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Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley.

by Wesley Merritt, Major-General, U. S. V., Brigadier-General, U. S. A.
Up to the summer of 1864 the Shenandoah Valley had not been to the

Union armies a fortunate place either for battle or for strategy. A glance at the map will go far toward explaining this. The Valley has a general direction from south-west to north-east. The Blue Ridge Mountains, forming its eastern barrier, are well defined from the James River above Lynchburg to Harper's Ferry on the Potomac. Many passes (in Virginia called “gaps” ) made it easy of access from the Confederate base of operations; and, bordered by a fruitful country filled with supplies, it offered a tempting highway for an army bent on a flanking march on Washington or the invasion of Maryland or Pennsylvania. For the Union armies, while it was an equally practicable highway, it led away from the objective, Richmond, and was exposed to flank attacks through the gaps from vantage-ground and perfect cover.

It was not long after General Grant completed his first campaign in Virginia, and while he was in front of Petersburg, that his attention was called to this famous seat of side issues between Union and Confederate armies. With quick military instinct he saw that the Valley was not useful to the Government for aggressive operations. He decided that it must be made untenable for either army. In doing this he reasoned that the advantage would be with us, who did not want it as a source of supplies, nor as a place of arms, and against the Confederates, who wanted it for both. Accordingly, instructions were drawn up for carrying on a plan of devastating the Valley in a way least injurious to the people. These instructions, which were intended for Hunter, were destined to be carried out by another, and how well this was accomplished it is my purpose to recount.

Hunter's failure to capture Lynchburg in the spring of 1864 [see p. 492] and his retreat by a circuitous line opened the Valley to General Early, who had gone to the relief of Lynchburg. Marching down the Valley and taking possession of it without serious opposition, Early turned Harper's [501] Ferry, which was held by a Union force under Sigel, and crossed into Maryland at Shepherdstown. The governors of New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts were called on for hundred-days men to repel the invasion, and later the Army of the Potomac supplied its quota of veterans as a nucleus around which the new levies could rally. General Early marched on Washington, and on the 11th of July was in front of the gates of the capital. The following day, after a severe engagement in which the guns of Fort Stevens took part, he withdrew his forces through Rockville and Poolesville, and, crossing the Potomac above Leesburg, entered the Valley of Virginia through Snicker's Gap. Afterward, crossing the Shenandoah at the ferry of the same name, he moved to Berryville, and there awaited developments.

After the immediate danger to Washington had passed it became a question with General Grant and the authorities in Washington to select an officer who, commanding in the Valley, would prevent further danger from invasion. After various suggestions,1 Major-General Philip H. Sheridan was selected temporarily for this command. His permanent

Major-General Wesley Merritt. From a photograph.

occupation of the position was opposed by Secretary Stanton on the ground that he was too young for such important responsibility. On the 7th of August, 1864, Sheridan assumed command of the Middle Military Division and of the army for the protection of the Valley, afterward known as the “Army of the Shenadoah.”

Naturally, on assuming command, Sheridan moved with caution. He was incited to this by his instructions, and inclined to it by his unfamiliarity with the country, with the command, and with the enemy he had to deal with. On the other hand, Early, who had nothing of these to learn, save the mettle of his new adversary, was aggressive, and at once manoeuvred with a bold front, seemingly anxious for a battle. The movements of the first few days showed, however, that Early was not disposed to give battle unless he could do so on his own conditions.

On the morning of the 10th of August Sheridan, who had massed his army at Halltown, in front of Harper's Ferry, marched toward the enemy's communications, his object being to occupy Early's line of retreat and force him to fight before reenforcements could reach him. The march of my cavalry toward the Millwood-Winchester road brought us in contact with the [502] enemy's cavalry on that road, and it was driven toward Kernstown. At the same time a brigade under Custer, making a reconnoissance on the Berryville-Winchester road, came on the enemy holding a defile of the highway while “his trains and infantry were marching toward Strasburg.” As soon as the retreat of the enemy was known to General Sheridan the cavalry was ordered to pursue and harass him. Near White Post, Devin came upon a strongly posted force, which, after a sharp fight, he drove from the field, and the division took position on the Winchester-Front Royal pike. The same day my division had a severe affair with infantry near Newtown, in which the loss to my Second Brigade was considerable.

On the 12th of August, the enemy having retired the night before, the cavalry pursued to Cedar Creek, when it came up with Early's rear-guard and continued skirmishing until the arrival of the head of the column. The day following, the reconnoissance of a brigade of cavalry discovered the enemy strongly posted at Fisher's Hill. About this time Early received his expected reenforcements. General Sheridan, being duly informed of this, made preparations to retire to a position better suited for defense and adapted to the changed conditions of the strength of the two armies.

On the 13th of August General Devin's brigade of the First Division was ordered to Cedarville on the Front Royal pike, and on the 14th I marched with the rest of my division to the same point, Gibbs taking position near Nineveh. On the arrival of his reenforcemnents Early had requested General R. H. Anderson, in command, to take station at Front Royal, it being a convenient point from which to make a flank movement in case of attack on Sheridan's command, which Early undoubtedly contemplated. At the same time it constituted a guard

About 2 P. M. on the 16th an attack was made by this command on the First Cavalry Division, which resulted in the battle of Cedarville. A force of

Brevet Major-General David A. Russell, killed at the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864. from a photograph

cavalry under Fitz Lee, supported by a brigade of Kershaw's division, made a descent on Devin's brigade. General Fitz Lee drove in the cavalry pickets and attacked Devin with great violence. This force was scarcely repulsed when a brigade of infantry was discovered moving on the opposite bank of the Shenandoah River toward the left of the cavalry position. One regiment of Custer's brigade, dismounted, was moved up to the crest of a hill near the river-bank to meet this force, while the rest of the brigade, mounted, was stationed to the right of the hill. At the same time the Reserve Brigade under General Gibbs was summoned to the field. The enemy advanced boldly, [503] wading the river, and when within short carbine range was met by a murderous volley from the dismounted men, while the remainder of the command charged mounted. The Confederates were thrown into confusion and retreated, leaving 300 prisoners, together with two stand of colors. Anderson hurried reenforcements to his beaten brigades, but no further attempt to cross the river was made. The loss to the Union cavalry was about 60 in killed and wounded. The loss to the enemy was not less than 500.

