previous next

Chapter 27:

  • Grant directs Sheridan to move upon Charlottesville
  • -- Sheridan recommends reduction of his command -- Lee reinforces Early—--Sheridan moves down the Valley -- Early follows -- cavalry battle at Tom's brook -- rout of the rebels -- Sheridan moves to Cedar creek -- Sheridan summoned to Wash. Ington -- Wright left in command -- Early determines to attack Sheridan's army -- topography -- battle of Cedar creek -- movement of Early, in night of October 18th -- assault on left of national army -- Wright driven back in confusion seven miles -- Sheridan arrives at Winchester on 18th -- rides towards Cedar creek on 19th -- turns the tide of fugitives—‘face the other way’ -- re-forms the line -- last attack of Early repulsed -- Sheridan attacks in his turn—--rout of the rebels -- magnitude of rebel disaster -- end of campaign in Shenandoah Valley -- Sheridan's military achievements and character -- faults of Early -- end of Early's career -- Grant's policy of destroying resources of the Valley -- justified by necessity, by results, and by course pursued by rebels -- Grant moves against Lee's communications -- instructions to Meade and Butler -- geography of country -- army of Potomac crosses Hatcher's run -- Warren fails to connect with Hancock -- Grant at Burgess's mill -- enemy's line found to extend further than expected -- Grant suspends operation -- returns to City Point, supposing connection made between Warren and Hancock -- enemy comes into gap between Fifth and Second corps -- gallant behavior of Egan -- repulse of rebels -- Butler moves against fortified works, contrary to orders -- repulse of Butler -- criticism of entire movement -- General remarks on Grant's operations before Petersburg.

While these events were passing in Georgia and on the James, Sheridan had advanced as far as Staunton and Waynesboroa, south of which points no rebel force at this time existed in the Valley. Until the 1st of October, he was occupied in [82] carrying out Grant's commands for the destruction of crops and mills, and on that day he reported: ‘The rebels have given up the Valley, excepting Waynesboroa, which has been occupied by them since our cavalry was there.’ The generalin-chief was now extremely anxious that Sheridan should strike the railroads east of the mountains, by which important supplies were still conveyed to Richmond. As early as the 26th of September, he said: ‘If you can possibly subsist your army at the front for a few days more, do it, and make a great effort to destroy the roads about Charlottesville, east of the Blue Ridge.’ Sheridan, however, was opposed to this movement, and replied at once: ‘The difficulty of transporting this army through the mountain passes on to the railroad at Charlottesville is such that I regard it as impracticable with my present means of transportation. . . . I think that the best policy will be to let the burning of the crops of the Valley be the end of this campaign, and let some of this army go somewhere else.’

It is not every general who, after a successful campaign, recommends his own command to be reduced and his troops distributed; but Sheridan always cared more for his cause than for his own interest or importance. He was now very much in earnest, and wrote the same day to Halleck: ‘I strongly recommend General Grant to terminate this campaign by the destruction of the crops in the Valley and the means of planting, and the transfer of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps to his army at Richmond. . . There is now no objective point but Lynchburg, and it cannot be invested on the [83] line of this valley, and the investing army supplied. . . With Crook's force the Valley can be held.’ To this Grant replied on the 3rd of October; ‘You can take up such position in the Valley as you think can and ought to be held, and send all the force not required for this immediately here.’. This, it has been seen, was always his policy. He disliked to overrule the judgment of a distant subordinate; if he distrusted a general, he preferred to remove him; but in Sheridan he now placed almost implicit confidence.

He still, however, omitted no precaution which, as general-in-chief, it was his duty to employ, and carefully considered the supplies and communications of his lieutenant in the Valley. On the 27th of September, he said to Halleck: ‘I think the railroad towards Sheridan should be put in order as far as protection can be furnished for it. . . I would like Sheridan to decide which road should be opened;’ and on the same day he ordered: ‘Now that Sheridan has pushed so far up the Valley, General Augur should send, if it is possible, a force of cavalry and infantry out by Culpeper, with scouts, as far as they can go, to watch if any troops move north on the east side of the Blue Ridge, to get in upon Sheridan's rear.’

At the same time, he was watching the effect which events in the Valley might have on the devices and movements of Lee. On the 1st of October, he said to Butler: ‘The strong works about Chapin's Farm should be held or levelled. Sheridan, for want of supplies, if there should be no other reason, will be forced to fall back. The enemy may take advantage of such an occurrence to bring the remnants [84] of Early's force here, relying upon his ability to get it back to the Valley before Sheridan could fit up and return. In such case he would fall upon either flank as now exposed, and inflict great damage.’ Again, on the 3rd, he said: ‘A despatch is just received from Sheridan up to the 1st instant. The enemy have entirely left his front and gone to Charlottesville or Gordonsville.1 He cannot reach them there, so that we may now confidently expect the return here of at least Kershaw's division and Rosser's cavalry. It will require very close watching to prevent being surprised by the reinforcement.’ Thus, Early's manoeuvres furnished a reason for levelling or holding the forts on the James; so completely was the campaign in the Valley a part of the operations against Richmond.

But Lee could not yet make up his mind to abandon the important region beyond the Blue Ridge. Early had not absolutely crossed the mountains, but only fled to their western base, and after his defeats at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, Kershaw and Fitz-Lee were ordered to return to him. Kershaw had already reached Culpeper on his way to Richmond, but on the receipt of these orders, he re-crossed the Blue Ridge at Swift's Gap, and came up with the beaten army on the 25th of September, at Brown's Gap, where Lomax and Fitz-Lee had arrived the day before. Rosser's brigade [85] of cavalry had also been sent from Lee's army, and reported to Early on the 5th of October; troops were ordered from Breckenridge, at this time in South-West Virginia; while all the reserves in the Valley were embodied and placed under Early's command. Altogether these reinforcements amounted to more than ten thousand men,2 and Early, now finding himself stronger than he had been at Winchester, determined to attack the national forces in position at Harrisonburg.

But on the 6th of October, Sheridan began his retrograde movement, stretching the cavalry across the Valley from the Blue Ridge to the eastern [86] slope of the Alleghanies, with directions to burn all forage and drive off all stock, as they moved to the rear. This was in compliance with Grant's orders to ‘leave nothing for the subsistence of an army on any ground abandoned to the enemy.’ ‘The most positive orders were given, however, not to burn dwellings.’ Early followed at a respectful distance, but on the 8th, his cavalry under Rosser, came up with Sheridan near Woodstock, and harassed Custer's division as far as Tom's Brook, three or four miles south of Fisher's Hill. That night Torbert, in command of the national horse, was ordered to engage the rebel cavalry at daybreak, and notified [87] that the infantry would halt until after the defeat of the enemy. At an early hour on the 9th, the heads of the opposing columns came in contact, and after a short but severe engagement, the rebels were completely routed, losing eleven guns, together with caissons, battery forges, Headquarters' wagons, and everything else that was carried on wheels. Three hundred and thirty prisoners were captured. Sheridan's casualties did not exceed sixty. He reported the battle in his usual vigorous style: ‘The enemy, after being charged by our gallant cavalry, were broken, and ran; they were followed by our men on the jump twenty-six miles, through Mount Jackson, and across the North Fork of the Shenandoah. I deemed it best to make this delay of one day here to settle this new cavalry general.’ The eleven pieces of artillery taken this day made thirty-six cannon captured in the Valley since the 19th of September. Some of it was new and had never been used before. It had evidently just arrived from Richmond, as the rebels said, ‘for General Sheridan, care of General Early.’

The unlucky commander reported his new defeat in an agony of shame. ‘God knows I have done all in my power to avert the disasters which have befallen this command, but the fact is that the enemy's cavalry is so much superior to ours both in numbers and equipment, and the country is so favorable to the operations of cavalry, that it is impossible for ours to compete with his.’ Lomax's ‘command is and has been demoralized all the time. It would be better if they could all be put into the infantry, but if that were tried, I am afraid they would all run off. . . Sheridan has laid waste nearly [88] all of Rockingham and Shenandoah, and I shall have to rely on Augusta for my supplies, and they are not abundant here. Sheridan's purpose under Grant's orders has been to render the Valley untenable by our troops, by destroying the supplies. . . What shall I do if he sends reinforcements to Grant, or remains in the lower Valley?’

On the 10th of October, the national army resumed its march, the main body crossing to the north side of Cedar Creek, while the Sixth corps moved as far as Front Royal, on its way to rejoin Meade; but after his third defeat, Early did not venture further down the Valley until the 12th. On that day he heard that Sheridan was preparing to send part of his troops to the army of the Potomac, and accordingly the rebel command was advanced as far as Fisher's Hill. In consequence of this movement, however, the Sixth corps was at once recalled, to await the development of Early's new intention.

Grant meanwhile, though deferring to the opinion of Sheridan, so far as to direct the return of the Sixth corps to Meade, had not abandoned his views in regard to the necessity of breaking up the railroads east of the Blue Ridge. On the 11th of October, he said to Halleck: ‘After sending the Sixth corps and one division of cavalry here, I think Sheridan should keep up as advanced a position as possible towards the Virginia Central road, and be prepared to advance on to that road at Gordonsville and Charlottesville at any time the enemy weakens himself sufficiently to admit of it. The cutting of that road and of the canal would [89] be of vast importance to us.’ This despatch he directed should be sent to Sheridan; but Halleck added to the order and otherwise modified it in transmission. ‘Lieutenant-General Grant wishes a position taken far enough south to serve as a base for further operations upon Gordonsville and Charlottesville. It must be strongly fortified and provisioned. Some point in the vicinity of Manassas Gap would seem best suited for all purposes. Colonel Alexander, of the engineers, will be sent to consult with you.’ Grant had said nothing about fortifying, or provisioning, or about Manassas Gap, or consulting with engineers. He left all these details entirely to Sheridan, in whose independent judgment Halleck even yet appeared to have but little confidence.

