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Chapter 36:

  • Campaign of 1864 in the Valley of Virginia.
  • -- its general design as a strategic auxiliary to Richmond. -- the new command of the enemy in the Valley. -- Gen. Sheridan and his forces. -- views of Gen. Lee about the relief of Richmond. -- he detaches a force under Gen. Anderson to co-operate with Early, and “stir up” the enemy across the Potomac. -- Anderson and Fitzhugh Lee find Early falling back and asking for reinforcements. -- the enemy declines a battle and retreats to Harper's Ferry. -- strength and disposition of the Confederate forces about Winchester. -- nearly a month consumed in marching and counter-marching. -- Gen. Lee orders the return of Gen. Anderson with Kershaw's division. -- battle of Winchester. -- Gen. Grant advises Sheridan to “go in.” -- Early's small force. -- how it came to be scattered over twenty-two miles. -- Ramseur's division sustains the attack until the other Confederate forces come up. -- Gordon drives the enemy. -- happy stroke of a Confederate battery. -- the enemy's infantry routed. -- his cavalry get on the Confederate left and rear and change the day. -- retreat of the Confederates. -- battle of Fisher's Hill. -- how Gen. Early's position was defective here. -- he is flanked on the left, and retreats up the Valley. -- the enemy pursues to Staunton. -- Sheridan's barbarous order to devastate the Valley. -- he burns “two thousand barns.” -- Reflections upon this outrage. -- battle of Cedar Creek. -- Early, reinforced, resumes the campaign, and determines to make a surprise. -- a flanking column of Confederates crosses the North fork of the Shenandoah. -- two corps of the enemy broken and put to rout. -- the enemy pursued through Middletown. -- how the vigour of pursuit was lost. -- the foolish newspaper story about Gen. Sheridan's sudden appearance on the field. -- the Confederates demoralized by pillage. -- the enemy makes a countercharge, and sweeps everything before him. -- Gen. Early's attempt to put the censure of the disaster upon his men. -- how far he was responsible for it. -- true explanation of the pause in his victory. -- removal of Gen. Early from command. -- Gen. Lee's generous letter to him. -- how the newspapers berated him. -- the charge of habitual intoxication. -- review of the Valley campaign. -- its effects decisive upon Richmond. -- remark of a Confederate general. -- some views of the management and disposition of the Confederate cavalry forces in Virginia

To Hood's unbroken series of disasters there was a companion-piece in another part of the Confederacy: a small theatre of the war, but an important and a conspicuous one, associated with many heroic memories of [590] the Confederacy. This other chapter of misfortune was Early's campaign in the Valley of Virginia. In this campaign a Confederate General never won a victory; lost all of his artillery, and brought an army to practical annihilation. But, although like Hood's misadventure in these particulars, the campaign in the Valley is to be judged by another standard; while marked by some undoubted misconduct, it had much to excuse its impotent conclusion, and it was, in some respects, what its commander designated it-“a forlorn hope.”

We have already pointed out the first object of Early's operations in the Valley as substantially the same which took Stonewall Jackson there in 1862-the diversion of a portion of the Federal forces from the great arena of combat in the lowlands. It was also important to save, as far as possible, the harvests of the Shenandoah and to protect the Gordonsville road; but the campaign was mainly a strategic auxiliary to the operations around Petersburg and Richmond.

In consequence of the threatening attitude of Early, who since he had moved across the Potomac, had been able to send a raiding party into Pennsylvania, which on the 30th July burned Chambersburg, Gen. Grant had been unable to return the Sixth and Nineteenth corps to the Army of the Potomac. On the contrary, he saw the necessity of an enlarged campaign to protect the frontiers of Maryland and Pennsylvania. What was called the Middle Department, and the Departments of West Virginia, Washington, and Susquehanna, were constituted into one under the command of Gen. Sheridan. The new commander was a man of a coarse, active nature, excessive animal spirits, and an intensely combative temperament — an antagonist not to be despised, although he had shown no distinct military genius, and was only remarkable in the war for the execution of single tasks indicated to him by his superiours. He had an amount of force which was all he could have asked for as a condition of success. In addition to the column of active operation under his command, consisting of the Sixth and Nineteenth corps, and the infantry and cavalry of West Virginia under Crook and Averill, there were assigned to him two divisions of cavalry from the Army of the Potomac under Torbert and Wilson. His effective infantry strength was about thirty-five thousand muskets; and his great superiority in cavalry was very advantageous to him, as the country was very open and admirably adapted to the operations of this arm.

Gen. Lee had long been persuaded that he was too weak to attack the enemy's works in his front at Petersburg. Information derived from trusty scouts and from reconnoissances pushed to the rear of the enemy's flanks, proved the impracticability of turning them. The only resource was strategy, and that obviously the renewal of the Valley campaign, to develop, if possible, a crisis in the situation about Petersburg and Richmond. [591]

On the 4th August, 1864, an order was issued from the headquarters of Lee's army, directing the march of Kershaw's division of Longstreet's corps, and Fitzhugh Lee's division of cavalry to Culpepper Court-house. Lieut.-Gen. R. H. Anderson was then commanding the troops of Gen. Longstreet (the latter being still incapacitated from duty by the wound received in the battles of the Wilderness), and was assigned to command the expedition. The force ordered for it was withdrawn from Grant's front on the south side of the James; Fitzhugh Lee's division being on the Confederate right in the vicinity of Ream's Station on the Weldon Railroad.