These affairs between the Union cavalry and the enemy's infantry were of more importance than might appear

General Philip H Sheridan. From a photograph taken in 1864.

at first glance. They gave the cavalry increased confidence, and made the enemy correspondingly doubtful even of the ability of its infantry, in anything like equal numbers, to contend against our cavalry in the open fields of the Valley.

On the night of the 16th Sheridan withdrew toward his base, and on the following day the cavalry marched, driving all the cattle and live stock in the Valley before it, and burning the grain from Cedar Creek to Berryville. No other private property was injured, nor were families molested.

On the afternoon of the 17th the Third Division of cavalry, under General James H. Wilson, reported to General Torbert, chief-of-cavalry, who with it and Lowell's brigade and the Jersey brigade (Penrose's) of the Sixth Corps was ordered to cover the flank of the army which marched and took position near Berryville. General Early, who on the morning of the 17th discovered the withdrawal of Sheridan's force, pursued rapidly, Anderson advancing from Front Royal with his command. Early struck Torbert's force with such vigor and with such overwhelming numbers as completely to overthrow it, with considerable loss, and drive it from Winchester. In this affair Penrose's brigade lost about 300 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and Wilson's cavalry lost [504]

Map of the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864.

in prisoners some 50 men. At this time, information having reached Sheridan that the reenforcements that had come to Early under Anderson were only part of what might be expected, Sheridan concluded still further to solidify his lines. On the 21st of August Early moved with his army to attack Sheridan. His own command marched through Smithfield toward Charlestown, and Anderson on the direct road through Summit Point. Rodes's and Ramseur's infantry were advanced to the attack, and heavy skirmishing was continued for some time with a loss to the Sixth Corps, principally Getty's division, of 260 killed and wounded. In the meantime Anderson was so retarded by the Union cavalry that he did not reach the field, and night overtaking him at Summit Point, he there went into camp. That night Sheridan drew in the cavalry, and, carrying out the resolution already formed, withdrew his army to Halltown. During the three days following the Confederates demonstrated in front of Sheridan's lines, but to little purpose except to skirmish with Crook's and Emory's pickets. On the 25th, leaving Anderson's force in front of Sheridan, Early moved with his four divisions and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry to Leetown, from which place he dispatched Lee toward Williamsport while he crossed the railroad at Kearneysville and moved [505]

Sprout's Spring Mill, Opequon River, Va., hospital of the Sixth Army Corps during the battle of Winchester, September 19, 1864. from a War-time sketch.

toward Shepherdstown. Between Kearneysville and Leetown he was met by Torbert with the cavalry. A sharp fight followed, in the first shock of which Early's advance, consisting of Wharton's division, was driven back in confusion, but upon discovering the strength of the enemy, Torbert withdrew in good order, though Custer's brigade was pressed so closely that he was forced to cross the Potomac. A charge on the flank of the pursuing infantry relieved Custer from danger, and the next morning he returned, as ordered, via Harper's Ferry to the army at Halltown. Early's movement ended with this affair, and during the following two days he returned to the vicinity of Winchester.

During the absence of Early, R. H. Anderson's position was reconnoitered by Crook with two divisions and Lowell's cavalry brigade, who carried Anderson's lines, driving two brigades from their earth-works and capturing a number of officers and men, after which Anderson withdrew from Sheridan's front.

In a dispatch to Halleck Sheridan said: “I have thought it best to be prudent, everything considered.” Grant commended Sheridan's conduct of affairs in general terms, and predicted the withdrawal from the Valley of all of Early's reenforcements. This the pressure of Grant's lines at Petersburg finally accomplished.

On the 28th of August Sheridan moved his army forward to Charlestown. My division of cavalry marched to Leetown, and drove the enemy's cavalry to Smithfield and across the Opequon. The next day Early's infantry, in turn, drove my division from Smithfield; whereupon Sheridan, advancing with Ricketts's division, repulsed the enemy's infantry, which retired to the west bank of the Opequon. On this day the cavalry had some severe fighting with Early's infantry, but not until in hand-to-hand fighting the Confederate cavalry had been driven from the field.

On the 3d of September Rodes's Confederate division proceeded to Bunker Hill, and in conjunction with Lomax's cavalry made a demonstration which [506] was intended to cover the withdrawal of Anderson's force from the Valley. But on marching toward the gap of the Blue Ridge, via Berryville, Anderson came upon Crook's infantry just taking station there. The meeting was a surprise to both commands and resulted in a sharp engagement which continued till nightfall. On the following morning Early moved with part of his infantry to Anderson's assistance, and demonstrating toward the right of Sheridan's lines, he made show of giving battle, but only long enough to extricate Anderson and his trains, when the entire command retired to the country near Winchester. On the 14th Anderson withdrew from Early's army, and this time unmolested pursued his march through the Blue Ridge to Culpeper Court House. Fitzhugh

Fac-Simile (reduced) of President Lincoln's letter to General Sheridan.

Lee's cavalry remained with Early.

About this time General Grant visited the Valley and found everything to his satisfaction. Sheridan was master of the situation, and he was not slow in showing it to his chief. On the 12th of September Sheridan had telegraphed Grant to the effect that it was exceedingly difficult to attack Early in his position behind the Opequon, which constituted a formidable barrier; that the crossings, though numerous, were deep, and the banks abrupt and difficult for an attacking force; and, in general, that he was waiting for the chances to change in his favor, hoping that Early would either detach troops or take some less defensible position. His caution was fortunate at this time, and his fearlessness and hardihood were sufficiently displayed thereafter. In the light of criticisms, then, it is curious that the world is now inclined to call Sheridan reckless and foolhardy.