Sheridan still objected to the plan as it was proposed to him; and on the 14th, Grant telegraphed: ‘What I want is for you to threaten the Virginia Central railroad and canal in the manner your judgment tells you is best, holding yourself ready to advance, if the enemy draw off their forces. If you make the enemy hold a force equal to your own for the protection of those thoroughfares, it will accomplish nearly as much as their destruction. If you cannot do this, then the next best thing to do is to send here all the force you can. I deem a good cavalry force necessary for your offensive, as well as defensive operations. You need not therefore send here more than one division of cavalry.’ On the 13th of October, Sheridan was summoned to Washington by the Secretary of War, who telegraphed direct: ‘If you can come here, a consultation on several points is extremely desirable. [90] I propose to visit General Grant, and would like to see you first.’

On the evening of the 15th, accordingly, Sheridan set out for the capital. There seemed no prospect of an immediate movement of the enemy, and the entire cavalry force accompanied him as far as Front Royal; for, like a good soldier, he intended to push Torbert through Chester Gap as far as Charlottesville, in accordance with Grant's views, although he disagreed with them. On the night of the 16th, he arrived at Front Royal, but there received a despatch from Wright, who had been left at Cedar Creek, in command of the army. A message to Early had been intercepted; it was in these words: ‘Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan. —Longstreet.’ This information was contrary to any possessed by either Grant or Sheridan. Longstreet was believed to be at Richmond, and no rebel force existed either in or near the Valley, except that which Early himself commanded. The despatch had been taken from a rebel signal station, and was probably incorrectly rendered; but it served to warn Sheridan, who at once abandoned the cavalry raid, and ordered Torbert to return to Wright at Cedar Creek.

This was on Sunday, the 16th of October. Wright had announced: ‘If the enemy should be strongly reinforced in cavalry, he might, by turning our right, give us a great deal of trouble. I shall hold on here until the enemy's movements are developed, and shall only fear an attack on my right, which I shall make every preparation for guarding against and resisting.’ [91] To this Sheridan replied from Front Royal: ‘The cavalry is all ordered back to you; make your position strong. If Longstreet's despatch is true, he is under the impression that we have largely detached. . . Close in on General Powell, who will be at this point. If the enemy should make an advance, I know you will defeat him. Look well to your ground, and be well prepared.’ He then went on to Washington. Grant meanwhile had been notified of the intercepted despatch, and telegraphed at once to Halleck: ‘Sheridan should follow and break up Longstreet's force, if he can, and either employ all the force the enemy now have in the Valley, or send his surplus forces here.’

Early was indeed preparing for a supreme effort to crush Sheridan. It is impossible not to admire the determination and the spirit of the commander who, after the succession of disasters which had broken his army, could so soon attempt an offensive movement against a victorious enemy. But whatever his faults, Early was morally as well as physically brave. He had now, however, been heavily reinforced; his army was as large as before the battle of Winchester, while Sheridan's command had not been increased. Early knew besides that great dissatisfaction existed both in the army and out of it, because of his reverses; the Governor of Virginia had peremptorily urged that he should be relieved, and although Lee had generously supported his subordinate, he had nevertheless written in the strongest terms to stimulate the unfortunate commander. ‘Every one should exert all his energies and strength to [92] meet the emergency. One victory will put all things right. You must do all in your power to invigorate your army. Manoeuvre so, if you can, as to keep the enemy in check till you can strike him with all your strength. . . You must use the resources you have so as to gain success. The enemy must be defeated, and I rely upon you to do it.’ Spurred on thus by every motive, personal and military, by ambition, hope, revenge, and desperation, as well as by unflinching loyalty to his cause, Early made one more effort to overthrow his redoubtable antagonist. He had, besides, the very practical incentive of utter lack of supplies. ‘I was now,’ he says, ‘compelled to move back for want of provisions and forage, or attack the enemy in his position with the hope of driving him from it, and I determined to attack.’

Cedar Creek empties into the North Fork of the Shenandoah river about two miles east of Strasburg. At this point the creek runs nearly south and the river east, but in both streams there are many windings. The national army lay entrenched on the eastern bank of the creek and north of the Fork, with its left about a mile from the junction,— an exceedingly strong position. The rebels were encamped at Fisher's Hill, five miles away. On the night of the 16th of October, Early sent Rosser with two brigades of cavalry, and one of infantry mounted behind the horsemen, to make a reconnoissance of the national right. The position, however, was found well guarded, for it was here that Wright apprehended an attack;3 and Early accordingly [93] turned his attention to the opposite flank, where Sheridan had directed Wright to close in on Powell. But Powell was at the junction of the South Fork with the Shenandoah river, seven miles at least from the left of the national command. Early had a signal station on Masanutten mountain from which he ascertained exactly the situation of the national camps. The cavalry was on the right, Crook had the left, while the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, under Getty and Emory, lay between. To turn the left of Wright's command the rebels must first cross the North Fork near Fisher's Hill, then move by a rugged pathway between the base of the mountain and the stream, and finally re-cross the river at a ford below the mouth of Cedar Creek. The road at the foot of the mountain was impracticable for artillery; but Torbert's cavalry was massed on the opposite flank, and Rosser's reconnoissance had attracted attention to that quarter, so that it was closely picketed. Early, therefore, determined to attack the national left.

Accordingly, on the night of the 18th of October, he sent three divisions of infantry across the North Fork and around the mountain, under command of Gordon, one of the ablest of the rebel generals; while with Kershaw and Wharton he himself marched direct through Strasburg. The plan was for Gordon to move around in the national rear, Kershaw to attack the left flank, and Wharton to advance in front with the artillery, which would open on Wright as soon as he turned upon Gordon and Kershaw. Rosser was sent to the national right, to occupy the cavalry, and Lomax (who had been pushed down the Luray Valley) was ordered to [94] pass by Front Royal, cross the Shenandoah river, and seize the road to Winchester, in the rear of the national army. It was one of the best concerted schemes of the war.

Soon after dark the rebels moved silently from Strasburg and Fisher's Hill. Favored by night and a heavy fog, Gordon crossed the river, crept unobserved under the guns of Crook, re-crossed the North Fork at Bowman's ford, and before daybreak had struck the rear of Wright's command. Kershaw's attack on the national left was simultaneous, and the outposts were driven in, the camps invaded, the position was turned. This was followed by a direct attack along the entire front, and the whole national left was driven back in confusion. Eighteen pieces of cannon were captured, and nearly a thousand prisoners; a very large part of the infantry not preserving even a company organization. The Sixth corps on the right, however, had not been surprised; the firing on the left gave it warning, and there was time for Getty4 to form and move out of camp to a ridge west of the main road, where considerable resistance was offered. But the rebel artillery was now brought up and opened fire, and Getty fell back to the north of Middletown, where he again made a stand. Custer and Merritt were at this time transferred to the left of the line, to protect the road to Winchester, which Lomax had not seized; and a general retreat was ordered. The condition of the troops was still deplorable, and the whole army fell back to a point six or seven miles in rear of its first position in the morning. [95]

Sheridan had arrived at Washington on the 17th, and at noon the next day he set out to return. On the 18th, he slept at Winchester, twenty miles from his command. At an early hour on the 19th, an officer on picket reported artillery firing, but a reconnoissance had been ordered for that morning, and no attention was paid to the news. At nine o'clock Sheridan rode out of Winchester, still unconscious of the danger of his army. But the sounds of heavy battle soon became unmistakable; and half a mile from the town the head of the fugitives came in sight, trains and men, with appalling rapidity. He immediately gave directions to halt and park the trains, and ordered the brigade at Winchester to stretch across the country and stop all stragglers. Then, with an escort of twenty men, he pushed to the front, leaving his staff to do what they could to stem the torrent of fugitives. His presence had an electrical effect. He rode hot haste, like a courier, swinging his hat, and shouting as he passed: ‘Face the other way, boys! we are going back. Face the other way!’ and hundreds of the men turned at once and followed him with cheers.

It was ten o'clock when he reached the front, where he found Merritt and Custer's cavalry under Torbert, and Getty's division of the Sixth corps opposing the enemy. He at once determined to fight on Getty's line, transferring Custer to the right again, and bringing up the remaining divisions of the Sixth corps, which were two miles to the right and rear. The Nineteenth corps, still further to the right and rear, was also ordered up in line. At first he sent staff officers to hasten these troops, [96] but soon, convinced that another attack was imminent, he went back in person to urge them on. And now the magnetic influence of the man told in a wonderful way upon the scattered soldiers. He was in full major-general's uniform, mounted on a magnificent black horse, man and beast covered with dust and foam; and rising in his stirrups, waving his hat and his sword by turns, he called out again and again: ‘If I had been here, this never would have happened. We are going back. Face the other way, boys! Face the other way!’ The fugitives recognized their general, stopped at once, and took up the cry: ‘Face the other way!’ It passed rapidly along from one to another, swelling and rolling, like a wave of the sea; the men returned in crowds, falling into ranks as they came, and the discomfited mob was converted again into a line of soldiers. With that wonderful instinct which comes upon men in battle, they knew that they were being led to victory.