Gen. Lee's intentions, as explained to his officers, were to send the troops of Kershaw and Fitzhugh Lee to co-operate with Early in movements on the Maryland border, or even in the State itself. He wanted the enemy in Washington and vicinity “stirred up,” as much as possible, and the impression produced that our force was a large one. Upon reaching Culpepper Court-House, Fitzhugh Lee was to go down towards Alexandria and make a demonstration in that vicinity, and if his information as to the disposition of the enemy's forces and strength warranted, Anderson and he were to cross the Potomac about Leesburg, Early crossing higher up, and all to act in concert against Washington or produce that impression. Gen. Anderson was sent on the expedition, though only one division of his corps was detached, because the enemy knew he commanded in Longstreet's place, and the idea might be taken that the whole corps was en route. It was possible, then, that Grant might send a corresponding force to counteract the movement, in which case the remainder of the corps could be sent, and the demonstration continued on a larger scale. In brief, Gen. Lee explained that he was going to try to manoeuvre Grant from the front of Richmond. The other alternative which presented itself was that under the supposition that Lee had weakened himself by a whole corps, Grant might be induced to attack, which Gen. Lee conceived to be at that time a very desirable object.

No sooner had Anderson's and Fitzhugh Lee's troops reached Culpepper Court-House, than a despatch was received from Early, stating that, in consequence of the concentration of a large force in his front, whilst in the lower part of the Valley, he had been compelled to fall back to the strong position at Fisher's Hill, and asking for reinforcements. This necessitated the movement of Anderson and Lee at once to his support; and their march was at once directed to Front Royal, by the way of Chester Gap in the Blue Ridge. They arrived at Front Royal on the 15th August. Early was ascertained to be at Strasburg, some ten miles distant. The road connecting the two places and running to the base of the Massanutton or Fort Mountain, was in possession of the enemy, who was also in large force in Early's front. [592]

Under orders from Gen. Anderson, Fitzhugh Lee started at daybreak on the morning of the 16th to communicate with Gen. Early and arrange a combined attack upon the enemy. The direct road being in possession of the enemy, he was obliged to cross the Massanutton Mountain, consisting at that point of three separate ranges in close proximity to each other, very precipitous and rough. He was accompanied by only one staff officer, and they were obliged to ride mules, so steep was the ascent. He arrived at Gen. Early's Headquarters that afternoon, arranged many details, and riding all night, was back with Gen. Anderson by daylight on the 17th. But the enemy had already commenced to retreat, and the opportunity for striking a blow was lost. He had discovered Gen. Anderson's position at Front Royal during the morning of the 16th, and had taken possession with a cavalry force of “Guard Hill,” a commanding position on the north bank of the north fork of the Shenandoah River, opposite the town. Gen. Anderson, fearing that the force occupying it would be increased, and the position fortified, attacked the enemy during the afternoon of the 16th with Wickham's brigade of Lee's division, supported by Wofford's infantry brigade. After quite a spirited contest, the possession of the hill was secured by the Confederates. Early in the morning of the 17th, Anderson and Lee commenced their advance, and followed up the enemy's retreat. At Winchester they united with Gen. Early's column, driving the Federal troops through the town, capturing one piece of artillery and some prisoners. The pursuit was continued the next day, and the enemy driven to his stronghold at Harper's Ferry.

The Confederate force now consisted of the infantry divisions of Rodes, Ramseur, Gordon and Warton, and Lomax's division of Valley cavalry under Early and Breckinridge, and, under Anderson, Kershaw's division of infantry, and Fitzhugh Lee's division of cavalry. It happened that Anderson and Early had been both made lieutenant-generals the same day, though the former was the ranking officer in consequence of being the senior major-general. Their last commissions being of same date, and Anderson being in Early's department, he did not like to assume command of the whole force. Early being his junior, could not command it, and a very anomalous state of things resulted, producing much confusion and want of co-operation.

Instead of a campaign being inaugurated, which, from its offensive character and operations would compel more troops to be drawn from Grant's army to counteract it, and which was contemplated by Gen. Lee, nothing was done. Nearly a month elapsed in marching and countermarching in the vicinity of Charlestown, productive of no results. Gen. Lee, perceiving at last that nothing was likely to be accomplished, directed Anderson, unless something of importance was in contemplation, to move back with Kershaw's division to Culpepper Court-House, where he would [593] be in a position to be transported to him in case he decided to carry out a movement against the enemy in front of Petersburg, then under consideration.

Accordingly, on the 15th September Anderson moved off with Kershaw's division en route to Culpepper. Early was then in the vicinity of Winchester, having moved back for convenience of supplies, after the enemy had been driven to the river. Sheridan was between Charlestown and Berryville, with his advance covering the latter place. The cavalry pickets of the two armies were only a few miles apart.

