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[233]

The Federal Cavalry and the panic in Gordon's Division.

The fact is Sheridan's attempt to win back the day was beaten by this repulse in the centre; by Kershaw and Ramseur. It was only revived by the panic that originated on our (Gordon's) left. How that occurred is thus told in General Custer's report:

‘About II A. M. I was directed to transfer my command again to the right flank and take charge of affairs. . . There being no connection between the left of the enemy and Rosser's cavalry, I succeeded in moving a portion of my command to a position almost in rear of the enemy. . . . I caused my battery to open and at the same time charged with three regiments. The effect was surprising. . . It was apparent that the wavering in the enemy s ranks betokened a retreat, and that retreat might be converted into a rout. . . .Seeing so large a cavalry force bearing rapidly down upon an unprotected flank, and their line of retreat in danger of being intercepted, the line of the enemy, already broken, now gave way in the utmost confusion.’

While the demoralized rout that ensued has commonly been stigmatized as disgraceful, after the left was put to flight nothing but a rapid movement behind Cedar creek, or to the river, saved the whole army from the possibility of capture. And matters would have been much worse but for the splendid service of the artillery, commanded by Colonel Thomas H. Carter, which held the pursuing cavalry in check. The retreat was communicated to Humphrey's Brigade in a very difficult situation. For strength of position it had been projected somewhat beyond the general line, behind a projecting stone fence. And on the first motion of withdrawal the force we had beaten came on us and Ramseur's left with a rush. As soon as we got on fighting ground the men were rallied. Here the resistance was spirited. But the misfortune of the fatal day culminated in the death of our brigade-commander, Lieutenant-Colonel John H. Sims, of the 21st Mississippi. A man of daring spirit and coolest courage, possessed of a personal dominance that swayed all around him; after his fall the brigade was resolved into the general rout.

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