At 2 A. M. of September 19th Sheridan's army was astir under orders to attack Early in front of Winchester. My cavalry was to proceed to the fords of the Opequon, near the railroad crossing, and, if opposed only by cavalry, was to cross at daylight and, turning to the left, attack Early's left flank. Wilson's division was to precede the infantry and clear the crossing of the Opequon, on the Berryville road, leading to Winchester. The infantry of the army, following Wilson, was to cross the Opequon, first Wright and then Emory, while Crook's command, marching across country, was to take position in reserve, or be used as circumstances might require. South of Winchester, running nearly east and emptying into the Opequon, is Abraham's Creek, and nearly parallel to it, on the north of Winchester, is Red Bud Creek. These two tributaries flanked the usual line of the Confederates, when in position, covering Winchester, and on this line, across the Berryville-Winchester road, Ramseur was stationed with his infantry, when Sheridan's forces debouched from the defile and deployed for attack. Sheridan's plan was to attack and overthrow this part of Early's force before the rest of the army, which a day or two before was known to be scattered to the north as far as Martinsburg, could come to its assistance. At daylight Wilson [507] advanced across the Opequon, and carried the earth-work which covered the defile and captured part of the force that held it. The infantry followed — Wright's corps first, with Getty leading, and Emory next. Between two and three miles from the Opequon, Wright came up with Wilson, who was waiting in the earth-work he had captured. There the country was suitable for the deployment of the column, which commenced forming line at once. Ramseur, with the bulk of the Confederate artillery, immediately opened on Wright's troops, and soon the Union guns were in position to reply. Wilson took position on the left of the Sixth Corps. Then followed a delay that thwarted the part of the plan which contemplated the destruction of Early's army in detail. Emory's command was crowded off the road in its march, and so delayed by the guns and trains of the Sixth Corps that it was slow getting on the field, and it was hours before the lines were formed.2 This delay gave the Confederates time to bring up the infantry of Gordon and Rodes. Gordon, who first arrived, was posted on Ramseur's left near the Red Bud, and when Rodes arrived with three of his four brigades, he was given the center. This change in the situation, which necessitated fighting Early's army in his chosen position, did not disconcert the Union commander. He had come out to fight, and though chafing at the unexpected delay, fight he would to the bitter end.

In the meantime the cavalry, which had been ordered to the right, had not been idle. Moving at the same time as did the rest of the army, my division reached the fords of the Opequon near the railroad crossing at early dawn. Here I found a force of cavalry supported by Breckinridge's infantry. After sharp skirmishing the stream was crossed at three different points, but the enemy contested every foot of the way beyond. The cavalry, however, hearing Sheridan's guns, and knowing the battle was in progress, was satisfied with the work it was doing in holding from Early a considerable force of infantry. The battle here continued for some hours, the cavalry making charges on foot or mounted according to the nature of the country, and steadily though slowly driving the enemy's force toward Winchester. Finally Breckinridge, leaving one brigade to assist the cavalry in retarding our advance, moved to the help of Early, arriving on the field about 2 P. M.

It was 11:30 A. M. before Sheridan's lines were ready to advance. When they moved forward Early, who had gathered all his available strength, met them with a front of fire, and the battle raged with the greatest fury. The advance was pressed in the most resolute manner, and the resistance by the enemy being equally determined and both sides fighting without cover, the [508]

The battle of Winchester--Ricketts's advance against Rodes's division on the morning of September 19, 1864.

[509] casualties were very great. Wright's infantry forced Ramseur and Rodes steadily to the rear, while Emory on the right broke the left of the enemy's line and threw it into confusion. At this time the Confederate artillery opened with canister at short range, doing fearful execution. This, coupled with the weakening of the center at the junction between Emory and Wright, and with a charge delivered on this junction of the lines by a part of Bodes's command, just arrived on the field, drove back the Union center. At this critical moment Russell's division of Wright's corps moved into the breach on Emory's left, and, striking the flank of the Confederate troops who were pursuing Grover, restored the lines and stayed the Confederate advance.3 The loss to both sides had been heavy. General Russell of the Union army and Generals Rodes and Godwin of the Confederate were among the killed.

A lull in the battle now followed, which General Sheridan improved to restore his lines and to bring up Crook, who had not yet been engaged. It had been the original purpose to use Crook on the left to assist Wilson's cavalry in cutting off Early's retreat toward Newtown. But the stress of battle compelled Sheridan to bring his reserve in on the line, and accordingly Crook was ordered up on Emory's right, one brigade extending to the north of Red Bud Creek. At the same time Early reformed his lines, placing Breckinridge's command in reserve. At this time Merritt, who with his cavalry had followed Breckinridge closely to the field, approached on the left rear of the Confederates, driving their flying and broken cavalry through the infantry lines. The cavalry then charged repeatedly into Early's infantry, first striking it in the rear, and afterward face to face as it changed front to repel the attack.4 These attacks were made by the cavalry without any knowledge of the state of the battle except what was apparent to the eye. First Devin charged with his brigade, returning to rally, with three battle-flags and over three hundred prisoners. Next Lowell charged with his [510] brigade, capturing flags, prisoners, and two guns. After this the entire division was formed and charged to give the final coup.5

At the time of this last charge the Union infantry advanced along the entire line and the enemy fled in disorder from the field, and night alone (for it was now dark) saved Early's army from capture.

At daylight on the morning of the 20th the army moved rapidly up the main Valley road in pursuit of the enemy. Early had not stopped on the night of the battle until he reached the shelter of Fisher's Hill. This is admirably situated for defense for an army resisting a movement south. Here the Valley is obstructed by the Massanutten Mountains and its width virtually reduced to four or five miles. In this position Early's right was protected by impassable mountains and by the north fork of the Shenandoah, and he at once took means to protect his left artificially.