Battle of Winchester.

The month of August and the fore part of September had been consumed in desultory and apparently uncertain operations. Notwithstanding his great superiority in force, the enemy appeared to be unwilling to risk a general engagement, the result of which might be to lay open to the Confederates the States of Maryland and Pennsylvania, before another army could be interposed to check them. But this excessive caution gradually wore off; the aggressive temper of Sheridan asserted itself against Grant's timidity; and the latter commander has since declared in an official paper, rather inelegantly, and with that taste for slang which seems to charactertize the military literature of the North: “Gen. Sheridan expressed such confidence of success, that I saw there were but two words of instruction necessary-‘ Go in.’ ”

But there appear to have been especial reasons for Sheridan's confidence. The effective strength of Gen. Early, reduced by the return of Kershaw's division to the Petersburg lines, was about eighty-five hundred muskets, three battalions of artillery and less than three thousand cavalry. The latter were mostly armed with Enfield rifles, without pistols or sabres, and were but a poor match for the brilliant cavalry of the enemy, whose arms and equipments were complete.

The day after Kershaw's departure, Early disposed his army as follows: Ramseur's division of infantry (a very small one, some fifteen hundred muskets), Lee's division of cavalry, under Wickham (Gen. Fitzhugh Lee having been placed in command of all the cavalry), were at Winchester. Wharton's division of infantry (a small one) and Lomax's cavalry were about Stephenson's Depot, some five miles from Winchester on the railroad. Rodes' and Gordon's divisions, in charge of Gen. Early himself, were marched to Martinsburg, for the purpose of breaking up again the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, reported to have been repaired since the Confederates had last visited it. Martinsburg is about twenty-two miles from Winchester. From the situation of the two armies it will be seen [594] that Sheridan, besides being in position almost on Early's flank, was, by the way of White Post, nearer the Valley turnpike, Early's line of communication, than a greater portion of the Confederate troops, with the advantage of coming out in rear of Early's right at Winchester. Sheridan saw the opportunity offered: Kershaw, with his large division gone, and the remaining troops stretched out for twenty-two miles. He decided, of course, to attack, and commenced moving up with the intention of seizing and occupying Winchester before Early could retrace his steps. On the afternoon and night of the 18th he began his movement from Berryville, eleven miles from Winchester.

Gen. Early left Martinsburg, though in ignorance of the enemy's movement, on the morning of the 18th, and encamped Gordon and Rodes' divisions that night in the vicinity of Bunker's Hill, some twelve miles from Winchester.

By daylight on the 19th the Confederate pickets had been driven in, and the enemy's cannon were thundering at Ramseur's little band, drawn up beyond the town of Winchester. Lee's cavalry division was soon in position on Ramseur's left, and the battle began. Never did men fight better, for they sustained the repeated and furious assaults of an enemy immensely their superiour, and alone maintained the contest until eleven o'clock in the morning, when the advance of Rodes' division made its appearance. Rodes' troops were hastily thrown into action, and their commander soon after killed. Gordon arrived next, and went in on our extreme left. Wharton, in command of Breckinridge's old division, arrived last, though nearer to Winchester than the other two. It had been holding in check two divisions of the enemy's cavalry under Torbert at Stephenson's depot, which had been sent around towards that place for the purpose of retarding the march of the troops hastening to the relief of Winchester.

A portion of Lomax's division arrived with Breckenridge, the remainder having previously come up; and with the greater part of Lee's division of cavalry were transferred to the extreme right and placed opposite Wilson's cavalry to prevent it from swinging around and getting possession of the turnpike in rear of Winchester.

Gordon, previous to Breckenridge's arrival, had driven the enemy by a most gallant charge in line of battle, but going too far, had been driven back in turn. A battery of six guns, supported by a brigade of cavalry, had been placed on Gordon's extreme left. It allowed the enemy's advancing lines to pass it, their right almost brushing it, so close did it march to its position. The battery was concealed under the edge of a hill. Hardly had the Federal lines got beyond it than its intrepid, adventurous commander, Major Breathed,1 ordered the guns to be placed in battery [595] upon the crest of the hill. In a few minutes, a most destructive and unexpected fire was poured into the enemy's ranks. It was something more than an enfilading fire. The Federal line of battle was soon broken by it. Gordon seized the opportunity, turned, and charged; and the retreat of the enemy soon degenerated into a rout. There appeared now but little doubt that the day was for the Confederates.

But at this time the enemy's reserve infantry, the greater part of Crook's Corps (the Eighth), made its appearance, prolonging their extreme right. Gordon's successful advance was stopped, for fear his flank was endangered. .Breckinridge's troops, coming up at this time, were placed in opposition to Crook, and on Gordon's left; but his flank was very much overlapped by the superiour numbers of Crook.

