesitated; unwilling to believe, although informed to the contrary by some of his officers who had reconnoitered its new position, that the Sixth corps was still intact, concealed in the forest in front of his left.
Therefore he did not advance, although repeatedly warned of the dangerous character of the position he had taken if the Federal
forces should be concentrated, for a counterstroke, on the commanding ground in his front.
The handful of thinly-clad men who had cheerfully waited during the long chilly night for the hour of attack to come—part of whom had unhesitatingly waded through a cold and deep river, and won a magnificent victory over nearly five times their number—had been held in battle array, with only cold rations to warm them, in the biting north winds of a late October day, ready and eager to advance again upon the foe, and do again what they had done for Stonewall Jackson
upon the same ground.
This inexcusable delay, although abundant excuses have been offered for it, enabled the commanders of the Federal
regiments, brigades and corps to rally and reform their men, so that when Sheridan
, who had been absent, reached them from Winchester
not long before noon, after a ride, not of 20 miles at a headlong speed, but of 10 miles in about two hours, he found his army reformed by Crook
and ready to advance, with all arms of the service, overlapping, on either flank, the little band of Confederate heroes that, from his position, he could plainly see stretched out in a thin line not far in front.
When all was ready, at about 4 p. m., with a great mass of cavalry upon his flanks, and especially upon his right, Sheridan
ordered an advance and attacked Early
's line, turning his left; and the mere weight of numbers, especially of cavalry, forced the whole line to give way and retreat just before dark, throwing most of it into confusion, although several bodies of its well-trained and tried soldiers, especially Ramseur
's men, in whose front, bravely fighting, he fell mortally wounded,