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Valley campaign of General Early. From the Times-dispatch, August 26, 1906.

Was one of most brilliant and stubbornly-fought of the entire War—Extended for four months.

Correspondent who was long with famous General describes his personality.

A few days after the disastrous Battle of Cedar Creek, Va., fought October 19, 1864, I was shown a letter by General Early from General Lee, answering Early's report. General Lee, in his letter, placed to Early's account no blame for the defeat, but assured him in the kindest manner that he had accomplished in his campaign all and more than he expected. He also assured him that he considered the movement a forlorn hope, made for the purpose of withdrawing from his front and overtaxed army as many men as possible. In this respect it was eminently successful, as it compelled General Grant to send to the Valley three of his best corps of infantry and Sherman's superb cavalry.

When the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia left its winter quarters, on the south bank of the Rapidan, the 4th of May, 1864, it was commanded by Lieutenant-General Ewell, and had 20,000 men on duty, fully officered. It fought Grant on the 5th and 6th of May at the Wilderness; on the 8th and 10th at the river Poe, and on the 12th at Spotsylvania Courthouse, where Jackson's old division, with its artillery of sixteen pieces, was nearly destroyed at the ‘Bloody Angle’ by Hancock's Corps. It fought again at the North Anna river, and again at Bethesda Church, or second Cold Harbor.

When General Early assumed command and was ordered to Lynchburg with this corps, its ranks had been reduced to less than 6,000 effective men. It was not an army; it was a disorganized rabble-divisions commanded by colonels, brigades by majors, regiments by captains and companies by sergeants, and [213] a large number of officers were serving in the ranks, carrying muskets.

Received reinforcements.

At Lynchburg Early was reinforced by Generals Breckinridge with Wharton's division of infantry, Jenkins' and Vaughan's mounted infantry, William L. Jackson's and Morgan's cavalry. His whole force then numbered 10,000 infantry, and about 3,000 cavalry. He was further reinforced by Kershaw's division of infantry and Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry before the Battle of Cedar Creek, October 19, 1864. At no time had his army more than 10,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. With this disorganized force, he fought and defeated Lew Wallace at Frederick City, July 6th, and arrived in front of Washington on July 11th, about 12 M., making his headquarters at Silver Springs, the residence of lion. Francis P. Blair. Being in the enemy's country, he had to march by brigades, each defending its own wagon train, and, it being exceedingly hot, it was nearly dark before he could make a demonstration against Fort Stevens; and when it was done, it was found that General Grant had got a corps of his best troops there in its defense. After consultation, General Early determined to withdraw his troops again to Winchester.

The burning of the home of Montgomery Blair was wholly an accident, caused by its being unoccupied and at the mercy of straggling soldiers. General Early, during his entire stay, protected private property to the full extent of his power, and and never gave an order to destroy Blair's home.

General Early, however, concluded not to stay at Winchester, but proceeded down the Valley to New Market. He, however, left Major-General Ramseur with his command, with positive instructions not to bring on a fight. Ramseur took dinner with Mr. Phil. Dandridge, and when the enemy made a demonstration, started his command to chastise them. Feeling pretty good, no doubt, from the wine at dinner, he was careless in his movements, and when four miles north of Winchester, ran into an ambuscade, which came near annihilating his command. He lost his battery of artillery, and several officers and men, and but for William L. Jackson's cavalry, which was in his rear, unmounted, the entire command would have been captured. In [214] this fight Lieutenant F. Calloway, aide to General Ramseur, was shot through the stomach, receiving a wound from which only one in a thousand recovers.

Early remained at New Market but a few days, returning to Winchester, and encamped his army along the Valley Turnpike as far north as Martinsburg.

Sheridan at this time had his command strung out along the Berryville Turnpike from Charleston to White Post. Sheridan's command consisted of three corps of infantry, 33,000 men and Sheridan's superb cavalry of over 10,000, while Early had only 13,000 all told. Here these commands rested for six weeks, Sheridan during the whole time making no demonstration, while his command was three times as large as Early's. Early, however, was not idle. He ordered Generals Bradley T. Johnson and McCausland to meet him, at Williamsport.

Orders issued.

On the hill overlooking the town General Early ordered me to write the following with pen and ink:

‘You are hereby ordered to proceed with your commands at once to Chambersburg, Pa., and in consideration of the destruction by General David Hunter of the residences of Edmund I, Lee, Alexander R. Boteler and Andrew Hunter, in Jefferson county, Va., and of the Virginia Military Institute and other property in Lexington, Va., and also the burning of the iron works and home of Joseph R. Anderson, in Botetourt county, you are to demand the immediate payment of $500,000, and if not paid burn the city.’

The General signed these orders, as he said he did not wish it thought he could hide behind his adjutant-General, A. S. Pendleton.

After making the two orders and delivering them in person to Johnson and McCausland, he accompanied them to Hagerstown, had a dinner at the hotel and returned to camp at Bunker Hill that night. [215]

Again a few days later Early moved on Shepherdstown and drove Sheridan's cavalry from Leetown to the Potomac, and still Sheridan declined to fight.

