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Battle of Cedar Creek, Va., Oct. 19th, 1864.

Gallant, victorious charges, inglorious retreat and defeat.

By Samuel D. Buck, Baltimore, Md.,
Captain Company ‘H,’ thirteenth Virginia Infantry (First Colonel was A. P. Hill), Pegram's Brigade, Early's (old) Division, Army of Northern Virginia.

Every Southern soldier in the trying days of 1861-5, desired to do his best, and all attested their heroism. They are all accepted as incomparable in general exemplification, by the world. Comparison of deserts now will avail naught, to the disparagment of another. Officers and privates, every one, had their own opinions in the Southern army, and, freedom in criticism of military movement was constantly used, without ensuing penalty.

No one can appreciate the desperation of this grand movement without closely examining a war map. Having been born and reared almost within gunshot of this now historic battle-field, I can [105] see every road and defile as I write. To our right flows, at the base of the Massanutten Mountain, the north branch of the Shenandoah River, with no road between the river and the mountain, and in our front is the village of Strasburg (where I had gone to school), and just beyond flows Cedar Creek, upon whose banks was camped Sheridan's Army. The great question was: How can an army of ten thousand men surround one of forty thousand, well armed and entrenched? And yet, the task was undertaken and with more success than one would have supposed.

On the night of October 18th our Division (Pegram's), with Gordon's and Ramseur's, were on the march. Crossing the river at George A. Hupp's two miles south of Strasburg, we moved cautiously to the edge of the mountain, and after a few minutes rest we started in single file along the mountain side, which was only a pig's path, climbing over logs, stones, and many other obstacles. We pressed on as rapidly as possible and came out at Pitman's, just at the foot of the high peak of Massanutten Mountain, upon which we had a signal station. We were then on Sheridan's left flank, but the river flowed between us and had to be forded, so we continued our march upon a well-beaten road leading from Front Royal to Strasburg. Every tree was familiar to me, because as a boy I walked and rode almost daily over this section. We continued our march to Hite's lane, and here again I was on still more familiar ground—only a mile from this lane my mother and family lived. Just upon the hill in front stood my uncle John Buck's residence (where my wife was reared), and where so many of my earlier, happy days were spent. Now, I passed these dear old places without even stopping. Where I then used to hunt squirrels and birds, I now hunted men, and ‘the game’ was plentiful. Here we halted for the men to ‘close up,’ and as soon as this was accomplished we hurried to the ford (Hite's ford, or Bowman's ford, as then known). Our cavalry charged across, captured the pickets, and the infantry followed, hurriedly, having quickly waded the river.

Gordon's men struck the extreme left of the enemy's line so suddenly that men were captured in their beds, not knowing or even supposing that we were nearer than Fisher's Hill. Gordon and Ramseur were in front, while we (Pegram's Division) were in reserve. Naturally, the enemy was demoralized. Gordon and Ramseur were driving everything before them, and while this was being done ‘Old Jube’ Early had worked his way close to the enemy's front on Cedar Creek, and at daylight he struck them a tremendous [106] blow and drove them back upon us, only to be driven back again and pressed out of shape into a broken and a routed army. On they rushed, three miles or more, to Bell Grove, where a fresh division of the enemy was ready to meet us, and upon which many stragglers had already rallied.