The movement which placed Breckinridge in line of battle to confront Crook, freed the enemy's two cavalry divisions, Merritt's and Averill's, under Torbert. Their line was formed on Crook's right, in the shape of a semi-circle, and completely environed the Confederate left and real. Every man on the Confederate side was closely engaged. A few hundred cavalry, and a small regiment of infantry, under Col. Patton, withdrawn from fighting in Crook's front, stayed for a little time the heavy movement of the enemy's cavalry. But it was impossible to hold it in check. The country was open; every movement of the enemy was discernible on the Confederate left; and yet there were no troops available to counteract what [596] was now the decisive movement of the enemy's cavalry. The Confederate left was completely turned; the enemy was let in on the rear of the remainder of the line; and the Confederate infantry, which had so long withstood fourfold odds, now pressed heavily in front by the enemy's infantry, and on the right by his cavalry, was compelled to give way under the combined assault, and at last broke in confusion, retiring from the field and through Winchester, with the enemy in pursuit.

In this battle Gen. Early lost twenty-five hundred prisoners and five pieces of artillery. But in this battle there lad been a surpassing display of courage in the men who had held their ground so long against the swarming forces of the enemy. It is quite certain that up to the moment when he put his cavalry in motion against the Confederate left, Sheridan had been virtually defeated. Not until the enemy's cavalry advanced on the Martinsburg road, attained the Confederate rear, and charged them in flank and rear, was there the least wavering. It is true that from that moment the action was lost. Early's line gave way in confusion; his artillery was fought to the muzzle of the guns, but could do nothing, and that night the Confederate forces were in full retreat up the Valley.

Battle of Fisher's Hill.

Gen. Early retired to Fisher's Hill, near Strasburg, a position overlooking the north branch of the Shenandoah River, and protected on the west by the North Mountain. This position has been described as a very defensible one, indeed the strongest in the Valley of Virginia. But a Confederate officer, who has ably reviewed the campaign, remarks: “When Early took up a position on the great range of hills above Strasburg, and waited to be attacked, he committed an error under the circumstances, which the General himself, at this day, would probably acknowledge. The ground there is unsuitable to receive an attack upon, unless the force standing on the defensive is strong enough to reach from mountain to mountain. Gen. Jackson is said to have expressed this opinion, and it is certain that he never made a stand there. Gen. Early did so, and was flanked on the left.”

On the 22d October, Sheridan formed his force for a direct attack on Early's position, while Torbert's cavalry moved by the Luray Valley to gain Newmarket, twenty miles in Early's rear, to cut off his retreat. While making a feint of an attack in front, a corps of infantry was sent around to Early's left, resting on the North Mountain, flanked it, attacked it in rear, and drove it from its entrenchments. The whole Confederate line was easily disrupted, and Early retired in great disorder, losing eleven pieces of artillery. Happily his line of retreat was secured, as Torbert had [597] been held in check at Milford by a small division of Confederate cavalry under Gen. Wickham.

The retreat was continued to the lower passes of the Blue Ridge. Gen. Early had lost half his army, and it was supposed that his career was now at an end. Sheridan pushed the pursuit to Staunton and the gaps of the Blue Ridge; but, before returning to Strasburg, and taking position on the north side of Cedar Creek, this Federal commander resolved upon an act of barbarism, competing with the worst reputations of the war. He determined to devastate the upper portion of the Valley as he abandoned it. This ruthless measure was not confined to the destruction of the crops, provisions, and forage; mills were burned, farming implements were destroyed, and a wanton vengeance was inflicted upon the country for many years to come. Gen. Sheridan wrote from Strasburg, as if he were commemorating a great deed, instead of writing down a record of imperishable infamy: “In moving back to this point, the whole country, from the Blue Ridge to the North Mountain, has been made entirely untenable for a rebel army. I have destroyed over two thousand barns filled with wheat and hay and farming implements; over seventy mills filled with flour and wheat; have driven in front of the army over four thousand head of stock, and have killed and issued to the troops not less than three thousand sheep This destruction embraces the Luray Valley and the Little Fort Valley, as well as the main valley.”

Of this and other like atrocities of the enemy, there has been attempted a very weak excuse, to the effect that if the private property of the inhabit ants of the Confederacy had not been destroyed, it might have been converted to the uses of the belligerent Government, and have helped to sustain it. Once for all, it may be said that this excuse excludes every sentiment of humanity in war, and may be logically carried to the last extremities of savage warfare. Some time ago a great indignation was awakened in Northern newspapers, when a Northern officer justified his putting to death some children belonging to a hostile Indian tribe on the ground that, if they had not been killed, they would have grown up to be men and chiefs, to fight the armies of the United States. But the logic of this was unimpeachable, quite as sound as that which:L justified the outrages of private property and deeds of devastation and horrour, committed by such men as Sheridan and Sherman. There are some things, even in war, which are to be done, or to be left undone, without regard to consequences. Modern war is not based upon logic; it is not merely a question of how much ruin may be done; it is not simple “cruelty,” as Sherman defined it to the mayor of Atlanta; it recognizes certain claims of humanity and indicates a class of outrages for which no selfish reason is commensurate A writer of authority, treating of the law of nations, says: “When the French armies desolated, with fire and sword, the Palatinate in 1674, and [598] again in 1689, there was a general outcry throughout Europe against such a mode of carrying on war; and when the French minister Louvois alleged that the object in view was to cover the French frontier against the invasion of the enemy, the advantage which France derived from the act was universally held to be inadequate to the suffering inflicted, and the act itself to be therefore unjustifiable.”