On the 19th of September, urged by the press, and ordered by General Grant, Sheridan pushed forward his infantry towards Winchester, and about sunrise of the 19th the first gun from the enemy was fired at General Early and his staff at the crossing of the Opequon Creek, four miles north of Winchester, From that time until sun down the battle raged with great fury, Early contesting every fort to the town of Winchester, and but for the failure of his cavalry on his left to hold their position, he could have won the day.

This failure, however, caused him to withdraw his army near night to Hollingsworth Mills, two miles south of Winchester. His losses were heavy in men and officers, among whom were Generals Rodes and Godwin. He left his wounded in town and his dead on the field. This was one of the most brilliantly and stubbornly fought battles of the war—13,000 against 43,000. Early carried with him over 1,000 prisoners, who were sent on to Richmond.

The fight at Fisher's Hill was nothing more than a skirmish on a large scale. Here General Early lost his adjutant-General, A. S. Pendleton, one of the most promising young officers developed by the Civil War.

Retreat down Valley.

Retreating down the Valley, he halted at Staunton, Sheridan following to Middle River, five miles north. Here Sheridan ordered a return to Winchester, without attempting a battle. On this countermarch the enemy destroyed over 2,000 barns, 100 mills, and every grain, hay and fodder stack for sixty-five miles, and telegraphed General Grant that a ‘crow flying down the Valley would have to carry his own rations.’ In the light of burning barns, mills and grain stacks, Early followed to Woodstock, and rested his army, his front at Fisher's Hill.

On the morning of the 18th General Gordon and Captain Hotchkiss rode to the signal station on Massanutton Mountain, and they found that Wright's army had been weakened by at least a corps, and that it had been removed to White Post, about [216] twelve miles northeast of Strasburg. General Early was notified, and also viewed the position. Returning to camp, he assembled his major-generals, and a council of war determined upon a daylight attack—Gordon in command of the second corps, composed of Evans', Ramseur's and Pegram's divisions. He was to turn the enemy's left at Buckton, and Kershaw, with Wharton, was to rush the front. These movements were to be made as the first ray of the rising sun pierced the sky. Early and staff were awaiting on the hills overlooking the position.

It was a most trying moment, and General Early fully appreciated it, and turning to his chief of staff, Colonel Moore, said: ‘Colonel, this is the most trying experience of my life; if I could only pray like Stonewall Jackson, what a comfort it would be.’

He had hardly uttered the words when Gordon fired his first gun, which was immediately followed by the entire army, and in a short time the entire force was over the breastworks of the enemy, surprised and routed, in a retreat only equalled by that of Bull Run.

Had terrible time.

It must be remembered our army was but the remnants of the Second Corps, and other commands, men barefooted and ragged, and but half fed, and our horses broken down, with nothing but grass for food. The men had been on the move since 6 A. M., with no sleep for thirty hours, and it was not surprising they should straggle and plunder the enemy's well-supplied camps.

General Early followed Wright's army to the hills overlooking Middletown, and there calling a halt, he found but 5,000 men for duty, and in the woods north of Middletown there was the Sixth Corps (Sedgwick) in line of battle, protected by abattis work 10,000 strong, which had been removed from White Post during the night to this position. The officers of this corps had also succeeded in halting and reorganizing at least 10,000 of Wright's routed army.

As the fates had worked against him Early determined to hold his position and retreat under the cover of night, and here again he was disappointed, as Sheridan, about 4 P. M., moved [217] forward his command of 20,000 men, overlapping his left flank, which seen by Doles' brigade, they fled in a panic and without firing a gun from their position. The other commands followed, and Early was left with only Pegram and Wharton, less than 1,000 men, to combat this overwhelming force, which they did until they reached the bridge, and they, too, retreated in disorder, leaving Early's twenty-four pieces of artillery, also ambulances and ordnance train, at the mercy of Custer's Cavalry, which had struck our column at the Capon Road.

By 8 o'clock P. M., all was lost—Early fell back to New Market, and then in a few days his scattered forces were collected and reorganized, with the loss of but 2,860 men.

Thus ended one of the most brilliant, and stubbornly fought campaigns of the war, lasting four months. Sheridan's forces. in front of Early from August 2nd to November 1st, numbered over 50,000 men, and his losses, including those of Wallace, at Frederick City, on the 6th of July, and Crook at Winchester on the 24th, exceeded 20,000 men killed, wounded and prisoners.

Early's entire force from the 15th of June until November 1st, with all reinforcements, was but 20,000 men of all arms, and his entire losses in killed, wounded and captured, less than 9,000.

Remarkable character.

Personally General Early was a remarkable character; he was elected to the Virginia Convention in 1860; he fought secession to the utmost and voted against it.

When Sumter fell and Lincoln called for troops to invade the South, he offered his services to the State of Virginia, and raised a regiment. When the ordinance of secession was passed he again voted against it and refused to sign it.

He never accepted his parole or took the oath, or voted after the war. He never wore anything but his Confederate gray, and was buried in it.

The stories of his excessive drinking were malicious lies.

General Early was a man of strong and stubborn disposition, but he was also a sincere friend.

With all his faults and virtues he has passed over the river, and is resting with his beloved Lee and Jackson, under the shade of the heavenly trees. Peace to his ashes.

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