Our division was ordered to attack, and we moved forward in perfect order, driving the enemy's skirmishers like dust before the wind, until we mounted the hill in our front, where we found a solid line of battle; but passing over the hill, surmounted by artillery, supported by infantry, was the time to try men's souls, and to my horror, the brigade stopped! Several officers stepped to the front of our regiment, and called on the ‘Thirteenth to follow,’ and every man sprang to his post. We charged over and down the hill side to Marsh Run, immediately in front of Mr. Sperrie's house, and within a few hundred yards of several pieces of artillery—having by our heavy fire been driven back on their infantry support. Colonel Hoffman, commanding the brigade, came up and ordered us to halt and reform for another charge. I approached him at once and begged him to move upon this battery—as we were—but he would not listen. Seeing the enemy again moving up to their artillery, and fearing if they reached it we would be driven back, I again appealed to Colonel Hoffman to charge them before they could open fire on us. The attention of Colonel Hoffman was gained at last, and showing him our position, I said: ‘Colonel, I can capture that battery with fifty men.’ Thereupon, with an oath of approval, Colonel Hoffman replied: ‘Well, Buck, take as many men as will follow you and try it.’ Not a moment was to be spared, as the enemy were bearing swiftly down on us. Throwing myself within a few yards of the front of the ‘old Thirteenth,’ I said: ‘Come on, boys, and we'll take the battery!’ Those ‘boys’ were grand men. They never faltered for an instant—and never failed to follow any man who would lead them—and with a shout they charged across the Run and up the hill and upon the guns of the enemy, and in a moment their guns were turned upon their former owners, who were soon in full retreat.

The brigade moved forward and our line was reformed for the third charge. General Pegram rode up to Colonel Hoffman and asked, ‘How are things going?’ ‘First rate, General; we took that whole battery. No, we didn't take it, but d—me if Buck didn't take it with the Thirteenth! While I was forming the brigade he charged with part of the Thirteenth.’ General Pegram turned [107] and touched his hat, and then, turning to Colonel Huffman, said, in the presence of the regiment and many of the brigade: ‘If I live to get through this battle, that shall be called “ Buck's Battery” !’ Very complimentary, so far as it went, but ‘Phil. Sheridan’ recaptured that battery the same evening.

Our brigade now being in trim, we moved forward, driving everything before us and halting for nothing, until we passed through on the left of Middletown, where we formed with our right on the turnpike at the toll-gate, and where we stayed all day, waiting for orders to move, or to be attacked. Our great victory was soon to be thrown away. While we rested, waiting for orders, Sheridan was moving up from Winchester with a fresh corps that had not fired a gun, and with as many men in it as we had in our army. Notwithstanding this, we would have whipped him, but, half of our army was unfortunately back, pillaging the captured wagons, hunting for clothing and shoes, as many were almost naked and barefooted. It was a burning shame, for had every man been at his post, Sheridan would have been driven back across the Potomac! How could such gallant soldiers forsake their colors at such a time? We had previously completely routed Sheridan, yet all was lost afterward, by straggling. The writer saw the attack when it was made on our left and felt that Gordon would hold on to his position, but it was impossible, with such odds against him. On our left all was confusion. General Early ordered our division to retire, and our brigade fell back through Middletown ‘in good order.’ Just at the edge of the town a cannon was stopped and ordered to open on the enemy, but it only fired a few shots and then started off, at full speed, without limbering up. But a rope was attached to the piece and to the caisson, and in this way the drivers started up the pike, while the gun would run from one side of the road to the other, knocking everything off the pike. General Pegram, seeing it, rode up in front of the horses and forced the drivers to stop and limber up, which was a great relief, as no one could march on the pike with a gun being dragged in this way. General Pegram—gallant, noble gentleman and soldier—kept in front, encouraging the men and keeping them in line, until we reached Cedar creek, which we crossed, every fellow making a rush for the bridge. This was terribly demoralizing, but at Stickley's shop General Pegram rallied about one hundred or more men and tried to check the enemy's cavalry, but they came upon us in such force that we had to break.

As they dashed upon us, I ran across the pike to a yard on the [108] south side and got down behind an ash-hopper, where I crouched a few minutes. It was now dark, and on the opposite side of the hopper sat a colonel of one of our regiments. We whispered to each other, and a plan was concocted for escape. The colonel was a very large man, but fleet of foot and followed well. Yankees was all around us, capturing men, but the dash for liberty was made and amid the shouts and shots of the enemy we two rushed across the lot, into the woods and down the hill to the river, making no stop for the water, but jumped in and I was soon across. The colonel, however, presumably struck deep water, and I had to leave him, as there was no time to turn back to help him, so on I pressed, crossing the river, beating my way up the side of the mountain—the way the army had passed in the morning—gathering stragglers as I went, and with them marched into camp, wet to the skin, with nothing to eat and the only bed the ground. Nevertheless, I slept like a log until 3 o'clock next morning when a start was made up the Valley. I afterwards heard that my mother and sisters walked all over the battle-field the next day, hunting for me, expecting that I had been killed. It was rather gratifying to know that they did not find me.