Battle of Cedar Creek.

Having received reinforcements, Gen. Early returned to the Valley in October. These reinforcements consisted of one division of infantry (Kershaw's), numbering twenty-seven hundred muskets, one small battalion of artillery, and about six hundred cavalry, which about made up the Confederate losses at Winchester and Fisher's Hill. On the 9th October, Rosser's cavalry, which had hung on Sheridan's rear, was attacked on the Strasburg pike, while a division of cavalry, moving by a back road, took him in flank. In this affair the enemy took eleven pieces of artillery and several hundred prisoners. On the 18th October, Early was again at Cedar Creek, between Strasburg and Winchester. He had less than ten thousand men, and about forty pieces of artillery. His force was inadequate for open attack, and his only opportunity was to make a surprise. The enemy was posted on a line of low hills, the Eighth corps on the left, the Nineteenth corps in the centre, and the Sixth corps on the right, somewhat in rear and in reserve. Early's dispositions for attack were to make a feint with light artillery and cavalry against the enemy's right, while the bulk of his forces marched towards the left where the Sixth corps was posted.

The movement commenced a little past midnight. Whilst demonstrations were made against the Federal right, whence the sounds of musketry already announced a fight on the picket line, the flanking columns of the Confederates toiled along seven miles of rugged country, crossing the north fork of the Shenandoah by a ford about a mile to the east of the junction of Cedar Creek with that stream. The march was performed in profound silence. Many places had to be traversed by the men in single file, who occasionally had to cling to bushes on the precipitous sides of the mountain to assist their foothold. At dawn the flanking column was across the ford: Gordon's division in front, next Ramseur's, and Pegram's in reserve. A heavy fog yet favoured them. The enemy's pickets had not yet taken the alarm; some of them had reported that they heard a heavy, muffled tramp and rustling through the underbrush, but no attention was paid to a supposed fancy, and no reconnaissance was sent out. Early had brought his column, unperceived, to the rear of the left flank of the Federal [599] force; and it remained now but to close in upon the enemy, and fight rapidly.

The surprise was complete. The Eighth corps was unable to form a line of battle, and in five minutes was a herd of fugitives. Many of the men awoke only to find themselves prisoners. The Nineteenth corps was soon involved in the rout. The valorous Confederates pressed on, driving the whole Federal left and centre, slaying many of the enemy in their camps, capturing eighteen pieces of artillery, fifteen hundred prisoners, small arms without number, wagons, camps, everything on the ground.

The retreat of the enemy was now a general one, the Sixth corps doing what it could to cover it. At Middletown an attempt was made to form a line of battle; but the Confederates threatened a flank movement, got possession of the town, and put the enemy on what was supposed to be his final retreat to Winchester.

The vigour of the pursuit was lost here. The fire and flush of the valorous charge was quenched, as the men now betook themselves to plundering the Federal camps, taking no notice of the enemy in the distance beyond some skirmishing and desultory artillery fire. But the enemy had no idea of continuing his retreat to Winchester. At the first good ground between Middletown and Newtown the troops were rallied, a compact line formed, and the enemy soon put in a condition to resist further attack or take the offensive.

The Northern newspapers, with their relish for dramatic circumstance, had a singular story of how the sudden apparition of Gen. Sheridan on a black horse flecked with foam, which he had galloped from Winchester, where he had slept the previous night, reassured his fugitive army, and restored the battle. But the fact is that Sheridan did not appear on the field until the army had reorganized a new line of battle and made its dispositions for attack, which he did not change in any respect. The counter-charge was made at three o'clock in tile afternoon. The Confederates were not prepared for it; they bad been demoralized by pillage; when urged forward they had moved without enthusiasm; and when in the afternoon Gen. Early decided to attempt an advance, he was compelled to move cautiously, feeling his way with artillery.

At the first contact with the enemy, Gordon's division broke; Kershaw's and Ramseur's followed in retreat, and the field became covered with flying men. The artillery retired, firing slowly, and sustained only by Pegram's old brigade and Evan's brigade. Across Cedar Creek the enemy's cavalry charged in rear of the Confederate train without provoking a shot; and a bridge on a narrow part of the road between the creek and Fisher's Hill having broken down, guns and wagons were abandoned. Many ordnance and medical stores, and twenty-three pieces of artillery, besides those taken in the morning by Early, were captured. About fifteen [600] hundred prisoners were taken, which fully made up for those lost by the enemy in the morning. The day was completely turned against the Confederates and night closed with the enemy's infantry occupying their old camps, and his cavalry pursuing the wreck of Early's army.