“On the evening of the 20th,” reports Sheridan, “Wright and Emory went into position on the heights of Strasburg, Crook north of Cedar Creek, the cavalry on the right and rear of Emory, extending to the back road.”

On the 21st Sheridan occupied the day in examining the enemy's lines and improving his own. Accompanied by General Wright, he directed changes in the lines of the Sixth Corps, so that it occupied the high lands to the north of Tumbling Run. Wright did not secure this vantage-ground without a severe struggle, in which Warner's brigade was engaged, finally holding the heights after a brilliant charge. Sheridan decided on turning Early's impregnable position by a movement on the Little North Mountain. On the night of the 21st he concealed Crook's command in the timber north of Cedar Creek. In making his disposition Sheridan did not attempt to cover the entire front, it being his intention to flank the enemy by Crook's march, and then, by advancing the right of Wright's and Emory's line, to form connection and make his line continuous. On the morning of the 22d, Crook, being still concealed, was marched to the timber near Little North Mountain and massed in it. Before this, Torbert, with his two divisions of cavalry, except one brigade (Devin's), was ordered via Front Royal into Luray Valley, with a view to reentering the Valley of the Shenandoah at New Market. This design was not accomplished.6

Not long before sundown Crook's infantry, which had not yet been discovered [511]

Map of the battle of Fisher's Hill, September 22, 1864.

by the enemy, struck Early's left and rear so suddenly as to cause his army to break in confusion and flee. The rout was complete, the whole of Sheridan's troops uniting in the attack. That night, though the darkness made the marching difficult, Sheridan followed Early as far as Woodstock, some fifteen miles, and the following day up to Mount Jackson, where he drove the enemy, now to some extent reorganized, from a strong position on the opposite bank of the river. From this point the enemy retreated in line of battle. But every effort to make him fight failed. No doubt Sheridan in this pursuit regretted the absence of his cavalry, which, with Torbert, was striving, by a circuitous and obstructed march, to reach the enemy's rear.

A few miles beyond New Market Early abandoned the main road, which leads on through Harrisonburg; turning to the east, he pursued the road that leads thence to Port Republic. This direction was taken to receive the reenforcements which were to reach him through one of the gaps of the Blue Ridge. For it appears that Kershaw and his command had not proceeded beyond Culpeper in his march to Lee's army before he was ordered to return to Early, the news of whose overthrow at Winchester, and afterward at Fisher's Hill, had reached the authorities at Richmond.

On the 25th of September Torbert with the cavalry rejoined General Sheridan, and was at once put to work doing what damage was possible to the [512]

The rear-guard-general Custer's division retiring from Mount Jackson, October 7, 1864. from a War-time sketch.

Central Railway. After proceeding to Staunton and destroying immense quantities of army stores, Torbert moved to Waynesboro‘, destroying the railway track, and after burning the railway bridges toward the Blue Ridge, and on being threatened by Early's forces, which had moved thither to attack him, he retired to Bridgewater.

Naturally a question now arose between Sheridan, the authorities in Washington, and General Grant as to the future theater of the campaign and the line of operations. Sheridan was opposed to the proposition submitted by the others, which was to operate against Central Virginia from his base in the Valley. The general reasons for his opposition were the distance from the base of supplies, the lines of communication, which in a country infested by guerrillas it would take an army to protect, and the nearness, as the campaign progressed, if successful, to the enemy's base, from which large reenforcements could easily and secretly be hurried and the Union army be overwhelmed. But before the plan was finally adopted a new turn was given to affairs, and the plan originally formed was delayed in its execution if not changed altogether.

When the army commenced its return march, the cavalry was deployed across the Valley, burning, destroying, or taking away everything of value, or likely to become of value, to the enemy. It was a severe measure, and appears severer now in the lapse of time; but it was necessary as a measure of war. The country was fruitful and was the paradise of bushwhackers and guerrillas. They had committed numerous murders and wanton acts of [513] cruelty on all parties weaker than themselves. Officers and men had been murdered in cold blood on the roads, while proceeding without a guard through an apparently peaceful country. The thoughtless had been lured to houses only to find, when too late, that a foe was concealed there, ready to take their lives if they did not surrender. It is not wonderful, then, that the cavalry sent to work the destruction contemplated did not at that time shrink from the duty. It is greatly to their credit that no personal violence on any inhabitant was ever reported, even by their enemies. The Valley from Staunton to Winchester was completely devastated, and the armies thereafter occupying that country had to look elsewhere for their supplies. There is little doubt, however, that enough was left in the country for the subsistence of the people, for this, besides being contemplated by orders, resulted of necessity from the fact that, while the work was done hurriedly, the citizens had ample time to secrete supplies, and did so.

The movement north was conducted without interruption for two days, except that the enemy's cavalry, made more bold by the accession to its strength of a command under General T. L. Rosser, followed our cavalry, dispersed across the Valley as already described. On the 8th of October the enemy's cavalry harassed Custer's division on the back road during the day, taking from him some battery-forges and wagons. The cavalry also showed itself on the main road upon which Merritt was retiring, but dispersed upon being charged by a brigade which was sent to develop their strength. That night Sheridan gave orders to his chief-of-cavalry, Torbert, to attack and beat the enemy's cavalry the following day “or to get whipped himself,” as it was expressed.

On the morning of the 9th Torbert's cavalry moved out to fight that of the enemy under Generals Rosser and Lomax. Merritt's division moved on the pike and extended across to the back road where Custer was concentrated. A stubborn cavalry engagement commenced the day, but it was not long before the Confederate cavalry was broken and routed, and from that time till late in the day it was driven a distance of twenty-six miles, losing everything on wheels, except one gun, and this at one time was in possession of a force too weak to hold it. At one time General Lomax was a prisoner, but made his escape by personally overthrowing his captor. In this affair the advantage of pluck, dash, and confidence, as well as of numbers, was on the Union side. From the time of the occupation of the Valley by Sheridan's force the cavalry had been the active part of his command. Scarcely a day passed that they were not engaged in some affair, and often with considerable loss, as is shown by the fact that in twenty-six engagements, aside from the battles, the cavalry lost an aggregate of 3205 men and officers.