Wright now returned to his corps, Getty to his division, and Sheridan was in command. A compact line of battle was formed, and a breastwork of rails and logs thrown up, just in time. Sheridan could see the rebel columns moving to the attack, but his army was prepared. The assault fell principally on the Nineteenth corps, which had lost eleven guns earlier in the day, but now repulsed the enemy handsomely. This was about one o'clock.

The rebels had made their last effort, and exhausted themselves. Gordon, Kershaw, and Rosser all reported that they were unable to advance. The national cavalry threatened their left, and where they expected a broken and disordered mass in front, [97] they found a steady line of infantry. Early's men, too, had suffered the demoralization which often follows victory. Their success had been so absolute, and happening after so many defeats, was so intoxicating, that the troops became uncontrollable. The destitute soldiers stopped in the captured camps for plunder, even the officers participating, and Early did not deem it prudent to attempt a further advance. He determined to hold the ground he had gained, and endeavor to secure the captured guns and other property.

But Sheridan had different views. The strength of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps was still rapidly augmenting, as the men returned who had gone to the rear early in the day. Even those who had reached Newtown, ten miles away, came back to fight, and such is the strange inconsistency of human nature, many of those who fled panting and panicstricken in the morning had covered themselves with the glory of heroes long before night. At about three P. M., the national army advanced; a left half wheel of the whole line was made, a division of cavalry turning each flank of the enemy, Custer on the right. The attack was brilliantly made, but the enemy was protected by rail breastworks, and at some points by stone fences, and the resistance was determined. The rebel line of battle also overlapped the right of Sheridan's, and for a time threatened disaster; but a turning movement of Early was checked by a counter-charge, led by Sheridan himself, upon the re-entering angle formed by the enemy, and the flanking party was cut off. Gordon's division, on Early's left, first broke, then Kershaw, and finally Ramseur. An attempt was [98] made to rally them, and with the help of artillery, the national advance was checked for a while; but Sheridan soon pushed on, and the rebel left again gave way. Upon this the panic spread, when Early gave a general order to retreat, and the whole command fell back in the greatest confusion.

At this stage of the battle Custer was ordered to charge with his entire division. Simultaneously with his charge, a combined movement of the whole line drove the enemy to the creek, where, owing to the difficulties of crossing, the retreat became a rout. The rebel officers found it impossible to rally their troops; the men would not listen to entreaties, threats, or appeals of any sort. A terror of the national cavalry had seized them, and there was no holding them back. The captured guns had already been carried across Cedar Creek, and Early had also succeeded in passing his own artillery; but Custer now found a ford west of the road, and Devin, with a brigade of Merritt's cavalry, another to the east; each made the crossing just after dark, and dashing across the creek, they got among the wagons and artillery; then, passing through Early's men to the southern side of Strasburg, they tore up the bridge over the North Fork, and thus succeeded in capturing the greatest part of the guns and a number of ordnance and medical wagons and ambulances. The rebel soldiers were scattered on both sides of the road, and the rout was as thorough and disgraceful as ever happened to an army. From Cedar Creek to Fisher's Hill the road was literally blocked with wagons, caissons, ambulances, and artillery. [99]

After the utter failure of all attempts to rally his men, Early went in person to Fisher's Hill, in the hope of forming them in the trenches; but when that position was reached, the only organized body left was the column of national prisoners taken in the morning, and the provost guard; and Early declared that it was the appearance of these prisoners, moving in a body, which alone arrested the progress of Sheridan's cavalry; for it was too dark to discover what they really were. About two thousand rebels made their way to the mountains, and for ten miles the line of retreat was covered with small arms and other debris thrown away by the flying enemy. Night alone preserved the fragments of the force from absolute annihilation. Early himself escaped under cover of darkness to Newmarket, twenty miles from Cedar Creek, where once before, on a similar occasion, his army had come together, by the numerous roads converging there. From this point, on the 20th, he announced to Lee: ‘The enemy is not pursuing, and I will rest here and organize my troops.’

Sheridan took possession of Strasburg after the battle; and in the morning he proceeded to Fisher's Hill. He had retaken all the guns lost by Wright, and captured twenty-four pieces of artillery besides. Sixteen hundred prisoners were brought in, and three hundred wagons. Early reported eighteen hundred and sixty killed and wounded. His reinforced command was now in a worse condition than that which had been beaten at Winchester and Fisher's Hill.

The unfortunate commander made no attempt at the time to conceal the extent of his disaster.5 It would, he knew, have been in vain. One cannot but pity the general obliged to pen such sentences as these: ‘The victory already gained was lost by the subsequent bad conduct of the troops. . . It is mortifying to me, General, to have to make these explanations of my reverses; they were due to no want of effort on my part, though it may be that I have not the capacity or judgment to prevent them . . I know that I shall have to endure censure from those who do not understand my position and my difficulties, but I am still willing to make renewed efforts.’ Then, conscious of what was inevitable, he suggested his own dismissal. ‘If you think, however, that the interests of the service would be promoted by a change of commanders, I beg you will have no hesitation in making the change. The interests of the service are far beyond any personal consideration; and if they require it, I [101] am willing to surrender my command into other hands.’

This battle ended the campaign in the Shenandoah valley. The rebels made no further attempt to invade the North, and the various detachments of Sheridan's army marched whithersoever they wished, for the whole country between the Potomac and the James was practically in the national hands. The instructions of Grant, faithfully carried out, to denude the Valley of forage and provisions rendered it impossible for the enemy to subsist a large force west of the Blue Ridge; Kershaw's division was therefore returned to Lee, and Cosby's cavalry to Breckenridge; and not long afterwards an entire rebel corps was transferred to Richmond, leaving with Early only one division of infantry and the cavalry. He was never again entrusted with a command large enough to occasion any anxiety to his opponents. As it now became unnecessary to retain any considerable national force in the Valley, the Sixth corps was restored to the army of the Potomac, and shortly afterwards two other divisions of infantry were withdrawn from the Shenandoah.6 [102]

Sheridan had assumed command at Halltown, on the 7th of August, and his last great victory in the Valley was achieved on the 19th of October; so that in less than eleven weeks he had accomplished all that he had been put in his place to [103] perform. He had utterly routed the rebels in three pitched battles, besides one cavalry engagement in which Torbert commanded; had captured sixty guns in the open field, in addition to the twentyfour [104] retaken from the enemy at Cedar Creek;7 the names of thirteen thousand prisoners were inscribed in his provost-marshal's books, and among his records were receipts for forty-nine captured battle flags, forwarded to the Secretary of War. His losses in the four battles were one thousand two hundred and ninety killed, seven thousand five hundred and eighty wounded, and two thousand five hundred and fourteen missing; total, eleven thousand three hundred and eighty-four. There can be no doubt that the killed and wounded in the four times beaten army were at least equal to those of the victorious force, or about nine thousand men.8 As Sheridan captured thirteen thousand more, Early's actual loss must have been twenty-two thousand.9 [105] This calculation takes no account of stragglers, skulkers, and deserters, who, the rebel general himself declares, were numerous, and who, all the showing is, abounded in every part of the Confederacy at this period of the war, when so many were disheartened and despairing. If this was the case elsewhere, it must have been particularly so in an army demoralized to the extent which Early describes,10 and which had so lost confidence in its leader, that Lee, on this account, was compelled to relieve him from command. [106]

Early had indeed been singularly unsuccessful both in strategy and tactics, but it may be doubted whether another general would have met with better fortune. Sheridan had shown himself abundant in resource, instantaneous in acting on his resolves, remorseless in following up a victory; and while himself sleepless in vigilance, prompt to detect every blunder of his enemy. But beyond these traits, which doubtless contributed in a great degree to his success, he had displayed a rare and fine intellectual ability. In each of his three great battles he conceived and executed movements remarkable as illustrations of the military art. A left half wheel of the main line, in combination with a flank turning movement, was a favorite manoeuvre, employed both at Winchester and Fisher's Hill; it is one that requires the clearest judgment, an unerring eye, an instinctive perception of the situation, and a certainty of design which, united, go far to constitute genius for war. He also exhibited consummate skill in combining great cavalry movements with the evolutions of the entire army in actual battle. Certainly, by no commander on either side during the war was the cavalry arm employed with more signal success at opportune moments in great engagements, and especially in a way in which infantry could not have been used at all. At Winchester, it was this combination of massed cavalry with infantry at a critical juncture which decided the day, and the approach of Torbert's force that sent the rebels ‘whirling through Winchester;’ while at Cedar Creek, the charge of Custer's division converted the rebel defeat into a disastrous rout. These movements, not planned in advance, but inspired by the circumstances [107] of actual battle, and executed at the instant when they were of the utmost consequence, evince that innate quality of a great commander which can neither be taught nor acquired; while the charge that Sheridan led in person at Cedar Creek, cutting off a large flanking party, as well as his whole conduct in this battle—the magnetic power he exercised over the fugitives, and the manner in which he was able to induce a beaten army to return and rout its victors—all constitute one of the most remarkable instances of personal influence in military history. As Grant telegraphed to the government: ‘Turning what bid fair to be disaster into glorious victory stamps Sheridan what I have always thought him, one of the ablest of generals.’