With reference to the disaster of Cedar Creek, Gen. Early published an address to his troops, ascribing to their misconduct the loss of the field, and attemping to break the censure levelled at the commander. He wrote: “I had hoped to have congratulated you on the splendid victory won by you on the morning of the 19th, at Belle Grove, on Cedar Creek, when you surprised and routed two corps of Sheridan's army, and drove back several miles the remaining corps, capturing eighteen pieces of artillery, one thousand five hundred prisoners, a number of colours, a large quantity of small arms and many wagons and ambulances, with the entire camps of the two routed corps; but I have the mortification of announcing to you that, by your subsequent misconduct, all the benefits of that victory were lost, and a serious disaster incurred. Had you remained steadfast to your duty and your colours, the victory would have been one of the most brilliant and decisive of the war; you would have gloriously retrieved the reverses at Winchester and Fisher's Hill, and entitled yourselves to the admiration and gratitude of your country. But many of you, including some commissioned officers, yielding to a disgraceful propensity for plunder, deserted your colours to appropriate to yourselves the abandoned property of the enemy; and, subsequently, those who had previously remained at their posts, seeing their ranks thinned by the absence of the plunderers, when the enemy, late in the afternoon, with his shattered columns made but a feeble effort to retrieve the fortunes of the day, yielded to a needless panic, and fled the field in confusion, thereby converting a splendid victory into a disaster.”

But this explanation of the conversion of a victory into a disaster, as a personal defence of Gen. Early, is scarcely fair. If soldiers resort to pillaging on a field of victory the commander is the responsible party, unless where it is shown that he resorted to the most extreme measures to restrain a disorder so shameful and plainly deserving death on the spot, and that, despite all efforts, the men had passed completely beyond his control. The broad fact cannot be concealed that for four or five hours Gen. Early was in the condition of a commander who had lost the vigour of pursuit and was satisfied to put up with a half-way success. This disposition to pause in battle and be satisfied with a half victory was not the peculiar story of Cedar Creek. It was the curse of more than one Confederate commander. As Gen. Early counted his victory and paused in his career, the refluent wave of the enemy overtook him, swept away his laurels, and overwhelmed him with an unexpected disaster. The story is not different [601] from that of other Confederate battle-fields where a mediocre commander has trifled with success.

Gen. Early had received a stunning defeat from which his army never recovered. The battle of Cedar Creek practically closed the campaign in the Valley, and most of Early's infantry were returned to Gen. Lee's lines. Breckinridge was detached and sent to command in the Southwestern Department. The three divisions (composing what was known as the Second Army Corps) formerly commanded by Rodes, Gordon, and Ramseur, were placed under the command of Gordon, the sole survivor of the three, and sent back to Gen. Lee. Nearly the whole of the cavalry were temporarily furloughed, the Government being unable to supply them with forage. Early was left with his headquarters at Staunton, and what remained of Wharton's division constituted the Army of the Valley.

The unfortunate commander continued for some time to move uneasily up and down the Valley, with his small force; but all operations of moment had plainly ceased there; there was not forage enough for any considerable body of cavalry ; and some weeks later we shall see the last appearance of Gen. Early on the military stage, at Waynesboroa ,where his command, consisting of about a thousand infantry, was captured, and the General with two staff officers escaped to Charlottesville, the melancholy remnant of an enterprise that had been planned to relieve Richmond and turn the scales of the war.

In consequence of the disastrous campaign we have narrated, but not until a very late period of the war, Gen. Early was removed from command. Gen Lee wrote to his subordinate with characteristic generosity:

Headquarters C. S. Armies, March 30, 1865.
Lieut.-Gen. J. A. Early, Franklin C. H., Va.:
Dear sir: My telegram will have informed you that I deem a change of commanders in your department necessary, but it is due to your zealous and patriotic services that I should explain the reasons that prompted my action. The situation of affairs is such that we can neglect no means calculated to develop the resources we possess to the greatest extent, and make them as efficient as possible. To this end it is essential that we should have the cheerful and hearty support of the people and the full confidence of the soldiers, without which our efforts would be embarrassed, and our means of resistance weakened. I have reluctantly arrived at the conclusion 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 the 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 military operations in Southwestern Virginia. While my own confidence in your ability, zeal, and devotion to the cause is unimpaired, I have nevertheless felt that I could not oppose what seems to be the current of opinion without injustice to your reputation and injury to the service. I therefore felt constrained to endeavour to find a commander who would be more likely to develop the strength and resources of the country, and inspire the soldiers with confidence, and, to accomplish this purpose, thought it proper to yield my own opinion, and [602] defer to that of those to whom alone we can look for support. I am sure that you will understand and appreciate my motives, and that no one will be more ready than yourself to acquiesce in any measures which the interests of the country may seem to require, regardless of all personal considerations. Thanking you for the fidelity and energy with which you have always supported my efforts, and for the courage and devotion you have ever manifested in the service of the country, I am, very respectfully and truly, your obedient servant,