In reporting the result of the cavalry battle of October 9th, Early says:

This is very distressing to me, and God knows I have done all in my power to avert the disasters which have befallen this command; but the fact is 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.


He further says in this same connection:

Lomax's cavalry is armed entirely with rifles and has no sabers, and the consequence is they cannot fight on horseback, and in this open country they cannot successfully fight on foot against large bodies of cavalry.

This is a statement on which those who think our cavalry never fought mounted and with the saber should ponder. The cavalry had scant justice done it in reports sent from the battle-field; and current history, which is so much made up of first reports and first impressions, has not to a proper extent been impressed with this record.

On the return of the army after the pursuit of the scattered remnants of Early's force, General Sheridan placed it in position on Cedar Creek north of the Shenandoah, Crook on the left, Emory in the center, and Wright in reserve. The cavalry was placed on the flanks. The occupation of Cedar Creek was not intended to be permanent; there were many serious objections to it as a position for defense. The approaches from all points of the enemy's stronghold at Fisher's Hill were through wooded ravines in which the growth and undulations concealed the movement of troops, and for this reason and its proximity to Fisher's Hill the pickets protecting its front could not be thrown, without danger of capture, sufficiently far to the front to give ample warning of the advance of the enemy. We have already seen how Sheridan took advantage of like conditions at Fisher's Hill. Early was now contemplating the surprise of his antagonist.

On the 12th of October Sheridan received a dispatch from Halleck saying that Grant wished a position taken far enough south to serve as a base for operations upon Gordonsville and Charlottesville. On the 13th and the 16th he received dispatches from the Secretary of War and from General Halleck pressing him to visit Washington for consultation.

On the 15th General Sheridan, taking with him Torbert with part of the cavalry, started for Washington, the design being to send the cavalry on a raid to Gordonsville and vicinity. The first camp was made near Front Royal, from which point the cavalry was returned to the army, it being considered safer to do so in consequence of a dispatch intercepted by our signal officers from the enemy's station on Three Top Mountain, and forwarded to General Sheridan by General Wright. This dispatch was as follows:

to Lieutenant-General Early: Be ready to move as soon as my forces join you, and we will crush Sheridan.--Longstreet, Lieutenant-General.

In sending back the cavalry General Sheridan wrote to General Wright, directing caution on his part, so that he might be duly prepared to resist the attack in case the above dispatch was genuine.7 Sheridan continued to Washington, and the cavalry resumed its station in the line of defense at Cedar Creek. At this time everything was quiet — suspiciously so. [515]

The surprise at Cedar Creek. From a War-time sketch: the right of the picture shows the Confederate flanking column attacking the left of the Nineteenth Corps from the rear. The Union troops, after a determined resistance, took position on the outer side of their rifle-pits.

On the 16th Custer made a reconnoissance in his front on the back road, but found no enemy outside the lines at Fisher's Hill. This absence of the enemy's cavalry was accounted for the next morning just before daylight by the appearance of Rosser in the rear of Custer's picket line with his cavalry and one brigade of infantry. Rosser carrying the infantry behind his cavalry troopers had made a march of thirty-two miles to capture an exposed brigade of Custer's division on the right; but a change in the arrangements of the command (the return of Torbert) thwarted the scheme, and it resulted only in the capture of a picket guard. On the 18th reconnoissances on both flanks discovered no sign of a movement by the enemy.

The result of the destruction of supplies in the Valley was now being felt by Early's troops. About this time he writes: “I was now 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.” From reports made by General Gordon and a staff-officer who ascended Three Top Mountain to reconnoiter the Union position, and the result of a [516]

Hill at Cedar Creek occupied by Sheridan's left, October 19, 1864, as seen from Kershaw's Ford. From a photograph taken in 1865.

reconnoissance made at the same time by General Pegram toward the right flank of the Union army, General Early concluded to attack by secretly moving a force to turn Sheridan's left flank at Cedar Creek.

The plan of this attack was carefully made; the routes the troops were to pursue, even after the battle had commenced, were carefully designated. [See General Early's article, p. 526.] The attack was made at early dawn. The surprise was complete. Crook's camp, and afterward Emory's, were attacked in flank and rear and the men and officers driven from their beds, many of them not having the time to hurry into their clothes, except as they retreated half awake and terror-stricken from the overpowering numbers of the enemy. Their own artillery, in conjunction with that of the enemy, was turned on them, and long before it was light enough for their eyes, unaccustomed to the dim light, to distinguish friend from foe, they were hurrying to our right and rear intent only on their safety. Wright's infantry, which was farther removed from the point of attack, fared somewhat better, but did not offer more than a spasmodic resistance. The cavalry on the right was on the alert. The rule that in the immediate presence of the enemy the cavalry must be early prepared for attack resulted in the whole First Division being up with breakfast partly finished, at the time the attack commenced. A brigade sent on reconnoissance to the right had opened with its guns some minutes before the main attack on the left, for it had met the cavalry sent by Early to make a demonstration on our right. [517]

Battle of Cedar Creek. Oct. 19, 1864.