His antagonist, however, had not been altogether incompetent. Early was skilful, if over cautious, in his operations at the mouth of the Valley, and although he accomplished no more positive results, he nevertheless prevented Sheridan for some weeks from achieving anything of importance. He finally blundered, in dispatching two divisions to Martinsburg, in the presence of a wary opponent. They were brought rapidly back, it is true, when the danger became manifest; but the mistake undoubtedly contributed to his disaster at Winchester. Early, however, was always quick to return upon Sheridan's steps, when that commander made a retrograde movement; he was rarely deficient in vigor, and the plan of the battle of Cedar Creek was full of design as well as boldness; but, judging from results, he must have lacked clearness of judgment and quickness of resource in the turmoil of battle: if he met disaster, it was irremediable; [108] and he was utterly unable to control his troops in an emergency. Again and again he tells of his ineffectual efforts to restrain or rally his broken forces; he might as well have spoken to the wind. Neither officers nor men responded. He was out of accord with his army.

This was the judgment of his superiors; and after one more defeat, of no great consequence, the command of the rebel force in the Valley was transferred to Echols. ‘I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion,’ said Lee, ‘that you cannot command the united and willing co-operation which is so essential to success. Your reverses in the Valley, of which the public and the army judge chiefly by results, have, I fear, impaired your influence both with the people and the soldiers, and would add greatly to the difficulties which will, under any circumstances, attend our operations in South-West Virginia. . . I therefore felt constrained to endeavor to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence’ Thus the military career of Early ended in a disgrace inflicted, not by his enemies, but by his friends. To the brave old soldier the blows of Sheridan were probably no harder to bear than the censures of Lee.

The rebels and their apologists have never ceased to complain of the policy, inaugurated by Grant, and carried out to its full extent by Sheridan, of destroying the resources of the Valley. During the first years of the rebellion an opposite course had been pursued. The war was strictly confined to the armies in the field, and the national soldiers [109] were often employed in guarding rebel property and restoring slaves to rebel masters; while the national granaries were opened to supply the famishing families of men in arms against their government. It was hoped by such leniency to induce the prodigals to return. But the hope was vain, and the leniency misplaced; the rebels accepted every proffered aid or alms, and remained as obdurate as ever.11 The obstinacy, even the heroism they displayed made harsher measures indispensable; and in the end contributed to their completer conquest. Since the population, as well as the armies, of the South was united in rebellion, the population, as well as the armies, must undergo whatever was necessary for its subjection. A change thus came over the spirit of the North, and Grant embodied and represented this change. He saw that it was necessary to deprive the South of its resources as well as of its armies, for both were part of its military power. It was he who introduced and enforced the rule that all property useful to the enemy, adding to their strength, or assisting them to carry on the war, should be destroyed. This rule, laid down by him, was applied with equal rigor by Sherman at the West,12 and Sheridan at the East; it was applauded [110] by officers and soldiers everywhere in the field, endorsed by the government, and in the end approved by all who wished for the success of the national cause.

It was justified alike by its necessity, by its results, and by the course of the rebels themselves. Its necessity at the East had been proven by the frequent incursions and raids of the enemy into and through the Shenandoah. In the earlier years of the war this region teemed with provisions and forage from one end to the other, and Stonewall Jackson was in part indebted to its abundant supplies for his easy triumphs.13 In 1864, Lee informed the rebel government that one object of the movement against Washington was to secure the crops of the Valley; while Early boasted that his army had been self-sustaining throughout the entire campaign, and had sent large quantities of beef cattle to Lee besides. His soldiers ground as well as harvested the grain, so that the destruction of the mills became a military measure of the first necessity. ‘It is desirable,’ said Grant, ‘that nothing should be left to invite the enemy to return. . . The people should be informed that so long as an army can subsist among them, recurrences of these raids must be expected, and we are determined to stop them, at all hazards.’ It was nevertheless no act of vengeance, or even of retaliation, that he proposed. He repeatedly directed that dwellings should not be [111] burned,14 and if the inhabitants could convey their stock and provisions north of the Potomac, he offered no objection;15 but ‘so long as the war lasts,’ he said, ‘they must be prevented from raising another crop.’

Sheridan obeyed his orders to the letter. On the 1st of October, he wrote, from Harrisonburg: ‘What we have destroyed and can destroy in this Valley is worth millions of dollars to the rebel government;’ on the 7th, he said, from Woodstock: ‘In moving back to this point, the whole country, from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain, has been made untenable for a rebel army;’ and still later: ‘I will continue the destruction of wheat, forage, etc., down to Fisher's Hill. When this is completed, the Valley, from Winchester up to [112] Staunton, ninety-two miles, will have little in it for man or beast.’ Early also is a witness to the success of the policy. On the 9th of October, he complained bitterly to Lee: ‘Sheridan has laid waste nearly all of Rockingham and Shenandoah, and I shall have to rely on Augusta for my supplies, and they are not abundant there. Sheridan's purpose under Grant's orders has been to render the Valley untenable by our troops, by destroying the supplies.’ That purpose was effected. After the battle of Cedar Creek, no rebel army could subsist in the region: ‘I found it impossible,’ said Early, ‘to sustain the horses of my cavalry and artillery where they were, and forage could not be obtained from elsewhere. I was therefore compelled to send Fitz-Lee's two brigades to General Lee, and Lomax's cavalry was brought from across the Blue Ridge, where the country was exhausted of forage, and sent west. . . . Rosser's brigade had to be temporarily disbanded, and the men allowed to go to their homes. . . Most of the guns which were without horses were sent to Lynchburg by railroad. This was a deplorable state of things, but it could not be avoided, as the horses of the cavalry and artillery would have perished, had they been kept in the Valley. Two small brigades of Wharton's division and Nelson's battalion, with the few pieces of artillery which had been retained, were left as my whole available force.’16

This was the origin of the complaint, and the cause of the outcry. The enemy felt that the [113] measure was a military success; that it not only compelled the present abandonment of the Valley, but destroyed all hope of return. The supplies were not only annihilated, but could not be renewed during the war. Washington could never again be threatened from the Shenandoah; and Lynchburg, now become of immense importance to Lee, must remain exposed.

The rebels indeed so thoroughly appreciated Grant's policy that they themselves acted on the same principle. They not only habitually lived upon the country, everywhere, but they also destroyed what they could not consume, whenever it might be of advantage to the national armies. They stripped their own families of provisions, leaving them as the national troops advanced, to be fed by those troops, or to starve; and in many parts of the country, not a mill was left to grind grain for the inhabitants, lest the national commanders might find means to supply their soldiers. Halleck justly remarked, at the time: ‘We certainly are not required to treat the so-called non-combatant rebels better than they themselves treat each other.’17 But it was always so. Wherever the enemy was in possession, loyal citizens were persecuted, expatriated, imprisoned, hung; their property was seized, or confiscated; but if a national commander used the property of men in arms against their government, the rebels raised a cry of shame, and pronounced the outrage unprecedented. Early burnt the undefended town of Chambersburg, but was shocked at the conflagration of mills; and Lee, who recommended a partisan warfare, refused to recognize [114] negro soldiers as prisoners of war. But with all their soldierly qualities, there was a touch of unmanliness about the Southerners. Unrelenting and vindictive, they were as ready as women to repine when the fortune of war went against them, and never admitted that the same measure should be meted to them which they unsparingly applied to their foes whenever they had the chance.

It is no new thing, however, for the conquered to criticize their conquerors; and, naturally enough, the severest censors of Grant were those who suffered most by his success. They could hardly be expected to admire the strategy or approve the policy which consummated their own punishment. In the same way, when the Greeks received the Roman yoke, they decried the civilization of their victors; and the Romans, in their turn, severely disapproved the proceedings of those whom, two thousand years ago, they called ‘Northern barbarians.’ But, as Sherman told the inhabitants of Atlanta, when he expelled them from their homes: ‘War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.’ It was the men who brought these evils on themselves who were responsible .for all the terrible results of their crime. The national commanders were no more answerable, than the weapons they employed, for the destruction and ruin which the rebellion entailed.

Late in October Grant determined to attack the communications of Lee. The left of Meade's entrenched line was at this time only two miles east of the Boydton plank road, which approaches Petersburg midway between the Southside and the Weldon railways. The rebels were known to have [115] begun the construction of a line of defences to cover this route, along which, since the seizure of the Weldon road, they were obliged to wagon all their supplies from the Atlantic coast; and before these defences should be completed, Grant designed to move to the left, and not only seize the Boydton road, but, if possible, the Southside road itself, the last of the great avenues connecting Richmond with the outside Confederacy. Six months before, at Culpeper, he had pointed out to his staff the Southside road as the line he intended to secure. ‘When once my troops are there,’ he said, ‘Lee must surrender, or leave Richmond.’

Accordingly, on the 24th of October, he instructed Meade: ‘Make your preparations to march out at an early hour on the 27th, to gain possession of the Southside railroad, and to hold it, and fortify back to your present left.’ Butler at the same time was to make a demonstration north of the James, to attract the enemy's attention to that quarter. ‘General Meade,’ said Grant, ‘will move from our left, with the design of seizing and holding the Southside railroad. To facilitate this movement, or rather to prevent reinforcements going from the north side of the James river to Petersburg, I wish you to demonstrate against the enemy in your front. . . I do not want any attack made by you against entrenched and defended positions, but feel out to the right beyond the front, and if you can, turn it. . . Let it be distinctly understood by corps commanders that there is to be no attack made against defended entrenched positions.’

