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Winchester, battles of

Banks had won a race with “StonewallJackson for Winchester, but was not allowed to rest there, for the Confederates, close behind him, were 20,000 strong, while the Nationals numbered only 7,000. General Ewell, who lay within a mile and a half of Winchester, attacked Banks before the dawn, May 24, 1862, and a furious battle ensued in front of Winchester. The Confederates were kept in check five hours. Meanwhile, Jackson's whole force was ordered up, when Banks, perceiving that further resistance would lead to [408] destruction, and having sent his trains forward towards the Potomac, gave an order for a retreat in the same direction. They passed rapidly through the town, assailed in the streets by Confederates of both sexes, firing from windows and throwing hand-grenades, hot water, and every sort of missile. Late in the afternoon the wearied and battle-worn troops reached Martinsburg, rested a few hours, and then pushed on 12 miles to the Potomac, opposite Williamsport. Before midnight a thousand camp-fires were blazing on the slopes overlooking the river. The pursuit was abandoned at Martinsburg. Within forty-eight hours after hearing of Kenly's disaster, Banks, with his little army, had marched 53 miles and fought several skirmishes and one severe battle. After menacing Harper's Ferry, where General Saxton was in command, Jackson beat a hasty retreat up the valley. Banks's loss during this masterly retreat was thirty-eight killed, 155 wounded, and 711 missing. These were exclusive of Kenly's command and the sick and wounded in hospitals at Strasburg and Winchester. Only fifty-five of his 500 wagons were lost. Jackson's loss, including that at Front Royal, was sixty-eight killed and 329 wounded. His gains were over 9,000 small-arms and 3,000 prisoners, including 700 sick and wounded.

On Aug. 7, 1864, General Sheridan assumed the command of the Middle Division of the army, with his headquarters at Harper's Ferry. He spent a month in getting his forces well in hand for an aggressive campaign. Early tried to lure him up the valley, in order that he might flank him. Sheridan was too wary for him, and kept the entrance into Maryland closely guarded against Confederate raids. General Grant visited him (Sept. 16) to view the situation. Sheridan was anxious to begin offensive operations. The lieutenant-general had confidence in Sheridan, and, after deliberation, left him, with the laconic order, “Go in!” Sheridan and Early then confronted each other at Opequan Creek, a few miles east of Winchester. Sheridan watched his antagonist closely, and when, on Sept. 18, Early weakened his lines by sending half his army on a reconnaissance to Martinsburg (which Averill repulsed), Sheridan put his forces under arms, and, at 3 A. M. on Sept. 19, they were in motion towards Winchester, Wilson's cavalry leading, followed by Wright's and Emory's corps.

Wilson crossed the Opequan at dawn, charging upon and sweeping away all opposers, and securing a place, within two miles of Winchester, for the deployment of the army. There they formed, with Wright's corps on the left, flanked by Wilson's cavalry, Emory in the centre, and Crook's Kanawha infantry in reserve in the rear. Early had turned back towards Winchester before Sheridan was ready for battle, and strongly posted his men in a fortified position on a series of detached hills. Averill had followed them closely from Bunker's Hill, and he and Merritt enveloped Winchester on the east and north with cavalry. Between the two armies lay a broken, wooded country. The Nationals attempted to reach Early's vulnerable left wing and centre, and, in so doing, encountered a terrible tempest of shells. They charged Early's centre furiously and carried his first line. The assailing columns were quickly hurled back by two powerful divisions. It seemed, for a moment, as if the Nationals had lost the day. The Confederates eagerly sought to seize the only gorge in the mountains through which the Nationals might retreat, if compelled to. This was well defended by a few troops at first. Very soon the Confederates were pushed back to their lines. This was followed by the rapid rallying of the broken columns of the Nationals and reforming of their line, which speedily advanced.

There was now a most sanguinary battle until 4 P. M., when a loud shout was heard from beyond the woods on the Union right. It was from Crook's (8th) Corps—the Army of Western Virginia—which, with Torbert's cavalry, pressed forward in the face of a murderous fire and fell heavily upon Early's left. At the same time there was a general charge upon the Confederate centre by the infantry, and by Wilson's cavalry on Early's right, driving the Confederates to the fortified heights. Before 5 P. M. the latter were carried, and Early's broken columns were flying through Winchester and up the valley towards Strasburg, in full retreat. They left behind them 2,500 of their number as [409] prisoners, with nine battle-flags and five pieces of artillery. They were pursued until dark. The Confederates lost about 1,000 men besides the prisoners; Sheridan's loss was about 3,000. Besides the prisoners taken in battle there were about 3,000 wounded left in Winchester.

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