The disintegration of Crook's command did not occupy many minutes. With a force of the enemy passing through its camp of sleeping men, and another powerful column well to their rear, it was not wonderful that the men as fast as they were awakened by the noise of battle thought first and only of saving themselves from destruction. The advance of Gordon deflected this fleeing throng from the main road to the rear, and they passed over to the right of the army and fled along the back road. Emory made an [518] attempt to form line facing along the main road, but the wave of Gordon's advance on his left, and the thunders of the attack along the road from Strasburg, rendered the position untenable, and he was soon obliged to withdraw to save his lines from capture.8

At this time there were hundreds of stragglers moving off by the right to the rear, and all efforts to stop them proved of no avail. A line of cavalry was stretched across the fields on the right, which halted and formed a respectable force of men, so far as numbers were concerned, but these fled and disappeared to the rear as soon as the force which held them was withdrawn. By degrees the strength of the battle died away. The infantry of the Sixth Corps made itself felt on the advance of the enemy, and a sort of confidence among the troops which had not fled from the field was being restored. A brigade of cavalry was ordered to the left to intercept the enemy's advance to Winchester. Taylor's battery of artillery, belonging to the cavalry, moved to the south, and, taking position with the infantry which was retiring, opened on the enemy. The artillery with the cavalry was the only artillery left to the army. The other guns had either been captured or sent to the rear. This battery remained on the infantry lines and did much toward impeding the enemy's advance until the cavalry changed position to the Winchester-Strasburg road. This change took place by direction of General Torbert about 10 o'clock. In making it the cavalry marched through the broken masses of infantry direct to a point on the main road north-east of Middletown. The enemy's artillery fire was terrific. Not a man of the cavalry left the ranks unless he was wounded, and everything was done with the precision and quietness of troops on parade. General Merritt informed Colonel Warner of Getty's division, near which the cavalry passed, and which was at that time following the general retreat of the army, of the point where the cavalry would take position and fight, and Warner promised to notify General Getty, and no doubt did so, for that division of the Sixth Corps advanced to the position on the cavalry's right. Then Devin and Lowell charged and drove back the advancing Confederates. Lowell dismounted his brigade and held some stone walls whose position was suited to defense. Devin held on to his advance ground. Here the enemy's advance was checked for the first time, and beyond this it did not go.

The enemy's infantry sheltered themselves from. our cavalry attacks in the woods to the left, and in the inclosures of the town of Middletown. But they opened a devastating fire of artillery. This was the state of affairs when Sheridan arrived.

Stopping at Winchester over night on the 18th, on his way from Washington, General Sheridan heard the noise of the battle the following morning, [519] and hurried to the field. His coming restored confidence. A cheer from the cavalry, which awakened the echoes of the valley, greeted him and spread the good news of his coming over the field.9

He rapidly made the changes necessary in the lines, and then ordered an advance. The cavalry on the left charged down on the enemy in their front, scattering them in all directions. The infantry, not to be outdone by the mounted men, moved forward in quick time and charged impetuously the lines of Gordon, which broke and fled.10 It took less time to drive the enemy from the field than it had for them to take it. They seemed to feel the changed conditions in the Union ranks, for their divisions broke one after another and disappeared toward their rear. The cavalry

Reduced Fac-Simile of President Lincoln's congratulations to General Sheridan on the battle of Cedar Creek.

rode after them and over them, until [520] night fell and ended the fray at the foot of Fisher's Hill. Three battle-flags and twenty-two guns were added to the trophies of the cavalry that day. Early lost almost all his artillery and trains, besides everything that was captured from the Union army in the morning.11

The victory was dearly bought. The killed or mortally wounded included General Bidwell and Colonels Thoburn and Kitching, besides many other officers and men. Among the killed: in the final charge by the cavalry at Cedar Creek was Colonel Charles Russell Lowell. He had been wounded earlier in the day, but had declined to leave the field.

The battle of Cedar Creek has been immortalized by poets and historians. The transition from defeat, rout, and confusion to order and victory, and all this depending on one man, made the country wild with enthusiasm.

The victory was a fitting sequel to Winchester, a glorious prelude to Five Forks

Colonel Charles Russell Lowell. From a photograph.

and Appomattox. In this battle fell mortally wounded on the Confederate side Major-General Stephen D. Ramseur, four years before a classmate of the writer at West Point. A Union officer — a friend — watched by his side in his last moments and conveyed to his southern home his last words of affection.

There is little more to record of events in the Valley. Part of the night after its defeat Early's army rested in the intrenchments on Fisher's Hill, but before dawn the next day it retreated to New Market. Rosser, with the Confederate cavalry, acted as rear-guard, and was driven by the Union cavalry beyond Woodstock. While Early remained at New Market reenforcements were sent him in the way of convalescents and one brigade from south-western Virginia. He contented himself, however, with remaining on the defensive.

The winter of 1864-65 was passed by Sheridan's command at Kernstown, where better protection could be given the troops and a short line of supplies secured. He moved to this position in November. About this time I moved under orders with my division of cavalry into Loudoun Valley and reduced it to a state of destitution, so far as supplies for the enemy were concerned, as had been done in other parts of the valley. On December 19th Torbert with two divisions of cavalry marched through Chester Gap in another raid on [521] the Virginia Central Railway; but this attempt, like the others, was unsuccessful. The local troops and Valley cavalry succeeded in delaying Torbert until infantry was hurried by rail from Richmond, when he was forced to retire. As a diversion in favor of Torbert's expedition Custer's cavalry was moved up the Valley to engage the cavalry of Early. Near Harrisonburg he was attacked and surprised and was forced to retreat.

In making these expeditions the troops suffered intensely from cold, bad roads, and miserable camps. This was especially so with Torbert's column in crossing the mountains. It is difficult to imagine a more disagreeable duty for a mounted soldier than marching over sleety, slushy, snowy or icy roads in winter, and bivouacking without the means of protection. It is demoralizing to men and ruinous to horses.

