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Winchester and Fisher's Hill — letter from General Early to General Lee.

Headquarters V. D., October 9th, 1864, (New Market.)
General R. E. Lee:
General,--In advance of a detailed report, I have determined to give you an informal account of the recent disasters to my command, which I have not had leisure to do before.

On the 17th of September I moved two divisions — Rodes's and Gordon's — from Stevenson's Depot, where they, together with Breckenridge's division, were encamped (Ramseur being at Winchester, to cover the road from Berryville) to Bunker Hill, and on the 18th I moved Gordon's division, with a part of Lomax's cavalry, to Martinsburg, to thwart efforts that were reported to be making to repair the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. This expedition was successful, and the bridge over Back Creek was burned by a brigade of cavalry sent there. On the evening of the 18th Rodes was moved back to Stevenson's Depot and Gordon to Bunker Hill, with orders to start at daylight to return to his camp at Stevenson's Depot, which place he reached at a very early hour next morning. About the time of Gordon's arrival on that morning, firing was heard in Ramseur's front, and now a report reached me that the enemy's cavalry had appeared on the Berryville road. I ordered Rodes, Gordon and Breckenridge to have their divisions under [79] arms, ready to move to Ramseur's assistance, and rode to his position to ascertain the extent and character of the demonstration. On getting there I found Ramseur's division in line of battle, and the enemy evidently advancing with his whole force. The other divisions were immediately ordered up and the trains all put in motion for their security. Bodes and Gordon arrived just before the enemy commenced advancing a heavy fire on Ramseur's left for the purpose of overwhelming him, and when their columns commenced advancing on Ramseur, I attacked them with Rodes's and Gordon's divisions, and drove them back with great slaughter — the artillery doing most splending service. Braxton's battalion driving back with canister, a heavy force, before which Evans's brigade, of Gordon's division, which was on the left, had given way. This brigade was now rallied, and Battle's brigade coming to its assistance, the enemy was pushed back a considerable distance, and we were successful. Breckenridge's division did not arrive for some time, because General Breckenridge had moved it out, after my order to him, to drive back some of the enemy's cavalry, which was crossing the Opequon, and I sent for him again, and he came up in the afternoon, before the enemy had made any further attack; but as he reported the enemy's cavalry advancing on the road from Charlestown by Burntown and Stevenson's depot, I ordered one of his brigades to the left on that road, and directed General Fitz Lee to take charge of all the cavalry on that flank (my left) and check the enemy's cavalry, and moved the other two brigades of Breckenridge's division towards the right, where our forces were weakest and the enemy was making demonstrations in force.

Breckenridge was scarcely in position before our cavalry on the left was discovered coming back in great confusion followed by the enemy's, and Breckenridge'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 the confusion in our ranks was discovered, and would have still won the day if our cavalry would have stopped the enemy's, but so overwhelming was the battle 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 necessory for me to retire through the town. [80]

Line of battle was formed on the north side of the town, the command reorganized, and we then turned back deliberately to Newtown, and the next day to Fisher's Hill. We lost three pieces of artillery, two of which had been left with the cavalry on the left, and the other was lost because the horses were killed, and it could not be brought off. In this fight I had already defeated the enemy's infantry, and could have continued to do so, but the enemy's very great superiority in cavalry, and the comparative inefficiency of ours, turned the scales against us. In this battle the loss in the infantry and artillery was — killed, 226; wounded, 1,567; missing, 1,818; total, 3,611. There is no full report of the cavalry, but the total loss in killed and wounded from September 1st to 1st October, is — killed, 60; wounded, 288; total, 348; but many were captured, though a good many are missing as stragglers, and a number of them reported missing in the infantry were not captured, but are stragglers and skulkers. Wharton's (Breckenridge's) division lost six colors, and Rodes's division captured two. Rodes's division made a very gallant charge, and he was killed conducting it. I fell back to Fisher's hill, as it was the only place where a stand could be made, and I was compelled to detach Fitz. Lee's cavalry to the Luray valley to hold the enemy's cavalry in check should it advance up that valley. The enemy's loss at Winchester was very heavy. Dr. McGuire has received a letter from a member of his family, who states that 5,800 of the enemy's wounded were brought to the hospital at Winchester, and that the total wounded was between 6,000 and 7,000, and a gentleman who passed over the field says that the number of killed was very large. Sheridan's Medical Director informed one of our Surgeons, left at Woodstock, that the number of wounded in hospital at Winchester was the same as stated in the letter to Dr. McGuire, and I am satisfied from what I saw that the enemy's loss was very heavy.

The enemy's infantry force was nearly, if not quite, three times as large as mine, and his cavalry was very much superior, both in numbers and equipment. This I have learned from intelligent persons who have seen the whole of both forces. I posted my troops in line at Fisher's Hill, with the hope of arresting Sheridan's progress, but my line was very thin, and having discovered that the position could be flanked, as is the case with every position in the Valley, I had determined to fall back on the night of the 22nd, but late that evening a heavy force was moved under cover of the woods on the left, and drove back the cavalry there posted, and got in the rear of my right flank, and when I tried to remedy this the infantry got into a panic and gave way in confusion, and I found it impossible to rally it. The artillery behaved [81] splendidly, both on this occasion and at Winchester. I had to order the guns to be withdrawn, but the difficulties of the ground were such that twelve guns were lost because they could not be gotten off. The loss in the infantry and artillery was 30 killed, 210 wounded, and 995 missing; total, 1235. I have been able to get no report of the loss in the cavalry, but it was slight. 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. The enemy did not capture more than four or five hundred, but I am sorry to say many men threw away their arms. The night favored our retreat, and by next morning the commands were pretty well organized. At Mount Jackson, next day, I halted, and drove back a force of cavalry, which was pursuing, and then moved to Rude's Hill, where I halted, until the enemy's infantry came up next day, and was trying to flank me, when I moved off in line of battle for eight miles, occasionally halting to check the enemy. This continued until nearly sundown, when I got a position, at which I checked the enemy's further progress for that day, and then moved under cover of night towards Port Republic, to unite with Kershaw. After doing this I drove a division of cavalry from my front at Port Republic, and then moved to Waynesboroa, where two divisions under Torbert were destroying the bridge, and drove them away; and after remaining there one day I moved to the vicinity of Mount Crawford, where I awaited the arrival of Rosser's brigade to take the offensive, but before it arrived the enemy was discovered to be falling back. On the morning of the 6th I immediately commenced following the enemy, and arrived here on the 7th, and have been waiting to ascertain whether Sheridan intends crossing the Blue Ridge before moving further.


J. A. Early, Lieutenant-General. Official: Samuel W. Melton, Lieutenant-Colonel and A. A. G.

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