In October, 1864, the National
army, commanded by General Wright
, in the temporary absence of Sheridan
, were so strongly posted behind Cedar Creek
that they had no expectation of an attack.
They were mistaken.
Early felt keenly his misfortune, and, having been reinforced by Kershaw
's division and 600 cavalry sent by Lee
, he determined to make a bold movement, swiftly and stealthily, against the Nationals.
He secretly gathered his forces at Fisher's Hill
behind a mask of thick woods, and formed them in two columns to make a simultaneous attack upon both flanks of the Nationals.
He moved soon after midnight (Oct. 19, 1864), with horse, foot, and artillery, along rugged paths over the hills, for he shunned the highways for fear of discovery.
The divisions of Gordon
, and Pegram
formed his right column; his left was composed of the divisions of Kershaw
At dawn these moving columns fell upon the right, left, and rear of the Nationals.
It was a surprise.
So furious was the assault before the Nationals had time to take battle order, that in fifteen minutes Crook
's corps, that held a position in front, and had heard mysterious sounds like the dull, heavy tramp of an army, was broken into fragments, and sent flying back in disorder upon the corps of Emory
left 700 men as prisoners, with many cannon, small-arms, and munitions of war in the hands of the Confederates
tried in vain to stop the fugitives, but very soon his own corps
gave way, leaving several guns behind.
These, with Crook
's, eighteen in all, were turned upon the fugitives with fearful effect, while Early
's right column, led by Gordon
, continued their flanking advance
with vigor, turning the Nationals out of every position where they attempted to make a stand.
Seeing the peril of his army, Wright
ordered a general retreat, which was covered by the 6th Corps, under the command of Ricketts
, which remained unbroken.
The whole army retreated to Middletown
, a little village 5 miles north of Strasburg
, where Wright
rallied his broken columns, and, falling back a mile or more, left Early
in possession of Middletown
had lost since daybreak (it was now ten o'clock) 1,200 men made captive, besides a large number killed and wounded; also camp equipage, lines of defence, and twenty-four cannon.
There being a lull in the pursuit, Wright
had reformed his troops and changed his front, intending to attack or retreat to Winchester
as circumstances might dictate.
At that critical moment Sheridan
appeared on the field.
He had returned from Washington
, and had slept at Winchester
Early in the morning he heard the booming of cannon up the valley, and supposed it to be only a reconnoissance.
After breakfast he mounted his horse—a powerful black charger—and moved leisurely out of the city southward.
He soon met the van of fugitives, who told a dreadful tale of disaster.
He immediately ordered the retreating artillery to be parked on each side of the turnpike.
Then, ordering his escort to follow, he put his horse on a swinging gallop, and at that pace rode nearly 12 miles to the front.
The fugitives became thicker and thicker every moment.
He did not stop to chide or coax.
but, waving his hat as his horse thundered on over the magnificent stone road, he shouted to the cheering crowds, “Face the other way, boys!
face the other way!
We are going back to our camp.
We are going to lick them out of their boots!”
Instantly the tide of retreating troops turned and followed after the young general.
As he dashed along the lines and rode in front of forming regiments, he gave a word of cheer to all. He declared they should have all those camps and cannon back again.
They believed the prophecy, and fought fiercely for its fulfilment.
The reformed army advanced in full force.
Already (10 A. M.) General Emory
had quickly repulsed an attack, which inspirited the whole corps.
A. general and severe struggle ensued.
Confederate army were soon in full and tumultuous retreat up the valley towards Fisher's Hill
, leaving guns, trains, and other hinderances to flight behind.
Early's army was virtually destroyed; and, with the exception of two or three skirmishes between cavalry, there was no more fighting in the Shenandoah Valley.
That night the Nationals occupied their old position at Cedar Creek
The promise of Sheridan
, “We will have all the camps and cannon back again,” was fulfilled.
was rewarded by the commission of a major-general in the regular army, dated Nov. 4, 1864. “Sheridan
's ride” was made the theme of poetry and painting.