After the failure of these expeditions no further movements were attempted in the Valley, and most of the infantry of Sheridan's army was sent either to the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg, or elsewhere where it was needed. In February Sheridan made arrangements to march from the Valley with the cavalry with a view to interrupting and destroying, as far as possible, the lines of supply through central Virginia. After accomplishing this it was intended that he should either move west of Richmond and join Sherman's army, or return to the Valley, or join Meade's army in front of Petersburg, as might be most practicable. February 27th the movement commenced, the command consisting of two superb divisions of cavalry which had been recruited and remounted during the winter, under myself, as chief-of-cavalry. The march to Staunton was made without noticeable

Brigadier-General Bradley T. Johnson, C. S. A. From a photograph.

opposition. On the morning of March 2d Early was found posted on a ridge west of Waynesboro‘. The veteran soldier was full of pluck and made a bold front for a fight, but his troops were overcome, almost without even perfunctory resistance, by the advance regiments of the column, and Early, with a few general officers, barely escaped capture by flight. All Early's supplies, all transportation, all the guns, ammunition and flags, and most of the officers and men of the army were captured and sent to the rear.

From this point Sheridan moved unmolested to the Virginia Central Railroad, which was destroyed for miles, large bridges being wrecked, the track torn up, and the rails heated and bent. The command was divided and sent to the James River Canal, which was destroyed as effectually as the railroad. This done, the cavalry proceeded to White House, on the Pamunkey River, where it arrived on March 19th, 1865. [522]

View on the Valley turnpike where Sheridan joined the Army at Cedar Creek. From a photograph taken in 1885.

1 On the 18th of July General Grant suggested Franklin for the command of the projected Middle Military Division, and, on this being objected to, proposed the assignment of Meade, with Hancock to command the Army of the Potomac and Gibbon for the Second Corps.--editors.

2 In an unpublished narrative, addressed to the Adjutant-General, and dated May 30th, 1872, Emory states that all the infantry was placed under command of Wright; that Wright ordered the column to march at 2 A. M., the Sixth Corps leading, followed by its train, the Nineteenth Corps next, followed by its train, then the Eighth Corps; that he (Emory) moved with the Nineteenth Corps at the appointed hour, and at the crossing of the Opequon was halted by General Wright in person, the head of the Sixth Corps not having passed yet; that the subsequent march was obstructed by the trains of the Sixth Corps [see above]; that, hearing a lively cannonade, after sending forward all his staff-officers in succession for instructions, he finally disregarded the order of march, and putting his corps in motion rode on to General Sheridan, who at once confirmed his action. The Sixth Corps was still engaged in crossing the Opequon. Owing to these delays, it was midday before the Nineteenth Corps reached its position.--editors.

3 General Emory, in his official narrative, says of the action on the right at this point:

Grover's division was placed in line of battle on the right of the Sixth Corps, and Dwight's division was placed in échelon on the right of Grover's. Not many minutes elapsed before receiving orders to charge the enemy. I ordered Grover's division to charge, holding Dwight's in reserve. The charge was made with great bravery, dispersing the enemy's first line; but this first success seemed to throw our men off their guard, and give them too much confidence, and they rushed, without orders, with impetuosity upon the second line of the enemy, which had the protection of woods and stone walls, and they met with a bloody repulse.

Simultaneously with this repulse, and a moment or two preceding it, I saw that the charge of the Sixth Corps, on my left, had been repulsed. Quickly drawing a brigade of Dwight's division from the right, I placed it on the line occupied by Grover's division, behind which that division rallied in good order, considering the terrible repulse they had met. The enemy rose from their sheltered position and charged in mass on our lines. A small point of woods projected at right angles from the right of my line; in this I posted Colonel Nicholas W. Day, 131st New York Volunteers, with his regiment, and as the enemy came down on our lines with loud yells they received the fire of this regiment in the flank and rear, and at the same time receiving a very spirited fire in front, they broke and fled.

” editors.

4Breckinridge was scarcely in position before our cavalry on the left was discovered coming back in great confusion followed by the enemy's, and Breckinridge's force was ordered to the left to repel this cavalry force, which had gotten in rear of my left, and this with the assistance of the artillery he succeeded in doing. But as soon as the firing was heard in rear of our left flank the infantry commenced falling back along the whole line, and it was very difficult to stop them. I succeeded, however, in stopping enough of them in the old rifle-pits, constructed by General Johnston, to arrest the progress of the enemy's infantry, which commenced advancing again when confusion in our ranks was discovered, and would still have won the day if our cavalry would have stopped the enemy's; but so overwhelming was the latter, and so demoralized was the larger part of ours, that no assistance was received from it.

The enemy's cavalry again charged around my left flank and the men began to give way again, so that it was necessary for me to retire through the town.

”--letter from General Early to General Lee, dated October 9TH, 1864.

5 An officer who was in this last charge, and who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the enemy in consequence of the breaking of his bridle-curb, says: “The confusion, disorder, and actual rout produced by the successive charges of Merritt's division would appear incredible did not the writer actually witness them. To the right a battery with guns disabled and caissons shattered was trying to make to the rear, the men and horses impeded by broken regiments of cavalry and infantry; to the left, the dead and wounded, in confused masses, around their field-hospitals — many of the wounded, in great excitement, seeking shelter in Winchester; directly in front, an ambulance, the driver nervously clutching the reins, while six men in great alarm were carrying to it the body of General Rodes.” General Torbert, chief of cavalry, also says in his report of the battle of Winchester: “This day the First Division (Brigadier-General Merritt) alone captured 775 prisoners, about 70 officers, seven battle-flags, and two pieces of artillery.” W. M.

6 It may be here remarked that Sheridan was, as a rule, opposed to combinations involving long marches. He had no faith in their successful accomplishment. It is therefore easy to believe that he looked upon this movement of the cavalry as a means of turning the Confederates out of the position at Fisher's Hill, provided his infantry was not successful in the present project.--W. M.

7 General Wright wrote to General Sheridan, October 16th, inclosing Longstreet's intercepted message, and adding:

If the enemy should be strongly reenforced in cavalry he might, by turning our right, give us a great deal of trouble. . . . I shall only fear an attack on my right.

To this Sheridan replied, the same day, from Front Royal:

The cavalry is all ordered back to you. . . . Close in Colonel Powell, who will be at this point. . . . Look well to your ground, and be well prepared.