In this operation Meade was to take out forty [116] thousand men,18 leaving the remainder of the army of the Potomac to hold the entrenched lines. The movement was to be in three columns. The Ninth corps had the right, immediately west of its former position, the Second corps was on the left with Gregg's cavalry, while the Fifth corps was to move between the other two, on a line part of which had to be opened as the troops advanced. The geography of the country was perplexing in the extreme. Not only was the region covered with a dense forest and an undergrowth as impenetrable as in the Wilderness, but Hatcher's run, a tortuous and difficult stream, must be crossed and re-crossed several times. This creek flows east as far as the Boydton road, crossing it under a bridge at Burgess's mill, but shortly afterwards makes a bend, and then runs almost due south for several miles. It lay directly in the path of the national army, covering every approach to the Boydton road.

Parke, who was to start out nearest the enemy, had been instructed not to assault, if he found the rebels entrenched and their works well manned, but to confront them and be prepared to advance promptly, whenever, by the movement of the other two corps, the enemy was compelled to give way.19 [117] Warren, moving on the left of Parke, was to cross Hatcher's run, below the bend, and then support the Ninth corps; but if Parke failed to break the enemy's line, Warren was ordered to re-cross the run above the bend, and open the bridge at Burgess's mill. Hancock was to move on the left of Warren, crossing Hatcher's run below the bend, and proceed to the Boydton road; then turning north, he was to re-cross the run west of the bridge, and strike the Southside road. Gregg's division was on the left of Hancock and under his command. The whole project was based on the belief that the enemy's works extended only to the crossing of Hatcher's run by the Boydton road, [118] and that they were incomplete, and weakly manned.20

The troops broke camp on the 26th, and at an early hour on the 27th, all three corps were in motion. But instead of the rebel line being unfinished and altogether north of Hatcher's run, it was found to extend east of the stream and below the bend, nearly to Armstrong's mill, a distance of at least two miles: it was also quite completed and thoroughly fortified, with slashing and abatis. The consequence was that Parke made no attempt to assault. Warren, however, after cutting a road through the woods, soon struck the rebel skirmishers and drove them into a line of breastworks strongly held. In developing this position he lost a hundred men. The morning was dark and rainy, the roads were unknown and obstructed; out of about eleven thousand men in the Fifth corps nearly four thousand had never fired a musket, and two thousand were ignorant of the manual of arms.21 At half-past 9 Warren was notified by Meade that Parke would probably be unable to force the enemy's line, and that it was important for him to connect with the Second corps.

Hancock had moved long before daylight, crossing the run below Armstrong's mill, at a point where the water was waist-deep and trees had been felled to impede the ford; he carried some slight works [119] on the western bank, and then moved rapidly on towards the Boydton road. With the cavalry on his left, he had advanced as far as the bridge at Burgess's mill, and was making his preparations to force a passage, when he was halted by Meade until connection could be opened with the Fifth corps.

Warren, meanwhile, was still groping his way in the woods, feeling out to the left for the end of the enemy's line. At half-past 10 Grant and Meade were both at his Headquarters, and he was directed to send a division across Hatcher's run below the bend, place its right on the run, and then move up, supporting Hancock. Warren accordingly sent Crawford's division across the run, and started himself to direct the movement, for he never evaded duty or danger. The head of Crawford's column crossed at 11.45 A. M., and formed line of battle, with its right resting on the creek. But the denseness of the woods and the crookedness of the run caused great delay, as well as breaks in the line and frequent changes of direction. There could be no guide to the movement but sound, and at one o'clock, the troops on the eastern bank were ordered to open fire, to show the position of the enemy's line. Crawford also lost time, by mistaking a branch of the stream for the creek itself, and he found great difficulty in crossing the branch, on account of the fallen timber cut by the enemy. His line of march had by this time led him into a very different position from that which he was expected to assume; the forest was of great extent; the men were losing themselves in all directions; and whole regiments, unable to find the remainder of the division, went astray. In [120] this emergency, Warren ordered Crawford to halt, while he went back in person to consult with Meade.

After giving the orders for Crawford's advance, Grant and Meade had ridden on to Hancock's front, where the rebels were now disputing the passage of the bridge, at Burgess's mill. It was at this time reported that the connection with Crawford had been made, but Crawford was in reality three-fourths of a mile from Hancock's right. The rebels had a battery north of the run, directly in front of the Second corps, and another about eight hundred yards from Hancock's left. Unless they were driven from tile opposite bank, the national line could not be advanced sufficiently to make the desired movement, nor to form a connection with the entrenched works in front of Petersburg. Grant rode out into an open field, to get a nearer view of the position, his own staff-officers and those of Meade, with a crowd of orderlies, following. The number of horsemen made a conspicuous mark for the rebel batteries, and the group was shelled; one or two men were struck, and one was killed.

Officers of Meade and Hancock now came up to report the situation at the bridge; several of Grant's own aides-de-camp were sent to reconnoitre; and Hancock, who had been at the extreme front, also explained what he had seen. But the reports were conflicting, and it seemed as if no eyes but his own could ascertain exactly what Grant wanted to know. Calling to Colonel Babcock, of his staff, he bade the others remain where they were, and galloped down the road to within a few yards of the bridge, exposed not only to the enemy's [121] sharpshooters, but to the cross fire of two rebel batteries. The telegraph wires had been cut, and the feet of his horse became entangled. Babcock was obliged to dismount and free them, while the officers at the rear looked on in suspense, and thought how many campaigns depended on the life that now was endangered. But the chief and his aide-de-camp rode on, till Grant could clearly discern the rebel line, the condition of the country, the course of the stream, and the nature of the banks.

The rebels were evidently in force north of the creek, with strong defences. Their entrenched line extended far beyond the point at which it had been supposed to turn to the north, and when the national army advanced, Lee had simply moved out and occupied the works already prepared. The contemplated movement was thus impracticable. The rebel position could perhaps be carried, but only with extreme difficulty and loss of life; a loss which the advantage to be gained would not compensate; while in the event of repulse, disaster might be grave, stretched out as the army was, with its flanks six miles apart, and the creek dividing Warren's corps. Any serious rebuff or loss was especially to be deprecated at this crisis; the Presidential election was only ten days off, and the enemies of the nation at the North were certain to exaggerate every mishap. Success at the polls was just now even more important than a victory in the field, and it would have been most unwise to risk greatly on this occasion.

Accordingly, when Grant returned from the bridge, he gave orders to suspend the movement. [122] Hancock was directed to hold his position till the following morning, and then withdraw by the same road along which he had advanced. This was at four o'clock, and Grant and Meade rode back to Armstrong's mill, supposing the connection between Hancock and Crawford to have been made. They took at first a wood road leading directly towards the creek and the right of the Second corps; but soon discovering the mistake, retraced their steps, and Grant proceeded to City Point, to communicate with Butler. Had they kept on, before long they must have been inside the rebel lines.

During these operations on the left, Butler had taken out twenty thousand men north of the James, where Longstreet was now in command. The plan, we have seen, was for Butler to make a demonstration, but not to attack fortified works, the main operation being the attempt to reach the Southside road. Butler moved to the right as far as the Williamsburg road, but found the enemy everywhere in his front, stretching out as fast as he did, and falling back within entrenched works whenever the national forces advanced. During the afternoon he telegraphed that the rebels had extended four miles. ‘Shall I make a trial,’ he asked, ‘on this outstretched line?’ But the general-in-chief replied from City Point: ‘Your despatch of 3.30 is only just received—too late to direct an attack. Hold on where you are for the present.’

Believing that the operations of the day were over, Grant now telegraphed to the Secretary of War: ‘I have just returned from the crossing of the Boydton plank road with Hatcher's creek. Our line now extends from its former left to Armstrong's [123] mill, thence by the south bank of Hatcher's creek to the point above named. No attack was made during the day further than to drive pickets and the cavalry inside the main works. Our casualties have been light, probably less than two hundred, killed, wounded, and missing. The same is probably true with the enemy. .. On our right General Butler extended well around towards the Yorktown road, without finding a point unguarded. I shall keep our troops out where they are until towards noon to-morrow, in hope of inviting an attack.’

The battle, however, was far from ended, on either flank. Weitzel, who had the right of Butler's command, had not been able to find the rebel left, but his troops became engaged with the enemy, and contrary to Grant's orders and intentions, an assault was made on a fortified work. It was repulsed with loss, but the rebels made no attempt to follow up their advantage, and Butler withdrew and awaited further orders; when these arrived, they were simply to maintain the position which had been acquired. In this affair, Butler lost eleven hundred men, of whom four hundred were prisoners.

Meanwhile, the connection between Hancock and Warren had not been made, and between four and five o'clock the rebels came into the gap in heavy force, and struck the right and rear of the Second corps. Hancock heard the firing, but supposed it to proceed from Crawford's column; he nevertheless ordered a brigade into the woods to reconnoitre; but before a report could be made, the continuous firing left no doubt of a rebel advance. The small national force on the right of the road was soon driven back, but Hancock [124] promptly ordered the division at the bridge to face to the rear and attack the enemy. This force was under Egan, than whom no soldier was better fitted for his task. With the instinct of a commander, he had already changed front, and was in motion against the enemy before Hancock's order arrived. The rebels had also attacked the left and front of the Second corps as well as Gregg's cavalry, but they did not comprehend the position, and had not known of the gap between Hancock and Crawford. Their main attack was intended to be made at the bridge and against Hancock's left, but finding the difficulty of carrying the bridge, they crossed the stream below, and thus struck the right of the Second corps, in the air.