General Early deserved great credit for this battle, having won a victory second to none during the war, though all was lost afterwards, but by no fault of his. He deserved better results. Some of General Gordon's admirer's claim that he had planned that battle and would have won the victory had General Early not come upon the field. I do not believe it, however, never did, and never will. And since General Early says it was not so, there cannot be a doubt about it, and the gallant Gordon makes no such claim. Sheridan's ten thousand cavalry on our flanks caused our disaster, and not much credit to Sheridan either, for such a success, when he had enough troops to surround us at any time. Even as it was, had this battle been fought before our men learned the danger of a flank movement, we would not have been whipped. Early in the war, men were not, as a rule, demoralized because of a flank fire; while before its close it became a by-word—‘flanked’—which meant much, and men would run like cattle. One frightened man, hallooing ‘we are flanked,’ would demoralize an army, and all such men should have been shot upon the spot, because the shooting of such creatures might be the salvation of an army. Nothing ever demoralized the Yankees so much as the cry ‘Jackson is on our flank.’

In the battle of Cedar Creek, much of our loss was caused on the retreat, by the breaking of the bridge over a little stream south of [109] Strasburg, and but for this mishap our loss in artillery would have been small.

As we were returning to Fisher's Hill, after the battle, as before stated, we passed many wagons and some artillery, standing in the road, and there was no sign of the enemy.

We fell back with our 1,500 prisoners, notwithstanding the fact that Sheridan had enough cavalry to surround us; more cavalry than we had infantry! Strange to say, we were not at all annoyed by them on our retreat.

After a few days rest, we started after Sheridan's army again, and advanced to Newtown, where we formed line of battle and invited attack. We were in no condition to attack, as we had but 10,015 men in all against Sheridan's 35,489. Yet, he would not attack us, so we fell back to Fisher's Hill, and later to New Market (on November 14th), and from there we went to Petersburg, to join General Lee.

I agree with General Early, that Sheridan should have been cashiered, rather than promoted, for not capturing our army; and I go still further, and say that General Early should have had the thanks of the country for his fine generalship in saving our army, and for the grand success which he made against such odds. And it can be further said of General Early, that not a battle did he ever fight on equal ground; the enemy always having from three to five men to his one.

Our army in the Valley had killed, wounded and captured more of the enemy than we ever had—rank and file—in battle. We were worn out by the odds we had against us. At Winchester we fought with less than 15,000 troops. Sheridan's own report admits that he had 43,000. The same proportion held good in the battle of Cedar Creek, yet people of so-called common sense ridicule General Early and praise Sheridan. This should be reversed. Every schoolboy should be taught the truth about this and also concerning our late terrible war; and taught that the North only triumphed by force of numbers, and not prowess, as they would have you believe. Even Horace Greeley, in his American Conflict, admits that we were always outnumbered from four to five to one!

Early, with an army of 10,000 in the Valley, kept fully 40,000 of the enemy from Lee's front. Pond's ‘Valley Campaign’ admits the Federal loss at Cedar Creek in killed, wounded and missing 5,764. Besides this, Wright's Corps was recalled from Ashby's Gap, on its way to Grant, and but for this (for us) unfortunate reinforcement [110] to Sheridan, we would have driven him across the Potomac River.

Early killed 1,938, wounded 11,893, and captured 3,121—total 16,952. This is the Federal report. See Pond's ‘Valley Campaign,’ pages 267 and 269. Sheridan's army, on September 30th, 1864, numbered 56,764, and the Army of West Virginia, 21,275. Pond states, page 267, that Early's force numbered 10,015, which is about correct. But Early contended that he had less than that. I am satisfied to take their figures, which pretty clearly demonstrate the valor of the so-called ‘rebels.’

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