R. E. Lee, General.

Censure in the newspapers ran high against Gen. Early; but it must be remembered that this was at a time when the temper of the Southern people was irritable and exacting, impatient to be refreshed with what was now the rare experience of a victory. Gen. Early was not a popular man; but he had had the reputation throughout the war of a hard, resolute fighter; and Gen. Lee's familiar designation of him as “his bad old man” suited the picture of a commander who garnished his speech with oaths, dressed in the careless, burly fashion of a stage-driver, and was famous for his hard, direct knocks in battle.2 It was hinted in the newspapers that [603] much of Early's disaster in the Valley was due to his alleged intemperance, and that there had been too much “apple-jack” in the campaign But the charge of habitual intemperance was examined by a committee of the Confederate Congress, and disproved. It was not established indeed that Gen. Early was a believer in total abstinence-or as one of his Irish friends remarks, that the man was always “beastly sober” --but it was conclusively shown that in the line of his duty he was never under the influence of drink, and to no such imprudence could be attributed any misfortune of his military life.

The real character of Gen. Early's campaign appears in the narrative. Much of his disaster is to be fairly attributed to lack of numbers, his great disproportion to the enemy in this respect; but at the same time it is not to be denied that his loss of artillery was excessive and peculiar, and that in the field at Cedar Creek he had not shown the nerve and grasp of a great commander. His loss of artillery was so notorious, that wags in Richmond ticketed guns sent him “to Gen. Sheridan, care of Jubal Early.” In a month he lost more than fifty guns. Briefly, it may be said that in the operations in the Valley Gen. Early committed no flagrant error, and did nothing to draw upon him a distinct and severe censure; yet, at the same time, he certainly did not display in this campaign the qualities of a great commander, never rose above mediocrity, and, with a superiour army upon him, went headlong to destruction.

The effect of the Valley campaign on the situation around Richmond may be almost said to have been decisive. The result of it, in this respect, was this: that it released a powerful force and made it available for Grant, while Gen. Lee could only make use of, as a corresponding force, the small remnant of a dispirited army. One of the highest and most intelligent Confederate Generals has not hesitated to express the opinion that “the battle of Winchester was the turning-point of the fortunes of the war in Virginia.” The view is not unreasonable when we consider what was the object of Early's campaign. A battle fought in the Valley with decisive results might have relieved Richmond. Such was the idea of Gen. Lee. Battles were fought, but with decisive results for the enemy; and Richmond fell. [604]

A general opinion prevalent at Richmond, and apparently strengthened by the experiences of the Valley campaign, was that the Confederate cavalry in Virginia had become very inefficient and unequal to its early reputation. The report is one of singular injustice, in view of the brilliant record of the cavalry for 1864, especially that part of it under the command of Gen. Fitzhugh Lee, the compeer and successor of Stuart, a model of chivalry and a leader whose star ascended to the highest realms of glory in the war. We have elsewhere referred generally to the operations of the cavalry in Grant's early combination against Richmond. It is a fact based upon official testimony, that Fitzhugh Lee's command fought nine consecutive days, commencing the day Grant crossed the Rapidan, and in that time lost one-half of its numbers in killed and wounded, its loss in prisoners in the same time being not more than thirty! His command was composed of Virginians, save one gallant company from Maryland. The simple inscription of the fact we have related is an undying title of glory for the cavalry of Virginia, testifying as it does to a courage and devotion, the parallels of which are scarcely to be found out of the pages of fabulous history.

It is to be remarked that the disasters of the Valley campaign were in a great measure due to the extreme numerical inferiority of the Confederate cavalry to that of the enemy. The distribution of our cavalry at this time in Virginia is a curious study and excites criticism. Only two brigades of cavalry were sent to the Valley by Gen. Lee. Gen. Grant sent two large divisions of three brigades each. At Petersburg and Richmond, the numbers of our cavalry exceeded those of the enemy. But unfortunately, the country in this vicinity (especially in Dinwiddie county) was but little adapted for this superiority to be displayed, it being very wooded and traversed only by narrow roads.

Grant had Gregg's division of two brigades on his left flank on the south side of the James-and four regiments under Kautz on the north side, guarding his right flank. Confronting Kautz, the Confederates had Gary's brigade, and opposite to Gregg, Butler's division (Hampton's old command) of three brigades, W. I. F. Lee's division, of two brigades, and a detached brigade under Dearing. Rosser's brigade was afterwards sent to the Valley, but not until the battle of Winchester had been fought.

The Valley was especially adapted for the operations of cavalry. It is universally admitted that a preponderating force of cavalry gives immense advantages in a country suitable for its employment; for cavalry can live on the lines of communication of the army opposed to it, easily avoiding any infantry sent after it. In the Valley, where cavalry could be used to advantage, the Federal superiority was some six or seven thousand. Around Petersburg, where cavalry could only fight dismounted, our numbers were [605] in excess of those of the enemy, but not, it is true, to the degree of the enemy's superiority in the other field of operations. If, however, the proportion had been to some extent reversed, and something like an equal match been made with the enemy's cavalry in the Valley, the result might have been different, or at least there have been one error and its consequences less in that campaign.