Egan's prompt action, however, took them in flank, and sweeping down with resistless force, he hurled them back in confusion, capturing nine hundred prisoners and several stands of colors. The fight was altogether outside of works, and for a time was severe, but the repulse of the rebels was complete. The victory was due in great measure to the personal exertions of Hancock and Egan, their skill, decision, and gallantry, but every effort of the commanders was more than seconded by their soldiers. Meanwhile, Gregg, on the left, though vigorously attacked by Hampton's cavalry, had also been able to hold his own.

Meade was at Armstrong's mill when he heard of this engagement, and he at once directed Warren to send a division to support the Second corps. Crawford, it was thought, would not be able to reach the field in time, and Ayres, who was at Armstrong's mill, began his march at once; but [125] night came on before he could cross the run. He therefore advanced no further. The assault on Hancock, however, had been so completely broken that the rebels were unable to re-form. If Crawford could have attacked them at this crisis, the destruction of the whole assaulting force must have been inevitable. As it was, several hundred rebels strayed within his lines and were captured. One party of six had even seized a national officer, but finding themselves inside of Warren's lines, they gave themselves up to their prisoner.

Meade now authorized Hancock to use his discretion, and either retire, or hold the ground from which he had repelled the enemy, offering him the assistance of two divisions of Warren. Hancock, however, was eight miles from the national entrenchments; in case of disaster, he had but one line of retreat, and that difficult and interrupted by the run; his ammunition at the front was nearly exhausted, and a fresh supply could only be brought up over the same heavy and crowded road. He therefore deemed it advisable to withdraw. This decision was approved by Meade, and was in conformity with the orders and intentions of Grant when he left the field. Hancock began moving at ten P. M., and Warren at one o'clock; and by noon of the 28th, the whole army was back in its former camps.22

At midnight Grant said to Meade: ‘Your despatch, with those from Hancock, just received. [126] Now that the enemy have taken to attacking, I regret the necessity of withdrawing, but see the cogency of your reasoning. If ammunition could have been taken up on pack animals, it might have enabled us after all to have gained the end we started for. The enemy attacking rather indicates that he has been touched in a weak point. Do not change, however, the directions that have been given.’ To Stanton, he telegraphed on the 28th: ‘The attack on General Hancock, now that a report is received, proves to be a decided success. He repulsed the enemy and remained in position, holding possession of the field until midnight, when he commenced withdrawing. Orders had been given for the withdrawal of the Second corps before the attack was made.23 We lost no prisoners except the usual stragglers who are always picked up.’24 The national loss in this operation was one hundred and forty-three killed, six hundred and fifty-three wounded, four hundred and eighty-eight missing-: total, twelve hundred and eighty-four.25 The enemy [127] lost in prisoners alone more than that number. His killed and wounded, Lee, as usual, failed to report.26

This whole movement, it has been shown, was based on the belief that Lee's entrenchments extended only to the crossing of Hatcher's run by the Boydton road. But when, instead of this, they were found to stretch several miles to the south, covering the lower crossings of the run, and defended by slashing and abatis, while the stream itself was impeded by fallen timber and other obstructions,—the extension was seen to be impracticable, and the operation was converted into a reconnoissance in force.

It was the only movement of the army of the Potomac, after the explosion of Burnside's mine, which did not result in a positive and tangible success. The rebel works, however, had been constructed in advance, and were only occupied when the national army moved. Covered as they were by cavalry, [128] and by the forest, the extent and direction of the lines could not have been discovered except by just such a movement as had now been made; while the difficulties of the country could not have been avoided, even if foreseen. Meade has been censured for halting Hancock at Burgess's mill, but the result proved the wisdom of his course. Had Hancock crossed the bridge, he must have encountered the same force which afterwards attacked him, and the rebels would have had him at a disadvantage when he debouched, with the river in his rear, and entirely disconnected with the remainder of the army. Even if the enemy had not been ready to resist him, an advance, before connection with Warren was made, would have been foolhardy in the extreme. Grant entirely approved of the action of Meade, but he seriously complained of the delay of Crawford's division. No blame was imputed to Crawford, but there seemed reason to regret the order of Warren suspending his advance. Had that order not been given, Crawford would have been exactly in position to complete the destruction of the rebel attacking column. The indecision of Warren was all his own, and makes it probable that his frequent hesitations were owing to a quality which must always have prevented his becoming a great commander.

The success of Hancock, however, more than compensated for all misadventures, and once again made it evident that, when the national troops were attacked, even at a disadvantage and without cover, they were more than a match for the best soldiers of Lee. The movement cost the rebels far more than it did Grant; and it gave him the idea upon [129] which he acted in his final campaign. ‘This reconnoissance,’ he said to Stanton, ‘which I had intended for more, points out to me what is to be done.’

Grant's general operations before Petersburg were essentially distinct in character from the great turning movements in the Wilderness campaign. They were not, as they have sometimes been called, ‘swinging movements to the left, pivoting on the right,’ but simple extensions of the line of countervallation. For the advance upon Richmond and Petersburg had in reality become a siege. City Point was a base of supplies, not a pivotal point; and if, in the extending movements, the assailing force was weaker than that at the base, it was because disaster at the latter place would have been serious, while a temporary check given to any extension to the left was a comparatively unimportant incident of the siege. These extensions indeed had so little of the character of flank movements, in the ordinary military sense of the term, that, usually, the troops had only to halt and face to the right, to be in proper line of battle in front of the enemy. Even the battle at the Weldon road was not conducted on a different principle from the others, except that when it was seen how promptly the enemy sent troops to check the extension, there was a more concentrated movement made by Grant.

But although his operations had thus taken the character of a siege, Grant could not adopt the method of regular approaches without violating one of the most obvious principles of the art of war. All the books lay down the rule that the besiegers should number at least five or six times as many as [130] the besieged; but Grant was obliged to conduct his operations with a force only one-third greater than the garrison.27 Regular approaches were out of the question. Besides this, Grant's fundamental purpose was the destruction of Lee's army, not the capture of Petersburg or Richmond. The rebels took shelter behind their works, and therefore Grant besieged the works; but if the troops could be destroyed or captured, he was indifferent about the possession of either town. This made it far better for him to fight at the Weldon road or Peeble's farm, than at any point on the entrenched lines close to Petersburg. While he was running parallels, Lee might defy, or escape him; but by extending the investment, Grant forced the rebels to defend their lines of supply. In fact, he compelled Lee to become in some sort the attacking party, for the rebel general could not permit these extensions to go on without an effort to prevent them; and whenever he ventured out with a division or a corps, he was invariably repelled with loss.

But although after the first assaults in June, Grant constantly meant to complete his line to the Southside road, not all the separate extensions were designed in advance. The commander who adheres [131] inflexibly to a preconcerted plan must be assured exactly of what his antagonist will do. Grant's method of warfare, however, has been already seen. Instead of adhering rigidly to a preconceived scheme, and being thrown all aback when any detail failed,— he was always ready to change his plans according to the circumstances of the hour, so that while nothing was accidental, much that was done was the offspring of the moment. Thus several operations intended to accomplish other results were converted into extensions to the left, and when Hancock or Butler made an unsuccessful advance north of the James, Grant promptly seized the opportunity to continue the general movement towards the Southside road.

It has sometimes been said that the national army should have marched around Richmond and thus avoided entrenched lines altogether; but in the fourth year of the war Lee's army was able to entrench itself strongly on any line in a single night. Grant found this out on the 16th of June. He knew that there were surer and speedier results to be obtained by working around Lee's roads, and at the same time supplying himself from his own water base, than by abandoning his communications and hazarding battles on Lee's selected position west of Richmond, where the enemy was certain to be found as strongly entrenched as ever. The rebels, too, could take many risks; their condition was so desperate that no disaster could make it much worse; but there were strong political reasons at this time why the army of the Potomac should not lose its connection with a secure base, and run the risk of any great disaster in the field, [132] to which in pitched battle every general is liable— especially as Grant felt assured that he could accomplish his purpose by other means and with less loss of life, even if it took a little longer. The same strategy, even the same daring, appropriate enough in a subordinate commander in a distant theatre, would have been unseasonable and inexpedient in the general-in-chief, at the head of the principal army of the nation, and at a critical moment in the history of the state, when every check was magnified by disloyal opponents into irremediable disaster, and a serious defeat in the field might entail political ruin to the cause for which all his battles were fought.