In his official report of the campaign General Sheridan says:

During my absence the enemy had gathered all his strength, . . . striking Crook, who held the left of our line, in flank and rear, so unexpectedly and forcibly as to drive in his outposts, invade his camp, and turn his position. This surprise was owing, probably, to not closing in Powell, or that the cavalry divisions of Merritt and Custer were placed on the right of our line, where, it had always occurred to me, there was but little danger of attack.

The italics in these quotations are not in the originals.--editors.

8 General Emory states in his “Narrative” that the Nineteenth Corps promptly repulsed the first attack on them but, the enemy having gained their rear through the capture of Crook's camps, then fell back about a mile and a half to a new line that “under the circumstances would have done honor to the best regular troops in the world.” They were not again attacked, but by order of General Wright fell back in perfect order, about a mile, when “the Nineteenth Corps was again halted, and the men immediately facing about commenced throwing off their kits and stripping to renew the fight.” About noon General Emory says he was again ordered by General Wright to retire to the position in which General Sheridan found the army on his arrival.--editors.

9 In his “Personal memoirs” (New York: C. L. Webster & Co., 1888), Vol. II., General Sheridan says that toward 6 A. M. of October 19th word was brought to him (at Winchester) of the artillery firing at Cedar Creek. Between half-past 8 and 9 o'clock, while he was riding along the main street of Winchester, toward Cedar Creek, the demeanor of the people who showed themselves at the windows convinced him that the citizens had received secret information from the battle-field, “and were in raptures over some good news.” The narrative continues:

“ For a short distance I traveled on the road, but soon found it so blocked with wagons and wounded men that my progress was impeded, and I was forced to take to the adjoining fields to make haste. . . .

My first halt was made just north of Newtown, where I met a chaplain digging his heels into the sides of his jaded horse, and making for the rear with all possible speed. I drew up for an instant, and inquired of him how matters were going at the front. He replied, ‘Everything is lost; but all will be right when you get there’ ; yet, notwithstanding this expression of confidence in me, the parson at once resumed his breathless pace to the rear. At Newtown I was obliged to make a circuit to the left, to get around the village. I could not pass through it, the streets were so crowded, but meeting on this detour Major McKinley, of Crook's staff,he spread the news of my return through the motley throng there.

When nearing the Valley pike, just north of Newtown, I saw about three-fourths of a mile west of the pike a body of troops, which proved to be Ricketts's and Wheaton's divisions of the Sixth Corps, and then learned that the Nineteenth Corps had halted a little to the right and rear of these; but I did not stop, desiring to get to the extreme front. Continuing on parallel with the pike, about midway between Newtown and Middletown I crossed to the west of it, and a little later came up in rear of Getty's division of the Sixth Corps. When I arrived, this division and the cavalry were the only troops in the presence of and resisting the enemy; they were apparently acting as a rear-guard at a point about three miles north of the line we held at Cedar Creek when the battle began. General Torbert was the first officer to meet me, saying as he rode up, ‘My God! I am glad you've come.’ . . .

Jumping my horse over the line of rails, I rode to the crest of the elevation, and there, taking off my hat, the men rose up from behind their barricade with cheers of recognition. . . . I then turned back to the rear of Getty's division, and as I came behind it a line of regimental flags rose up out of the ground, as it seemed, to welcome me. They were mostly the colors of Crook's troops, who had been stampeded and scattered in the surprise of the morning. The color-bearers, having withstood the panic, had formed behind the troops of Getty. The line with the colors was largely composed of officers, among whom I recognized Colonel R. B. Hayes, since President of the United States, one of the brigade commanders. At the close of this incident I crossed the little narrow valley, or depression, in rear of Getty's line, and, dismounting on the opposite crest, established that point as my headquarters. . . . Returning to the place where my headquarters had been established, I met near them Ricketts's division, under General Keifer, and General Frank Wheaton's division, both marching to the front. When the men of these divisions saw me they began cheering and took up the double-quick to the front, while I turned back toward Getty's line to point out where these returning troops should be placed.

All this had consumed a great deal of time, and I concluded to visit again the point to the east of the Valley pike, from where I had first observed the enemy, to see what he was doing. Arrived there, I could plainly see him getting ready for attack, and Major Forsyth now suggested that it would be well to ride along the line of battle before the enemy assailed us, for although the troops had learned of my return, but few of them had seen me. Following his suggestion I started in behind the men, but when a few paces had been taken I crossed to the front, hat in hand, passed along the entire length of the infantry line; and it is from this circumstance that many of the officers and men who then received me with such heartiness have since supposed that that was my first appearance on the field. But at least two hours had elapsed since I reached the ground, for it was after midday when this incident of riding down the front took place, and I arrived not later, certainly, than half-past 10 o'clock.

” editors.

10 General Emory says in his “Narrative” :

This electric message from General Sheridan put every man on his feet. . . . Very soon the pickets came in, quickly followed by the enemy's infantry. Our first line [Grover] then rose up en masse and delivered their fire, and the enemy disappeared. There was not a sound of musket or gun for twenty minutes following. The First Division was deployed to the right of the Second, and the charge commenced. The enemy resisted at every strong fence and ditch and other obstacle with great bravery, but still the line swept on. The First Brigade (Colonel Edwin P. Davis) of the First Division (Dwight's), which was on the extreme right, with unparalleled intrepidity and fleetness completely enveloped the enemy, so that one hour before the sun set . . . the troops were in complete command . . . of the camp they had occupied in the morning. . . .

11 It may be here remarked of this battle, as well a that at Winchester, that General Early [see pp 523 and 528] speaks of the repulse of cavalry charges where no repulse occurred. Cavalry, even after successful charges, from the nature of the arm, is oftentimes obliged to retire and reform preparatory to making a new harge, or allowing other cavalry to charge.--W. M.

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