1 Of this officer, whose reputation for daring was known throughout the armies of Virginia, and of whom Gen. Fitzhugh Lee says, “he was the most recklessly brave man I ever knew,” there is an authentic incident, related by his commander, connected with Lee's early battles on the Rapidan.

Of this incident Fitzhugh Lee writes:

Maj. Jas. Breathed, commanding my horse artillery, by my order placed a single gun in position on a little knoll, as we were falling back, disputing the enemy's advance towards Spottsylvania Court-house. We knew the enemy's infantry were marching in column through a piece of woods, and the object was to fire upon the head of the column, as it debouched, to give the idea that their further advance would again be contested, and to compel them to develop a line of battle with skirmishers thrown out, &c. The delay which it was hoped to occasion by such demonstration was desirable in order to increase the chances of our infantry, then marching by another and parallel route to the Court-house. Under Maj. B's personal superintendence, shells were thrown, and burst exactly in the head of the column as it debouched. The desired effect was obtained; the head of the enemy's advance was scattered, and it was only with some difficulty a line of battle with skirmishers in its front was formed to continue the advance. I was sitting on my horse near Breathed, and directed him to withdraw his gun, but he was so much elated with his success that he begged to be allowed to give the enemy some more rounds. He fired until their line got so close that you could hear them calling out, “Surrender that gun, you rebel son of a b-h.” Breathed's own horse had just been shot. The cannoneers jumped on their horses, expecting of course the gun to be captured, and retreated rapidly down the hill. B. was left alone. He limbered the gun up, and jumped on the lead horse. It was shot from under him. Quick as lightning he drew his knife, cut the leaders out of the harness, and sprang upon a swing horse. It was also shot from under him just as he was turning to get into the road. He then severed the harness of the swing horse, jumped upon one of the wheel horses, and again made the desperate trial for life. The ground was open between the piece and woods; the enemy had a full view of the exploit; and Breathed at last dashed off unharmed, almost miraculously escaping through a shower of bullets.


The following sketch of Gen. Early is from a graphic pen, and its fund of anecdote is amusing and characteristic:--

He was a man past middle age, and of vigorous and athletic appearance. His stature approached if it did not reach six feet, and he seemed to be capable of undergoing great fatigue. His hair was black and curling, and just touched with gray; his eyes, dark and sparkling; his smile, ready and expressive, but somewhat sarcastic, as was the bent of his character. His dress was plain gray, with slight decoration. Long exposure had made the old coat which he wore quite dingy. A wide-brim hat overshadowed his sparkling eyes, his swarthy features, and grizzled hair. His face, set upon a short neck, joined to stooping shoulders, attracted attention from every one. In the dark eye you could read the reolute character of the man, as in his satirical smile you saw the evidence of that dry, trenchant often mordant humour, for which he was famous. The keen glance drove home the sarcastic speech, and almost every one who ventured upon word combats with Lieut.-General Early sustained a “palpable hit.” The soldiers of his army had a hundred jests and witticisms about him. They called him “ Old Jube,” sometimes “ Old Jubilee.” They delighted to relate how, after the defeat of Fisher's Hill, when the troops were in full retreat, their commander had checked his horse, raised his arms aloft, and exclaimed, “ My God I won't any of my men make a rally around Old Jubal? ” To which a philosophic foot-soldier, calmly seeking the rear, replied: “ Nary rally, General.” A similar anecdote, which may or may not be true, is even yet immensely relished by Early's old soldiers. He is said to have exclaimed, when he heard of Lee's retreat, “ Now let Gabriel blow his horn. It is time to die.” Everything about the soldier was characteristic and marked. Speaking slowly and with a species of drawl in his voice, all that he said was pointed, direct and full of sarcastic force. These “ hits ” he evidently enjoyed, and he delivered them with the coolness of a swordsman making a mortal lunge. All the army had laughed at one of them. While marching at the head of his column, dusty in his dingy, gray uniform, and with his faded old hat over his eyes, he had seen leaning over a fence and looking at the column as it passed, a former associate in the Virginia Convention, who had violently advocated secession. This gentleman was clad in citizens' clothes-black coat and irreproachable shirt bosom-and greeted Early as he passed. The reply of the General was given with his habitual smile and sarcastic drawl: “ How are you? ” he said. “ I think you said the Whigs wouldn't fight!” The blow was rude, and made the whole army laugh. Of this peculiar humour a better instance still is given. After Fisher's Hill, when his whole army was in complete retreat, and the Federal forces were pressing him close, he was riding with Gen. Breckinridge. It might have been supposed that their conversation would relate to the disastrous events of the day, but Gen. Early did not seem to trouble himself upon that subject. In full retreat as they were, and followed by an enraged enemy, his companion was astounded to hear from Early the cool and nonchalant question: “ Well, Breckinridge, what do you think of the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case, in its bearings upon the rights of the South in the Territories? ” The man who could amuse himself with political discussions between Fisher's Hill and Woodstock on the 22d of September, 1864, must have been of hard stuff or peculiar humour. There were many persons in and out of the army who doubted the soundness of his judgment — there were none who ever called in question the tough fibre of his courage.

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