For, with all his willingness to take risks in certain contingencies, with all his preference for aggressive operations, Grant was no rash or inconsiderate commander. He was able to adapt his strategy to the slow processes of a siege as well as to those imminent crises of battle when fortune hangs upon the decision of a single moment. At times audacious in design or incessant in attack, at others he was cautious, and deliberate, and restrained; and none knew better than he when to remain immovable under negative or apparently unfavorable circumstances. At present he believed the proper course in front of Petersburg to be—to steadily extend the investment towards the Southside road, while annoying and exhausting the enemy by menaces and attacks at various points, preventing the possibility of Lee's detaching in support of either Hood or Early, and himself waiting patiently till the moment should come to strike a blow like those he had dealt earlier in the war. [133]

To many this task would have been more unacceptable because, while the chief was lying comparatively inactive in front of Richmond, the subordinates were fighting important battles and winning brilliant victories elsewhere. Sherman had captured Atlanta, and Sheridan had overrun the Valley, while Thomas was entrusted with a command where the mightiest issues were at stake; and the interest of the country was transferred from the commander of them all to the great soldiers so rapidly rising into reputations which might eclipse his own. But such considerations not only never influenced Grant, they never seemed to occur to him. He went on soberly and steadily with his work, careless whether it brought him into prominence or left him in the shade; and as glad of any success of the national cause when won by another, as if it had been his own.

Nevertheless, when events over the whole theatre of war were ripe; when Sherman should have reached a base, and the rebel army at the West be destroyed or rendered harmless; when the Presidential election should be over, while Washington remained secure against attacks from the Shenandoah—then, if the extension had not yet reached Lee's last line of supply, Grant intended to force the hand of Lee. He was like a chess-player, looking forward to a daring, but if successful, a finishing move, and clearing the board in advance of the pieces of his adversary which might obstruct his plan. When he telegraphed to Stanton: ‘This reconnoissance, which I had meant for more, points out to me what is to be done,’ he meant, if Lee's lines did not break in the [134] extension which the rebels also were compelled to make,—to swing the army of the Potomac entirely to the left, cutting loose from his base, and leaving only sufficient troops at City Point and in front of Petersburg to take care of themselves. He made known this intention to some of his staff, as they rode back to camp after the battle of Hatcher's run.

1 ‘Early was driven out of the Valley, and only saved himself by getting through Brown's Gap in the night, and has probably taken position at Charlottesville, and will probably fortify, holding Waynesboroa and Rockfish Gap.’—Sheridan to Halleck, Oct. 1. This information afterwards proved incorrect, but it was the foundation for the despatch quoted in the text.

2 ‘The arrival of Kershaw will add greatly to your strength. . . All the reserves in the Valley have been ordered to you. Breckenridge will join you, or co-operate, as circumstances will permit, with all his force. Rosser left this morning for Burksville . . where he will shape his force as you direct.’—Lee to Early, Sept. 27. Early also admits the arrival of Fitz-Lee and Lomax's cavalry. He states in his Memoir that Rosser's brigade did not exceed 600 mounted men for duty, and that Kershaw's division numbered 2,700; he gives no estimate of Fitz-Lee or Lomax's strength, and says not a word of Breckenridge or the reserves; but declares that ‘these reinforcements about made up my losses at Winchester and Fisher's Hill.’

The returns, however, tell a different tale. The latest from these commands, prior to Sept. 27, were as follows:—

July 10Fitz-Lee1,706 effective.
Aug. 31Kershaw3,445 effective.
Sept. 10Lomax3,568 effective.

Breckenridge succeeded late in September to the command in South-West Virginia, and on the 13th of that month, Echols, his predecessor, reported 3,904 effective men. I can find no return of Rosser's force, nor of the reserves; but Grant telegraphed to Halleck, Sept. 30: ‘Rosser's brigade of cavalry has gone to Early. The brigade numbered 1,400 men.’

It has already been shown that the rebels never include the reserves in any statement of their strength, although these were always put into battle, and fought as well as any. Early speaks, page 97 of his Memoir, of two companies of reserves, coming from different points, one with two pieces of artillery, and covering Rockfish Gap against Sheridan's cavalry; it is difficult to see why such troops should not be included in an estimate of his force.

In the same way, in computing Lee's numbers, the rebels and their friends never reckon the troops, 5,000 to 7,000, in the city of Richmond, nor the local reserves, who were put into the trenches in every battle. Yet from these two sources alone Lee had always an addition to his fighting force of 10,000 soldiers. The endeavors of the rebels since the war to belittle the strength of their armies are as ingenious as their strategy was in the field, but hardly so creditable.

On the 6th of October, an order was published by the rebel government, revoking all details from the army of persons between the ages of sixteen and forty-five. ‘If this be rigidly enforced, it will add many thousands to the army. It is said there are 8,000 details in the military bureaux of this state.’—Rebel War Clerk's Diary. ‘From General Early's army we learn that the detailed men and reserves are joining in great numbers, and the general asks 1,000 muskets.’—October 19.—Ibid., Vol. II., p. 310.

3 See page 90.

4 Ricketts commanded the Sixth corps at daybreak, but was wounded early in the battle, when Getty took his place.

5 The [100] details of the rebel disaster, given in the text, are taken from Early's letters to Lee at the time, the contents of which he appears to have forgotten, for in his Memoir he denies the completeness of the defeat, and says it was the case of a ‘glorious victory given up by his own troops after they had won it,’ ‘from the fact that the men undertook to judge for themselves when it was proper to retire,’ which, it may be said, beaten troops very generally do. He also scouts the idea that his army was ‘wrecked’ or ‘fled in dismay before its pursuers.’ I have therefore inserted his letters to Lee, in full, in the Appendix, to correct his memory.

One of his later statements, however, is disproved by other documents, doubtless also inaccessible to him when he wrote. He declares in the Memoir that he went into the battle of Cedar Creek with 8,500 muskets, and he admits a loss of 3,000 men, besides stragglers; yet on the 31st of October, twelve days after the battle, he reported officially to Richmond, 10,577 effective infantry, having received no reinforcements in the meantime.

6 In all the important battles of Sheridan's campaign Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, afterwards nineteenth President of the United States, had borne an honorable part. Entering the service early in 1861, as major of the 23rd Ohio Volunteers, he was ordered at once to West Virginia, and remained there till the summer of 1862, when his command was transferred to the Potomac, and participated in the battle of South Mountain. In this action Hayes was severely wounded in the arm. He was immediately commended for conspicuous gallantry, and in December of the same year received the colonelcy of his regiment, which had returned to West Virginia. He served under Crook, in the movement against the Tennessee railroad in the spring of 1864, and led a brigade with marked success in the battle of Cloyd's Mountain. Afterwards, still in Crook's command, he joined Hunter's army in the march against Lynchburg, was present at the operations in front of that place, and covered the retreat in the difficult and dangerous passage of the Alleghanies.

He was next ordered to the mouth of the Shenandoah Valley, and took part in several engagements between Early and Sheridan's troops, prior to the battle of Winchester. In that important encounter, he had the right of Crook's command, and it was therefore his troops which, in conjunction with the cavalry, executed the turning manoeuvre that decided the fate of the day. Here he displayed higher qualities than personal gallantry. At one point in the advance, his command came upon a deep slough, fifty yards wide, and stretching across the whole front of his brigade. Beyond was a rebel battery. If the brigade endeavored to move around the obstruction, it would be exposed to a severe enfilading fire; while if discomfited, the line of advance would be broken in a vital part. Hayes, with the instinct of a soldier, at once gave the word ‘Forward,’ and spurred his horse into the swamp. Horse and rider plunged at first nearly out of sight, but Hayes struggled on till the beast sank hopelessly into the mire. Then dismounting, he waded to the further bank, climbed to the top, and beckoned with his cap to the men to follow. In the attempt to obey many were shot or drowned, but a sufficient number crossed the ditch to form a nucleus for the brigade; and Hayes still leading, they climbed the bank and charged the battery. The enemy fled in great disorder, and Hayes re-formed his men and resumed the advance. The passage of the slough was at the crisis of the fight, and the rebels broke on every side in confusion.

At Fisher's Hill he led a division in the turning movement assigned to Crook's command. Clambering up the steep sides of North Mountain, which was covered with an almost impenetrable entanglement of trees and underbrush, the division gained, unperceived, a position in rear of the enemy's line, and then charged with so much fury that the rebels hardly attempted to resist, but fled in utter rout and dismay. Hayes was at the head of his column throughout this brilliant charge.

A month later, at Cedar Creek he was again engaged. His command was in reserve, and therefore did not share in the disaster of the main line at daybreak; but when the broken regiments at the front were swept hurriedly to the rear, Hayes's division flew to arms, and changing front, advanced in the direction from which the enemy was coming. Successful resistance, however, was impossible. He had not fifteen hundred effective men, and two divisions of the rebels were pouring through the woods to close around him in flank and rear. There was no alternative but retreat or capture. He withdrew, nevertheless, with steadiness, and maintained his organization unbroken throughout the battle, leading his men back from hill-top to hill-top in face of the enemy. While riding at full speed, his horse was shot under him; he was flung violently out of the saddle, and his foot and ankle were badly wrenched by the fall. Stunned and bruised, he lay for a moment, exposed to a storm of bullets, but soon recovering, sprang to his feet, and limped to his command.

‘For gallant and meritorious service in the battles of Winchester, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek,’ Colonel Hayes was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General of Volunteers; he was brevetted Major-General for ‘gallant and distinguished services during the campaign of 1864, in West Virginia, and particularly in the battles of Fisher's Hill and Cedar Creek.’ He bad commanded a brigade for more than two years, and at the time of these promotions was in command of the Kanawha division. In the course of his service in the army, he was four times wounded, and had four horses shot under him.

That he was of the stuff of which soldiers should be made was shown when he was nominated for Congress in 1864. His political friends then wrote for him to return to Ohio and make the canvass. But Hayes replied: ‘Any officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress, ought to be scalped.’

7 Sixty guns were captured in these four engagements alone, but between the 1st of September and the 1st of January, Sheridan took 101 pieces of artillery from the enemy.

8 During the entire period of Sheridan's command in the Valley his losses were 1,938 killed, 11,893 wounded, 3,121 missing; total, 16,952. Supposing Early's killed and wounded, for the same time, equal to those of his conqueror, the rebels lost under that commander, after August 7th, 13,800 men, besides prisoners and stragglers. Of the wounded on both sides, probably half returned to the ranks.

9 Sheridan captured more men in the Valley than Early says were in his army. To account for this singular circumstance, Early is obliged to declare: ‘A number of prisoners fell into the enemy's hands, who did not belong to my command, [to whom did they belong?] such as cavalry men on details to get fresh horses, soldiers on leave of absence, conscripts on special details, citizens not in the service [that is to say, guerillas ], men employed in getting supplies for the Department, and stragglers and deserters from other commands.’ Every one of these men was put into the ranks, if near a rebel army on the day of a battle, and every one captured was a loss to Early's fighting force. No such deductions were ever made by him in calculating the national numbers. This seems a proper place to point out one of the many devices resorted to by the rebels to minimize the statement of their own numbers. Early, and, among others, Colonel Taylor, of Lee's staff, in his ‘Four Years with General Lee,’ habitually speak of the numbers of ‘muskets’ available, when summing up the rebel strength at any particular time. They thus avoid computing the officers (one at least for every twenty men), as well as the cavalry and the artillery; but when the national force is stated, it is never reduced to muskets; officers, cavalry, artillerymen, details, reserves, and all are counted, and the aggregate is compared with the number of ‘muskets’said to be engaged on the rebel side.

I have striven to avoid a similar unfairness, and in this history the same rule is always applied to both armies. The statement of numbers is that of the effective force, taken from the official returns on record in the War Department. If no such returns exist, or if there seems cause to modify them, the authority or reason for a different statement is given.


“ A good many are missing as stragglers, and a number of those reported missing in the infantry were not captured, but are stragglers and skulkers.

Early to Lee, Oct. 9, 1864, after Winchester.

“ Very many of the missing in the infantry took to the mountains; a number of them have since come in, and others are still out.

Idem, after Fisher's Hill.

“ I am sorry to say many men threw away their arms.


11 ‘We have tried three years of conciliation and kindness without any reciprocation; on the contrary, those thus treated have acted as spies and guerillas in our rear and within our lines.’—Halleck to Sherman, September 28, 1864.

12 ‘When the rich planters of the Oconee and Savannah see their fences and corn and hogs vanish before their eyes, they will have something more than a mean opinion of the Yanks. Even now our poor mules laugh at the fine corn-fields, and our soldiers riot on chesnuts, sweet potatoes, pigs, chickens, etc. The poor people come to me and beg us for their lives, but my customary answer is: “Your friends have broken our railroads which supplied us bountifully, and you cannot suppose our soldiers will suffer when there is abundance within reach.” ’—Sherman to Halleck, October 19, 1864.

13 Early's Memoir, page 118.

14 ‘It is not desirable that buildings should be destroyed; they should rather be protected.’—Grant to Hunter, August 5.

‘I have thought on your despatch relative to an arrangement between General Lee and myself for the suppression of incendiarism by the respective armies. Experience has taught us that agreements with rebels are binding upon us, but are not observed by them longer than suits their convenience. On the whole, I think that the best that can be done is to publish a prohibitory order against burning private property, except where it is a military necessity, or in retaliation for like acts by the enemy. Where burning is done in retaliation, it must be done by order of a department or army commander, and the order for such burning to set forth the particular act it is in retaliation for.’—Grant to Lincoln, August 17, 1864.

15 ‘Do you not think it advisable to notify all citizens living east of the Blue Ridge to move north of the Potomac all their stock, grain, and provisions of every description? There is no doubt about the necessity of clearing out that country, so that it will not support Mosby's gang, and the question is whether it is not better that the people should save what they can.’—Grant to Sheridan, November 9.

16 Early's Memoir, pp. 121 and 122.

17 Halleck to Sherman, September 28.

18 This was the number reported to Grant by Meade as available for the operation.

19 It has been asserted that the plan of this movement included a vigorous attack by Parke upon the right of the rebel entrenched line; but no such attack was contemplated by Grant. His words to Meade were almost those in the text: ‘Parke, who starts out nearest to the enemy, should be instructed that if he finds the enemy entrenched and their works well manned, he is not to attack, but confront him and be prepared to advance promptly when he finds that by the movement of the other two columns to the right and rear of them, they begin to give way.’ Meade's order to Parke, however, contained these words: ‘It is probable that the enemy's line of entrenchments is incomplete at that point, and the commanding general expects by a secret and sudden movement to surprise them and carry their half-formed works.’ This did not express Grant's view, and when the order was submitted to him, he said to Meade: ‘The only point in which I could suggest a change is in regard to Parke. If he finds the enemy's fortifications in good defensible condition, I think he should only confront them until the movement of the other two corps had its effect.’ To this Meade replied: ‘The orders for to-morrow intend that Parke should act in the manner you suggest; that is to say, he will not attack if he finds the enemy in such position and force as render it injudicious to do so; but as the movement is to be made at daylight, or just before, he will have to make a partial attack to ascertain the exact condition of affairs, unless he waits until after daylight; and if he does, I am quite sure he will have no chance.’

The difficulty Meade found in expressing Grant's idea, may be thought to illustrate the unadvisability of any intervention between the general-in-chief and the corps commanders.

20 ‘This project was based upon information which led to the belief that the enemy's line only extended to the crossing of Hatcher's run by the Boydton plank road, and that it was not completed thus far and was weakly manned.’—Meade's Report of the Operation, October 28.

21 Warren's Report.

22 It is stated by rebel writers that during the night of the 27th, Lee massed 15,000 infantry and all of Hampton's cavalry opposite Hancock, with a view of crushing the Second corps in the morning; but in the morning the corps was gone.

23Lieutenant-General Grant and General Meade left the field, giving me verbal orders to hold my position until the following morning, when I was to fall back by the same road I had come.’— Hancock's Official Report.

24 Lee reported the capture of four hundred prisoners. Hancock, however, distinctly declared that he lost no prisoners in battle; but in withdrawing, he was obliged from lack of ambulances to place some of his wounded in the neighboring houses, leaving them under the care of his own surgeons. These—wounded, surgeons, and all—were doubtless included in Lee's report.

25 All my statements of national losses are from returns in the Adjutant-General's office at Washington. The estimates made by commanders the day after a battle were sometimes larger; but these included the very slightly wounded and the stragglers. All of whom shortly returned to the ranks. I have desired to give the absolute loss; and have applied the same rule to both armies. None other is possible with the rebels, as their records have been to so great an extent destroyed; indeed, when the disclosure would have been inconvenient, no return at all was made. No cause in history ever had more ingenious or more unscrupulous adherents in camp or civil life, than the Slaveholders' great rebellion.

26 On the 27th, Lee sent the following despatch, which was withheld from print, and has not found its way into any rebel history: ‘General Hill reports that the enemy crossed Rowanty creek below Burgess's mill, and forced back the cavalry. In the afternoon General Heth attacked and at first drove them, but found them in too strong force. Afterwards the enemy attacked and were repulsed. They still hold the plank road at Burgess's mill. Heth took colors and some prisoners.’ The despatch given by McCabe and other rebel writers is not on file at Washington.

27 It has been said that saps might have been run from the position held by Burnside at the time of the mine explosion, and that in a month the rebel line could have been stormed. But the point opposite Burnside was the very strongest position held by the enemy in front of Petersburg. Burnside was in a valley, while the rebels occupied a hill, the national mines running into the side of the hill at least thirty or forty feet, under the rebel batteries. Parallels here were impossible.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Fishers Hill (Virginia, United States) (17)
Meadow Mills (Virginia, United States) (11)
Charlottesville (Virginia, United States) (8)
Boydton (Virginia, United States) (7)
Strasburg, Va. (Virginia, United States) (5)
Front Royal (Virginia, United States) (5)
City Point (Virginia, United States) (5)
Cedar Creek (Florida, United States) (5)
Lynchburg (Virginia, United States) (4)
Weldon, N. C. (North Carolina, United States) (3)
Shenandoah (United States) (3)
South River (Virginia, United States) (2)
Shenandoah county (Virginia, United States) (2)
Rockingham, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Hancock, Md. (Maryland, United States) (2)
Hampton (Virginia, United States) (2)
Augusta (Georgia, United States) (2)
Atlanta (Georgia, United States) (2)
Alleghany Mountains (United States) (2)
Yorktown (Virginia, United States) (1)
Williamsburg (Virginia, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
Tom's Brook (Virginia, United States) (1)
Rowanty Creek (Virginia, United States) (1)
Richmond (Virginia, United States) (1)
North Mountain (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Newmarket, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Mount Jackson (Virginia, United States) (1)
Martinsburg (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Halltown (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Georgia (Georgia, United States) (1)
Cloyd's Mountain (Virginia, United States) (1)
Chester Gap (Virginia, United States) (1)
Chambersburg, Pa. (Pennsylvania, United States) (1)
Burksville (Missouri, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: